The Syrian conflict is incredibly complex. But one thing is clear – Turkey has been a main player in the ongoing war. And that’s why the prize for biggest Syria bullshit so far goes to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
On 12 April, the Turkish presidency put out the following tweet without the slightest hint of irony:
President Erdoğan: “No one has the right to engulf the Mediterranean and the Syrian lands in the fire of their political and military power struggles.” pic.twitter.com/P5Cnx3gpYh
— Turkish Presidency (@trpresidency) April 12, 2018
Many people have highlighted the ridiculousness of this propaganda:
Says the man that invaded Syria, funded jihadists, shot down a Russian plane, killed US and UK YPG volunteers.
Your country is a mess. Youve arrested anyone that disagrees with you.
Youre a lunatic, a jihadist in a suit. Disappear evil little man, Syria would be better for it! https://t.co/DMO1vTRYAS
— Macer Gifford (@macergifford) April 12, 2018
So how exactly has Turkey ‘engulfed’ Syria ‘in the fire of its political and military power struggle’?
As the BBC has noted, Turkey has been a key part of Syria’s ongoing war:
The Turkish government has been a staunch critic of Mr Assad since the start of the uprising in Syria…
Turkey is a key supporter of the Syrian opposition…
its policy of allowing rebel fighters, arms shipments and refugees to pass through its territory has been exploited by foreign jihadists wanting to join IS [Daesh].
And as the Century Foundation thinktank wrote in late 2017:
Weapons had begun trickling into Syria as early as 2011, through backdoor channels organized by Islamist networks, smugglers, merchants, and Bedouin clans, but also with increasingly overt support from Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia…
Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia delivered thousands of tons of military equipment delivered to Syria from 2012 onward…
In early 2015, the Gulf States and Turkey sent a stream of no-questions-asked ammunition crates into northern Syria, alongside quality anti-tank rockets released by the United States.
In fact, Daesh (Isis/Isil) commanders previously spoke about relying on “full cooperation with the Turks”. Jihadis reportedly had safe houses in southern Turkey where they stayed before crossing into Syria. There was [paywall] also a “porous” border, through which a “steady stream [paywall]” of jihadis went into Syria. And Turkey consistently failed to cut off Daesh supply lines.
An overview of Syria’s complex war
Looking at the stages of Syria’s conflict, meanwhile, is essential for understanding the way forward:
- Very real frustrations with the Assad regime escalated into civil war in 2011. The interference of Assad’s regional and international foes (Turkey included) contributed to this, as did the regime’s own authoritarian response to protests.
- The Syrian government dug in and the anti-Assad opposition (sponsored by Turkey and other Western allies) became dominated by Daesh and other jihadi forces.
- Fighting against Daesh soon became the (stated) focus of Western intervention in Syria, and deposing Assad became less of a priority.
- The most effective opponents of Daesh, in northern Syria at least, were the progressive Kurdish-led YPG/YPJ of Rojava. Western allies in the region had isolated these forces for years, but they gained international media attention because of their resistance to Daesh. So the West gave them limited strategic support in this fight from late 2014 onwards.
- The Turkish regime, which was soon cracking down on Kurdish rights and democratic opposition at home, became increasingly frustrated with YPG/YPJ-led successes (which it feared would boost the pro-democracy cause in Turkey), along with its own failing efforts to oust Assad. So it shifted its priorities to focus on fighting the YPG/YPJ, and invaded Syria in late August 2016.
- The YPG/YPJ and their allies defeated Daesh in Raqqa in late 2017. And with Daesh effectively out of the way, the West had little use for the YPG/YPJ and allowed Turkey to launch a cross-border attack on them in January 2018.
In short, Turkish involvement has been a given at every stage of Syria’s conflict. So when Erdoğan says “No one has the right to engulf the Mediterranean and the Syrian lands in the fire of their political and military power struggles”, we can only assume he means ‘no one, apart from us’.
Rather than bombing Syria, how about…
As many people have pointed out, one of the big steps Britain could take to reduce the horrific bloodshed in Syria would be to cut off the arms supply. Because this conflict (and others) has very much been fuelled by the arms trade:
Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world. Two-thirds of UK weapons have been sold to Middle Eastern countries since 2010.
Just in case you hear any platitudes today about peace, stability and human rights…. pic.twitter.com/TMU1siIlTW
— EL4C (@EL4JC) April 10, 2018
Turkey kills Kurds and Theresa May instead of declaring war against Turkey, sees this as an opportunity for arms sales. Indeed a British woman was recently killed by a British bomb dropped by Turkish forces! https://t.co/8NNLEsguQZ
— AnotherGreen (@Anothergreen) April 12, 2018
In fact, Labour officials recently visited northern Syria and criticised the UK’s ongoing trade of arms with Turkey.
In addition to stopping the arms trade, Britain could also put its efforts into supporting positive forces rather than launching a new military intervention. And the YPG/YPJ-defended territories in northern Syria (Rojava) would be a good place to start. As Labour peer Maurice Glasman said recently after visiting the area:
There is a real democracy in Rojava on a very local level, and then there are various structures that women play an active role. It’s a 50 percent women leadership… There really is equal participation of men and women…
They’re all participating together to build a democratic, self-governing society
How wonderful is this!
Can the Kurds defeat ISIS & help build a secular, democratic Syria?
YES THEY CAN!
The western world needs to back the multi-ethnic & multi-faith peoples of N.Syria. They aspire to something great, its our job to support them!@brett_mcgurk @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/RhX10ddt0P
— Macer Gifford (@macergifford) April 10, 2018
The Syrian conflict is both horrific and complex. But we have a clear choice. Rather than fuelling further destruction, we have a real chance to fuel the construction of something positive. And it’s a chance we should take with both hands.
– Write to Theresa May and your MP. Ask them to urge Turkey to stop its invasion of northern Syria, to resume peace talks with its internal opponents, and to release all political prisoners. Until that happens, ask them to cancel and stop approving arms sales to Turkey, and support Campaign Against Arms Trade to help make that happen.
Featured image via YouTube