Feature Article

Syrian crisis - a case study in ‘regime change’ politics

[TamilNet, Saturday, 01 September 2012, 07:54 GMT]
Even as Western governments are stepping up covert and overt pressure on the current Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, those following the Kurdish national question are unsure of the future of Kurdish regions in Syria. With reports emerging of Turkey arming the anti-Assad force ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) that receives support from governments in the West, simultaneously Turkey pursues a militarist approach against the PKK. There is apprehension that Turkey might use the opportunity to strike at Kurdish regions in Syria to deal a blow to the PKK sphere of influence. At this conjuncture, those Tamils who are considering Western intervention in Syria as a positive step against repressive regimes should study in detail the intricacies of ‘geopolitics of regime change’ and the dynamics of the Kurdish national struggle in the region, commented a Tamil political analyst.

Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government, which has been criticized by many for being a dictatorial government that favours an Alawite minority, is also considered a secular regime in a region of theocratic states. The FSA on the other hand is an ‘umbrella group’ largely composed of Sunnis and it is alleged that it also has foreign fighters from the al-Qaeda.

While Kurds were discriminated under the Assad regime, after the Syrian crisis unfolded in 2011, they were able to get some sort of political relief through a reduction in Syrian government intervention in their affairs. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish political force located in Northern Syria, a region which has a sizeable number of Kurds and considered as Western Kurdistan, is negotiating for a Kurdish autonomous region within Syria, a better version of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government.

Turkey, however, has accused the PYD as being a front of the PKK and is working hard to ensure that a politically significant autonomous Kurdish region does not emerge in the region. In television interviews in July 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed the opinion that greater autonomy to Kurds in Northern Syria would affect Turkey’s interests and that Turkey would intervene against “those terrorist formations”.

Ankara, which allied with Assad when he was repressive towards the Kurds, is now backing the opposition forces after the Kurds managed to wean out some concession from the Syrian regime. The FSA too is reported to be cooperating with Turkey in ensuring that the PKK does not extend its influence into Syria. Likewise, Syrian opposition forces have started accusing the PYD of siding with Assad and for exploiting the opportunity to get autonomy for the Kurds in Syria.

Syria is located in the Middle East. It is bound by the Mediterranean Sea and Lebanon to the west, Israel and Jordan to the southwest, Iraq to the east and Turkey to the north.

Turkey and the West are engaging only with those political forces in Syria that are not working with the PYD and desisting from providing greater autonomy to the Kurds. One of them is the Syrian National Council (SNC), a major player in opposition politics, which was officially formed in Istanbul, Turkey. The SNC recognizes the Kurds only as a minority and has offered administrative decentralization to them as the highest political solution.

Kurds in Syria
The demography of Kuridsh people in Syria
Kurds on their part have formed the Kurdish Supreme Committee, jointly comprised of the PYD and the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which now rules as a shadow state, with its own local defence forces, in the Kurdish regions that the Syrian government forces vacated.

This development has set off alarms in Ankara, which sees the emergence of such a zone with pro-autonomy Kurdish groups as a boost for the PKK. And as recent clashes with PKK increase and police repression in Kurdish areas intensify, Turkey is seeking for a friendly regime in Syria that would restrict any sort of political or ideological support for PKK in its territory.

Turkey’s defence circles of late are also excessively referring to the ‘Sri Lanka model’ to deal with the Kurdish movement.

While Western establishments have strongly condemned the Assad regime for human rights violations and have given legitimacy to Syrian opposition forces, very little has been said about a political solution to the Kurds.

A report of the ICG on “Syria’s Mutating Conflict” released on 1st August criticized the methods used by the current regime to crush opposition and recognized the support of the West, Turkey and other regional forces to the Syrian opposition. It also appealed to the opposition to ensure a political transition that would be pluralistic, which would accommodate the interests of groups like Alawites, Christians, Druze, Ismailis and Kurds, lumping all together as minorities.

* * *

Speaking to TamilNet a Tamil political analyst involved in solidarity building among the Nations without State said that the crisis in Syria must be studied as a case in regime change politics and its implications for oppressed nations.

His comments follow:

“It is popularly said among Kurds that they have no friends but the mountains. From the vested interests of different powers operating in the regions in and around Kurdistan, they have an experience of historical betrayals and partial political settlements.”

“However, the Kurdish national struggle has also matured to a point that it makes opportune use of a political crisis in its region with the long term interests of its goals in mind, without falling for temporary solutions. The way the Kurds have utilized the situation in Syria makes it clear that there is no black and white perspective on the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition, and that the Kurds are willing to critically engage with different forces so as to strengthen themselves politically. This is also seen in the formation of a united front in the Kurdish Supreme Committee with ideologically different groups.”

“Emboldened by the internationally abetted genocide in Mu’l’livaaykkaal, states like Turkey openly talk about a Sri Lanka solution to militarily combat the Kurds.”

“At the other end, the human rights groups like ICG churn out watered down political solutions to the Kurds like minority rights, political pluralism etc that would ensure the smoother flow of the interests of the establishments.”

“Eezham Tamils continue to face structural genocide without recognition of a just political solution owing to this hard and soft approach used by the so-called IC”

“The Kurds have learnt from this. We need to learn from the Kurds in being able to convert a crisis to our advantage.”

“Already the world powers, who clearly know that what is happening to the Eezham Tamils in the island is genocide, are on a process of bringing a regime change in Sri Lanka for a ‘pluralistic’ government which would treat the Tamils ‘properly as minorities’. To this extent, numerous political games are being played in the diaspora and in the island to arm-twist the Tamils into a temporary solution.”

“The Kurdish experience also shows the vital importance of a rear-base for any struggle. Our political rear-base is definitely in 70 million population of Tamils in the state of Tamil Nadu. In the post-Mu’l’livaaykkaal scenario, it is imperative that this resource be politically tapped. The onus lies greatly on the diaspora to remain firm on fundamentals and to engage and convince political actors of all shades in Tamil Nadu to take a conceptually clear stand on Tamil Eelam.”

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