No Friend but the Mountains

Regardless of what one thinks about President Trump’s planned drawdown in Syria, it undoubtably takes the wind out of the movement for Kurdish autonomy in some kind of devolved Syria. Facing the prospect of Turkish troops and Turkish-backed militants overrunning their positions, the Kurds had no choice but to ask the Syrian government for assistance. The Syrian government will oblige, as they have been asking Kurdish forces to relinquish territory and have threatened force if they refuse to do so.

The Kurdish situation lends insight into how complicated the civil war is and how allegiances can shift quickly. To sum up Kurdish positions during the revolution and subsequent civil war:

1: US-backed, Syrian government-backed, fighting ISIS.

2: US-backed, Syrian government-detente, fighting ISIS AND US-backed rebels.

3: US-backed, fighting ISIS, AND engaging in hostile skirmishes with Syrian government.

4: Syrian government-backed fighting ISIS and (possibly) Turkish forces.

There is a saying that the Kurds have “no friend but the mountains.” Their use and abuse during this civil war may prove that to be true but then again, it hardly seems like any party has a true “friend” in this conflict.

Thoughts on the Failed Coup in Turkey

1. I have nothing but admiration for the bravery of the Turkish people in their opposition to the coup. The images and videos of Turks streaming into the streets, arresting soldiers, stopping tanks, and facing gunfire and attack helicopters are inspiring. Hundreds gave their lives to oppose military rule. This opposition cut across political, ethnic, and religious lines. 

2. Military coups are bad, and this one would have been no different. Despite some commentary I heard on CNN, the Turkish military has historically engaged in brutality during and after coups. Dissidents are usually jailed, tortured, and/or executed. Media is usually censored and shut down (the plotters of this coup attempted to do this). The Turkish military has also been completely antagonistic to the rights of ethnic and political minorities in Turkey, much more so than the Erdogan regime, so any attempted justification of the coup on these grounds also fails. 

3. The coup plotters gave Erdogan a gift. Erdogan has been paranoid about a coup for a while now, and the coup plotters have proven him right. As the coup failed, many (myself included) predicted a broad crackdown on Turkish civil society. This is exactly what is happening. Tens of thousands of educators have been fired. Thousands of judges have been jailed. Erdogan is well within is rights to imprison, prosecute, and punish the coup plotters in addition to restructuring the military. This is necessary for the preservation of a pluralist and democratic Turkey. But predictably, Erdogan is using the coup as an excuse to purge all opposition. 

4. The secularist vs. Islamist tension is being overplayed in my opinion. Yes, there are obviously tensions in Turkey between its newly emboldened Islamist elements, empowered by Erdogan's AKP, and its historical state-enforced secularism. However, it should be noted that many support Erdogan because of his success in growing the Turkish economy. They are willing to put up with moderate Islamism if it means business is good. Support for the AKP will likely erode if the economy experiences a sustained downward trajectory. Secondly, the man being blamed for the coup, Fethullah Gulen, is himself an Islamist and former ally of Erdogan, and it is not unreasonable to believe that his followers, or at least a portion of them, are the guilty party.  

5. The US reaction was predictable. The US needs Turkey in order to secure its interests in the region, no matter who is running the country. The US therefore refrained from commenting until it was clear that the coup would fail. The Obama administration then gave a statement in support of President Erdogan. If the coup had been successful, the Obama administration would have likely declared the coup-regime legitimate, as they did in Egypt.