Turkey in Syria… and More

With the battles to eradicate the irremediable vermin known as Daesh/ISIS winding down in Iraq and Syria, other conflicts, subsumed and overshadowed by that effort, are now coming to the fore. Here, I’ll try to summarize what’s going on with the Kurds in Syria, largely by way of the huge role of outside powers in this situation.

Map of Syria showing which forces control what parts of the country as of Jan. 19 (Map: syria.liveuamap.com)

The sources of this information are non-U.S., hence they might be biased in a direction that is not everyday or customary for most readers of this piece.

Let’s cover this country by country, although some overlap is unavoidable. Please see the accompanying map for additional clarity.

Starting with the U.S. is most helpful because there is quite a hue and cry over its latest actions and pronouncements. A “new” plan for a “security corridor” in northern Syria is being touted. These Kurdish parts of Syria are currently run by the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). The U.S. is now training what is intended to become a 30,000 strong military force, 15,000 of whom will be new recruits and the remainder will come from current SDF forces. Of course there is Washington’s longstanding desire to overthrow President Assad in another manifestation of its idiotic “regime change” shenanigans. Otherwise, the U.S. presence in Syria is somewhat opaque and its actions and intents similarly opaque.

Syria naturally and understandably doesn’t want any foreign presence, American, Turkish, or anyone else, on its territory unless it has requested as much. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Russian military, and Iranian troops have Damascus’s seal of approval. Turkey and the U.S. are unwelcome but present. And of course there are various rebel groupings, including the SDF, which control parts of Syria’s territory (see map). With Daesh largely defeated (as a territorial threat), attention will naturally focus on other parts of the country. It is my assumption that the Kurdish=controlled areas will be last to face the wrath of Damacus.

Turkey, meanwhile, invaded Syria and is establishing bases there, specifically in Idlib province (which puts them in close proximity to our important Armenian community in Haleb/Aleppo); Ankara announced last fall it would build eight of them. As usual, what’s driving Turkish policy is absolute dread of Kurds. The SDF has been labeled as “terrorist” by Turkey, and is seen as nothing more than an extension of the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), whom the Turks loathe and fear. As a result, Erdoğan has gone on another one of his brutish, chest-thumping binges, swearing to wipe out the SDF. Damascus has responded, telling Turkey it has no business on Syrian territory and threatened to shoot down any Turkish planes that violate its air space. Meanwhile, news reports already have Turkey shooting across the border.

Russia is displeased with U.S. actions and wants the latter out of Syria. But, I get the impression, Moscow doesn’t quite have a handle on exactly what the U.S. is doing now, or plans to do, in and against Syria. While Russian presence has been reduced, there is still the big naval base in Latakia, along with some forces remaining elsewhere.

Iran is still present with in Syria and has assisted greatly in the progress the Syrian army has made in recovering and re-establishing control over areas that had fallen under rebel control.

Lebanon, besides hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refuges is also home to Hezbollah, a political party and paramilitary group that is credited with driving Israel out of southern Lebanon and is now a key component in Damascus’s fight against various rebel groups.

Israel is reported to have conducted some forays into Syrian territory and is said to be treating injured fighters from anti-government groups, even Daesh.  Some of this seems hard to believe, but, remember, politics (and war) make for strange bedfellows.

By way of conclusions, clearly, Syria wants to reassert control over all its territory, including areas currently controlled by the Kurds/SDF. Iran fully supports Syria. Russia largely supports Syria, though it’s not clear to me where it stands regarding the Kurdish north. Turkey wants to play games and become a regional hegemon, deposing Assad as Syria’s president if at all (though lately that intention seems to have been toned down), and eradicating any trace of military might among the Kurds located anywhere (a few days ago, for the first time in nine years, Turkey once again invaded Iraq to attack Kurdish [PKK] forces). Israel is opportunistically doing what it can to keep its enemies weak and supposedly cooperating with Saudi Arabia. Lebanon is taking a slight beating in all this. And, finally the U.S. is acting, but given the incompetence of President Trump, it’s not at all clear to me that there is cohesive policy driving those actions.

Does anyone have any ideas as to what, if anything, Armenians should be doing in this mess? After all, we do live in the affected areas and the countries involved there.


Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.

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  1. “Israel is opportunistically doing what it can to keep its enemies weak” = Israel is opportunistically doing what it can to keep the pot boiling. And I (and the tens of thousands of Syrians who would be dead today if Clinton had won) are rather thankful for Trump’s by intent or by chance “incompetence” – if only more world leaders were similarly “incompetent” when it concerned pushing for foreign wars.

  2. “Does anyone have any ideas as to what, if anything, Armenians should be doing in this mess?”
    Yes, Armenians should take this as a valuable lesson how superpowers treat their little “allies” when it comes to their own interests and comfort, in our case Russia. I thought Russia cared for Syria so much that it will not allow the Turks to enter like they have been preaching for years… silly me. Just like Russia is in Syria for the sole purpose of looking out for its own interests, it is in Armenia for pretty much the same reason. But what do I know? Armenian “deep thinkers” in Armenia must know what they’re doing that they are meekly following Russia’s orders regarding Artsakh and calmly watching our young soldiers get picked off one by one every week, so I say good luck to our nation. From where I’m standing in the diaspora, Armenia will never be a viable nation until Azerbaijan is REMOVED and Armenia get her lands back from Turkey. Until then all Armenia can hope to be is a protectorate of Russia at best, when Russians feel like being “nice”. Or if “Armenians complain too much causing Russia a headache” then there is always lots of Artsakh land to give away to Azerbaijan like they did in history, and never bothered correcting for 70 years.

    • It is easy to criticize. Do you have any concrete ideas regarding how can Armenia diversify its military alliances? Looks to me Americans are not much better than Russians when it comes to their allies or else they wouldn’t abandon Kurds to Erdogan’s mercy. I am not even pro-Russian but truth is that Armenia currently doesn’t have much options. We need Russians and Russians need us if they don’t want a huge Turkic empire stretching from Europe to China.

    • Well as far as Russia and Artsakh 70 yrs ago, context is important. The bolsheviks were clever. Their intention was to spread communism worldwide. The whole purpose of socialism and Marx’s teachings are that socialism is not national but an international, global movement for mankind. They knew where there were ethnic turks and oil. Every move they made was to expand communism. The naming of a country called “azerbaijan” was merely to encroach on Iran and its province named azerbaijan by inciting solidarity among ethnic turks in the region. When they handed over Artsakh and Nakhijevan it was to appease turks in exchange for expanding soviet georgia and armenia into turkey, plus a military base in the bosphorus. Many armenians were repatriated to soviet armenia for this purpose, but the plan in its entirety was never fully implemented.

  3. Pkk is recognised internationally and by the USA , the USA is arming the pkk which goes by another name the Russians are working with the Turks as they cooperated by moving to safer grounds so turkey can do away with the off shoot of the pkk, the Turks have taken in more refugees Re housed re located them safely than any other

  4. Yes, Armenia needs Russia so long as we acknowledge and agree that it is by design and not charity. That’s what my entire issue is with Russian propagandists here. I’m not objecting to your position, my point is that we should not be deceived by Russia bots that show up here promoting Russia as the greatest thing that ever happened and that we need to blindly follow their orders and especially that they are “our friends”. Armenia actually needs to prepare itself for outright betrayal from Russia, which is a question of when not if. True America does not offer a better alternative, but then again that’s also a design by Russia. True, Armenia has no choice but to rely on Russia for its existence, but that’s also a design by Russia. Russia did nothing for Armenia that was to Armenia’s advantage in history when we compare it to Azerbaijan which was a useless nation on an absolute level. And our incompetent Armenian officials are seeing to it that this status quo does not change. The propagandists here claim that it wasn’t Russians that betrayed and cut up Armenia but another group. Fine, the problem is, next ethnic Russians did nothing to correct those mistakes while claiming to be “Armenia’s friend”. Armenia has no friends, not even Russia.

    • Totally agree that there are Russified Armenians who take it to the next level by idolizing Russians. I have seen Armenians who speak Russian just because it is trendy! But when it comes to major foreign policy, Armenia really does not have many options. Russia is the only one who cares about Armenia. Let’s be honest, if Europeans or Americans really wanted they could open the Turkish border within only a few days. Turkish economy is so dependent on West that even talk of retaliatory sanctions can potentially create a crisis in Turkey.
      The only thing that I don’t understand is when you guys say, Russians didn’t do this or that! Why would Russians do anything for us? Isn’t it time for us to grow up and take care of ourselves? We know that in a few months, Armenia’s president will move from presidential palace to prime ministers office. This means at least 5 more years of the same sluggish economy, semi-free yet heavily controlled media, expensive “elections” that always bear the same result and decisions which are being taken overnight sometimes in Moscow! No one in diaspora says anything about this. It is business as usual. It is almost like we are always ready to criticise Russians, Americans, Turks and the rest of the world but never ask the simple question: Why is it that 2 out of 3 lawmakers in Armenia’s parliament are illiterate? And can we expect anything better from Armenia if it keeps going like this?

  5. Just a news item I heard which is not ‘official’. The Russians used to be in Afrin, and strangely they pulled out and then promptly the Turks moved in for the attack. There is talk that the Syrian govt and Russia gave a request to the Kurds to put down their arms and surrender the area to the Syrian army. The Kurds refused and so Russia pulled out and gave Turkey the green light. Now the Kurds realizing how they are like a tumbleweed in this dirty game, went back and started negotiating with Syria again…

    This “war” is very complicated and dirty. regardless, the Kurds once again proved to the world why they have never had a nation of their own. They are always outplayed by everyone else in the region, not to mention that their “homeland” is always claimed on someone else’s lands. Add to this their inconsistent and unorganized factions and the picture becomes pretty clear why there is no Kurdistan.

    My conclusion: if the Kurds want their “homeland”, they need to engage in a major uprising and conflict that will need to take place inside Turkey. Both in Syria and Iraq, they will always be targets and not be able to succeed. Of course if they ever succeed, they they will have to deal with Armenia’s demands next.

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