Turkey: Can The People Force The Tyrant/Murderer Erdogan Out Of Office?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

After 15 years in government—particularly since a failed coup attempt in July 2016 crowned him with extraordinary executive authority—Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has never been more powerful.

Authors

Yet as the June 24 snap elections called by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) approach, there are growing signs that the political dexterity that has long allowed Erdoğan to determine the course of Turkish politics could be waning. While Turkish polls need to be read cautiously, many of them now suggest a high likelihood that the upcoming presidential election will be decided in a run-off, and that Erdoğan’s AKP will fail to retain its majority in parliament. This would create a completely novel and challenging political picture in which the opposition could have a greater say in policymaking than it has had for at least a decade.

CHALLENGES MOUNTING

Many thought that the decision to move the elections forward by over 16 months was a pre-emptive move by Erdoğan to avoid the damage an increasingly volatile Turkish economy is likely to inflict on his popular support. Both inflation and unemployment are over 10 percent and on the rise, the budget deficit saw a 58 percent increase in the past year, and the lira has lost more than 20 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar this year alone. (The dollar-to-lira rate is now 4.6 to 1; it was 3.75 to 1 in January, and around 2 to 1 as recently as mid-2013.) Nor is the Turkish government able to stem the tide: To the contrary, Erdoğan’s frequent and ideologically charged declarations against high interest rates as well as his recent promise to intervene more directly in the policymaking of Turkey’s Central Bank after the elections are increasingly perceived as contributing to the lira’s plunge.

Amid these economic worries, Erdoğan also faces the most diverse and rigorous pool of opposition candidates since he came to power in 2003. A new electoral alliance hoping to unseat Erdoğan includes not only the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the new center-right İyi (Good) Party, but also an Islamist faction, represented by the small yet influential Felicity Party—ironically, Erdoğan’s own political home during his rise to political stardom in the 1990s.

The allied opposition parties have each fielded their own candidates, but promise to unite behind whichever candidate makes it to a run-off against Erdoğan. The CHP’s presidential candidate is Muharrem İnce, a fiery orator who was once known for his staunch secularism and perceived as insensitive to the needs of Turkey’s pious Muslims and large Kurdish minority. Recently, however, he has struck a remarkably conciliatory tone on the campaign trail, adopting a narrative embracing Turkey’s ethnic and social diversity, promoting teaching Kurdish in government schools, and declaring that he has no intention to resurrect Turkey’s once-infamous headscarf ban. İyi Party leader Meral Akşener, the only woman in the race, is the first serious right-wing challenger to Erdoğan in over a decade. Finally, the conservative Felicity Party candidate, the British-educated party head Temel Karamollaoğlu, is easing into his role as an elder statesman and is dishing out intense moral criticism of the ruling AKP. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP)—which the government has heavily stigmatized—was left outside of the opposition alliance, but its party head and candidate Selahattin Demirtaş remains a charismatic leader for much of Turkey’s Kurds and secular youth. This diversity of options available to Turks of all political and ideological persuasions means that Erdoğan is now challenged from multiple sides and that there is likely to be increased opposition turnout at the polls.

ERDOĞAN’S VULNERABILITY

Indeed, such a widened political battleground was exactly what Erdoğan hoped to avoid in calling for the snap vote. Turkey’s opposition parties were outraged at what they took as an attempt to prevent Akşener’s newly-founded İyi Party from participating on a legal technicality. This was circumvented when CHP—shrewdly and unexpectedly—allowed 15 of its members of parliament to be transferred to İyi Party, allowing it to attain the minimum number of sitting MPs to qualify to participate in the snap elections.

Erdoğan himself, in what many perceived as a slip that only proved foul play by the government, criticized Turkey’s High Electoral Commission for not pre-empting what he called an “immoral” opposition strategy. Perhaps even more strikingly, HDP’s Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been jailed since late 2016 with multiple charges but still no indictment (let alone a verdict), is forced to run from behind bars while opposition candidates from Turkey’s right and left continue to call for his immediate release.

The AKP’s apparent heavy-handedness is paired with considerable hubris in the lead-up to the elections. The government casually postponed Turkey’s massively important university entrance exams—the culmination of a multi-year process, exhausting for students and financially draining for parents—once it became apparent that they coincided with the planned election date. In a similarly self-assured move, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek has noted that Turkey’s troubled markets will see normalization and reform “after the elections,” rejecting out of hand the possibility that the elections may disturb his own policymaking mandate.

But even as the ruling AKP is dismissive of the possibility that Turkey’s next president could be decided in a run-off, Erdoğan himself has been providing much of the fodder for Turkey’s reinvigorated opposition. Phrases lifted cheekily from awkward moments in Erdoğan’s own recent speeches have become humorous opposition slogans. Erdoğan once said he and his party would leave power if and when the electorate said “Tamam” (roughly meaning “okay,” or “that’s enough” in Turkish)—on Twitter, opposition activists have said “T A M A M” in over two million tweets, and the phrase has seeped into daily conversations. Similarly, “Sıkıldık mı?” (“Are we bored yet?” as employed somewhat sheepishly by the president mid-way through a lengthy address to an AKP youth congress) is a phrase that has caught on. İnce, Akşener, and Koramollaoğlu joined in, using the catchphrases both on and off social media often. Indeed, “T A M A M” and “Sıkıldık mı?” represent more than Turkey’s latest social media fad: Their easy and cheerful spread suggests an opposition that is increasingly able to unite around common themes and is rediscovering the tone of youthful irreverence that last befuddled and outraged the AKP government during the Gezi Park protests in 2013. Indeed, a growing number of Turkish commentators opine that it is increasingly the opposition that determines the tone and course of political debate in the country, with AKP officials adopting a clumsily defensive tenor.

Related Books

And ironically, it may have been the AKP government itself that has exposed Erdoğan’s Achilles heel. In pushing for the constitutional change that concentrated most executive powers in the person of the president but retained certain lawmaking and veto rights in the parliament, AKP lawmakers do not seem to have considered the possibility that the president’s party may not always hold a majority in parliament. Before the constitutional amendment, the fact that the AKP polled significantly higher than its individual competitors meant that it easily dominated the National Assembly; but the multi-party alliances officiated under the new system, as well as a widened political arena, change electoral math in such a way as to make an AKP parliamentary majority harder to achieve.

Precisely because the creators of last year’s constitutional amendment thought that the AKP was invincible at the polls and that Turkey’s diverse opposition was fundamentally incapable of achieving any internal harmony, then, an opposition parliament under an Erdoğan presidency is a real likelihood. The new system makes little provision for such a cohabitation, and an aggressive opposition could effectively cripple much of Erdoğan’s policymaking. Indeed, if the AKP were to lose its parliamentary majority in the first round of elections, Erdoğan would be entering the presidential run-off election with his aura of invincibility and traditional mastery over Turkish politics severely weakened.

WINNING VOTES, FAIRLY

To gain the upper hand, both sides will have to come up with more concrete policy proposals to remedy an ailing economy, prove their willingness to diffuse the country’s suffocating political polarization, and stir the hearts and minds of an increasingly young and well-educated electorate, 1.5 million of whom will vote for the first time in June.

Opposition parties are just starting to roll out their election programs. These programs, in particular, must convince the electorate that their vision is one that goes beyond unseating Erdoğan: It remains unclear, for example, how a politically and legally cumbersome return to the parliamentary system, which all opposition candidates promise, would be achieved. On the question of the economy, İnce in particular is making waves with talk of moving emphasis from an increasingly unwieldy construction sector to boosting high-tech industrial production, and Akşener with a thoughtful critique of youth unemployment. But a thorough and convincing roadmap for much-needed macroeconomic reform has not been forthcoming from either Erdoğan or his opponents. On foreign policy, İnce is unequivocally advocating improved relations with trans-Atlantic allies and the EU. Akşener, while stressing the need for a strong European-Turkish partnership, is critical of the EU for driving Turkey’s membership talks into a dead end, and not surprisingly emphasizes the importance of relations with the Turkic and Muslim world.

But perhaps most critically, all parties—government and opposition alike—should ensure that controversial new election laws should be applied conscientiously, and that the June 24 elections are free and fair without the slightest shadow of a doubt. Any domestic and international perception that the elections have been tampered with would only aggravate Turkey’s mounting social and economic woes. If the worst fears of some commentators are confirmed and incidents of coercion and violence sully the elections or their aftermath, Turkey’s already heated political scene could be brought to the brink.

To go back to the question we pose in the title: Yes, both Erdoğan and his challengers do have a real chance at victory in what may become Turkey’s most contested electoral race in recent history, and the AKP’s own mistakes should show that there is little to be gained by looking at Turkish politics dismissively.

Syria: Truth Knowledge And The History Of This Very Important Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Syria

Introduction Following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, France administered Syria until its independence in 1946. The country lacked political stability, however, and experienced a series of military coups during its first decades. Syria united with Egypt in February 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In September 1961, the two entities separated, and the Syrian Arab Republic was reestablished. In November 1970, Hafiz al-ASAD, a member of the Socialist Ba’th Party and the minority Alawite sect, seized power in a bloodless coup and brought political stability to the country. In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel. During the 1990s, Syria and Israel held occasional peace talks over its return. Following the death of President al-ASAD, his son, Bashar al-ASAD, was approved as president by popular referendum in July 2000. Syrian troops – stationed in Lebanon since 1976 in an ostensible peacekeeping role – were withdrawn in April 2005. During the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, Syria placed its military forces on alert but did not intervene directly on behalf of its ally Hizballah.
History Eblan civilization

Around the excavated city of Ebla in northern Syria, discovered in 1975, a great Semitic empire spread from the Red Sea north to Turkey and east to Mesopotamia from 2500 to 2400 BC Ebla appears to have been founded around 3000 BC, and gradually built its empire through trade with the cities of Sumer and Akkad, as well as with peoples to the northwest. Gifts from Pharaohs, found during excavations, confirm Ebla’s contact with Egypt. Scholars believe the language of Ebla to be among the oldest known written Semitic languages, designated as Paleo-Canaanite. However, more recent classifications of the Eblaite language has shown that it was an East Semitic language, closely related to the Akkadian language. The Eblan civilization was likely conquered by Sargon of Akkad around 2260 BC; the city was restored, as the nation of the Amorites, a few centuries later, and flourished through the early second millennium BC until conquered by the Hittites.

Antiquity and early Christian era

During the second millennium BC, Syria was occupied successively by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Arameans as part of the general disruptions and exchanges associated with the Sea Peoples. The Phoenicians settled along the coast of Palestine, as well as in the west (Lebanon), which was already known for its towering cedars. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Hittites variously occupied the strategic ground of Syria during this period; the land between their various empires being marsh. Eventually, the Persians took Syria as part of their hegemony of Southwest Asia; this dominion was transferred to the Ancient Macedonians after Alexander the Great’s conquests and the Seleucid Empire. The capital of this Empire (founded in 312BC) was situated at Antioch, modern day Antakya just inside the Turkish border. But the Seleucid Empire was essentially just one long slow period of decline, and Pompey the Great captured Antioch in 64BC, turning Syria into a Roman province. Thus control of this region passed to the Romans and then the Byzantines.

In the Roman Empire period, the city of Antioch was the third largest city in the empire after Rome and Alexandria. With estimated population of 500,000 at its peak, Antioch was one of the major centres of trade and industry in the ancient world. The population of Syria during the heyday of the empire was probably not exceeded again until the 19th century. Syria’s large and prosperous population made Syria one of the most important of the Roman provinces, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries (A.D.). The Roman Emperor Alexander Severus, who was emperor from 222 to 235, was Syrian. His cousin Elagabalus, who was emperor from 218 to 222, was also Syrian and his family held hereditary rights to the high priesthood of the sun god El-Gabal at Emesa (modern Homs) in Syria. Another Roman emperor who was a Syrian was Marcus Julius Philippus, emperor from 244 to 249.

Syria is significant in the history of Christianity; Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Road to Damascus, thereafter being known as the Apostle Paul, and established the first organized Christian Church at Antioch in ancient Syria, from which he left on many of his missionary journeys.(Acts 9:1-43 )

Islamic era

By AD 640, Syria was conquered by the Rashidun army led by Khaled ibn al-Walid, resulting in the area becoming part of the Islamic empire. In the mid-7th century, the Umayyad dynasty, then rulers of the empire, placed the capital of the empire in Damascus. Syria was divided into four districts: Damascus, Hims, Palestine and Jordan. The Islamic empire stretched from Spain and Morocco to India and parts of Central Asia, thus Syria prospered economically, being the capital of the empire. Early Ummayad rulers such as Abd al-Malik and al-Walid constructed several splendid palaces and mosques throughout Syria, particularly in Damascus, Aleppo and Hims. There was great toleration of Christians in this era and several held governmental posts. The country’s power dramatically declined during later Ummayad rule; mainly due to the totalitarianism and corruption spread among the empire’s leaderships, conflict between its general staff, and the successive revolutions by the oppressed and miserable groups. As one Ummayad chieftain responded to a question about the reasons of the decline of their empire: “Rather visiting what needed to be visited, we were more interested in the pleasure and enjoyment of life; we oppressed our people until they gave up and sought relief from us, […] we trusted our ministers who favoured their own interests and kept secrets from us, and we unhurriedly rewarded our soldiers that we lost their obedience to our enemies.” Ummayad dynasty was then overthrown by the Abbasid dynasty in 750, who moved the capital of empire to Baghdad. Arabic — made official under Ummayad rule — became the dominant language, replacing Greek and Aramaic in the Abbasid era. In 887, the Egypt-based Tulunids annexed Syria from the Abbasids, and were later replaced by the Hamdanids originating in Aleppo founded by Sayf al-Daula.

Sections of the coastline of Syria were briefly held by Frankish overlords during the Crusades of the 12th century, and were known as the Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch. The area was also threatened by Shiite extremists known as Assassins (Hashshashin). In 1260, the Mongols arrived, led by Hulegu with an army 100,000 strong, destroying cities and irrigation works. Aleppo fell in January 1260, and Damascus in March, but then Hulegu needed to break off his attack to return to China to deal with a succession dispute. The command of the remaining Mongol troops was placed under Kitbugha, a Christian Mongol. A few months later, the Mamluks arrived with an army from Egypt, and defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Ayn Jalut, in Galilee. The Mamluk leader, Baybars, made his capitals in Cairo and Damascus, linked by a mail service that traveled by both horses and carrier pigeons. When Baybars died, his successor was overthrown, and power was taken by a Turk named Qalawun. In the meantime, an emir named Sunqur al-Ashqar had tried to declare himself ruler of Damascus, but he was defeated by Qalawun on 21 June 1280, and fled to northern Syria. Al-Ashqar, who had married a Mongol woman, appealed for help from the Mongols, and in 1281, they arrived with an army of 50,000 Mongols, and 30,000 Armenian, Georgian, and Turkish auxiliaries, along with Al-Ashqar’s rebel force. The Mongols of the Ilkhanate took the city, but Qalawun arrived with a Mamluk force, persuaded Al-Ashqar to switch sides and join him, and they fought against the Mongols on 29 October 1281, in the Second Battle of Homs, a close battle which resulted in the death of the majority of the combatants, but was finally won by the Mamluks.

In 1400, Timur Lenk, or Tamerlane, invaded Syria, sacked Aleppo and captured Damascus after defeating the Mamluk army. The city’s inhabitants were massacred, except for the artisans, who were deported to Samarkand. It was during the conquests of Timur that the indigenous Christian population of Syria began to suffer under greater persecutions.

By the end of the 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to the Far East ended the need for an overland trade route through Syria. Shattered by the Mongols, Syria was easily absorbed into the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through 20th centuries, and found itself largely apart from, and ignored by, world affairs. see also Ottoman Syria

Ottoman era

Fighting on the side of Germany during World War I, plans by the Entente powers to dissolve this great Ottoman territory could now begin. Two allied diplomats (Frenchman François Georges-Picot and Briton Mark Sykes) secretly agreed, long before the end of the war, how to split the Ottoman Empire into several zones of influence. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 set the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria, with later the upcoming Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Jordan, Iraq and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine – ‘to secure daily transportation of troops from Haifa to Baghdad’ – agreement n° 7). The two territories were only separated with a straight border line from Jordan to Iran. But early discoveries of oil in the region of Mosul just before to end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in 1918 to cede this region to ‘Zone B’, or the British zone of influence. The borders between the ‘Zone A’ and ‘Zone B’ have not changed from 1918 to this date. Since 1920, the two sides have been recognized internationally under mandate of the League of Nations by the two dominant countries; France and the United Kingdom.

French Mandate

The National Bloc signing the Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence in Paris in 1936. From left to right: Saadallah al-Jabiri, Jamil Mardam Bey, Hashim al-Atassi (signing), and French Prime Minister Léon Blum.

In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under Faisal I of the Hashemite family, who later became the King of Iraq. However, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, following the clash between his Syrian Arab forces and regular French forces at the Battle of Maysalun. French troops occupied Syria later that year after the San Remo conference proposed that the League of Nations put Syria under a French mandate. Syria and France negotiated a treaty of independence in September 1936, and Hashim al-Atassi, who was Prime Minister under King Faisal’s brief reign, was the first president to be elected under a new constitution, effectively the first incarnation of the modern republic of Syria. However, the treaty never came into force because the French Legislature refused to ratify it. With the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Syria came under the control of the Vichy Government until the British and Free French occupied the country in July 1941. A famous singer of the time, Asmahan, assisted the British and free French forces by using her fame to convince the Syrians to allow the forces in without a fight (see Wikipedia reference to Asmahan). Syria proclaimed its independence again in 1941 but it wasn’t until 1 January 1944 that it was recognised as an independent republic. Continuing pressure from Syrian nationalist groups and British pressure forced the French to evacuate their troops in April 1946, leaving the country in the hands of a republican government that had been formed during the mandate.

Instability and foreign relations: independence to 1967

Although rapid economic development followed the declaration of independence, Syrian politics from independence through the late 1960s were marked by upheaval. Between 1946 and 1956, Syria had 20 different cabinets and drafted four separate constitutions. In 1948, Syria was involved in the Arab-Israeli War, aligning with the other local Arab nations who were attempting to prevent the establishment of Israel. The Syrian army was pressed out of most of the Israel area, but fortified their strongholds on the Golan Heights and managed to keep their old borders and some additional territory (this was converted into “supposed” demilitarized zones under UN supervision, but then gradually lost to Israel in the inter-war years; the status of these territories have proved a stumbling-block for Syrian-Israeli negotiations).

The humiliating defeat suffered by the army was one of several trigger factors for Col. Husni al-Za’im’s seizure of power in 1949, in what has been described as the first military coup d’état of the Arab world. This was soon followed by a new coup, by Col. Sami al-Hinnawi, who was then himself quickly deposed by Col. Adib Shishakli, all within the same year. After exercising influence behind the scenes for some time, dominating the ravaged parliamentary scene, Shishakli launched a second coup in 1951, entrenching his rule and eventually abolishing multipartyism altogether. Only when president Shishakli was himself overthrown in a 1954 coup, was the parliamentary system restored, but it was fundamentally undermined by continued political maneuvering supported by competing factions in the military. By this time, civilian politics had been largely gutted of meaning, and power was increasingly concentrated in the military and security establishment, which had now proven itself to be the only force capable of seizing and – perhaps – keeping power. Parliamentary institutions remained weak and ineffectual, dominated by competing parties representing the landowning elites and various Sunni urban notables, while economy and politics were mismanaged, and little done to better the role of Syria’s peasant majority. This, as well as the influence of Nasserism and other anti-colonial ideologies, created fertile ground for various Arab nationalist, Syrian nationalist and socialist movements, who represented disaffected elements of society, notably including the religious minorities, and demanded radical reform.

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, after the invasion of the Sinai Peninsula by Israeli troops, and the intervention of British and French troops, martial law was declared in Syria. The November 1956 attacks on Iraqi pipelines were in retaliation for Iraq’s acceptance into the Baghdad Pact. In early 1957 Iraq advised Egypt and Syria against a conceivable takeover of Jordan.

In November 1956 Syria signed a pact with the Soviet Union, providing a foothold for Communist influence within the government in exchange for planes, tanks, and other military equipment being sent to Syria. With this increase in the strength of Syrian military technology worried Turkey, as it seemed feasible that Syria might attempt to retake Iskenderun, a matter of dispute between Syria and Turkey. On the other hand, Syria and the U.S.S.R. accused Turkey of massing its troops at the Syrian border. During this standoff, Communists gained more control over the Syrian government and military. Only heated debates in the United Nations (of which Syria was an original member) lessened the threat of war.

Syria’s political instability during the years after the 1954 coup, the parallelism of Syrian and Egyptian policies, and the appeal of Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser’s leadership in the wake of the Suez crisis created support in Syria for union with Egypt. On 1 February 1958, Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli and Nasser announced the merging of the two countries, creating the United Arab Republic, and all Syrian political parties, as well as the Communists therein, ceased overt activities.

The union was not a success, however. Following a military coup on 28 September 1961, Syria seceded, reestablishing itself as the Syrian Arab Republic. Instability characterized the next 18 months, with various coups culminating on 8 March 1963, in the installation by leftist Syrian Army officers of the National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC), a group of military and civilian officials who assumed control of all executive and legislative authority. The takeover was engineered by members of the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Baath Party), which had been active in Syria and other Arab countries since the late 1940s. The new cabinet was dominated by Baath members.

The Baath takeover in Syria followed a Baath coup in Iraq the previous month. The new Syrian Government explored the possibility of federation with Egypt and with Baath-controlled Iraq. An agreement was concluded in Cairo on 17 April 1963, for a referendum on unity to be held in September 1963. However, serious disagreements among the parties soon developed, and the tripartite federation failed to materialize. Thereafter, the Baath government in Syria and Iraq began to work for bilateral unity. These plans foundered in November 1963, when the Baath government in Iraq was overthrown. In May 1964, President Amin Hafiz of the NCRC promulgated a provisional constitution providing for a National Council of the Revolution (NCR), an appointed legislature composed of representatives of mass organizations—labour, peasant, and professional unions—a presidential council, in which executive power was vested, and a cabinet. On 23 February 1966, a group of army officers carried out a successful, intra-party coup, imprisoned President Hafiz, dissolved the cabinet and the NCR, abrogated the provisional constitution, and designated a regionalist, civilian Baath government on 1 March. The coup leaders described it as a “rectification” of Baath Party principles.

Six Day War and Aftermath

The new government generally aligned itself with the hawkish Nasser in intra-Arab conflicts over how hard of a line to take against Israel. When Nasser closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Eilat-bound ships, the Baath government supported the Egyptian leader, amassed troops in the strategic Golan Heights to defend itself against Israeli shellings into Syria. According to the UN office in Jerusalem from 1955 until 1967 65 of the 69 border flare-ups between Syria and Israel were caused and started by Israel. The New York Times reported in 1997 that “Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, a Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan…[said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for their farmland.” After Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egypt to begin the June 1967 war, Syria joined the battle against Israel as well. In the final days of the war, after having captured the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, as well as the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan, Israel turned its attention to Syria, capturing the entire Golan Heights in under 48 hours.

Conflict developed between an extremist military wing and a more moderate civilian wing of the Baath Party. The 1970 retreat of Syrian forces sent to aid the PLO during the “Black September” hostilities with Jordan reflected this political disagreement within the ruling Baath leadership. By 13 November 1970, Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad was solidly established as the strongman of the government, when he effected a bloodless military coup (“The Corrective Movement”).

Baath Party rule under Hafez al-Assad, 1970–2000

Upon assuming power, Hafez al-Assad moved quickly to create an organizational infrastructure for his government and to consolidate control. The Provisional Regional Command of Assad’s Arab Baath Socialist Party nominated a 173-member legislature, the People’s Council, in which the Baath Party took 87 seats. The remaining seats were divided among “popular organizations” and other minor parties. In March 1971, the party held its regional congress and elected a new 21-member Regional Command headed by Assad. In the same month, a national referendum was held to confirm Assad as President for a 7-year term. In March 1972, to broaden the base of his government, Assad formed the National Progressive Front, a coalition of parties led by the Baath Party, and elections were held to establish local councils in each of Syria’s 14 governorates. In March 1973, a new Syrian constitution went into effect followed shortly thereafter by parliamentary elections for the People’s Council, the first such elections since 1962.

On 6 October 1973, Syria and Egypt began the Yom Kippur War by staging a surprise attack against Israel (Arabs call it the “Ramadan War” or “October War” because Syria and Egypt attacked during Ramadan in the month of October). But despite the element of surprise, the Israeli army had recovered, pushed the Syrian army out of the Golan and invaded into Syrian territory beyond the 1967 border. As a result, Israel continued to occupy the Golan Heights as part of the Israeli-occupied territories.

In early 1976, the Lebanese civil war was going poorly for the Maronite Christians. Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent them from being overrun, but soon became embroiled in the Lebanese Civil War, beginning the 30 year Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Many crimes in Lebanon were associated to the Syrians forces and intelligences: Kamal Jumblat, Bachir Gemayel, Moufti Hassan Khaled, Rene Mouawad,… Over the following 15 years of civil war, Syria fought both for control over Lebanon, and as an attempt to undermine Israel in southern Lebanon, through extensive use of Lebanese allies as proxy fighters. Many see the Syrian Army’s presence in Lebanon as an occupation, especially following the end of the civil war in 1990, after the Syrian-sponsored Taif Agreement. Syria then remained in Lebanon until 2005, exerting a heavy-handed influence over Lebanese politics, that was deeply resented by many.

About one million Syrian workers came into Lebanon after the war ended to find jobs in the reconstruction of the country.[28] Syrian workers were preferred over Palestinian and Lebanese workers because they could be paid lower wages, but some have argued that the Syrian government’s encouragement of citizens entering its small and militarily dominated neighbor in search of work, was in fact an attempt at Syrian colonization of Lebanon. Now, the economies of Syria and Lebanon are completely interdependent. In 1994, under pressure from Damascus, the Lebanese government controversially granted citizenship to over 200,000 Syrian residents in the country., (For more on these issues, see Demographics of Lebanon)

The authoritarian government was not without its critics, though open dissent was repressed. A serious challenge arose in the late 1970s, however, from fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who reject the basic values of the secular Baath program and object to rule by the Alawis, whom they consider heretical. From 1976 until its suppression in 1982, the arch-conservative Muslim Brotherhood led an armed insurgency against the government. In response to an attempted uprising by the brotherhood in February 1982, the government crushed the fundamentalist opposition centered in the city of Hama, leveling parts of the city with artillery fire and causing between 10.000 and 25.000 of dead and wounded, mostly civilians (see Hama massacre). Since then, public manifestations of anti-government activity have been very limited.

Syria’s 1990 participation in the U.S.-led multinational coalition aligned against Saddam Hussein marked a dramatic watershed in Syria’s relations both with other Arab states and with the Western world. Syria participated in the multilateral Southwest Asia Peace Conference in Madrid in October 1991, and during the 1990s engaged in direct, face-to-face negotiations with Israel. These negotiations failed, and there have been no further direct Syrian-Israeli talks since President Hafiz al-Assad’s meeting with then President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000.

21st century

Hafiz al-Assad died on 10 June 2000, after 30 years in power. Immediately following al-Assad’s death, the Parliament amended the constitution, reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34. This allowed his son, Bashar al-Assad, to become legally eligible for nomination by the ruling Baath party. On 10 July 2000, Bashar al-Assad was elected President by referendum in which he ran unopposed, garnering 97.29% of the vote, according to Syrian Government statistics. He was inaugurated into office on 17 July 2000 for a 7-year term. He is married to Asma al-Assad, an activist herself and advocate of reforms.

Billboard with portrait of Assad and the text God protects Syria on the old city wall of Damascus 2006.

Under Bashar al-Assad hundreds of political prisoners were released and a steps were taken towards easing media restrictions. However, Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that his priority is economic rather than political reform.

On 5 October 2003, Israel bombed a site near Damascus, charging it was a terrorist training facility for members of Islamic Jihad. The raid was in retaliation for the bombing of a restaurant in the Israeli town of Haifa that killed 19. Islamic Jihad said the camp was not in use; Syria said the attack was on a civilian area.

The German Chancellor said that the attack “cannot be accepted” and the French Foreign Ministry said “The Israeli operation… constituted an unacceptable violation of international law and sovereignty rules.” The Spanish UN Ambassador Inocencio Arias called it an attack of “extreme gravity” and “a clear violation of international law.” However, the United States moved closer to imposing sanctions on Syria, following the adoption of the Syria Accountability Act by the House of Representatives International Relations committee. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all included in what the EU and the U.S view as terrorist groups, all take refuge and enjoy strong relationships with the Syrian government.

Syrian Kurds protest in Brussels, Geneva, in Germany at the US and UK embassies and in Turkey, against violence in north-east Syria starting Friday, 12 March, and reportedly extending over the weekend resulting in several deaths, according to reports. The Kurds allege the Syrian government encouraged and armed the attackers. Signs of rioting were seen in the towns of Qameshli and Hassakeh.

On 6 September 2007, Israeli jet fighters carried out an air strike in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, known as Operation Orchard, on a target claimed to be a nuclear reactor under construction by North Korean technicians. Reportedly a number of the technicians were killed.

2008 Israeli Peace Talks

In April, 2008, President Assad told a Qatari newspaper that Syria and Israel had been discussing a peace treaty for a year, with Turkey as a go-between. This was confirmed in May, 2008, by a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As well as a peace treaty, the future of the Golan Heights is being discussed. President Assad was quoted in the The Guardian as telling the Qatari paper:
…there would be no direct negotiations with Israel until a new US president takes office. The US was the only party qualified to sponsor any direct talks, [President Assad] told the paper, but added that the Bush administration “does not have the vision or will for the peace process. It does not have anything.”

(Just as George W. Bush was clueless about how  to do anything in the Middle-East except how to line the pockets of his family and friends so is the situation with this buffoon that sits in the White House today.  Since the Syrian Civil War started in 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrian citizens have been slaughtered and there have been many people pulling on the triggers. Even though President al-Assad has never been a Saint by any means he was better than the alternatives that U.S. Secretary of State (at the time) Hillary Clinton was trying to use to over through President Assad with.  This war was an event that the U.S. Government should have stayed as far away from as it possibly could but I guess the revenue’s going to U.S. Arms makers and to the U.S. Military infrastructure was just to great to resist.)
(Before this Civil War ever started, back when the so called ‘Arab Spring’ was going around the map toward Syria I knew that if there was a war in Syria that President al-Assad would be the one standing when it was all over. I know that I am not the brightest bulb in the package so I know that there had to be many other annalists here in the U.S. and around the rest of the world that knew this too. For the same reasons that have proven to be reality, Russia being their ally along with Iran and Hezbollah all joining forces to make sure that the current status-quo stayed in effect. When the door was opened for a major Sunni army to invade Syria (ISIS) even the U.S. got into the direct ‘military game’. What I mean by game is simple, who was allowed to bomb who, and whom could we not bomb. Russia has been playing the same game, they are on Syria’s side but they were trying to not bomb the American soldiers even though we were wanting to bring down the Syrian government and we were trying to not bomb the Russian soldiers even though they are on the side of the Syrian government.)
(When this war is finished President al-Assad will still be the President yet the hate and mistrust among the people of Syria toward the government and the government toward the Syrian people will last for several decades. When the war is over the Nation of Syria will need trillions of dollars of loans from the international community in order to rebuild and it will take at least two or three decades to get the Syrian infrastructure back to the point it was at in March of 2011. Another reality is the old cities like Allepo which had buildings many hundreds of years old, can never be rebuilt to their former glory, ever. Now that this war is winding down I believe that President al-Assad must insist that Iran remove all of their assets out of Syria. There are two main reason that I say this. One is the example of this past month where Israel has gone after Iranian positions within Syria, Syria can have peace with Israel if they want it but they must expel Iran. The second reason is that if President al-Assad does not remove Iran’s military and Hezbollah’s military from Syrian soil it won’t be long until Tehran is dictating the policies inside of Syria, not President al-Assad.)(Commentary in red is by oldpoet56)

Turkey: The Truth Knowledge And History Of

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Turkey

Introduction Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 from the Anatolian remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire by national hero Mustafa KEMAL, who was later honored with the title Ataturk or “Father of the Turks.” Under his authoritarian leadership, the country adopted wide-ranging social, legal, and political reforms. After a period of one-party rule, an experiment with multi-party politics led to the 1950 election victory of the opposition Democratic Party and the peaceful transfer of power. Since then, Turkish political parties have multiplied, but democracy has been fractured by periods of instability and intermittent military coups (1960, 1971, 1980), which in each case eventually resulted in a return of political power to civilians. In 1997, the military again helped engineer the ouster – popularly dubbed a “post-modern coup” – of the then Islamic-oriented government. Turkey intervened militarily on Cyprus in 1974 to prevent a Greek takeover of the island and has since acted as patron state to the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which only Turkey recognizes. A separatist insurgency begun in 1984 by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – now known as the People’s Congress of Kurdistan or Kongra-Gel (KGK) – has dominated the Turkish military’s attention and claimed more than 30,000 lives. After the capture of the group’s leader in 1999, the insurgents largely withdrew from Turkey mainly to northern Iraq. In 2004, KGK announced an end to its ceasefire and attacks attributed to the KGK increased. Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and in 1952 it became a member of NATO; it holds a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council from 2009-2010. In 1964, Turkey became an associate member of the European Community. Over the past decade, it has undertaken many reforms to strengthen its democracy and economy; it began accession membership talks with the European Union in 2005.
History Antiquity

The Anatolian peninsula (also called Asia Minor), comprising most of modern Turkey, is one of the oldest continually inhabited regions in the world due to its location at the intersection of Asia and Europe. The earliest Neolithic settlements such as Çatalhöyük (Pottery Neolithic), Çayönü (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A to Pottery Neolithic), Nevali Cori (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B), Hacilar (Pottery Neolithic), Göbekli Tepe (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) and Mersin are considered to be among the earliest human settlements in the world. The settlement of Troy starts in the Neolithic and continues into the Iron Age. Through recorded history, Anatolians have spoken Indo-European, Semitic and Kartvelian languages, as well as many languages of uncertain affiliation. In fact, given the antiquity of the Indo-European Hittite and Luwian languages, some scholars have proposed Anatolia as the hypothetical center from which the Indo-European languages have radiated.

The first major empire in the area was that of the Hittites, from the 18th through the 13th century BCE. Subsequently, the Phrygians, an Indo-European people, achieved ascendancy until their kingdom was destroyed by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BCE. The most powerful of Phrygia’s successor states were Lydia, Caria and Lycia. The Lydians and Lycians spoke languages that were fundamentally Indo-European, but both languages had acquired non-Indo-European elements prior to the Hittite and Hellenistic periods.

Starting around 1200 BC, the west coast of Anatolia was settled by Aeolian and Ionian Greeks. The entire area was conquered by the Persian Achaemenid Empire during the 6th and 5th centuries and later fell to Alexander the Great in 334 BCE. Anatolia was subsequently divided into a number of small Hellenistic kingdoms (including Bithynia, Cappadocia, Pergamum, and Pontus), all of which had succumbed to Rome by the mid-1st century BCE. In 324 CE, the Roman emperor Constantine I chose Byzantium to be the new capital of the Roman Empire, renaming it New Rome (later Constantinople and Istanbul). After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).

Turks and the Ottoman Empire

The House of Seljuk was a branch of the Kınık Oğuz Turks who in the 9th century resided on the periphery of the Muslim world, north of the Caspian and Aral Seas in the Yabghu Khaganate of the Oğuz confederacy. In the 10th century, the Seljuks started migrating from their ancestral homelands towards the eastern regions of Anatolia, which eventually became the new homeland of Oğuz Turkic tribes following the Battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt) in 1071. The victory of the Seljuks gave rise to the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate; which developed as a separate branch of the larger Seljuk Empire that covered parts of Central Asia, Iran, Anatolia and Southwest Asia.

In 1243, the Seljuk armies were defeated by the Mongols and the power of the empire slowly disintegrated. In its wake, one of the Turkish principalities governed by Osman I was to evolve into the Ottoman Empire, thus filling the void left by the collapsed Seljuks and Byzantines.

The Ottoman Empire interacted with both Eastern and Western cultures throughout its 623-year history. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was among the world’s most powerful political entities, often locking horns with the Holy Roman Empire in its steady advance towards Central Europe through the Balkans and the southern part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on land; and with the combined forces (Holy Leagues) of Habsburg Spain, the Republic of Venice and the Knights of St. John at sea for the control of the Mediterranean basin; while frequently confronting Portuguese fleets at the Indian Ocean for defending the Empire’s monopoly over the ancient maritime trade routes between East Asia and Western Europe, which had become increasingly compromised since the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.

Following years of decline, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I through the Ottoman-German Alliance in 1914, and was ultimately defeated. After the war, the victorious Allied Powers sought the dismemberment of the Ottoman state through the Treaty of Sèvres.

Republic era

The occupation of İstanbul and İzmir by the Allies in the aftermath of World War I prompted the establishment of the Turkish national movement. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, a military commander who had distinguished himself during the Battle of Gallipoli, the Turkish War of Independence was waged with the aim of revoking the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres. By September 18, 1922, the occupying armies were repelled and the country saw the birth of the new Turkish state. On November 1, the newly founded parliament formally abolished the Sultanate, thus ending 623 years of Ottoman rule. The Treaty of Lausanne of July 24, 1923, led to the international recognition of the sovereignty of the newly formed “Republic of Turkey” as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, and the republic was officially proclaimed on October 29, 1923, in the new capital of Ankara.

Mustafa Kemal became the republic’s first president and subsequently introduced many radical reforms with the aim of founding a new secular republic from the remnants of its Ottoman past. According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish parliament presented Mustafa Kemal with the honorific name “Atatürk” (Father of the Turks) in 1934.

Turkey entered World War II on the side of the Allies on February 23, 1945 as a ceremonial gesture and became a charter member of the United Nations in 1945. Difficulties faced by Greece after the war in quelling a communist rebellion, along with demands by the Soviet Union for military bases in the Turkish Straits, prompted the United States to declare the Truman Doctrine in 1947. The doctrine enunciated American intentions to guarantee the security of Turkey and Greece, and resulted in large-scale US military and economic support.

After participating with the United Nations forces in the Korean conflict, Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952, becoming a bulwark against Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. Following a decade of intercommunal violence on the island of Cyprus and the Greek military coup of July 1974, overthrowing President Makarios and installing Nikos Sampson as dictator, Turkey intervened militarily in 1974. Nine years later the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was established. The TRNC is recognised only by Turkey.

Following the end of the single-party period in 1945, the multi-party period witnessed tensions over the following decades, and the period between the 1960s and the 1980s was particularly marked by periods of political instability that resulted in a number of military coups d’états in 1960, 1971, 1980 and a post-modern coup d’état in 1997. The liberalization of the Turkish economy that started in the 1980s changed the landscape of the country, with successive periods of high growth and crises punctuating the following decades.

Geography Location: Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia (that portion of Turkey west of the Bosporus is geographically part of Europe), bordering the Black Sea, between Bulgaria and Georgia, and bordering the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, between Greece and Syria
Geographic coordinates: 39 00 N, 35 00 E
Map references: Middle East
Area: total: 780,580 sq km
land: 770,760 sq km
water: 9,820 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly larger than Texas
Land boundaries: total: 2,648 km
border countries: Armenia 268 km, Azerbaijan 9 km, Bulgaria 240 km, Georgia 252 km, Greece 206 km, Iran 499 km, Iraq 352 km, Syria 822 km
Coastline: 7,200 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 6 nm in the Aegean Sea; 12 nm in Black Sea and in Mediterranean Sea
exclusive economic zone: in Black Sea only: to the maritime boundary agreed upon with the former USSR
Climate: temperate; hot, dry summers with mild, wet winters; harsher in interior
Terrain: high central plateau (Anatolia); narrow coastal plain; several mountain ranges
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m
highest point: Mount Ararat 5,166 m
Natural resources: coal, iron ore, copper, chromium, antimony, mercury, gold, barite, borate, celestite (strontium), emery, feldspar, limestone, magnesite, marble, perlite, pumice, pyrites (sulfur), clay, arable land, hydropower
Land use: arable land: 29.81%
permanent crops: 3.39%
other: 66.8% (2005)
Irrigated land: 52,150 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 234 cu km (2003)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 39.78 cu km/yr (15%/11%/74%)
per capita: 544 cu m/yr (2001)
Natural hazards: severe earthquakes, especially in northern Turkey, along an arc extending from the Sea of Marmara to Lake Van
Environment – current issues: water pollution from dumping of chemicals and detergents; air pollution, particularly in urban areas; deforestation; concern for oil spills from increasing Bosporus ship traffic
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification
Geography – note: strategic location controlling the Turkish Straits (Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, Dardanelles) that link Black and Aegean Seas; Mount Ararat, the legendary landing place of Noah’s ark, is in the far eastern portion of the country
Politics Turkey is a parliamentary representative democracy. Since its foundation as a republic in 1923, Turkey has developed a strong tradition of secularism. Turkey’s constitution governs the legal framework of the country. It sets out the main principles of government and establishes Turkey as a unitary centralized state.

The head of state is the President of the Republic and has a largely ceremonial role. The president is elected for a five-year term by direct elections. The last President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was elected on May 16, 2000, after having served as the President of the Constitutional Court. He was succeeded on August 28, 2007, by Abdullah Gül. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers which make up the government, while the legislative power is vested in the unicameral parliament, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature, and the Constitutional Court is charged with ruling on the conformity of laws and decrees with the constitution. The Council of State is the tribunal of last resort for administrative cases, and the High Court of Appeals for all others.

The Prime Minister is elected by the parliament through a vote of confidence in his government and is most often the head of the party that has the most seats in parliament. The current Prime Minister is the former mayor of İstanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose conservative AKP won an absolute majority of parliamentary seats in the 2002 general elections, organized in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2001, with 34% of the suffrage. In the 2007 general elections, the AKP received 46.6% of the votes and could defend its majority in parliament. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Ministers have to be members of the parliament, but in most cases they are (one notable exception was Kemal Derviş, the Minister of State in Charge of the Economy following the financial crisis of 2001; he is currently the president of the United Nations Development Programme).

Universal suffrage for both sexes has been applied throughout Turkey since 1933, and every Turkish citizen who has turned 18 years of age has the right to vote. As of 2004, there were 50 registered political parties in the country, whose ideologies range from the far left to the far right. The Constitutional Court can strip the public financing of political parties that it deems anti-secular or separatist, or ban their existence altogether.

There are 550 members of parliament who are elected for a four-year term by a party-list proportional representation system from 85 electoral districts which represent the 81 administrative provinces of Turkey (İstanbul is divided into three electoral districts whereas Ankara and İzmir are divided into two each because of their large populations). To avoid a hung parliament and its excessive political fragmentation, only parties that win at least 10% of the votes cast in a national parliamentary election gain the right to representation in the parliament. As a result of this threshold, the 2007 elections saw three parties formally entering the parliament (compared to two in 2002). However, due to a system of alliances and independent candidatures, seven parties are currently represented in the parliament. Independent candidates may run; however, they must also win at least 10% of the vote in their circonscription to be elected.

People Population: 71,892,808 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 24.4% (male 8,937,515/female 8,608,375)
15-64 years: 68.6% (male 25,030,793/female 24,253,312)
65 years and over: 7% (male 2,307,236/female 2,755,576) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 29 years
male: 28.8 years
female: 29.2 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.013% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 16.15 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 6.02 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.84 male(s)/female
total population: 1.02 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 36.98 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 40.44 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 33.34 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 73.14 years
male: 70.67 years
female: 75.73 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.87 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: less than 0.1%; note – no country specific models provided (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: NA
HIV/AIDS – deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Turk(s)
adjective: Turkish
Ethnic groups: Turkish 80%, Kurdish 20% (estimated)
Religions: Muslim 99.8% (mostly Sunni), other 0.2% (mostly Christians and Jews)
Languages: Turkish (official), Kurdish, Dimli (or Zaza), Azeri, Kabardian
note: there is also a substantial Gagauz population in the European part of Turkey
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 87.4%
male: 95.3%
female: 79.6% (2004 est.)
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 11 years
male: 12 years
female: 11 years (2006)
Education expenditures: 4% of GDP (2004)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Turkey
conventional short form: Turkey
local long form: Turkiye Cumhuriyeti
local short form: Turkiye
Government type: republican parliamentary democracy
Capital: name: Ankara
geographic coordinates: 39 56 N, 32 52 E
time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October
Administrative divisions: 81 provinces (iller, singular – ili); Adana, Adiyaman, Afyonkarahisar, Agri, Aksaray, Amasya, Ankara, Antalya, Ardahan, Artvin, Aydin, Balikesir, Bartin, Batman, Bayburt, Bilecik, Bingol, Bitlis, Bolu, Burdur, Bursa, Canakkale, Cankiri, Corum, Denizli, Diyarbakir, Duzce, Edirne, Elazig, Erzincan, Erzurum, Eskisehir, Gaziantep, Giresun, Gumushane, Hakkari, Hatay, Icel (Mersin), Igdir, Isparta, Istanbul, Izmir (Smyrna), Kahramanmaras, Karabuk, Karaman, Kars, Kastamonu, Kayseri, Kilis, Kirikkale, Kirklareli, Kirsehir, Kocaeli, Konya, Kutahya, Malatya, Manisa, Mardin, Mugla, Mus, Nevsehir, Nigde, Ordu, Osmaniye, Rize, Sakarya, Samsun, Sanliurfa, Siirt, Sinop, Sirnak, Sivas, Tekirdag, Tokat, Trabzon (Trebizond), Tunceli, Usak, Van, Yalova, Yozgat, Zonguldak
Independence: 29 October 1923 (successor state to the Ottoman Empire)
National holiday: Republic Day, 29 October (1923)
Constitution: 7 November 1982; amended 17 May 1987; note – amendment passed by referendum concerning presidential elections on 21 October 2007
Legal system: civil law system derived from various European continental legal systems; note – member of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), although Turkey claims limited derogations on the ratified European Convention on Human Rights; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Abdullah GUL (since 28 August 2007)
head of government: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN (since 14 March 2003); Deputy Prime Minister Cemil CICEK (since 29 August 2007); Deputy Prime Minister Hayati YAZICI (since 29 August 2007); Deputy Prime Minister Nazim EKREN (since 29 August 2007)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president on the nomination of the prime minister
elections: president elected directly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); prime minister appointed by the president from among members of parliament
election results: on 28 August 2007 the National Assembly elected Abdullah GUL president on the third ballot; National Assembly vote – 339
note: in October 2007 Turkish voters approved a referendum package of constitutional amendments including a provision for direct presidential elections
Legislative branch: unicameral Grand National Assembly of Turkey or Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi (550 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
elections: last held on 22 July 2007 (next to be held on November 2012)
election results: percent of vote by party – AKP 46.7%, CHP 20.8%, MHP 14.3%, independents 5.2%, and other 13.0%; seats by party – AKP 341, CHP 112, MHP 71, independents 26; note – seats by party as of 31 January 2009 – AKP 340, CHP 97, MHP 70, DTP 21, DSP 13, ODP 1, BBP 1, independents 5, vacant 2 (DTP entered parliament as independents; DSP entered parliament on CHP’s party list); only parties surpassing the 10% threshold are entitled to parliamentary seats
Judicial branch: Constitutional Court; High Court of Appeals (Yargitay); Council of State (Danistay); Court of Accounts (Sayistay); Military High Court of Appeals; Military High Administrative Court
Political parties and leaders: Anavatan Partisi (Motherland Party) or Anavatan [Erkan MUMCU]; note – True Path Party or DYP has merged with the Motherland Party; Democratic Left Party or DSP [Zeki SEZER]; Democratic Society Party or DTP [Ahmet TURK]; Felicity Party or SP [Numan KURTULMUS] (sometimes translated as Contentment Party); Freedom and Solidarity Party or ODP [Hayri KOZANOGLU]; Grand Unity Party or BBP [Mushin YAZICIOGLU]; Justice and Development Party or AKP [Recep Tayyip ERDOGAN]; Nationalist Movement Party or MHP [Devlet BAHCELI] (sometimes translated as Nationalist Action Party); People’s Rise Party (Halkin Yukselisi Partisi) or HYP [Yasar Nuri OZTURK]; Republican People’s Party or CHP [Deniz BAYKAL]; Social Democratic People’s Party or SHP [Ugur CILASUN (acting)]; Young Party or GP [Cem Cengiz UZAN]
note: the parties listed above are some of the more significant of the 49 parties that Turkey had as of 31 January 2009
Political pressure groups and leaders: Confederation of Public Sector Unions or KESK [Sami EVREN]; Confederation of Revolutionary Workers Unions or DISK [Suleyman CELEBI]; Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association or MUSIAD [Omer Cihad VARDAN]; Moral Rights Workers Union or Hak-Is [Salim USLU]; Turkish Confederation of Employers’ Unions or TISK [Tugurl KUDATGOBILIK]; Turkish Confederation of Labor or Turk-Is [Mustafa KUMLU]; Turkish Confederation of Tradesmen and Craftsmen or TESK [Dervis GUNDAY]; Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association or TUSIAD [Arzuhan Dogan YALCINDAG]; Turkish Union of Chambers of Commerce and Commodity Exchanges or TOBB [M. Rifat HISARCIKLIOGLU]
International organization participation: ADB (nonregional members), Australia Group, BIS, BSEC, CE, CERN (observer), EAPC, EBRD, ECO, EU (applicant), FAO, G-20, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OIC, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, SECI, UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNMIS, UNOCI, UNOMIG, UNRWA, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WEU (associate), WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Nabi SENSOY
chancery: 2525 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 612-6700
FAX: [1] (202) 612-6744
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador James F. JEFFREY
embassy: 110 Ataturk Boulevard, Kavaklidere, 06100 Ankara
mailing address: PSC 93, Box 5000, APO AE 09823
telephone: [90] (312) 455-5555
FAX: [90] (312) 467-0019
consulate(s) general: Istanbul
consulate(s): Adana; note – there is a Consular Agent in Izmir
Flag description: red with a vertical white crescent (the closed portion is toward the hoist side) and white five-pointed star centered just outside the crescent opening
Culture Turkey has a very diverse culture that is a blend of various elements of the Oğuz Turkic, Anatolian, Ottoman (which was itself a continuation of both Greco-Roman and Islamic cultures) and Western culture and traditions, which started with the Westernization of the Ottoman Empire and still continues today. This mix originally began as a result of the encounter of Turks and their culture with those of the peoples who were in their path during their migration from Central Asia to the West. As Turkey successfully transformed from the religion-based former Ottoman Empire into a modern nation-state with a very strong separation of state and religion, an increase in the methods of artistic expression followed. During the first years of the republic, the government invested a large amount of resources into fine arts; such as museums, theatres, opera houses and architecture. Because of different historical factors playing an important role in defining the modern Turkish identity, Turkish culture is a product of efforts to be “modern” and Western, combined with the necessity felt to maintain traditional religious and historical values.

Turkish music and literature form great examples of such a mix of cultural influences, which were a result of the interaction between the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic world along with Europe, thus contributing to a blend of Turkic, Islamic and European traditions in modern-day Turkish music and literary arts. Turkish literature was heavily influenced by Persian and Arabic literature during most of the Ottoman era, though towards the end of the Ottoman Empire, particularly after the Tanzimat period, the effect of both Turkish folk and European literary traditions became increasingly felt. The mix of cultural influences is dramatized, for example, in the form of the “new symbols [of] the clash and interlacing of cultures” enacted in the works of Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Architectural elements found in Turkey are also testaments to the unique mix of traditions that have influenced the region over the centuries. In addition to the traditional Byzantine elements present in numerous parts of Turkey, many artifacts of the later Ottoman architecture, with its exquisite blend of local and Islamic traditions, are to be found throughout the country, as well as in many former territories of the Ottoman Empire. Sinan is widely regarded as the greatest architect of the classical period in Ottoman architecture. Since the 18th century, Turkish architecture has been increasingly influenced by Western styles, and this can be particularly seen in Istanbul where buildings like the Blue Mosque and the Dolmabahçe Palace are juxtaposed next to numerous modern skyscrapers, all of them representing different traditions.

Economy Economy – overview: Turkey’s dynamic economy is a complex mix of modern industry and commerce along with a traditional agriculture sector that still accounts for more than 35% of employment. It has a strong and rapidly growing private sector, yet the state still plays a major role in basic industry, banking, transport, and communication. The largest industrial sector is textiles and clothing, which accounts for one-third of industrial employment; it faces stiff competition in international markets with the end of the global quota system. However, other sectors, notably the automotive and electronics industries, are rising in importance within Turkey’s export mix. Real GNP growth has exceeded 6% in many years, but this strong expansion has been interrupted by sharp declines in output in 1994, 1999, and 2001. The economy turned around with the implementation of economic reforms, and 2004 GDP growth reached 9%, followed by roughly 5% annual growth from 2005-07. Due to global contractions, annual growth is estimated to have fallen to 3.5% in 2008. Inflation fell to 7.7% in 2005 – a 30-year low – but climbed back to 8.5% in 2007. Despite the strong economic gains from 2002-07, which were largely due to renewed investor interest in emerging markets, IMF backing, and tighter fiscal policy, the economy is still burdened by a high current account deficit and high external debt. Further economic and judicial reforms and prospective EU membership are expected to boost foreign direct investment. The stock value of FDI currently stands at about $85 billion. Privatization sales are currently approaching $21 billion. Oil began to flow through the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline in May 2006, marking a major milestone that will bring up to 1 million barrels per day from the Caspian to market. In 2007 and 2008, Turkish financial markets weathered significant domestic political turmoil, including turbulence sparked by controversy over the selection of former Foreign Minister Abdullah GUL as Turkey’s 11th president and the possible closure of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Economic fundamentals are sound, marked by moderate economic growth and foreign direct investment. Nevertheless, the Turkish economy may be faced with more negative economic indicators in 2009 as a result of the global economic slowdown. In addition, Turkey’s high current account deficit leaves the economy vulnerable to destabilizing shifts in investor confidence.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $930.9 billion (2008 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $798.9 billion (2008 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 4.5% (2008 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP): $12,900 (2008 est.)
GDP – composition by sector: agriculture: 8.5%
industry: 28.6%
services: 62.9% (2008 est.)
Labor force: 23.21 million
note: about 1.2 million Turks work abroad (2008 est.)
Labor force – by occupation: agriculture: 29.5%
industry: 24.7%
services: 45.8% (2005)
Unemployment rate: 7.9% plus underemployment of 4% (2008 est.)
Population below poverty line: 20% (2002)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 2%
highest 10%: 34.1% (2003)
Distribution of family income – Gini index: 43.6 (2003)
Investment (gross fixed): 21% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budget: revenues: $164.6 billion
expenditures: $176.3 billion (2008 est.)
Fiscal year: calendar year
Public debt: 37.1% of GDP (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 10.2% (2008 est.)
Central bank discount rate: 25% (31 December 2007)
Stock of money: $64.43 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money: $254.3 billion (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit: $358.1 billion (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares: $286.6 billion (31 December 2007)
Agriculture – products: tobacco, cotton, grain, olives, sugar beets, hazelnuts, pulse, citrus; livestock
Industries: textiles, food processing, autos, electronics, mining (coal, chromite, copper, boron), steel, petroleum, construction, lumber, paper
Electricity – production: 181.6 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity – consumption: 141.5 billion kWh (2006 est.)
Electricity – exports: 2.576 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity – imports: 863 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity – production by source: fossil fuel: 79.3%
hydro: 20.4%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0.3% (2001)
Oil – production: 42,800 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil – consumption: 676,600 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil – exports: 114,600 bbl/day (2005)
Oil – imports: 714,100 bbl/day (2005)
Oil – proved reserves: 300 million bbl (1 January 2008 est.)
Natural gas – production: 893 million cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – consumption: 36.6 billion cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – exports: 31 million cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – imports: 35.83 billion cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas – proved reserves: 8.495 billion cu m (1 January 2008 est.)
Current account balance: -$51.68 billion (2008 est.)
Exports: $141.8 billion f.o.b. (2008 est.)
Exports – commodities: apparel, foodstuffs, textiles, metal manufactures, transport equipment
Exports – partners: Germany 11.2%, UK 8.1%, Italy 7%, France 5.6%, Russia 4.4%, Spain 4.3% (2007)
Imports: $204.8 billion f.o.b. (2008 est.)
Imports – commodities: machinery, chemicals, semi-finished goods, fuels, transport equipment
Imports – partners: Russia 13.8%, Germany 10.3%, China 7.8%, Italy 5.9%, US 4.8%, France 4.6% (2007)
Economic aid – recipient: ODA, $464 million (2005)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $82.82 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
Debt – external: $294.3 billion (31 December 2008 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment – at home: $124.8 billion (2008 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment – abroad: $13.97 billion (2008 est.)
Currency (code): Turkish lira (TRY); old Turkish lira (TRL) before 1 January 2005
Currency code: TRL, YTL
Exchange rates: Turkish liras (TRY) per US dollar – 1.3179 (2008 est.), 1.319 (2007), 1.4286 (2006), 1.3436 (2005), 1.4255 (2004)
note: on 1 January 2005 the old Turkish lira (TRL) was converted to new Turkish lira (TRY) at a rate of 1,000,000 old to 1 new Turkish lira; on 1 January 2009 the Turkish government dropped the word “new” and the currency is now called simply the Turkish lira
Communications Telephones – main lines in use: 18.413 million (2007)
Telephones – mobile cellular: 61.976 million (2007)
Telephone system: general assessment: comprehensive telecommunications network undergoing rapid modernization and expansion especially in mobile-cellular services
domestic: additional digital exchanges are permitting a rapid increase in subscribers; the construction of a network of technologically advanced intercity trunk lines, using both fiber-optic cable and digital microwave radio relay, is facilitating communication between urban centers; remote areas are reached by a domestic satellite system; the number of subscribers to mobile-cellular telephone service is growing rapidly
international: country code – 90; international service is provided by the SEA-ME-WE-3 submarine cable and by submarine fiber-optic cables in the Mediterranean and Black Seas that link Turkey with Italy, Greece, Israel, Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia; satellite earth stations – 12 Intelsat; mobile satellite terminals – 328 in the Inmarsat and Eutelsat systems (2002)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 16, FM 107, shortwave 6 (2001)
Radios: 11.3 million (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 635 (plus 2,934 repeaters) (1995)
Televisions: 20.9 million (1997)
Internet country code: .tr
Internet hosts: 2.667 million (2008)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 50 (2001)
Internet users: 13.15 million (2006)
Transportation Airports: 117 (2007)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 90
over 3,047 m: 15
2,438 to 3,047 m: 33
1,524 to 2,437 m: 19
914 to 1,523 m: 19
under 914 m: 4 (2007)
Airports – with unpaved runways: total: 27
over 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 2
914 to 1,523 m: 7
under 914 m: 17 (2007)
Heliports: 18 (2007)
Pipelines: gas 7,511 km; oil 3,636 km (2007)
Railways: total: 8,697 km
standard gauge: 8,697 km 1.435-m gauge (1,920 km electrified) (2006)
Roadways: total: 426,951 km (includes 1,987 km of expressways) (2006)
Waterways: 1,200 km (2008)
Merchant marine: total: 612
by type: bulk carrier 101, cargo 281, chemical tanker 70, combination ore/oil 1, container 35, liquefied gas 7, passenger 4, passenger/cargo 51, petroleum tanker 31, refrigerated cargo 1, roll on/roll off 28, specialized tanker 2
foreign-owned: 8 (Cyprus 2, Germany 1, Greece 1, Italy 3, UAE 1)
registered in other countries: 595 (Albania 1, Antigua and Barbuda 6, Bahamas 8, Belize 15, Cambodia 26, Comoros 8, Dominica 5, Georgia 14, Greece 1, Isle of Man 2, Italy 1, Kiribati 1, Liberia 7, Malta 176, Marshall Islands 50, Moldova 3, Netherlands 1, Netherlands Antilles 10, Panama 94, Russia 80, Saint Kitts and Nevis 35, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 20, Sierra Leone 15, Slovakia 10, Tuvalu 2, UK 2, unknown 2) (2008)
Ports and terminals: Aliaga, Diliskelesi, Izmir, Kocaeli (Izmit), Mercin Limani, Nemrut Limani
Military Military branches: Turkish Armed Forces (TSK): Turkish Land Forces (Turk Kara Kuvvetleri, TKK), Turkish Naval Forces (Turk Deniz Kuvvetleri, TDK; includes naval air and naval infantry), Turkish Air Force (Turk Hava Kuvvetleri, THK) (2008)
Military service age and obligation: 20 years of age (2004)
Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 20,213,205
females age 16-49: 19,432,688 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 17,011,635
females age 16-49: 16,433,364 (2008 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually: male: 660,452
female: 638,527 (2008 est.)
Military expenditures: 5.3% of GDP (2005 est.)
Military – note: a “National Security Policy Document” adopted in October 2005 increases the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) role in internal security, augmenting the General Directorate of Security and Gendarmerie General Command (Jandarma); the TSK leadership continues to play a key role in politics and considers itself guardian of Turkey’s secular state; in April 2007, it warned the ruling party about any pro-Islamic appointments; despite on-going negotiations on EU accession since October 2005, progress has been limited in establishing required civilian supremacy over the military; primary domestic threats are listed as fundamentalism (with the definition in some dispute with the civilian government), separatism (the Kurdish problem), and the extreme left wing; Ankara strongly opposed establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region; an overhaul of the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLFC) taking place under the “Force 2014” program is to produce 20-30% smaller, more highly trained forces characterized by greater mobility and firepower and capable of joint and combined operations; the TLFC has taken on increasing international peacekeeping responsibilities, and took charge of a NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command in Afghanistan in April 2007; the Turkish Navy is a regional naval power that wants to develop the capability to project power beyond Turkey’s coastal waters; the Navy is heavily involved in NATO, multinational, and UN operations; its roles include control of territorial waters and security for sea lines of communications; the Turkish Air Force adopted an “Aerospace and Missile Defense Concept” in 2002 and has initiated project work on an integrated missile defense system; Air Force priorities include attaining a modern deployable, survivable, and sustainable force structure, and establishing a sustainable command and control system (2008)
Transnational Issues Disputes – international: complex maritime, air, and territorial disputes with Greece in the Aegean Sea; status of north Cyprus question remains; Syria and Iraq protest Turkish hydrological projects to control upper Euphrates waters; Turkey has expressed concern over the status of Kurds in Iraq; border with Armenia remains closed over Nagorno-Karabakh
Refugees and internally displaced persons: IDPs: 1-1.2 million (fighting 1984-99 between Kurdish PKK and Turkish military; most IDPs in southeastern provinces) (2007)
Illicit drugs: key transit route for Southwest Asian heroin to Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the US – via air, land, and sea routes; major Turkish and other international trafficking organizations operate out of Istanbul; laboratories to convert imported morphine base into heroin exist in remote regions of Turkey and near Istanbul; government maintains strict controls over areas of legal opium poppy cultivation and over output of poppy straw concentrate; lax enforcement of money-laundering controls

Iran’s Supreme Leader Khomeini Shows His Love For All Non Shiite’s

Iran’s Supreme Leader Khomeini Shows His Love For All Non Shiite’s

( I FIRST POSTED THIS ARTICLE ON SEPTEMBER 19th OF 2016. I FEEL THAT THIS IS AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE, ONE THAT i HOPE YOU WILL TAKE A MOMENT OF YOUR TIME TO READ AS IT IS VERY ‘TELLING’)

Special Dispatch Memri
Iranian General Discusses Shi’ite Liberation Army Under Command Of Qassem Soleimani, Who Is Subordinate To Supreme Leader Khomeini September 15, 2016 Special Dispatch No.6611

On August 18, 2016, Ali Falaki, a retired general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who commanded a brigade in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and claims to have volunteered to fight in Syria, gave an interview to the Iranian website Mashregh, which is close to the IRGC. In it, he spoke of the “Shi’ite Liberation Army” that Iran has deployed on its three battlefronts in the Middle East – in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen – stating that it comprises divisions based on ethnicity that Iran has established for this purpose. These divisions, he said, are the Afghan division (Fatemiyoun), the Pakistani division (Zaynabiyoun) and the Iraqi division (Hayderiyoun), in addition to the Lebanese Hezbollah division that is operating in Lebanon and Syria. Falaki explained that these divisions comprise the Shi’ite Liberation Army that operates according to the ethnic model adopted by Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.[1]


Ali Falaki (Image: Farsnews.com)

Falaki stressed that while the Shi’ite Liberation Army forces on the various fronts are divided by ethnicity, their command structure is Iranian, and is headed by IRGC officers under the command of Qassem Soleimani, head of the IRGC’s elite Qods Force, which operates outside Iran’s borders. He added that Soleimani answers directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini.

Falaki, who said that he maintains direct contact with the top echelons of the Iranian Army and IRGC, proudly reported that he had commanded, as part of the Afghan division, many Iranian Army soldiers who had volunteered to fight in Syria since February 2016. He said that it had been decided that they would be incorporated into the Afghan division of the Shi’ite Liberation Army as commanders. Falaki appears to be referring to February reports that Iran had replaced IRGC officers in Syria with Iranian Army soldiers and to relations between the IRGC and the Iranian Army, which have had their ups and downs.

Like other Iranian spokesmen, Falaki stressed that Iran is not sending Iranian forces to directly fight on the various fronts in the Middle East, but is creating local fighting forces that it provides with “guidance, organization, and management” by means of IRGC officers, and, when necessary also reinforces with the ethnic divisions of the Shi’ite Liberation Army. Wherever “there is a need for this army, the people in that region will be organized and supplied with the necessary forces,” he said. He added that the Shi’ite Liberation Army was established “because of the existence of Israel,” which Khamenei has vowed will cease to exist in about 20 years, though in practice the Shi’ite Liberation Army is fighting against Sunnis in the Middle East.

It should be mentioned that Falaki uses the term “Shi’ite Liberation Army” to mean two things: one, that its mission is to liberate Shi’ites, and two, that it is itself distinctly Shi’ite.

Following are excerpts from Falaki’s interview on the Mashregh website:[2]

“The First Seed Of The Shi’ite And Muslim Liberation Army Was Germinated In Syria”

“We have certain weaknesses in Syria that I do not wish to currently discuss, but some of them stem from a weakness we have in Iran. From here [in Iran], we come to South Lebanon and support the Shi’ites there; we come to Bahrain and Yemen at great expense and support the Shi’ites there.

“In Lebanon, we found [Hizbullah secretary-general] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, but here [in Iran], we could find no leader among all the active revolutionary [Afghan] clerics willing to be on the frontlines [like he is], nor could we organize such large forces [as Hizbullah]. We were not able to properly support the three million Shi’ite Afghans [living in Iran as refugees], and it is very unfortunate that for 30 years we ignored Afghan Shi’ites who, despite their oppression, resisted the arrogance of the east [Russia] and the West [the U.S.] in Afghanistan. We saw them as mere laborers waiting [for work] at intersections or as criminals. This generation [of Afghans in Iran] stepped up and showed heroism, altruism, courage, and daring in Syria. They shone under the command of the Iranian forces…

“Under the command of [Qods Force head] Haj Qassem [Soleimani], the Afghans prevented Zaynabiyya, Damascus, and the airport from falling [to the Syrian rebels]… We must not think that we [Iranians] are fighting in Syria, [but rather that] the Afghans are being courageous there under our command…

“The name ‘Fatemiyoun’ refers to explicit aid from God. The name ‘Fatemiyoun’ produced two great events… [for Iran] in the world of Islam. First, during the [Iran-Iraq] War, we were tasked with creating unity among [ethnic] sects [in Iran] – Lors, Kurds, Baluchis, Persians, and Arabs – [albeit] in separate frameworks,  [which all fought] the Ba’ath Party [in Iraq]. We transformed all the [ethnic] sects into military divisions, and during the war never dared to say that some of the brothers were Sunnis and some were [Shi’ite] Afghans.

“The Fatemiyoun banner was raised, and thus the first seed of the liberation army of Shi’ites and Muslims was germinated in Syria. Today we have the privilege [of forming the Shi’ite Liberation Army] because back then, we created the unity among the [ethnic] sects; now, we have created international [Shi’ite] unity. The [Pakistani] Zaynabiyoun division comprises Pakistanis under the command of IRGC officers. The [Afghan] Fatemiyoun division has several brigades comprising Afghans, and even has some Sunni members. IRGC [officers] guide this division. These divisions include IRGC commanders and [Afghani] commanders, from squad commanders to staff officers. These divisions have a single uniform and a single banner. They come under a single umbrella organization and fight on a single battlefront. We also have the Hayderiyoun division, which comprises Iraqis. We also have a Hezbollah division, which is divided into two: one part is Hezbollah in Lebanon and the other is Hezbollah in Syria, which comprises the people of Damascus, Nubl, and Al-Zahraa.

“The [Shi’ite] Liberation Army was formed because, with God’s help, in 23 years there should be no such thing as Israel. These divisions are on the Israeli border. The Fatemiyoun have laid the groundwork for this fight.

“The second thing, that we are happy to see is spreading to everyone, is that our previous [patronizing] view of these [Afghan] brothers has changed…”

“Wherever There Is A Need For This Army, The People In That Region Will Be Organized And Supplied With Necessary Forces”

“The Shi’ite Liberation Army was established, and it is currently under the command of [Qods Force head] Haj Qassem Soleimani, who obeys the leader [Khomeini]. One of this army’s fronts is in Syria, another is in Iraq, and yet another is in Yemen. The forces in this army are not meant to be only Iranian; [instead], wherever there is a need for this army, the people in that region will be organized [to form it] and supplied with the necessary forces…

“We [Iranians] are not meant to come [to Syria] as forces operating [on the ground]. We want [Iranian] elements who know how to teach, organize, and manage to come to Syria. This way, the forces in that region can spring into action…

“Some of the commanders of the army [of the Syrian regime] fled abroad, and some of its bases were captured. The crushed Syrian army units have today regrouped with renewed strength. Therefore, there is no need for us [in Iran] to send an army there. We can stand alongside the Syrian army, organize Syrian forces, and prepare them for battle. [In the future] we can remove the enemy occupation of Syria, just as we did in [Iranian] Kurdistan, which took a year or two – but controlling foreign incursions into Syria is up to the Syrians themselves and we cannot prevent it.

“Regime change and changes of president can happen only when the enemy is no longer [in Syria]…  For example, we succeeded, within two years, to expel the enemy presence in Kurdistan in western [Iran], but it took us years to impose law and order there… Today, this region is considered one of the safest in Iran… even though 20 years ago, they were beheading IRGC personnel with pottery shards…”

The Iranian Army Felt It Had A Roll To Fulfill In Syria

“The Iranian army felt that it had to fulfill a role in this [Syrian] arena. According to my knowledge, the army told Qassem Soleimani that it wants to fulfill its duty in this matter [i.e. fighting in Syria]. Qassem Soleimani told this to the leader [Khomeini], and the leader gave his blessing… Some volunteers from various military units, who were mostly experts in aerial combat, were sent to Syria in mid-February 2016.

“These [Iranian army] forces were competent enough to operate independently, but we decided that they would operate as part of the [Afghan] Fatemiyoun [division]. God rewarded me by placing me in command of them as part of the Fatemiyoun [division]. I placed them in charge of the area and transferred means to them, and after a short period, the [Afghan] unit was placed under their command. Neither their rank nor their weapons in Iran were the same as they were [after they joined] the Fatemiyoun [in Syria]. But due to their presence in Syria and after a short time fighting alongside the [Afghan] Fatemiyoun brothers, they became one organization, wore the same uniform, and fought in the same trenches. They became fast friends.

“I also told [Iranian ground forces commander] Amir Pourdastan that I was proud to fight along with the brothers from the [Iranian] army on one of the global battlefront outside of Iran, just like during the sacred defense period [the Iran-Iraq War]. [Back then] there was no difference [between us and them] and they were like the Basij boys [of the IRGC].

“I spoke with the commander who was tasked with sending [Iranian soldiers to Syria] and he said: ‘One of my concerns is to curb the wave of volunteers who want to be sent [to Syria]. According to the needs of the [Iranian] General Staff, we only send the necessary amount of forces [to Syria]. Had I allowed it, we would have had several divisions of [Iranian] volunteers [in Syria].’

“The presence of these forces has been hugely beneficial [in the Syrian arena]. They also suffered martyrdoms and injuries, but this did not damage their morale or make them less determined. They were experienced, brave, and passionate…

“The [volunteers] coming from Iran to Syria are given a monthly stipend of $100.”

“We Do Not Wish To Produce An Atomic Bomb… [But Rather] Prove… That [We] Can Reach Higher Than France [And] England… In All Fields… Even On The Military Level”

“Until our power grows, the world of the arrogance [the U.S.] will never let us be. Some wonder why there is a need for tension between us and the Western world. I must say that if we tolerate this tension for a while, we will be a match for [the enemy] and then they will no longer dare fight us. We do not wish to produce an atomic bomb. We only want to prove that our people and country can reach higher than France, England, Austria, and Denmark in all fields – humanities, science, economy, technology, as well as human rights, and even on the military level.

“If we destroy the enemy that is currently mobilizing against us, there will be no room for any other country [to mobilize against us]. When we show our true might, they will no longer be able to do anything against us…”

 

End notes:

 

[1] In the first part of the interview Falaki refers to the problem of the Afghan refugees in Iran, who number some 3,000,000. The Iranian regime recruits young men from among these refugees to fight in Syria as part of the Afghan division. The fighters receive a monthly stipend and, if they fall in battle, their families’ social status is enhanced.

[2] Fars (Iran), August 18, 2016. It should be mentioned that the interview was deleted from the Mashregh website shortly after publication.

Kurdish Officials’ Visit to Elysee Triggers French-Turkish Crisis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Kurdish Officials’ Visit to Elysee Triggers French-Turkish Crisis

Saturday, 31 March, 2018 – 06:45
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: AP
Ankara, Paris- Said Abdul Razek and Michel Abu Najm
Paris was quick on Friday to reassure Ankara after President Emmanuel Macron was misquoted as saying that his country would deploy forces in the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quickly responded to the French statements, saying that Manbij would be the next target of his forces to liberate the city from Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara also rejected any French mediation between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the YPG, which are considered by Turkey as terrorists.

On Thursday, an SDF delegation including Kurdish officials visited the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Macron told the delegation he hoped to build dialogue between the Democratic Forces and Turkey, with the help of France and the international community, according to a communiqué from the Elysee.

However, Turkey completely dismissed the suggestion, as Erdogan said: “We have no need for mediation… We are extremely saddened by France’s… wrong stance on this.”

“Those who go to bed with terrorists, or even host them in their palaces, will sooner or later understand the mistake they’re making,” Erdogan said in Ankara.

He also warned that Ankara did not need a mediator.

“Who are you to mediate between Turkey and a terror group?” Erdogan said at a meeting of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in the capital, Ankara.

According to the Elysee, Macron reaffirmed the priority of the battle against “the terrorist threat” and assured France’s support to the SDF, particularly in stabilizing the security zone in northeast Syria “to prevent the resurgence of ISIS while awaiting a political solution to the Syrian conflict.”

The French show of support to Kurds is not new. Macron was the first Western leader to warn against the possibility of the Turkish operation in Afrin turning into an “invasion of Syrian territories.”

Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syrian City Of Afrin

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI ARABIAN NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Turkish Forces Begin Besieging Syria’s Afrin

Tuesday, 13 March, 2018 – 10:30
Civilians drive through Ain Dara as they flee Afrin on Monday. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Turkish forces have begun the siege of the Syrian city of Afrin, nearly two months after launching an offensive in the region against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), announced the military on Tuesday.

The military said in a brief statement that the siege of Afrin, the main town in the enclave, had begun Monday.

The forces also captured “areas of critical importance” in the region as of Monday, it added.

Thousands of people had started to flee Afrin on Monday as the Turkish troops got closer to the town, heading toward nearby Syrian regime-controlled areas.

Afrin city is home to around 350,000 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Turkey launched a military offensive into the border enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out YPG forces that it considers to be “terrorists” and an extension of Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

Ankara has threatened to push further east to Manbij, where YPG troops are stationed.

The Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday that Turkey and the United States have reached an agreement on a plan to jointly station Turkish and US forces in Manbij.

Washington has not confirmed any such plan — and a small contingent of US forces is already in Manbij.

Hurriyet newspaper quoted Mevlut Cavusoglu as telling Turkish reporters during a visit to Moscow that the “YPG will leave Manbij, US and Turkish soldiers will joint ensure its security.”

Cavusoglu revealed that he and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would discuss the issue further when they meet in Washington on March 19.

US-Backed Kurdish Militia Now Fighting U.S. Ally, Turkey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(ANYONE WHO ACTUALLY BELIEVES THAT TURKEY IS A “U.S. ALLY” OR AN ALLY OF NATO IS EITHER TRULY IGNORANT OR THEY MUST BE SMOKING METH) (COMMENTARY BY oldpoet56)

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN)A US-backed Kurdish militia is diverting 1,700 fighters from the battle against ISIS and redeploying them to northwest Syria to repel an offensive by US ally Turkey, in a development could hinder the fight against the terror group.

Four branches of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), thus far tasked with defeating ISIS in Syria, have been transferred from east of the Euphrates Rivers to the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told CNN in a statement.
“We won’t abandon our positions, but since the beginning of the invasion of Afrin we have said that Turkey is trying to give ISIS another chance at life, and directly affects military operations and campaigns against ISIS,” said Bali.
“Now, offensive operations have ended and we have transformed from a force that hunted ISIS to a force that is concentrated in defensive positions,” he added. Bali said the “majority” of the alliance’s forces are moving to Afrin.
The US-led coalition warned that the SDF’s move could slow the campaign to defeat ISIS.
“The departure of some SDF forces from the Middle Euphrates River Valley highlights the potential costs of any distraction from the defeat-Daesh fight,” said coalition Director of Public Affairs Col. Thomas Veale, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“We remain undeterred in pursuing our mission to defeat Daesh, understanding the effort may take longer with the increased complexity of the situation in northern Syria.”
Turkey, a NATO ally, launched an operation targeting Kurdish groups in Afrin in January to clear the border area of militias it considers to be terrorist organizations. Three Kurdish militias — the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — have borne the brunt of the offensive.
The YPG is considered the backbone of the US-backed SDF, which was instrumental in eliminating ISIS’ territorial foothold in Syria.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has said it is Turkey’s “natural right” to ask the US to halt the SDF’s redeployment to Afrin.
The United Nations on Sunday said it was receiving “disturbing reports” of civilian deaths in the northwestern Syrian enclave, and that it believes “tens of thousands” have been displaced.
Syrian Kurds attend a funeral in Afrin in mid-February for Kurdish fighters.

Turkey has said that the nationwide ceasefire ordered by the UN Security Council last month would not affect its Afrin offensive. The ceasefire has also been ignored by Syrian government forces and rebel groups, mainly in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, where fighting has caused heavy civilian casualties.
Redeployed SDF forces will be joining pro-Syrian government fighters who entered Afrin last month as part of a deal between the regime and Kurdish forces. Turkey’s deputy prime minister warned at the time of “disastrous consequences” should Syrian government forces intervene in Afrin.

An ‘apocalypse’ in Eastern Ghouta

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces continue to pummel the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, where the UN says more than 600 people have been killed in recent weeks.
In a strongly worded statement on Tuesday, UN human-rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein accused the Syrian government of planning an “apocalypse.”
“It is urgent to reverse this catastrophic course, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court,” said Al Hussein, according to a UN statement.
“Nearly half of the food” aid bound for besieged Eastern Ghouta, where reports of malnourishment are rampant, had to be returned, according to the United Nations.
A 46-truck aid convoy — some vehicles stripped of desperately needed medical kits — brought some supplies to the area on Monday, but activists said the convoy had to pull out before everything was unloaded.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on all parties in Syria to “immediately allow safe and unimpeded access” for aid convoys to “deliver critical supplies to hundreds of thousands of people desperate need” in the Damascus suburb, according to a statement from spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday.
Activists say that many of Eastern Ghouta’s residents have taken to makeshift shelters underground, rarely venturing above ground to seek food and water amid nearly incessant airstrikes.
The Syrian government continues to send reinforcements to the rebel enclave, where a ground offensive is underway and regime forces are reported to have captured large tracts of farmland.

Assad Must Go, Says Turkey’s Leader Erdogan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

Syrian soldiers parade past a banner depicting President Bashar al-Assad during a government celebration in December 2017. CreditGeorge Ourfalian/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey’s leader denounced President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Wednesday as a terrorist mass murderer with no place in that country’s postwar future, scrapping a softened approach that Turkish officials had taken toward Mr. Assad in recent years.

The statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey came as Mr. Assad seemed more confident than ever that he has won the war and will remain Syria’s leader for the foreseeable future. It also came against the backdrop of maneuvering by many powers — most notably Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s most important allies — to influence the outcome of a devastating conflict that has reshaped Middle East politics.

One of the first leaders in the region to condemn Mr. Assad when the conflict began in 2011, Mr. Erdogan had in recent months signaled a willingness to accept Mr. Assad’s political longevity.

The Turkish leader’s shift on Wednesday was a reminder of their hostility, coming as Mr. Assad has demonstrated greater swagger over his grip from military gains over the past year, largely with Russia’s help.

In a new sign of his confidence, Mr. Assad even allowed a modest medical evacuation of civilians on Wednesday from one of the last rebel enclaves in the country, near Damascus.

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Mr. Erdogan appeared to be reminding Russia that it cannot dictate Syria’s future alone, especially on issues sensitive to Turkey, most notably those involving Syria’s Kurdish groups, which Turkey sees as enemies.

Russia on Tuesday said that representatives of a semiautonomous Kurdish area in northeastern Syria would be allowed to take part in talks that Russia is hosting next month — an inclusion opposed by Turkey.

“Assad, I am saying this loud and clear, is a terrorist who spreads state terrorism,” Mr. Erdogan said at a joint news conference with the Tunisian president, Beji Caid Essebsi, in Tunis. “Would the Syrian people like to see someone like this stay in charge?”

In remarks quoted by Turkish news agencies, Mr. Erdogan also said: “It is absolutely impossible to move ahead with Assad in Syria. For what? How could we embrace the future with the president of a Syria who killed close to one million of its citizens?”

Furious over the insult, Syria’s Foreign Ministry called Mr. Erdogan a terrorist supporter who bore “prime responsibility for the bloodshed in Syria.”

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands — there are no reliable figures — along with upending roughly half of Syria’s prewar population and contributing to a migration crisis that has reverberated around the world. At least 5.4 million Syrians are refugees and more than six million are internally displaced, the United Nations says.

Russia and Iran have always backed Mr. Assad, while Turkey supports some Syrian rebel groups. Despite their differences, the three nations have been collaborating on diplomacy aimed at ending the war.

All three also have been jockeying for position in the country’s post-conflict future, even as their efforts to end the fighting have proved only partly successful.

Mr. Erdogan’s statement appeared to signal more of a tough negotiating stance than a rupture with Russia, which has been enjoying an improved relationship with Turkey, a NATO member. Even as Mr. Erdogan spoke, his government in Ankara was finalizing a $2.5 billion deal to purchase Russian S-400 missile systems.

It is possible the Russians welcomed Mr. Erdogan’s tough line toward Mr. Assad, because they want to play a leading role in any peace deal. That means delivering an often recalcitrant Mr. Assad to negotiations.

Photo

Patients being taken to hospitals in Damascus as part of a medical evacuation of Eastern Ghouta.CreditAbdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A main issue between Russia and Turkey has involved Syria’s Kurds. Mr. Erdogan has made clear lately that preventing them from maintaining a semiautonomous area bordering Turkey has become a higher priority than toppling Mr. Assad.

But Moscow has been eager to include Kurdish groups in peace talks. It has won greater inclusion for them in the United Nations-backed talks in Geneva — though not through the separate Kurdish delegation that the Kurds wanted — and now has invited numerous Kurdish representatives to Sochi, the southern Russia resort town where talks that Moscow calls a Syrian “national dialogue” will supposedly be held in late January.

Turkey, by contrast, had hoped that Russia and Iran would use their leverage to ostracize the Kurds and exclude them from those talks.

“It hasn’t worked well,” Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said of Turkey’s effort on the Kurds. Insistence on blunting Kurdish power in Syria, he said, “takes the limelight in Turkey.”

A previous attempt to convene talks in Sochi, in November, failed when Turkey withdrew over objections to Kurdish participation.

The planned January meeting has also been widely snubbed by Mr. Assad’s Syrian opponents. Forty rebel groups declared Tuesday that they would not take part.

Before the Arab revolts of 2011, relations between Syria and Turkey were neighborly, along a border that stretches more than 500 miles. But six months into the Syrian uprising — which began with political protests met with a harsh security crackdown — Mr. Erdogan broke with Mr. Assad, saying he must step down.

Mr. Erdogan then went on to finance Syrian rebel groups and later allowed foreign recruits to the Islamic State and other jihadist militant groups to stream through Turkey into Syria.

But the Syrian war has taken a toll on Turkey, which is housing more than three million refugees and has suffered deadly attacks by the Islamic State and Kurdish groups.

Soon after Russia began its air campaign on behalf of Mr. Assad’s government in 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane. Russia retaliated with sanctions that were devastating for Turkish trade and tourism.

Turkey’s antipathy toward the Kurds, oddly, is partly responsible for the reconciliation in Turkish-Russian relations and a Turkish shift away from insistence that Mr. Assad must go.

As Russian air power severely weakened Syria’s rebel forces, Turkey was willing to temper its support for them in exchange for Russia’s assent to a Turkish sphere of influence in northern Syria, where Turkey could block Kurdish expansion.

Mr. Erdogan’s condemnation of Mr. Assad on Wednesday came as the Syrian leader appeared to allow a humanitarian breakthrough, albeit a small one, in the besieged Syrian rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, home to about 400,000 people and the only major rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria said on Wednesday that after protracted negotiations, it had been able to start medical evacuations from Eastern Ghouta.

The enclave has been targeted by Mr. Assad’s forces, and the United Nations has pleaded for his government to allow for the evacuation of around 500 patients, including children with cancer.

The Syrian American Medical Society said four patients had been taken to hospitals in Damascus, the first of 29 critical cases approved for medical evacuation, with the remainder to be evacuated over the coming days.

U.S. Government Commits Treason Against Its Kurdish Allies; Again

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Michael Weiss is a national security analyst for CNN and author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.”

(CNN)Two weeks ago, one of Iraq’s top security officials asked a trusted Kurdish intermediary to deliver a message to Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the semiautonomous fief in northern Iraq which has been something of an American protectorate since 1991.

“Tell Massoud that war is coming if he doesn’t back off,” Hadi al-Ameri said, according to someone privy to the conversation. “Do not provoke us by counting on the Americans.”
Ameri was referring to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, has controlled militarily for three years and politically for even longer.   Iraqi forces had left the city in 2014 as their war with ISIS raged, but now that the terrorist group was on the run, Iraq had every intention of recapturing it.

Michael Weiss

On October 16 some 9,000 Iraqi government forces, including Shia militias under the command of Ameri, invaded and took Kirkuk in a matter of hours. With rare exception, Kurdish peshmerga, a professionalized guerrilla army, whose name translates as “those who face death,” retreated northward in a snaking, convoy of Humvees, tanks and armored vehicles. Tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians also fled to Erbil, the capital of the KRG, where officials were plunged into a state of late-night chaos and confusion.
Long considered the Kurds’ Jerusalem, Kirkuk had fallen without much of a fight. And what violence did occur was between two US allies, with American taxpayer-financed weaponry. American-made Abrams tanks operated by Iraqi forces fired on American-armed Kurdish peshmerga, who returned fire, destroying at least five American-made Humvees.
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This is because in spite of its meek professions of neutrality, Washington did take a side in this conflict: that of Iraq’s central government. But it did more than that by attempting to minimize the role its regional adversary, Iran, apparently played in the reconquest of Kirkuk. The commander of the Quds Force, the foreign expeditionary arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, was reportedly instrumental in the Kirkuk operation.
Nothing better illustrates the incoherence of America’s stance in the Middle East than the fact that it turned out to be on the same side as Major General Qasem Soleimani, who occupies a status within US intelligence circles somewhere between Professor Moriarty and Darth Vader. He and his proxies are believed by US officials to have caused hundreds of American fatalities and injuries on the battlefields of Iraq.
Yet it’s hard to overstate what the Iranian operative has just pulled off. Not only did Soleimani out-marshal and humiliate Washington by brokering a cleverer and more cynical deal, which undercut its own vain attempts at conflict resolution, but he was then rewarded with US legitimization of his scheme. (Iran officially denied any involvement in the recapture of Kirkuk.)
All this occurred less than 72 hours after President Trump heralded a get-tough-on-Iran policy, which included the designation of Soleimani’s parent body, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, as a terrorist organization. In his strategy statement, Trump said: “The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia,” and he promised, “We will work with our allies to counter the regime’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region.”
Except the US just did the opposite in Kirkuk and alienated its longest and most stalwart counter-terrorism ally in Iraq, who, as the Kurds like to remind us, have never burned American flags much less attacked American soldiers.

Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out

Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out 02:31
“We had so much trust in America,” a top Kurdish officer told me last week. “We never thought America would accept Iranian proxies using American weapons against their allies.”  One of his colleagues put it even more plangently than that: “It might be better if we just join Iran’s axis.”
Such are the paradoxes and unintended consequences of how America wages its never-ending war on terror — by alienating its friends and empowering its enemies — in the name of national security.

America’s singular focus on ISIS

In the three years since ISIS stormed the Iraqi city of Mosul in June 2014, the United States has had monomaniacal tactical focus on smashing Sunni extremist head-loppers at the expense of underwriting its long-term strategic interests.
In a rush to dismantle the so-called caliphate, Washington has assembled and empowered a host of sectarian actors with antagonistic agendas who have been forced into a tenuous polygamous marriage of convenience. But now that ISIS is on its back foot — it just lost its de facto capital of Raqqa in the same week as the Kirkuk drama, in large part because of the spadework of another Kurdish-led proxy army — that marriage is disintegrating.
“For America, it’s all about counterterrorism and ISIS,” said Emma Sky, the British former governorate coordinator of Kirkuk during the US-led occupation of Iraq. “Across the region, ISIS isn’t people’s number-one enemy. They’re more at odds with each other. The US still doesn’t understand this.”
For the Kurds, the power struggles are as much internal as they are external.  The Kirkuk crisis would almost certainly not have happened without two precipitating events which fell within quick succession of each other.
The first was a referendum for independence held on September 25. A symbolic, non-binding plebiscite, and the second since the US toppled Saddam in 2003, it nonetheless drew opposition from every regional and Western government (save Israel’s), which argued that the referendum violated the sovereignty and geographical integrity of Iraq — concepts that hold mythical sway in foreign ministries more than they reflect brute reality in a deeply balkanized Iraq.
Conceived by Massoud Barzani and sold as a prelude to the world’s largest stateless people, long reliant on the caprices and mercies of the great powers, attaining their century-long dream of establishing a homeland, the referendum was a domestic political victory in its breadth even if an international defeat. Ninety-three percent of Kurds voted in favor of independence, in defiance of just about everybody, not least of all Baghdad and Washington.
The second precipitating event was the death of Jalal Talabani, the first non-Arab president of Iraq and the eminence grise of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, one of two shot-calling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan. Headquartered in the governorate of Sulaimaniya, the PUK had also commanded the peshmerga in Kirkuk and so the near-bloodless loss of the city on Monday can only have happened because of a prearranged agreement between that party and Baghdad.
Absent from the backroom dealmaking was the other, stronger shot-caller, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, based in Erbil. This party is headed by Barzani and his family, who control the KRG’s foreign policy and their own peshmerga paramilitary.

Kurds’ ‘Game of Thrones’

Iraq's President's Jalal Talabani attends the 11th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit in Istanbul on December 23, 2010.

For decades, the PUK and KDP — which is to say the House of Talabani and the House of Barzani — have vied for dominance in northern Iraq, often aligning with their mortal enemy Saddam Hussein to get the better of the other in internecine disputes which have devolved into civil war. In recent years, the PUK has developed a close working relationship with Qasem Soleimani.
The plan was apparently set in motion around the time of Talabani’s memorial ceremony in Baghdad on October 8. The dead leader’s eldest son Bafel met with Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, according to a senior KDP official I spoke to, who speculated that Bafel “saw the obvious, an opening in the Kurdish political parties to exploit in his family’s interests.” Days later, Soleimani paid a call on Bafel to reaffirm Abadi’s seriousness, according to Reuters, citing a PUK official.
Bafel was almost certainly acting under the instructions of Jalal’s widow, Hero Talabani, who along with her sister Shahnaz, represent what remains of the Talabani brain trust.
“Jalal was the tactician, the strategist, everything,” Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi scholar and former advisor to the US Department of Defense, told me. “Hero and her sister were the enforcers. They handled money, they handled keeping people in line.” But now their patriarch is dead, and their futures uncertain.
Challengers exist within the PUK to assume Jalal’s throne, chief among them KRG’s Vice President Kostrat Rasoul Ali and, the governor of Kirkuk, up until Monday, Najmaldin Karim, who are seen as Hero’s top rivals within the party.  Perhaps not coincidentally, both not only opposed Baghdad’s reclamation of Kirkuk but were also driven from the city the instant it happened — in Ali’s case, after peshmerga fighters loyal to him put up some resistance to Iraqi forces.
“If I go back, my life is in danger,” Karim told Bloomberg. “Even the night when all this happened, I had to maneuver carefully to go to safety.”

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control 01:45
In this telling, Hero has cast herself as a kind of Cersei Lannister of Kurdistan after her husband’s demise, seeking to secure her political relevance and enormous fortune — the Talabanis are thought to be worth millions — by cutting a deal with Iran’s master operative to undermine Barzani and scatter her enemies within the PUK. Not bad for someone unused to strategizing.
Bafel Talabani rejects the claim that the PUK and Iran orchestrated their own deal. “Unfortunately we reacted too slowly,” he told Reuters. “And we find ourselves where we are today.” (Attempts to reach Saddi Pira, the head of the PUK’s foreign relations, for comment on this story were unsuccessful.)
One US national security official believes that machinations by Hero Talabani are the real story of the Kirkuk debacle. “Look at the crowd Barzani managed to draw in Sulaimaniya on the eve of the referendum,” that official told me. “It was something like 25,000 people. Hero could never draw such numbers on her own. You think that didn’t factor into calculations about what to do about Kirkuk?” Rather than submit to Barzani’s dominance in the absence of her force-of-nature husband, she’s underwritten her longevity by siding with Abadi and Soleimani.
Working in her favor is the fact that Iraq’s prime minister is up for re-election in 2018.  A Shia ally of Washington and Tehran, Abadi is looking to capitalize on his government’s military victory against ISIS and brand himself the standard-bearer of Iraqi nationalism. The prime minister is facing fierce competition next year.  Among his likely opponents are former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, another Shia from Abadi’s own political party, whose sectarian thuggishness against Sunni Iraqis helped invite ISIS back into the country; and Hadi al-Ameri, the Iraqi security chief who delivered the message to Barzani and is not just considered as close to Iran by US intelligence, but an active agent of Iran. (Ameri fought on Iran’s side in the Iran-Iraq War under the aegis of the IRGC.)
To stand a chance at being given another term next year, Abadi had to regain Kirkuk — no premier can allow it to fall outside the hands of the central government. And he needed Tehran’s help, from which he only stands to benefit in a forthcoming context with Iranian surrogate contenders for the leadership.  “Iran wanted to expand its influence and remove the last obstacle to control all of Iraq,” a KDP official told me. “The whole operation was planned and executed by Qassem Soleimani.”

A busy Sunday

KDP officials blame the Talabanis for reneging on a late-hour agreement, brokered on the eve of the Kirkuk recapture, about how to proceed with negotiations over the fate of the city with Baghdad. At a meeting held in Dukan, Sulaimaniya, on October 15, Massoud Barzani, his son and intelligence chief Masrour, his nephew and KRG prime minister Nechirvan sat down with their PUK counterparts, including Hero and Bafel.
According to one of the attendees of the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Bafel told the KDP that he had consulted Abadi as well as Americans and British diplomats about reintroducing Iraqi forces into Kirkuk. However, Bafel apparently denied reaching any formal agreement with Abadi; he was merely tabling a proposal for further dialogue with the central government and both powerhouse Kurdish parties.
Kirkuk fell within 24 hours.

Kirkuk governor: Time is right for Kurds' vote

Kirkuk governor: Time is right for Kurds’ vote 05:25
According to the The New Yorker, Soleimani met that same day with PUK officials in Sulaimaniya, not long after the bipartisan confab in Dukan had wrapped up. “It’s not clear what was included in the deal,” journalist Dexter Filkins wrote, “but the speculation is that [Soleimani] offered a mix of threats and inducements, including money and access to oil-smuggling routes.”
Whether or not the US actively tried to forestall such side action is beside the point because the Kurds now view it as an accomplice to the seizure of its Jerusalem, a psychic scar already being likened to Saddam’s “Arabization” policies of the mid-1970s when forced population transfers changed the demography of Kirkuk from a city with a Kurdish majority into one with a plurality of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.

America’s misfire

Reproach is the soap of the soul in the Middle East, where American allies have a habit of speaking melodramatically when slighted or jilted, only to then return to the fold when they once again realize that aligning with even an unreliable superpower is better than not doing so. (The Kurds are first among equals in this regard.) But American credibility has taken a lashing in the last week. And even an overly emotional KDP can point, convincingly, to a trifecta of falsehoods coming from Washington.
First, the Pentagon denied any untoward military buildup south of Kirkuk by Iraqi government forces in preparation for the city’s takeover. On October 12, Major General Robert White, the commanding general of US ground troops in Iraq, told reporters that Iraqi forces, including Shia militias, were in positions to the south of Kirkuk but only in order to protect the city of Hawija, which had just been freed of ISIS, from a jihadist resurgence. “And they haven’t moved since they occupied,” White said.
Nonsense, said a senior Kurdish intelligence officer. “We were feeding solid intelligence to coalition members, including the US, about Iraqi deployments. Detailed information on locations, numbers, groups and types of weapons in the field — including American weapons — days in advance of the operation.”
I asked the US Army Public Affairs office if General White still stood by his assessment that Iraqi deployments were only in Hawija on an anti-ISIS mission. A spokesperson for the office didn’t respond in time for publication.
I was shown an email sent by a Kurdish intelligence officer to various US lawmakers on October 12. “We are facing an unprecedented military threat by Iraq and its Shiite militias,” the email read, “[a]nd possibly an imminent attack. “Thousands have been deployed near Kurdish front lines. These areas have zero ISIS presence. They are armed with heavy weapons, some American in fact, including tanks, armored vehicles, mortars and artillery.”
The office of one US senator who received the email confirmed its authenticity but stressed that information delivered by foreign intelligence service takes time to vet and corroborate.
Next, Central Command called the exchange of artillery and gunfire between some PUK commanders who resisted orders to evacuate and Iraqi forces a “misunderstanding” and professed not to take a “side” between Baghdad and Erbil, a position President Trump, who once famously mistook the Quds Force as a Kurdish entity, reiterated on Tuesday on the White House lawn.
Finally, the Pentagon denied that any Shia militias were in Kirkuk. This, in spite of the demonstrable fact that Hadi al-Ameri and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, whom the US Treasury Department sanctioned in 2009 and described as an “advisor” to Soleimani, were present for the lowering of the Kurdistan flag at the city’s provincial council building, and the raising of the Iraqi one. (Al-Muhandes was convicted in absentia in Kuwait and sentenced to death for planning lethal terrorist attacks against the US and French embassies there in 1983.)
The head of one notorious Shia militia, the League of the Righteous, which in 2007 killed five US servicemen in the Iraqi city of Karbala, even publicly thanked the PUK for its cooperation in the Kirkuk handover. “We salute and appreciate the courageous position of the peshmerga fighters who refused to fight their brothers in the Iraqi forces,” he tweeted.
The US has also, bizarrely, downplayed Soleimani’s role in the Kirkuk affair. One State Department official told reporters last Thursday, “I’m not aware of any Iranian involvement in that, per se” —   an assessment the Kurds find risible at best and iniquitous at worst.
The US dismissal of Iranian aggression against Iraqi Kurds also carries troubling implications in Syria.
A race-to-Berlin scenario is unfolding between US backed Kurdish-led paramilitaries and Bashar al-Assad’s army in the campaign against ISIS in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, the former military attache at the US embassy in Damascus and a CNN contributor, Washington’s wishy-washiness on the Kirkuk question has sent a stark message to its other Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces, as the US-backed forces are called: “We may not be there to protect you, either.”
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“Once ISIS has lost all or most of its territory in Syria as it has in Iraq, the Syrian regime will attempt to reassert its control over the areas now held by the SDF,” Francona  told me. “The Iraqis have set a precedent for that.”
And if Assad and his Soleimani-built militias try to reclaim territory gained by the Syrian Kurds, will the U.S. defend or abandon its friends in that fight?
“There is no doubt that Barzani overreached with his ill-timed referendum and his belief in America’s unqualified support for him,” said Sir John Jenkins, the former British ambassador to Iraq. “But it should never have got to this point. It may not be about Iran for Abadi. But sure as hell it’s about Iran for Iran. They must be loving it.”

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian Families Forced to Flee Again After Resettling

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian Families Forced to Flee Again After Resettling in Town Liberated From ISIS

(PHOTO: REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH)Displaced Iraq Christians who fled from Islamic State militants in Mosul, pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, September 6, 2014.

Hundreds of Iraqi Christian families who recently returned to their hometown after being displaced for years by the Islamic State were forced to flee again from a town in northern Iraq because of conflict between Iraqi government forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Christian Post that hundreds of families in the Kurdish town of Telskuf were warned by the Iraqi army on Tuesday evening to flee the town because Iraqi forces were planning to retake the Kurdish-controlled town with heavy weapons and shelling on Wednesday after skirmishes and gunfire broke out during the day on Tuesday.

About 1,000 Christian families had settled back into the town, which lies about 20 miles north of Mosul, after it was liberated from the Islamic State a year ago. The town has been viewed as somewhat of a model for the return of Christians to their ancient homeland in the Nineveh Plains.

But after the warning from the Iraqi army, nearly all of the Christians who had returned to Telskuf after being displaced from their homes fled their hometown again and sought shelter in the town of Alqosh. According to the source, the only people who stayed in Telskuf were a priest and a handful of people who worked for the local church.

Although they were forced to evacuate in preparation for a military showdown, the source told CP many of the Christian families were in the process of returning to the town on Wednesday afternoon after external diplomatic pressure applied to the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi government created an “uneasy peace.”

“After a lot of outcry from a number of different quarters, people are moving back to the town from Al Qosh,” the source explained. “There is kind of an uneasy peace and a hope that this will be resolved without conflict in the town.”

“This is the town that the Hungarian government put $2 million into rebuilding and was the model for repopulation minority communities and towns that had been [taken over] by ISIS,” the source added. “As you can imagine, the Hungarians are not happy about this town being in the line of fire. Nobody wants this to be collateral damage in a contest between these two entities. It’s a Christian town and you have the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army fighting over it and the people who had just faced genocide and just moved home are going to be the unintended victims here.”

Carl Anderson, head of the Catholic-fraternal organization and advocacy group Knights of Columbus, said during a speech at the 2017 In Defense of Christians solidarity dinner in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night that the U.S. government played a role in helping defuse the situation in Telskuf. Anderson made the remark before introducing keynote speaker, Vice President Mike Pence.

“We are very grateful that just this evening American government involvement was able to stop the planned battle for Telskuf — a town in Nineveh recently liberated from ISIS and rebuilt with a $2 million grant from the government of Hungary,” Anderson said. “The destruction of that town could have been in a very real way, the beginning of the end of Christianity in Iraq. There are so few towns left that every one of them is precious. While the peace is fragile, we are grateful for our government’s attention to this issue. We hope that the vice president will convey our gratitude to the president for this action.”

Although tensions have been lowered in Telskuf, the source told CP that “it’s touch-and-go and it could still go sideways.”

“If this had gone really badly, people there were saying that this would basically be the end of Christianity in Iraq,” the source asserted. “If a Western government-rebuilt town where everybody had moved home after the genocide — the big success story — went upside down, how could people see any future there?”

Displaced Christian communities in Iraq have had a hard time resettling to their hometowns because they have experienced a shortage of funding and have received very little, if any, resources from the U.S. government and the United Nations to rebuild the infrastructure in their towns.

Although the Hungarian government, the Knights of Columbus and other humanitarian organizations have supported rebuilding efforts in some Iraqi Christian communities, advocates have cried out for foreign governments to provide more support.

On Wednesday, Pence answered that call, telling a roomful of Christian leaders from the Middle East that President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. State Department to provide aid directly to faith-based organizations and other groups serving the displaced Christian and other religious minority communities.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” Pence explained. “The United States will work hand-in-hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted.”

According to Kurdistan 24, four civilians were injured by shelling from an Iranian-backed paramilitary allied with the Iraqi forces in Telskuf on Tuesday. Two of those injured were Christians.