Syrian subgroups merge to form new National Army under Turkey’s guidance

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army pose for a photo near the town of Qabasin, northeast of Al-Bab, some 30 km from Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 03 January 2018

Syrian subgroups merge to form new National Army under Turkey’s guidance

ANKARA: The National Army, Syria’s largest armed group since the breakout of the civil war in 2011, has reportedly formed under the guidance of Turkey.
About 30 sub-groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have reportedly come together to establish the country’s “National Army.”
The army, founded by the head of Syria’s Interim Government Jawad Abu Hatab, is set to fight against Daesh, the Assad regime and PKK terrorists.
The country’s new 22-000 strong army, or Al-Jaysh Al-Watani in Arabic, includes troops with fighting experience in the provinces of Raqqa, Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs, Hasaka, Deir Ezzor and Latakia. It is expected to potentially play a significant role in an eventual operation by Turkey in the Kurdish-held Syrian canton of Afrin.
Experts note that the aim of establishing this army is to create an alternative, more inclusive opposition fighting force, bringing in all ethnical groups, especially Kurds.
“During his visit to Ankara in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed this issue,” Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam, told Arab News.
Semin said this is an alternative army project to the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but will comprise Kurdish groups that oppose the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main component of the SDF.
According to Turkish news reports, three Turkmen brigades will also take part in the Syrian National Army.
The Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army in northwestern Syria is mainly composed of Sunni Arab and Syrian Turkmen rebels, with few Kurdish groups.
The FSA was used by Ankara as an allied proxy force during its Euphrates Shield Operation between August 2016 and March 2017.
“By integrating the troops it has trained, Turkey will have a greater say in this new army,” Semin said, adding that Turkey has close ties with opposition groups in Syria.
“There are many Kurdish tribes in the regions where YPG is active. So there is a need to integrate them into this national army,” Semin added.
But, Semin, who thinks this is a welcome but belated initiative, underlines that Moscow’s priority for giving the green light to this project is that the army does not engage Syrian regime forces.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, said previously Ankara had decided not to support this plan upon Russia’s objections, but now things seem to have changed.
“Apparently now Turkey wants to take a different path and implement its own decision on Syria rather than looking at the Syrian conflict through Russia’s prism,” Sohtaoglu told Arab News.
“This project gathers three army corps. The first army corps are the ones that were trained in Turkey, while the other two are composed of about 30 groups throughout Syria,” he said.
According to Sohtaoglu, Ankara intends to turn the territories under its control into one single entity militarily and politically that will be affiliated with the Syrian transitional government.
“This regular army initiative will be also supported by Turkish aerial and ground forces, which will increase its influence. At the end of the day, they have been fighting in Syria for seven years with their high-capacity weapons, missiles and rockets,” he said.
Sohtaoglu also noted that during the political transition process and the resolution of the “Assad problem,” all armed groups will lay down arms and be put under the auspices of the new regime.
“Then the army will be restructured. But currently Russia doesn’t want to see any military forces against Assad, including the YPG,” he added.

Four countries discuss ‘tolerance in multiculturalism’ at UAE summit

Updated 20 min 33 sec ago

Four countries discuss ‘tolerance in multiculturalism’ at UAE summit

  • Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi was appointed minister of tolerance in 2016, reinforcing the UAE’s commitment to eradicate ideological, cultural and religious bigotry in society
  • Speakers from Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Tatarstan, and Columbia discussed ways in which their respective countries are attempting to instill social and economic tolerance

DUBAI: With over 200 nationalities currently residing in the GCC, countries across the region are continuing to promote the values of tolerance and coexistence through various initiatives.

The UAE first introduced the post of minister of tolerance with the appointment of Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi in 2016, reinforcing its commitment to eradicate ideological, cultural and religious bigotry in society.

The second edition of the World Tolerance Summit, held in Dubai on November 13 and 14, saw a bigger number of countries participating, including Saudi Arabia.

Dr Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Fawzan, vice-chairman and secretary general of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, reviewed the Kingdom’s tolerance initiatives, and described the summit as “an opportunity to bring about positive change.”

The summit’s second day included a session titled “Tolerance in Multiculturalism: Achieving the Social, Economic and Humane Benefits of a Tolerant World,” in which speakers from Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Tatarstan, and Columbia discussed ways in which their respective countries are attempting to instill social and economic tolerance.

Princess Lamia bint Majed Saud Al-Saud, secretary general and board member of Alwaleed Philanthropies in Saudi Arabia, touched on the importance of tolerance in humanitarian work.

“It is extremely important to be a tolerant and accepting person in order to be able to help others. Our organization works in 180 countries — and we do not have any discrimination when it comes to language, religion or color,” said Al-Saud.

She said the region’s diversity of nationalities is at the essence of the Arab society: “I think that tolerance is in our DNA. It is something we can trace back through our history and previous civilizations.”

Alwaleed Philanthropies promotes cultural understanding through various centers across the world. Some of the most active are those located in Harvard University and Edinburgh.

“Prince (Al-)Waleed realized there was a serious problem in the way people viewed Islam and Arab culture after 9/11 and decided to take a proactive approach to fix this through the centers, which work on restoring the image of Muslims,” said Al-Saud.

She added: “Tolerance starts with one’s self. You have two ears, so listen to others before you talk and keep an open mind.”

Also speaking at the summit, President Rustam Nurgaliyevich Minnikhanov of Tatarstan discussed the progress of tolerance in the republic’s various cities, which have a population of 4 million people from 173 nationalities.

The two main religions in Tatarstan are Islam and Orthodox Christianity, and the sovereign state went through a long period of conflict before religious groups found common ground.

“We have gone from 20 mosques in (Tatarstan) to more than 1,500, with some just 200 meters away from a church,” said Minnikhanov. “Today, we have stability in our cities, and we have created a council to adopt a system through which we can strengthen the values of tolerance and maintain the peaceful coexistence of religious parties.”

More than 20 million Muslims currently reside in Tatarstan, where new policies in healthcare, education and tourism are catering to the “halal lifestyle,” he added.

Similarly, Muferihat Kamil, Minister of Peace in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia said her country aims to move forward from a past based on prejudiced conflict.

“The reason behind building a ministry of peace in Ethiopia is the aspirations we have for our people in the existing situation in the country,” she said. “We aim to empower our people and build peace that will resonate with the rest of the region.”

Lucy Jeannette Bermudez Bermudez, president of the State Council of Colombia, discussed her country’s current transition between its government, residents and armed groups. “In order to promote tolerance and respect in the country, our concentration has been on the group known as FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, which has now evolved into a political party,” said Bermudez.

The conflict between government and paramilitary groups, crime syndicates and FARC in Colombia began in the mid-1960s, and she stressed the need for the coexistence of different views, religions and race.

“We have different characteristics that we have to live with and even celebrate,” she added. “The advances we see in the UAE are something we look forward to establishing in my country. This model of government is one we should all follow.”