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Syria and Turkey commentary

Archive for the tag “Kurds”

Syria is not Iraq – 10 key differences

Images of Paradise in the mosaics of Damascus' Great Umayyad Mosque [DD]

Images of Paradise in the mosaics of Damascus’ Great Umayyad Mosque [DD]

Young and old arm in arm in Damascus

Young and old arm in arm in Damascus [DD]

Following on from ‘Syria’s Ghost’ (posted 31/08/2013) here are 10 key differences between the case for intervention in Syria as opposed to Iraq:

1. In 2003 Iraq was not in a civil war. It was simply another repressive authoritarian Arab state not much worse than Mubarak’s Egypt and Gaddafi’s Libya.

2. Syria in March 2011 witnessed a peaceful spontaneous uprising against its repressive authoritarian leader Bashar Al-Assad.

3. The Iraqi people were not asking the US-led coalition to intervene.

4. A large section of the Syrian people asked the international community to intervene after the Assad regime countered their peaceful demonstrations with extreme violence, arbitrary arrest and torture.

5. Iraq in 2003 did not present a threat to the international community. There were no Al-Qa’ida operatives or jihadis inside Iraq. They came in later to profit from the chaos we created.

6. Syria presents a serious threat to the security of the international community. The Al-Qa’ida-linked jihadi groups have thrived in the vacuum left by our non-intervention, and are growing. They are starting to dominate the moderate rebel groups like the Free Syrian Army.

7. Iraq was not a proxy war.

8. Syria has become a proxy war: America v Russia, Iran v Saudi Arabia, Hizbullah v Salafis. The interests of the Syrian people have been lost in the proxy war interests.

9. Iraq was not a humanitarian intervention. It was not in danger of collapse in 2003. It was not at war and was stable.

10. Syria would be a humanitarian intervention under the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine (Bosnia is the model). Syrians are dying of starvation and lack of medical attention as well as regime massacres and chemical weapons attacks. An entire generation is being lost.

For all those reasons, Syria is not Iraq, and for all those reasons, from the moment the regime made clear its intention to wipe out all opposition, I have supported intervention by the international community. Without it, Syria will disintegrate entirely over a period of years, and the fallout will come back to bite us big time.

Saladin's Castle in the mountains above Lattakia [DD]

Crusader Castle of Saone, later Saladin’s Castle in the mountains above Lattakia [DD]

Saladin's Tomb in Old Damascus. Saladin was a Kurd. [DD]

Saladin’s Tomb in Old Damascus. Saladin was a Kurd. [DD]

Looking at it objectively now 10 years on, the American-led invasion did inadvertently help one sector of the Iraqi people – the Kurds. Autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan could almost be seen as a model for the Middle East. Its schools since 2012 are teaching all world religions equally, and Islam is just one of them, no favouritism. It is booming economically thanks to its oil and its trade with Turkey. But all that was an unintended consequence.

Syria’s Kurds could also benefit from the current crisis in Syria, but that is happening anyway, and will continue irrespective of American strikes. More and more of them are pouring out of Syria’s northeast corner into Iraqi Kurdistan, where they are being warmly welcomed. Kurdistan may well turn out to a lasting beneficiary of the chaos inside Syria, along with the Syriac Christian community in eastern Turkey:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23614968.

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No appetite for war in Eastern Turkey – except with Israel

My research trip to Eastern Turkey over the last couple of weeks yielded some unexpected discoveries. The trip was designed to update my Bradt Eastern Turkey guide for its second edition, but I kept finding myself sucked towards the Syrian border.

After revisiting Urfa’s Balikli Gol, the sacred fish ‘Pool of Abraham’ in temperatures of 40C, I drove 45km south to Harran to inspect its famous termite-like beehive houses, relics of biblical living, and its ancient university on the site of a pagan moon temple. All was quiet and exactly as I remembered it, so I drove on just 15km kilometres further south to Akcakale, the border town with Syria where five civilians were killed in October 2012 by shells fired from inside Syria. All quiet now, but on the edge of town I was startled to see a heavily crowded tent city, hemmed in by barbed wire fence. Its misery was palpable even from a distance. Designed to house 23,000 Syrian refugees, I later learnt it was now home to 36,000, a figure that defied belief. How could so many possibly live in such conditions in such stifling heat – let alone in Ramadan, due to start in a few days’ time?

I drove back and forth along the main road in front of the camp, feeling helpless, passing  several families hitching lifts, wondering if I should stop for them, but fearful in case I was in turn stopped by the Turkish authorities and in some way implicated for my involvement. Stories had reached me about how some Syrians were starting to run away from the camps, desperate to lead something closer to a normal life, after months of confinement.

In the end I decided my most useful contribution would be to give my food away – my picnic lunch plus two bags of nuts I had bought in Gaziantep market a few days earlier. Driving slowly, I pinpointed two small boys returning towards the camp who were carrying nothing at all. When I stopped and got out of the car to offer them the food, they were visibly startled and frightened, and required some coaxing to take the bags from me. They spoke neither Turkish nor Arabic and I wondered afterwards if they might have been Kurdish, since the area around Tell Al-Abyad across the border was a heavily Kurdish part of Syria. When I looked in the rear view mirror after driving off, I saw they had quickened their pace, hurrying back to the camp with their unexpected gift. It was an image that has stayed with me since.

Syrian refugee camp at Akcakale, south of Harran, Turkey (DD)

Syrian refugee camp at Akcakale, south of Harran, Turkey (DD)

The road past the front of Turkey's Akcakale camp for Syrian refugees (DD)

The road past the front of Turkey’s Akcakale camp for Syrian refugees (DD)

A few days later in Midyat on the way to visit the Syriac Orthodox Monastery at Gulgoze (Syriac name Ainwardo), I stumbled on another refugee camp. In contrast to the camp at Akcakale, this one was spacious and well-appointed, with cabins rather than tents, and numerous bathroom blocks similar to a European camp-site. Far from being overcrowded, it seemed largely uninhabited.

My subsequent enquiries explained why – the camp had only been built about three months ago, on land donated by a wealthy Syriac businessman, and was only for use by Syrian Christians.

Refugee camp for Syrian Christians in Midyat's Turkey (DD)

Refugee camp for Syrian Christians in Midyat’s Turkey (DD)

Syriac Monastery of St Cyriacus at Gulgoze, south of Midyat

Syriac Monastery of St Cyriacus at Gulgoze, south of Midyat (DD)

‘We feel very sorry for the people of Syria, and of course we have to help them when they come across the border to us. But we don’t want our government to go to war against the Syrian regime. We have problems of our own in Turkey, and our government should concentrate on those, not get involved in a difficult war next door.’

But a handful of people, Sunni Turks to a man, went one step further. ‘We don’t want war with Syria. But if this war grows and  becomes a war against Israel, that would be different. For that we would be ready…’

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