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Summer Pursuits: Syrian Kurds

Part 1: Opening Corridors and Pathways to Peace in the Middle East: Territorial Gains In Syria & Nuclear Agreement Reached In Iran.

With a disaster in Tunisia creating yet more despair.

On Monday 15th June the Syrian Kurdish YPG led forces captured the strategic town of Tel Abayd long held by the jihadi forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) aided by US-led coalition airstrikes. I heard about this on the Tuesday 16th from a Kurdish source viewing the victory as a game changer in the territorial battles in Syria and a step towards self-rule for Kurds or in the fullness of time a Kurdish state.

The YPG (People’s Protection Units), appear to western observers as being the best ground force opposing ISIS in Syria. They secured coalition backing when they won Kobane in 2014 and continuing successes should strengthen their position in future political developments in Syria which concerns some Arabs and Turks alike. The YPG is primarily a military group that co-operates with the YPD (the Kurdish Democratic Union) which is a Syrian Kurdish political party. The YPG/YPD has historic links to Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). A group still considered by Turkey, also intriguingly, the EU and US as a terrorist group.

In opposition to the Kurds there’s the myriad of groupings of ISIS and al Qa’eda affiliates such as al Nursa, plus the Assad regime and their allies such as Iranian backed Lebanese based Shi’ite Hezbollah involved in the multi-ethnic, multi-factional war raging in Syria and much of Iraq. Sadly, its causes and influences are spreading further across the Islamic world where recent tragic events in Tunisia bear brutal witness with 38 tourists shot on the beach front, 30 of whom were British (Telegraph, 2015).

Tunisia was recovering from its political struggles of the 2011 Arab Spring which has been its only success story to date. Its government and economy will now need help after the attack in Sousse and in March 2015 at the Bardo Museum in Tunis (Guardian, 2015). Assistance from international agencies to support its tourist industry and develop its security apparatus should be seen as important in winning both the military and political aspects of the wider regional conflicts. It’s international aid worth giving otherwise the terrorists win.

The Kurdish corridor forming in Northern Syria, covering the cantons of Cizire, Tal Abyad, Kobane and the smaller still separated Efrin by IS controlled Jarablus, is “a shift in dynamics that is permanent,” considers Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services in regard to future talks (FT,2015). Unfortunately, there’s more territorial conflict to follow before future talks can begin.

Both my source and news reports speculate that Kurdish forces may push to secure the towns of Jarablus and Azaz, mixed Arab-Kurdish areas west of Kobane, hopefully linking up with Kurdish canton Efrin. More ambitiously pushing south to engage with IS in their stronghold of Raqqa. What’s better required would be a broader well-backed force of the YPG and Syrian Arabs with support from Turkey, gaining local support as it advances with continue air support from the coalition to subdue ISIS forces and pacify local factions (of Islamist rebels) creating an enduring resolution on the ground.

Towards this end will require conclusive negotiations between the various factions against ISIS and the Assad Regime. Leading to and encouraging bold and conciliatory talks with the Assad Regime/Hezbollah to create something akin to that achieved in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the 1992-95 civil war with the Daytona agreement.

It’s a tall order, of course, but worth pursuing as Bosnia at the time was considered an intractable mess. The maps are even being to resemble each other (Economist, 2015; Wikipedia, 2015).

Interestingly with ISIS controlling fuel supply routes north-to-south and fuel prices rising sharply petrol smuggling thrives amongst rival factions. The Syrian Kurdish forces get supplied from Kurdistan in Northern Iraq along routes under their control or through southern Turkey. This trade and movement of fuel contains a kernel of hope that if deals can be struck for fuel needs. Then by other trade incentives, can co-operation and mutual trust be mustered over time to quell the violence and allow economic activity to recover and lives rebuilt?

Finally, with the Kurdish corridor running along Turkey’s southern border unnerving President Erdogan enough to say he would,” never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria,” highlights Turkey’s concerns over Kurdish self-rule or a state for themselves (Economist, 2015). The Kurdish corridor helps stop supply and communication lines for foreign jihadi forces coming in to Syria from Turkey.

Kurds accuse Mr Erdogan of tacitly supporting IS, although the jihadists are a concern for Turkey too who support other rebel groups in the fight against the Assad regime in Syria along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey needs to build an alliance with someone to protect its porous borders from mass infiltration. Who they choose is vital to quell the hatred and pacify local populations to build a pathway to peace.

If it holds, the Kurdish corridor in northern Syria could be a building block for future negotiations for Kurdish autonomy perhaps in a Balkanised Syria.

In a wider geo-political context the nuclear restricting -sanction lifting deal between Iran and the grouping of the US, China, UK, France, Russia and Germany raises both hopes and fears from all sides for a change in the behaviour and prospects for Iran as a regional powerbroker to use its influence in Syria to gain a wider peace although the pathway here remains pitted with potholes and boulders-please read summer pursuits 2 for further comment and further reading links.

LDC

References and further reading-

Economist; (2015); “Drawing in the Neighbours”, The Economist Newspaper Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed 18th July 2015: www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21656692-turkey-and-jordan-are-considering-setting-up-buffer-zones-war-scorched

Financial Times Ltd; (2015); “YPG’s Tel Abyad victory changes the game for Syria’s Kurds”, by E. Solomon, G. Dyer and P. Zalewski, Financial Times Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 17th June 2015. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6f0089f4-143a-11e5-ad6e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3gG04cVvh

Guardian News and Media Ltd; (2015); “The Guardian view on the killings in Tunisia: the Arab spring’s only success needs support,” by Editorial; Guardian News and Media Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 18th July 2015: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/19/guardian-view-killing-tunisia-arab-spring-success-needs-support

Telegraph Media Group Limited; (2015); “Tunisia attack: Only one weapon was ‘used to kill the terror attack victims’ – as it happened July 1”, Telegraph Media Group Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 18th July 2015: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/tunisia/11701043/Tunisia-attack-shooting-Isil-linked-warning-live.html

Wikipedia; (2015); “Daytona Agreement”, Wikipedia Foundation Inc. Website accessed 18th July 2015: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dayton_Agreement

Electric Elections: Conservatives Surprise and Turkish Delight

Part 2: Turkish Delight

“When you are in the basement the only way is up,” is a comment from a Kurdish ex-pat friend on the expectation of better times ahead for his people.

So much for the UK’s unexpected electoral dramas over in Turkey there was a game changer for the ruling AKP and its power seeking President Erdogan. They were denied a majority for the 1st time for 13 years with the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) winning 13% of the vote in the June 2015 General Election and some 80 seats in the Turkish parliament and set to alter the political power structure in Turkey.

The result is being touted by some commentators as an opportunity, “to shape a new political culture,” (FT, 2015). Factional fighting is evident and widespread across most public institutions including the judiciary and the central bank as well as the political parties who contested the elections.

The main factions are the Ataturk inspired Turkish secularists the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), the factions of President Erdogan’s Islamist-orientated AKP and his once ally US based Fethullah Gulen and his Islamist supporters, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), seen by the US as a terrorist organisation.

Will a more consensus orientated approach to decision making arise with an AKP minority government in coalition with others? The HDP, led by Selahattin Demirtas, has won its seats by being more inclusive broadening its appeal which secured votes from secular Turks keen to check the president’s power. The CHP itself embraced candidates from other ethnic groups and actively cheered on the HDP’s bid to enter parliament (FT.2015).

It will be interesting to see how the HDP’s charismatic parliamentary leader will affect Abdullah Ocalan’s, the jailed PKK leader, control of the Kurdish movement now that parliament representation is the new focus.

A less factional, ethnically divided democracy is certainly a step in the right direction for Turkey opposed to an ever more authoritarian president with ethnically divided opposition as was the case until a short time ago.

The election here in the UK came as a real surprise, especially for the pollsters, however since the 7th of June for Turkey it may be a real political game changer for years to come-electric elections indeed.

The AKP in coalition will need to address the opposition’s demands, with broad public support in Turkey, such as tackling corruption and reducing the president’s powers which will increase tensions between President Erdogan and his Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu over political control and direction during the remaining term of his presidency.

The other striking issue is the alleged support to jihadis groups in combat with both the Assad regime and the Kurdish Peshmegra forces in the complex multi-factional war in Syria. How many in Turkey still fear or wish to hinder as long as possible any Kurdish ascendancy?

On Sunday 28th June riot police quelled the annual gay pride march with rubber bullets and water cannon after the crowds began to denounce President’s Erdogan (Euro news, 2015). Suggests consensus and toleration of dissenting views and opinions will remain a tough struggle to achieve with an entrenched and still powerful minority regime even after a seemingly game changing election.

However it’s worth the effort for the Kurds and for the Gay movement too-80 seats for the HDP is a good progress-as ruling elites, regimes and their security services usually don’t give in without a protracted fight. Consensus and toleration are hard fought for.

Recently, the Syrian Kurdish forces have enjoyed a vital territorial gain along the northern border of Syria opening a corridor of control by Kurdish forces and closing supply and communication lines for jihadi forces- please see my next blog for more on this story and linked events in the Middle East.

LDC

References and further reading-

Euro News; (2015); “Istanbul Gay Pride Quashed by Riot Police, Rubber Bullets and Water Cannon”, by Sarah Joanne Taylor with AFP, Reuters. Website accessed Sunday 28th June 2015: www.euronews.com/2015/06/28/istanbul-gay-pride-quashed-by-riot-police-rubber-bullets-and-water-cannon/

Financial Times Ltd; (2015); “Turkey: Fading factionalism,” article by Daniel Dombey 11th June 2015, London UK; website accessed: 23rd June 2015: www.ft.com/cms/s/0/eed19814-1019-11e5-bd70-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=uk#axzz3dukaoU3p

Guardian news and Media Ltd; (2015); “Turkey election 2015: Kurdish Obama is the country’s bright new star”, Agence-France Presse; website accessed 23rd June 2015: www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/08/turkey-election-2015-kurdish-obama-is-the-countrys-bright-new-star

Electric Elections: Conservatives Surprise and Turkish Delight

Part 1: Conservatives Surprise

The UK General Election in May 2015 brought an unexpected win majority win for David Cameron’s Conservative Party, with red faces for the pollsters.

The Labour Party had a disaster, almost being wiped out in Scotland and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls losing his seat in West Yorkshire, frankly they have a mountain to climb as big as they faced since Michael Foot’s 1983 electoral defeat. The new UK and Scottish Labour leadership requires fresh faces with new ideas and a lot of patience, especially in Scotland where the SNP won a staggering 56 of 59 seats, to regain once loyal voters lost to the SNP by political attrition and inertia over decades. Read more

UK General Election 2015: In a Democracy, the People Get the Government They Deserve, Whether We Vote for Them or Not…

The comment is attributed to C.19th French political writer Alexis de Tocqueville with my additional quip to his observation in light of the 2015 election debate. Our politicians represent our current political wants, wishes and prejudices in a system of our choosing. The democratic system, in the UK at least, was hard fought for and took centuries to achieve.

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Pensions, Political Parties and Popular Appeal: Will they lead to OAP’s Queuing for Prison?

3 separate stories connected through political fear, isolation and tensions from the UK, to France and over to Israel engrained in the past and sure to rise again in the future.
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2015: Double, Double Toil and Trouble; Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble…..a Witches Brew? (Macbeth*)

The year continues where it left off with a plunging oil price causing all sorts of economic tensions for oil producers and benefits for oil importers (although materialising more gradually). Terrorist attacks in Paris connected to the Islamic State conflict in Syria and Iraq caused shock and revulsion around the World.

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I’m a fracking nutter!

I think Ineos should drill as many wells as possible across Scotland to develop the UK shale oil revolution. It’s self-sufficiency staring us in the face.  It won’t be like the US boom and regulators and environmentalists can and will play their part. Luddites and statists should stop moaning and realise the opportunity- if they still harbour their dreams-a vibrant shale oil and gas sector along with North Sea and the West of Shetland oil fields, wind, solar and tidal projects elsewhere Scotland could be a powerful self-sufficient exporter of energy.
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Down and Up the Markets Go, Eurozone Sucks and Middle East Blows

Where are we headed is the question?

Will oil be the issue of 2015 or Eurozone deflation?

There’s been some volatility in recent months for financial markets were the VIX index, referred to as the fear index for markets, showed larger peaks appearing as investor concerns rose over issues like the ending of QE in the US, weak Eurozone demand or Russian actions over the Ukraine and more over.
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Will the Cradle of Civilisation Ever Recover its Illustrious Past: US Starts Bombing Iraq to Rid the Region of the Islamic State.

Once again the US Air Force has commenced a bombing campaign in Iraq. This time in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting in north western Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (now simply called IS). The RAF sent Tornado fighter bombers to conduct surveillance missions with a combat role now beginning.
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Scottish Independence Referendum 2014: Do You Want To Be a Foreigner in Berwick, Leeds or London?

According to Albert Einstein “Nationalism is an infantile disease; it’s the measles of mankind.” I couldn’t agree more.

The Scottish independence referendum 2014 has entered its final phase of campaigning with polling day on September 18th fast approaching.
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