The Arab Spring
In late 2010, a young worker set himself on fire in Tunisia, in order to protest corruption and ill treatment. His self-immolation sparked a wave of protests in the country. This wave soon spread to Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen; then struck other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The crisis of 2008 had grave effects in these countries, where poverty deepened and exploitation of the working classes reached intolerable levels. Thus, anger accumulated in the masses and the way was paved for unrest. Mass demonstrations were held in many countries.
However, progressive forces were caught unprepared. Reactionary and pro-imperialist forces intervened and events led to points which were not in favour of the working classes. There were regime changes in a number of countries. Islamist political forces gained strength and in some cases, came to power. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was one of the prominent forces. In Tunisia and Egypt, the MB branches in these countries formed the respective governments. However, these governments did not last long.
In the worst of the scenarios, Libya was shattered to pieces. After Qaddafi was ousted from power, a reactionary government was formed. But the turmoil did not end and still continues to this day. A civil war continues between two different “Libyan governments.”
The waves also hit Syria. In a very short time, the Syrian people started facing pro-imperialist, reactionary aggression.
In due course, the so-called Arab Spring turned out to become an instrument of imperialism, and caused extensive damage for the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey
The Muslim Brotherhood, as a reactionary Sunni Islamist force, was founded in Egypt in 1928. During the latter part of the 20th century, it became a transnational organisation, with members in many countries.
The first Islamist political party in Turkey was founded in 1970. From then on, an Islamist movement gradually developed and evolved into AKP, which is the governing party in Turkey since 2002.
From its foundation, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) always had close ties with the Islamist movement in Turkey. Their cooperation started in the 1970s. The current president of Turkey, Erdoğan, also established ties with the MB in the same period, through the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. These ties have continued uninterruptedly through the years, especially with prominent names of the movement. Among them are Anwar Ibrahim, an ex-prime minister of Malaysia and Yassin Kadi, a Saudi businessman, who is on the UN list of “people who finance terrorism”. More recently, he has been an advocate of the former president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, especially after the coup that ousted him from power in 2013. Apart from Erdoğan himself, other prominent people of AKP also have very close ties with the MB and have acted as patrons to this organisation’s legal NGOs.
The relations between the MB and the Turkish government improved at the time when AKP started implementing its so-called Neo-Ottomanist policies. The MB branch in Syria has been very active in the turmoil in this country, since its beginning in 2011. And especially during the first years, the Turkish government hosted many personalities, meetings and the organisation called the National Council of Syria, which acted as an alternative government to the legitimate government in Syria and in which the MB was in the forefront. Needless to say, this alternative was strongly backed by the US imperialism.
Imperialist aggression sets out
Once people in Syria took to the streets in Spring 2011, it did not take long for the imperialism-backed jihadist opposition to take up their arms and launch their bloody attacks. However, whenever they treat the Syrian question, imperialist media organs pay attention even today to cover only the first few weeks of the demonstrations, an early time when the peaceful social unrest had not yet submitted to a pro-imperialist political agenda and become a civil war. A well-organized media campaign was launched against Syria, condemning the country’s leader Bashar Al-Assad on behalf of the reactionary forces and hence, justifying the imperialist intervention towards Syria. The press campaign quickly won the support of liberal and even a part of left-wing circles, who were neglecting the imperialist intention beneath.
The actors who fought on behalf of imperialist interests inside Syria were Islamic groups. Despite Western efforts to depict them as freedom fighters, the fundamentalist essence of jihadists could not be kept under control, resulting in dozens of massacres against non-Muslim and heterodox minorities in the territories they occupied and inhumane terrorist attacks all around the world. Different jihadist groups, which had very flexible theoretical, political, and organizational demarcations, were strongly interrelated. What was common for all of them was that they waged an armed opposition to the legitimate Syrian government and that they were generously sponsored by imperialism. ISIS was only one of them that managed to form a so-called state in May 2014, which covered a remarkable part of the Syrian and Iraqi soil.
Since the very beginning, the AKP government in Turkey took an active part in warmongering plans concerning Syria. Turkey served not only as a transit route for the passage of arms and jihadists from Europe, but also as a centre where fundamentalist groups were recruited, trained, and equipped. The patronage of the Turkish administration was so ignominious, resulting in several attacks even within Turkey, that the authorities of the time should have been put on trial sooner or later for the war crimes they committed. These crimes – documented one by one by the lawyers of the TKP a few years ago but much extended since then – include the active involvement in the illegal trafficking of agricultural goods, oil, historical artifacts and even humans, and also the illegal transfer of the infrastructure (e.g. factories) of the neighbouring country.
The AKP government overtly encouraged the civil war in Syria and gave its explicit support to imperialist projects for forming an opposition. Without the active support of Ankara, the reactionary groups would not get equipped and organized so easily, they would not be able to launch provocations about the usage of chemical weapons or brutal massacres that they carried out for justifying an imperialist intervention. The overt war crimes that were carried out under Ankara’s responsibility – such as the illegal traffic, the dismantling of Syrian factories, the hosting of jihadist figures by Turkish ministries – now make it impossible for the AKP government to take a step backward in its policy on Syria.
‘Greater Turkey’ and the Turkish bourgeoisie
Within the imperialist-capitalist system, Turkey has always occupied a special role due to its geography and potential. It did not only serve as a simple bridge between Europe and Asia, but also followed certain political objectives designed in imperialist centres. The Greater Middle East Project should be the best example to describe Turkey’s upgrading role within the current world system. Today imperialism is incapable of imposing such a comprehensive project towards the Middle East and consequently, this project is completely forgotten. However, it gave strong clues about the imperialist encouragement behind Turkey’s desires for expanding its sphere of economic and political influence.
The AKP government’s discourses for creating a “New Turkey” – a “greater and stronger” one – is a translation of the Turkish bourgeoisie’s expansionist desires. AKP turned Turkey into a heaven for capitalists and a hell for the working class through anti-people policies that rely on religion and nationalism-based discourses. Meanwhile, Turkish capitalist activities spread in unprecedented numbers to the Balkans, Africa, Caucasus and Middle East. This growing interest was reinforced by governmental institutions, diplomatic agreements, and even intelligence missions for facilitating the growing Turkish capitalist investments and political initiatives towards these regions. Turkey became a country where workers from neighbouring countries and even from far away – such as the Turkic Republics in Central Asia – came to find work. Turkey’s construction sector flourished in Iraq following the US invasion. After the military operations in Syria, it did not take long for the establishment of Turkish faculties and factories.
All in all, there are strong reasons for the Turkish bourgeoisie to stick with AKP’s aggressive policies in the region. All capitalists may not sincerely embrace AKP’s fundamentalist ideology, but they all know exactly that their interests are very well accompanied and further strengthened by the policies of this government.
Neo-Ottomanism & AKP’s Foreign Policy
The concept of Neo-Ottomanism has been essential as an instrument in AKP’s foreign policy, as well as for its political and economical maneuvers in the domestic arena.
It is a reactionary ideology that has several counterparts. On the one hand, it helped AKP to undermine the achievements of Turkish bourgeois revolution, mainly republicanism, secularism, and implementation of a modern civil law and also helped AKP devalue them in the eyes of the society. While monarchical, authoritarian, “one-man” leadership of the Ottoman era was praised, the society was referred as obedient servants without free will, instead of free and equal citizens of a republic. This helped the bourgeoisie enjoy a greater degree of exploitation without mere resistance from popular strata while privatizations of public assets weakened the state. On the other hand, Neo-Ottomanism paved the way for the Sunni Panislamism, the elimination of national borders for the interests of the capitalist class, an expansion of the zone of influence of the Turkish bourgeoisie, militarism, the employment of jihadist paramilitaries and mercenaries. Increased diplomacy and rapprochement with the Gulf States, Qatar, and the dictatorship in Sudan were parts of this broad Islamic alliance that Erdoğan claimed himself as the leader of. The Foreign Minister and later the Prime Minister of that period, now an Erdoğan-opponent, Ahmet Davutoğlu, was one of the architects of this “patronage” rhetoric.
Neo-Ottomanism also meant the rewriting of history. The government denied the social-political breakup of the Turkish Republic in 1923 from the Ottoman Empire, undermining its revolutionary and secular character. The Neo-Ottomanist rhetoric actually was an alleged claim of the inheritance of a strong Ottoman empire and values, which did not correspond to facts at all. Changing the names of some landmarks, streets, transforming cultural symbols, establishing media outlets, broadcasting and exporting TV series lauding Ottoman palace and harem and so forth, all were used to support this “invented” history. Nationalism, xenophobia and conservatism were the domestic building blocks of this policy.
Throughout the rise of the AKP government following 2008, coined as “resurrection” by the leaders of AKP, Neo-Ottomanism served AKP to secure its power as the representative of the dominant class. The “hawkish” attitude of AKP was also compatible with the plans of imperialism, especially in the Middle-East region for some years. However, it had many controversial elements within, for instance, an anti-Western discourse was part of Neo-Ottomanism especially in domestic affairs, yet abroad, Erdoğan was claiming himself as the “strategic partner” of the US in the region, meanwhile warming up the economical and diplomatic relations with Russia. Neo-Ottomanism was a very pragmatic unscrupulous foreign policy.
The decadence of Neo-Ottomanism started around 2012-13, and it was facilitated by the conflicts which erupted between Erdoğan as an ambitious leader playing for high stakes in the imperialist system and the dominant powers within the imperialist hierarchy, mostly with the US and the EU. The failure of the Western powers and their ally Erdoğan in Syria put their alliance in trouble. This period of decadence, which is ongoing with an undulating course of relationships with different countries, also coincided with the economic stagnation, the loss of value of Turkish currency and internal breakups within the ruling party.
The Kurdish movement and the War in Syria
During the foundation period of the Republic, the bourgeois Kemalist movement made allies with most of the powerful Kurdish landowners, who employed many peasants in large rural areas. Throughout the course of the history of the Republic, Turkish nationalism was one of the dominant ideological tools for the Turkish bourgeoisie and it repressed Kurdish people, who were by then migrating from the southeast and east of Turkey to all around the country, especially to urban centers. In the 60s-70s the Kurdish issue was first openly discussed by the Marxists of the time, who denounced the inequality in terms of rights and the use of Kurds as cheap labour.
By the late 70s, the Kurdish left started to establish their own organizations, acting autonomously or semi-autonomously within the broader socialist movement in Turkey. The Worker’s Party of Kurdistan, PKK, was founded in a time when the influence of Soviet socialism was still strong in the left. It was composed of branches in countries where the majority of Kurds are based, namely in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. In Turkey, PKK took up an armed struggle against the state in the 1980s, yet unfortunately socialist organizations were also the targets of the same struggle, which was to achieve political hegemony in the region. Although some attempts to form alliances on the principles of working class struggle were made by socialists during the 1990s, they were short-lived as the Kurdish movement’s discourse and demands took a nationalist, class-conciliatory shape, with liberal-democratic tendencies.
Implementing Kurdish nationalism strengthened Turkish nationalism as an ideological instrument of the Turkish bourgeoisie, which in the end worked against the interests of the working class.
When the imperialist intervention was launched in Syria, as a continuation of the Arab Spring, aiming to create a “puppet government” in line with the Western imperialism, Turkey did not hesitate to join it and clash with a neighbour country, with which it shares a border of thousand kilometers. The border was violated many times, as the Turkish government trained, led and armed the reactionary groups, “the opponents” of the Assad regime, together with the US. PYD/YPG was founded by PKK, initially aiming to protect Kurds in the north region of Syria and cooperating with the Syrian government. It should be noted that this region has a strategic importance, as it is rich in oil, gas and agricultural resources. In 2013, when the course of war began to run against the Syrian government, PYD changed sides and started negotiating with the US and Turkish government. This also was a time when internally the legal representative of the Kurdish movement – BDP – was negotiating with the AKP government under the so-called “peace process”. From the point of view of AKP, such cooperation in and beyond Turkey was fully in line with the expansionist goals of Neo-Ottomanism. Moreover, since 2014, the “Greater Middle East” discourse was also replaced by the “Anti-ISIS” struggle, a monster that was originally created by the US, where the US cooperated with the PYD.
In 2015, when the interminable resistance of Syrian people as well as the involvement of Russia was changing the balance of forces in the war, this triple alliance between the Turkish government, the US and the Kurdish movement was also crackling. The US kept on training and arming PYD forces while the Turkish government and the armed forces found this partnership threatening for their own interests. Since then, the “security” around the border region is used as a pretext to launch military operations, to remain as a relevant actor in this profitable game within the borders of a sovereign country where actually Turkey has no rights at all.
There is even more: The pragmatism of both Turkish and Kurdish bourgeois political forces and their flirtatious character in terms of relationship with imperialism, together with the rich resources of a “stateless” northern Syria, do not exclude the potential of renegotiating!
This is somewhat similar to what happened in Iraq, when the Turkish bourgeoisie benefited from the authority gap in the region, allied with both Iraq and the northern regional Barzani government. Turkey exported large amounts of commodities and capital to Iraq, almost doubling its export from 5 billion dollars per year in 2009 up to an average of 9-10 billion dollars per year in recent years. Only in 2019, 5 billion dollars of loan was provided to Iraq to be used by the Turkish firms for reconstruction purposes. Of note is that Iraqi Kurdish authorities refrained from denying Turkish governments’ armed operation against the northern Syria.
The Military Operations of AKP Government in Syria
“Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch, Peace Spring”
Since the Operation, which titled “Euphrates Shield”, AKP has been trying to spread the idea that the party has no alternatives in the foreign policy. The subsequent Operation “Olive Branch” initiated in January 2018 and the Operation “Peace Spring” launched in October 2019 have led the AKP government into a vicious circle: When it contradicts a superpower in terms of its foreign policy, it tries to approach another superpower in order to get out of the political crisis. In this way, it aims to sustain its power. The opposition parties who cannot imagine any other system but the capitalist one back up the political power.
The Operation “Euphrates Shield” was a cross-border military operation conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces and the Turkey-aligned Syrian opposition groups in the Syrian Civil War that led to the Turkish occupation of northern Syria. It started on August 24, 2016 and ended on March 29, 2017 with the announcement of the Turkish military that the operation was “successfully completed”. The Turkish Armed Forces announced their primary objectives as “clearing the border from terrorist organizations and contributing to the process of tightening the border security, as well as prioritizing and supporting Syria’s territorial integrity”. Although the publicized objectives of the operation were fighting the ISIS, clearing the border from terrorists and making the Syrians return home, one of the unannounced but explicit objectives was to prevent the union of Afrin and Kobani. Before the Jarabulus operation of Turkey started, the SDF, who had captured Menbij from ISIS, had clarified that their new targets were Jarabulus and Al-Bab. What SDF (and YPG) wanted was to “unite the cantons” by making moves from both Afrin and Menbij-Kobani line.
With the operation, the ruling party entered into a mutual relationship with Russia, where it was clear that its relationship with the US became more under tension. Moreover, it was apparent that there was a Russia-Turkey-US trilateral negotiation. In exchange for the entrance of Turkey into Jarabulus, the US guaranteed the recognition of the YPG in the east of the Euphrates. Additionally, Russia prevented the passage to the Caucasus for the ISIS and also postponed the completing of the US-backed Kurdish corridor.
On March 18, 2018, the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army entered the city of Afrin. The officially announced the Operation “Olive Branch” was a cross-border military operation in the dominantly-Kurdish Afrin District of northwest Syria which was another military intervention to the borders of Syria as a sovereign country. Lastly, the Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army initiated the Operation “Peace Spring” in northeastern Syria, which aimed to defeat the SDF and the Syrian Armed Forces. Similar to the Operation “Euphrates Shield”, the US and Russia gave the green light to the cross-border operation of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Free Syrian Army. It could be inferred that there was at least a trilateral agreement including Turkey: The European Union, which became unimportant within the equation, and Iran, which had always been important to some degree, remained behind in the process. Moreover, the Kurdish-American and the Russian-Syrian axes had been shaken and the strategy of AKP towards the US and Russia was defined with the term of “subservience”. Again, Turkey was trying to persuade the imperialists of the fact that Turkey is a better ally than the Kurds and Assad.
Turkey is passing through a period when the internal contradictions at the international level as well as among the Turkish capitalist class have been intensified. These contradictions by no means imply that the ruling class lacks common interests. AKP not only foundered in Syria but also caused a situation that the US would never wanted; that is, Russia gaining more significance in the region. After the announcement of the Neo-Ottoman policy, the Kurdish national movement has tried to open space for itself. However, according to AKP, the “resolution process” could only proceed efficiently if and only if an Islamic regional arrangement could be made. Until the failure of AKP in Syria, there was a mutual struggle for the Kurdish politics to intervene the imperialists’ interests in Syria. The Kurdish movement, specifically PKK, is no longer a “resolution partner” but a “terror organization” which helps to strengthen AKP’s nationalist discourse. Turkey, as a capitalist country, justifies injustices and inequalities within the international level, since it was established on those grounds. Yet, as mentioned above, there is always a potential for a change in the relationship between the government and the Kurdish national movement.
The Russian Involvement and the Constitution-writing Process in Syria
By the time Russia intervened in the Syrian war, Russia’s relations with the Western imperialists were already at their worst since the end of the Cold War. The expectation that Hillary Clinton would be the next president left most diplomats in the region assuming there would be limited cooperation between Russia and the US in Syria for the foreseeable future. Thus, Russia has become a key country for the future of Syria. It made the Syrian state dependent on Russia. For instance, the Syrian government is not the only political actor to determine the extent and duration of Iran’s stay in Syria. In addition, Iran is becoming politically and economically more dependent on Russia and China to the extent that it loses its chances of reconciliation with the US regime.
In 2015, while the military developments in the northern Syria were continuing, Russia took steps to prepare a new constitution in Syria. On December 18, the UN Security Council called for an urgent ceasefire, which was followed by a political negotiation process. Accordingly, Russia has quietly carried out a constitution-writing process that guarantees his “presence” in the country. It can be stated that Russia continues to support the Syrian regime in order to protect its own strategic interests and, in particular, to fight terrorism while also becoming an important power broker in the Middle East. The Western interventions in both Libya and Iraq, which ultimately destroyed the state apparatus in those countries, have led many Russian political actors to believe that any kind of western-led regime change would lead to the destruction of Syria’s statehood.
In January 2017, at the Syrian peace talks in Astana, the Russian government released a draft constitution for Syria. This draft constitution has long been rumored since Vladimir Putin stated that a new constitution would be critical in finding a political solution to the crisis in Syria. Almost all opposition groups have expressed definite aversion to Russia’s suggestion. In response, Russia has argued that the draft only meant to serve as a “guide” for the peace process. The draft suggested that Russia’s attachment to the Syrian regime was more than just strategic, which also had an ideological component. Accordingly, Russia would likely continue to block any Western plan for removing Assad from power by force. One of the most important consequences was that Turkey and Saudi Arabia-backed opposition was directly affected by the draft. On the other hand, there was also a concern how the constitution was going to deal with the “national question” for the Kurds and the decentralizing tendencies of other minorities.
In March 2019, the Syrian regime announced that the constitution should emphasize the sovereignty of the country. Overall, it can be acknowledged that, as a “political solution”, a new constitution is one of the main concerns of Syria as well as of the imperialists and their agents in the Middle East.
Any hope for peace in Syria?
As the communists of Turkey, a country whose collaborationist government’s role in the tragedy in Syria has been elaborated above, we emphasize several crucial points for a long-standing peace in Syria and in the wider region.
The real threat to the security in our region is NATO, the US and the imperialist forces and those who insist on collaborating with them. The peace in Syria can be established only when all imperialist and occupying forces withdraw from the region, with all their troops and paramilitaries being deported. All foreign bases of imperialist countries in the region, must be shut down. Imperialist agreements, open or secret, must be repealed. An egalitarian system, based on nationalization of assets and central planning must be implemented.
Equally important is that the peace in Syria must be based on secular grounds, without any superiority of any ethnical or religious group from one another.
It is the Syrian people who can determine the future of Syria, it is only their right to do so.