Turkey: Russian invitation to Kurdish party for Syria talks ‘unacceptable’

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Presidential Press Service, pool photo via AP)
Updated 02 November 2017

Turkey: Russian invitation to Kurdish party for Syria talks ‘unacceptable’

ANKARA: Turkey and Russia’s relationship, boosted by the duo’s attempts to negotiate an end to the war in Syria, will likely be damaged by Moscow’s decision to invite Syria’s main Kurdish political party to the proposed congress scheduled for Nov. 18 in Sochi. Russia had pledged to invite all of Syria’s rival parties to the congress.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin called Russia’s invitation of the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed affiliate, People’s Protection Units (YPG), to the congress “unacceptable,” and said the Turkish government considered it an “imposition.” ‘
The PYD, which — along with the YPG — currently controls around a quarter of Syrian territories, opened a representative office in Moscow in February 2016 and is regarded by Russia as a legitimate and influential actor in the reconstruction of war-torn Syria.
But Turkey sees the PYD as a spinoff of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which it (along with multiple other countries) lists as a terrorist organization for its decade-long insurgency in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey had vetoed the PYD’s participation in the previous peace talks.  
“We have immediately conveyed our reaction,” Kalin told reporters, adding that the Turkish government approves invitations to all other Syrian Kurdish groups. 
Kalin also explained that during the seventh round of Russia-Turkey-led peace talks held earlier this week in Astana, Turkish officials told Moscow that “such initiatives will not be welcomed.”
The Syrian opposition announced on Wednesday that they had concerns about any Russian-sponsored congress, preferring the directions taken by UN-led peace talks in Geneva, which have been running in tandem with the Astana talks.
Nursin Atesoglu Guney, dean of the faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Bahcesehir Cyprus University, suggested that Russia may have seen its PYD/YPG invitation as a tool to gain concessions from regional actors. 
“Russia has always kept the PYD card in hand,” Guney told Arab News. “But it also knows that Ankara will not take a step back on this issue.” 
Guney stressed that Russia’s intention to include the PYD and YPG in the Sochi congress should also be viewed through “the lens of US-Russian competition on the ground,” since the Kurdish parties are backed by America against Daesh in Syria. 
Guney also said that the partnership between Moscow and Ankara is “issue-based,” so this latest disagreement would likely be resolved without escalation. 
Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst from Marmara University in Istanbul, said that while Turkey and Russia currently need each other in order to maintain stability in Syria’s four de-escalation zones — especially Idlib — they “still have significant differences regarding the issue of Syrian Kurds.” 
Ersen told Arab News he believes Moscow’s priority is “to oblige the Syrian Kurds to make a deal with the Assad government.” 
According to Ersen, the Sochi congress could facilitate that process, since a draft constitution prepared by Russia last year included cultural autonomy rights for the Syrian Kurds. 
“It is interesting to note that the Assad regime has also signalled that it could be open to the idea of autonomy for the Kurds,” Ersen said. “Therefore, they can find a common ground with the Syrian Kurds with the influence of Moscow. If Moscow can achieve this, it can also move the Syrian Kurds away from the orbit of Washington.” 
However, he warned: “As indicated by the Turkish government’s reaction to the inclusion of PYD in the upcoming congress, Ankara is not happy about the vision Moscow has in mind.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently hinted that the Turkish Army could turn its attention to the northern Syrian district of Afrin — currently controlled by the YPG — once its ongoing operation in Idlib, in coordination with Russian forces, is complete. 
Ersen noted that, for Russia, the ongoing Astana process is vital to ensure both Turkey and Iran’s regional ambitions are kept in check and that neither gains significant geopolitical leverage in Syria independent of Russian interests. 
“Still, Moscow will need to find a way to appease Turkey in order to implement its own vision in Syria,” he added. “It could be open to making minor concessions to Turkey regarding the Afrin issue, if Ankara silently approves the Russian vision with regard to the future of Syria.”


’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

Updated 11 November 2019

’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

BEIRUT: A Lebanese flag flutters in the protest-hit Iraqi capital. More than 900 kilometers (500 miles) away, a revolutionary Iraqi chant rings out from a bustling protest square in Beirut.
“Don’t trust the rumors, they’re a group of thieves,” sings a group of Lebanese musicians in Iraqi dialect, referring to political leaders they deem incompetent and corrupt.
“The identity is Lebanese,” they continue, reworking the chant by Iraqi preacher Ali Yusef Al-Karbalai, made popular during the street movement there.
Such recent shows of solidarity have become a common feature of protest squares in the two countries, where corruption, unemployment and appalling public services have fueled unprecedented street movements demanding the ouster of an entire political class.
They serve to “shed light on similarities between the two movements and boost morale,” said Farah Qadour, a Lebanese oud musician.
“The two streets are observing and learning from each other,” said the 26-year-old who is part of the group that adopted Al-Karbalai’s chant.
In Lebanon’s southern city of Nabatiyeh, hundreds brandishing Lebanese flags chanted: “From Iraq to Beirut, one revolution that never dies.”
And in the northern city of Tripoli, dubbed the “bride” of Lebanon’s protest movement, a man standing on a podium waved a wooden pole bearing the flags of the two countries.
“From Lebanon to Iraq, our pain is one, our right is one, and victory is near,” read a sign raised during another protest, outside Beirut’s state-run electricity company.
In Tahrir Square, the beating heart of Baghdad’s month-old protest movement, demonstrators are selling Lebanese flags alongside Iraqi ones.
They have hung some on the abandoned Turkish restaurant, turned by Iraqi demonstrators into a protest control tower.
Banners reading “from Beirut to Baghdad, one revolution against the corrupt” could be seen throughout.
Lebanon and Iraq are ranked among the most corrupt countries in the region by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, with Iraq listed as the 12th most corrupt in the world.
Public debt levels in both countries are relatively high, with the rate in Lebanon exceeding 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
“What’s happening on the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, they’re sister protests,” said Samah, a 28-year-old Lebanese demonstrator.
“They’re the result of an accumulation” of years of problems.
One video that went viral on social media networks showed a masked Iraqi protester dressed in military fatigues demanding the resignation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, one of the main targets of protesters in the small Mediterranean country.
In a video released online, a group of young Iraqi men had filmed themselves singing, “Lebanon, we’re with you!“
The two movements also seem to be adopting similar protest strategies.
In both countries, rows of parked vehicles have blocked traffic along main thoroughfares in recent weeks.
University-aged demonstrators wearing medical masks or eye goggles have occupied bridges and flyovers, refusing to believe pledges of reform from both governments.
The big difference is that in Iraq, the demonstrations have turned deadly, with more than 300 people, mostly protesters but also including security forces, killed since the movement started October 1.
Lebanon’s street movement, which started on October 17, has been largely incident-free despite scuffles with security forces and counter-demonstrators rallying in support of established parties.
The two movements, however, are united in their anger about the kind of political system that prioritizes power-sharing between sects over good governance.
The consecutive governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and have failed to meet popular demands for better living conditions.
“We are united by a sense of patriotic duty in confronting this sectarian political system,” said Obeida, a 29-year-old protester from Tripoli.
He said he had high hopes for Iraqi protesters because the sectarian power-sharing system there is relatively new, having emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“In Lebanon, it’s more entrenched,” he said of the arrangement that ended the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
On a Beirut waterfront, dotted with luxury restaurants and cafes, a 70-year-old Iraqi man who has been living in Lebanon for five years looked on as demonstrators laid out picnic blankets on the grass.
With a Lebanese flag wrapped around his neck, Fawzi said the protests looked different but reminded him of those back home.
“The goal is one,” he said.