Take two: Turkiye’s election circus gets even crazier

May 26 2023

Photo Credit: The Cradle

The second round of Turkish presidential elections has drawn global attention for its increasingly bizarre alliances, outrageous propaganda, and personality politics. Ironically, not much is expected to change in its aftermath.

By Ceyda Karan

The political landscape in Turkiye has become increasingly convoluted after the 14 May presidential and parliamentary elections left the Turkish presidency up for grabs – with a critical, second round of polls to be held on Sunday.

As the main candidates who failed to secure the presidency in the first round prepare for the 28 May election, Turkiye’s patchwork system of political alliances has become more intricate, marked by polarizing debates on issues such as secularism, nationalism, Syrian refugees, and the Kurdish issue. In the very year that Turkiye celebrates the Republic’s 100th anniversary, the country’s political atmosphere has grown more uncertain than ever.

The official results of the first round of the presidential election saw incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the candidate of the People’s Alliance, obtain 49.5 percent of the vote, while main opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of the National Alliance, received 44.8 percent – both remaining under the 50+ percent threshold required for an outright win.

Muharrem Ince, who withdrew from the race at the last minute, secured 0.43 percent of the vote, and Sinan Ogan, the candidate of the secular nationalist ATA Alliance, received 5.17 percent.

The sequel no one asked for

The second round between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu has essentially transformed the election into a referendum on the former’s 21-year rule. The public’s sentiment and perception have therefore become crucial in this contest.

Despite the parliamentary election’s official results being due on 19 May, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) has not yet released them, leading to some frantic domestic speculation on the reasons for this. Some observers have raised concerns about the possibility of fraudulent voters, as the number of voters is reportedly double the population growth rate. In normal circumstances, parliament should convene on the third day after the official results are published, and elected MPs should be sworn in.

However, Erdogan is purportedly stalling the swearing-in procedure because members of his alliance, the radical Islamist Kurdish movement HUDA PAR, refuse to utter the phrase “Turkish nation” during the ceremonial oath. This leaves Erdogan keen to defer the ceremony – and this drama – until after the 28 May presidential election.

In the lead up to Sunday’s polls, the main topics dominating Turkiye’s political discourse are distrust in the fairness of the election, Turkish citizenships granted to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals in exchange for top-dollar real estate purchases, and the wildly disparate numbers of refugees currently residing in the country (the government says less than 4 million; the opposition claims 13 million).

These highly polarizing issues have triggered a number of realignments within the two main alliances contesting the presidency.

This time it’s personal

Since the country’s 2017 referendum, in which parliamentary democracy was replaced by a Turkish-style presidential system that recognizes unsealed ballots as valid, electoral irregularities have become a recurring concern. And so the opposition is understandably apprehensive about potential “vote theft” and the security of ballots.  

Furthermore, the unusually high voter turnout rate of over 80 percent in Turkiye’s devastated earthquake-affected areas that claimed the lives of tens of thousands and caused mass migration, has raised questions.

In the southeastern region, which has a significant Kurdish population, Erdogan’s far-right, ultra-nationalist, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) coalition partner, made significant gains in the polls, sparking allegations of ballot manipulation. Similarly, suspicions arose due to the unchanging 5 percent vote share garnered by the third candidate and kingmaker, Sinan Ogan, throughout the vote count.

However, after an initial week of furious debates, these concerns have now been fully overshadowed by the impending second round of voting.

In fact, the parliamentary elections, where Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 35.6 percent of the vote and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 25.3 percent – and the subsequent uncertainty regarding the exact representation of the two parties and their allies – have been largely forgotten.

The presidential contest has taken center stage as the sole, focal political point of interest. And last-minute shifts and tweaks in the madcap alliances that make up the two leading coalitions are all the Turkish media talk about.

Switching slogans and alliances

Kilicdaroglu’s Millet (or Nation) Alliance, which leads the narrative for change (essentially, ousting Erdogan), has adopted patriotic slogans such as “Those who love their homeland should come to the ballot box” and “Let the gates of hell be closed.” Although he emphasized “unity” and objected to Erdogan’s polarizing politics in the first round of polls, Kilicdaroglu has adopted a more confrontational discourse in this second phase. Interestingly, he adopted the “hell” slogan from Sinan Ogan, a candidate who was eliminated in the first vote and who has since endorsed Erdogan ahead of the runoff vote.

Before 14 May, Ogan stated, “Maybe we won’t open the gates of heaven, but we will close the gates of hell.” The “hell” he referred to was the Erdogan government. While harshly criticizing Erdogan for his handling of Syrian refugees, Ogan also declared that Turkish nationalists – like himself – would never align themselves with the Islamist HUDA PAR. He even suggested that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), representing Kurdish politics, would negotiate a deal with Erdogan in the second round.

But, ironically, it was Ogan who ended up striking a deal with Erdogan, announcing his support for the president on the grounds of maintaining “stability” in Turkiye. This, despite the fact that Ogan’s main condition regarding the repatriation of refugees appears not to have been met: Although a popular election issue, Erdogan has ruled out repatriating Syrian asylum seekers.

Winning over the nationalists

It remains uncertain how much of Ogan’s nationalist voter base will take to Erdogan. The ATA Alliance, to which he owes his candidacy, has become heavily divided in advance of the second polls. The foundation of the alliance consists of the far-right Zafer Party, in collaboration with some smaller political parties. Two days after Ogan threw his weight behind Erdogan, Zafer Party Leader Umit Ozdag announced his support for Kilicdaroglu.

Unlike Ogan, Ozdag says he has clinched a deal with his candidate – Kilicdaroglu – to repatriate Syrian refugees on the basis of international law and humanitarianism. Ozdag has also said they agreed that there would be zero compromise in the fight against the Kurdish PKK and terrorism.

A staunch nationalist, Ozdag frequently invokes Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the much-revered founder of the Turkish Republic – rails against Erdogan’s role in accepting millions of Syrian refugees and selling Turkish citizenship in exchange for cash, and constantly warns about Turkiye’s “demographic threat.”

In part, this refers to the Erdogan administration’s distribution of Turkish citizenship to anyone who purchases real estate for $400,000, sharply increased rents caused by the influx of foreigners, and the perceived influence of these people (without any ties to Turkiye or knowledge of the Turkish language) on elections. All these issues feature heavily in the nationalist movement’s narrative and propaganda.

As an example, during the first round of elections, the Turkish public reacted strongly to a live broadcast on the private, pro-government A Haber news channel. In the aired footage, a Kuwaiti individual speaking Arabic into the microphone after casting his vote shocked Turkish viewers. The channel swiftly cut the broadcast and deleted the video.

Unprecedented election propaganda

But if this election can be distilled into a popularity referendum on Erdogan, the sitting Turkish president has some clear advantages over his opponent: He uses every state tool at his disposal and has a mainstream media loyal to him. While TV channels cover Erdogan’s statements and rallies around the clock, Kilicdaroglu has few opportunities to be nationally heard outside of opposition media outlets.

As a result, Erdogan has been particularly sloppy about his political rhetoric, making ludicrous claims and sometimes outright lies – without being duly checked by the media.

In a Trumpian boast during a rally in the earthquake-stricken province of Malatya, Erdogan boasted that the number of people who came to listen to him in the square was higher than the number of deaths caused by the 6 February earthquake.

While victims had cried out for urgent government assistance for days without a response – which Erdogan himself has admitted – he told rally crowds: “We mobilized all means from the first hours of the disaster.” There have been many such gaffes along the campaign trail this year, which finally culminated in a major media scandal over a faked video montage.

Erdogan accidentally admitted that a video montage shown by his team in public squares before the first round of votes had been faked. The edited footage depicted PKK leaders in the Qandil region of Iraq singing along to a song in Kilicdaroglu’s political ad. The intent of the video was clearly to link the latter to the PKK and terrorism.

The opposition reacted strongly to the slander, with Kilicdaroglu calling Erdogan a “montage fraudster” and filing a lawsuit for compensation. But because of the president’s iron grip on mainstream Turkish media, it is not known how many voters at those rallies are aware of the fakery.

The propaganda has progressed well beyond the video scandal. Fake brochures attributed to Kilicdaroglu, including bizarre campaign promises and praise for terrorism, have been detected and prosecuted along the way. There’s no telling how much of an effect these fake-news scandals will affect Sunday’s polls.

‘Unprincipled coalitions’

As the second round vote approaches, Professor Emin Gurses from Sakarya University, highlights the shallow opportunism of these Turkish elections, telling The Cradle:

“In Turkiye, there is an understanding that it is permissible to lie while doing politics. Voters voted for the candidate they know and recognize through trust. They [politicians] act to win the election. They don’t look at friend or foe.”

The last-minute alliance shifts may not even change anything. According to Gurses, Sinan Ogan has little to gain by backing Erdogan, and on the other side, even if a deal is struck with Ozdag, it will be challenging for Kilicdaroglu to close the 2.5 million-vote gap with Erdogan.

Meanwhile, columnist Mehmet Ali Guller from Cumhuriyet has highlighted the consequences of the 50+1 system in Turkiye, which he argues leads to unprincipled coalitions, with ideology, programs, and politics pushed to the background. Guller charges that there are no significant differences in the fundamental policies of both sides:

“There is no fundamental difference between the two options in terms of economic policies, it is in the details. And in terms of foreign policy, there is no fundamental difference between the two options, there are details. Because both options are essentially Atlanticist and NATOist.”

100 years on: It’s looking bleak

Regardless of the election outcome, Guller foresees an ongoing economic crisis that offers no short-term solution. He also notes that both Islamists and nationalists exist in the two main political coalitions, creating an ideological stalemate of sorts, and predicts that Turkiye will be forced to hold another election within the next five years.

If Kilicdaroglu wins, he may find himself governing the country using decrees inherited from his predecessor despite advocating for a return to parliamentary democracy, as his alliance will be in the minority in parliament.

In this “unprincipled” political environment, it is even plausible that Erdodan, the architect of the Turkish-style presidential system, may consider reverting to a “parliamentary system.” On the other hand, if Erdogan emerges victorious, an unprecedented economic crisis is expected, with Turkiye’s CDS rating surpassing 700 and the US dollar projected to reach at least 24 Turkish liras. 

In the upcoming local elections, Erdogan is likely to continue his right-wing populist campaign to reclaim cities like Istanbul, which he lost in 2019.

Because Turkiye requires at least $200 billion in resources, Erdogan’s foreign policy stance will be determined by economic opportunity, as he is not seen as a reliable partner by any country, on either side of the global divide. He is expected to continue his balancing act: putting the “migrant issue” before the EU; Syria and Ukraine before Russia; relations with Russia before the US, and using Turkiye’s presence in Syria as leverage over the Arab world, using these as bargaining chips to maximize his gains.

In any case, the outlook for the Republic of Turkiye, on its 100th anniversary, appears bleak.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

تركيا تفتح باب «العودة»: صيفٌ ساخن ينتظر إدلب

السبت 27 أيار 2023

علاء حلبي  

أعلنت تركيا تأسيس 12 مكتباً في 12 محافظة تركية لتسهيل عودة السوريين (أ ف ب)

في تطوّر هو الأوّل من نوعه منذ ستّة أشهر، نفّذت طائرات حربية غارات على مواقع لفصائل متشدّدة في منطقة جبل الزاوية قرب طريق «M4» (حلب – اللاذقية)، في وقت شهدت فيه نقاط التماس في ريف اللاذقية قصفاً متبادلاً بالمدفعية. وجاءت الغارات الجوّية التي طاولت، وفق مصادر ميدانية، مخازن أسلحة وغرف إدارة عمليات، في وقت تنتظر فيه تركيا تحديد موعد نهائي لعقد اجتماع على مستوى «الرباعية» (سوري – تركي – روسي – إيراني) لبحث مسوّدة تقوم لجان أمنية وعسكرية بإعدادها، حتى تكون بمثابة خريطة طريق (في حال تمّ التوافق عليها) لحلحلة المشاكل المعقّدة بين البلدَين.

وبينما سجّل الميدان السياسي اشتباكاً كلامياً غير مباشر بين أنقرة ودمشق، على خلفية تمسّك الأولى بوجودها العسكري على الأراضي السورية، وإصرار الثانية على وضع جدول واضح لخروج هذه القوات، زار وزيرا دفاع وداخلية تركيا، خلوصي أكار وسليمان صويلو، مناطق في الشمال السوري، في سياق الحملة الانتخابية للرئيس التركي، رجب طيب إردوغان. ووضع صويلو الحجرَ الأساسَ لقرية سكنية في مدينة جرابلس، في ريف حلب الشمالي الشرقي، ضمن مشروع «مدن الطوب»، معلناً، في كلمة بالمناسبة، تأسيس 12 مكتباً في 12 محافظة تركية لتسهيل عودة السوريين إلى بلادهم، والسكن في تلك المدن.

وفي ما يمكن اعتباره سابقة، أشار الوزير التركي إلى أن هذه المشاريع تأتي بالتعاون مع قطر، التي تقوم عبر مؤسّسات تابعة لها بتمويلها، علماً أن أنقرة دأبت على الترويج لكون ما تقوم به في الشمال السوري مموَّلاً من المنظّمات الإنسانية الدولية ومنظّمات المجتمع المدني التركي. وتعيد مصادر سورية معارِضة، الحديث الصريح عن الدور القطري، إلى سببيَن: الأوّل، انتخابي، بهدف تقديم تطمينات للناخبين الأتراك بأن «مدن الطوب» ليست من جيوبهم؛ والثاني، رغبة قطرية واضحة في العودة إلى المشهد السوري، بعد مرحلة عملت خلالها الدوحة من خلف تركيا التي كانت تتصدّر المشهد.

وضع صويلو الحجرَ الأساسَ لقرية سكنية في مدينة جرابلس

وتكشف المصادر، في حديث إلى «الأخبار»، أن اجتماعاً عُقد أخيراً، ضمّ مجموعة من قادة الفصائل المنتشرة في ريف حلب، وناقش تشكيل غرفة عمليات للتصدّي لـ«هيئة تحرير الشام» (جبهة النصرة سابقاً)، بعد تعثّر تشكيل هذه الغرفة أكثر من مرّة في أوقات سابقة، موضحةً أن هذه التحرّكات تأتي استجابة لإيعازات تركية سابقة بتشكيل هيكلية مؤسّساتية للفصائل لوقف الفوضى القائمة، وتمهيد الأرض لإعادة اللاجئين، بالإضافة إلى تشكيل هيكلية اقتصادية تقلّل، قدر الإمكان، من الاعتماد على التمويل التركي الذي بدأ ينضب. وكان الأتراك أبلغوا الفصائل، بشكل واضح، بأن عليهم أن يقتدوا بما فعله زعيم «تحرير الشام»، أبو محمد الجولاني، تحت طائلة تسليم الأخير قيادة ريف حلب، خصوصاً أنه بات يتمتّع بعلاقات وطيدة مع أطراف دولية عدّة، من بينها الولايات المتحدة التي يتبادل معها معلومات استخباراتية بشكل مستمرّ حول «جهاديين» تعمل واشنطن على التخلّص منهم، بالإضافة إلى علاقته مع قطر، ودول أخرى مِن مِثل فرنسا التي يعمل أخيراً على تفكيك آخر ما تبقّى من «جهاديّيها» الناشطين ضمن جماعة «الغرباء».

وبالعودة إلى التسخين الميداني على نقاط التماس في ريف إدلب وصولاً إلى ريف اللاذقية، والذي كان يرتبط بمحاولات الجولاني إثبات وجوده عبر عمليات خاطفة ينفّذها «انغماسيون»، فهو يأتي هذه المرّة بالتزامن مع عكوف أنقرة على إعداد مسوّدة لخريطة طريق مشتركة مع دمشق. وتتركّز تلك المسوّدة، وفق تسريبات عديدة، على الجانبَين الاقتصادي والإنساني في مرحلتها الأولى، حيث تسعى إلى فتح طرق الترانزيت، بما فيها معبر باب الهوى في إدلب، والذي يُعتبر البوّابة الكبرى لمرور الشاحنات، بالإضافة إلى تثبيت معابر دائمة لعودة السوريين إلى مناطق سيطرة الحكومة السورية، سواءٌ منهم اللاجئون في تركيا، أو النازحون في المخيمات العشوائية قرب الشريط الحدودي. وينذر هذا التزامن بتحوّلات ميدانية عديدة، سواء في إدلب التي تشكّل نقطة ارتكاز الخطّة التركية، أو في ريف حلب الذي حوّله الجولاني خلال الشهور الماضية إلى حديقة خلفية قد يلجأ إليها في حال التوافق التركي – السوري على إخراجه من إدلب بشكل كامل. أمّا في حال تَقرّر نفيه منها بشكل جزئي، فقد يدفعه ذلك إلى تقوية حضوره الميداني عبر قضم ريف حلب، وصولاً إلى معبر باب السلامة قرب أعزاز، والذي يمكن أن يشكّل بديلاً من باب الهوى.

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تركيا والتجاذب بين الخيارات والهويات في الرئاسة

 الثلاثاء 16 أيار 2023

ناصر قنديل

قدّم مشهد الانتخابات الرئاسية التركية صورة شديدة التركيب والتعقيد بين عناصر تتشكّل منها كل مشاكل وأزمات المنطقة والعالم، وتدور حول أسئلة كبرى وتفصيلية، لتقول إن هناك توازناً هشاً بين معسكرين متداخلين، لا يمكن للمفاضلة بينهما أن تتم إلا بصعوبة عالية، بما يُعبّر عن غياب الخيارات الواضحة في تعبيرها عن مقاربة مشاكل الغد بلغة متجانسة؛ حيث يمثّل الرئيس أردوغان نموذج الإسلام السياسي القريب من الغرب ومفهوم الدولة المدنية، مقابل منافسه كمال كليجدار كممثل للعلمانية الأصولية المشبعة بروح الغرب والمعادية للدين؛ ويمثل أردوغان من موقعه في زعامة الأخوان المسلمين ضمن معسكر الإسلام السياسي نموذج العنف وشهوة البحث عن دور على حساب استقلال دول المنطقة، وصولاً للاستعداد لاستضافة عشرات آلاف الإرهابيين التكفيريين، وبالمقابل تصدير بعضهم الى حيث يلزم، تحت عباءة مشروع العثمانية الجديدة وحلم السلطنة الكامن والجاهز للظهور دائماً، ومقابله منافس يريد استعادة نموذج أتاتورك لدور إقليمي ينضبط بالأجندة الغربية، لكن دون خوض حروب وطموحات التوسع؛ ويمثل أردوغان مشروعاً استقلالياً يقف على مسافة المصالح المتحركة بين الشرق والغرب، من حرب أوكرانيا إلى حرب سورية، والبحث عن شراكات سياسية واقتصادية تأخذ بالاعتبار متغيرات العالم ومخاطر البقاء في المركب الغربي بقيادة أميركية متوحشة، يأنس اليها منافسه ويأخذ عليه التقرّب من روسيا، بينما في الاقتصاد قدّم أردوغان نموذج اقتصاد قوميّ عماد النهوض بالصناعة وإنتاج دور يستند الى عناصر القوة في الجغرافيا الاقتصادية، ويقابله منافس يتبنى الليبرالية الكاملة، حيث لا دور للدولة في الاقتصاد؛ وفيما يقدم أردوغان مثالاً قاسياً في التعامل مع الحريات الشخصية والاجتماعية والسياسية والاعلامية، يتباهى خصمه بالذهاب الى أبعد الحدود دفاعاً عنها وصولاً لتشريع المثلية.

يقول المشهد الانتخابي في الجولة الأولى إن الأتراك حائرون. وهذا معنى توزعهم بنسب متساوية تقريباً بين المتنافسين، في لحظة يطلق عليها علماء الاجتماع والفلاسفة، لحظة انعدام اليقين. ولعل تصويت ستة وخمسين مليون تركي من أصل ستين مليوناً يحق لهم الانتخاب، يدل على حجم الانخراط الذي تعيشه المجتمعات في محاولة البحث عن اليقين، وانقسام هؤلاء الى نصفين شبه متساويين، بين ثمانية وعشرين مليوناً في ضفة وخمسة وعشرين مليوناً في ضفة مقابلة، ومقابل الإثنين ثلاثة ملايين صوّتوا للمرشح القومي المتطرف، تعبير عن حال عدم اليقين، وعدم وضوح الخيارات بصورة حاسمة؛ وبالتدقيق في اتجاهات التصويت، سوف يتبين أن المدن الكبرى كانت صاحبة الصوت الحاسم لصالح خيارات كليجدار، مقابل تصويت الأرياف بنسب أعلى لصالح أردوغان. وهذا يعني أن الأرياف صوتت بدافع الميل لصالح الهوية القومية الإسلامية المتصالحة مع المنطقة، خصوصاً في ضوء مرارة التجربة مع محاولات الانضمام الى الاتحاد الأوروبي، والإطار العنصري الذي قابلت به أوروبا طلب تركيا ذات الغالبية الإسلامية للانضمام إليها، بخلفية الخشية على التكوين الديمغرافي الأوروبي والحرص على ما وصفه الخبراء بالنقاء المسيحي، كما صوّتت لصالح دور الدولة الاقتصادي في السكن والتعليم والصحة ودعم الزراعة والسياحة والصناعة، بينما تأثرت المدن بالتطلع نحو الاندماج بالغرب خصوصاً مع الضائقة الاقتصادية وتراجع القيمة الشرائية لليرة التركية، وتغليب الدولة التي بلا هوية على نموذج الهوية التي قدّمها أردوغان، والتصويت للحريات بأبعادها الإعلامية والشخصية والاجتماعية بنسختها الليبرالية، بما فيها المثلية، والرغبة بالخروج من التوترات والنزاعات والحروب.

تكشف الانتخابات الدور المؤثر لشريحة وازنة وقضية بارزة. الشريحة هي الشباب الذين يتمركزون في المدن، ويبدو أن غالبية كبيرة منهم لم تصوّت لصالح أردوغان، ولو على خلفية طلب التغيير تحت شعار “عشرون عاماً تكفي”، أما القضية التي تعاني منها المدن وحضرت في خلفية التصويت بقوة فهي قضية اللاجئين السوريين، التي يتحمّل أردوغان مسؤولية تفاقمها، من موقعه ودوره في الحرب على سورية، مقابل التزام منافسه بإعادتهم خلال سنتين، ولو اقتضى الأمر ترحيلهم. والواضح أن ضغط قضية النزوح السوري على سكان المدن اقتصادياً واجتماعياً على خلفية الأزمة التي تعصف بالاقتصاد التركي وارتفاع نسب البطالة والتنافس على الأعمال بين العمال الأتراك والعمال السوريين، وتحميل البرجوازية السورية بين اللاجئين مسؤوليّة ارتفاع بدلات الإيجار والبيع في السوق العقاري، والسيطرة على بعض المهن، فيما يبدو أردوغان متردداً في اتخاذ القرار الذي يجعله أقرب لتقديم حل عملي لقضية النزوح، حيث يمكن التوصل مع الدولة السورية بدعم روسي إيراني خليجي، لروزنامة تتضمّن الانسحاب التركي من سورية وعودة النازحين وتفكيك الكانتونات التقسيمية والجماعات الإرهابية شمال شرق وشمال غرب سورية بالتوازي خلال سنتين.

يمكن القول إن الدورة الثانية قد تمنح فرصاً أفضل لمنافس أردوغان، إلا إذا أشهر أردوغان ورقته الرابحة بشجاعة، وأعلن استعداده للالتزام بروزنامة متوازية لعودة النازحين والانسحاب من سورية، عبر قمة سورية تركية بمشاركة روسية وايرانية تعقد في الرياض أو أبو ظبي تعلن هذا الالتزام وتضع له جداوله الزمنية.

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من سيكون الأقدر على زيادة رصيده الانتخابي في الجولة الثانية؟
 بايدن يقلل من أهمية هوية الفائز في تركيا

مقالات متعلقة

Turkey’s runoff elections: a precognitive outcome?

May 15, 2021

Source: Al Mayadeen English

By Lea Akil 

The current political scene in Turkey is significant as neither the incumbent President or his opposition rival were able to secure a majority in the first round of elections, leading to a runoff.

Turkey’s runoff elections: a precognitive outcome? Designed by: Zainab Roumani.

Voter support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fell below the majority required for him to secure reelection outright. This outcome has necessitated run-off elections on May 28.

Erdogan secured 49.51% and opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglo secured 44.88%. Divergent partial results emerged from Turkey’s presidential election earlier on Sunday. While the state-run news agency suggested that Erdogan would narrowly secure a victory, the private agency indicated that the contest was likely to proceed to a runoff.

In the upcoming second round, it is important to consider that Erdogan is expected to have an advantageous position over Kilicdaroglu due to his lead in the first round and the positive parliamentary results favoring the ruling coalition in contrast to the opposition.

The outcome came as a surprise and disappointment to the opposition, who had set high expectations for both the presidential and parliamentary elections. In the presidential race, the opposition was hopeful that even if they couldn’t secure victory in the first round, Kilicdaroglu would at least receive the highest number of votes.

Based on the results, it has become evident that Erdogan is leading by around four points over Kilicdaroglu in the first round. The parliamentary elections are also of great significance as the opposition had hoped to secure a majority in parliament, thereby assuming leadership. There has been an ongoing debate within opposition circles that even if Erdogan is not defeated in the presidential elections, simply gaining a majority in parliament would undermine his satisfaction of winning a new presidential term. It has become evident that the opposition is experiencing a crisis, not only in the parliamentary elections but also in achieving a presidential majority, as the ruling coalition has managed to secure a majority in parliament.

In terms of alliances, analysts indicate that there has been a significant shift for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since it formed a coalition with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the middle of the previous decade. They argue that it is because the AKP is no longer able to reach power and govern independently; it is in need of forming a government.

Why is the current political scene important?

For the first time, the AKP and Erdogan are participating in elections under critical circumstances. This includes the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of 50,000 people, caused over $100 billion in damages, and raised significant concerns regarding the government’s handling of the crisis. However, it is cruicial to mention that 8 out of 10 provinces that were severely devastated by the earthquake voted Erdogan, and the numbers surpassed expectations. 

For example, in Hatay Antakya, one of the earthquake stricken regions of Turkey, the voter turnout was 53.9% in favor of Erdogan with only 42.56% for Kilicdaroglo. In the epicenter of the devestating earthquake, Kahramanmaras, Erdogan was leading the polls with around 71.11% of the votes. 

Furthermore, the current inflation rate stands at 45%, having reached 80% just a few months ago. These economic conditions are exerting immense pressure on Erdogan.

Moreover, for the first time in modern Turkish history, the majority of opposition parties have come together in a unified front to challenge and overthrow Erdogan’s rule.

Emphasizing these crucial points, it can be concluded that Erdogan’s accomplishment in the presidential elections is a significant victory. He successfully thwarted the opposition’s attempt to secure the presidency in the first round.

Erdogan in the second round, what to expect? 

Erdogan is now expected to be successful in the second round and here’s why. Strengthening this argument, the first reason is of psychological significance as Erdogan surpassed Kilicdaroglu by a margin of four points. Furthermore, the ruling coalition’s achievement of a parliamentary majority serves as another crucial factor. In the event of a runoff election, Erdogan will have the opportunity to appeal to undecided and unaligned voters who prioritize political stability when making their voting choices.

Erdogan will assert that he alone possesses the ability to uphold political stability and prevent a potential clash between the executive presidency and the legislative institution. With the ruling coalition’s current dominance in the legislative power, Erdogan will emphasize that this is a critical aspect to be considered. By highlighting his role in preserving the harmony between the branches of government, he aims to reassure voters that he is the best candidate to ensure a stable and functioning political system. 

That said, the division within the Good Party in response to Kilicdaroglu’s alliance with the HDP serves as a significant motivation for voters in their search for political stability. The opposition party’s decision to form a coalition with the HDP has created a rift among its members and supporters. This division raises concerns about the party’s coherence and its ability to provide a stable and united front against Erdogan’s ruling coalition. In light of these circumstances, voters who prioritize political stability may lean towards Erdogan, viewing him as a more reliable option in comparison to the opposition.

Nationalist votes tip the balance 

Following Muharrem Ince’s withdrawal, Sinan Ogan emerged as a prominent figure and showcased unexpected strength in the polls. However, in the event of a runoff round, Ogan’s support base would likely be divided into two factions. This division could potentially weaken the opposition’s collective strength and impact their ability to challenge Erdogan. The fragmented support for Ogan would present a challenge for the opposition in uniting their voter base and rallying behind a single candidate.

The first part consists of a small, solid bloc that accounts for around 1.5% to 2% of the votes. The second part, which is more significant, includes the nationalist votes that shifted their support away from the Good Party due to Kilicdaroglu’s alliance with the HDP. These nationalist votes have now aligned themselves with the ATA-Alliance after Ince’s withdrawal.

Earlier today, Ogan said that he will announce who he will vote for, within a day or two, depending on negotiations and consultations. He stressed that his decision is based on “red lines,” such as fighting terrorism, moving away from political parties supported by terrorist parties, and the return of Syrian refugees. He considered that the opposition “made a mistake somewhere,” because they failed to win the elections despite all the factors, which he considers are enough to cost Erdogan another term. 

It is worth stressing that before this statement, ATA Alliance Presidential Candidate Sinan Oğan denied that the Nation Alliance said it would support Kilicdaroglo only if HDP was excluded from the political system, after an interview with Der Spiegel. 

The key factor influencing the voting behavior of the nationalist bloc in the runoff round will primarily be the nationalist ideology criterion. The nationalist voters will consider the candidates’ stances and policies regarding nationalist issues, including issues related to national identity, sovereignty, and the protection of national interests. Their decision will be driven by their alignment with the candidate who they perceive as most committed to promoting and advancing nationalist values and goals.

The nationalist bloc opposes Erdogan and expresses criticism towards the government’s policies, including economic policies. However, their main concern lies with Kilicdaroglu due to his alliance with the HDP. They perceive the HDP as a political front for the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Given this perspective, the nationalist bloc may lean towards supporting Erdogan in the presidential elections, as they view him as a candidate who aligns more closely with their nationalist values and is less associated with the HDP and its alleged connections to the PKK. Even if the nationalist bloc in the opposition alliance decides to remain neutral in the runoff round, analysts suggest it is impossible for them to vote for Kilicdaroglu. 

In a case where they also don’t vote for Erdogan, the voter behavior is not expected to change drastically. Analysts suggest that if voters choose not to vote for either candidate, Erdogan will still benefit as long as he maintains a 4-point lead over Kilicdaroglu. It is worth emphasizing that the matter of winning the parliamentary elections is crucial and will have an impact on the presidential elections in the runoff round. Erdogan will be able to address the bloc of undecided voters who want to see political stability in Turkey, which they associate with economic recovery.

During the runoff round, undecided voters could conclude that electing Kilicdaroglu could trigger a power struggle between the legislative and executive branches. Since the legislative power is currently dominated by the ruling coalition and the executive power is controlled by the opposition, a political impasse is very likely. Based on that, analysts argue that the best scenario for Kilicdaroglu in the runoff round is if the nationalist votes don’t vote for Erdogan, since it is not likely for them to give their votes to Kilicdaroglu. In this case, Erdogan will be able to maintain what he achieved in the first round.

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Al Mayadeen launches its special coverage of Turkish elections

May 1, 2023

Source: Al Mayadeen Net

By Al Mayadeen English 

Al Mayadeen begins its special coverage to follow up on Turkey’s elections.

Supporters of the Republican People’s Party, CHP, wave Turkish flags, and one with a portrait of Kemal Ataturk, right, as they celebrate after preliminary results of the local elections were announced in Ankara, Turkey, April 1, 2019. (AP)

An MP fpr the Justice and Development Party, Iffet Polat, told Al Mayadeen that her party’s goal is to focus on winning these elections, adding that she was hopeful this goal would be achieved.

Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in Turkey on May 14, 2023. Voters will elect a new president for a term of five years.

During a special coverage that Al Mayadeen began Monday, Polat indicated that she is confident “the outcome of the presidential elections being decided in the first round in favor of the head of the Justice and Development PartyRecep Tayyip Erdogan,” adding that the AKP was able to achieve much for the people of Turkey.

Al Mayadeen’s correspondent Omar Kayed explained that the electoral campaign battles in Turkey are neck and neck in Ankara, as it is a crucial region for several reasons. Firstly it is the capital and the seat of decision-making. Second, because it is the area with the second-largest number of parliamentary seats. And lastly, because the city has been in the grip of the AKP since the party’s foundation. 

Last Thursday, voting in the general elections for Parliamentary and Presidential opened to Turkish nationals abroad. 

An opinion poll published by the American Al-Monitor website showed a statistical tie between Turkish President Rcep Tayyip Erdogan and his main opponent, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing the biggest challenge to his 20-year rule due to economic issues and the high cost of living, not to mention that victims of the earthquake are reconsidering where their loyalties lie after the disaster struck.

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سوريا في قلب المشهد العربي… بشروطها!

الخميس 13 نيسان 2023

يأتي الانتقال العربي عموماً من حالة القطيعة مع سوريا إلى الانفتاح التدريجي (أ ف ب)

ابراهيم الأمين  

منتصف العام 2011، وصل موفد لزعيم عربي بارز إلى دمشق حاملاً رسالة إلى الرئيس بشار الأسد. كان فحواها يتركز على الوضع الداخلي إثر اندلاع موجة الاحتجاجات وانتقال المعارضين إلى حمل السلاح في وجه الدولة السورية. وطالبت الرسالة الأسد بإحداث تغيير سياسي في الحكم مقابل منع تمدد الموجات الاحتجاجية ووقف الدعم الخارجي لها. قرأ الأسد الرسالة، وأعادها إلى الموفد وقال له: سلم على من أرسلك، ولا جواب!

لم يكن الأسد في ذلك الوقت يتوقع أن يكون التآمر على سوريا بهذا الحجم، وعلى مدى ست سنوات، كانت المواجهة قاسية جداً، وجاء الدعم للأسد من حلفائه في لبنان والعراق وإيران، ما منع سقوط الدولة السورية، قبل أن يأتي الدعم الروسي ليفتح الباب أمام استعادة المناطق التي سيطر عليها المسلحون. وخلال تلك الفترة، كانت المفاوضات التي تقودها الأمم المتحدة، عبارة عن مضيعة للوقت، ولم تفد بشيء على الإطلاق، بل ربما كان لها دورها في تسعير الحرب في سوريا. مضت السنوات، وتصرف الجميع على أن مشروع إسقاط الدولة السورية ونظامها هو الذي سقط. والحصار الذي تعزز بعدما توقف إطلاق النار في مناطق واسعة من سوريا، ترافق مع تعزيز الاحتلال الأجنبي المباشر عقب فشل الوكلاء المحليين في إدارة الأمور. وهذا ما جعل الاحتلال الأميركي يثبت قواعد ويعزز واقع المجموعات الكردية الانفصالية، فيما اجتاح الأتراك مناطق الشمال الغربي من سوريا.

خلال السنوات القليلة الماضية، انطلقت موجة من الاتصالات بين عواصم عربية وإقليمية وغربية مع سوريا، مباشرة أو من خلال وسطاء، وتفعلت هذه الاتصالات بعد الزلزال المدمر الذي ضرب سوريا وتركيا. وهو أمر يؤكده مرجع كبير في دمشق بقوله: «يتواصلون معنا سراً، لكنهم يخافون الغضب الأميركي، نحن لا نحمّل أحداً أكثر مما يحتمل، لكن أحداً لا يمكن أن يفرض علينا شروطاً. ما واجهناه خلال عقد كامل، لا يقدر كل هؤلاء على تحمله، وقد صمدنا، ودورنا العربي نحن من صنعناه».
وسبق للرئيس السوري بشار الأسد أن صارح قادة عرباً وموفدين ووسطاء، في الفترة الأخيرة، بأن «سوريا لا تخوض معركة العودة إلى الجامعة العربية. وسوريا لا ترفض دعوتها إلى أي قمة أو اجتماع عربي، لكنها غير مستعدة لمقايضة هذا الأمر بأي شيء يمس ثوابتها». ونقل عن الرئيس السوري قوله «إن دمشق هي من يملك حق أن يسامح دولاً وجماعات كانت طرفاً كبيراً في الحرب وشريكة في سفك الدماء العربية. وسيكون من الخطأ أن يفكر أحد بأن سوريا مستعدة للحديث مع أي دولة حول وضعها الداخلي، وهي لا تقبل بأي وساطة بينها وبين أي سوري يريد العودة إلى بلده وفق شروطه. لا مجال لأي تفاوض حول المسألة السورية الداخلية».
خلال الشهرين الماضيين، دارت محركات الوسطاء بقوة كبيرة. حاولت دولة الإمارات العربية لعب دور خاص. لكنها كانت محكومة بالسقف الأميركي من جهة والسقف السعودي من جهة أخرى، بينما تولت سلطنة عمان التوسط بين دمشق ودول كبيرة، منها السعودية وحتى الولايات المتحدة. فيما كانت روسيا وإيران تديران وساطة مع تركيا. حتى العواصم العربية الفاعلة تحركت ولو من دون خطوات كبيرة. مثل مصر التي تريد تنسيق خطواتها مع السعودية، أو الجزائر التي لا تملك النفوذ الذي كان لها في وقت سابق.

وكشف مطلعون على جانب من هذه الاتصالات أن مسقط استضافت لقاءات هامة بين مسؤولين من سوريا ومن السعودية ومن الأميركيين أيضاً. وأن الاتصالات السعودية – السورية سرعان ما انتقلت إلى حيز التحاور المباشر الذي تمثل في لقاءات عقدت على مستوى أمني في الرياض، ومهدت لرفع مستوى التواصل إلى الحيز السياسي الذي سيترجم في زيارة وزير الخارجية السورية فيصل المقداد إلى جدة. فيما جرى الحديث عن زيارات أمنية سرية قام بها موفدون من دول خارجية إلى سوريا عبر لبنان، وتناولت المحادثات فيها مسائل كثيرة.

وبحسب المطلعين أنفسهم، فإن هذه الأطراف تعي أن رحلة عزل سوريا انتهت إلى فشل كبير. وبات هؤلاء في موقع من يريد تدفيع سوريا ثمناً لعودة التواصل، وكان هؤلاء يعتقدون بأن سوريا مستعجلة لأمرين: الأول، استئناف العلاقة الرسمية مع تركيا، والثاني عودة سوريا إلى مقعدها في الجامعة العربية. وقد صدم الأتراك بموقف الأسد الذي أبلغه إلى الرئيس الروسي فلاديمير بوتين، بأنه لا يمانع الاجتماع مع الرئيس رجب طيب أردوغان، لكن على تركيا القيام بخطوات قبل ذلك، تشمل إعلان جدول زمني لسحب قواتها من سوريا، والمبادرة إلى خطوات على الأرض تعكس هذه الجدية. وهو الأمر الذي لا يزال يؤخر المحادثات المباشرة بين سوريا وتركيا من أو مع مشاركة وسطاء. أما مع العرب، فإن الأسد قال لكل من التقاهم من المسؤولين العرب، بأنه ليس مستعجلاً للعودة إلى الجامعة العربية، وهو أصلاً لا يثق بقدرتها على القيام بشيء. لكنه مستعد لتنظيم العلاقات الثنائية مع الدول العربية من دون أي شرط.
صحيح أن القطريين يطلقون مواقف حادة ضد عودة سوريا. لكن ما لا يقال في العلن، أكده مرجع كبير لـ«الأخبار»، وهو أن القطريين توسطوا لدى الأمين العام لحزب الله السيد حسن نصرالله للبحث في تنظيم العلاقة مع القيادة السورية من جديد. إلا أن الأسد لم يكن متحمساً لهذا الأمر.

توسط القطريون لدى حزب الله لإعادة الاتصال بالأسد وقاد العمانيون اتصالات مع دول عربية وغربية أيضاً

أما السعودية فقد حاولت مقايضة سوريا في ملفات كثيرة تتعلق بالواقع العربي والعلاقات مع دول الإقليم. فبحث السعوديون كما سبق لآخرين أن فعلوا، أن يعرضوا على الأسد التخلي عن تحالفه مع إيران وقوى محور المقاومة مقابل انفتاح سياسي واقتصادي كبير على سوريا، إضافة إلى إثارة عناوين تتعلق بالإصلاحات السياسية الداخلية في سوريا، وصولاً إلى محاولة انتزاع مواقف سورية مطابقة لموقف الجامعة العربية من الحرب القائمة في اليمن، بما في ذلك محاولة إقناع الأسد بطرد السفير اليمني الحالي في دمشق وتسليم السفارة إلى ممثلي حكومة عدن التابعة لتحالف العدوان العربي – الأميركي على اليمن. لكن الأسد رفض هذا الأمر أيضاً. وحتى في ملف فلسطين، فقد راهن البعض على أن موقف الأسد السلبي من حركة الإخوان المسلمين ومن حركة حماس قد يساعدهم على موقف من المقاومة في فلسطين، لكن الأسد الذي لم يكن سهلاً عليه إعادة العلاقة مع حماس، كان قد حسم الأمر من خلال القول بأن موقفه من الحركة أو أي فصيل فلسطيني آخر، يرتبط بموقع هذا الفصيل في محور المقاومة ضد الاحتلال، ولذلك لم يأخذ ملف استئناف العلاقة مع حماس وقتاً طويلاً، بينما بقي موقفه من القضايا الأخرى على حاله.

ما حصل أخيراً، هو أن السعودية التي أدارت استراتيجية جديدة تستهدف «صفر مشاكل»، سارعت إلى عقد اتفاق مع إيران، يتيح لها الإسراع في وقف الحرب على اليمن، ويسهل على الرياض استئناف العلاقات مع سوريا بصورة مباشرة وعلى مستويات عالية، وصولاً إلى التوافق السعودي – المصري على ضرورة عودة سوريا إلى الجامعة العربية، وهو ما يريد ولي العهد السعودي محمد بن سلمان تحقيقه، بعد أن يحصل على غطاء ولو شكلي من الدول الحليفة له في مجلس التعاون الخليجي، ودول أخرى مثل مصر والأردن والعراق، حيث لا يزال موقف قطر هو الوحيد الرافض بينما يجري الحديث عن تردد كويتي يمكن لبن سلمان معالجته.

غداً، سنسمع الكثير من التحليلات والتقديرات والمقاربات حول أبعاد الخطوة، وستنطلق ماكينة خصوم سوريا في لعبة إعلامية مكررة ومملة تتحدث عن التنازلات والمقايضات، لكن يكفي متابعة الوقائع على الأرض، ومسار الأمور في سوريا ومن حولها، حتى يدرك الجميع، أن ما يجري إنما هو محاولة عربية للعودة إلى سوريا وليس العكس.

من ملف : العرب إلى سوريا بشروطها

مقالات ذات صلة

Syria: A State that Withstood a Global War and Emerged Victorious (Part II)

March 31, 2023

Illustrative photo prepared by Al-Manar Website on the 12th anniversary of the war in Syria.

Somaya Ali

Translated by Areej Fatima Husseini

“It is impossible to continue with Assad. How can we look forward with a Syrian president who has murdered over a million of the country’s citizens?”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a press conference in Tunisia in December 2017.

The Turkish president’s claims show that he did not consider the prospect of Bashar Al-Assad staying as Syria’s president. Undoubtedly, he has begun to notice the failure of his ambitions since 2018 when the battlefield track has shifted to a large extent in favor of the Syrian army. He was not the only one who had high expectations for the war, which erupted in Syria in the summer of 2011. Many Arabs, as well as the West and the USA, took part in this.

Throughout ten years, they all fantasized about a new Syria that “has no room” for Bashar Al-Assad and his government. Damascus was suspended from the Arab League. Instead, Moaz Al-Khatib, the leader of the so-called opposition alliance represented Syria at the summit conference in March 2013.

All diplomatic relations were severed. Moreover, the UN-sponsored sessions of negotiations were a formality, as they imposed unrealistic conditions on Damascus to force its surrender.

Syria was subject to the toughest sanctions, the last of which was the “Caesar Act”, as its entire territory faced death and bloodshed. However, the scale was tipped in favor of the Syrian state and its allies. Whoever wins eventually imposes his demands, and that exactly what happened.

‘Marathon’ of Restoring Ties

Twelve years after the start of the Syrian war, experts in Syrian affairs classify the countries’ relationship with the regime into two camps: those who are “enthusiastic about normalizing relations, such as Turkey and the UAE, and those who link the normalization with a political solution in Syria, such as the United States, the European Union, and Qatar.”

There is also a third camp which observes the situation, waiting for the image to clarify before determining its position. This camp is represented by Saudi Arabia, in addition to Egypt and Jordan, to a lesser extent.

Following the devastating earthquake that shook Turkey and northwest Syria, the latter group made a remarkable advance into Syria. Egypt offered aid to Syria, as President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi contacted his Syrian counterpart and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Damascus.

Further, Jordan’s relationship with the Syrian government improved by the end of 2021, after being for years one of the prominent backers of the terrorists and the role it played the “MOC” operations room. At the time (in late 2021), Jordanian King Abdullah II discussed measures to boost bilateral relations with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad during a phone call that coincided with a meeting between Syrian Minister of Defense General Ali Ayoub and Jordanian Chief of Staff Major General Yusef Al-Hunaiti. Moreover, the “Nassib-Jaber” border crossing, Jordan’s northern lung, was reopened.

Nassib crossing, main border post between Jordan and Syria (photo from archive).

As for the Saudi which was a major player in the war in terms of armaments and even the media war, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan recently confirmed that “consensus is growing in the Arab world that isolating Syria is unlikely to work and that dialogue with Damascus is required.” The top Saudi diplomat also hinted at Syria rejoining the Arab League, which is set to convene in Riyadh in May.

Turkey Enthusiastic for Normalization with Syria

Back to the first camp, or the ‘enthusiasts,’ Turkey prevails. Despite its primary role and direct engagement in the war through its military presence in northern Syria, Turkey’s interests in Syria have shifted after the formation of the alliance between the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This gave the SDF power in the Syrian north, which Ankara deemed to be a threat to its national security, prompting it to work with Russia to prevent the emergence of a “Kurdish entity.” This was in return for relinquishing the objective of “toppling the regime” and forging a sort of a ceasefire in Idlib, where Turkey has direct control over the armed groups.

However, the February 6 earthquake in Kahramanmaraş had terrible consequences for Ankara, which was already in the grip of an economic crisis.

As a result, addressing the Syrian refugee issue became an urgent demand for Ankara, as well as a major key to increase Erdogan’s prospects of winning the coming presidential elections in May. It became obvious herein that the Turkish wooing towards Syria increased, as did the reiteration on the need for mending ties and demonstrating seriousness in this regard, as shown in communications through Iranian and Russian mediators.

This was not the first attempt of its kind, as Erdogan officially declared at the end of November 2022 that he had proposed to President Vladimir Putin a tripartite route to go forward with the normalization process. As a result, on December 28, a conference in Moscow was convened with the defense ministers of Russia, Turkey, and Syria, as well as intelligence officers from the three countries.

What About the United Arab Emirates?

The UAE regarded eliminating Assad in 2011 as a “blow to Iran,” but it also backtracked due to the scheme’s failure. It reopened its embassy in Damascus in December 2018. In early 2020, the first public phone contact between then-Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, and President Assad since the two nations severed diplomatic relations in 2012.

In November 2021, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed had his first visit to Damascus in ten years. Then, in March 2022, Al-Assad paid his first Arab visit to Abu Dhabi since the start of the conflict, followed by Abdullah bin Zayed’s visit to Damascus in December 2022. The Emirati openness was visible in the amount of aid offered to Syria in various forms following the earthquake, amid blatant Western and American intransigence and adherence to sanctions despite the enormity of the humanitarian catastrophe.

The Syrian president also paid another visit to the UAE earlier this month in another sign of thawing ties.

According to sources, “there is an Emirati interest in obtaining economic opportunities in Syria throughout the post-war and reconstruction phase.” Furthermore, Abu Dhabi aspires to join the line of communication between Turkey and the Syrian regime, which would strengthen its regional presence.

Stubborn US

Turning to the camp of the obstinate states, the USA is the most prominent of them, with a military presence in bases such as Al-Malikiyah, Rumailan, Himo, Qasrak, Al-Hasakah’s sports city, Al-Shaddadi, and Al-Tanf. In addition to the tough sanctions that led to unambiguous consequences following the earthquake, Washington also plays a role, albeit in secret, in training terrorists such as ISIL militants and pillaging Syria’s wealth.

Meanwhile, these sanctions are regarded as one of the major impediments to normalization with the Syrian government by many nations, particularly the European Union. Herein, the Union’s Foreign Relations High Representative, Joseph Borrell, stated that the EU “will remain against normalization with the Syrian regime until it effectively engages in a political solution to the conflict as stipulated by the UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254.”

Syria the Victor’s role: Settlement Has Conditions

On his recent visit to Russia, President Al-Assad set the records straight. In exchange for all the “messages of friendliness,” and despite the economic and human misery exacerbated by the earthquake, the latter promised: there are prerequisites for the comeback.

Al-Assad informed Erdogan that restoring communication and ties is related to establishing a clear timeline for the withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from the Syrian territory. This resulted in the delay of an anticipated meeting between the two countries deputy foreign ministers with Russia and Iran to an undetermined date.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (photo from archive).
Bashar Assad

In terms of the Arab world, despite his “positive” approach toward Saudi goodwill during his visit to Moscow, President Al-Assad has ruled out his country’s participation in the next Arab summit. “Syria’s membership in the Arab League is frozen, and to attend the summit, the suspension must be ended, and this requires an Arab summit,” he stated. “Returning to the Arab League is not an ambition in itself; the goal is the joint Arab action,” he added.

“As a result of its ambiguous regulations, the Arab League is frequently used to settle scores, therefore Syria cannot return while the AL is merely a label for division”, Al Assad added.

“Thousands of years may pass before the Arabs unite,” said Al-Assad in an interview on Russia TV. “So let us wait thousands of years,” he added, laughing.

Source: Al-Manar English Website

Turkey Continues to be a Tool of NATO


Turkey NATO

Turkey has been a part of NATO since February of 1952. And it took more than two years for this country to join the North Atlantic military alliance, which it was allowed to do only after meeting the US political requirements, which included rejecting Atatürk’s one-party political system in favor of democratizing the electoral process and establishing a multi-party system, as well as liberalizing trade relations and strengthening the position of pro-Western capital.

Between 1945 and 1952, the United States and the United Kingdom both succeeded in preventing Turkey from losing territory to the Soviet Union after Stalin recognized Turkey’s neutrality as hostile towards the USSR during WW II and made territorial demands to Ankara concerning the status of the Black Sea straits and the fate of a portion of western Armenia (Kars, Ardahan, Artvin, and Ararat). According to the officials from the Embassy of Turkey in Moscow (especially Mustafa Kunt and Berksun Hasan), the “nuclear umbrella” of the West was what gave confidence to Turkey and kept the mentioned lands within Turkey’s boundaries. Stalin did not dare to strike Turkey, and in Potsdam, the USSR took Poland instead of Turkey in its zone of interest.

As a result, Turkey’s eastern territories and western straits were “rescued” by the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon world twice in the twentieth century (after World Wars I and II). All of this, along with the strategic value of its location at the juncture of continents and access to the sea made Turkey eligible for membership in NATO. Naturally, decades of membership in the North Atlantic Alliance, on the one hand, guaranteed Turkey’s security, but on the other, deprived it of key elements of independence from the foreign policy dictate of the USA.

During the 1974 Cypriot crisis, Turkey felt the full force of “American democracy,” for it was the United States, dissatisfied with Archbishop Makarios’ independent policy and pro-communist passion that actually authorized the landing of a Turkish sea assault in the northern part of the island and its occupation (“Operation Attila”). However, Turkey was subjected to a US military embargo that lasted until 1978 and was lifted during President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

During the Cold War, Turkey was an outpost of the United States and NATO on the southeastern flank against the USSR and the Warsaw Pact because of its geographical proximity to, and historical contradictions with, Russia. In February 1986, US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said, “Turkey, with land and sea borders with the USSR and Bulgaria, occupies a key position on the Soviet Union’s path to the Mediterranean and is an outpost of NATO’s southern flank.” The US and NATO placed on Turkish territory about 60 various military installations and bases. These include Incirlik Air Base located not far from the city of Adana, the radio and electronic surveillance centers in Sinop and Anadolu Kavağı (Bosporus Strait), NATO Joint Staff at South-eastern part of South-European Theater in Izmir, the US 6th Fleet ships that refuel in Turkish sea ports, etc.

The United States’ operational interests in Turkey slightly changed after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War as it became clear that Russia no longer posed a military threat to NATO’s interests in general and Turkey’s interests in particular. Instead, the United States was more interested in enlarging its sphere of influence in the Middle East and the Black Sea basin. Although still important to NATO, Turkey has lost some of its appeal as an “anchor” on the southern border of the theater, where there was no other option, particularly in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the dissolution of the regional military alliance CENTO. By including the nations of the Black Sea (Bulgaria and Romania) in NATO, actively collaborating with Georgia and Ukraine, as well as entering Iraq and a portion of Syria, the USA has increased its sphere of influence in the aforementioned regions.

Turkish citizens remember the United States and NATO for four coups d’etat in the second half of the twentieth century (1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997), when Turkish leaders’ enthusiasm for an independent foreign policy led to their demise and the military leadership of the General Staff of the Armed Forces took power. A similar US attempt to depose the “unwanted and unmanageable President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” failed miserably in July 2016. Erdoğan’s life was saved in large part due to the Russian Russian Foreign Intelligence’s informational assistance during those crisis days.

Washington has always taken a radical stance toward its military and political allies and partners whenever local leaders deviate from the US course. To that end, the CIA Directorate of Covert Operations has a covert unit that conducts active measures to eliminate undesirable politicians and forces, Operation Gladio.

A mistrust crisis erupted between Washington and Ankara in 2003, when the Turkish Parliament refused to allow the Fourth United States Army to pass through Turkish territory to occupy Iraq. Since 2009, when Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Strategic Depth Doctrine (indeed, a declaration of a new, neo-Ottomanist foreign policy strategy) was published, Turkey under Recep Erdoğan has gradually started to pursue a foreign policy distinct from that of the United States, focusing on contemporary Turkic states in the post-Soviet space in order to strengthen its independence and revive its status as a major power. Naturally, this strategy could not please the USA and was of concern to a number of other states bordering Turkey.

The development of mutually beneficial relations with Russia (including not only economic and trade, but also military and technical cooperation) and Erdoğan’s policy of making Turkey a key transit state for the export of energy resources from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union to Europe drew criticism from the United States. As a result, Washington imposed military restrictions on Ankara once more, specifically by declining to give Turkey its Patriot air defense systems, F-35 or F-16 fighter jets. Turkey’s relations with the United States in the run-up to the 2023 general elections and the approaching 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey have been strained.

President Erdoğan started to conduct active peacekeeping diplomacy to end hostilities after the deterioration of Russian-Ukrainian relations and the beginning of the special operation by the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine in 2022. Turkey declined to participate in anti-Russian sanctions not approved by the UN. Moreover, Ankara initially opposed Finland and Sweden to join NATO due to their support of pro-Kurdish forces linked to the PKK.

Sadly, the tragedy of the catastrophic earthquake in southeast Turkey, which claimed more than 49,000 lives and left behind massive devastation (the damage is proverbially estimated at $100 billion) has presented the Turkish leadership with a difficult choice. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in need of additional funding and lucrative loans for reconstruction work. He has been the target of scathing pre-election criticism from his rivals, and is aware of how the United States is contributing to Turkey’s current predicament. Yet, Erdoğan (like his forerunners) is very adaptable and centered on Turkish interests.

Erdoğan has consented to Finland’s membership in NATO in light of the country’s acknowledged economic issues and in an endeavor to revive a strong (great) Turkey. This poses new issues and tensions for Russia in the northwest and will necessitate more work along the 1,330 km border with Finland. The interests of high confidence and strategic collaboration between Turkey and Russia are hardly served by President Erdoğan’s stance on this topic, as well as other concerns (such as the status of Crimea or competition in the regions of the South Caucasus and Central Asia).

Turkey, as a NATO member, clearly serves as an effective tool and instrument of the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance in the post-Soviet southeastern regions. Active military and technical cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan is being developed. The importance of Turkish command and combat equipment on Azerbaijan’s side during the second Karabakh war is well known, and Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises have become routine. With the formation of the Organization of Turkic States in November 2021, a number of politicians in Turkey make statements about plans to create a new military bloc called “The Turan Army” from time to time.

All of these processes cannot contribute to Eurasian peace and security, and are causing concern in a number of countries bordering Turkey, as well as undermining trust between Moscow and Ankara. The latter is actively pursued by Washington.

Naturally, Turkish citizens have the sovereign right to elect a new Turkish leader and a new parliament. In all areas of interstate relations, Russia seeks a fruitful and mutually beneficial partnership with Turkey (including in economics, culture, politics, defense and security). However, in Russia, NATO’s expansion into the southeastern regions of the post-Soviet space on “Turkey’s shoulders” is unlikely to be viewed positively.

It is worth reminding Turks that Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine was not so much a result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but of NATO’s desire to include nationalist Ukraine in its ranks and create a belt of instability around the Russian Federation. Today, Turkey bases its military operations in Iraq and Syria on concerns about its own security, ostensibly to combat Kurdish separatism (though what do Iraqi or Syrian Kurds have to do with Turkish separatism?). Russia, too, has its own set of interests and “red lines” near its borders. If Turks advocate neo-Ottomanism, why can’t Russians defend the Russian world and the Russian state’s interests in their historical interest and presence?

Russia poses no military threat to Turkey’s security, either alone or as part of a bloc. Accordingly, Moscow can expect Ankara to take a similar approach. Attempts by the West, represented by the United States and the United Kingdom, to continue the historical tradition of using Turkey as a tool of anti-Russian strategy will be met with opposition from both Russia and the countries targeted by this NATO policy.

Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

Russian-Turkish ‘co-opetition’ from Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh

March 17 2023

At a time when conflicts are increasingly interconnected, and provide tactical levers to assert pressure elsewhere, the competition between Russia-Iran and Turkiye in Syria and the South Caucasus is destined to overlap.

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Yeghia Tashjian

Despite their robust diplomatic relations, Turkiye has been in direct competition with Russia and Iran in two major Asian conflict zones, Syria and Nagarno-Karabakh, tying together the fates of the Levant and the South Caucasus in any future resolution.

While Ankara seeks to establish its authority over northern Syria and advance Turkic hegemony in key Caucasian states like Azerbaijan for geopolitical advantage, Moscow and Tehran’s goals in these two theaters are to reduce US influence and promote long-term economic interdependence between regional and local states that will stabilize and enrich the region.

Despite these differences, there has been a flurry of meetings between senior Syrian and Turkish officials, with Russia hosting direct dialogues between their respective defense ministers and intelligence agency chiefs.

The desire to garner pre-election voter favor by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the devastating earthquakes that struck the Turkish-Syrian border towns, have played a role in facilitating the recent rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus.

However, it is unlikely that there will be full diplomatic normalization anytime soon due to the status of Idlib, the militant stronghold in northern Syria currently controlled by Turkiye and its proxies. Russia currently appears to favor maintaining the status quo in Idlib until rapprochement talks advance further.

Leveraging conflicts against each other

The resolution of the Syrian crisis depends on the outcome of regional developments, international disputes, and ongoing diplomatic struggles between Ankara and Moscow as they seek to consolidate or expand their influence in different regions, including in Syria and the South Caucasus.

The two conflicts, particularly the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, share some similarities. Both regions are characterized by significant ethnic and religious diversity, are heavily influenced by regional powers Russia, Iran, and Turkiye, and are in the strategic sights of global superpowers such as China and the US. As a result, the two conflicts have become internationalized, and local actors are unable to reach a resolution without external guarantees.

The South Caucasus is composed of three states – Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan – each with a different foreign policy orientation. Georgia is committed to partnering with Euro-Atlantic and European institutions, while Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military alliance.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan and Turkiye are military allies that share similar worldviews, to the extent that Ankara’s decision to support one of the conflicting parties in Ukraine may prompt Baku to adopt a similar stance. Such is today’s increasing connection between local and international conflict – largely because major powers have inserted themselves into these regional disputes.

In addition, instability in the South Caucasus – a strategic geography for future trade routes that will empower Asia’s new hegemons – could create challenges that will impact trade and economic relations between regional states and their neighbors.

Recent developments indicate that Moscow believes its current troop deployment in Nagorno-Karabakh is sufficient to secure Russia’s long-term interests in Baku. However, this position is constantly challenged by Turkiye-backed Azerbaijan, especially following the signing of the Shushi Declaration on June 2021.

Azerbaijan: A major non-Nato ally

The declaration aimed to strengthen military, security, and diplomatic ties between the two Turkic countries and has led to Ankara’s regional ascension at Moscow’s expense. The Shushi Declaration has solidified Azerbaijan’s military and security relations with key NATO member Turkiye, with Baku reforming its army and increasing its special forces units using NATO standards.

According to Ahmad Alili from the Baku-based Caucasus Policy Analysis Center, Azerbaijan has transformed into a “major non-NATO ally” for Turkiye, similar to the role of Israel, Egypt, and Japan for the US:

“With Georgia having publicly declared NATO and EU aspirations, and Azerbaijan having closer military and diplomatic links with NATO member Turkiye, the region loses its ‘Russian backyard’ status and becomes a ‘Russian-Turkish’ playground.”

This development has prompted Moscow to increase its soft pressure over Baku and sign an “allied declaration” in February 2022 to solidify its political presence in the region. In the process, however, Armenia has found itself encircled by Turkiye and Azerbaijan without any land connection to Russia and thus, pushed into a corner.

Russian and Turkish ‘frenmity’  

Though Ankara and Moscow have an understanding of each other’s red lines in Syria, Turkiye’s aspiration to play a greater role in the South Caucasus has put its relationship with Russia to the test.

The 2020 outbreak of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war provided Turkiye with a unique opportunity to expand its influence in its immediate neighborhood – which has remained, since 1828, in Moscow’s sphere of national interest. To challenge Russia, Turkiye provided full active military and diplomatic support to Azerbaijan in its war against Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

During the war, both Moscow and Ankara played tit-for-tat against each other. Observers noticed that while Russia was rather defensive in its own South Caucasus “backyard,” it was prepared to go on the offensive in Syria by bombing Turkish and Turkiye-backed rebel positions in Idlib.

By exerting pressure on Ankara in the Syrian theater, Moscow was attempting to balance its vulnerabilities and put Turkiye on notice over their other competitions. It didn’t seem to work. Turkiye made an offensive play in Russia’s own backyard, inaugurating, in November 2020, the connection of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), which enables Caspian Sea gas to reach southern Europe through Turkiye, bypassing Russia.

This project is crucial for Ankara as it transforms Turkiye from an importer to a transit route for gas. The geopolitical nature of this project aims to decrease Europe’s gas dependency on Moscow.

Not seeing eye-to-eye

On the diplomatic front, Turkiye has attempted to launch an “Astana style” deconfliction process for Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Moscow has not been keen to engage on a purely bilateral track with Ankara in its post-Soviet regions, as this runs the risk of legitimizing Turkiye’s intervention and presence in Russia’s backyard.

For this reason, Maxim Suchkov, a Moscow-based expert at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), explains that Russia chose not to directly intervene in the war, taking a “watch and see approach,” which distressed its Armenian ally to no end.

Suchkov noted that if Azerbaijan had managed to occupy Stepanakert, the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Turkiye’s gambit would have paid off, and its influence in the region would only accelerate. But this would have led to the ethnic cleansing of Armenians and to Yerevan blaming Moscow for its inaction – and by losing its only regional military ally, Russia would have potentially lost the whole region. Instead, Russia tried to satisfy Baku while not completely alienating Yerevan, which was crushed during Baku’s autumn 2020 blitzkrieg.

Consequently, the 10 November, 2020 trilateral statement brokered by Russia that ended the Nagorno-Karabakh war did not favor Turkiye’s aspirations. Despite pushing for a complete Azerbaijani victory – or at least the deployment of Turkish peacekeepers alongside Russian forces – Ankara’s requests were denied.

Regardless, Turkiye has managed to become an active player in shaping the new geopolitical landscape of the region. While Russia has expressed dissatisfaction with Turkish intervention in its traditional sphere of influence and has established some “red lines,” it has also been forced to recognize Turkiye as a junior player in the region, though parity in the post-conflict regional order still remains in Moscow’s favor.

Post-2020 regional order

However, the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine has had a significant impact on the balance of power in the South Caucasus. As hostilities between the west and Russia continue to spike, the region has become a new confrontation zone, with Azerbaijan and Armenia both seeking to secure their vital interests under cover of the Great Power competition.

While Yerevan’s immediate interest is to protect the safety of the local Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan seeks to resolve the Karabakh issue through brute force, which, if successful, could greatly reduce Moscow’s regional clout, particularly as its peacekeeper mandate is set to expire in 2025.

Despite the 2020 trilateral statement, it appears that a long-lasting peace is still far off. A prime example of the many differences that remain unresolved between Yerevan and Baku is their contrasting interpretation of the statement’s ninth article.

Azerbaijan insists that Armenia must provide a “corridor” through Syunik (southern Armenia) to connect the Azerbaijani mainland to the Nakhichevan exclave, which Baku calls the “Zangezur corridor.”

Armenia rejects this claim, arguing that the article only references the restoration of communication channels (such as highways and railways), with both sides able to access and utilize the routes. But Baku has raised the stakes by threatening to block the Lachin corridor if Armenia does not provide access to the Syunik corridor. Yerevan, in turn, maintains that the status of the Lachin corridor should not be linked to the opening of these communication channels.

Iran’s red line

This has prompted neighboring Iran to make a “comeback” to the South Caucasus, by warning that any territorial changes to the Armenian-Iranian border would constitute a red line for Tehran. Iran believes that such changes could threaten its own geopolitical interests, which include its stake in the strategic Moscow-Tehran-New Delhi-backed International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

With Azerbaijan’s brutal blockade of the Lachin corridor – the only land route connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia – Russian troops remain the sole guarantors of the security of Karabakh Armenians. But contrary to what many analysts have predicted, the defeat of Armenia in the 2020 war has not diminished Russian influence in Armenia.

In fact, Russia has gained even more influence there, despite Yerevan’s growing frustration with Moscow’s inability to deter Azerbaijani attacks on sovereign Armenian territory. Baku officials have exacerbated matters by stating that they are not in favor of renewing the Russian peacekeeping mandate in 2025, and will instead push for the “reintegration” of the region into Azerbaijan.

If Baku succeeds in its objective and engages in demographic engineering in the region – forcing Armenians to leave Nagorno-Karabakh – there will no longer be a justification for Russian presence in the region, and Moscow will lose its leverage over the entire South Caucasus.

A Nagorno-Karabakh scenario in Syria?

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has highlighted Moscow’s success in preserving its influence in the region, despite Turkiye’s attempt to shrink Russian clout. However, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, and its uncertain outcome, is also playing out in the South Caucasus.

As the world shifts from a US-led unipolar order to multipolarity, Azerbaijan and Armenia, like many other nations in conflict, are having to make strategic decisions on whether they align their interests with Russia or the west. Neutrality – when the major power stakes are this high – is unlikely to serve the vital interests of either country.

As such, mounting pressure on Erdogan to consolidate his power in Turkiye’s upcoming elections may force him to make concessions to one axis over the other. Such a move could have a significant impact on Baku and may lead to these “brotherly” nations ending up in opposing global camps.

Furthermore, the possibility of the US withdrawing its troops from northeastern Syria, coupled with the unclear political future of Syrian Kurds, their parallel economy, and autonomous governing structures, creates a risk of a sub-regional power vacuum.

This could push Turkiye and Russia towards managing or enhancing their cooperative rivalry, though it remains to be seen whether Russia can strike a game-changing deal between the Kurds and Damascus – which could gain Moscow leverage with Ankara in the South Caucasus.

The Ukraine war could present an obstacle to Russian diplomatic initiatives. Russia’s reluctance to counter Azerbaijan’s incursions and ceasefire violations after getting mired in the Ukraine war suggests that Moscow may not be up to the task of brokering a Nagorno-Karabakh-style peacekeeping scenario for Syria’s Kurds.

Hence, the Syrian crisis may remain frozen until relations between Ankara and Damascus are normalized – or Turkiye threatens further military attacks. The outcome of the Turkish elections on 14 May 2023 will undoubtedly play a significant role in this regard, both in Syria and the South Caucasus.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

The Valdai meeting: Where West Asia meets multipolarity

March 04 2023

Photo Credit: The Cradle

At Russia’s Valdai Club meeting – the east’s answer to Davos – intellectuals and influencers gathered to frame West Asia’s current and future developments.

Pepe Escobar is a columnist at The Cradle, editor-at-large at Asia Times and an independent geopolitical analyst focused on Eurasia. Since the mid-1980s he has lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in London, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles, Singapore and Bangkok. He is the author of countless books; his latest one is Raging Twenties.

By Pepe Escobar

The 12th “Middle East Conference” at the Valdai Club in Moscow offered a more than welcome cornucopia of views on interconnected troubles and tribulations affecting the region.

But first, an important word on terminology – as only one of Valdai’s guests took the trouble to stress. This is not the “Middle East” – a reductionist, Orientalist notion devised by old colonials: at The Cradle we emphasize the region must be correctly described as West Asia.

Some of the region’s trials and tribulations have been mapped by the official Valdai report, The Middle East and The Future of Polycentric World.  But the intellectual and political clout of those in attendance can provide valuable anecdotal insights too. Here are a few of the major strands participants highlighted on regional developments, current and future:

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov set the stage by stressing that Kremlin policy encourages the formation of an “inclusive regional security system.” That’s exactly what the Americans refused to discuss with the Russians in December 2021, then applied to Europe and the post-Soviet space. The result was a proxy war.

Kayhan Barzegar of Islamic Azad University in Iran qualified the two major strategic developments affecting West Asia: a possible US retreat and a message to regional allies: “You cannot count on our security guarantees.”

Every vector – from rivalry in the South Caucasus to the Israeli normalization with the Persian Gulf – is subordinated to this logic, notes Barzegar, with quite a few Arab actors finally understanding that there now exists a margin of maneuver to choose between the western or the non-western bloc.

Barzegar does not identify Iran-Russia ties as a strategic alliance, but rather a geopolitical, economic bloc based on technology and regional supply chains – a “new algorithm in politics” – ranging from weapons deals to nuclear and energy cooperation, driven by Moscow’s revived southern and eastward orientations. And as far as Iran-western relations go, Barzegar still believes the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, is not dead. A least not yet.

‘Nobody knows what these rules are’

Egyptian Ramzy Ramzy, until 2019 the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, considers the reactivation of relations between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE with Syria as the most important realignment underway in the region. Not to mention prospects for a Damascus-Ankara reconciliation. “Why is this happening? Because of the regional security system’s dissatisfaction with the present,” Ramzy explains.

Yet even if the US may be drifting away, “neither Russia nor China are willing to take up a leadership role,” he says. At the same time, Syria “cannot be allowed to fall prey to outside interventions. The earthquake at least accelerated these rapprochements.”

Bouthaina Shaaban, a special advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is a remarkable woman, fiery and candid. Her presence at Valdai was nothing short of electric. She stressed how “since the US war in Vietnam, we lost what we witnessed as free media. The free press has died.” At the same time “the colonial west changed its methods,” subcontracting wars and relying on local fifth columnists.

Shaaban volunteered the best short definition anywhere of the “rules-based international order”: “Nobody knows what these rules are, and what this order is.”

She re-emphasized that in this post-globalization period that is ushering in regional blocs, the usual western meddlers prefer to use non-state actors – as in Syria and Iran – “mandating locals to do what the US would like to do.”

A crucial example is the US al-Tanf military base that occupies sovereign Syrian territory on two critical borders. Shaaban calls the establishment of this base as “strategic, for the US to prevent regional cooperation, at the Iraq, Jordan, and Syria crossroads.” Washington knows full well what it is doing: unhampered trade and transportation at the Syria-Iraq border is a major lifeline for the Syrian economy.

Reminding everyone once again that “all political issues are connected to Palestine,” Shaaban also offered a healthy dose of gloomy realism: “The eastern bloc has not been able to match the western narrative.”

A ‘double-layered proxy war’

Cagri Erhan, rector of Altinbas University in Turkey, offered a quite handy definition of a Hegemon: the one who controls the lingua franca, the currency, the legal setting, and the trade routes.

Erhan qualifies the current western hegemonic state of play as “double-layered proxy war” against, of course, Russia and China. The Russians have been defined by the US as an “open enemy” – a major threat. And when it comes to West Asia, proxy war still rules: “So the US is not retreating,” says Erhan. Washington will always consider using the area “strategically against emerging powers.”

Then what about the foreign policy priorities of key West Asian and North African actors?

Algerian political journalist Akram Kharief, editor of the online MenaDefense, insists Russia should get closer to Algeria, “which is still in the French sphere of influence,” and be wary of how the Americans are trying to portray Moscow as “a new imperial threat to Africa.”

Professor Hasan Unal of Maltepe University in Turkiye made it quite clear how Ankara finally “got rid of its Middle East [West Asian] entanglements,” when it was previously “turning against everybody.”

Mid-sized powers such as Turkiye, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are now stepping to the forefront of the region’s political stage. Unal notes how “Turkiye and the US don’t see eye to eye on any issue important to Ankara.” Which certainly explains the strengthening of Turkish-Russian ties – and their mutual interest in introducing “multi-faceted solutions” to the region’s problems.

For one, Russia is actively mediating Turkiye-Syria rapprochement. Unal confirmed that the Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers will soon meet in person – in Moscow – which will represent the highest-ranking direct engagement between the two nations since the onset of the Syrian war. And that will pave the way for a tripartite summit between Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Note that the big regional reconciliations are being held – once again – either in, or with the participation of Moscow, which can rightfully be described as the capital of the 21st century multipolar world.

When it comes to Cyprus, Unal notes how “Russia would not be interested in a unified state that would be EU and NATO territory.” So it’s time for “creative ideas: as Turkey is changing its Syria policy, Russia should change its Cyprus policy.”

Dr. Gong Jiong, from the Israeli campus of China’s University of International Business and Economics, came up with a catchy neologism: the “coalition of the unwilling” – describing how “almost the whole Global South is not supporting sanctions on Russia,” and certainly none of the players in West Asia.

Gong noted that as much as China-Russia trade is rising fast – partly as a direct consequence of western sanctions – the Americans would have to think twice about China-hit sanctions. Russia-China trade stands at $200 billion a year, after all, while US-China trade is a whopping $700 billion per annum.

The pressure on the “neutrality camp” won’t relent anyway. What is needed by the world’s “silent majority,” as Gong defines it, is “an alliance.” He describes the 12-point Chinese peace plan for Ukraine as “a set of principles” – Beijing’s base for serious negotiations: “This is the first step.”

There will be no new Yalta

What the Valdai debates made crystal clear, once again, is how Russia is the only actor capable of approaching every player across West Asia, and be listened to carefully and respectfully.

It was left to Anwar Abdul-Hadi, director of the political department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the latter’s official envoy to Damascus, to arguably sum up what led to the current global geopolitical predicament: “A new Yalta or a new world war? They [the west] chose war.”

And still, as new geopolitical and geoeconomic fault lines keep emerging, it is as though West Asia is anticipating something “big” coming ahead. That feeling was palpable in the air at Valdai.

To paraphrase Yeats, and updating him to the young, turbulent 21st century, “what rough beast, its hour come out at last, slouches towards the cradle [of civilization] to be born?

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Turkish elections: Can Erdogan maintain his grip on power?

March 02 2023

The outcome of Turkiye’s upcoming vote could determine whether Ankara returns to a western-oriented foreign policy, or if Erdogan strengthens the country’s autonomous direction.

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Mohamad Hasan Sweidan

As the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic approaches, Turkiye faces one of the most important elections in its history. Most importantly, the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, currently slated for May, could lead to major shifts in the country’s foreign policy.

But the February earthquakes that devastated swathes southern Turkiye have compounded the pressures on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was already dealing with a number of internal and external vulnerabilities that could lead to his electoral ousting.

Erdogan has described the earthquake as “the largest disaster the country has witnessed since the Erzincan earthquake in 1939.” Currently presiding over a deteriorating domestic economy, he has become an easy target for negative media campaigns, faces an unusually united front of opposition parties, and is the subject of constant attacks from the west, who support the Turkish opposition both politically and in the media. Despite these challenges, Erdogan is looking to cling to power by any means necessary.

Turkiye’s Military Coups

In modern Turkiye, one well-trodden path to abrupt power shifts has been the “military coup”: the country experienced four of these between 1923 and 2000. All were preceded by some common factors, including domestic economic deterioration and improving ties with the Soviet Union or Iran, especially after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The combined result of these coups was to reaffirm Turkiye’s loyalty to the western axis and to halt rapprochement with Moscow or Tehran.

Two decades ago, when Erdogan was first elected as prime minister, Turkiye was governed under a parliamentary system. But a 2017 constitutional referendum transformed it into a presidential one, where the authority of the parliament and cabinet diminished in relation to the presidency. Erdogan understood from the onset that the key to his survival in power was to prevent economic decline and to contain the influence of the military over civilian authority.

Consequently, his government has implemented policies to reduce the powers of the Turkish military, extend full state control over the army, and reduce its grip on political power. This has inhibited the army’s ability to overthrow civilian power centers whenever it wants.

Erdogan used the pretext of joining the EU to launch a reform process in Turkiye, enacting national laws that were more compatible with European standards, including respect for freedoms. Through these reforms, a body of laws was amended, limiting the powers of military justice and subjecting military personnel to common law. The Erdogan government has also ousted secular military figures over alleged links to terrorist organizations.

The ruling  Justice and Development Party (AKP) continued to work towards limiting the role of Turkiye’s armed forces, and after a long and taxing process of normalizing civil-military relations, Erdogan was able to gain full civilian control of the Turkish military following the 2016 coup attempt.

This move limited the military’s traditional status and role as guardian of the republic, and after achieving this milestone, economic pressure became Ankara’s only tool for change. The ballot box has thus become the only means of overthrowing the Turkish president, as the military, which was previously a means of reorienting Turkiye whenever it veered from its pro-west orientation, is now subordinate to political authority in Ankara.

A western or independent foreign policy

It is worth noting that Erdogan’s Turkiye is no longer viewed as the “Turkish model,” which was once widely lauded as a democratic, Islamic leadership in a secular, pro-western country. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Turkiye was seen as an example of a western-allied Islamic power, and its positive relationship with the US provided evidence for Washington that its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were wars against terror, and not Islam.

However, today, Turkiye has lost this vaunted ‘status,’ and the US and EU increasingly view Erdogan as helming an undemocratic authority. As a result, Ankara was not invited to attend the Summit of Democracies held by Washington in December 2021, because countries like Turkiye have been “undermining their democratic systems for years.”

report issued by the European Commission on 19 October, 2021 also criticized the performance of Turkish institutions, stating:

“There are serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkiye’s democratic institutions. Democratic backsliding continued during the reporting period…The constitutional architecture continued to centralise powers at the level of the Presidency without ensuring a sound and effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary.”

The west’s primary concern with Erdogan is his pursuit of an autonomous foreign policy that may clash with western interests. Erdogan’s policies after the 2011 Arab uprisings, which conflicted with western interests in Libya and Egypt – as well as his support for Turkish Cypriot independence, ongoing tensions with Greece, Turkiye’s growing ties with Russia and Iran, and rejection of Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO – have all contributed to growing western dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s leadership.

In order to pursue his foreign policy goals, Erdogan has strengthened his position domestically, notably through the 2017 referendum that transformed Turkiye’s government into a presidential system and consolidated his power.

This has left the west with few options to influence change in Turkiye, limiting their options to supporting a fragmented opposition, applying economic, political, and media pressure on the AKP, and working toward establishing an opposition coalition that can defeat Erdogan at the ballot box.

As US-European policies begin to re-unify after the Trump era, and with the year-old conflict in Ukraine still escalating, Erdogan’s independent policies are increasingly seen as unacceptable, with demands that Turkiye reposition itself within the western axis. This is despite the fact that the west recognizes the world order is shifting toward a more inclusive, multipolar one. According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “we’re no longer in the post-Cold War era. There’s a competition on to shape what comes next.”

Erdogan’s vision for his country’s place in the new world order differs from Washington’s: He seeks to position Turkiye as a regional power with interests in both the east and west, while the US wants Turkiye’s regional clout to be exercised in concert with western interests, and aligned against Russia and Iran.

To achieve western objectives, Turkiye must return to being a secular, pro-western state. Thus, Erdogan’s defeat in the next election is crucial for Ankara to return to the western fold as a fully committed ally.

The quake’s aftershocks

The devastating earthquakes in Turkiye have had far-reaching political and economic impact, with Erdogan’s opponents leading charges that his government lacked all basic emergency preparations for the disaster. Influential media outlets, both domestic and international, have heavily criticized Ankara’s earthquake response initiatives, which have morphed into a wider campaign against Erdogan.

In a way, the catastrophe was an unexpected gift to Erdogan’s opponents, who, from the very outset, blamed the Turkish president. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who leads Turkiye’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said:

“If there is anyone responsible for this process, it is Erdogan. It is this ruling party that has not prepared the country for an earthquake for 20 years.”

To counter the criticism, Erdogan has initiated steps to help those affected by the earthquake, promising to rebuild damaged buildings within a year, and pay rents while the reconstruction is underway. He has also been filmed and photographed while participating in the burial of victims and inspecting the conditions of affected families, particularly by pro-AKP media.

However, the economic impact of the earthquake – a loss of $2.9 billion in manpower, according to a report by Turkish business group Turkonfed – and damage to infrastructure, including roads, electricity grids, hospitals, and schools, estimated at $84 billion, constituting around 10 percent of Turkiye’s GDP – will have severe repercussions for the Turkish economy.

Who is Erdogan up against?

The 2019 local elections in Turkiye demonstrated the opposition’s ability to win in municipalities previously dominated by the AKP, notably in Istanbul and Ankara. Erdogan’s surprise and discontent with voting results were evident in his demands for re-election in Istanbul. Instead, the rerun resulted in a significant increase in votes for the opposition at the expense of Erdogan’s candidate.

Image 1: Map distributing the results of the 2019 municipal elections in Turkey
Image 1: Map distributing the results of the 2019 municipal elections in Turkiye

For Washington to be rid of Erdogan, it will be necessary to establish a strong alliance against the Turkish strongman. The “Alliance of Six,” which includes six opposition parties seeking to agree on a single candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, is an example of this strategy.

The following is a table of the key political parties in Turkiye:

The different orientations of these parties, as shown in the table above, are perhaps one of the main reasons why the Alliance of Six has failed to rally around a single candidate. To minimize competition within the opposition, it is likely that CHP leader Kilicdaroglu and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu will be the top contenders for the position, with the former currently most in favor.

If the Alliance of Six wins power, it could lead to a more western-aligned Turkiye that is less inclined toward foreign policy autonomy. The opposition coalition’s manifesto, which spans 240 pages and includes 2,300 points, highlights the importance of restoring “mutual trust” with the US, pursuing Turkiye’s goal of “full membership in the European Union,” and seeking the reinstatement of Turkiye’s involvement in the F-35 fighter jet program. Ankara was ejected from the program after it purchased Russian-made S-400 missiles following the failed 2016 coup attempt, which is often viewed by Turks as being US-instigated.

The following chart depicts the positions of opposition parties on a number of foreign policy topics:

The survival of Turkiye’s autonomous foreign policy

Erdogan is acutely aware that the upcoming elections will pose the greatest challenge of his political career. In order to secure a victory, he may have to make bold decisions that were previously unimaginable.

This conviction is further reinforced by the west’s support for the Turkish opposition and their desire to replace Erdogan with a more compliant candidate. With the Turkish elections expected to take place between May and July, and with ongoing western pressure on the Turkish leader, Erdogan has been forced to strengthen cooperation with those who want him to remain in power.

This is one of the main reasons why Turkiye’s relations with Russia have strengthened both economically and politically, and why Erdogan has sought to normalize relations with the Syrian government and improve ties with Iran.

Erdogan realized early on that he would not be the west’s favored candidate in the upcoming elections. In response, he shifted his foreign strategy to increase his chances of retaining power in Ankara. In 2022, he paid visits to the UAE in February and Saudi Arabia in May, and launched initiatives to improve relations with Israel, Egypt, and Syria.

Erdogan has also recognized that his political survival is aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests, as his successor would likely be a candidate fully compliant with the west. This was one of the primary reasons for the continued Russian-Turkish rapprochement.

That, and the fact that Turkish public sentiment has broadly shifted in favor of Russia – and away from the US – as revealed in a December 2022 poll, where nearly two-thirds of Turks supported relations with Moscow.

Undoubtedly, the earthquakes that struck Turkiye and Syria have complicated matters for Erdogan. However, he has long demonstrated his ability to turn threats into opportunities by shifting tactics advantageously. His ace for many years has also been to capitalize on his opposition’s weaknesses, fragmentation, and inability to unite effectively against him.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

AKP Alliance of Six CHPEarthquake Egypt EU Iran Israel NATO opposition parties

كانتون إدلب … وكانتون القامشلي… كفى!

 الثلاثاء 14 شباط 2023

ناصر قنديل

ــ في المشهد الإجمالي للمنطقة سؤال كبير يطرح اليوم، بعد كارثة الزلزال، ما هي الفائدة التي يمكن أن تجنيها تركيا من بقاء قواتها في سورية، وتركيا تكتشف مع الزلزال حاجتها لحشد إمكاناتها لسنوات قادمة على عملية إزالة آثار الزلزال، وحاجتها لفعل ذلك إلى أفضل العلاقات مع دول الجوار، وها هي تسعى لتطبيع العلاقات مع اليونان كما قال الرئيس التركي رجب طيب أردوغان، بينما كان أردوغان قد دعا الى هذا التطبيع مع سورية في مرحلة سابقة على الزلزال، بنية التخفف من أعباء العبث الذي بدّد الكثير من قدرات تركيا ومكانتها، وجلب الخراب والإرهاب الى سورية، فكيف بعد الزلزال؟ ومعلوم أن أي علاقة طبيعية بين تركيا وسورية مشروطة بانسحاب تركيا من الأراضي السورية.

ــ ليس من متابع للملف التركي السوري إلا ويعلم أن ما بدأ مع اكتمال عقد الرباعية الروسية التركية الإيرانية السورية كان مقرراً له قبل الزلزال أن يترجم بعقد لقاء أمني عسكري رباعي لمناقشة آليات معالجة الوضع الشاذ في شمال غرب سورية، بعدما تمت مناقشة الوضع المشابه في شمال شرق سورية. وهذا يعني أن الانشغال بكارثة الزلزال وما فرضه ايقاع الأيام الأولى لن يدوم طويلا قبل أن يصبح المضي قدماً بهذه الخطوة حاجة ملحة في ضوء التداعيات التي ترتبت على الزلزال. وهذا يعني وضع مستقبل كانتون شمال شرق سورية وكانتون شمال غرب سورية على طاولة البحث، لارتباطهما عضوياً بقرار الانسحاب التركي من سورية، حيث تسعى تركيا لربط هذا الانسحاب بإنجاز أمني تقول بموجبه لشعبها إنها أنهت تحدي الكانتون الكردي، وتربط سورية تعاونها في إنجاز هذه المهمة سياسياً وأمنياً بالتزام تركي بالتعاون في إنهاء الكانتون شمال غرب سورية، وتقف موسكو وطهران في هذا الشأن مع دمشق.

ــ السؤال الذي يطرح نفسه هنا، هو ما هي خطة القيادات السياسية السورية التي تحمل ألقاباً فخمة في مواقع قيادة ثورة مزعومة، وما هو موقع تمسكهم بالكانتون في شمال غرب سورية في رؤيتهم المستقبلية لسورية، وهل هم يملكون أصلا هذه الرؤية، وقد بات أكيداً أن الحديث عن عمل عسكري يتيح التوسع والتمدد في مناطق سورية تحت سيطرة الدولة، لم يعد قابلا للنقاش حتى على سبيل الهلوسة، وهل يجرؤون على إعلان نيتهم اقامة دولة مستقلة في المنطقة الخاضعة لسيطرتهم، وهل هم يسيطرون عليها فعلاً، أم أن السيطرة هي لتشكيلة تضم عصابات مسلحة متعددة الانتماءات، تمسك بالمنطقة التي تربط الطريق الدولي بين أوروبا والخليج مرورا بتركيا وسورية، لفرض الخوة المالية على العبور، ويسرقون المعونات الإنسانية ويبيعونها للسكان، الذين يعيش أغلبهم من التمويل السياسي الآتي من بعض دول الخليج، وبعض الجمعيات التي تشجع على التطرف في دول أخرى من الخليج، بالإضافة لما تبقى من التنظيم العالمي للإخوان المسلمين، لكنهم يعلمون أنه دون العباءة التركية لا مستقبل لهذا الكانتون. فهل فكروا بالإجابة عن سؤال كيف سوف يتعاملون مع الانسحاب التركي عندما تدق ساعته، وقد باتت قريبة؟

ــ في شمال شرق سورية صورة مشابهة، فلا أفق عسكري يمكن أن يراهن عليه قادة تنظيم قسد لتوسيع دويلتهم، والقول إنهم جزء من حركة سورية تسعى للسيطرة على كامل الجغرافيا، ولا هم قادرون على إعلان دويلتهم في هذه المنطقة وإعلان الانفصال عن سورية، ولا هم قادرون على توظيف هذه السيطرة لتفاوض يتجاوز سقف الدولة السورية الواحدة نحو صيغ من الفدرالية. فماذا سيقولون لمن يسألهم عن استراتيجيتهم، إذا ما تم الاتفاق بين الدولتين السورية والتركية بشراكة روسية إيرانية على إنهاء الكانتون، والجواب هو أنهم لا يملكون قرارهم، فهم مجرد تتمة شكلية لبقاء الاحتلال الأميركي يزولون متى زال، وحتى ذلك الحين يتعيشون على فتات الاحتلال بمشاركته بسرقة النفط والقمح، وهذا يجعلهم كنظرائهم الذين يسيطرون على شمال غرب سورية، نماذج لا أخلاقية ساقطة للعمل السياسي. ولعل ما تحمله وقائع الأبنية التي تهدمت مع الزلزال، داخل تركيا وداخل سورية، أنها جميعاً بنيت خلال سنوات الحرب، سواء في مناطق شمال غرب سورية، أو في شرق حلب خلال سيطرة الجماعات المسلحة عليها، أو في المناطق التركية للمتاجرة وبيع بعضها للسوريين، والحصيلة كانت كارثة سببها لا أخلاقية معايير البناء.

ــ مع السقوط الوطني والأخلاقي لهذه الجماعات، آن الأوان للقول كفى للكانتون في إدلب والكانتون في القامشلي، فمواجهة الكوارث وتداعياتها تحتاج دولاً حقيقية، والعصابة لا تتحول إلى دولة.

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Turkiye, Armenia border gate opens for first time in decades for aid transfer

February 12 2023

The last time the Alican checkpoint was opened was reportedly in 1988, when the Turkish Red Crescent sent aid to earthquake-hit Armenia

ByNews Desk- 

(Photo Credit: Twitter)

The border gate between Armenia and Turkiye opened for the first time in 35 years on 11 February, to facilitate the transfer of aid to the victims of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred earlier this week.

The death toll from the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks continues to rise, having an estimated toll of more than 34,000 dead in Turkiye and neighboring Syria.

Ankara’s special envoy to Yerevan, Serdar Kilic, shared photos on Twitter of transport trucks passing through the Alican checkpoint on Turkiye’s side of the border.

Kilic thanked Armenia officials for their help, remarking: “I will always remember the generous aid sent by the people of Armenia to help alleviate the sufferings of our people in the earthquake-stricken region in Turkiye.”

According to Anadolu Agency, the last time the Alican checkpoint was opened was in 1988, when the Turkish Red Crescent sent aid to earthquake-hit Armenia. The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.8, and took over 38,000 lives.

Armenia and Turkiye have been at odds ever since the 1915 Armenian Genocide, which occurred under Turkish Ottoman rule. In the intervening years, Ankara has never taken accountability for its war crimes, despite the two countries attempting to hold reconciliation talks; however, the US, Russia, France, the UK, and many other nations recognize the 20th century conflict as a genocide.

On 14 October 2022, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu disclosed that Turkiye is moving towards normalization with Armenia “in the near future.”

Cavusoglu revealed this to his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, during a press conference in Istanbul: “We negotiate currently which confidence-building steps we can take with Armenia … The next talks will take place in Turkiye or Armenia. We are sincere in our normalization efforts with Armenia.”

Despite the normalization efforts, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was asked about the “Zangezur Corridor,” which would give Azerbaijan unimpeded access to Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic without Armenian checkpoints, remarking that he “didn’t see any issues with it.”

On 6 October 2022, Erdogan and the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met in Prague to hold the first high-level talks between the two states in over 13 years.

Turkey-Syria earthquake search operations underway, toll exceeds 21,00

10 Feb 2023

Source: Agencies + Al Mayadeen

By Al Mayadeen English 

The first United Nations aid deliveries arrived on Thursday in areas controlled by militants in Syria.

Rescuers in Turkey searching for earthquake survivors (AP)

Rescuers were scouring debris on Friday nearly 100 hours after the 7.8-magnitude massive earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 21,000 people in one of the region’s worst disasters for a century.

The first United Nations aid deliveries arrived on Thursday in areas controlled by militants in Syria, but chances of finding survivors have dimmed since the passing of the three-day mark that experts consider a critical period to save lives.

Top aid officials were planning to visit affected areas with World Health Organization Head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths both announcing trips.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, said she had arrived in Aleppo.

“Communities struggling after years of fierce fighting are now crippled by the earthquake,” Spoljaric tweeted on Wednesday.

“As this tragic event unfolds, people’s desperate plight must be addressed,” she stressed.

On his part, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Security Council to authorize the opening of new cross-border humanitarian aid points between Turkey and Syria.

“This is the moment of unity, it’s not a moment to politicise or to divide but it is obvious that we need massive support,” Guterres said.

Similarly, Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria stressed on Thursday the need to avoid “politicization” of aid to earthquake victims in Syria and urged Washington and Brussels to ensure there were “no impediments”.

Exclusive: Syrian government sending aid to armed-groups-held areas

In the same context, Syrian informed sources told Al Mayadeen on Thursday that a convoy carrying Syrian aid is preparing to enter Idlib through the Saraqib border crossing and is currently waiting for UN representatives to hand over the relief aid to Idlib.

The sources said that if international organizations are late, Syria will not hesitate to deliver this aid by itself to help the disaster-stricken people.

“The negotiations were fruitful, and aid is on the way,” they added.

According to Al Mayadeen sources, the UAE had been negotiating for the past three days with militants in Idlib to open the crossings to allow the entry of aid.

“The militats were finally convinced with an aid convoy making it into Idlib through the Syrian Red Crescent and international organizations in Syria,” the sources added.

“The militants want to garner international support for themselves alone under the pretext that the Syrian government would not allow aid to make it into their areas,” the sources indicated.

Al Mayadeen correspondent also reported that “there is an aid convoy preparing to enter Idlib.”

“The aid convoy will make it through the UN path through the Saraqib crossing,” and “the efforts of the militants to get aid into Idlib through the Turkish borders have all been met with failure.”

Freezing temperatures

In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, located near the epicenter of the quake, temperatures plunged to minus three degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit) early on Friday.

Despite the cold, thousands of families had to spend the night in cars and makeshift tents — too scared or banned from returning to their homes.

Gyms, mosques, schools, and some stores have opened at night. But beds are scarce and thousands spend the nights in cars with engines running to provide heat.

Monday’s quake was the largest Turkey has seen since 1939 when 33,000 people died in the eastern Erzincan province.

In addition to 3,377 deaths in Syria, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said the death toll from the earthquake in Turkey has reached 18,342, while 74,242 have been injured, bringing the confirmed total to more than 21,000 deaths.

Experts fear the number will continue to rise sharply. Despite the difficulties, thousands of local and foreign searchers have not given up the hunt for more survivors.

On a visit to the area, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted there had been “shortcomings” in the government’s handling of the disaster.

Relief pledges

The World Bank said it would give $1.78 billion in aid to Turkey to help with relief and recovery efforts. Immediate assistance of $780 million will be offered from two existing projects in Turkey, said the bank, while an added $1 billion in operations is being prepared to support affected people.

In Syria, the General Director of the Syrian Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA), Basem Mansour, revealed that the countries that have started sending aid planes so far are: UAE, Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan, Armenia, Algeria, Iraq, Oman, Egypt, Venezuela, Jordan, Libya, and Tunisia.

Earlier, the US Treasury Department announced a temporary lifting of some Syria-related sanctions following calls from the Syrian state and the international community in the aftermath of the 7.8-magnitude that struck Syria and Turkey.

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Humanity Can’t be Divided: Turkey-Syria Earthquake Exposes the Western Bias

Feb 10, 2023

By Mohammad Youssef

The natural disaster represented by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit both Turkey and Syria and led to the killing and wounding tens of thousands of people in both countries have given an alarming signal about how much degraded and inhumane the West is.

Day after day the Western hypocrisy, double standards and inconsistency reveal themselves in the meanest way, especially through the way they deal with the Syrian catastrophe.

The latest death toll from Monday’s catastrophic earthquake stands above 16,000, and the numbers are expected to increase as time passes.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a disaster zone in the 10 provinces affected by the earthquakes, imposing a state of emergency in the region for three months.

Turkey’s disaster management agency said it had 11,342 reports of collapsed buildings, of which 5,775 had been confirmed. Turkey’s ministry of transport and infrastructure said that overnight 3,400 people took shelter in trains being used as emergency accommodation

The number of those injured there rose to 37,011, the agency said, adding that more than 79,000 personnel were engaged in search and rescue operations on the Turkish side of the border.

Syria’s death toll has climbed to at least 3162, and Turkey’s has hit 14014.

Even in the wake of this devastating earthquake, the US and EU continue to refuse to lift the sanctions imposed on Damascus which prevent Syrians from receiving direct aid from many countries.

The Westerners, who show extreme generosity when they pay money to many of the corrupt NGOS, are indifferent to the suffering of the Syrian people who are lying under the rubbles and debris of their destroyed homes.

The tight siege by the US government against Syria represented by Caesar Act continues to exert its unjust pressure and deny innocent people their basic rights of life and salvation.

By blackmailing governments and preventing them from taking the initiative to send the help, food and medical supplies to Syria, Washington is exacerbating the already dire situation there.

So many countries of the world have launched air bridges and sent aid to Turkey, while very few countries dared to challenge the American siege.

Among the first governments to respond and send help were Iran, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman and Qatar.

It is very shameful how the Western governments deal with the suffering of Syrian people when they keep presenting themselves as the guardians of dignities and human rights.

All efforts should be mounting by governments and lobbyists to break the siege against Syria completely.

The US-imposed hegemonic policies should be challenged and sabotaged once and for all.

A campaign of condemnation and awareness should spread all over to make people alert and sober about the true nature of the Western criminal policies.

سورية… لا بواكي لها…عصيةٌ عصية يا شام يا شام

الخميس 9 شباط 2023

سعاده مصطفى أرشيد

كانت بلادنا على موعدها المئوي مع الزلزال الذي ضربنا بلا سابق إنذار، ولم تعترف الطبيعة الجيولوجية بنتائج الإتفاقية الأنغلوفرنسية التي منحت الشمال السوري لتركيا عام 1916 ثم إتفاقية سان ريمو اللاحقة عام 1920، كما لم تعترف بسلخ لواء الإسكندرون عام 1939، فضربت الطبيعة ضربتها دون الاكتراث للحدود المصطنعة، فأصابت المناطق السورية التي تقع داخل الحدود الدولية التركية، والتي كانت أنقرة قد حشدت بها جماعات التكفير من النصرة وداعش وغيرها، كما ضربت مناطق داخل الحدود الدولية لسورية، والتي تخضع لاحتلال الجيش التركي وتقيم بها الحكومة التركية إدارات تابعة لها.

المواطن السوري نزيل بيته في حلب أم خيمته في إدلب، وكأنه لم تكفِه الحرب الكونية على بلاده منذ اثني عشر عاما، وما ترافق معها من قتل ودمار وتهجير واحتلال، فجاء الزلزال ليفاقم من مأساته وآلامه، مشاهد الدمار وأشلاء القتلى ينفطر لها القلب، فيما تزداد أعدادها طردياً مع كلّ نشرة أخبار وحسب جهود فرق الإنقاذ العاملة في ظروف جوية ماطرة وباردة.

الرئيس التركي رجب طيب أردوغان أعلن عن حالة الطوارئ لثلاثة شهور في أحد عشر ولاية، وهو نظريا مسؤول عن إغاثة ملايين السوريين الذين استضافهم في تركيا لأسباب تركية لا إنسانية، فاستخدمهم ضدّ بلادهم ودولتهم من جانب، ثم استخدمهم مرة ثانية لتهديد أوروبا بإطلاقهم للهجرة إليها، وعن ملايين آخرين في المناطق التي احتلها في الشمال السوري، وحسب ما تقول منظمات الإغاثة الدولية إنّ ثلاثة وعشرين مليون مواطن في سورية وتركيا قد أصبحوا في أمسّ الحاجة للإغاثة العاجلة.

انتفض العالم المنافق والذي يعرف أردوغان كيف يتعامل معه بفوقية واعتداد، وانطلقت الجسور الجوية والقوافل البرية لنقل الإغاثات الطبية والغذائية، ومعها فرق الدفاع المدني إلى المناطق التركية، وتنتشر صور الطائرات المزدحمة في السماء التركي فيما تعيش سماؤنا أجواء الحصار الظالم، فالسوري لا بواكي له، لا من جسور جوية حقيقية ولا قوافل إلا من روسيا وإيران وبعض الدول العربية ومن بعض أبناء أمته، أما العالم الغربي وعقوباته والذي طالما أرسل لسورية أدوات القتل والدمار، فإنه وكما أثبتته هذه الكارثة يستنكف عن إرسال المواد الإغاثية، فهو لا يعترف لا بالدولة السورية وحقوقها ولا حتى بإنسانية المواطن السوري.

على ما أحدثت هذه الكارثة من دمار وأذى في الأرواح والماديات ما لا يمكن علاجه بالإغاثة العاجلة فقط على ضرورتها الملحة، وإنما يستدعي التفكير بورشة إعمار وإعادة بناء طويلة ومكلفة، ولكن وبشكل ملحّ تحتاج سورية لكل أبناءها للعمل السريع على ثلاثة ملفات :

أولا: تطوير الحملة الشعبية ـ القومية التي انطلقت لتعمّ سائر المدن في الكيانات السورية حتى لو أدّت إلى تحطيم الحدود المصطنعة التي أثبتت الطبيعة تهافتها وبطلانها.

ثانيا: حملة شعبية على المستوى العالمي لرفع الحصار المجرم عن سورية وفضحه وكشف نفاق من يحاصرنا، ذلك بالتظاهر أمام سفارات بلادهم، وبتوقيع العرائض التي يشارك بها الأفراد من سياسيين ومثقفيين وأكاديميين، وإجراء الإتصالات مع جهات غربية مؤيدة لنا لعمل ذات الإجراء في المدن الأوروبية والأميركية.

ثالثاً: وهو الأهمّ الطلب الرسمي والشعبي على الحلفاء في طهران وموسكو، وذلك من أجل القيام بوساطة مزدوجة، الجزء الأول منها ما بين الدولة السورية والأتراك، بحيث يدرك أردوغان أمام ضرورات ما أحدثه الزلزال أنّ مصلحته كما من مصلحة الدولة السورية انسحابه من الشمال السوري (إدلب وجوارها)، وتفرّغه لإغاثة محفظاته الإحدى عشر وأنّ عودة الدولة السورية لفرض سيادتها على أرضها ليس فقط حقاً من حقوقها، وإنما هو مصلحة تركية أيضاً، ووساطة أخرى ما بين الدولة السورية والمعارضات غير المتورّطة في الإرهاب والتكفير وفتح مجال العودة لهم إلى حظيرة وطنهم.

سورية تحتاج اليوم إلى من يحبها وينتمى إليها.

*سياسي فلسطيني مقيم في الكفير ـ جنين ـ فلسطين المحتلة

عصيةٌ عصية يا شام يا شام

الخميس 9 شباط 2023

د. كلود عطية

الشام لا تغرق في وحول العالم بل هي التي علّمت العالم كيف يكون النهوض من تحت الركام.. لا تعنيها مساعدات ملطخة بالدماء ولا مواقف دول دمّرت في أرضها حجراً أو غيّرت مكان حبة تراب.. هي الشام حضارة الكلمة ولغة الحب والسلام.. هي الإنتاج والاكتفاء.. هي العز والشرف وكرامة الإنسان.. لا يعنيها الموت وهي الحياة والهواء والشمس والقمر المعلق في سماء كل الأمم…

الشام لا تُحاصَر إلا بالمحبة والوفاء أما تفاصيل الحرب الكونية والحصار فهي مرتدّة على أصحابها وانْ طال الزمن.. هي الحق والخير والجمال هي الثقافة والمعرفة والعلم والإبداع.. لا يدخل اليها ويبقى ويعود إلا من كان يفتّش عن الأمان ويبحث عن وطن يختصر بتاريخه كلّ الأوطان..

هي الشام تاريخ من الوجود الإنساني والحضاري لا تزعزعها كلّ الأحداث الماضية من حروب وويلات وهزات أرضية وبشرية..

عصية يا شام عن النسيان فأنت الذاكرة الحقيقية لكلّ أحرار العالم، ولكلّ أبناء الحياة..

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U.S. Declares War on Turkish Tourism Economy

February 7, 2023


Steven Sahiounie is a Syrian American award-winning journalist based in Syria. He is specialized on the Middle East. He has also appeared on TV and radio in Canada, Russia, Iran, Syria, China, Lebanon, and the United States.

By Steven Sahiounie

On February 3, the Turkish interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, blasted the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Jeffry L. Flake, saying, “Take your dirty hands off of Turkey.”

The outrage was prompted after Washington and eight European countries issued travel warnings over possible terror attacks in Turkey. The U.S. and its western allies have attempted to connect a recent Quran burning in Sweden with travel danger inside Turkey. Muslim countries worldwide have denounced the burning as hate speech, not free speech, but this has no apparent connection to travel safety issues inside Turkey.

The U.S. travel warning is tantamount to a declaration of economic war on Turkey who is in an economic downturn of its tourism sector, which was 11 % of the GDP in 2019, representing $78.2 billion, and rose to $17.95 billion in the third quarter of 2022, of which 85.7 percent came from foreign visitors. In 2018, tourism directly accounted for 7.7% of total employment in Turkey.

“Every American ambassador wonders how they can hurt Turkey. This has been one of Turkey’s greatest misfortunes over the years. It gathers other ambassadors and tries to give them advice. They are doing the same thing in Europe, the American embassy is running Europe,” said Soylu.

Soylu has criticized the U.S. and blames Washington for the 2016 Turkish regime change attempt, and has accused the U.S. of ruling Europe. In foreign policies, the EU follows U.S. directives implicitly.

“I’m being very clear. I very well know how you would like to create strife in Turkey. Take your grinning face off from Turkey,” said Soylu.

Ankara warned its citizens abroad to be aware of possible anti-Islamic attacks in the U.S. and Europe following the burning of the Quran in Sweden. Turkey later summoned the nine ambassadors, including Flake, for talks over the warnings.

Soylu condemned the European consulate closures in Turkey as an attempt to meddle in campaigning for Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for May 14.

Soylu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have suggested that the western states had issued the security warnings in order to pressure Turkey to tone down its criticism of the Quran burning and resolve the NATO dispute in which Erdogan has voiced opposition to Sweden joining the bloc.

After a right-wing Swedish Radical Christian burned the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, Erdogan threatened that he would never consent to Swedish accession.

Sweden previously has refused to extradite the 120 terrorists Turkey has demanded, and the U.S. Senate has made it clear that if Turkey does not approve Swedish accession, arms sales to Turkey, specifically F-16s, will not be authorized.

Turkish elections

Turkish elections are scheduled for May 14, and will be the toughest reelection fight of Erdogan’s career, and he and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) may lose the election.

The six-party opposition coalition, composed of two larger and four smaller parties, has managed to present a unified front. The opposition to Erdogan support the restoration of Turkey’s parliamentary system and the curtailment of presidential powers.

Erdogan’s fear has grown so strong that he used the courts to ban a leading potential opposition candidate, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, from running for the CHP. However, polls suggest that Ankara’s mayor, Mansur Yavas, could beat Erdogan.

The state has more overtly targeted some political parties, especially the pro-Kurdish, People’s Democracy Party (HDP). This left-leaning party was not invited into the opposition coalition, but HDP supporters will vote against Erdogan.

Biden supports opposition to Erdogan

U.S. President Joe Biden hosted an emergency meeting on Nov. 16 in Bali, Indonesia, with NATO and EU leaders to discuss a response to a missile blast in Poland, but Turkey was not invited. The meeting was held during the Group of 20 summit, and Turkey was present, but Biden snubbed them from the emergency meeting.

Turkey has been a full-fledged member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 1952, commands its second-largest military and has protected the southern flank of the alliance for 70 years.

Erdogan was again snubbed by Biden in December 2021 at the U.S. hosted virtual ‘Summit for Democracy’. In a New York Times interview published in 2020, the then candidate Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat.”

“What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership,” Biden said.

“He has to pay a price,” Biden said, adding that Washington should embolden Turkish opposition leaders “to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process.”

Turkey recognized a clear attack by Biden using election meddling as a tool.

“The days of ordering Turkey around are over. But if you still think you can try, be our guest. You will pay the price.” Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.

The main opposition CHP party quickly distanced themselves from Biden’s remarks of election meddling, calling for “respect for the sovereignty of Turkey”.

Turkey’s six-party opposition will select its candidate to run against Erdogan on February 13, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

Obama and Erdogan

When President Obama conceived of his attack in Syria for regime change in 2011, using Radical Islamic terrorists as his foot soldiers, he called upon Erdogan to play a crucial role. Turkey hosted the CIA office which ran the Timber Sycamore program which trained and provided weapons for the Free Syrian Army. Erdogan also took in over 3 million Syria refugees fleeing the violence. Erdogan authorized his security forces to transport weapons to the terrorists in Syria.

Erdogan was a follower of the Muslim Brotherhood who provided the political ideology for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who were terrorists attacking unarmed civilians, but were reported by the U.S. and western media as ‘rebels’.

However, the FSA disbanded due to lack of public support in Syria, and Al Qaeda stepped in the take its place, and finally ISIS emerged as the toughest terrorist group.

In 2017, President Trump cut off the CIA program in Turkey, and supporting of the Al Qaeda branch in Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham was left to Erdogan. The U.S.-NATO attack on Syria failed to produce regime change, but the country was partly destroyed in the process. Now, Erdogan proposes a reset in relations with Damascus, and is on track to establish business and diplomatic ties once more.

The U.S. State Department has issued warnings and threats to Erdogan if he follows through on his plan to have a neighborly relationship with Syria. Erdogan needs to make peace with Syria to return the 3.6 million Syrian refugees back home, and revive exports to Syria which will be a huge boost to the Turkish economy. If he accomplishes this soon, he has a good chance at winning reelection in May.


A deadly terrorist bombing of a shopping district in Istanbul last November was carried out by a Syrian Kurd. The message was directed at Erdogan: don’t attack the YPG in north east Syria, or else. Those Kurds are supported by the U.S. military illegally occupying parts of Syria.

The U.S. partnered with the YPG to fight the ISIS, and both Erdogan and the opposition view that as a betrayal of a fellow NATO member, and U.S. ally. The YPG is directly linked with the PKK, an internationally designated terrorist organization and a threat to Turkey’s national security.

Erdogan has threatened a new military operation in Syria to disarm the YPG regardless of their U.S. partnership. The Syrian special enjoy under Trump, James Jeffrey, advised the Kurds to repair their relationship with Damascus, as the U.S. was not going to fight any war to defend them. The Kurd’s usefulness to the U.S. was over. Recently, the Turkish air force has been bombing them, with shells falling a few hundred feet from U.S. personnel stationed there.

Erdogan has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for a green light to attack the Kurds in Syria, but was cautioned against it. However, the time might be ripe for a Turkish attack on the Kurds, which would disarm them and probably would lead to a withdrawal of the 200 American troops.

Turkey removed M4 outpost

On February 2, Turkish troops in Syria evacuated a military outpost near the M4 highway that connects the cities of Aleppo and Latakia. The former Al Qaeda branch in Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), occupy Idlib, the last terrorist controlled area in Syria.

Turkey had been defending the HTS from attacks from Syrian Arab Army, and the Russian military. However, Erdogan has decided to drop his support of the armed opposition as he repairs his relationship with Syria.

On January 31, Ankara informed the HTS leadership of its plan to conduct patrols on the HTS-controlled portion of the M4 (Aleppo-Latakia) road, which “may be followed by joint patrols with Russia, and eventually with Syria.”

Over 2,300 killed as 7.8-magnitude earthquake hits Turkey, Syria

Monday, 06 February 2023 5:04 AM  [ Last Update: Monday, 06 February 2023 1:17 PM ]

A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake has hit Turkey and Syria, killing over 2,300 people and trapping many others.

The quake struck at 04:17 am local time (0117 GMT) at a depth of about 17.9 kilometers (11 miles) and was followed by a 6.7-magnitude aftershock 15 minutes later, according to the US Geological Survey.

Turkey’s AFAD emergencies service center put the first quake’s magnitude at 7.4.

According to the head of Turkey’s disaster and emergencies management agency (AFAD) Yunus Sezer, the country’s death toll following the earthquake has risen to about 1,500 with thousands of buildings destroyed.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described the earthquake as the country’s largest disaster since 1939.

People gather as rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in the Syria city of Jandaris, February 6, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

The Ankara government has requested international aid amid the widespread devastation caused by the quake.

The president of the Turkish Red Crescent also urged the nation to make blood donations.

Kerem Kinik also said on Twitter the organization sending additional shipment of blood to the affected region.

The country’s vice president Fuat Oktay announced the suspension of schools in the 10 affected cities and provinces.

He also announced that flights to and from the airport in Hatay province have been suspended, while airports in Marash and Antep are also closed to civilian flights.

The quake leveled buildings across major cities in southern Turkey, including Kahramanmaras and Gaziantep, and caught most people while they were still asleep.

“I have never felt anything like it in the 40 years I’ve lived,” Erdem, a resident of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the quake’s epicenter, told Reuters. “We were shaken at least three times very strongly, like a baby in a crib.”

Rescuers search for survivors under the rubble, following an earthquake, in militant-held town of Jandaris, Syria, on February 6,2023. (Via Reuters)

The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, said it was concerned about areas in Turkey from which there had been no news following the overnight tremor.

“National authorities will be focusing on search and rescue at the moment,” a WHO spokesperson told Reuters in a statement, adding “Then we will expect an increased need for trauma care to treat the injured and to support the entire health system in affected areas.”

In Syria, the country’s official media as well as rescue teams working across the nation put the death toll at over 800.

The official SANA news agency, quoting the country’s health ministry, said the quake had killed at least 461 people and left at least another 1,326 injured, including the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Latakia and Tartus.

Rescue teams said over 380 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in northwestern parts of the country, which are held by pro-Turkish militants.

A man carries away an injured child following an earthquake in the town of Jandaris, Syria, on February 6, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Reports said the Syrian border city of Harem in Idlib province was completely ruined by the quake.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad held an emergency cabinet meeting to review the damage and discuss the necessary measures, according to his office.

Raed Ahmed, who heads Syria’s National Earthquake Center, told Syrian media that this was “historically, the biggest earthquake recorded in the history of the center.”

The tremors were also felt in Lebanon and Cyprus.

People in the Lebanese cities of Beirut and Tripoli ran into the street and took to their cars to get away from their buildings in case they collapsed, Reuters cited witnesses as saying.

Turkey is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. In 1999, more than 17,000 people were killed in the worst earthquake to hit the country in decades.

Putin offers condolences, aid to Turkey, Syria after quake

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences and offered Russian aid to Turkey and Syria following the deadly earthquake, the Kremlin said.

“We share the sadness and the pain of those who lost their loved ones and we hope for a speedy recovery for all the injured, and are ready to provide the assistance needed to overcome the impact of this natural disaster,” Putin said in a message to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

In a separate message to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin asked him to “convey words of sincere sympathy and support” to the families of the victims and said Russia was “ready to provide required assistance.”

People gather near a damaged site following an earthquake, in Aleppo, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on February 6, 2023. (via Reuters)

“Bashar al-Assad gratefully accepted this offer, and in the coming hours rescuers of the Russian emergencies ministry will fly to Syria,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The Turkish president warmly thanked Vladimir Putin for such a prompt and sincere reaction and said that he was giving instructions to the competent authorities of the country to accept the help of Russian rescuers,” it said.

Russia said it had emergency rescue Ilyushin-76 planes on standby to fly to the two countries.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu separately spoke with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar by telephone, offering condolences and support.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Shoigu “offered to provide all necessary assistance through the military department to his Turkish colleague in the aftermath of the earthquake, including medical assistance to the victims.”

People search through rubble following the earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on February 6, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

China’s Xi condole with Turkey, Syria over deadly quake

Later on Monday, China’s President Xi Jinping sent his condolences to Turkish and Syrian leaders over the most powerful earthquake to have hit their countries in nearly a century.

Xi told Turkey’s Erdogan and Syria’s Assad in separate messages that he was “shocked” to learn of the disaster.

He also conveyed “deep condolences for the dead and sincere sympathy for their families as well as for the injured.”

“I am shocked to learn of the strong earthquake that took place in your countries, causing heavy casualties and loss of property,” Xi said in his messages, according to CCTV.

China’s official foreign aid agency said it was in communication with Turkish and Syrian authorities and “willing to provide emergency humanitarian aid in accordance with the needs of the affected population.”

People search for survivors under the rubble following the earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on February 6, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

EU mobilizes over 10 search and rescue teams to Turkey

The European Union says more than 10 search and rescue teams from the bloc have been mobilized in the wake of Turkey’s major earthquake.

“Urban Search and Rescue teams have been quickly mobilized from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania to support the first responders on the ground,” the European Commission said in a statement.

Italy, Spain and Slovakia have offered their rescue teams to Turkey as well.

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Erdogan: Iran’s participation in Russia, Syria & Turkey talks possible

31 Jan, 2023

Source: Al Mayadeen Net + Agencies

By Al Mayadeen English 

Any tripartite talks should be preceded with prior coordination and planning between Syria and Russia, according to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (Archive)

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on Monday the possibility of Iran’s participation in the tripartite talks between Russia, Syria, and Turkey.

    In a televised speech, Erdogan said that “It is possible for Iran to participate in the tripartite talks between Turkey, Syria, and Russia.”

    He added, “Our relations with Russia are based on mutual respect, and although we were unable to obtain the desired result regarding northern Syria, the tripartite talks could be held, and it is possible that Iran will take part in them.”

    Earlier this month, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said, “The meetings with the Turkish side must be based on prior coordination and planning between Syria and Russia in order for them to be fruitful, and in order to reach the tangible goals and results that Syria wants from these meetings.”

    On December 28, the Russian Defense Ministry said that “trilateral talks between the defense ministers of Russia, Syria, and Turkey took place in Moscow. The meeting discussed ways to address the Syrian crisis, the issue of refugees, and joint efforts to combat extremist groups in Syria.” 

    At the conclusion of the meeting, the defense ministers highlighted how the dialogue was constructive, stressing the need for all three parties to hold further talks to bring more stability to Syria and the whole region, the statement added.

    Meanwhile, the Turkish Defense Ministry said Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and the head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), Hakan Fidan, met Syrian Defense Minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk in Moscow, along with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

    “Ways of resolving the Syrian crisis and the problem of refugees as well as joint efforts to combat extremist groups in Syria have been discussed,” the Russian RIA Novosti news agency said, citing the Russian Defense Ministry.

    “Syrian crisis, the refugee issue, and efforts of joint fight against all terror organizations on Syrian soil were discussed in the constructive meeting,” the Ministry’s statement added.

    Saudi Crown Prince Defies the US Policy against Syria

    Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° 

    In November 2022, Saudi Arabia formally changed its stance on Syria. Saudi Arabia is the political powerhouse of the Middle East, and often shares positions on foreign policy and international issues with the UAE, which has previously re-opened their embassy in Damascus.

    “The kingdom is keen to maintain Syria’s security and stability and supports all efforts aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told the November Arab League summit in Algeria.

    Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 following the outbreak of conflict instigated by the US, and portrayed in western media as a popular uprising of pro-democracy protesters.

    Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said, “The developments in Syria still require a pioneering Arab effort. It is necessary to show flexibility from all parties so that the economic collapse and political blockage can be dispelled. Syria must engage in its natural Arab environment.”

    The next Arab League summit will be held in Saudi Arabia, and there is a possibility of Syria once again taking its seat at the round table.

    On January 16, the Syrian Foreign Ministry agreed to resume imports from Saudi Arabia after over a decade of strained relations, and Syria planned to import 10,000 tons of white sugar. This development signals a new beginning between the two countries.

    Saudi and the Syrian tribes

    The Arab tribes in the north east of Syria have traditionally had strong ties with Saudi Arabia, and have received support from the kingdom. The tribes have opposed the ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Arab villages which the US-led YPG militia has conducted for years. Even though Saudi Arabia has been viewed as a US ally in the past, this has changed since the US military has supported the Marxist YPG who have oppressed Syrians who are not Kurdish.

    The US occupied oil wells in north east Syria may come under attack by Arab tribes who are demanding their homes, farms and businesses back from the US-supported YPG.  Some analysts foresee the US troops pulling out of Syria after the Kurds find a political solution with Damascus.

    Turkey and Syria repair relationship

    Turkey and Syria have begun steps to repair their relationship, which ended after Turkey supported the US-NATO attack on Syria for regime change, and hosted the CIA operations room funneling weapons and terrorists into Syria, under the Obama administration.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad demanded recently the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria to begin to repair the relationship.

    Russia is brokering the reconciliation between Erdogan and Assad, which began with the Moscow hosted meeting of the three defense ministers, and a meeting between the three foreign ministers is upcoming.

    The developments between Turkey and Syria are being watched by Iran. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said his country was “happy with the dialogue taking place between Syria and Turkey.” Amirabdollahian will travel to Damascus on Saturday for talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Mekdad.

    Iran is looking to establish a new role in the recovery process in Syria. President Ebrahim Raisi will visit both Turkey and Syria soon, his first visit to Turkey since taking office two years ago.  While analysts see Saudi Arabia and Iran as antagonists, some feel the kingdom will ultimately realize they have to work with Iran in Syria and Lebanon.  Iran is part of the region and can’t be excluded from the geo-political sphere.

    Saudi Arabian reforms 

    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) said on April 27, 2021 that the country was undergoing a sweeping reform which would restructure the role of religion in Saudi politics and society.  The process began a few years before he became crown prince, but under his leadership it has accelerated. Islamic institutions in the Kingdom have seen changes in procedure, personnel, and jurisdiction.  All of these reforms are in line with the future vision of the country.

    Some analysts feel the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1960s eventually gave rise to support for domestic religious institutions, and eventually led to funding of religious activities abroad, while religious leaders at home wielded power over public policy.

    Vision 2030

    Saudi King Salman, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and his son, MBS have a plan for the country which is known as Vision 2030.  MBS is also Prime Minister and Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.

    The days of unlimited oil and markets are in the decline. Education, training, and employment opportunities are the stepping stones to building a thriving country and MBS is determined to plan for a long future of growth and innovation.


    The Crown Prince is young and has new ideas.  He is instituting sweeping reforms to the society which have included more rights and freedoms for women. He has championed projects to place Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination, year round golf and soccer venue, and encouraged cultural arts such as musical productions. MBS is breaking the mold: no longer will Saudi Arabia be a breeding ground for Radical Islam.

    Extremist preachers

    Saudi Arabia had hosted many extremist preachers.  Some were featured on satellite TV channels located in Saudi Arabia, and others were local preachers, authors, or scholars.  Some had traveled abroad preaching in pulpits and exporting their hatred and sectarian bigotry.

    One of the most famous preachers was Muhammed Al-Arifi, who has had an electronic surveillance device attached to him by Saudi intelligence agents, after they seized all of his social media accounts. His last tweet is said to be on May 6, 2019, when he had 20 million followers, and 24 million likes on Facebook, which ranked him as tenth in the Arab world and in the Middle East. The kingdom is shutting down clerics who are extreme.

    In 2014, Great Britain banned Arifi from entering the UK following reports that was involved in radicalizing three young British citizens who went to Syria as terrorists.

    A YouTube video in 2013 showed Arifi preaching in Egypt and prophesying the coming of the Islamic State.  Egyptian TV reported Arifi meeting with the former Muslim Brotherhood prime minister Hisham Qandil in his office.

    Arifi is best remembered for his statement on the media Al Jazeera in which he called for jihad in Syria and supported Al Qaeda.

    Adnan al-Arour is another extremist preacher who had appeared regularly on two Saudi-owned Salafist satellite channels. Arour was originally from Syria before settling in Saudi Arabia, and in the early days of the Syrian conflict he would stand up on camera, shake his finger, and called for his followers to ‘grind the flesh’ of an Islamic minority sect in Syria and ‘feed it to the dogs’.

    These extremist preachers made it clear that the battles being waged in Syria had nothing to do with freedom or democracy, which the western media was pushing as the goal.  The truth was the conflict in Syria was a US-NATO attack for regime change and utilized terrorists following Radical Islam, who fought a sectarian war with the goal of establishing an Islamic State in Syria.

    The previous Crown Prince

    Muhammad bin Nayef Al Saud (MBN) served as the crown prince and first deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia from 2015 to 2017.  On June 21, 2017 King Salman appointed his own son, MBS, as crown prince and relieved MBN of all positions.

    MBN met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2013. He then met with President Obama in Washington, on 14 January 2013. The discussion focused on the US-NATO attack on Syria and its support from Saudi Arabia.

    In February 2014, MBN replaced Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then intelligence chief of Saudi Arabia, and was placed in charge of Saudi intelligence in Syria. Bandar had been in charge of supporting the US attack on Syria. Bandar had been trying to convince the US in 2012 that the Syrian government was using chemical weapons.  However, research has shown that the terrorists used chemical weapons to push Obama into a military invasion, based on his speech of ‘The Red Line’.

    In March 2016, MBN was awarded Légion d’honneur by French President François Hollande, another partner in the US-NATO attack on Syria.

    On February 10, 2017, the CIA granted its highest Medal to MBN and was handed to him by CIA director Mike Pompeo during a reception ceremony in Riyadh. MBN and Pompeo discussed Syria with Turkish officials, and said Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US was “historic and strategic”.  Just months later in June MBS would depose MBN and strip him of powers, in a move considered to be “upending decades of royal custom and profoundly reordering the kingdom’s inner power structure”.

    US diplomats argued that MBN was “the most pro-American minister in the Saudi Cabinet”. That is what brought MBN down. The days of blindly following the US directives are over in Saudi Arabia.  MBS has refused to bow down to Biden when he demanded an increase in oil production.  The Vision 2030 that MBS developed does not include financing failed wars in the Middle East for the benefit of the Oval Office. MBS has a strained relationship with Biden, and he wears it as a badge of honor.

    Saudi role in the Syrian war

    Saudi Arabia played a huge role in the large-scale supply of weapons and ammunition to various terrorist groups in Syria during the Syrian conflict.  Weapons purchased in Croatia were funneled through Jordan to the border town of Deraa, the epi-center of the Syrian conflict.

    At the height of Saudi involvement in Syria, the kingdom had their own militia in Syria under the command of Zahran Alloush. The Jaysh al-Islam are remembered for parading women in cages through the Damascus countryside prior to massacring them.

    In summer 2017, US President Donald Trump shut down the CIA operation ‘Timber Sycamore’ which had been arming the terrorists fighting in Syria. About the same time, Saudi Arabia cut off support to the Syrian opposition, which was the political arm of the terrorists.

    Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, expressed his view at the time that “Saudi Arabia is involved in the ISIS-led Sunni rebellion” in Syria.

    Syria has been destroyed by the US and their allies who supported the attack beginning in 2011.  Now, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are looking to find a solution which will help the Syrian people to rebuild their lives.  Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have turned away from past policies which found them supporting the conflict in Syria at the behest of the US.  There is a new Middle East emerging which makes its own policies and is not subservient US interests.

    Steven Sahiounie is a two-time award-winning journalist

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