Anti-Kurdish demonstrations grow in Syria’s Deir Ezzor

A member of the SDF flashes the victory gesture in the village of Baghouz in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province near the Iraqi border. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2019

Anti-Kurdish demonstrations grow in Syria’s Deir Ezzor

  • Arab residents under YPG rule have been growing restive in recent months

AMMAN: Arab inhabitants of Syria’s Deir Ezzor began a third week of protests against Kurdish rule, the largest wave of unrest to sweep the oil-rich region since US-backed forces took over the territory from Daesh nearly 18 months ago, residents, and tribal figures said.

The protests which erupted weeks ago in several towns and villages from Busayrah to Shuhail have now spread to remaining areas where most of the oilfields are located in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled part of Deir Ezzor, east of the Euphrates.

Arab residents under People’s Protection Unit (YPG) who have been complaining about a lack of basic services and discrimination against them in local administrations run by Kurdish officials have been growing restive in recent months.

The forcible conscription of youths into the SDF, as well as the fate of thousands imprisoned in their jails, have been major bones of contention, according to residents and tribal figures.

“Their repressive rule has turned many against them,” said Abdul Latif Al-Okaidat, a tribal leader.

The protests took a violent turn when angry mobs took to the streets and disrupted the routes of convoys of trucks loaded with oil from nearby fields that cross into government-held areas. In some villages, SDF forces fired at angry protesters.

“No to the theft of our oil!” chanted demonstrators in the town of Greinej, part of the Arab-Sunni tribal heartland seized over a year ago by the Pentagon-backed SDF and spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia.

The YPG has long sold crude oil to the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, with whom it maintains close economic ties and exports wheat and other commodities through several crossings between their territory.

The stepping up of oil sales to alleviate a fuel crunch facing Damascus has infuriated the local Arab protesters, with many holding placards saying they were being “robbed” of their wealth.

“We are deprived of everything while the Kurds are selling our oil to help the regime and enriching themselves,” said Abdullah Issa, a protester from Al-Tayaneh town.

Syria’s most productive fields are now in Kurdish hands since the YPG extended control over large swathes of northeastern Syria after capturing the city of Raqqa from Daesh in late 2017.

The Syrian regime controls areas west of the Euphrates river that are less endowed with oil resources.

Diplomats say Washington has also in recent weeks tightened efforts to clamp down on small shipments of oil by smuggler networks that are exported across the Euphrates river to traders working on behalf of the Syrian government.

The SDF has not publicly commented on the most serious challenge so far to its rule over tens of thousands of Arabs. 

The YPG has sought to redress decades of repression against minority Kurds under Syria’s Arab Ba’ath party.

SDF commander in-chief Mazloum Kobani, in remarks that seem to refer to the unrest, said his group was the only “institution that had “steered away from any form of racism.”

The protests persisted after YPG commanders failed to make significant concessions to tribal figures who gathered at their invitation last Friday in the city of Ain Issa, two attendees said.

Among the Arabs demands were ending forcible conscription, releasing detainees and stopping oil sales from their region to the Syrian government.

The risks of wider confrontation were now growing, analysts say.

“The protests are now more organized and wider with a higher ceiling and developing gradually to a popular uprising where people are asking to be ruled by themselves and ending Kurdish hegemony,” said Feras Allawi, a political analyst from the area.

“The response of SDF to the popular demands will dictate whether this leads to a more violent confrontation,” he added.

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces new threat from former allies

Updated 20 July 2019

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces new threat from former allies

  • Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ex-economy minister Ali Babacan have both made statements this month criticizing Turkey’s current trajectory
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has downplayed the threat

ANKARA: Following losses in key cities this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now risks losing more voters as former allies stick their head above the parapet and appear to be on the verge of creating new parties.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ex-economy minister Ali Babacan have both made statements this month criticizing Turkey’s current trajectory under Erdogan.
Rumors have swirled in Ankara for months that Babacan and Davutoglu may establish their own political parties to challenge the Islamic-rooted AKP that has dominated Turkish politics this century.
On July 8, Babacan, who is credited with overseeing Turkey’s economic boom during the AKP’s first decade in power, dealt the first blow when he resigned from the party.
He claimed Turkey needed a “new vision” and cited “deep differences” over policy, hinting a new party — or “new effort” — was “inevitable.”
With double-digit inflation, slower growth and a weakened lira, many hope Babacan will be the answer to Turkey’s economic woes and an alternative to Erdogan.
Ten days after Babacan, Davutoglu gave an interview broadcast live online in which he appeared to suggest he would be ready to set up a new party.
Erdogan has downplayed the threat but also warned Babacan against splitting the “ummah” — using the Arabic word for the Muslim community.
Experts say the president will not quietly accept these challenges.
“Erdogan is likely to combat any threat he sees to his personalized rule,” said Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University.
She pointed to the jailing of Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas who had vehemently opposed Erdogan, and the ongoing trials of civil society leaders and AKP opponents.
Turkey has been to the polls eight times in just five years, but now any new party will have potentially until the next elections in 2023 to create momentum and attract voters.
When he announced he was standing down as prime minister in 2016 after two years, Davutoglu vowed never to criticize Erdogan in public.
That promise lay in tatters this week as he spoke online for three hours, saying he would remain within the AKP for now, but that: “If there is no other option, a (new) party must be set up.”
For now, it appears unlikely that Davutoglu will join forces with other splitters from the AKP, having been a fairly divisive figure himself in the past.
However, there have been reports that former president and co-founder of the AKP, Abdullah Gul, could act as an “honorary chairman” to a party led by Babacan.
It had been mooted that Gul would run against Erdogan in last year’s presidential elections, but he never came forward.
Erdogan criticized Babacan after his resignation, saying they disagreed over many issues, including interest rates, which the president controversially believes must be kept low to reduce inflation.
When asked if he was disappointed by Babacan, Davutoglu and Gul, Erdogan responded with evident exasperation: “For the love of Allah, should this question be asked? If one is not disappointed with them, who would one be disappointed with?”
But he said previous MPs had left the party and been largely forgotten.
The AKP came to power after the Turkish economy suffered a severe financial crisis in 2001, and needed an International Monetary Fund loan to emerge from the embers.
Eighteen years later, Turkey is again in an economic slump.
Inflation is at 15.7 percent; the rate of unemployment is 13 percent while the economy contracted by 2.6 percent in the first quarter of 2019.
According to Hintz, the success of any party launched by Babacan will “likely depend on the extent to which it offers concrete plans for tackling Turkey’s economic problems and social divides.”
She added that Babacan had a “shot at galvanizing Turkey’s center-right, particularly given widespread disillusion surrounding the personal enrichment of AKP leaders while Turkey’s economy slides further toward crisis.”
Erdogan and the AKP, set up in 2001, have won every general election since coming to power in 2002.
But after 25 years of the AKP and its predecessors running Istanbul, the country’s economic powerhouse is now in the hands of the opposition, despite a controversial push by the ruling party to order a re-run of the vote.
Erdogan still commands widespread loyalty, particularly in the provinces, said Emre Erdogan, professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, and no relation to the president.
But he said any new challenger could be “destructive” to Erdogan’s chances at the next election, given that presidential candidates must win over 50 percent of the vote.