Posted by Joshua on Saturday, August 25th, 2012
Turkey’s Syria conundrum
Sinan Ulgen, 25 Aug 2012, National Interest
Syria used to be the poster child for Ankara’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy. At the peak of their rapprochement, Turkey and Syria were holding joint cabinet meetings and talking about spearheading a common market in the Middle East. Then the Arab wave of reforms reached Damascus. The relationship turned hostile as [...]
With the support of Prime Minister Erdogan, Turkey’s foreign minister Davutoglu positioned Ankara in the vanguard of the community of nations seeking regime change in Syria. Thus Ankara gave support to the Syrian National Council and harbored the Free Syrian Army. Even when former UN secretary-general Annan’s plan for a political settlement was announced, the Turkish leadership made it clear that there could be no solution with Assad in power.
With this policy of direct confrontation, Ankara not only strove to obtain the moral high ground. It also sought to precipitate the fall of Assad while building a relationship with the future leadership of Syria by heavily investing in the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council.
Today, this policy of forcefully pushing the regime change agenda in Syria is under criticism domestically as some of the risks of a post-Assad world are becoming clearer.
The fear in Turkey is of Syria’s disintegration into ethnically and religiously purer ministates, with a Kurdish entity in the north, an Alawite entity in the west and a Sunni entity in the rest. The Kurdish opposition’s recent unilateral power grab in northeastern Syria rekindled Turkish concerns about the emergence of an independent Kurdish entity linking the north of Iraq to the north of Syria.
The right policy response to this threat would certainly have been for the Turkish body politic to finally and permanently address Turkey’s own Kurdish problem. But the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leadership’s prevailing populist tendencies seem to preclude this option despite a well-intentioned effort undertaken before the 2011 elections. The fact that even the highly popular AKP, facing no imminent threat to its rule, backed away from tackling this complex issue does not bode well for the prospects of a lasting settlement.
The failure to solve its own Kurdish problem therefore raises the stakes for Turkey should Syria implode along sectarian lines. As a result (and somewhat paradoxically because it has failed to do so sufficiently at home), Turkey will almost inevitably be pulled in to invest in the future stability and territorial integrity of Syria.
With its long-standing support to the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, Ankara hopes to have gained the leverage to influence the behavior of the future leadership in the post-Assad era. But now harder choices await Turkish policy makers.
To create the right conditions for the emergence of a political process of reconciliation and reconstruction in Syria, Turkey must shift its position. With Assad on his way out, Ankara should start the practice of conditionality. Its continued support to the Sunni opposition should be conditional on the Sunni leadership taking the lead on midwifing an inclusive, nonhegemonic, multipartite process of political dialogue on the future order in Syria. Also Ankara should seek to reengage with the Alawite minority and support efforts to nurture a new political leadership within this once-powerful minority.
The success of this engagement is critical for a country faced with allegations of exclusively supporting the Sunni camp in Syria alongside Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Only a Turkey that acts in harmony with its secular roots can play the crucial role of helping to build a better future for all Syrians and, by extension, ensuring its own safety and security in this volatile region.
Sinan Ulgen is the chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.
August 24, 2012, VOA
“Edipoglu says the recent big clashes are taking place around the Turkish border with Syria and he says every day, what he calls al-Qaida militants are picked up from their homes and put on the buses in Antakya. He says every day and night, 40 or 50 mini buses leave for Syria and they fight there and come back and this happens every day and he says state authorities are providing the buses, even escorting them.But the Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal denies that any such support is being given to any of the Syrian rebel groups.”
The Syrian ghost town that shows the future of Aleppo
For a foretaste of the future of Aleppo, you need venture only as far as the nondescript, silent town of Anadan just eight miles to the north-west.
By Richard Spencer, Anadan – Telegraph, 22 Aug 2012
The sound of war is absent, but so is the sound of everything else. When the light breeze drops, not even the shutters covering the shopfronts rattle.
There is no call to prayer from the central mosque, still open for the vanished faithful but deserted, its floor lined with broken glass. The market is empty, stalls cleared of everything up to the stone walls.
There are blasts marks and shell-holes from the battles that sent the women and children and finally men too into flight. But the effect is more ghostly than that suggests, long streets of homes that are mostly intact but seem never to expect anyone to live there again.
Anadan was one of the wellsprings of the uprising in Aleppo province that culminated in the capture of half the ancient city itself. It was the scene of a vicious battle in June between the rebels of the Free Syrian Army, mostly local men, and government troops, before the regime’s tanks were driven out.
Since then it has been shelled from bases in the northern half of the city, and bombed from the air. Earlier this month Amnesty International released satellite imagery of 600 shell craters in and around the town.
Though many seem to have missed their targets, the effect was to drive tens of thousands of people to the refugee centres on the border with Turkey, where 70,000 Syrian have already fled, or to other villages and towns. ….
Anadan is home to the political leader of the lead rebel unit fighting in Aleppo, the Liwa al-Tawhid or “Unity Brigade” – the term has both a religious meaning, referring to the Oneness of Allah, and a secular one.
Abdulaziz al-Salameh “Abu Juma’a” was a honey trader before launching his rebellion.
“He’s strong, he’s fighting for us, he’s part of us,” said Mustafa Qassem, 20, an FSA man guarding, from no one, a junction in town. “Abu Juma’a was famous for his honey, and we respect him. He is very pious.”
Another Anadan native is Abu Juma’a's cousin, Abdulrahman al-Salameh, who heads a battalion of the Jubhat al-Nusra, a much more radical Islamist brigade which denies frequent reports that it is allied to al-Qaeda.
The regime’s tactics may be intended to scare the province into submission, the tactic which worked for Hafez al-Assad for so long. But it may just have engendered a reckless, religious, do-or-die bravery.
Out of Anadan’s silence, there came a sudden clanking and roaring. There were no regime tanks for miles, but a gun-turret suddenly poked its nose into the square. Bouncing down the road was a captured Russian T55, belching black smoke out of one corner and lurching forwards with difficulty on its half-repaired tracks.
Four young FSA men cheered from its top as it disappeared into the distance, an appropriately Mad Max-style breaking of the silence.
That tank was never going to liberate Damascus, but the MiGs won’t tame Aleppo on their own either. The betting must be on more attrition, more flight, more emptied towns before this is over.
With war, Syrians in constant flight
By BEN HUBBARD | Associated Press
KAFAR HAMRA, Syria (AP) — Civil war has chased Fatima Ghorab and her brood of some two dozen women and children across Syria in search of safe havens that keep disappearing in the booms of artillery shells. They now shelter in an unfinished apartment in this Aleppo suburb, crowded into two rooms with a few plastic chairs and some thin mattresses. If their neighbors didn’t bring them bread, they’d have none.
As her daughters and daughters-in-law and their kids tuck into a simple lunch of tomatoes and cucumbers, canned meat and apricot jam, the 56-year-old housewife from Damascus struggles to comprehend what has become of her life.
“Before all this we were living well,” said Ghorab, whose family ran a supermarket in the capital until it and their home were torched during a government attack on rebels.
“Our house was full and our shop was full. Now we’re 100 degrees below zero.”
CBS News: Assad’s Aleppo backers abandon him, some shift support, cash to rebels in risky gamble
2012-08-23, By Tucker Reals, Khaled Wassef(CBS News)
(CBS News) LONDON – Eighteen months after anti-Assad street protests spiraled into all-out civil war, sources inside Aleppo tell CBS News that many of the business leaders, scholars and other prominent figures in Syria’s largest city, who have backed President Bashar Assad and his family for decades, no longer see a future under his rule.
CBS News has learned that at least 48 of Aleppo’s elite, calling themselves the “Front of Aleppo Islamic Scholars” (FAIS) – which has a Facebook page established just last year – have hand-picked a provisional city council to take over Aleppo when Assad loses his grip on the country – and they are gambling on one of the many rebel groups fighting in the city to become its eventual protectors.
Turkey Discusses Syria Buffer Zone With U.S., Vatan Reports
2012-08-23, By Mark Bentley
Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) — Turkish officials will discuss with the U.S. the possibility of establishing a buffer zone inside Syria to enhance security for Turkey, Vatan reported.
The proposal will be raised at a meeting in Turkey’s capital Ankara today after an agreement between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to establish an “operational mechanism” with regard to Syria, the Istanbul-based newspaper said.
Gruesome killings mark escalation of violence in Syrian capital
by Liz Sly – Wash Post
ANTAKYA, Turkey — Scores of mutilated, bloodied bodies have been found dumped on the streets and on waste ground on the outskirts of Damascus in recent days, apparently the victims of a surge of extrajudicial killings by Syrian security forces seeking to drive rebel fighters out of the capital and its suburbs.
Safe Havens in Syria: Missions and Requirements for an Air Campaign
Brian T. Haggerty, July 2012, MIT
Capture the Flag: What the rebel banner says about Syria’s civil war.
BY SAMI MOUBAYED | AUGUST 6, 2012 – Foreign Policy
The next boat people; Syria’s Alawites may take to the sea, like the Vietnamese
By Lawrence Solomon, 2012-08-25
Aug. 25 (Financial Post) — If President Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite minority lose Syria’s civil war to the Sunni majority, as Western governments have predicted for more than a year now, the real bloodbath begins. The Sunnis, in revenge for four decades of often-murderous Assad family rule, are sure to seek retribution for the 20,000 brutally killed by Assad in the last 18 months; for the 10,000 wiped out by Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, in a chemical-weapons massacre that put down a 1982 rebellion; and for the countless indignities and injustices throughout the period when the Alawite minority ruled over the Sunni majority.
Two Cheers for Syrian Islamists
So the rebels aren’t secular Jeffersonians. As far as America is concerned, it doesn’t much matter.
BY GARY GAMBILL | AUGUST 23, 2012
…. While there is sure to be regional spillover, it will cut mainly against Tehran. There will be tough times ahead for Lebanon, but ultimately the Assad regime’s death throes can only work against the Shiite Hezbollah movement. Iraq’s ruling Shiite leadership, hitherto sycophantic where Iranian interests are concerned, may find it necessary to distance itself from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s more unpopular Arab clients. With its own restive Sunni minority, Iran itself could be severely rattled by sectarian blowback. ….
Our revolution was civil and pluralistic
25 Aug 2012 Rami G. Khouri
Mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square and street battles in Syria form the dramatic heart of the uprisings and revolutions that define many Arab lands these days, but the soul and the brain of the Arab world to come are being shaped in the epic battles now taking place to write new [...]
Austin Tice: ‘It’s nice and all, but please quit telling me to be safe.’
- Journalist Austin Tice, who contributed articles to The Washington Post, is currently missing in Syria.
August 23 – Wash Post
The following was posted by Austin Tice on his Facebook page on July 25. It is republished here with the permission of his parents.
Syrian ex-radio star Honey al Sayed struggles with exile, her country’s fate
Radio host flees Syrian uprising
By Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Never, ever say the word “revolution.”…
Amateur jihad tests Syrian rebel resources
ReutersBy Suleiman Al-Khalidi | Reuters
ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) – Talal Mohammad is a long way from Tennessee, and he’s out of his depth.
In an olive grove a few miles from the frontlines of Aleppo, he’s at a loss to explain to a battle-hardened bunch of Syrian rebels what exactly this prosperous, U.S.-trained Saudi dentist is doing there – and what he can offer to their cause.
“Why have you come?” asked one of his new comrades, sharply, as they shared a traditional evening meal, the iftar to break the Ramadan fast, in the twilight of a makeshift training camp.
“Don’t get us wrong,” the man adds quickly, anxious to show due respect to a guest at this solemn ritual of shared faith in Islam. “We appreciate your solidarity. But if you’d brought us money and weapons, that would have been much better.”
Syrians’ war to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad seems to be drawing ever greater numbers of fellow Arabs and other Muslims to the battlefield, many driven by a sense of religious duty to perform jihad, a readiness to suffer for Islam
Writing, Revolution, and Change in Syria: An Interview with Nihad Sirees
Aug 23 2012 by Yusuf Akkawi (trans. by Max Weiss) - Jadilyya