Friday, October 17, 2014

What makes ISIS the most powerful force in Syria?‎ - Uzay Bulut

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.‎

Uzay Bulut


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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