UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The Turkish military operation in Syrian Rojava highlighted a number of military-political problems. US flight from the region immediately brought down the security system and tacit diplomatic agreements – and destroyed the last hopes of the Syrian Kurds for political independence. But Turkey turned out to be the loser. How?
The current tangle of contradictions around Rojava cannot be understood without delving into the history of the last century of Syrian history.
The situation of confrontation between the Arab and Kurdish communities in Syria has long-standing roots. It started back in the days of the French mandate, when Paris conducted the practice of pitting local ethnic communities in the colonial “divide and conquer” style in the country. As part of this strategy, as many as five states were created on the territory of present Syria and Lebanon: Sunni with centers in Aleppo and Damascus, the Druze state and the Alawite state, as well as Great Lebanon. In addition, from the side of the Kurds in the 1930s, the strongest autonomist movement started, which proclaimed its goal to separate the “Kurdish territories” from the then Aleppo at the earliest opportunity.
After Syria gained independence in 1943, Damascus tried to translate relations with the Kurds on a political basis. However, the Kurds chose to continue to “sit on French bayonets”, trying with all their might to leave the French troops in the province of Al Jazeera in order to tear it away from Syria. But the weak and Hitler-dependent Vichy authorities refused to consider any new status of the existing Kurdish autonomy in mandatory Syria. They actually turned a blind eye to the unification of Damascus and Aleppo – without taking into account the interests of Kurdish autonomy and with the annexation of Druze and Alawite territories within the framework of a united independent Syria.
A precarious balance between Arabs and Kurds existed in the period 1943-1961, when the Kurds were even able to register their political organization, the Democratic Party of Syrian Kurdistan. However, its leaders, in particular, Daham Miro, in practice again decided to follow the path of Kurdish separatism, establishing close relations with Iraqi Kurds, including Mustafa Barzani. The latter in 1958 raised an uprising in “Iraqi Kurdistan” and achieved its de facto independence from Baghdad.
The “Democratic Parties of Kurdistan”, organized in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iran, in fact, turned into “foreign agents”, whose main goal was to help the barzanist movement. According to their ideology, “Iraqi Kurdistan” was supposed to be the center of a Kurdish independent state. Moreover, success in the rest of the virtual “Greater Kurdistan” was inextricably linked with the success or failure of the Barzani clan in Iraq.
The result of this shortsighted policy of the Middle East Kurds was ethnic cleansing in Syria and other Arab countries. On August 23, 1962, the Syrian government conducted a special census in the province of Al-Jazeera, which is mainly populated by Kurds. As a result, about 120 thousand Kurds (approximately one fifth of the total number of Syrian Kurds at that time) were deprived of Syrian citizenship and infringed on their rights.
In 1965, the practice of combating Kurdish separatism was continued: the Syrian government decided to create the so-called Arab cordon (Hizam Arabi) in Al Jazeera province along the entire Turkish and Iraqi border. The cordon was 300 kilometers long and 10-15 kilometers wide, and to strengthen it, the Bedouin Arabs were resettled on the border territories, while 140 thousand Kurds were deported to the interior of Syria. With this fact in mind, it becomes clear the amazing steadfastness in loyalty to the Assad government of the population near the cities of Hasake and Kamyshly – it was there that the settlements of the “Arab cordon” were concentrated, which for eight years existed in conditions of de facto independence from the Kurdish government of Rojava and remained faithful to Damascus.
By the way, in general, the situation with the Kurdish Syrian minority Damascus was more or less corrected – just in time for the beginning of the 2010s. Paradoxically, the benefactor of the Syrian Kurds was … Bashar al-Assad, who in April 2011 signed a decree giving Syrian civil status to all Kurds living in the province of Hasake (Al-Jazeera). Nevertheless, by the beginning of the civil war in Syria, the issue of “Kurds without citizenship” was not managed to be closed. Out of 300 thousand stateless Kurds, only about 6 thousand people managed to get a Syrian passport.
Current balance of power
The chance for the implementation of “Syrian Kurdistan” again arose after the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, in 2011. Rojava (as the Kurds themselves call Al Jazeera province) declared its independence almost immediately.
The main factor of Kurdish quasi-independence in Rojava was reliance on an external power block, which is provided for Kurds by the United States and their Western coalition allies. The formal goal of the coalition, which justified the finding of its forces in Syria, has always been declared the fight against the “Islamic state”. But after the military defeat of the IS militants and the transition of the fight against them to the “network” phase of the police operation, this excuse for finding American troops and their allies in Syria disappeared, although by inertia the Americans provided the “security umbrella” for the Kurds for another two years.
Regular Pentagon units in Syria remained behind the status of “Kurdish statehood” and conveniently equipping military bases on the left (eastern) bank of the Euphrates. Plus – capturing two convenient bridgeheads on the opposite (western) coast near the cities of Manbij and Tabka. Kurdish military units were also created, representing a cross between the military police and the “light” infantry. The first of these, the SDF (“Syrian Democratic Forces”), was officially supported by the Pentagon, while the other Kurdish YPG (“Self-Defense Units”) competing with the SDF was very active, albeit semi-legally, also supported by the CIA .
In the summer of 2016, in the last year of the presidency of Barack Obama, taking into account the then intentions of the Pentagon to “take Rapidly take Rakka” from the Syrian Kurdistan, the White House even went on to create some kind of Kurdish “combined arms command”, in which YPG militants simply ordered to obey the CIA Pentagon SDF structures. However, the failure and the terrible pace of conducting a combined-Kurdish attack on Raqqa soon returned the situation to its original state: today the SDF and YPG are again operating in many ways autonomously, again moving on to guerrilla tactics. According to Turkish estimates, the number of Kurdish “guerrilla-terrorist” YPG fighters trained by the CIA exceeds eight thousand out of the total number of “Kurdish militia”, which is 15 thousand.
In fact, the point is that under the guise of training the “anti-Assad” opposition, experts from the CIA prepared working material to create the very “Free Kurdistan”, which is a joint headache for Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Of course, in the framework of the combined-arms operation, which Turkey came to today in Rojava, the value of such material is very arbitrary: YPG is well suited for guerrilla or sabotage war, but in the trenches and in urban battles the value of such fighters is very arbitrary.
In fact, the construction of an “army without a state”, which the Pentagon and the CIA did on the territory of the Kurdish regions of Syria, led to a well-known result – many of the Kurdish groups armed with American weapons began to engage not only in the expropriation of property, but also in outright terror. That is, they turned into the most ordinary gangs of militants who wanted to spit on the ideals of the “people’s liberation struggle” and were increasingly reminiscent of thugs from the infamous “Islamic state.”
However, the current military situation in the Kurdish territories of Syria today was initially predicted. Unfortunately for the Kurds themselves, their craving for independence was never backed up by any real successes in normal state building. Even the revenues from oil fields in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, which were captured by the Kurds after the departure of the Islamic State, were not converted by them into the infrastructure of the declared state, seeding in the pockets of the heads of the Kurdish clans. The government, virtually independent of Damascus, Rojava, simply did not understand what to do with the “alien goodness” it had acquired – and as a result, the sad situation of the 1940s, when the Kurds of Syria lost their independence for the first time, was repeated today.
Release the Kraken
Most likely, the Kurds ’bid for guerrilla warfare against Turkey (like some kind of“ Plan B ”after the possible departure of the Americans) was initially losing. The fact is that, according to the most conservative estimates, the total number of displaced people in Rojava, mainly from Arab territories, is at least 2.3 million people with a total population of “Syrian Kurdistan” a little over 4.6 million. These people either relatively conditionally loyal to the idea of an independent Rojava, or, worse, they strongly oppose it.
As a result, today Turkey can allow itself to operate in Rojava with very limited forces, in fact repeating the pattern of the last successful operation in Afghanistan and without fear of guerrilla warfare. Formally, the same Syrians are fighting against the Kurds – mainly from numerous terrorist groups hailing from Idlib or taken there from all over Syria in the famous “green buses”.
Turkey does not count on a protracted war and deliberately acts only in a very narrow buffer zone along the border. Most of the “dirty work” should be done by their Syrian proxy forces, while the Turkish army will support them “because of the ribbon” with artillery and aircraft. However, some supply of “cannon fodder” from the Turkish side will also fall: for example, near the Syrian Manbij, old Turkish M60 tanks (originally from the 1960s) were seen, which generously put Syrian proxies at the disposal of the Kurds. Weapons from Syrian warehouses will also be unambiguously used – since only Idlib, which is not under the control of Damascus, gives Turkey the widest opportunities in this direction.
As a result, the Turkish “blitzkrieg” in this situation has every chance of success – the Kurds are demoralized, the Arab front is ripening in their rear, and the hopes of “American bayonets” once again turned out to be only a veil-morgan. Well, any EU or even US sanctions aimed at “curbing the aggressor” in a situation of such a quick conflict are practically useless – Turkey will squeeze the Kurds with what they have in military depots.
Apparently, realizing the hopelessness of resistance to the “Turkish Kraken”, the Kurdish leadership of Rojava has already entered into the long-awaited negotiations with Damascus, which are more like the unconditional surrender of all “independence” and even a significant part of actual autonomy. For example, it has already been announced that the SDF and YPG are already surrendering any heavy weapons and retaining only the functions of the local police (which, strictly speaking, they have been all this time), and the movement of government troops to the north is more like a march without stops.
As of Friday, October 18, 2019, it can be stated that the Turkish offensive operation, on the one hand, brought important tactical successes. On the other hand, Turkey was unable to gain control over the most significant border Kurdish cities – Manbij, Sinjar, Kobani and Kamyshly. Of course, it would be beneficial for Turkey to leave them behind, but most likely Damascus will make every effort to ensure that the Kurds completely transfer these important settlements under the control of the central government and the government army.
So far, the Turkish blitzkrieg has been stopped by a deal with the United States. The next five days, Turkey will have to be content with only an important, but not decisive section of the border between the small cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al Ain, between which Turkish proxies “rolled” to the Syrian side for the desired 30 kilometers. At the same time, only Tal-Abyad is fully occupied by Turkish forces, and Ras al-Ain is only partially controlled by them.
In fact, paradoxically, the five-day truce pushed by Mike Pence at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdogan works for Damascus. In the coming days, government forces may well take full control of all the major settlements in the Kurdish Rojava, after which the Turkish blitzkrieg, despite its quick start, will completely lose any meaning. Since in this case the Turkish proxies will come into contact not with the Kurds, but with the regular Syrian army, which will completely change the picture of what is happening – and not in favor of the Turkish side. From the experience of the capture of Afrin and the operation “Shield of the Euphrates” this will mean, in fact, the end of the current Turkish offensive.
One thing is already clear for sure – again no one asks Kurds in this scenario about their opinions.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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