Sunday, January 28, 2018

On Conflict

We're raised to understand conflict from the perspective of good guys and bad guys. But it's rarely so clear. The battle for land and resources can be utterly nonsensical, particularly where there is plenty to go around. I watched the documentary Jane last night, in which Goodall described the horrors of the Chimp Wars of the mid-70s when a peaceful group of chimpanzees divided into two factions, seemingly randomly, and then one completely slaughtered the other over a period of about four years. They didn't stop until every single one was dead, even though some of the chimps were killing former childhood friends. Primates kill other primates. And we're primates. But we have something no other primates have: complex language. At what point will we use it instead of violence?

Turkey launched an assault on Rojava last Saturday, sparked by a US announcement that the US wants to create a border force 30,000 strong to patrol the area, which will include the Kurdish military. So far, at least 23 civilians are dead, and 5,000 displaced. It's a tragedy that must be stopped, absolutely. In the words of Sean Crowe, it's wrong on so many levels and must be condemned:

In one sense it seems simply a territorial war not entirely dissimilar to conflicts between animals everywhere who don't want that group in this place. But it's also very complicated. (Or complicated to me.) I'm just trying to figure it all out here.

It's taking place in Afrin, an area in northern Syria that borders Southeastern Turkey.
The people involved:
* Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) - the leading Kurdish party aiming for independence - it claims affiliation with the YPG and YPJ, but not the PKK
* People's Protection Units (YPG) - with an all female division (YPJ) - this is the PYD military unit, supported by the U.S., but seen by Turkey as terrorists
* Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - an alliance of the YPG and anti-ISIS groups including Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). Some say, however, that it's a front group for the PKK.
* Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - led by Abdullah Ocalan, and seen as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Turkey

An interesting master's thesis paper discusses the conflict. The author, Linda Bongers, describes her decision to write on it despite warnings from an advisor:
He explained to me that choosing this topic for my master’s thesis would be a challenge, because the region and the dynamics are constantly changing. It would be impossible to draw any definite conclusions. In addition, it would be difficult to find accurate information about the topic. On the other hand, he told me, if I choose this topic, it would probably become a unique thesis and an opportunity to present new information. . . . 
In Syria, where the Kurds make up between 7 and 10 percent of the total population .,of 24,5 million, the Kurds have for many decennia been a forgotten people. The Kurdish political parties in Syria remained badly organized and unlike the parties in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, these parties have never taken up arms against the regime. Before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Kurdish autonomy in Syria would have been inconceivable. But despite the fact that Syria is currently going through the worst tragedy in its history, more than twenty years after the Iraqi Kurds seized the opportunity to establish an autonomous region, the Syrian Kurds followed their example. In 2012, one year after the uprisings in Syria, PYD suddenly emerged as the leader of a revolution for Kurdish rights, freedom and democracy.  
This interview with Zakho Zaghrous suggests Turkish actions are just blatantly, and dangerously, discriminatory, the way the Nazi party's actions were.
Turkey constantly uses the PKK’s presence in northern Syria as a pretext for its attacks, but it is a totally false argument. The truth is that Turkey is hostile to the Kurds and refuses to let them claim their rights in any other country in order to prevent them from obtaining their rights in Turkey. Its arrest of members of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey and its attack on the Democratic Union Party confirm this. The basic reason Turkey is attacking our areas is that IS suffered a defeat. Turkey doesn’t fight IS, it fights those who are against IS. 
From the traditional position looking for the good guys and bad guys, the Kurdish minority (the underdogs) are trying to build a peaceful place that's being attacked. From an article from two years ago,
"What you are doing,’’ said Raymond Joliffe, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, during a trip in May 2015, ‘‘is a unique experiment that deserves to succeed.’’ A Dutch professor named Jan Best de Vries arrived in December 2014 and donated $10,000 to help buy books for Kurdish university students. David Graeber, a founder of Occupy Wall Street, visited that same month and wrote before his trip that ‘‘the autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few bright spots — albeit a very bright one — to emerge from the tragedy of the Syrian revolution.’’ In May, I saw an announcement on Facebook for the Mesopotamian Social Sciences Academy, a new, coed university in Rojava’s de facto capital, Qamishli. This in itself was revolutionary.
And from Truthdig, two days ago,
The some two million Syrian Kurds in the north and northeast of the country have been a wild card for decades. They were discriminated against by the Arab nationalist Baath Party, the tattered remnants of which still huddle around al-Assad in Damascus, on the grounds that Kurds are not Arabs and so not full citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic unless they are willing to learn Arabic and give up their ethnic identity. The Baath Party is as racist as the KKK. In fact, in the 1960s, the Arab nationalist government in Damascus just removed citizenship from 100,000 Kurds, who later grew into a million...Unfortunately for Afrin’s Kurds, neither Damascus nor Cairo is likely to intervene in any practical way. And the US, which is allied with the YPG in Manbij, Kobane and Jazira, has relinquished Afrin as a sphere of influence, leaving the 500,000 Kurds there to their fate at the hands of Turkey. Turkey maintains that Afrin has been a base for terrorist attacks into Turkey and that the YPG is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both the US and Turkey deem a terrorist group." 
They are currently being overpowered and trying to make more people aware. This is a former student of mine pleading for media attention at a march in Toronto last night. The CBC reported about it, but that's all I can find on the protests anywhere.

But then there's this perspective of the group as rogue invaders:
"Historically, the Kurds are a nomadic people. They are like the Gypsies in Europe, only a warlike version. They roam about in the valley of the Euphrates and can eventually cross the North of what currently is Syria. At the end of the Ottoman Empire, some groups of Kurds were recruited to participate in exterminating the Christians in general and the Armenians specifically. The reward for carrying out these crimes: they receive the lands of the Armenians that they had massacred and they settled themselves there." 
This chapter of the book Kurdistan: An Invisible Nation offers a useful history and backstory to the conflict:
To put it succinctly, in the classical Ottoman era a Kurd in what is now southeastern Turkey most likely did not see himself as “Ottoman” in the way that a Slavic Bosnian Muslim in Sarajevo did. . . . Not just historic identity-related issues but also the present reality hindered the Kurds’ voluntary embrace of Turkishness, relative to other non-Turkish Muslims. Various non-Turkish Muslims had been scattered all over Turkey after chaotically arriving in the country as expellees from Russia and Europe. But by the time Atatürk turned the country into a nation-state, the Kurds, who are autochthonous in Anatolia like the Turks, lived clustered and isolated from other Muslims and also from Turks in a contiguous territory in eastern and southeastern Turkey. The Kurds formed the majority of the population in a number of provinces. . . . The region’s remoteness (it is distant from navigable seas and the rest of the country) and rugged nature (the average altitude in eastern Turkey is 6,500 feet) did not allow it to develop in the 1980s when the rest of the country took off. Accordingly, poverty has lasted in this region to this date. . . .
The violence between the PKK and the government further alienated Kurds from the rest of the country. In the 1980s, Turkey responded to the PKK’s Kurdish nationalist message by reinforcing its bans of the Kurdish language in courts, municipal government, and even in the media. This move has proven counterproductive. Coupled with the PKK’s strategy of violence to intimidate the rural Kurdish population in order to build a logistics and recruitment base, this ban on the Kurdish identity helped the PKK build a popular base among the Kurds in the 1980s and the 1990s16 . In recognition of its failure to stifle Kurdish nationalism, Turkey switched tactics and adopted progressive policies regarding the Kurdish issue in the first years after AKP came to power in 2002. The government removed restrictions on public Kurdish language use and began a publicly funded 24-hour Kurdish language television channel. . . . The period between 2012 and 2014 can be regarded as the height of a peaceful era in Turkey’s Kurdish conflict. The PKK announced that it would withdraw all its forces from Turkey, and the government promised to move forward with legal and constitutional changes. But the spillover from the Syrian Civil War halted any further steps toward peace. The situation quickly deteriorated, and since July 2015, full-scale warfare between Turkey and the PKK has been as violent as the conflict has ever been.
I still don't think I quite have my head around the region's conflicts. I do know, however, that there always has to be a better way than bombing the crap out of people, particularly if the conflict is based, largely, on allegiances. That we have always done this in the past, is an embarrassing reason to continue. All this with Trump at the helm:
The Turkish incursion, coming over protests from Washington, not only underscores the Trump administration’s lack of influence with Ankara but promises to complicate relations with the Kurds, who have provided the ground troops for the United States-led fight against the Islamic State militant group, often called ISIS or ISIL. The problem of Washington allying with the Kurds, who Turkey considers terrorists and a threat to its territorial sovereignty, could be overlooked as long as ISIS remained a threat. But the group is now in retreat, leaving the administration searching for a way to maintain relations with the Kurdish groups without alienating Ankara. The Trump administration’s response has been to help the Kurds build a border security force in northeast Syria, ostensibly to insure against a resurgence of ISIS, but that has not been well received by the Turks. 
“The U.S. has tried to walk a very fine line in Syria, depending heavily on the Kurdish rebels in the fight against the so-called Islamic State, while not rupturing the already strained relations between Turkey and the U.S.” said Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. counterterrorism agent who is now chairman of The Soufan Group. As the battlefield shrinks in Syria, the line has become near impossible to maintain, and the U.S. will likely have to either dramatically scale back its support of the Kurdish rebels — which would be seen as yet another U.S. betrayal of the few groups that have consistently supported and helped the U.S. in Syria and Iraq — or risk indirect and even direct conflict with Turkey, a fellow NATO member.” . . .

Russia has good reason to give the Turkish attack its blessing. It stands to gain in numerous ways, analysts say — first by sowing discord between the United States and its two allies, Turkey and the Kurds, and more broadly by extending diplomatic influence in the region. . . . Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has vowed to eliminate “terrorist nests” in the Kurdish enclave, but on Sunday he promised that the operation would be swift.

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