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A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot

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After reading a few detailed reports on the failed coup plot in Turkey, especially the informative analysis [1] by Metin Gurcan, I have reached a conclusion that instead of a serious attempt at overthrowing the government, the coup plot actually was a large-scale mutiny within the ranks of the Turkish armed forces. Moreover, although Erdogan is blaming the Gulenists out of malice, but my opinion is that the coup was attempted by the Kemalist liberals against the Islamist government of Turkey.

For the last five years of the Syrian proxy war, the Kemalists have been looking with suspicion at Erdogan Administration’s policy of deliberately nurturing the Sunni jihadists against the Shi’a regime of Bashar al Assad. As long as the US was onboard on the policy of training and arming the Sunni Arab jihadists in Syria, until June 2014 when Islamic State overran Mosul that led to the reversal of the previous American policy of regime change, the hands of Kemalists were tied.

But after the US declared a war against Islamic State and the consequent divergence between the American policy of supporting the Kurds in Syria and the Islamist government of Turkey’s continued support to the Sunni Arab jihadists, which led to discord and the adoption of contradictory policies; and then the spate of bombings in Turkey claimed by Islamic State and the Kurds in the last year, all of these factors contributed to widespread disaffection among the rank and file of Turkish armed forces, which regard themselves as the custodians of the secular traditions and the guarantors of peace and stability in Turkey. The fact that one-third of 220 brigadiers and ten major generals have been detained after the coup plot shows the level of frustration shown by the top and mid-ranking officers of the armed forces against Erdogan’s policies.

The dilemma that Turkey is facing in Syria is quite unique: in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013 the stage was all set for yet another no-fly zone and “humanitarian intervention” a la Gaddafi’s Libya; the war hounds were waiting for a finishing blow and the then Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the then Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, were shuttling between the Western capitals to lobby for the military intervention. Francois Hollande had already announced his intentions and David Cameron was also onboard.

Here it should be remembered that even during the Libyan intervention Obama’s policy was a bit ambivalent and France under the leadership of Sarkozy had taken the lead role. In the Syrian case, however, the British parliament forced Cameron to seek a vote for military intervention in the House of Commons before committing British troops and Air Force to Syria; taking cue from the British parliament the US’ Congress also compelled Obama to seek approval before another ill-conceived military intervention abroad; and since both of those administrations lacked the requisite majority in their respective parliaments and the public opinion was also fiercely against another Middle Eastern war, therefore, Obama and Cameron dropped their plans of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.

In the end, France was left alone as the only Western power still in favor of intervention; at this point, however, the seasoned Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, staged a diplomatic coup by announcing that the Syrian regime is willing to ship its chemical weapons’ stockpiles out of Syria and subsequently the issue was amicably resolved. Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab states – the main beneficiaries of the Sunni Jihad in Syria, however, had lost a golden opportunity for dealing a fatal blow to the Shi’a alliance comprising Iran, Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah.

To add insult to the injury, the Islamic State, one of the numerous Sunni jihadist outfits fighting in Syria, trespassed its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul in northern Iraq in June 2014 and threatened the capital of America’s most steadfast ally in the oil-rich region – Masoud Barzani’s Erbil. The US had no choice but to adopt some countermeasures to show to the world that it is still sincere in pursuing its schizophrenic and hypocritical “war on terror” policy; at the same time, however, it assured its Turkish, Jordanian and Gulf Arab allies that despite fighting a symbolic war against the maverick jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, the Western policy of training and arming the so-called “moderate” Syrian militants will continue apace and that Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered, one way or the other.

Moreover, declaring a war against Islamic State in August 2014 served another purpose too – in order to commit the US Air Force to Syria and Iraq, Obama Administration needed the approval of the US Congress which was not available, as I have already mentioned, but by declaring a war against Islamic State, which is a designated terrorist organization, the Obama Administration availed itself of the “war on terror” provisions in the US’ laws and thus circumvented the US’ Congress.

In order to understand the Kurdish factor in the Syria-Iraq equation, we should bear in mind that there are four distinct types of Kurds: 1) the KDP Kurds of Iraq led by Masoud Barzani; 2) the PUK Kurds of Iraq led by Jalal Talabani; 3) the PKK Kurds of Turkey; and 4) the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria. The first of these, i.e. the Barzani-led KDP Kurds of Iraq have traditionally been Western allies who have formed a strategic alliance with the US and Israel since the ‘90s, the First Gulf War. All other Kurds, however, have traditionally been in the anticolonial socialist camp and that’s the reason why PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by NATO because Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO.

Unlike the Barzani-led Kurds of Iraq, however, the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria, who are ideologically akin to the socialist PKK Kurds of Turkey, had initially formed an alliance with the pro-Russia Assad regime against the Sunni Arab jihadists in return for limited autonomy; the aforementioned alliance, however, was not just against the Islamic State but against all the Sunni Arab jihadist groups operating in Syria some of which have been supported by NATO and Gulf Arab states.

It was only in August 2014, after the US’ declaration of war against ISIS, that the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria switched sides and now they are the centerpiece of the US policy for defeating ISIS in the region. One can’t really blame the Kurds for this perfidy because they are fighting for their right of self-determination, but once again the Western powers had executed their tried-and-tested divide-and-rule policy to perfection in Syria and Iraq to gain leverage and to turn the tide despite the dismal failure of their stated policy of regime change for the initial three years of the Syrian civil war, i.e. from August 2011 to August 2014.

Until August 2014 when the declared US policy in Syria was regime change and the PYD/YPG Kurds of Syria had formed a defensive alliance with the Assad regime against the Sunni jihadists to defend the semi-autonomous Kurdish majority areas in Syrian Rojava; that equation changed, however, when ISIS captured Mosul in June 2014 and also threatened the US’ most steadfast ally in the region: Masoud Barzani and his capital Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan, which is also the hub of Big Oil’s Northern Iraq operations. After that development United States made an about-face on its Syria policy and now the declared objective became the war against Islamic State.

That policy change in turn led to a reconfiguration of alliances among the regional actors and the PYD/YPG Kurds broke off their previous arrangement with Assad regime and formed a new alliance with NATO against the Islamic State. Unlike their previous defensive alliance with the Syrian regime, however, whose objective was to protect and defend the Kurdish majority areas in Syria from the onslaught of the Sunni Arab jihadists, this new Kurdish alliance with NATO is more aggressive and expansionist, and its outcome is obvious from this Amnesty International report [2] on the forced displacement of Arabs and demographic change by the Kurds.

Sources and links:

[1] Why Turkey’s coup didn’t stand a chance:

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/07/turkey-kamikaze-coup-attempt-fails.html

[2] Syrian Kurds razing villages seized from Islamic State, Amnesty International report:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34511134

More articles by:

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and Petroimperialism.

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