by Uzay Bulut
When the civil war in Syria started, Salafis were a minor element of the Syrian opposition. But since the beginning of 2013, five of the most powerful organizations in Syria have been Salafi groups. ISIS was only one of them. Today, ISIS is the most powerful group in the region.
It is widely acknowledged that three countries back the Salafi groups for their own political or economic motives: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Turkey and Free Syrian Army
What happened to the Free Syrian Army?
The Free Syrian Army is not an organized, militarily trained or ideologically homogenous group. This has resulted in its weakening in conflict zones. And the political rivalry between countries that support the FSA has also played a role in its loss of power. Turkey, for example, supported the FSA groups that fought against Kurds in Syrian Kurdistan and Aleppo but the Saudis supported other FSA groups in the same region in order to establish political hegemony there. This has made the FSA even more fragmented, open to corruption and ideologically divided. And the empowerment of the Salafis was a final blow to the FSA.
Turkey and the Syrian National Council
Despite its influence in the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council, Turkey has not striven to turn the council into a democratic and pluralistic organization. What has mattered for Turkey has been the loyalty of SNC persons and groups to Turkey's "red lines." Most of the SNC consists of Arab nationalist and Islamist groups whose political agendas are in line with the state ideologies of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Actually, members of this council have not been free to express their demands openly and their fates depend on the steps to be taken by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. With its current structure, internal power struggles and ineffective members, it seems that the SNC does not promise hope for the Syrian people.
Moreover, the SNC has not taken a concrete, independent step toward expressing its own demands other than issuing written statements. The SNC's support for anti-pluralistic Islamist groups, its hostile stance against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which administers the autonomous regions of Syrian Kurdistan, and its silent approval of Salafi attacks against the PYD's armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), are other signs of its anti-democratic nature.
Turkey and Salafis
Turkey's anti-PYD stance in Syrian Kurdistan and its desire to gain power in the post-Assad era have caused it to invest in jihadist groups in Syria. Its main criteria in determining which plans and groups to support in Syria were the Kurdish issue and Islamism.
With those criteria in mind, it has reportedly provided intelligence, logistics and monetary support to groups fighting against the Kurds, enabling the flows of fighters and ammunition to them.
It has reportedly hosted the leaders of some Salafi groups in Ankara. For example, it invited Ahrar ash-Sham's leader, who was already living in Turkey and had close relations with the Turkish Foreign Ministry, to help him negotiate with the FSA.
Turkey's policy -- or political games -- on Syrian Kurdistan
On the one hand, Turkey has supported all forces, including ISIS, that are fighting the Kurdish YPG. It has provided these forces with health services and logistics, facilitating the flow of their fighters to Syria. On the other hand, Turkey has formed other military groups that it can control more than ISIS.
For instance, an armed group called the Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade, which fought against the Kurds in Sere Kaniye (in Syrian Kurdistan) in 2012, was reportedly established in the Turkish province of Urfa, with the support of the Turkish government.
In November 2013, Turkey and Saudi Arabia reportedly formed a new Salafi front, called the Islamic Front, which consists of groups such as Al-Tawhid Brigade, Ahrar ash-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and Ansar al-Sham. As a result of this project, Salafism in the region became even more intensified.
Turkey's relations with the Islamist and jihadist groups in Syria have further deepened the ethnic and religious divisions in the region. Even though Turkey is a NATO member and an EU candidate, it has been fueling the civil war in Syria, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, intensifying armed conflicts and increasing the suffering of civilians.
Islam, ISIS and the West
Most Western analysts and politicians choose to overlook the fact that the rise of jihadism has much to do with literalist interpretations of the Quran.
The idea that ISIS is a reaction to U.S. and Western foreign policy is unrealistic. Without studying the history of Islamic jihad from its beginnings in 620 C.E., the current rise of jihadist groups and the influence of the historic jihadist mentality on today's challenging times cannot be fully understood. Whether the West intervenes in Islamic countries or not, jihadists will always desire to conquer Western, non-Muslim, and secular Muslim countries. This will continue for as long as they have adequate funds and logistical support.
Turkey chooses ISIS over the Kurds
Turkey has openly chosen ISIS over the Kurds. It would also choose another radical Islamist, Salafi force that it could control more easily, but under the current circumstances, it has chosen ISIS over the PYD. Turkey does not want the PYD administration on its southern border. The fact that Turkey does not have a preventive stance toward ISIS and overlooks the flow of ISIS fighters to Syria are indications of this.
The AKP government's understanding of "democratic resolution"
The stance of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) toward the Kurdish issue is complex and ridden with contradictions. Unlike traditional Kemalist governments, the AKP government seems to be trying to resolve the Kurdish issue by expelling armed groups from its own territory.
The resolution of the Kurdish issue, however, is not only about ending armed conflicts. Kurds demand the right to self-rule, and especially, linguistic rights.
To this end, the Kurdish Language Research Foundation, Democratic Society Congress and Teachers' Union established three schools that would give education in Kurdish in the Kurdish provinces of Diyarbakir, Sirnak and Hakkari. The schools were opened on September 15, 2014 but were closed by police on September 16, as the governors of those cities had declared the schools illegal and the Turkish Interior Ministry had ordered that the schools be sealed. The students, their parents and local politicians opened the seals of the schools to start education on September 17. But the police sealed the schools on the same day again, this time using pepper spray, gas bombs and water cannons against the protesters (including elderly people) who demanded that the schools be opened.
This must be an unprecedented, Turkish-style resolution of a national conflict through "democratic" means. Turkey has given a unique meaning to democratization which should be analyzed in sociology textbooks under the chapter "How Not to Make Peace with Oppressed Minorities."
The AKP government presents the Kurds' desire to have education in their native language as "a demand thwarting the resolution process." Its intolerance against Kurdish schools alone shows that the AKP government is seeking not to achieve peace with its Kurds, but to establish a new kind of hegemony over them.
As if Turkey's oppression of its own Kurds did not suffice, now it aims to annihilate the autonomous administrations of Syrian Kurdistan with all the means at its disposal, particularly with the military might that it owes mostly to its NATO membership.
Be it the AKP government or former Kemalist governments, Turkey has always made it its hobby to oppress the Kurds.
But it was the West that paved the way for dividing and separating Kurdistan with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, leaving Kurds stateless and marking the beginning of their tragic fate. So it is the same West that should end this injustice and help the Kurds realize their centuries-old dream of statehood.
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