x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Kurdish issue is at the top of Turkish agenda

Officials in Anarka are looking beyond the removal of Bashar Al Assad and are concerned about its effects on Kurds on both sides of the border, an Arabic newspaper columnist says. Other Arabic language media look at the US-Egypt relationship and the Arab Spring's impact on the Gulf states.

Kurdish issue is at the top of Turkish agenda, as the picture only gets drearier in Syria

Turkey is more concerned than ever about the situation in Syria, as the political, economic and social strain on Ankara is being increasingly overshadowed by the Syrian-Kurds question, wrote columnist Fayez Sara in yesterday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

"Turkey is mainly concerned about the issue because of the repercussions it might have on its domestic affairs, but also on the region," he wrote. "And before getting into the potential effects and repercussions, it is important to get a sense of what the Kurdish situation in Syria looks like from a Turkish angle."

According to accepted estimates, Syrian Kurds make up about 10 per cent of the Syrian population, the columnist said. That's about 2 or 3 million Kurds, the most sizeable ethnic group after the Arabs, who constitute the overwhelming majority.

These Kurdish groups are concentrated in small towns and villages along the 1,000-kilometre Syrian-Turkish border, which is the longest Syria has with any of its neighbours. On the Turkish side, large Kurdish populations from southern Anatolia are based, constituting a considerable segment of the Turkish population, at about 20 million people in a country of 78 million.

Surely, Syrian Kurds pose a political and security headache for the Turks, the columnist wrote. "And that is for two reasons: first, the blood ties between them and their relatives in Turkey."

Second, the writer went on, was the lingering fear that the northern regions of Syria might serve once again as a base for anti-Turkish political and military activities led by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"This angle is actually backed by a number of facts," the writer argued. "The key fact among them is the strongly felt presence of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is basically the Syrian version of the PKK, and whose leading figures, for the most part, are former PKK officials."

There are fears among Turkish strategists that the PYD, which is said to receive support from the top leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan, may start to take root in towns and villages vacated by the Syrian authorities.

"The issue of Syrian Kurds, as Ankara sees it, goes beyond the usual military measures that Turkey would take to control what it thinks are grass-roots bases for the PKK at home."

Turkey has realised that it has to try something different. So Ankara has been rallying segments of the Syrian opposition, including Kurds who are against those Kurdish groups that aim to work out an opposition of their own in Syria, independently from the mainstream anti-Assad opposition.

Down the line, it won't be completely unanticipated to see Turkey move its troops into the Kurdish parts of Syria, should chaos reign there after the regime of President Bashar Al Assad falls.

US frequent visits to Egypt are revealing

It is telling that US senior officials have made three visits to Cairo in July alone, just one month after Mohammed Morsi took office as president of Egypt, Mohammed Al Minshawi wrote in the Cairo-based Al Shorouk.

US deputy secretary of state, William Burns, visited Cairo on July 8. Eight days later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived to Cairo. And the most recent visit to Egypt was made by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

"This means something is unusual," the writer said. "It is not natural in international relations and diplomatic norms to undertake such a number of high-profile visits except under exceptional circumstances, such as a large-scale regional crisis or extremely strained bilateral relations," the writer noted.

Senior US officials have made such trips only to ensure the relationship with Egypt is sustained. Washington claims to be backing the democratic transition in Egypt, but it has set conditions for such backing, namely commitment to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, and the maintenance of military and intelligence cooperation with the US.

The US strategy in the Middle East is based on a strong alliance with Israel and a special relationship with Saudi Arabia. And the two countries see a real democracy in Egypt as a great threat to their national security.

Washington knows full well what it wants from Egypt, but Egypt does not.

Arab Spring does affect the Gulf

As the Arab region undergoes an unusual period of instability following the Arab Spring, concerns arise as to whether this will have a positive or negative effect on the Gulf states, wrote Shamlan Yousef Al Essa in the UAE-based Al Ittihad.

When the revolts erupted in 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the Gulf states thought they were on the safe side. They supposed the unfolding events would have no bearing on them.

But the Arabian Gulf was affected. What occurred in the Sultanate of Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait was a natural product of the developments sweeping Arab nations, albeit most of the Gulf's demands were focused on reform and did not seek regime change.

The Gulf tried to stay away from the events, but later found itself effectively taking part in changing certain regimes, namely the Qaddafi regime in Libya. Today, Gulf states are significantly involved in the Syrian crisis and support the Free Syrian Army.

The Gulf faces serious challenges despite its oil wealth. If prosperity explains people's lack of demand for participation, what would happen if oil prices dropped?

The future of the region will not be safeguarded by spending on weapons, but by good relationships between the people and the rulers, the writer concluded.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk