Turkey and the Kurds

Thank G-d it’s over. Donald ‘Vladimir’ Trump has won the presidency and the Republicans will control both houses of Congress. Let’s all pray for the welfare of the United States.

In this issue of the newsletter, we cover (1) the Turkish government crackdown (2) the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds and (3) the takeover of Lebanon by Hezbollah.

Tayyip ‘Vladimir’ Erdogan, the president of Turkey, is exploiting a failed coup in order make himself a constitutional dictator. Much of the opposition has been arrested and/or removed from positions of authority. The free press has been largely muzzled. HDP (the largely Kurdish party) MP’s including its two leaders have been arrested. The scope and the speed of Erdogan’s counter-coup raises suspicions that the coup was instigated by provocateurs friendly to Erdogan.

Reuters (Nov. 5) reports, ‘Turkish authorities ordered on Saturday that the editor and senior staff of a leading opposition newspaper be arrested pending trial, as more pro-Kurdish officials were detained sparking protests against the widening state crackdown. Police fired tear gas and water cannon on a crowd of around 1,000 protesters in central Istanbul who were trying to get to the offices of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper. Nine of its journalists and executives were detained on Monday….Some 170 newspapers, magazines, TV stations and news agencies have been closed in the crackdown.

Since the failed coup in July, more than 110,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants have been detained or suspended in a crackdown that Erdogan’s critics say is quashing legitimate opposition. “The international community is outraged. What are you trying to do? Are you trying to create a Turkey where everyone is in jail?” the head of the main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said.

On Friday, the co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were jailed pending trial and several others were arrested. Erdogan has accused Turkey’s third-largest party of links to the PKK which has carried out an insurgency for three decades. The HDP denies that and says it is working for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. It says it is being targeted by Erdogan in a drive to help the ruling AKP push through a constitutional change that would give him the executive presidential powers he has long sought.

Changes in the Turkish constitution require a 60% vote in favor by the Parliament . There are 550 MP’s in the Turkish Parliament. The AKP (Erdogan’s party) has 317 seats – 13 shy of 60%. By attacking the HDP, Erdogan hopes to attract the votes of the far right nationalist party (MHP) which would put him over the 60% threshold.

Turkey is not willing to grant autonomy to its Kurds. It fears that its Kurds will demand autonomy after seeing the creation of Kurdish autonomous regions in Iraq and Syria. This is the main reason for Turkish intervention in Syria. It has put more effort into blocking the Syrian Kurds than in attacking the Islamic State(IS). This puts the US in a bind as the Syrian Kurds are our allies and are the ‘boots on the ground’ in the fight against the IS.

The announcement by the Kurdish led SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) of an offensive against Raqqa (the IS capital in Syria) has brought matters to a head. After a great deal of hesitation, the US is finally willing to protect its Syrian Kurdish allies from attacks by the Turks. An Associated Press article of November 6 states,”I welcome today’s announcement by the SDF that the operation to free Raqqa from ISIL’s barbaric grip has begun,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said. “The effort to isolate and ultimately liberate Raqqa marks the next step in our coalition campaign plan.

Hurriyet of November 7 reports, ‘A rift between Turkey and the U.S. over which local forces will take part in liberating Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continues to rumble on, even after the top soldiers of the NATO allies held a lengthy meeting in Ankara on Nov. 6.’ The article goes on to describe the meeting between Turkish and American chiefs of general staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar and Gen. Roger Dunford. It notes, ‘After Dunford’s meetings in Ankara, an article posted on the U.S. Department of Defense’s official website quoted him as saying that “the coalition and Turkey will work together on the long-term plan for seizing, holding and governing Raqqa.” A translation of that statement into English from Diplomatese might read ‘The US is going ahead with the Kurds in Raqqa and Turkey had better not get in the way.’

Who are we rooting for? That’s an easy call. Erdogan is a real hater of Jews. Turkey, under his leadership, has turned on Israel although it is now restoring relations. It is also becoming an Islamic dictatorship.

That’s quite a contrast with the Kurds. As Dov Lieber writes in a March 18 article in the Times of Israel, ‘Despite not being recognized, the Syrian Kurds have fully governed their region for two years. Their governance has been overwhelmingly democratic, egalitarian and secular in a region where totalitarian and Islamist ideologies prevail. The only other areas in the Middle East that can be characterized in this way are the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq — where minorities are well-protected under new laws — and Israel.

“[The Syrian Kurds] are a community of people who are willing to cooperate with Israel,” Professor Ofra Bengio, head of the Kurdish studies program at Tel Aviv University, told The Times of Israel on Thursday. There have not been any pro-Israel public declarations by Kurdish Syrians leaders, Bengio said, “but I know some that some have been to Israel behind the scenes but do not publicize it.”

The article goes on to note, ‘Though relations between Syrian Kurds and Israel would be secret, Bengio believes that Israel should stand strong in its support of Syria’s Kurds and break the linkage between its relations with Turkey and that of the Kurds. She cited Turkey’s support of Hamas while it continues to have relations with Israel. “Turkey supports Hamas that openly seeks to annihilate Israel. While this is still the case, Israel should at least have the right to provide humanitarian support the Syrian Kurds,” Bengio said.’

After 29 months without a President, the Lebanese Parliament chose Michel Aoun to serve in that office. According to the Lebanese constitution, the President must be a Christian, the PM a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament, a Shiite Muslim.

An AP article of November 3 notes, ‘A Christian leader and strong ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, Aoun was elected by parliament as president on Monday, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum in Lebanon. His election was made possible after Hariri endorsed him for president, based on an understanding that Aoun would then appoint him as prime minister.”It is a new era,” a beaming Hariri told journalists gathered at the Baabda presidential palace, repeating the phrase three times.” I have great hope -in this positive moment that ends the suffering of the country and its citizens that lasted for two and a half years of vacancy and paralysis,” he said.

Said Hariri, the new PM, is the son of the former PM Rafik Hariri who was assassinated by members of Hezbollah. Members of Hezbollah were tried in absentia by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Hague and strong evidence for the involvement of Hezbollah was found.

If you want to know what way the wind is blowing in Lebanon, see what Walid Jumblatt, the ultimate survivor, is doing. He is the head of the Druze community in Lebanon. His father, Kamal Jumblatt, was assassinated by gunmen thought to be agents of the Assad family. According to Gulfnews.com, ‘Jumblatt, who honed the art of compromise and survival, saw the writing on the wall after Hariri formally endorsed Aoun, which explained his third change in as many years.’ Hezbollah has clearly consolidated its control of Lebanon.

We have also included an article on the breakdown in relations between the Saudis and the Egyptians.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.