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Turkey

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: Mere hours before Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visits with his Russian counterpart in Sochi, his government clarified the purpose of its invasion of Northern Syrian. The Turkish government frames its intervention as partly humanitarian, partly security missions. Considering that Erdoğan has called for such a “safe zone” as early as 2015, the political purpose of the “safe zone” can hardly be ignored. More significantly, the legal status of the proposed “safe zone” must be assessed. In this brief note, I examine the Turkish claims and weigh them against legal standards. Continue reading

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

What the results of the 2018 Turkish elections tell us: a preliminary analysis

While the Turkish president celebrates his re-election, we can reason that the results point to a difficult future for Erdogan and his party, due, in part, to Erdogan’s rhetoric that emphasized personality over ideas and loyalty over concern for the nation. 


1. Erdogan’s party lost its majority. In the re-do votes of November 2015, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 316 seats. It only needed 276 seats to form a majority government on its own. It should be noted that during the earlier June elections, the AKP also lost the majority and Erdogan ordered a redo to regain it. This time, too, the AKP needed 300 seats to have a majority in the parliament that would back up decisions by the executive president. It secured only 295 seats. The AKP is now at the mercy of its partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which won 11.1% of the votes, entitling it to 43 seats. This is a first for the AKP since 2002.

2. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), increased the number of its MPs from to 59 to 67. The pro-Kurdish people party, whose leader is imprisoned on “terrorism” charges is now the third largest party (based on the percentage of votes) in the country. It would be highly damaging to Turkey’s standing in relations to civil and human rights to continue to persecute its leader, Selahattin Demirtaş.

3. Despite the loss of majority, Erdogan managed to keep the AKP party together thus far. However, the loss marks a hard ceiling that the AKP cannot breach. During the past 15 years, the AKP benefited from the election law rule that allowed them to fold-in seats of political parties that did not reach the 10% threshold. But it never won a true majority. Now with the emergence of a second center-right party, the IYI Parti, it will be even more difficult for the AKP to win a governing majority on its own. Therefore, the future of the party will remain closely tied to the performance and standing of Erdogan.

4. The election results show that, while Turkish citizens are highly mindful of the importance of elections (86% turnout), Turkish voters are consistent in voting for their party. This fact should worry Erdogan because his agenda will be checked by the leader of the MHP. Although the MHP controls only 43 seats compared to AKP’s 295 seats, the
MHP party leaders are likely to ask for some key posts in the next administration. The health of this alliance can be checked by the outcome of the negotiations for cabinet positions.


5. Although the AKP remained united during this electoral test, there are signs that show that a strong Islamist party is likely to emerge in the future should Erdogan continue his erratic foreign and economic policies. While Saadet party performance was poor, the fact that it garnished 1.3% of the votes without fielding any of former AKP possible defectors signal the potential for the emergence of a plurality of Islamist-leaning political parties. We believe that that will be good for the health of Turkish democracy.

 

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Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

This map, produced by pro-gov. Syrian group, hints
to Syria’s claim over most of Hatay province, could explain
the strategy for dealing with Idlib.
There are historical and political reasons for Turkey’s determination to prevent the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Syria. However, Turkey’s government might be nervous not just because of the Kurdish separatist aspirations, but also because of its long territorial dispute with the Syrian government, which considers most of Hatay province (Iskenderun) Syrian territory. Looking at the military strategy the Syria government has put in place since the start of its military campaign to regain lost territory, it would appear that the Syrian government wants to address its sovereignty claim over Iskenderun in the context of this armed conflict, in which Turkey has been deeply involved politically and militarily. Turkey, on the other hand, given its erratic decisions related to the Syrian crisis and given its fickle alliances, finds itself alone, abandoned by old allies, Saudi Arabia and the US, and untrusted by its new one, Russia and Iran.

 
First, Turkey’s government knows that a sovereign and united Kurdistan with access to international waters is a formidable one. A landlocked Kurdistan will depend on the goodwill of its neighbors to have access to international markets and to the global community in general. But a Kurdistan stretching from the Iraqi-Iranian border in the east to the Mediterranean in the west is viable, strong, and rich. Turkey, more than all its neighbors is threatened by this prospect for many obvious reasons. That is why Turkey feels the need to act now before a political solution for the Syrian crisis, which might result in the creation of a semi-autonomous region in northern Syria, is reached. 
 
Second, it must be noted that Hatay province is inhabited by diverse ethnic and religious groups, but Arabs and Alevis are a majority in its population of nearly 1.5 million people. The region, therefore, despite being under Turkish control, is strongly pro-Syrian government and throughout the Syrian crisis period, many of its people demonstrated in support of the Syrian government.
 
Third, nearly 500,000 Syrians were displaced by the violence in Aleppo and Idlib provinces and these displaced people settled in Hatay province. Moreover, the province borders the very volatile Idlib province that has been a relocation destination for all armed groups who chose not to enter into “reconciliation” agreements with the Syrian government. Idlib is controlled primarily by the powerful Islamist factions supported by Turkey and Qatar, mainly Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS; formerly Jabhat al-Nusra). 
 
Most recently, a number of factions defected from Ahrar al-Sham to join HTS making it the largest Islamist armed group in northern Syria. Parts of Idlib has been designated by the agreement (sponsored by Turkey, Russia, and Iran) as reduced violence zone. However, Russia has insisted all along that all de-escalation zones must exclude terrorist organization and, in the case of Idlib, given its proximity and connection to Turkey, Russia asked Turkey to dissolve or liquidate HTS. Turkey failed to do so, choosing instead to prioritize fighting Kurdish armed groups over fighting HTS and its affiliates. That development initiated a series of other events leading to the current situation. 
 
First, the Syrian government and its allies determined that Turkey has failed to deal with terrorist organizations in Idlib. The government, aided with Russian air force and allied troops, launched a multi-front offensive from the eastern regions under its control and appears to be moving westward. Today, the Syrian government announced full control of Abu Duhu airbase, a large strategic military facility, nearly 16 km2 at the intersection of three key provinces—Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo, that can be used to launch future operations deeper into all three provinces. 
 
Turkey moved troops to some points in Syria and began a military campaign against the Kurds in Afrin. Meanwhile, the US shifted its support to Kurds from assistance to defeat ISIS to training and equipping a permanent military force that it called border control units, which angered the Turkish government and raised some questions about the legality of US presence in Syria without clear UNSC or government authorization. 
 
The Syrian government’s long term strategy is now revealed by its actions on the ground. It appears to involve military campaign to clear internal regions and relocate the diehard armed groups to Idlib with the intent to ultimately force them into Hatay province. Once there, they will be Turkey’s problem to deal with them on its own or enter into an agreement with the Syrian government to settle the border dispute and accommodate the people living therein. That is an impressive long-term strategy, unlike Turkey’s, involving trusted, reliable regional and international allies. 
 
Turkey on the other hand, did not seem to have had a long-term strategy. That fact can be deduced from its erratic alliances. First it joined the anti-Assad coalition led by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and several EU states. Then it joined the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US. Finally, it turned to Russia and Iran. But in the end, and with its Afrin operation, Turkey finds itself alone. Turkey, now, must deal with the ramifications of a crisis that it helped create but failed to control its outcome. Syria, on the other hand, may end up regaining control over disputed border territory or use it to settle its undesirables and all foreign fighters who came to support them. A Hatay province under Turkish control but full of diehard zealots will continue to be a threat to Turkish security and stability–in fact, more so than the imagined or real Kurdish threat.

 
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* 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. For more information, please visit: http://www.ahmedsouaiaia.com

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A Kurdish referendum, now, is counterproductive

A Kurdish referendum, now, is counterproductive

There is no doubt that the Kurdish people, like any other ethnic and linguistic community of their size, have a legitimate claim to self-determination. The Kurdish people in all five countries where they have a sizable population and in the diaspora, are more than 35 million people. Were they able to form a nation of their own right after the end of the colonial era, their country would have been the third most populous country in the region. But the powers to be did not allow that to happen. Their claim to nationhood still stands as a legitimate one.

However, the timing of the referendum, the lack of preparation for it in terms of diplomatic support, and the special circumstances of the region all made this decision a very poor one. It may have been motivated by personal impulses than by the urgency to secure the rights of the Kurdish people.
  
Masoud Barzani, the main proponent of the referendum, is an echo from Saddam’s era. His term in office ended years ago yet he persists to hold power. The regional government has had serious economic challenges and without Turkey’s eagerness to buy energy directly from the regional government, bypassing the central Iraqi government, the Kurdish economy would have collapsed two years ago. 
Since ISIS took over large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria in 2014, Kurdish fighters, with the help of anti-ISIS coalitions, pushed back ISIS only to claim the cleared territory as their own. This alone diminishes from the appeal of self-determination claim that the Kurds have asserted because it makes them appear as an aggressive expansionist regime that is willing to take advantage of the dire situation in Iraq and Syria.

The expansion, is bad public relation statement and shortsighted. Evidently, the newly acquired territories bring with it non-Kurdish populations, Arab, Turkmen, Persian, Armenian, etc. who will be made minorities dominated by a government that privileges and prioritizes Kurdish nationalism—creating new fault lines for protracted conflicts.
Kurdish political leaders ought to learn from the case of South Sudan. Prior to the division of Sudan, the conflict was made to appear as a conflict between the Muslim north and the Christian south, the Arab north and the African south. Since independence, the civil war in South Sudan became worse and the economic conditions of the landlocked territory became dire. Similarly, a landlocked Kurdistan in northern Iraq will make life for Kurds in the other four countries harder, and the potential civil war within Kurdistan in Iraq will increase. Turkey, by virtue of being home to the largest number of Kurds in the region will choke the Kurdish enclave and treat its own Kurdish population with even more hostility.
It is one thing to be supportive of disempowered communities and stand by any people who seek a life where they can live with dignity and respect. But Masoud Barzani used the Kurdish dream for self-determination to make a reckless decision that will, without doubt, make life for all Kurds harder and their fight for a better life even more costly. He failed to win the support of a single influential nation and made it harder for NGO’s and activists to continue their support of the Kurdish people. It is unfortunate that one man, whose term in office has run long ago, has risked the dream of so all, the Kurds, including those outside Iraq.

Full text of the list of demands submitted by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt to Qatar

Full text of the list of demands submitted by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt to Qatar

ISR comment: Four Arab States want Qatar to close down Aljazeera, a sign that the current crisis is in fact a reaction to and fear of the protest movements popularly known as the Arab Spring. It was on the pages of ISR that the role of Aljazeera in galvanizing social change in the Arab world was thoroughly explained and it was on the pages of ISR that the first prediction that the Gulf States will implode from the inside as a result of the change initiated by the protest movement that overthrew Ben Ali (now living in Saudi Arabia) and Mubarak (now back from prison after Sisi regained power).
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A summary of the demands submitted by the Saudis, Bahrainis, Emiratis, and Egyptians to Qatar through Kuwait:
_____
1. Reduce diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard from Qatar and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with U.S. and international sanctions will be permitted.


2. Shutting down the Turkish military base in Qatar and stop any military agreements with Turkey inside Qatar


3. Announce the cutting of ties to “terrorist organizations,” including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State, al-Qaida, and Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.


4. Stop providing financial support to entities and individuals list on the list previously provided by the four nations.


5. Handover all persons accused of terrorists and seize their property.


6. Shut down Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.


7. Stop interfering in the affairs of neighboring states, stop offering citizens to persons from neighboring states, and provide a list of citizens of neighboring states who were offered Qatar citizenship.


8. Pay for all damages caused by Qatar policy and practices in neighboring states.


9. Assure full compliance with Arab decision and agree to honor the Riyadh agreements with Gulf nations of 2013 and 2014.


10. Submit a list of documents by and about opposition figures supported by Qatar.


11. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly (i.e., Arabi21, Rassd, al-Araby Al-Jadeed, and Middle East Eye).


12. Agree to all these terms within 10 days or it will be considered void.


13. the agreement shall consist of clear mechanism of compliance, including monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year, and annually for ten years thereafter.

This Crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar likely to dismantle the GCC

This Crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar likely to dismantle the GCC

Together, Saudi Arabian and Qatari rulers bankrolled armed rebellions that destroyed Libya, Syria, and Yemen. They offered political and military support to all armed groups that are willing to fight regimes they do not like. Their united front against their common enemies did nothing to remove their own internal problems. Now, they have to face those problems and from the first look, they shattered. Previously, the club of rich nations known as the GCC worked together to force poor Arab countries fall in line. They exerted their power to expel a founding member of the Arab League, Syria, out of the intergovernmental organization. When Qatar hosted the annual summit of the Arab League, it maneuvered to give Syria’s seat to some obscure figure from the Syrian opposition groups.

On May 22, while in Saudi Arabia, Trump met with about 53 representatives of government of Arab and Muslim nations to show a united front against what he called “radical Islamist terrorism.” A day after he left, media outlets from Saudi Arabia and UAE accused Qatar of undermining Arab unity by supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran. On the charge of supporting terrorism, Qatar essentially replied by invoking the proverb: the pot calling the kettle black. Indeed that sums it up: Saudi Arabia is the only regime that espouses the radical interpretation of Islam called, Wahhabi Salafism. They worked on promoting this creed around the world under the guise of Sunni Islam. Every fighter joining al-Qaeda or ISIL is a follower of this radical creed. So it is laughable that Saudi Arabia is accusing other governments of supporting terrorism while its rulers have provided weapons to Salafists fighting in Syria and Libya and used its resources and connections to spread Wahhabism through Islamic centers all over the world. Rulers of Qatar seem determined to resist its bullying neighbors this time. They activated their assets, mainly well-financed and well-staffed media powerhouse, Aljazeera, and members of and sympathizers with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar might be behind the leaked emails of a diplomat from UAE. The emails show that the GCC states used their wealth to hire the best and most influential PR and lobbyists to influence policy makers and governments around the world and in the United States. One of the emails show how Gulf States’ diplomats promote one prince over others and how they work with journalists to raise the profile of individuals they like and raise concerns about groups and governments they do not like.

The coming days and weeks will reveal more since these two countries worked together to destabilize other countries. Each side will be leaking more emails and diplomatic documents that will show the extent of their involvement in creating shady alliances, destabilizing other countries, and using their assets to mask all their covert operations around the world.

What went wrong with Turkey’s referendum?

What went wrong with Turkey’s referendum?

Ayla Gol*

Turkey has missed an historical opportunity to prove that liberal democracy could work in a Muslim country. On Sunday, the 16th of April, over 50 million people voted in a public referendum and approved a constitutional change leading to a stronger presidency with extended powers. The voters had two options in the ballot boxes for an executive presidency (Cumhurbaşkanlığı sistemi): Yes or No. Results released by the state-run Anadolu Agency were that 51.4% voted ‘yes’ to change Turkey’s political system from a parliamentarian democracy to a presidential one.

In the three largest cities – the capital Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir – as well as in the mainly Kurdish southeast Anatolia, the majority said ‘no’. The main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP) are preparing to contest the results within the period of objection.

There is one clear result after the referendum: Turkey is a deeply polarized country with a bitterly divided nation. Polarization has always been part of Turkish society but has never been as visible as it is now: pious and seculars; Turks and Kurds; Istanbulians (Istanbullular) and others, Europeans and Anatolians; and most recently women with and without headscarves, are the best examples. The rift between secularists and Islamists has become the main fault-line in Turkish politics under the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, Justice and Development Party) rule. Post-referendum controversies indicate that the AKP miserably failed ‘the test of democratic change’ in a Muslim country.
The referendum’s legitimacy in question

Turkey’s referendum was free but unfair. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Turkey is a member state, criticized the pre-referendum conditions that gave a disproportionate share of media coverage. The ‘no’ campaign was silenced since the pro-Kurdish party’s co-leaders, Selahittin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were arrested in November 2016. European human rights observers stated that the referendum failed the marks on international standards expected by the Council of Europe due to irregularities and late changes in the voting system. The European Union (EU) questioned the legitimacy of the referendum and recommended Turkey to investigate the irregularities. Meanwhile, the US President Donald Trump congratulated President Recep Tayip Erdoğan. Mr Erdoğan immediately gave his victory speech on the referendum night and thanked all voters. He also said that Turkey ‘does not see, hear, or acknowledge the reports by the OSCE observer mission.’

According to Erdoğan, the change now opens the path to a much more rapid development so that Turkey will become a more democratic, secure and stable country. Many of us doubt this. There is no question that the current constitution, which was accepted after the military coup of 1980, needs to be amended but not in an illiberal way. I argue that the changes in the constitution embody the illiberal democracy of AKP’s political Islam and nationalist authoritarianism.

Turkey is a country full of paradoxes and contradictions. When the pro-Islamic AKP first came to power in 2002, Turkey was seen as a shining example of a secular democracy in the Muslim world. The AKP has ruled the country since then. Under Erdoğan’s leadership, it has achieved an exemplary economic development, tackled with ‘a state within a state’ (deep state) bureaucracy and clamped the military’s power while engaging with a peace process with the Kurds during the early days of the AKP governance. In 2017, none of these achievements is sustainable. Turkey is no longer a country governed democratically.
The failed coup of July 2016 as a catalyst

Within the last 94 years of its modern history, Turkey has suffered from military coups almost every decade, including the failed attempt of July 2016. The debates on changing Turkey’s political system to an executive presidency also had been on the agenda since the 1970s. Turkey’s previous presidents Turgut özal and Süleyman Demirel, who both had direct experience of military coups, initiated the debate that a presidential system similar to the US could address the ‘compelling issues’ that haunted the country for decades. We still do not know who was the mastermind of the failed coup attempt but Erdoğan points to the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who participated in Turkish politics in the 1970s and lives in exile in the USA since 1999. Within the last nine months, around 50,000 people have been arrested and over 100,000 state officers were fired because of presumed connections with the Gülenist movement. The country is governed under a state of emergency with fear and an ongoing purge.

Following the debates of özal and Demirel, President Erdoğan put the idea of change to a presidential system into practice. The crucial step was taken earlier in 2007 when the Turkish constitution was modified to have a public referendum on the presidency, but the failed coup attempt in July 2016 has acted as a catalyst for change. For Erdoğan, the change is essential to protect not only democracy from shadowy forces within, such as the deep state and the Gülen supporters, but also the unity of the country and the ‘Turkish nation’ against the outside security threats of the Islamic State jihadists and the Kurdish separatist groups in the Middle East. The irony is that both Erdoğan and his opponents argue in the name of protecting Turkey’s national interests and democratic future.
The poverty of democracy in Turkey

Since the transition to a multi-party system in 1950 Turkey has been on a trial whether or not a western type of democracy can be consolidated in a Muslim country. As argued in some of the literature on the subject, “in the west, democracy has meant liberal democracy – a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property”. Despite ‘free and fair elections’, Turkey is no longer governed by the rule of law: it holds the highest number of journalists, academics, judges, and lawyers in jail since the failed coup of July 2016.

Turkey’s main problem is the poverty of its democracy in a deeply polarized society. Secular, leftists and Kurdish groups not only said ‘no’ to the presidential system but have also voiced criticism saying that Turkey has never been a fully-fledged democracy with the protection of basic liberties.

Although Turkey’s current political system is imperfect, nevertheless political power is not concentrated in the hands of one-man because checks and balances operate through the separation of powers: the head of government (the prime minister) and the head of the state (the president) are two different people; the president is neutral without any political party ties and role; the executive branch of the government derives its legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislature; the power of two branches (executive and legislative) is balanced by an impartial judiciary. The separation of powers is protected by the constitution. Historically, constitutions are essential to establish the rules of a social contract as to how power is exercised within the state. In general, constitutions evolve to reflect the progressive change of societies but, unfortunately, this trend is going backwards in Turkey.

The package of 18 constitutional amendments has passed to abolish the post of prime minister; the president can keep ties with political parties, have the authority to draft the budget, declare a state of emergency; and will issue decrees to appoint ministries without parliamentary approval. More importantly, the impartiality of the judiciary branch suffers the most, as the presidency will have broad authority over the high council of judges and prosecutors. All these changes lead to the concentration of political power in the hands of one individual, president Erdoğan, with weakened checks and balances. In short, by eliminating the separation of powers and the impartiality of the judiciary, these changes reverse Turkey into illiberal democracy and increase Erdoğan’s authoritarianism.
Illiberal democracy and authoritarian nationalism

For some of us, this was an expected result given the fact that ‘illiberal democracies have become more the norm than the exception’ in many countries with different cultures and religions. Erdoğan’s authoritarianism is not a new type of political Islam and but old school nationalism combined with illiberal democracy, just like Putin in Russia and Modi in India. Erdoğan’s authoritarianism has nothing to do with Islam but uses religion supported by the ideology of Turkish nationalism. The main obstacles blocking Turkey’s democratic path are set up by the founding paranoia of the state about its enemies outside and its distrust of ethnic minorities inside. This nationalist tradition has been ruling the country, both in the name of conservatism and religion. In practice, Erdoğan has been in power for the last 14 years and mastered the paranoia of inside and outside enemies by using nationalist and anti-western discourses.

The referendum was about confidence in Erdoğan. One of the crucial changes that Erdoğan promised in October 2016 after the failed military coup is reinstating capital punishment. As one of the pre-conditions of its EU membership, Turkey abolished capital punishment legally in 2004. The AKP government promised to present a draft law reinstating the death penalty in Turkey and Erdoğan promised to approve it immediately after the referendum. It is a response to the nationalist and populist protests calling for the hanging of Fethullah Gülen and the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah öcalan. For Erdoğan, it will send strong messages to Turkey’s enemies inside – Gülenists and separatist Kurds – and the enemies outside which he describes as the west’s ‘crusader mentality’. On the contrary, for his critics, this will widen the gap in a peace process with the Kurds. For Turkey’s EU membership, the abolition of capital punishment is a red line. Turkey has never been further away from its European path in its history and will reverse faster into illiberal democracy.

There is no doubt that authoritarian nationalism and populism continue to leech on the weaknesses of majoritarian politics. The 51% majority of voters decided to allow Erdoğan to remain in power possibly as late as until 2029, in other words being ruled by the same leader for 30 years, as it was under the Ottoman sultans. Moreover, majoritarian politics is a double-edged sword in a marginally divided country, like Turkey. Will Erdoğan continue to polarise the society, oppress the opposition and ignore the other half of society? Within the next two years, in November 2019 and probably earlier, presidential and parliamentary elections must be held. Once again, the majority of people – Turks and Kurds – will have time to observe how Erdoğan will use his extended powers in the coming months. In other words, a lot is at stake under the one-man rule for Turkey’s future, including for Erdoğan himself. The question is whether Turkish society has reached a level of maturity to distinguish liberal democracy from illiberal one or not.

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* Ayla Gol is a Reader and Director of Graduate School at the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University. She is the author of Turkey Facing East: Islam, Modernity and Foreign Policy.

Government of at least one of Gulf Cooperation Council nations continues to supply Nusra with weapons

Government of at least one of Gulf Cooperation Council nations continues to supply Nusra with weapons

Recent investigative reporting has revealed that weapons continue to reach al-Qaeda affiliate groups in Syria. Weapons shipments reached the group formerly known as al-Nusra as recent as April 6, 2017. The report did not name the government that is paying for these weapons. However, the government of…

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Was Astana Meeting on Syria a Success? Consider the reaction on the ground in Syria

Was Astana Meeting on Syria a Success? Consider the reaction on the ground in Syria

Analysis: Was Astana Meeting on Syria a Success? 
Leader of the new faction created by Nusra: Abu Jabir al-Sheikh
In past, when the U.S. administration and the Russian government attempted to solve the Syrian crisis, their efforts collapsed because they failed to reach an agreement on identifying and separating terrorist groups from non-terrorist groups, or groups that are willing to negotiate a political settlement from those who don’t. Then, after a single meeting held in Astana, which was convened by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, armed groups in northern Syria appear to be separating themselves along those lines. If that process continues, the Astana meeting would have achieved what many meetings have failed to do.

Even before the end of the Astana meeting, which was attended by representatives of about ten armed groups in Syria, the powerful group formerly known as al-Nusra, launched a preemptive war against the groups that took part in the meeting. Nusra accused them of signing on a deal that will isolate Nusra and label it as a terrorist organization, which will allow forces of the various coalitions operating in Syria to attack it. 
Seeking protections from Nusra, smaller armed groups quickly moved to join stronger Islamist groups. According to Ahrar al-Sham, on Thursday alone, six rebel factions, including Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups, joined its ranks.

Ahrar al-Sham, which presents itself as a mainstream Sunni Islamist group, sided with the FSA groups and said Nusra had rejected mediation attempts. It said that any attack on its new members will be tantamount to a “declaration of war.”

The groups that joined Ahrar al-Sham are: Alwiyat Suqur al-Sham, Fastaqim kama unmirt, Jaysh al-Islam–Idlib branch, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, and al-Jabha al-Shamiya–west Aleppo branch.

Ahrar al-Sham is considered a terrorist group by Moscow and did not attend the Russian-backed Astana meeting. But it said it would support FSA factions that took part if they secured a favorable outcome for the opposition.
    

These steps taken by Ahrar al-Sham created an internal crisis for the group. A number of its leading figures resigned and there were reports that some factions within the group left and joined Nusra. 
On Friday, and underscoring the titanic shift that took place after the Astana meeting and other developments around the world, Nusra, which had changed its name to Jabhat Fath al-Sham, announced that it is dissolving itself and merging with four other armed groups to form a new faction calling itself Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. This new coalition consists of Nour Eddine Zenki Movement, Liwa al-Haq, Jabhat Ansar al-Din, and Jaysh al-Sunna. They called on other armed groups to join them.
These events are extraordinary. Some have criticized the Syrian government for accepting settlements with armed groups and allowing their fighters to move to Idlib. It seems that Assad’s government has had a long term strategy after all. With the infighting that is going to start soon that now new alliances are formed among the rebels, his forces may not have to fight these armed groups. They will battle each other to near extinction, given their propensity to see an enemy in every one who disagrees with them. The Syrian government will then move in and retake the province form the exhausted survivors without major losses.


Why are Western governments angered by those who compare the military campaigns in Mosul and Aleppo?

Why are Western governments angered by those who compare the military campaigns in Mosul and Aleppo?


Charred bodies of ISIL fighters suggest abuse
Over the last weekend of the month of November, Russian military leaders reacted to Western criticism of Russia’s support to the Syrian government to retake eastern Aleppo from armed groups. They countered by accusing the U.S. and its allies of double standard. They suggested, essentially, that what the Syrian government is doing in Aleppo is not any different from what the Iraqi government is doing in Mosul. On Monday November 1, the State Department “slammed Moscow’s comparison”, calling it “ludicrous” and “insulting.” Curiously, it was actually a Western media outlet, The Independent (see below), from UK, that first made the comparison on October 21, in one of its lead stories, Compare the coverage of Mosul and East Aleppo and it tells you a lot about the propaganda we consume.
Explaining the reasons the U.S. administration felt that such a comparison is insulting, State Department spokesman John Kirby said: 

“I mean, in Aleppo you’ve got the regime laying siege to a city with the support of their biggest backer, Russia. In Mosul you have an entire coalition of some 66 nations who have planned for months, so with the vast support and legitimacy of the international community, to retake a city from Daesh over a period of months in support of Iraqi Security Forces.”

It must be noted that, anticipating Western criticism, Russia had suspended its airstrikes on the city of Aleppo weeks before the Syrian government forces and their allies started their operation in east Aleppo. The Russian military insisted that it had halted its airstrikes in early October, “to allow civilians to leave the city through six humanitarian corridors established by the Syrian government.”
Resisting the comparison is purely political as it serves no real purpose in terms of ending the tragedy the Syrian and Iraqi peoples have endured in the last five years. Those who reject the comparison are also behind the selective use of violent armed groups to achieve political goals. There is no doubt that both the Iraqi and Syrian peoples are subjected to horrific conditions, most of which are not of their own doing. Their suffering is the direct outcome of activities by regional and global powers who are using destabilizing these two countries to pursue geopolitical and economic interests.
The comparison is sound, and it should unite all thse countries who claim concern for the Syrian people to focus on ending this crisis. The comparison of the situations in Mosul and Aleppo has merits. Here is why.
Aleppo                                                              ||     Mosul
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* Used to be the largest city in Syria                 || * Used to be the second largest city in Iraq
* Inhabited by predominantly Sunni Muslims   || * Inhabited by predominantly Sunni Muslims
* Taken over by predominantly Salafi militants || * Taken over by predominantly Salafi militants
* Being recaptured by government forces and    || *Being recaptured by government forces and  
allies including,                                                   || allies including,
# Syrian military units                                          || # Iraq military units
# Syrian security and police units                         || # Iraq security and police units
# Shia paramilitary units                                        || # Shia paramilitary units
# Palestinian paramilitary units                              || # Turkman paramilitary units
# Tribal paramilitary units                                     || # Tribal paramilitary units
# Kurdish paramilitary units                                   || # Kurdish paramilitary units
# Foreign governments’ military units                    || # Foreign governments’ military units
(authorized by the UN recognized Syrian            || (authorized by the UN Iraqi government)
Government                                                          ||
* Nusra and its allied control 225,000 civilians      || * ISIL controls 1,200,00 civilians in the city
in the city of Aleppo                                             || of Mosul
* US coalition not authorized by Syrian                || * US coalition authorized by the Iraqi government
government                                                           || but Russia not authorized by Iraqi government
* Civilians used as human shields by armed group || * Civilians used as human shields by ISIL
* Civilians are killed in the operation                      || * Civilians are killed in the operation    
* All sides might have violated international laws || * All sides might have violated international laws
governing armed conflicts                                     || governing armed conflicts
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The only difference between the Iraqi and Syrian situations is that, while there is a consensus among most world governments to support the Iraqi government retake its cities from terrorists, a handful of governments including current U.S. administration, the French government, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, have committed themselves to overthrowing Bashar Assad by any means necessary, including the use of al-Qaeda derivatives to achieve that main objective. It is this political goal, and nothing else, that is prolonging the carnage in Syria, which is, now, having some affect on neighboring countries.
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