What is behind Assad’s Violence? Three Opinions

23 Aug

The Facebook Revolution Page reveals the “Libya affect” on the Syrian opposition. The admin keeps pushing the “selmiye” or “peaceful” message. Commentators are largely getting upset and claiming that the Syrian revolution is losing momentum. Many claim that peaceful methods are flagging and cannot win against Syria’s determined and far superior security forces. They want a real military struggle like Libya’s. The individual facebook pages of a number of leading Syrian activists demonstrate the same conflict and internal debate over going military.


In Libya, the anti-Qaddafi forces were able to prevail because they used force. They organized an insurgency which won international backing, foreign intelligence agencies gave them crash courses on warfare and tactics, arms were provided, and money made available. Many Syrians are coming to the view that they must follow this example. Others are arguing that if the peaceful uprising becomes a civil war, the objectives of the civil society movement will be lost; revenge and the logic of violence will take over. What is more, the rebel army will have to depend on foreign help, which will leave it vulnerable to influence and meddling. Many Syria fear what may be coming and look at Libya with foreboding, while others will filled with hope that the momentum has picked up and that the dictators are falling. [Landis Commentary]


News Round Up


Did Syria Use Tanks and Gun Boats to Shell Hama and Latakia?
by Ammar Shami (Not the author’s real name. He lives in Damascus.)
For Syria Comment, August 20, 2011


Did Syria use tanks and gunboats to shell their own cities? This is what a number of activists with obvious policy objectives have been telling Western reporters. But do Syrian authorities really have to use such unbridled force? Making claims that the Syrian army and navy shelled Latakia and Hama with gunboats and tanks may rally international support for the rebel cause, but distorting the truth can backfire. Hama has recently been visited by a delegation of foreign journalists. I was waiting to read their reports and see the newsreel of Hama’s devastation from “shelling.” The silence has been deafening. French and US journalists were included among those who traveled to Hama. So far there is no evidence of artillery being used in either city, whether from tanks or ships.

We have all heard about “shelling” and I put shelling into quotes because for the life of me, I couldn’t find any. I looked up over a dozen videos from YouTube. I searched for “Syrian army shelling” and I went through the results expecting to see cratered buildings, great chunks of concrete dangling from twisted re-bar and the sort of desolate moonscape that I had grown accustomed to watching the news after the US military swept through cities such as Falouja and al-Qaim hunting militant gangs and terrorists.

When I click on a YouTube clip titled, “Syrian Tanks shell Hama,” call me crazy, but I actually expect to see some shelling. Everyone knows what shelling looks like. The tanks stop, they move their turret and fire a huge projectile towards a target, the tank flings back a few meters and a loud explosion is heard, dust flies everywhere, the end. None of what I just described is to be seen. Even though, these days, everyone has a video camera on their phone, or a video camera. Yet for some reason, the exact moment of shelling is never captured, why would the word “shelling footage” be in the title of those clips? And boats? Shelling the coast, bombarding Latakia? The Syrian army might be aggressive, but only an idiot would use a boat to shell land on the coast. Those boats aren’t state of the art, they will do an effective job when they are asked to bring down an entire block, but that’s not what happened.

The only “possible” shelling I could see was of the mosque in Deir-El-Zoar. Mosques have been known to be used as great sniping and scouting locations, not to mention great for hiding weapons. If this mosque was used for that purpose, I wouldn’t be very surprised. Those tactics from Iraq are showing up all over Syria. More important is the coverage this video has seen. During the start of the events I visited my dentist in Bab-touma, a Christian part of town. The same day I was there a group of armed men stopped in front of the church and sprayed it with bullets. This story never made it to the news even though I saw the bullet holes with my own eyes.

Some of the videos displayed on YouTube of Hama show long plumes of black smoke twisting up above the city. These are used to prove that the city was shelled, but in all likelihood the cause of the black smoke is the burning of tires. People in Hama blocked roads with cinder blocks and burning tires. Most people who have never seen warfare would not know the difference between burning tires, shelling and buildings being ripped apart by heavy caliber shells. My father who served in the 1973 war has a good idea of what the plumes of smoke from shell fire look like. He was the first to point it out to me.  “Tanks don’t make long plumes of black smoke, burning tires do,” he explained.

I’m guessing that the foreign journalists did visit Hama, and they did see damage and lots of bullet holes and caused by army the military, because it did shoot up parts of the town. I cannot for the life of me find any evidence that Hama was shelled, however. I do believe that lots of live fire was used, and much of it had to have come from the machine guns placed on the top of the tanks. Tanks serve as effective troop carriers in urban warfare. They provide lots of armor for soldiers moving down the streets, but so far, the Syrian Army does not seem to have used them to shell the city or take down snipers. Jets have not been called in to drop 2,000 pound bombs or even 500 pound ordinance as has become standard practice in hunting rebels in Afghanistan or Iraq. Helicopter gun ship are not being depended to pound safe houses with cannon fire. And the Syrian Navy did not bombard the coast with gunships.

I don’t want to defend the Syrian Army’s handling of this uprising, anymore than I want to excuse the killing of my innocent countrymen. All the same, it is very frustrating to watch the international press repeat the spin of five or six activists living abroad, who have every incentive to paint Syrian soldiers as monsters. They want to win adherents for their cause by demonizing Syrians who have not joined them. US policy makers made bad mistakes because of the cheer-leading by the world press in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Ahmed Chalabi and his cousin were able to play the West and excite its fears about Iraq’s possession of nukes and chemical weapons. This came at a tremendous cost to everyone concerned because reporters thought they were doing good by repeating tall tales. One got fired, as I recall. But most turned into critics of the war they helped start.

Why haven’t any of the international reporters who have visited Hama spoken out about whether Syrians shelled the city with tanks and artillery? Numerous articles were written about how the suppression of Hama in 2011 was a replay of the terrible destruction of the city in 1982 under Hafiz al-Assad. Certainly there are parallels to be made, but shelling the city with tanks is not one of them. Why can’t any of those reporters – and there are many – just come clean and write an investigative report about the evidence – or lack of it – for the shelling of Hama and Latakia? Reporting on the situation in Syria incorrectly can have many consequences. The government could decide to use heavier guns if it believes that the world already believes it is using them. Foreign governments could push ahead with policies that will fail because they are based on falsehoods or an improper grasp on reality.



A typical headline – Reuters: “Smoke rose from the Syrian city of Latakia on Sunday as the government bombarded it with gunfire from navy vessels.”


Why Assad need not fear Gaddafi’s fate
By Ed Husain, August 23, 2011, Financial Times


The dramatic scenes in Tripoli are already being seized upon by those keen to depose other despotic regimes. Taken alongside the unstable situation in Syria, there is now a risk of a dangerous moment of western triumphalism. This must be resisted, especially given that the odds of overthrowing dictator Bashar al-Assad are so small.

After months of holding his nerve, US president Barack Obama last week succumbed to calls from commentators and Syrian opposition leaders, and demanded Mr Assad’s removal. The decision was a mistake. Earlier in the week, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, noted that, if the US called for Mr Assad’s head, then what?”. And, indeed, then what?

I lived in Syria for two years and still visit regularly, so I know only too well that the US is viewed with deep animosity. Officials told me many times, and with straight faces, that America is at war with Arabs and Muslims – a view also ingrained among the wider population, particularly after the Iraq war.

Calls for regime change will thus help Syria, as Mr Assad defies the west with ease. As elsewhere in the Middle East, defying Washington is a cause of strength and popularity, as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran show. Every passing day will now be seen as a humiliation for Mr Obama, while the fragmented and shambolic Syrian opposition will be more credibly dubbed “American stooges”, or “Zionist agents”. For a population that is vehemently anti-American and anti-Israel, such labels are powerful and destructive.

The regime has been barbaric in responding to the brave people on the streets, but we must be careful about accepting the narrative that the whole of Syria is demanding change. The largest cities of Aleppo and Damascus remain relatively calm, while opinion in western capitals is led by reports generated via opposition movements, often using social media of questionable reliability. The army has committed many atrocities but hundreds of its members appear to have been killed, too. In the absence of international media, it is debatable whether the protesters are altogether peaceful.

Already, calls for military intervention are being made by Syrian opposition activists in meetings at the White House and US state department. Yet such movements have led us astray before, as when politicians such as Ahmed Chalabi misled the US about realities in Iraq. In truth, Mr Assad’s regime is much less likely to fall than that of Muammer Gaddafi: there have been no high-profile political or military defections, while Mr Assad remains relatively popular among senior military commanders, Syrian mosque clerics, the middle-classes and business leaders.

This brings us back to the “then what” question. The numbers being killed now will wither in comparison with a possible future civil war, if an increasingly sectarian Syria splinters between the ruling Alawites, the elite and urban Christians, the majority Sunnis, the Kurds, Druze and others. There is no civil society to engineer a peaceful transition, while Syria could plausibly become another Lebanon, acting as a proxy battleground for regional powers.

This risk partly explains why Syria’s ally Turkey has exerted such effort to rein in the slaughter, and why Saudi Arabia, Russia and China have not joined America’s lead. They all want to give Mr Assad more time – because they recognise the thin chance of getting rid of him, and because they fear the violence that would follow if he did fall.

Almost 90 per cent of Syria’s crude oil exports go to European countries. Almost $3bn of its annual trade is conducted with Turkey. Saudi Arabia is a regional power with vested interests in the country, and Russia and Syria enjoy historical relations, as well as arms deals. It is these countries that now must be on the front lines of reform, with the US largely working behind the scenes.

For the west, the most powerful and poignant moment in recent months came when US ambassador Robert Ford travelled to Hama, scene of protests, to show solidarity and monitor the regime’s actions. His quiet move warmed usually hostile Sunni communities elsewhere in the Middle East to America, while putting fear into the heart of the tyrant himself. Such innovative, soft power strategies will do more to help Syrian democracy than loud statements from the White House.

The most powerful pressure on Mr Assad so far, however, has been from Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage, which encouraged Syrians to take control of their own destiny. This is surely right, for any long-term change must come from within. Sadly, in the short term and in a highly volatile region, at present Mr Assad remains the least worst option.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of The Islamist


Assad Knows What He’s Doing
Gary C. Gambill, August 23, 2011


For all of their disagreement over particulars, Western pundits share a nearly unanimous consensus that Syrian President Bashar Assad has bungled his response to the current uprising. The Syrian regime is “digging its own grave,” the International Crisis Group concluded in a report last month. One prominent analyst went so far as to assert that the president “is losing his marbles.” The Obama administration’s recent call for Assad to resign, while long overdue, is largely premised on such boat-without-a-paddle views of the Syrian leader.

In fact, Assad’s strategy and tactics have proven astonishingly effective. By any objective measure of political vulnerability, Assad should have been among the first casualties of the Arab Spring. That he’s held on this long is no small achievement.

Unflattering portrayals of Assad’s decision making are invariably premised on the assumption that some combination of reform and restraint on his part could have defused popular mobilization after the outbreak of protests in March. However, given his Alawite-dominated regime’s unusually thin claim (even by Middle Eastern standards) to represent the will of the people and the infectious wave of popular revolt spreading across the surrounding Arab world, allowing his predominantly Sunni subjects to assemble and express themselves without consequence would have doomed the regime (or doomed Assad by precipitating a hard-liner coup).

The Syrian president recognized very early on that brute force (tempered by largely cosmetic “reforms”) would have to be the mainstay of his survival strategy, and he has employed it with great acumen. Contrary to formulaic Western media characterizations, government violence against protestors has hardly been “indiscriminate.” Most of the deaths have been the result not of panicked security personnel firing blindly into crowds of people, but of what the UN recently called an “apparent shoot-to-kill” policy. Regime snipers carefully selected their targets on the basis of specific criteria (filming demonstrations with cell phones, using megaphones, carrying banners, etc) designed to incapacitate mid-level organizers. It took nearly three months for the death toll in Syria to surpass the number of people murdered by Egypt’s government in just 18 days—an extraordinarily large bang for the bullet.

To be sure, security forces have opened fire on crowds—particularly in predominantly Sunni areas close to Syria’s porous borders with Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon—but these have mostly been targeted massacres. Lacking the ability to suppress all protests at all times, the regime has been selective as to when and where it strikes. In June, for example, Assad allowed the city of Hama to slip from his control, only to storm it with tanks last month. The fact the protests have not yet snowballed into a nationwide mass uprising (Syria’s two largest cities, Aleppo and Damascus have experienced comparatively little unrest) testifies to the effectiveness of these tactics.

This doesn’t mean Assad can “win” in the sense implicit in most outside commentary. Bloodletting cannot restore the status quo ante in Syria. It only takes a small minority of highly committed people to ensure that protests and killings continue as Assad remains in power. This can only spell the end of his regime in the long-term, pariah status a few notches above North Korea in the medium term, and the looming threat of civil war in the short term.

Assad likely recognizes this (the assumption that he is somehow ignorant of political realities apparent to outside observers is another glaring absurdity of conventional wisdom in the West), but that doesn’t mean the game is over. At this stage, maintaining Alawite solidarity is his primary goal, not subduing the masses. So long as the security apparatus remains loyal, he can be overthrown only through a long and bloody civil war that may prove unpalatable to regional and international governments. Even if the regime collapses, it’s quite possible that Assad and his security barons will regroup in the coastal mountain enclaves of their ancestors (offering physical protection and access to Iranian resupply by sea) and set up a de facto Alawite micro-state. Although the Syrian president’s predicament is unquestionably dire, it’s a good bet he knows what he’s doing.


Syria: Opposition undermined by divisions of the society
(Translated from french)
Propos recueillis par Emilie SUEUR | | 22/08/2011


Post-speech analysis, “Bashar al-Assad proceeds in his reform agenda as if nothing had happened, without regard to Western or Turkish pressure,” said Fabrice Balanche, a specialist in Syria.

Sunday night, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview with state television, has rejected international pressure and announced that the reform program was under way, notably with local elections in December and  legislative elections in four to  eight months. “Bashar al-Assad proceeds in his reform agenda as if nothing had happened, without regard to Western  or Turkish pressure. And the fall that seems imminent fo Muammar Gaddafi does not seem to move him, “said Fabrice Balanche, a specialist in Syria within the Group for Research and Studies on the Mediterranean and the Middle East. A “serenity,” according to the expert,  that is based notably on the Russian veto to any international military intervention in Syria.

Furthermore, in regard to reforms and elections announced, they do not threaten the power to Assad. “The basic premise of Assad: I keep myself in power and from that, I see what I can offer as a reform to the people and the international community,” Mr. Balanche. In fact, the draft law on political parties precludes the formation of a Kurdish party or a party of the Muslim Brotherhood. “And anyway, the election will be handled as usual. Bashar al-Assad is simply trying to integrate the system of new players that do not threaten his power, “continued the expert. New players such as members of the Socialist Democratic Party, formed by the former director of the pro-government daily Teshreen, an incarnation, Balanche says, “the official opposition.”

Syrian President can also play the show because of the deep divisions that cross the opposition. “Between Islamists and others, there is no collaboration possible. They always meet separately. For example, in Lyon, in the begining, the seculars led the challenge. Today it is increasingly the Islamists who lead the protest, with about more and more radical. And they ejected secular committees, “says the researcher, who believes that the Islamists” want to take over the fight against Assad. ” As for the seculars, “they are still divided between young and old, between current human right and former communists.”

Fabrice Balanche, divisions within the opposition are just a reflection of the strong divisions across the Syrian society. Divisions at the heart of the policy of Assad. “Hafez al-Assad has played on the divisions of Syrian society and has only accentuated them. He managed to unify the Alawite community behind him and did everything to divide the Sunnis between city and countryside, between Kurds and Arabs, between Aleppo and Damascus … “said the researcher, giving the example of Damascus to support its About. “Damascus is a city unmanageable because it is divided into two provinces: Damascus city, that is to say that the center has 1.5 million inhabitants, and Damascus countryside, encircling Damascus city. Any proposed development on Damascus can not see the day, as the two governments hamper the others. From the perspective of management of the city, the situation is catastrophic, but from a political point of view, this scenario is great because it’s always the preside!
nt decides. And Syria, all works on this model. This is the principle of divide and rule “.

In this context, says Fabrice Balanche, “only a strong personality could unfortunately, bring people together. Today is Bashar al-Assad, before it was his father. And same goes for the opposition. In contrast, only tough individuals can gather to grip, so the least democratic. Those who play democracy can only go to the division. ”

According to the expert, the big fear was that the Syrian President for the month of Ramadan, the Sunni Arab world united against him. “That’s why he played on the map of social classes. To keep the “haves” with him, the President raises the specter of poor people who want to take power and appropriate the wealth. ” Until now, the Sunni bourgeoisie, and a broader middle class, have not shifted in the dispute, according to the researcher.

And to be certain that the religious fervor of Ramadan does not close the Sunni ranks, Bashar al-Assad has decided to strike hard, hence the violent suppression of recent weeks. “Assad knew he had to strike hard to reassure the military that could have broke up, to reassure expectations, and also show the Russians that it is able to hold the country so they can put their veto on foreign intervention “notes the researcher.

According to him, so we are going to a “quagmire” and “to a radicalization of the opposition, probably with the attacks. A scenario similar to the early 80’s. ” The only factor that could tilt things being the economic factor. On this point, the sanctions against the Syrian Petroleum taken by the Americans and announced by the Europeans, will hurt the regime. “Oil accounts for almost one third of the state budget and a lot of subsidies to the barons of the regime that divert part of oil production. Moreover, the fact that Assad has been declared illegitimate, will result in a cessation of foreign investment in Syria. However, these investments were still an engine of economic growth in recent years, “Mr. Balanche. The Syrian economy will emerge profoundly weakened. “But the process will take time,” says Fabrice Balanche who considers, however, that Western leaders are determined to topple the Syrian president: “For them, this time, they really want break the pro Iranian axis”.


UK minister cautious on Syrian oil sanctions
Sat, Aug 20 2011


LONDON, Aug 20 (Reuters) – Britain has not yet decided whether to back proposed EU sanctions on Syrian oil, and is wary of measures that could hurt the Syrian people more than President Bashar al-Assad, a junior foreign minister said on Saturday.


The United States imposed an oil embargo on Syria on Thursday in protest against Assad’s crackdown on civil unrest that the United Nations says has killed around 2,000 people.

But the European Union has taken a more incremental approach on sanctions. It agreed on Friday to expand the number of Syrian officials and institutions targeted, deferring discussion of an oil embargo until next week.

Some EU governments are concerned about harming their commercial interests and long-term relations with the government . Firms like Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and France’s Total are significant investors in Syria.

“We have not taken a decision on oil,” British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said in a BBC interview.

“Our view is that sanctions must continue to be targeted on those who support the regime, and sanctions should be considered on the basis of what will have most effect on changing that situation or improving the situation of the Syrian people.”

EU countries such as Sweden have been more supportive of an embargo on Syrian oil. Europe is a major consumer of Syrian oil exports, which are an important source of revenue for Assad’s government.

However, some analysts say that sanctions might drive Assad closer to Iran, and might have little short-term impact on the level of violence in Syria.

Burt said an oil embargo would need to be EU-wide, and that EU governments had to be wary of enabling Assad to blame them for any future economic hardship that Syrians suffer.

“What we have got to do and what we are doing is increasing the pressure in a manner that does not enable a Syrian spokesman to say ‘You are damaging the Syrian people’,” Burt said. (Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Elizabeth Piper)


Dissent in Syria Emerges as Front Line of Arab Uprisings
Published: August 22, 2011


“I am not worried,” President Bashar al-Assad declared in a television interview on Sunday.

But with the end of Colonel Qaddafi near and rebellions elsewhere in the Arab world either repressed or dangerously anarchic, the uprising in Syria emerges as the front line of the Arab revolts. In eight months, three strongmen have fallen in a region renowned for decades for its leaders dying on their thrones. While Libya and Syria have little in common beyond their repression, the arithmetic of the region seems to be betting against authoritarian rule that fails to reform.

“The change taking place in Libya in compliance with people’s demands, following what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, should teach a lesson to everyone,” the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said Monday in Ethiopia, in a thinly veiled reference to Mr. Assad. “Leaders of other countries must also be aware of the fact that they will be in power as long as they satisfy the demands of the people.”

Jubilation, fascination and a hint of disdain at the Libyan rebels’ reliance on Western power reverberated through the Arab world Monday, as scenes were broadcast of rebels in Tripoli’s Green Square. “Victory” was a word heard about the end of a figure seen by many as despotic and unhinged; a line from a speech early on by Colonel Qaddafi, when he vowed to fight “zanga zanga,” or alley to alley, became a pop culture reference and was mockingly introduced as a new phrase into colloquial Arabic.

Syrian activists were quick to caution against parallels. Unlike Libya, they hold no cities; few if any are calling for Western intervention; and the military and security forces engaged in a brutal crackdown against them show little sign of fracture. But the lesson of the Arab revolts was reiterated — that absolute power can no longer go uncontested and that repression alone will not clear the streets.

“The fall of the Libyan regime is a victory for the Arab world,” said Samir Nashar, an opposition figure who took part in earlier acts of opposition to Mr. Assad.

He recalled the scene Sunday night at a cafe in Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city and, until now, relatively quiescent. When the television announced the arrest of Seif al-Islam, Colonel Qaddafi’s son often described as the heir apparent, many in the mostly intellectual crowd of about 70 jumped out of the chairs, congratulated each other and exchanged kisses. …

In a region with deep suspicions of foreign intentions, columnists, analysts and residents wondered what Libya’s rebels might owe the countries that intervened on their behalf. Others went further, suggesting that Colonel Qaddafi’s greatest crime was to surrender Libya to foreign states he once ostensibly defied.

“The return of colonial powers dressed as liberators is more dangerous than anyone can imagine,” wrote Talal Salman, the editor of As-Safir, a leftist Lebanese newspaper. “What a miserable choice it is that the dictators impose on the people of the Arab world: Either they lose their voice and give up their rights in their countries and agree to live without dignity, or they live under colonialism that comes this time under new slogans of liberation, ending oppression and giving the land back to its people.”

Fear of a new imperialism was an argument that Mr. Assad deployed on Sunday night. He never mentioned Libya in the interview. He did not have to.

“No matter what you do, they will still tell you it is not enough,” he said. “They don’t want to introduce reforms because they want your country to remain backward and unable to progress. We will not allow any country to interfere in Syria’s decisions.”


Atlas Shrugs: Muslim Brotherhood Goes After Syria: Fatwa in the Gulf, Signed by Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi
2011-08-23 11:00:29.136 GMT


Musim Brotherhood poised to grab Syria: Fatwa in the Gulf, Signed by Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Syrian Regime Is ‘Heretical’; Sever Ties with It MEMRI A fatwa recently published in Kuwaiti papers, issued by “the religious scholars of Kuwait,” states that …


China concerned with latest developments in Syria: envoy – 2011-08-23 03:43:26


GENEVA, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) — China has been following the latest developments of Syria with great concern and called on all sides to resolve the issue in a peaceful way, Chinese diplomat He Yafei said here Monday at a special session of UN Human Rights Council on Syria.

China has hoped all parties in Syria would show maximum restraint and refrain from all acts of violence, He, Chinese Permanent Representative to the UN office at Geneva, said in a statement.

The concerned parties should seek a political solution through dialogue and consultations, so as to prevent escalating violence and more bloodshed, and restore stability and order to the country as soon as possible, He added.

“The future of Syria should be determined by its people rather than being dictated by outside forces,” He said, stressing that the only way to end the current crisis is to initiate a home-led and inclusive political process.


DJ UN Team Ordered Out Of Syrian Protest City -Spokesman
2011-08-22 18:05:08.734 GMT


UNITED NATIONS (AFP)–Syrian authorities ordered a UN team to leave the city of Homs on Monday after protests erupted there, a U.N. spokesman said. Three people were shot dead when security forces opened fire on a rally in Homs on Monday, according to activists. The U.N. team was in the city as part of a mission to assess Syria’s humanitarian needs as President Bashar al-Assad pursues a deadly crackdown on protests. “The mission proceeded to Homs today as planned. A protest situation developed and the mission was advised to leave for security reasons,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters. “The mission did not come under fire,” he added. Crowds took to the streets of Homs when they heard the UN mission was in the city to make their voices heard, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “Three people were killed and several wounded when some shabiha [pro-regime militiamen] and members of the security forces opened fire,” he said. The U.N. mission arrived Saturday for a five-day inspection and began its work the next day in Damascus to assess humanitarian needs, officials said. While the team was in the Damascus suburb of Douma protesters also rallied against Assad, witnesses said.


Why Turkey’s Kurdish Conflict Is Making a Worrying Comeback By PELIN TURGUT / ISTANBUL


A sharp escalation in fighting between Turkey and the Kurdish separatist PKK over the past three weeks has bucked the trend of recent years that saw Turkey inching towards a peaceful solution to three decades of conflict with its restive Kurdish minority.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had eased efforts to snuff out the Kurdish language and culture, and once-banned Kurdish music, literature and television flourished. Turkish authorities even took the once unthinkable step of holding secret talks abounding to ending the fighting with Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader that Turkey would gladly have hanged after his capture in 1999 if it hadn’t been seeking to join the European Union which forbids the death penalty. And in June, a record 36 deputies from a pro-Kurdish party were elected to parliament.

But the potential consequences of a violent government crackdown are worrying – especially against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. The PKK enjoys huge support in the Kurdish southeast where tens of thousands take to the streets at a moment’s notice when called upon. (See why Turkey’s vote is good for democracy.)
Some Turkish observers blame the recent wave of PKK attacks on Syria, which shares an 840km border with Turkey, arguing that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is tacitly backing the rebels in response to Erdogan turning against his former ally. (Syria had during the mid-1990s allowed Ocalan to operate from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, then under Syrian control, during a previous round of Syrian-Turkish tensions.) Erdogan warned on Thursday that he considered the unrest in Syria part of Turkey’s “internal affairs”.

The regional picture is more complicated: Syria’s key ally, Iran, has in recent weeks suddenly stepped up its own attacks on PJAK, the PKK’s Iranian wing. The U.S., which needs Turkey to do the heavy lifting on Syria, is expected to back Ankara’s stance on the PKK. “I think Turkey has America’s complete support regarding the PKK,” says Soli Ozel. “The US is so dependent on Turkish backing when to comes to Syria and Iraq, I don’t think they will think twice about writing the PKK off.” (Indeed, the PKK is listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.) The Iraqi Kurdish leadership, a close US ally, has been largely silent on recent Turkish airstrikes on their region, and has previously cooperated with Turkish military efforts against the PKK. (See TIME’s photoessay: “Portrait of the Kurdish Rebels.”)

Erdogan is in a strong domestic political position, having won reelection by a convincing margin in June, and appearing to have prevailed in a showdown with the top military brass earlier this month. But any hopes that Erdogan’s rise and the military’s decline in political influence would bring a political solution to the Kurdish issue have been dashed by the prime minister’s hawkish rhetoric. His immediate plans include more air strikes, drone attacks and the re-introduction of specially empowered police teams to control the southeast. Human rights groups accused these paramilitary units of widespread abuses during the 1990s.

“You can see that the government hasn’t really internalised the idea of a peaceful solution,” says Mustafa Gundogdu, Turkey and Iraq desk officer at the Kurdish Human Rights Project in London. “There is no commitment. Before this they were constantly hedging. Now they think they can end it using the military and the police.”

… The difference, this time, may be that the calculations have changed in Syria, Iraq and Iran. The fate of Turkey’s Kurds may to some extent rest not only on Ankara’s decisions but also on those made in Damascus, Tehran and Erbil. And the consequences of decision made in any of those cities will certainly have an impact in the others.


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Posted by on August 23, 2011 in Uncategorized


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