Turkey says US support for Syrian Kurdish YPG a “big mistake”

Members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), part of the of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), gather in the town of Shadadi. (File/Delil Soulieman/AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018

Turkey says US support for Syrian Kurdish YPG a “big mistake”

  • Turkey has been infuriated with Washington’s support for the YPG
  • US-Turkey ties have been strained over issues including US policy in Syria

ANKARA: The United States’ support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia is a “big mistake,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said late on Saturday, adding that the issue had strained ties between the NATO allies.
Turkey has been infuriated with Washington’s support for the YPG, which it views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) waging a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.
US-Turkey ties have been strained over issues including US policy in Syria, the case of an American pastor in Turkey, and Turkey’s demands for the extradition of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a 2016 failed coup.
Cavusoglu, who is in the United States on an official visit, said tensions between Ankara and Washington stemmed from US support for the YPG and the issue of Gulen, against whom he said the FBI had launched an investigation.
“Despite knowing and acknowledging that (the YPG) is the same organization (as the PKK), seeing this cooperation as necessary is really a big mistake,” Cavusoglu said, adding that he would discuss bilateral relations with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo on Tuesday.
On Sunday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said he had told US Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford that Turkey expected the United States to stop its support for the YPG as soon as possible, according to the state-owned Anadolu news agency.
“We reiterated our warnings and stated that we expected our US counterparts to take the necessary measures and end their relationship with the YPG, which is no different than the PKK, as soon as possible,” Akar was quoted as saying.
“We reminded them that the United States, our ally and strategic partner here (Syria), and US soldiers cooperating with such an organization (YPG) cannot be acceptable in any way,” he said.
Tensions between the NATO allies have eased slightly in the last month following pastor Andrew Brunson’s release and the beginning of joint patrols in Syria’s Manbij as part of a roadmap agreed by the two countries in June.
The two countries last month also lifted mutual sanctions against top officials, imposed in response to Brunson’s detention and arrest.
Earlier this month, Washington pledged millions of dollars to help capture three top PKK militants in a move that Turkey welcomed, but said was late and insufficient.
Since the attempted putsch, Turkey has jailed 77,000 people as they face trial, suspending or dismissing some 150,000 civil servants and military personnel over alleged links to Gulen.
“On both issues, we are not only a hundred percent, but a thousand percent right,” Cavusoglu said.


Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

Updated 53 min 38 sec ago

Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

  • Use of religion for political gain is rejected by 58 percent of respondents in a YouGov poll
  • Experts believe there is now more awareness of the tactics of religion-based political parties

DUBAI: Across the Arab world, an increasing number of citizens disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” according to a recent YouGov survey.

As part of its partnership with the Arab Strategy Forum, Arab News commissioned a survey of the views and concerns of Arabs today and their projections for the future of the region.

A total of 3,079 Arabic speakers were surveyed, aged 18 and above and living across 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Results revealed that 43 percent strongly disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” while 15 percent “somewhat disagree.” By contrast, 7 percent strongly agree and 8 percent “somewhat agree.”

Another 14 percent “neither agree nor disagree” with the “use of religion for political gain.”

The combined average, however, unambiguously opposes the idea — at 58 percent. “The cases of Lebanon and Iraq shows a streak of anti-sectarianism rather than that of anti-religion per se,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi.

“Religious beliefs are deep-seated in these societies, so the advent of Western-style secularism in the region is doubtful. Even the most secular country in the Middle East, Turkey, turned out to have religious inclinations when it voted in an Islamist party” more than a decade ago. 

As long as people have little trust in political institutions, they will revert to their primary social institutions, notably religion, family and tribe, Al-Shateri told Arab News.

Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said that the YouGov findings suggest that the days of using religion for political gain are over.

“We are seeing more and more awareness that religion-based political parties are not so genuine in their religious preaching,” he told Arab News.

“People are becoming aware that those who preach freedom, equality, democracy and women’s empowerment using religious discourse are no longer believable.”

Significant numbers disagreed with the statement in Iraq and Kuwait (74 percent), as well as in Lebanon (73 percent), Libya (75 percent), Sudan (79 percent), and Syria and Yemen (71 percent). 

“Ultimately, it’s a question of credibility of politicians,” said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, adding that “the credibility of political establishments is on the decrease globally because they are failing to deliver.”

He said that there is a general sense globally that political establishments are corrupt and not credible, which he partly pins on shifts in generational issues.

“Your grandparents’ concerns were probably more nationalistic,” he told Arab News.

“The generation of your parents were more about religion and, frankly, the new generation is more concerned about gender issues than anything else.

“Nationalism is totally irrelevant to them and religion far less.”

According to Shehadi, exploitation of religion no longer stirs up the young generation as they have different concerns. “They are on a different planet from politicians,” he said.

“Politicians are addressing issues that are very different from what the new generation is concerned with.”

With unrest continuing in several Arab countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, Abdulla sees it as a second round of the so-called Arab Spring, this time gripping Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.

“What is clear is that this second round is much more peaceful, focused and has already delivered a great deal,” he said.

“In Sudan, we have seen a very peaceful transition that was done to the satisfaction of the Sudanese people, and transition to democracy is going smoothly.

“In Algeria, it’s settling down and an election is coming up with some opposing it. But none of these two cases have witnessed the violence that engulfed Libya and Syria.”

That said, the future will depend on how governments and societies respond to the demands of the youth, according to Al-Shateri.

“The region faces many problems. However, the underlying cause is the lack of good governance. The concept of good governance has its provenance in Arab and Islamic traditions; it is not the equivalent of Westminster-style government necessarily.

“It is based on accountability, justice, equality, rule of law, ombudsmanship and the right to petition the government.”

Al-Shateri said Lebanon, Algeria, Iran and Iraq are examples of countries that have failed to provide these conditions, adding that the same was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria when the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011.

If regional countries achieve good governance, Al-Shateri expects many improvements in society, the economy and governance. “Short of that, the region will languish in backwardness, underdevelopment and conflict,” he said.