Bernard Lewis is dead. May the concept of “modern Turkey” that he popularised for so long in diplomatic world and public imagination follow him to the grave. Lewis’s 1961 book on Turkish history normalised the racist fascist dictatorship of Attaturk and made him a hero in the west.
This is the first day of school in Afrin under Turkish occupation.
Children are forced to wave Turkish flags.
Children are made to thank Erdogan.
Children are taught Quranic verses in the class.
Children are segregated.
And in this primary school, not one adult female is seen teaching or protecting children.
Such is the new Turkish order in Syria.
There is a fascinating France24 news story that takes the viewers inside Kurdish jails and courtrooms for the captured ISIS prisoners in Syria. Even if one removes all the positive spin and all the pro-Ocalan propaganda from the footage, Kurdish authorities still shine as genuine humanists seeking to civilise a hitherto brutalised society.
There are shots of a prison dormitory, the barbershop, the visiting hall, workshops, and the courtroom. Inside the dormitory look much better and less crowded than I expected; they have electricity and a big screen TV. The guard actually asked for the prisoners’ permission before allowing the cameraman to film them.
The myth has it that 2600 or so years ago there lived on the outskirts of Zagros Mountains a people ruled by a cruel king named Dehaq. King Dehaq was a supernatural evil as evident in the two snakes that grew on his two shoulders; snakes that demanded special delicacy for food. Thus, two children would be plucked from among his subjects, and their brains fed to the snakes.
Below the darkness of the evil king’s castle lived an ironsmith named Kawa. Kawa had sacrificed all his children except one. Dehaq ordered for the last one too to be brought for his snakes. Kawa, with the help of the king’s cook, tricked him by offering a sheep’s brain instead. Thus, his child and other children were saved and were sent high up in the mountains where they lived free and grew into a small army.
When the time came, Kawa led the small army in revolt, broke into the king’s castle and smashed Dehaq’s head with his hammer. The people were freed and the news spread around the kingdom by fires lit on the mountaintops. A new day, Newroz, was declared. And those saved children who led the people to liberation became the ancestors of Kurds.
Happy Newroz! Newroz piroz be!
All employees on our hospitals’ payroll must attend the arrival ceremony prepared by our Chancellery for Mr President before the State Water Works on Elazig road at 12:00 tomorrow. Those who attend are required to take photos with their smartphones for evidentiary purposes. The photos will later be presented to the Chancellery.
Dicle University Chancellery.”
So there! Big Brother -also known as ‘the Chief’- is coming over; stop whatever you are doing and go meet and greet! Your livelihood depends on it!
This is not Kim’s Korea or Saddam’s Iraq, but Erdogan’s Turkey three days ago.
When I was in high school in Istanbul in the mid-1980s’ post-coup Turkey, we had a class named Milli Guvenlik (‘National Security’) and we had a retired colonel as a teacher for it. The subject itself was a form of military indoctrination in the line of ‘every Turk is born a soldier’.
It was also a set of instructions on the superiority of the so-called Turkish nation. There was a section in our textbook, for example, that described ‘Turkish character’ which included generosity, mercifulness, and humility. I kid you not.
As for the Ret. Colonel, the consensus among my fellow students was that he was a complete nutter, even though he did indoctrinate well like that US Marine trainer in Full Metal Jacket. I have about 10 schoolmates from those times on my FB friends’ list who can jump in to correct me if I’m wrong.
One of the favourite lines that this Ret. Col. repeated often -he taught the same subject in all other classes so he must have repeated that line dozens of times- was “zafer sungunun ucundadir”; that is, ‘victory is at the tip of the bayonet’. This meant that a state cannot win a war by destroying a target from the air or from the sea. The state must send in the infantry to destroy the enemy at bayonet point.
Another one of his lines -this one not oft-repeated but stuck with me for decades anyway- was that “you cannot win a war by taking enemy territory, you win wars by destroying the enemy army”. This line to me was always counter-intuitive. How is it that you do not achieve victory by taking territory?
It was only later in life, when I developed an interest in Roman history, that I understood what the Ret. Col. meant. During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), also known as the war of Hannibal, the Roman army suffered successive devastating defeats against the Carthaginians in the Italian peninsula. Rome raised another new army and this time appointed Quintus Fabius as the new consul and general.
Quintus Fabius decided that he was not going to risk losing another army in battle, so he avoided a direct confrontation with Hannibal. Thus the two armies chased and harassed each other across the peninsula for 5 years until Hannibal’s army was worn down and he was ordered to retreat to Carthage. It was the ‘Fabian Tactic’ of preserving the army, not the direct confrontation, that eventually won the war for the Romans.
The moral of the story is that the Turkish-jihadi barbarians won territory in Afrin, yes, but they failed to destroy the lightly-armed YPG forces there. The YPG avoided a certain defeat by not engaging in a direct confrontation with the invaders. The pull out of thousands of fighters in battle conditions appears to have been smoother than Peshmerga’s chaotic retreat from Kirkuk.
The second moral of the story is that Afrin is largely intact, although the enemy’s bayonet has reached it. The city has not been destroyed along with thousands of civilians, not because of the invaders’ genius, but because of the defenders’ wisdom. The invading barbarians are now looting the city and are trashing the character of the Turk.
It was only 10 days ago, following the fall of Jinderes, that we discussed the possibility of YPG withdrawal from Afrin. “The YPG cannot in good conscience wage a prolonged battle in the city if civilians refuse to leave their homes as it seems to be the case,” I argued here on this page.
That day arrived on Sunday, as the YPG pulled out of the city in the dark of the night along with 150 thousand civilians who also chose to leave. Two days earlier the Turks had launched an indiscriminate artillery barrage into civilian areas, a day earlier Turkish jets struck Avrin hospital. So the invaders did mean to level the city and to kill as many civilians as it took to capture the city. The YPG had to withdraw.
So what happened to the 10 thousand lightly-armed men and women of the YPG/YPJ and allied Arab forces under the SDF umbrella? The YPG statement released hours ago says “our forces are everywhere in Afrin” and that they would launch an insurgency. This suggests some fighters have gone underground. Other reports suggest the YPG ‘melted away’ among the civilians leaving Afrin.
However the YPG left Afrin, theirs was not a chaotic withdrawal under enemy fire a la Dunkirk. Kudos to the YPG for an orderly pullout under no reported enemy attack and with no reported casualties. If the YPG succeeded in saving 2/3 of its fighting force in Afrin, if 2/3 of the 10 thousand made it to safety, then that is a good outcome for they lived to fight for another day.