Middle East analyst and a specialist on Syrian affairs, journalist Fehim Tastekin, spoke at a conference in Cologne recently and commented on Ankara’s role in Syria, the influence of western countries in the Middle East, the Kurds’ position and the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey.
Turkey was used to shape the Middle East
Tastekin said the European Union and United States had presented Turkey as a ‘role model’ to other countries in the Middle East and used it to shape the region, which had resulted in turning it into a breeding ground for jihadist groups.
“Even though it was still struggling with its own problems, Turkey was driven forward [by the West] to shape the Middle East; however the water was too deep for Ankara.
“In 2011 there was conflict in Tahrir (Egypt); there were demonstrations against the government. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, called on Hosni Mubarak to listen to his people. Erdogan said, ‘You will take only your shroud with you when you die, nothing else. Resign, listen to your citizens!’
Mubarak resigned after a while. I was interviewing another former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in a hotel room when the BBC broke the news of his resignation. Davutoglu spoke on the phone to [Hillary] Clinton and other western politicians and then turned to me and said, ‘You see, this is a historical moment, finally we are an important actor in the Middle East'”.
Tastekin said it was with this motivation that Turkey had become embroiled in Syria, and this had led to cooperation with “nearly all Islamist-Salafi-Jihadist groups”.
“This is not only Erdogan’s fault, but also the fault of the EU, US and the Gulf countries,” he added.
Turkey’s sectarian policy failed
The Syria expert, who has written three books on the conflict, said Turkey’s “disastrous intervention” had affected its own citizens and changed Turkey’s demographics. “Turkey’s sectarian foreign policy failed and its neighbours: Iraq, Syria and Lebanon turned their backs on Ankara because it wanted to lead the Sunni communities while trying to balance Iran’s influence in the region.”
Tastekin also evoked past European and US support for jihadist groups in Middle East, beginning with the Afghanistan civil war in 1979.
“Since the 1970s the CIA has engaged in multiple operations in Afghanistan and supported jihadist groups. Al-Qaeda is a result of that period. The logistic support provided by Pakistan [to Al-Qaeda] then is now being done by Turkey. In fact the scenario is the same, but now Saudi Arabia is providing the ideology, Qatar the money while Turkey is supplying logistics and intelligence. Europe was aware of all those negotiations and ties but still remained silent. They have to face this eventually.”
Rojava is an alternative model
Responding to an audience member’s question as to what the Kurds’ role in Syria would be after the Islamic State’s defeat, Tastekin said two models had emerged from the Syrian war.
“One of the models is democratic autonomy in Rojava and the other one is the dark regime of the Islamic State, Ahrar al-Sham or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. The first one means different peoples’ living together and determining their futures while the second one represents darkness. Unfortunately Turkey, by supporting jihadist groups in every possible way, has chosen to feed the darkness and at the same time fight the Kurds.”
Peace process in Turkey ended because of Rojava
The analyst also commented on the effects of the Syria war within Turkey and said the ‘solution process’ of the Kurdish question between the PKK and Turkish government had ended because of Rojava.
“Turkey ended the peace process when Rojava didn’t fall and began military operations in southeastern Kurdish cities such as Cizre, Sur and Nusaybin. Turkish authorities were aware that the Kurds [in Syria] had established a pluralist system with Arabs, Yazidis, Assyrians, Turkmens and others, based on gender equality, cultural diversity, education in the mother tongue etc.. The Kurds [in Turkey] could see this and have nothing. This was the breaking point for Turkey.”
Even Assad accepts negotiations, Erdogan doesn’t
Recounting an anecdote, Tastekin said he had recently met three Syrian MPs in Damascus; one from the Baath party, the others from the Communist and Social Democrat parties and had asked them the same question: “What will you do with Rojava?”
According to Tastekin, the Baath lawmaker told him that they had learned a lot from Kurds.
“‘The Kurds have an original model that is attractive and should be considered. We don’t accept autonomy but at least they have proposed an alternative system for Syria,” Tastekin quoted the Baath MP as saying.
He continued, “If someone from the Turkish parliament had said the same thing, he or she would be declared a terrorist. Even Assad says the regime can solve its problems through negotiations. Yet, Erdogan closes the door to this. Assad is Syrian but Erdogan speaks and thinks he can decide instead.”
YPG collaboration with the US
Commenting on the complexities of the Syrian war the analyst also recounted a conversation he had with a YPG [People’s Protection Units] commander about collaborating with imperialist countries.
“I asked the YPG commander how they could allow the US to enter Syria because for years they have defended an anti-imperialist perspective. The commander told me they still argue this but that it is a matter of existence. ‘We have to negotiate and make alliances to strengthen our hand against others. This is a big game and the geography has deep contradictions,’ he told me.”
Tastekin went on to say, “The Kurds resistance has forced these [imperialist] countries to support them. They are the only organised force on the ground and their position continues being important. After IS is defeated, the Kurds will gain a strategic role in determining the future of Syria.”
Constitutional referendum in Turkey aimed at guaranteeing Erdogan’s future
Responding to a question on Turkey’s constitutional referedum in April, Tastekin said the referendum was to do with Erdogan’s survival and not systemic change.
“This constitutional reform does not propose a new system. It is only to guarantee Erdogan’s stay in power until he dies. The Turkish government has committed dozens of crimes during its tenure and is now trying to change the law to make sure it is not brought to account. These crimes mean Erdogan cannot retire in peace. He knows this and is trying to protect himself from prosecution. Not one single judge can trial Erdogan because of his grip on power. This system is currently in practice in Turkey but in April it may become legal,” Tastekin concluded.