As Turkey moves past last month’s election, the foreign policy challenges remain acute, particularly in Syria, and there is a looming confrontation with the United States over sanctions on Iran that might undo the recent progress toward the normalisation of U.S.-Turkish relations. Continue reading
This week marks the seventh anniversary of the Syrian revolution. A movement that began with peaceful street protests calling for reform and—after the government responded with lethal violence—the downfall of the dictator, descended into war that has to this point cost the lives of at least 500,000 people and displaced nearly twelve million others—more than half of Syria’s pre-war population.
In any strategic sense the rebellion has been defeated—it is not able to overthrow Bashar al-Assad by force on its own—and its political cause is increasingly strained as the remnants of the armed opposition are increasingly co-opted by external actors, state and non-state. Continue reading
A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly
The city of Minbij in northern Syria has become a source of severe political tension between the United States and Turkey. It might also be the key to reducing tensions and normalising relations. Continue reading
The American-led Coalition’s partner against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), presents itself, ideologically and in terms of the governance structure it controls, in universalistic liberal and democratic terms, emphasizing ecological and feminist themes. The reality is that the SDF is under the politico-military control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization that has run a four-decade-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK has brought some measure of stability to the areas it controls, but it continues to struggle for legitimacy and without locally-legitimate government IS and other jihadi-Salafists will find political room to operate. The PKK’s continued monopolization of power and abusive governance practices undermine the chances for the “Rojava” system to evolve into a long-term solution to the jihadist terrorists that have used Syrian territory to threaten the region and the wider world. Continue reading
The Central Intelligence Agency has publicly recognized that the Kurdish partner force the United States-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) has been working with in Syria is a subsidiary of the terrorist-designated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Continue reading
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, threatened on Jan. 13 to begin a military operation “in about a week ” to evict Kurdish militants from Afrin in northwestern Syria. Erdoğan has repeatedly threatened to “cleanse ” Afrin of the fighters over the last two years. It turned out he really meant it this time: on Jan. 20 Turkey commenced Operation Olive Branch against Afrin.
Kurdish forces, affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have constituted an important element of the Coalition’s ground force in Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS) since late 2014, expanding their “Rojava” statelet by capturing vast swathes of territory from ISIS in northern and eastern Syria that is connected to Afrin under a deal with the pro-regime coalition—Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia.
Any Turkish government would see this situation as a threat, and be angry at the United States for supporting the Kurds. The PKK regards Rojava and the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) as strategic elements in its long war against the Turkish state. Indeed, Kurds in Rojava have already provided at least logistical support for PKK attacks inside Turkey. Continue reading
The Astana track of Syrian “peace” negotiations began on 23 January 2017, under Russian guidance in the Kazakh capital, with Iran and Turkey also invited as “guarantor countries” of the various sides in Syria. The process, initiated in the shadow of the savage conquest of Aleppo city in December 2016 that signalled the total strategic defeat of the insurrection against the Bashar al-Asad regime, was an attempt by Moscow to convert the military gains it had enabled by Asad and Iran on the ground into political facts that could then be imported into the internationally-recognized Geneva process. This “Astana-isation of Geneva” was Russia’s bid to take control of the political process and redefine it: rather than having Asad’s removal as its end-goal, it would set the terms of reintegration into the Asad state. Abetted by a purblind Western campaign against the Islamic State (IS) and a strategic reorientation in Turkey, the pro-Asad coalition has more or less had its way for the last year. But there are now signs that this approach is beginning to unravel. Continue reading