Labour Party (EMEP)

Entanglements and disintegration in the Middle East

Since last summer, world public opinion has been following what is happening in the Middle East with great astonishment, anxiety and anger. As of June, the people of Iraq and Syria are facing a barbarism embodied particularly by the actions of the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).1 Medieval religious wars are practically being revived in the region. As though the death of hundreds of innocent civilians losing their lives on a daily basis to the suicide attacks in Iraq and the civil war in Syria were not enough, the people of this region have now to withstand also the primitive forms of violence orchestrated by ISIL via sectarian cleansing, beheading, and women being trafficked in slave markets.

The Western public opinion, puzzled with the question of “How can such forms of barbarism be present in the 21st century?” is spectating the revival of medievalism in the Middle East through the lens of a media that is covering the events in this region as phenomena that are unconnected to, devoid of, and in existence despite the bourgeois-capitalist civilisation. The monopoly media delimits the culpability of the imperialist countries to its hesitance to intervene to end this barbarism. This desire for intervention does not stem from humanitarian reasons but from the scare and prospect that “this savagery will land on our doorstep”. In fact, the medievalism we contemporarily see unfolding in the Middle East is nothing more than the inverted version of capitalist imperialism!

In the past, the ‘neo-cons’ and their US generals threatened, in a rather haughty manner, that any regional force in the Middle East and Asia resisting their will and impositions will be “bombed backed to two thousand years”. As countenanced by all, this warning was not solely constituent of words; it had practical implications: the US and other imperialist powers, by means of war and attacks have slumped Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya into bitter and torturous realities. The “technologically sophisticated” bombs that have come to fruition in the imperialist era of modern capitalism have not only led to civilian deaths and the destruction of inhabitancies in the Middle East, they have also toppled the states, engendered the dissolution of the social fabric, and – their artificial and brutal nature notwithstanding – led to demolition of nations and states. Resultantly, tribes, sects and religion have largely shaped the ideational issues and sensitivities, instead of states and nations. The floodgates to sectarianism in the Middle East have purposively been opened by imperialist wars and interventions coordinated by the US. Thus, ISIL is indirectly a by-product of the imperialist wars in this region.

A new period of disintegration in the Middle East

Today it is clear that the strategy of “state building” of George W. Bush has led to the “state destroying”. (The Obama administration knows it. It would be superficial to interpret the bombings by the US – after the creation of a broad coalition – as a transformation of Obama into Bush.)

The actuality we are faced with can be summarised with the following words: The borders of the states and regimes fashioned by the victors of the First World War, particularly in the Middle East, is undergoing a process of dissolution – a process described by some as “constructive chaos”.2 This process is constitutive of a negative and a positive dynamic. The Arab uprisings and resistances represent the latter, while the former is epitomised – firstly and foremostly by the US – by the interventionist and destructive policies in this region.

If you can impose your will on the world, then, you have profound economic, political, military, diplomatic and mediatic resources. This wealth of resources allows an imperialist state to implement a policy that also aims to turn failures into successes. The policy of the US under Obama regarding the above-mentioned dynamics can be summarised as an attempt to transmute the negative dynamic into the positive dynamic and vice versa. In other words, the US, on the one hand, concomitant to derailing the Arab rebellions that have shaken the autocratic and reactionary regimes in this region, by means of making use of the political and organisational drawbacks of these revolts, has used these uprisings as means of imposing its imperial policies and projects. On the other hand, they want to prevent the regional and international forces from taking advantage of the vacuums caused by state and social disintegrations, which are simply the consequences of their policies, and to use them as a means of restructuring.

The former case is demonstrable with the case of Egypt, and the “fight against ISIL” concretises the latter case. Clearly, the US has aided ISIL, with which it only waged war very recently, as a pit-bull to subdue particularly the States and forces in the region. The overthrow of Nouri al-Maliki (former Prime Minister of Iraq), who had “crossed the line” in Iraq was just an initial spin-off of this policy. In addition to utilising ISIL to upend the hegemonic aims or projects of the states in the region (and these states include Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar), this force is also used to reinvent the tarnished image of the US in the region. These developments have facilitated a shift in the ties the states in the region have with one another as well as giving birth to alliances among states that share similar interests. For example, Iran has opted to formally stay out of the coalition and benefit from the somewhat blemished image of Turkey. On the other, the anti-Muslim Brotherhood alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt has fostered the potential for US’ new approach to yield extensive results. And Russia is aiming to build new and close ties with the state of Turkey, which now has growing disagreements with the US.

The US has waited precisely for the strengthening of ISIL. On account of being well acquainted with the logic, ideology, aims and the “social reality” of this organisation (the Sunni segments that have lost their old status), the US knew where and how ISIL will attack once it gained ground and hence it has based its intervention plan on this knowledge. However, this plan contains two clearly contradictory elements:

a) the disproportion between the existing forces of ISIL (about 20,000 to 30,000 armed fighters) and the size of the coalition formed against this organization (more than 40 countries!).

b) The contradiction between the announcement of the decision “not to send ground troops,” and the reality of the need for ground troops (admitted by the General Staff of the US) to annihilate this enemy once and for all.

As demonstrated by these conflicting features, “the fight against ISIL” is not founded on the alleged claim: the necessity of eradicating ISIL. Also, if one takes into account the statements of the leaders of the US, namely that “this fight will take at least three years” (the former president of the CIA and the Pentagon, Leon Panetta, says same thing: “we are going into a Thirty Years War!”), then one can see that it is not so easy to explain what is happening in the Middle East simply by the events that have developed in the region. The importance of the Middle East remains strategic without any doubt. However, the role of this region in the world hegemony scheme of the US is not identical to that imputed to it previously. The US has declared the Asia-Pacific as being the epicentre of its world hegemony strategy, and today, partly owing to the advantageous position it has gained vis-a-vis shale gas and oil, it is the most powerful imperialist force in the region with the opportunity to pursue flexible tactics and options. In other words, the Middle East is no longer the pivot around which the US strategy for world hegemony revolves.

The nature of the engagement that the US has with this region is dependent upon the steps it can and cannot tread in accordance with its aims of world domination. This measure necessitates the following: hampering other imperialist and regional states’ attempts at gaining important positions in the Middle East that would enable them to oppose or weaken the hegemony of the US! In fact, this is not unique to the steps the US takes in the Middle East; it is a policy that it adopts worldwide: making it impossible for any other force to gain enough power to be on par with it, and obstructing the attempts by the rival countries by damaging their positions and opportunities. Via Ukraine, it aims to upset the special relations between Germany and Russia, and via Japan and India, it aims to develop strategic response to China’s hegemony in the region, and via ISIL, it aims to discipline the regional powers and limit the remit of its rivals etc. The contemporary US is no longer aiming to create a “new world” – the coalition’s discourse is not based on fighting for a thing, but against a thing! The US’ priority is to fetter others from conceding positions that would enable them to modify the terms of the existing world order of which it is the “seignior” of and thereby impede them from creating “a new world order” that would challenge it.

In this sense, the coalition that the US has formed against ISIL is therefore a platform to restrain and disciplining rival tendencies. The US as a result of making “the fight against ISIL” a protracted fight it is aiming to attain time and try to shape and direct the regional dissolution in tandem with its strategy for world hegemony.

The actual and assumed role played by the AKP government

The regional policy of the Turkish AKP government has not been limited to a simple collaboration with imperialism and a relationship of “dependence” defined by that collaboration. Particularly its policy towards Syria, linked to the theory of “deep strategy”, devised by the current Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister had expansionist “neo-Ottoman” hopes. Turkey has its own demands and objectives. “Assad, President of Syria, will be overthrown,” and they will go to pray in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus! To achieve this objective, as reported by Joe Biden, the US Vice President, in a speech at Harvard University, the Turkish AKP government will not hesitate to do it all. Turkey has become the port of entry and exit of the international Islamic Legionnaires. Turkey is risking itself in these adventures...

What the regional policy of the AKP government, whose collapse no one can doubt any longer, wanted to do, particularly during the war in Syria, and what it actually led to is now known to world public opinion. Still the government is acting as a poker player who is about to lose all his money! Seeing a sign of weakness in the face of the opposing player, he wants to raise the stakes. It also increased the conditions for its participation in the coalition during negotiations with the USA: the establishment of a “buffer zone” in Syria (also known in recent days as a “safe zone”), that the zone be declared a “no-fly” zone and that “the Syrian opposition forces” (and the welcome of exiles and refugees) be trained and armed in this safe zone. It is interesting to note that the discrepancy between the axis of struggle proposed by the US and the real need to achieve the stated objectives of the final and rapid elimination of ISIL found exactly the opposite reaction to the preconditions proposed by the AKP government for participating in the coalition. Here the situation can be summarized as follows: if you pursue your own interests in the name of “the fight against ISIL,” then I will link this struggle to the overthrow of the Assad regime!

The AKP government insists that in order for them to give active support to the US-pro- claimed-operation to “restraining and destroying ISIL” the coalition forces should aim to overthrow the Assad regime as well. By doing this they believe the US would give in to their demands. No matter how necessary a “ground operation” might be militarily in order to achieve the declared objective, this does not oblige the US, which has a totally different strategy, to meet Turkey’s conditions. Turkey’s main error in its calculation here is the fact that there is a significant difference between the short-term objectives of the US commitments in the Middle East under Obama and the objectives of engagement in the region under George W. Bush.

The meaning of the blackmail of the “buffer zone” (as posited by the Foreign Policy journal) is very clear: to guarantee that the United States would be directly involved militarily in the Syrian civil war.3 Moreover, the US defines its positions on this issue (in which Russia, China and Iran are also actors), not according to Turkey’s dead end policy on Syria, but according to what it needs to carry out, for world hegemony.4 In summary, due to the above-mentioned tactics of the US, which is quickly renewing its industry and is trying to restore its economy, the intrigue of the Turkish government of the AKP will not work. The US has “a long time” to wage the fight against ISIL. The prolongation of this issue will force the Turkish government to abandon its ambitious policies in the region. In fact, the rapid development of events in the Middle East has greatly limited the time for a Turkey that has still not resolved the Kurdish question. Turkey is the actor who must quickly change its position.

Indeed, the main dilemma of the US is the following: the limits imposed on its regional initiatives, in accord with its global strategy, will inevitably allow other imperialist forces, starting with the European imperialists, new opportunities in the region. In addition, the US tactics for the region involve achieving the maximum results with minimum commitments and proposing a restrictive platform to the other competing forces. This tactic, however, can lead to the opposite effect. Turkey is aware of this dilemma and is trying to make use of it but it falls short in creating the effect it desires. However, this does not mean that some other imperialist countries cannot benefit from this dilemma more than the United States had anticipated. In particular France and Germany have acted quickly to offer “help”!

There is also another issue that should be highlighted here. The risk incurred by Turkey is not simply that of not being able to implement an ambitious regional policy. Moreover, its blackmail policy involving preconditions to tackle a real threat posed by ISIL, has only discredited Turkey in the eyes of world public opinion and of the peoples of the region.5 What is even more serious are the many consequences that this ambitious plan, marked in part by a certain sectarianism, has had and continues to have in the internal politics of Turkey. At the time of this writing, during the clashes that have taken place in the demonstrations of support for the Kurdish resistance in Kobane, about 40 people lost their lives. The government has introduced legislation to create a climate to terrorize all those who pursue citizens’ rights and to expand the powers of the police is only one aspect of the situation. The other aspect is that the process of upheavals in the Middle East and the domestic “policy of overtures,” Turkey’s so-called initiatives to resolve decades-long internal conflicts, implemented by the AKP government with the expectation of bringing immense gains to it in the region, were intertwined at a disadvantageous time for them.6

In other words, the AKP government, a short period after coming to power, began with its neo-Ottoman dreams unstick itself here and there from the elements of the “glue” that holds the Turkish nation together, formed by the Kemalists after a long period of resorting to repression and denial. The “overtures” towards the Kurds, Alevis, Romanis, etc., to solve the historically deep problems of the country have been declared, but despite the years that have gone by, there have been no real democratic steps taken to resolve them.

The government recognizes the main problems of the Republic, but rather it takes advantage of them to consolidate its domestic power and also to realize its imperial ambitions abroad. Instead of resolving these issues in a bourgeois-democratic framework, the government makes them into instruments of its political tactics. It dissolved the old “glue”, which covered many national, religious and regional problems, but it did not establish a new solution in its place. However, these issues remain as open wounds. And it is precisely these open wounds that leave Turkey open to all these processes of the decomposition of the states and communities of the Middle East and their clashes. In summary, as a result of the greed and ambition, the State and the Government of Turkey risk losing what they already had.

The importance of the resistance of Kobane for the peoples of the region

What is happening in the Middle East and in particular the current position of the Kurdish people in the region and the democratic struggle that it has waged has made the Kurdish question a defining one, as never before for the near future of Turkey.

“The peace process” initiated by the Kurdish national movement, and for which the State has not taken any concrete action has introduced a dilemma in the internal politics of the government, but it still remains a “trump card” in the regional dilemmas.7 Moreover, the positions taken by the AKP government, faced with the fearless resistance waged by the Syrian Kurds in the town of Kobane against the attacks by the Islamic State, show how distant the government is becoming from its own reality and that of the region.

The reasons why the government wants the fall of Kobane by militants of ISIL are clear. This town is one of the three cantons of the Kurdish autonomy in Rojava, which is located in northern Syria. Moreover, this democratic autonomy of Rojava represents a bad example that the Turkish state needs to eliminate, since it wants to keep negotiations with the Kurds in Turkey at a minimal level. Moreover, this is not only for the inspiration that it can give to the Kurds of Turkey; Rojava also represents a danger to the oil cooperation between Turkey and the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq. “The Kurdish oil” in northern Iraq is sold to the whole world through pipelines crossing Turkey. The existence of this autonomous region of Rojava in northern Syria represents a risk of bypassing these pipelines.8 For all these reasons, the AKP government has hoped for the fall of Kobane and furthermore it imposed as a precondition for negotiations with the United States that the latter not intervene to save this town. And the US complied with this for some time, until it got what it wanted from Turkey. Furthermore, it was also in its interest that these cantons with certain anti-imperialist characteristics not be consolidated and strengthened, because they represent a democratic example for the peoples of the Middle East and because their struggle is led by an armed organization (PYD / PKK) [Democratic Union Party / Kurdistan Workers’ Party].

However, these intrigues did not materialize! The people of Kobane resisted heroically and are continuing to resist. This resistance has gone very far beyond the boundaries of the town and has become a symbol for the whole world! Those forces that are confronting each other in Kobane in a way represent the past and the future of the Middle East.

Although it is still not clear what will replace what is now disintegrating in the Middle East, one can say that there are green shoots of a democratic future for the peoples of the region as well as the risk of a primitive sectarian barbarism. It is precisely these two elements that are confronting each other in Kobane; this is not a coincidence.

Therefore, a US indifference to the fall of this symbol, when it is claiming to be fighting against ISIS, would not only encourage this organization, but it would also discredit the new US initiatives in the region. The more Kobane resists the more it becomes a symbol, the more the intrigues to make it fall have failed. After all, the more the AKP government stubbornly refuses to acknowledge this reality, and therefore to really enter the coalition, the more the US was driven to multiply the air bombardments to provide support to the population of Kobane. Finally, to further expand this support, they stated that they had met directly with the PYD.

* * *

In Rojava, starting with the Kurds, the Arabs, Armenians, Syriacs and Chechens have come together to establish a democratic autonomy. One can have differences with the concept (democratic modernity, autonomy, radical democracy, etc.) that has inspired this structure. It is even possible to think of it as a utopia, something reformist, and to think that its foundations are fragile.9 But none of this changes in any way the importance that Rojava (Kobane) represents for the peoples of the Middle East. It means that the peoples of the different nationalities and communities can work together in a democratic environment and determine their own future. They can do this with a democratic conception and spirit and they can fight collectively for it without becoming part of an imperialist project or becoming imperialist lackeys.

Our Party supports this initiative of the peoples of Rojava, this democratic conception and spirit, this struggle that is exemplary for the peoples of the Middle East today.

But this support should not be seen as a simple question of solidarity. In fact, Turkey today is a country that, on the one hand, is open to the disintegration that is taking place in the Middle East, to various provocations and incitements of the peoples against each other and, on the other hand, it is a country ruled by a government that is becoming ever more violent to the degree that its failures are aggravated and the mass struggle increases.

In this context in which the masses are pushed to understand the events from a communal, nationalist and chauvinist point of view, our Party gives the utmost importance to the broadest unity of the masses of different nationalities around the democratic demands and objectives as well as broadening the actions to build this unity.

October 2014
Labor Party (EMEP) – Turkey


1. Although the dynamism of the forces of the ISIL now seems surprising, it is enough to consider the ethnic communal schism, which appeared after the occupation of Iraq by the US and how the attempts at intervention in Syria have exacerbated these contradictions, to note that the scene that appears today is not a surprise... Al- Qaeda, which did not exist in Iraq before, found fertile ground among the Sunnis who were disparaged in the context of ethnic-communal contradiction. The surrogates of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who since 2003 have been responsible for many deadly attacks, took the name of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (The Islamic State of Iraq – ISI) in 2004. With the outbreak of the fighting in Syria, the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq who went to Syria founded the Al-Nusra Front under the leadership of Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani. The Al-Nusra Front managed to attract militants from all regions of the world, from Georgia to Europe, from Libya and Tunisia through Afghanistan, which allowed its leader, Al-Joulani, to consolidate control over the organization. Then in April 2013 the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced through a recording that the Al-Nusra Front was a branch of the ISI and that the two organizations had united under the name of the ISIL. But the leader of the Al-Nusra Front said that this union had not taken place and that they were affiliated with the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In June of 2013, the latter said he was against such a merger of the two organizations, but al-Baghdadi refused to obey this order. During this period the ISIL also carried out attacks on other Islamist groups, including against the militants of the Al- Nusra Front and quickly became the largest organization in northern Syria. It managed to control the border posts and to form an emirate in the town of Rakka and thus became the owner of the oilfields. Towards the end of 2013, after having conquered the town of Deir ez Zur, near the border with Iraq, ISIL rapidly established relations with the Sunni tribes of the village of Al- Anbar, who were violently opposed to the Maliki government in Iraq. After the murder of the brother of the Sunni Deputy Ahmed el-Alvani in his home in an operation organized by government forces in the village of Al-Anbar in December 2013, the ISIL was able to conquer the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah. It then proclaimed the Emirate in Fallujah. Also ISIL, which had been supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia on behalf of the successful interventions in Syria, quickly obtained the conditions to conquer the regions populated by Sunni tribes who were in violent opposition to the Maliki government in Iraq.

2. Obviously the issue is not limited with the consequences of imperialist interventions. Countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, etc. have been states with a lot of difficulties because of the disintegrated economies caused by world capitalism. Therefore, they have similar problems with other countries in the region.

3. “The United States needs Turkey to join the fight against ISIL. But Turkey won’t do it without dragging the US deeper into Syria’s civil war.” Kate Brannon, “Blackmail in the Buffer Zone”, Foreign Policy, October 15, 2014.

4. We cannot predict today whether or not these measures will require a buffer zone in the future.

5. The fact that Turkey, at the time of this writing, has not been elected to be a member of the United Nations Security Council is related to this loss of its reputation. Moreover, some Western writers are beginning to state that to the extent that Turkey continues to pursue its policy against Kobane, it should question its membership in NATO.

6. In other words, this interlinking occurs in a context in which it is not Turkey that is influencing the region, but on the contrary it is the region that is influencing Turkey.

7. The recent statements by the government show that it is aware that not to unblock this “peace process” could cause it to lose its best “trump card.” But it is not certain that the steps that it claims to be ready to make will be sufficient to dispel the doubts that its policy of recent weeks have caused among the Kurdish people as to this “peace process”.

8. According to the latest reports, the Parliament of the regional Kurdish autonomy in Iraq decided “to establish official relations with Rojava.”

9. In our theoretical journals our Party has already published its analysis of this concept and the theories that have inspired this.

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