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Reflections on Western Intervention in Syria

Antioch, the ancient land within Turkey's border that stretches out into Syria, is a place I went to many times. I fell in love with the place, its people and its complex and multi-cultural history. When you reach the seashore of Seleucia Pieria you are in all places at the same time, divided by modern borders: Syria, Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea. The struggles of Antioch of the past are shining a light to the struggles in the region today...

The situation in Syria is complex and at times very confusing. There are all sorts of theories from within the left and right in the West, as well as various groups and political camps in the region. There are sometimes more questions in our minds about the situation in Syria than we have answers.

Syria, as well as breaking our hearts, is also challenging us, our political believes and our vision for the future. The analysis of Syria and our stand on this issue is not only driven by what we know about the situation in Syria but also the wider analysis of the region.

The role of Turkey:
I would argue that, in the absence of British partnership, and opposition to US plans by Russia,  China etc., the US, if it goes to war with Syria, needs strong political support and to a lesser extend military backing in the region. However much, there are US friendly regimes in the wider middle-east, Turkey seems to be the most prominent and strong ally in this potential military operation.

As Assad says, he will hit targets in Turkey if US attacks, and as the Turkish PM Erdoğan sounds even more eager than Obama to intervene in Syria, things may get very nasty in the region in a very short period of time.

Over the past 12 months, PM Erdoğan, repeatedly declared his red lines in terms of Syria, and as each time these were 'crossed' by the Assad regime, either as incoming fire from Syrian side of the border or the downing of Turkish war plane, he was unable to act due to then the lack of Western appetite for a military operation.

Things may have change now.

Erdogan has repeatedly said that, ''a limited operation is not enough'' and that ''he would rather go all the way to topple the Assad regime.'' That, as we know very well from Iraq, is not possible unless there is a land invasion of Syria. The Assad regime will not easily fall with just air strikes.

Current political situation Obama has to face:
The recent vote in the British parliament against the involvement in the military intervention is very significant and it has introduced a lot complications for the US government. There is no certainty on whether the US congress will approve the military operation but given the first stage Senate Panel approval of the Syria resolution, as far the US is concerned, we may be now closer to the military operation than we were last week.

One interesting development is that, as ITV news reported, US congressmen from both the Republicans and the Democrats seem to be worried about what their voters think and engage in rounds of discussions in their constituencies to find out what the popular opinion is. The results, as sampled in the report by ITV, show that huge majority of people, in some areas up to 90-95%, are against the military intervention.

Obama may not only have lost his closest partner – Britain - in this military adventure, but also the popular support of the American people.

We don't have individual opinion polls from around the world but it would be not difficult to guess that the majority of people, for various reasons, would be against any military intervention in Syria. One of the reasons – probably the most important one – is  that people haven't forgotten the horrific consequences of the Iraq invasion. We actually didn't even have a chance to forget it. To this day, people of Iraq are suffering from post-war conditions that are almost as bad as the days of the active invasion and bombing. The hypocrisy and lies of the Western powers to invade Iraq have long been exposed and each time civilians die in the sectarian conflict in Iraq, ordinary people around the world make the link between what is going on today and the brutal invasion in the past. And they do this not because they were in support of the Saddam regime but because they understand that the alternative to Saddam was not the brutality of the war.

The recent G20 summit is a clear sign that superpowers of the world, the imperialists, have conflicting interests in Syria and the wider region. Although they all may be already intervening in Syria in various forms or shapes, a military intervention is not the current choice of all of them in their plans for further controlling the future of Syria.

The whole Syria issue is a huge headache for Obama and he may have gone too far in his intent to intervene to make a U-turn and abandon his plans. He may well find himself in a situation where he wants to intervene, but politically, he can't intervene, however, he will intervene.

Back to Turkish involvement:
I would argue that, in the absence of British partnership, and opposition to US plans by Russia,  China etc., the US, if it goes to war with Syria, needs strong political support and to a lesser extend military backing in the region. However much, there are US friendly regimes in the wider middle-east, Turkish and Israeli government seem to be the most prominent and strong allies in this potential military operation.

The US, considering all the complications in the region and political difficulties at home and abroad, may well promote Turkey as its closest ally in this military operation. Although we are told that they will only fire missiles from warships in eastern Mediterranean, things may quickly escalate and NATO and US bases in Turkey may be used by Turkish and US war planes. This promotion of Turkey to be the 'second in charge' , will certainly mean that Turkey will have to involve itself more than we may think.

There are NATO and US airbases in Turkey, near the Syrian border. The Turkish army has a strong land and air presence in the region and there were even more military build-up in the region in the past week.

As reported in one of the Turkish newspapers last year, according to plans prepared by the US and Turkey, Diyarbakir Air Base, which is the closest air base to Syria, could assume a central role in the event of an operation against Syria.

While this week, one Russian military surveillance and intelligence ship along with two warships crossed the Bosphorus stretch to sail from Blacksea to Mediterranean, a Whitehouse spokeswomen announced that the US government is giving permission to US staff in Adana (South-east Turkey) to leave the city.

To the ordinary, decent minds, imperialist wars are the totality of various 'madness' put together. In this madness, a limited air strike plan means nothing, when considering the massive, mind blowing, silent military build-up in the region, both on land and at sea.
The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey has increased to over 500 thousand and a huge majority of these camps are near the Syrian border in south-east Turkey. Assad and nationalists in Turkey have continuously labelled these camps as Anti-Assad terrorist training centres. The total number of refugees in the region has risen to over 2 million. Although more than half of the people in the refugee camps are children, and most of the people are just ordinary families running for their lives, this propaganda about the refugee camps is used by Assad regime to rally his supporters against anti-Assad governments in the region. These camps will be a great opportunity for a cornered Assad to bring some chaos to by any means possible, including provocative missile attacks into Turkey.

Turkish PM Erdogan has had a long lasting tense relationship with Israel, especially after the Mavi Marmara, Gaza Flotilla killings of 9 Turkish civilians by the Israeli army. But the US co-ordinated military co-operation between Israel and Turkey has never stopped. Also, both countries have very close historic relationship with the US, regardless of their respective governments of the day. How this will come into play during this planned intervention is unknown to most of us.

One cannot ignore the situation with Iran. A conflict that involves the 3 bordering countries, Turkey, Syria and Iran will have horrific regional and global consequences. At a time when all countries are barking war and retaliation threats to each other, the madness of war may be worse than the calculations of Obama.

There is a very fragile but ongoing peace process between the Turkish state and the strong Kurdish PKK. A war situation will not only impact this process, but it may also bring it to a complete stop without any conclusion.

The Kurdish peace process has come to a point where the Turkish state must act as per the road-map and convince the Kurds that it will follow through this process, both in terms of completely eliminating the military operations in Kurdistan and introducing radical civil, democratic changes to the constitution and in all other areas of life. The peace process has a huge popular backing by the Kurds and a very significant support from the Turks in the rest of the country. But none of this will last forever if the necessary steps are not taken urgently by the Turkish state. The armed conflict in the region has already caused the deaths of more than 40000 people in the last 30 years. There is a general, justified mistrust to the state by the Kurds due to horrific past experiences of failed promises and ongoing military policies.

Western Kurdistan (Northern Syria) has also seen heavy attacks from Islamist Al Nusra forces. There are still ongoing armed fighting in the Kurdish territory. The Turkish state, with the ever increasing Kurdish control of Northern Syria, is also keen to have a say on the future of this land in post-Assad era. With Northern Iraq, the Turkish Kurdistan and now Northern Syria, The Kurdish issue has always been one of the main drivers of the Turkish state policies in the region. Erdogan is keen to keep the borders of post-Assad Syria under a government that he can influence and work with.

It is not a contradiction for the Turkish government to continue the peace process with PPK in Turkey but at the same time to ensure that all other Kurdish areas are kept under control and do not achieve their liberation.

On the Kurdish issue, Erdogan is also under pressure by the anti-Kurdish Turkish nationalist bloc who accuse him of negotiating with the 'terrorists'.
Erdogan has had three strong terms in government for the last 11 years. His party AKP has won almost 50% of the total votes in the last general election.

The Gezi protest and the state response to the protesters has exposed his ever increasing authoritarian rule and has created a highly politicised opposition to his government but he still maintains a popular support in Turkey. The opposition movements are, as one can expect, a broad range of groups, parties, from pro-military coup nationalists, to ultra-nationalist fascists, to socialists and central, liberal and right wing elements. They all have their own reasons to oppose the policies of AKP government. These opposition groups are hugely divided in their analysis of Syrian revolution, state, religion, democracy and AKP government.  

Erdogan is not interested in well-being of the Syrian uprising and the revolutionary process. He claims to be concerned about the bloodshed caused by Assad regime but by being the strongest supporter of a military intervention, he shows no sign of understanding that the situation will be worse for ordinary people in Syria if the the West attacks. He is in-line with the imperialist agenda to choke the revolutionary struggle and he hopes to divert the process into a controlled post-Assad Syria.

Despite the popular support for AKP, there is no clear evidence that all of his voters in Turkey will by default support a war with Syria. Although, he may have convinced most of his base on his planned actions, this does not simply mean, considering the opposition camps in the country, that he has the full backing of majority of people. Like the Iraq war, the regional economy will be very badly affected by such a war. People, whose lives and livelihood will be at risk may easily turn their backs to Erdogan government and its war with Syria.

We need to explore the domestic political situation a little bit more to understand the situation in Turkey.

The opposition by the racist, pro-military coup groups and from the traditional Stalinist-nationalist left, who campaign for the continuation of the military dominated, secular state and that does not recognize the ethnic minorities, their languages and ethnic rights cannot be ignored. Some of these are political entities (since the first AKP government 10 years ago) have pushed for toppling it with whatever means possible including a military coup. Erdogan has successfully defeated attempts in 2002 and 2007 and a number of high ranking military officers, media personalities, Mafia leaders are now in jail after a lengthy trial process. This trial has not gone all the way to de-root the deep special operations units within the State but it has opened the possibility for future trials.

Although such groups do not have the majority vote to come to power by election, they have successfully rallied their supporters against Syrian refugees, Islam and the Kurds. Most of these elements, in the name of anti-imperialism, secularity etc. have supported the Assad regime, who in their eyes is fighting Islamists in Syria and Western Imperialism. Some of these political element visited Assad and openly campaigned for his regime. They have also, on number of occasions organized mass rallies and called upon the Turkish army to take charge of the country by getting rid of Erdogan's government by a coup.

Like Erdogan, none of these so called anti-imperialists are in fact interested in the well-being of Syrian people either.  Their major concern, however much at first glance it may look like the Islamic groups, is the potential Kurdish autonomy in Syria. As well as being totally against any democratization of Turkish Kurdistan, these nationalists are extremely agitated about the developments in Western Kurdistan (Northern Syria). Assad regime, for them, is a protecting shied against Islamic groups as well as a guarantee for the Turkish borders. Their reasons for opposing the war is completely different to socialist in Turkey and nothing to do with the support of Syrian revolution.

As stated by many analyst, the opposition to Assad comes from many different groups – and it is simply wrong to claim that it is simply composed of ‘Islamic fundamentalists’.

There are also major conflicts between some of these groups – and significant opposition to attempts to impose a sectarian or fundamentalist dimension on the resistance. In March, for example, there were popular demonstrations against the authoritarian policies of Jabhat al Nusra and the ISIL in the city of Raqqa after it was liberated from the Assad forces.

To summarize, surrounded by such domestic and regional issues and major political challenges, one  may wonder why Erdogan is so keen on attacking Syria?

I guess, exactly for the reasons given the question above. Because he is surrounded by regional issues and major political challenges.

First of all, even at times, when the so called anti-imperialist nationalist left was in government, Turkey has historically looked after the US interests in the region. There were times when the relationship had tense moments but overall it has been a close relationship for over many decades. Turkey has been a strong military member of  NATO and the furthest eastern frontier of Western military influence.

This is not the first time Turkey supported the US in an invasion. There are Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan and Turkey also supported the attack on Libya.

Secondly, the revolutionary process in Syria, and the 'uncertain' outcome of it scares Turkey as much as it scares the West. Once a very close friend of Assad, Erdogan may be thinking to get in there first, along with his Western friends, and start dictating the direction of the process early in the game.

The regional autonomous Kurdish regimes are worrying Turkey, with Northern Iraq, Northern Syria being in control of Kurds.

Thirdly, Turkey is a growing power with 75 million population and with a huge military. It wants to have a greater influence in the region in-line with the Western interests.

All such things considered, with Israel and Iran in the picture as well, the possibility of an attack on Syria, even the thought of it,  horrifies me.

It worries me as a socialist, it worries me as an anti-war campaigner but also, my family, my comrades and friends live over there. It worries me for the future of the Syrian revolution.

We have a neo-liberal government in power that is keen to work with imperialists on regional domination,  that is implementing some reforms in the country and is part of a much needed peace process with the Kurds, but then, attacks its own people who are protesting in Istanbul elsewhere.

And this complicated situation in and around Turkey, however it may not be 'unique' and 'special', gives way to potentially horrific conditions if there is an attack on Syria.

The Syrian people will suffer a lot more and their revolutionary struggle will be hi-jacked by the imperialist powers.
We need stronger voices and democratic forces in Turkey, who reject any militarisation of the country, who support the Kurds - without ifs and buts -  in their struggle for recognition and all ethnic-democratic rights, who denounce islamophobia and who stands in solidarity with the Syrian people and their revolutionary struggle.

We, therefore, need strong voices in Turkey who will NOT say “No to imperialism and military intervention, Yes to Assad”, but will say “No to military intervention in Syria! Not for the sake of Assad, but despite Assad”

We have these voices but we need them much stronger, stronger than ever...

Our job in the West:
Our job in the West is NOT to prescribe moral answers and solutions to Syrian people, or to send them socialist programs.

Our job is also NOT to urge the very same people who have started 2 years ago their own civil, democratic protests and were shut dead by Assad, to come to a round table peace process with Assad regime.

Our job is NOT to - willingly or carelessly - legitimize the Assad regime and his past decades by such peace process proposals... What do we say to 2 million refugees, thousands of dead people and their families, "sit down with your dictator and ensure you get crumbles of democracy and he keeps his empire"?

Our job is NOT to question the reasons of the uprising of Syrian people. No nation, no people need anybody else's permission or go-ahead to rise up against their own dictators...

Our job is NOT to dismiss the genuine revolt of Syrian people and their will to get rid of Assad, only because their revolt has been intervened by all sorts of external entities...

NO, OUR JOB is, first of all, to control our own ruling classes, the imperialists and their appetite to attack Syria.

OUR Job is to say "NO TO WAR on SYRIA", without ifs and buts.

We, as the working class people of the West do not run the risk of being invaded by Islamists etc., but we run the risk - yet again - to be dragged into the imperialist agenda of our own rulers, in the name of humanitarian support. We run the risk of being diverted into imperialist politics and therefore dragged into forgetting the horrors imposed on us by our own ruling classes.


Let's focus on what we need to do here, instead of morally, politically demonizing the Syrian revolt by NOT clearly seeing the complexities and its multidimensional nature. Lets not fall into the traps of islamophobia and legitimize Assad.

Solidarity With The Syrian Revolutionaries In Their Fight.

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