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.
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.
The good news is that British muralist Banksy pays tribute and draws attention to Kurdish artist/activist Zehra Dogan who was sentenced to 3 years in prison for a single painting that re-imagined Turkish destruction wrought in Kurdish cities.
In the process, Banksy achieves what the Turkish state failed to do: he makes Dogan a Turk and thus grievously wounds her and every person in Turkish jails for their pro-Kurdish rights political activism. And that is the awful news.
Now every newspaper from here to Timbuktu reporting on this new mural in New York City mentions Zehra Dogan’s Turkishness, all because Banksy committed a serious factual error.
His fans have pointed out this mistake repeatedly on his Instagram page, but he has not bothered to issue a correction. It now becomes incumbent on a pro-Kurdish activist to correct his politically offensive error by doting the facts on the mural.
The dilemma facing the YPG generals in Afrin now is to either send away the civilians from the densely-populated city and fight to the death in the forlorn hope that help might arrive as was the case in Kobani, or to preserve their lightly-armed forces by pulling them out to Manbij where the Turkish-jihadi barbarians intend to head next.
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. The Turkish-jihadi barbarians have the firepower and the willingness to level Afrin city and to kill tens of thousands of civilians in order to capture it. The YPG may have to consider withdrawing their forces to fight another day.
The third possibility is to invite Syrian Arab Army proper into Afrin. In effect that would amount to surrendering the YPG forces to the Assad regime. Even if the YPG surrenders to the regime, the bulk of the best-armed regime forces are fighting in Eastern Ghouta at the moment; the regime forces in Aleppo cannot resist Turkish jihadi invaders if the attacks continue.
There is the fourth possibility: the YPG forces do not surrender to the regime but withdraw from the city to only be replaced by the regime forces. The question is whether this will be sufficient for Russia to order a halt to Turkish advance, or whether the momentum to take Afrin is too great for this possibility to have any effect.
If Afrin city was to be evacuated of all of its civilians, that would have started already with the fall of Jinderes. Since there does not appear to be any civilian movement out of the city, the YPG may well have to withdraw their forces to Manbij where the USA has promised to protect them.
Human Rights Watch says 26 civilians, including 17 children, have been killed in three separate Turkish-jihadi attacks in Afrin on January 21, 27, and 28, following an investigation.
Their feeble conclusion is that these civilians deaths “may be unlawful”, as though there is a lawful way to kill civilians. HRW wrote a letter to the Turkish government, which denies civilians have been hurt, but received no response.
EDIT: Quelle surprise! It turns out the author of this feeble investigation, Lama Fakih, also authored the disgraced 2015 Amnesty International report accusing the YPG of war crimes against ISIS in eastern Syria. That report was debunked later by a United Nations investigation which found no evidence for the accusations. Lama Fakih is presently Human Rights Watch’s deputy director of Middle East division.
The Trump administration is considering abolishing key diplomatic posts for the Middle East, and the future bodes ill for the ISIS-defeating Kurds and their allies and for the larger region.
The key counter-terrorism post currently occupied by Brett McGurk may be abolished with McGurk’s future uncertain.
Moreover, the former powerful US diplomat John Hannah, who served under former VP Dick Cheney, has turned down the position of Syria envoy after talks with the administration.
Both McGurk and Hannah are intensely disliked by Ankara which has long lobbied the US for the former’s removal from the CT post. According to Foreign Policy magazine:
The proposed move comes at a moment of renewed bloodshed and diplomatic chaos in Syria, with a NATO ally, Turkey, locked in combat with U.S.-armed and trained Kurdish forces. Some Western government officials and experts said it was too soon to consider withdrawing the envoy, particularly when the United States has struggled to articulate a coherent political strategy following military successes against the Islamic State.
It appears Rex Tillerson has given in to Erdogan’s “Ottoman slap”, and that mending relations with Turkey is becoming a priority for Trump, as the administration shifts its focus from defeating ISIS to containing Iran.
If the State Department returns to pre-ISIS “factory settings” -no special envoys, restoring relations with traditional allies, purging the growing numbers of anti-Turkey and anti-jihadi career diplomats-, then the Kurds in Syria and Iraq will lose enormously, and the resurrection of ISIS will be all but guaranteed.
What a shame!