Advertise Here

...

Dissent

ISR Weekly articles...

Islamic Societies News

August 21, 2016

Will Erdoğan abandon Islamist armed groups now fighting in Syria?

    Sunday, August 21, 2016   No comments
It is established that the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the party he founded, the AKP, are primary supporters of armed groups fighting the Syrian government. The AKP-led Turkish government opened its borders for Islamist fighters from all over the world to join the war against Assad’s forces.  It provided them with training, money, and weapons. The Turkish government also hosted the families of the Syrian fighters. 

Although its support went to all groups fighting the Syrian government because it prioritized the overthrow of Assad over all other matters, including fighting terrorism, the Turkish government offered special support to Islamists including al-Nusra Front and ISIL. It did so for sectarian and ideological reasons, but also for practical reasons: ISIL and al-Nusra were the strongest fighting groups in Syria and Assad’s government cannot be ousted without them. 

Five years later, and when Russia threw its military weight behind Assad, the Turkish government came to the realization that Assad is, and will remain, for the near future at least, a “key actor” who would play a role in any political solution for the Syrian crisis. That is when Erdoğan decided to adjust his strategy and work with Russia, instead of against it, to preserve some level of influence over the future of Syria. 

Syria is important for Turkey because of their shared problems and concerns: the status of the Kurdish people in both countries forced them to work together in the past, and will force them to work together in the future. In other words, Turkey has no choice but to remain engaged in dealing with the Syrian crisis. 

Adjusting the Turkish strategy will necessarily have significant effects on Turkish relations with Islamist fighters in Syria. Will Turkey abandon them?

The answer can be drawn from Erdoğan’s history. He is a very skilled politician who is willing to sacrifice old alliances in favor of better ones. If his alliance with Islamists becomes a burden, Erdoğan will dump them. Consider his alliance with Fethullah Gülen for proof.

Part of the credit for AKP and Erdoğan’s rise to power goes to the role played by Gülen and his movement. Yet, a decade later, when Erdoğan wanted to consolidate his power, he took steps to control that movement and its institutions. Gülen became aware of Erdoğan’s thirst for more power and he resisted him covertly at first. Erdoğan decided to bring him home where he can better control him. So on June 14, while speaking at a public event organized by a Gülen organization, he issued a public invitation, telling Gülen “it is time to come home.” Gülen, perhaps aware of the risks, tearfully declined the invitation on June 16, saying, in essence, not yet.

Four years later, Gülen stands accused by Erdoğan of being the mastermind of the failed military coup. Had Gülen accepted the invitation then, he would be in prison now, without creating a diplomatic and legal crisis with the U.S. administration, which is refusing to extradite him at this point.

Erdoğan, is the kind of politician who knows how to survive and will do whatever it takes to not just survive, but reverse losses and thrive. For this reason, Erdoğan is not only capable of abandoning his Islamist fighters in Syria, he could launch a military campaign to eradicate them altogether, and throw their Turkish supporters in prison. Justifying such actions will not be that difficult either. Terrorist attacks, like yesterday's, are enough to turn the Turkish public against all Syrian opposition fighters and create a new path toward reconciliation with a Syrian government with or without Assad.


August 11, 2016

Turkish and Russian leaders can no longer compartmentalize their relations

    Thursday, August 11, 2016   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Turkey’s president may have pushed the reset button of his country’s relations with Russia, but it will be a while before he can reap economic benefits.
 
Reason for Putin wanting gradual restoration of economic ties with Turkey: Russia cannot help rejuvenate the Turkish economy to enable the Turkish government to kill Russian soldiers (and abuse their corpses) in Syria by proxies

In 2011, the sudden protest movement popularly known as the Arab Spring triggered fundamental changes in the political and social landscapes of the Middle East—not just the Arab world as the name suggests. Turkey’s government, like many others around the world, did not know how to react at first. Erdoğan, as his country’s prime minister and then president, supported the Tunisian revolution, wavered in his support for the Egyptian president before committing to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and opposed NATO’s war on Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. When peaceful protesters took the streets in some Syrian cities, Erdoğan, relying on a sectarian instinct and a nationalist impulse, offered Assad fifteen days to meet the protesters’ demands before he would cut all relations and put all his weight behind the Syrian opposition forces. A few weeks later, Turkey played a pivotal role in using Qatari and Saudi money and weapons to transition the protest movement into an armed rebellion committed to a single objective: overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. This role, to which Erdoğan committed himself, necessarily created a conflict for him with two other powerful neighbors and economic partners: Russia and Iran.
For the first four years of the Syrian crisis, the leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Russia thought that they could compartmentalize their relations. They could continue to strengthen their economic ties, while agreeing to disagree on Syria. That approach failed when it became clear that the differences between Turkey on one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other, in relation to Syria were more than disagreements. Iran and Russia have had long-standing strategic alliances with Syria for many years. In fact, two years earlier, Iran had signed a security deal with Syria that required each of them to come to the aid of the other should one be attacked. Russia has had a naval base in Syria since the days of the Soviet Union. With that being the case, it was not possible to compartmentalize, especially when all three countries were committed to preserving their interests in Syria and in the region.
So it was no surprise that all three countries were actively involved in Syria beyond what they publicly revealed. Russia and Iran first provided the Syrian government with weapons and economic assistance to help it weather the crisis, but Turkey took a direct role from the start of the conflict and allowed the free flow of weapons and fighters into Syria. By 2015, all three countries increased their involvement. Turkey provided training, control and command centers, and free flow of weapons and fighters to the opposition groups. Russia and Iran sent more military hardware and eventually fighter jets and military personnel to Syria. That escalation led to the crucial mistake on the part of the Turkish leaders.
Hoping to draw NATO deeper in the Syrian conflict, Erdoğan ordered a Russian bomber shot down. The crew ejected, but one member was killed by an armed group supported by Turkish security forces and partially staffed by Turkish citizens. This incident prompted President Putin to impose harsh economic sanctions that further stressed the slumping Turkish economy. Russia’s economic, rather than military, response to what they saw as an act of war rendered NATO useless in terms of assisting Turkey. Putin then insisted that economic sanctions would stay in place and might even be tightened unless Erdoğan formally apologized and took responsibility for downing the Russian fighter jet and killing the pilot. Erdoğan insisted that it was Putin who should apologize for violating Turkish airspace. Seven months later, with the Turkish economy in decline, Erdoğan sent a letter to Putin expressing sorrow and taking responsibility for the incident. Russian leaders welcomed the gestures and promised to ease some of the sanctions. But Erdoğan wanted more than easing the sanctions—he needed economic relations between the two countries to be restored to the pre-incident period or better. So he requested an earlier meeting with Putin than the one scheduled to happen on the sidelines of the G-20 in China in September of this year. Putin obliged and offered to meet him in Saint Petersburg on August 9.
Erdoğan’s eagerness to meet with his Russian counterpart was motivated by economic considerations, with all other interests being secondary. Russian leaders are also interested in boosting economic ties, but not in a way that will undercut their broader interests in the region. Consequently, the two sides went into the meeting with different priorities. However, it is clear that the Turkish side lacks the strategic thinking that would allow them to see the connection between the Syrian crisis and their national economic conditions. The Turkish economy’s growth was cut by almost 50% immediately after the Syrian crisis, and that correlation alone should be enough to convince Turkish leaders to address both their economic concerns and the Syrian crisis at the same time, not in isolation from one another. Failure to do so soon will undo the possible benefits of the apology.
There is a reason Erdoğan is widely popular in Turkey: since he and his party, AKP, won the first elections that allowed them to govern without the need for a coalition for nearly a decade and a half, he turned a slumping economy with a negative GDP growth rate—-5.7 in 2001—into a formidable global force. He attracted investors, rebuilt the infrastructure, and turned Turkey into a magnet for businesspersons and tourists. The results were impressive: Between 2002 and 2011, Turkey’s average GDP growth rate was 5.45.
The average GDP  in the last four years, since the start of the so-called Arab Spring (2012-2015), barely reached 3.33. The numbers for 2016 are worrisome. Turkey’s problem became tied to the Syrian crisis when Erdoğan took it upon himself to be the defender of the Syrian people against their own president: he threw his support behind violent groups allowing the flow of weapons and fighters into that country with the aim of overthrowing Assad’s government. Given the long-standing relationship between Russia and Syria, Turkish-Russian relations suffered, especially when Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 near its border with Syria . The connections between the Syrian crisis, Turkey’s relations with Russia, and the health of the Turkish economy are compelling . Although Russia would benefit from economic ties with Turkey, Russian leaders have made the connection between long-term economic development and strategic alliances with other countries. With Russia soldiers now dying in Syria on the hands of fighters enabled, trained, and supported by Turkey, it would be reckless for Russia to fully separate economic interests and military and security matters involving Turkey. That is one of the main reasons Erdoğan returned from Russia practically empty handed, with only promises.
Russia will not shore up a Turkish economy that supports terrorists in Syria who killed Russian soldiers, abused their corpses, and threaten to kill more. For that reason, Putin insisted that the lifting of sanctions must be gradual. Russian thinking is long term: if Putin waited for seven months to receive Erdoğan’s apology, he is prepared to wait another seven months to see Turkey implement its commitments to fighting terrorism by sealing the border and stopping the flow of weapons, fighters, and stolen Syrian oil and goods.
Russians are prepared to fast-track the economic projects that are long term and delay the ones with immediate payoff for the Turkish economy until Turkey meets its obligations. Russia’s thinking was reflected in their plan to restart work on Turkish Stream pipeline, without shelving alternative projects involving other countries. The principle that Russian leaders are using to reset their relations with Turkey also favors restarting economic exchange that benefits the Russian economy and while delaying exchange that benefits the Turkish economy until Turkey changes its calculus on Syria. Russia is not conditioning its economic relations with Turkey on Syria because it cares about Assad, but because Turkey is indirectly killing Russians in Syria.
The other principle guiding Russia’s foreign policy in relation to the Syrian crisis was made clear during the press conference that Erdoğan and Putin held after their first meeting. Responding to the first question, Putin looked at his guest and declared:
“Our position is based on this enduring principle: It is impossible to achieve democratic change except through democratic means.”
Not only are these principles guiding Russia’s approach to the Syrian crisis making it difficult for Erdoğan to capitalize on his pragmatism, the consequences of his involvement in Syria are making it almost impossible to start from zero. Indeed, making amends for one jet and one pilot may cost him some political capital and about $25 million. Should Syria pursue legal action to force countries that supported military aggression and profited from looted goods and natural resources to pay reparations, Turkey could be on the hook for billions. Erdoğan was willing to apologize and normalize relations with Putin but not with not Assad because of the cost that might be associated with admission of responsibility in the destruction of Syria.
This is not to say that Turkey has no way out of its problem with Syria. Erdoğan could use Russia as intermediate partner to spend the next five years rebuilding what he helped destroy in Syria over the past five years. This indirect action could be the compromise that might actually work for all parties. The “coup” that Erdoğan wanted to launch against the Syrian government using genocidal fighters did not work, will not work, and may have inspired the failed coup against his government. He has this one opportunity that he had created when he apologized and took responsibility for downing the Russian plane; if unused, all will be for naught.
___________________________
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.


August 9, 2016

Putin-Erdogan first face-to-face talks since Turkey downed the Russian plane cannot avoid addressing the Syrian crisis

    Tuesday, August 09, 2016   No comments

Immediately after the first meeting, the Turkish and Russian presidents set down for a press conference. After reading their prepared remarks, the first question to both of them was about Syria. Erdogan, avoided answering the question claiming that a meeting after the press conference will address the Syrian crisis and it would not be appropriate to comment now. Putin on the other hand, revealed his governments' principle, which will guide the scheduled discussions about Syria:

Our position is based on this enduring principle: It is impossible to achieve democratic change except through democratic means.
 Putin added that he stood by Turkish democracy as a matter of principle, and the same principle applies to Syria. In other words, there cannot be a political solution in Syria that does not go through the Syrian people. The Turkish president, who wanted the world to support democracy against an attempted violent takeover, cannot ask his Russian counterpart to overthrow the president of Syria, and remain consistent. He could argue that Assad’s handling of the protest movement may have reduced his standing among the Syrian people, but only a fair and transparent elections can validate that claim.

August 2, 2016

Will Russia react to Idlib's incident the same way the U.S. reacted to Fallujah's?

    Tuesday, August 02, 2016   No comments


The similarities between two events--one took place in Idlib (Syria) on July 31, 2016 and the other happened March 31, 2004 in Fallujah (Iraq)--are eerie. It is reminder of the connections between the two conflicts. Syria’s is a direct result of the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Fallujah incident, Americans killed, dragged in the streets, and charred bodies hand on a bridge was shocking. But being under shock from seeing the grisly images is not the proper state of mind for launching a military operation. Yet, that is exactly what President Bush and his Secretary of Defense did when they ordered operation Vigilant Resolve.
Russia does not have 150,000 troops on the ground, but it has the power to bomb every town and city under the control of al-Nusra and increase its assistance to the Syrian army. 
Two days after the incident, Russian leaders did not indicate that they will seek revenge and launch new operations, though they are likely to increase the level of support to the Syrian government. 

Moreover, al-Nusra, now re-branded as Jabhat Fath al-Sham, the group that controls the area where the plane was shot down, has enjoyed protection and support from Turkey. With Erdogan scheduled to meet Putin next week, Russia does not see the need to take actions, it may use the incident to force Erdogan to drop his support to al-Nusra and its allies in Jaysh al-Fath and actually start fighting terrorism.

The same way Fallujah changed the direction of the war in Iraq, Idlib, too, will change the direction of the war in Syria. 
video

video

July 28, 2016

Could the Cessation of Hostilities help U.S. and Russia overcome their differences on Syria?

    Thursday, July 28, 2016   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
 
ISIL fighters
It is evident at this point that Syria’s war is not a civil war. It is a world war and now the two superpowers, the U.S. and Russia emerged out of the shadows of their regional allies to take charge. Early this year, the two countries reached an agreement called Cessation of Hostilities (CH), initially effecting select cities but open to be applied across Syria.  The Cessation of Hostilities is simply a bilateral understanding between the U.S. and Russia. It is not a peace accord nor is it an armistice. It is something in between necessitated by the complex map of groups fighting the Syrian government. This CH automatically excluded any and all groups labelled terrorists by the UNSC, including the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its offshoot, al-Nusra Front. In theory, any armed opposition group can be party to this deal provided its members--or a representative thereof--contact monitoring centers staffed by Russian personnel, since Americans are not authorized by the Syrian government to be on Syrian soil, overtly at least. The deal worked in bring some calm to some areas and gave many Syrians some hope.

Most read this week...

Reasoned Comments Archive

Find related articles...