lunes, 22 de febrero de 2016

Dilemas de Turquía (2)

Continuando con el tema de ayer, arribamos ahora a un problema candente en la Turquía contemporánea: qué hacer con el pueblo kurdo, el cual constituye aproximadamente un 20% de la población de ese país.  La nota que sigue amplía sobre este tema y apareció hoy en el sitio web The Saker. Acá va: 

Título: Turkey is screwed. And it’s all US fault

Texto: Amid rising tensions in between Turkey and Russia over situation in Syria, one important fact got lost. It’s not Russia which caused current Turkish problems. It was USA.

The most fundamental problem modern Turkey is facing is Kurdish question. It’s chronic problem which threatens integrity of Turkey and Turkish elite perceive it as a largest security treat Turkey is facing. Turkish policies in Syria are determined by Kurdish problem more then anything else. Change of so called policy of zero problems with neighbors, which Erdogan and his government used to promote, and which came as a surprise to many, is directly related to Kurdish problem and events in Iraq after disastrous US invasion.

Here little historical excursion is needed. When modern Turkish state was created on the ashes of Ottoman empire following defeat in WWI, it was seeking new identity on which it could successfully establish itself. New young Turkish elite choose model of nationalism, at that time progressive concept so popular in contemporary Europe.

Turkey, just like some of it’s European counterparts, was however faced with the imperial heritage of diverse ethnic groups living on it’s newly established territory. There were large and ancient communities of Greeks, Armenians, Kurds and many other people living in Anatolia and European part of Turkey. Ethnic Turks themselves were relative newcomers to these parts of the world, having arrived only in 11th ct. Greeks and other ethnic groups on the other can trace their presence in what is now Turkey well in to Bronze Age and beyond (3300-1200 BC).

Turks managed to solve Greek question after Graeco-Turkish war of 1919-1922 and large exchange of population which followed. Most Greeks left Turkey and Turkey received influx of ethnic Turks from Greece in return. Armenian question got solved already during WWI in what many call Armenian genocide. Term which Turkey fiercely opposes. It was forceful deportation of Armenians in to Syrian desert. It is estimated that about 1.5 million of them died. Turkey acknowledge fact of the deportation but claim that loss of life was unintended consequence rather then deliberate act.

One ethnic question which Turkey however did not manage to solve is Kurdish question. Kurds are ancient community of Iranian people who accepted Islam. They were skilled soldiers and played important role in Islamic armies, Seljuk and Ottoman including. Indeed the most famous historical Kurdish figure is Saladin (name under which he is known in the West), Muslim general who reconquered Jerusalem during Crusades and sultan of Egypt and Syria.

Turks tried to solve Kurdish problem by straightforward assimilation. They announced that from now on, Kurds are simply „Eastern Turks“ and banned Kurdish language. Kurds resisted and Turks answered with repression, forced relocation, discrimination and heavy handed military crackdown. Kurds in Turkey are since then in de facto constant rebellion and sometimes less sometimes more intense war with Turkish government which claimed thousands of lives on both sides.

Despite having advantage in numbers and equipment, Turkey seems to be slowly loosing this war. It is estimated that Kurds make up about 20% of Turkish population and Kurdish families have about double of the birthrate of Turkish families. In few decades, this will eventually lead to situation when there will be more Kurdish men of military age in Turkey then Turkish men of military age.

To make matters worst for Turkey, Kurds does not live only in Turkey. Thanks to post colonial legacy and arbitrariness of borders which France and Britain drew in the sands, plains and hills of the Middle East, similarly sized Kurdish communities live in neighboring countries of Syria, Iraq and Iran. Together they inhabit one large, almost continuous area called Kurdistan. Fortunately for Turks, Kurds in these countries until recently faced similar persecution as in Turkey. All these countries perceive their Kurds as threat to their territorial integrity. Most well know episode of this repression came when Saddam Hussein used poison gas on Kurds in Northern Iraq. That was by no means exclusive example but one which at the time suited Western interests in the Middle East and thus received widespread publicity in Western media. After decades of silent complicity. Which bring us back to cause of recent change of Turkish policies and rising tension on Turkish-Syrian border.

When USA decided to invade Iraq in 2003, Turkey correctly concluded that operation is pure hazard with unpredictable outcome. In a hope of minimizing negative impact on Turkey itself, they decided to keep strict neutrality and nonintervention and went so far as to refuse to allow their US and British NATO allies to use Turkish territory and bases for a attack.

US attack on Iraq and occupation led to all out civil war inside the country and eventually broke Iraq in to de facto Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parts. All of the sudden Turkey was faced not just with Kurdish insurgency inside the Turkey, but for the first time also with (de facto) independent Kurdish state right on it’s borders which could provide safe haven, regroup and supply area for Kurds from inside Turkey. That was disaster. Turks tried to cope with limited military incursions in to Iraqi Kurdistan, attempts at buying Kurdish leaders and reliance on ability of their US partners to keep Kurds in check and prevent damage. Something Americans turned not to be very capable at. Perhaps even not willing.

Lesson Erdogan and Turkish leadership seems to have learned from events in Iraq was likely that abstaining from conflicts in the region will not shield Turkey from negative consequences and if Turkey can not prevent these conflicts, it’s better that Turkey participate in them and thus is at last able to protect it’s interests by influencing outcome.

When USA and their NATO allies decided to change regimes in Northern Africa and engaged in yet another imperial adventure in Libya, following initial reluctance, Turkey agreed to join. And when USA then decided to start war in Syria, Turkey jumped wagon, probably on the promise of quick victory and installment of new government of Muslim Brotherhood friendly to Turkey and it’s ruling party. Ankara might have even expected such government to be Turkish client. That certainly was expectation of Riyadh, another unfortunate victim of US Middle Eastern policies.

As is rule with similar US foreign policies, they seldom work as advertised. When Assad proved to be resilient, Ankara and Riyadh were expecting Washington to do what it did in Libya and intervene under pretext of no fly zone and alleged protection of civilians, pretext well tested already in Yugoslavia. No man however steps in to the same river twice, wisdom already ancient Greeks understood. After disaster in Libya, opposition to intervention, led prominently by Russia and China proved to be stronger, and support inside USA and their British and French allies weaker then might have being anticipated and no fly zone did not materialize. Of note is, that Turks and Saudis were it’s most outspoken proponents and they insist on establishing of the no fly zone in Syria (euphemism for US led intervention) till today. Meanwhile Obama’s administration walked away, quietly thankful to Russians for face saving pretext in form of chemical weapons deal.

Regime change in Syria thus had to be accomplished solely through proxies in form of colorful collection of various more or less disgusting Sunny Islamic groups both local and foreign. Turkey and Saudi Arabia engaged in enthusiastic support of these groups, some of them supporting openly under moderate name, some less openly, publicly pretending to fight them as radicals and terrorists. In reality only group Turkey ever really fought in Syria were Kurds. Which is ironically probably only significant opposition group in Syria which really deserve name moderate. Despite catastrophic heterogeneity of these opposition groups, which are willing to fight each other as much as they are willing to fight Syrian government, it seemed that government will be eventually slowly grind down in a war of attrition.

But then came unexpected Russian intervention and against all assurances from Washington about Russians having another Afghanistan, it managed to turn the tables and forced rebels to what is increasingly looking like an all out retreat. This is disaster of epic proportions for Turkey. Instead of friendly regime of Muslim Brotherhood type in Damascus, which Ankara would be able to control, they are faced with creation of second Kurdish independent state on it’s borders. That’s what have send Turkish leadership in to panic mode and that’s why Turks are seemingly irrationally rising tensions on the border with Syria. In my opinion shot down of Russian plane, shelling of Kurds and concentration of military forces on the border accompanied with aggressive rhetoric are not so much meant to threaten Russia or Assad, they are first of all desperate attempts to force Washington to lead invasion in to Syria at last. Which is something Washington probably itself made Ankara and Riyadh to expect in the first place. Now Washington is being seen dragging leg and backing out. Neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia are likely to invade alone.

To conclude, US policies of destabilizing countries and whole regions to suit their geopolitical and economic interests in the last decade or two proved to be often as damaging to US allies as they are to US opponents. If not more. Another case in point of course is European migration crisis. What effect is that going to have on relations between USA and their allies on one side and US opponents on the other remains to be seen. But it is reasonable to expect, that dissatisfaction with US leadership will be on a rise.

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