An article appeared last week in Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor entitled ‘Is Syria Cooperating Militarily with Turkey Against the PKK?’ The Terrorism Monitor is ‘designed to be read by policymakers and other specialists yet be accessible to the general public.’ The analysis piece contained therein was written by Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who is described as a student at the University of Utrecht, a freelance writer, and a newspaper editor.
The article itself is a jumble of facts and statements patched together in a vague and incongruous fashion. The author suggests in the first paragraph that ‘accounts of greater military cooperation [between Syria and Turkey] may be premature.’
I do not argue with his presumption of prematurity, but rather his analysis and misstatement of facts. Syrian-Turkish relations are extraordinarily complex. They cannot be reduced down to a mere ‘concern over Kurdish nationalism.’ The author states this as the only reason as to why ‘Syria maintains good ties with Turkey.’ There are also water rights issues, economic partnerships, and other geopolitical concerns. Trade, for example, is expected to reach $5 billion by 2012 between the two countries. These reasons, at least, should have been given mention.
Van Wilgenburg suggests that the Adana Treaty was the beginning of improved relations between the two countries and says the agreement was signed in 1999. In fact, it was signed on 20 October 1998. Credit is then given mostly to the ruling Turkish AK Party (Justice and Development Party) for the ‘significant strengthening’ of Turco-Syrian relations. This strengthening he writes has ‘created positive change for the Kurds in Syria.’ Really?
The evidence of positive change given in the article is that there is now ‘visa-free travel between Syria and Turkey.’ True, there is. But are Kurds from Syria now suddenly flocking to the Sanko Park shopping mall in Gaziantep (Dîlok)? Many Kurds cannot leave Syria because they are stateless and have no right to travel documents. Visa-free travel is meaningless.
On the one hand there is the mention of this so-called ‘positive change for the Kurds in Syria’ but on the other hand the author says that since the 2004 Qamişlo uprising Damascus has taken ‘harsher measures against Kurdish nationalists.’ I don’t understand the dichotomy here. Good things happen to Kurds who ‘behave’ and assimilate and those who celebrate Newroz are punished? Is that what that means?
After the uprising in Qamişlo, Damascus lashed out at all Kurds; not just the supposed ‘Kurdish nationalists.’ Students, journalists, politicians, singers, teachers, men, women, children, young or old; all were targets. Perhaps the author categorises them all as nationalists.
And just how many Kurds (nationalist or not) are there in Syria? Van Wilgenburg states in his article that the Kurdish population in Syria is ‘3 million forming 16% of the population.’ If you read any scholarly work on Syria’s Kurds (e.g. Tejel, Yildiz, Lowe, to name a few) or any report on Syria from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch (HRW), a figure of 9 to 10% is usually cited. The author even used one of HRW’s reports as one of his sources, which clearly says that the number of Kurds is ‘estimated at approximately 1.7 million—roughly 10 percent of Syria’s population.’
While it is true that specific statistics regarding the number of Kurds within the boundaries of the Syrian state are hard to come by, a figure of 16% is grossly inflated. I searched for any reference to find that figure of 16% and the only match I found is from Wikipedia, which states that Kurds are ‘16% of the country’s population i.e. about three million’. So much for scholarship.
The author concludes his analysis saying that ‘Syria and Turkey will need such cooperation [political and security] to curtail the threat posed by Kurdish nationalism.’ I will conclude by saying that with only 1.7m Kurdish nationalists instead of 3 million as stated in the article, Kurdish nationalism is much less of a threat. So let’s all go shopping across the border and buy some red, yellow, and green clothing for next year’s Newroz.
What I have just written is designed ‘to be read by policymakers and other specialists yet be accessible to the general public’…and nationalists.