EGYPTIAN CRISIS; TURKEY: ISTANBUL FIGHTS JIHADIS AND KURDISH INDEPENDENCE, AS JEWS FLEE & ISRAEL-KURDISH TIES STRENGTHEN

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

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On Topic Links

Turkey’s Syrian Kurdish Gamble: A Double Edged Sword: Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, August 11, 2013

Ideology in Foreign Policy: Kurd and Islam: Baskin Oran, Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, August 4, 2013

The Great Turkish Conspiracy: Robert Ellis, Gatestone Institute, July 8, 2013

 

IT’S OFFICIAL, MILITARY CHIEF SIS IS NEW KING OF EGYPT

Ariel Ben Solomon

Jerusalem Report

 

Anyone who was expecting liberal democracy to sprout in Egypt following the series of revolutions, protests, elections and crackdowns since president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011 will be sorely disappointed by Wednesday’s military assult on protesters and the imposition of emergency law. One thing is clear – military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the new king of Egypt. Even though the government said it would continue to follow the transition process and hold elections…at least in the near future [it] will probably rule at the pleasure of Sisi…

Wednesday’s resignation of vice president Mohamed El Baradei in reaction to the crackdown came because he preferred a negotiated solution. Perhaps others in the government agreed with him, but when the chips were down the real power was with the military. In addition, the new military-backed government has been facing a radical Islamic opposition and it saw no way out of the crisis without restoring order. The question now is if Sisi will take outright control by running in the next presidential elections or will continue overseeing things from behind the scenes, letting a president and government of technocrats run affairs. The condemnations coming from the US and Europe fit with the countries’ ongoing pressure on Egypt to include the Muslim Brotherhood in the country’s government.

Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and today is a fellow at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a contributor to this newspaper, told the Post that the army gave the protesters a number of weeks to leave or agree to mediation and a negotiated solution. Because the Brotherhood refused to be flexible in its demands, it became obvious this was coming, Mazel said, adding that if anyone understood the Brotherhood it was Sisi. The new Egyptian government, Mazel added, was pro-West and will have decent relations with Israel. “What is better than that?” he asked. He added that the killings were bad, but if you compared the situation to countries like Iraq or Pakistan, the Egyptian crackdown was less severe. Asked whether the Brotherhood’s strategy of martyrdom might succeed – as it likely would generate loads of support from the West, perhaps leading to stronger measures – Mazel responded that it might, although the West must understand that the army was in a fight with radical Islam.

On the significance of ElBaradei’s resignation, Mazel said that he has been a shadowy character who helped Iran develop its nuclear program when he was head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. “He defended Iran and then came to Egypt at the beginning of the revolution and was close to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Mazel said, adding that ElBaradei needed to distance himself from the Brotherhood because he understood that it was the liberal camp that was for him. Now, Mazel suggested, it seems he may be heading back in the Brotherhood’s direction. “The Brotherhood was building an Islamic dictatorship,” he said, and it was the army that moved in to prevent that. In Mazel’s opinion, Sisi is smart and likely to go back – eventually – to his military role, letting the government run affairs. The army has more support from the people and is more organized than the Brotherhood, he asserted, predicting that there would not be a lengthy civil war and that the army would calm the situation and try to get Egypt back on its feet.

 

IS A FREE KURDISTAN, AND A NEW ISRAELI ALLY, UPON US?

Lazar Berman

Times Of Israel, August 10, 2013

 

In late July, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria, also known as the PYD, revealed its intention to declare some form of self-rule in majority Kurdish areas in northeastern Syria. PYD leaders clarified it was only for the duration of the Syrian civil war, but the move was part of a larger pattern in which the group has been taking advantage of the power vacuum caused by the two-year-old conflict to push out rival opposition fighters and move closer to autonomy.

 

The announcement caught the attention of neighboring countries, perpetually nervous about the prospect of full Kurdish independence. “It’s not possible to accept any de facto declaration of an autonomous entity in Syria,” said Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, “and that could only lead to further crisis.”

 

Turkey, home to the world’s largest Kurdish population and skittish about any moves that could re-ignite unrest in the country, streamed more troops to its border with Syria after the PYD statement, announcing that it had “a parliamentary mandate to intervene in the Syrian territories if there is a serious risk.” While Turkey, Iraq, and other countries balk at indications of increased Kurdish self-rule, an independent Kurdish state in the Middle East would be a gift for Israel, many Kurdish and Israeli experts believe.

 

“Kurds are deeply sympathetic to Israel and an independent Kurdistan will be beneficial to Israel,” argued Kurdish journalist Ayub Nuri in July. “It will create a balance of power. Right now, Israel is one country against many. But with an independent Kurdish state, first of all Israel will have a genuine friend in the region for the first time, and second, Kurdistan will be like a buffer zone in the face of the Turkey, Iran and Iraq.”

 

The Kurds are the world’s largest stateless nation, numbering well over 30 million spread across Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, according to figures in the CIA Factbook, though exact population numbers are hard to pin down. Iraq’s 6 million Kurds have achieved the greatest measure of independence; they run the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, within the federal Iraqi system since 2005 (though de facto autonomy began after Saddam’s army was forced out of the region during the 1991 Gulf War). But despite a booming economy and striking freedom of action, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq still has presented no concrete plans for independence .Will it be Syria’s Kurds who lead the way toward a Kurdish state? Temporary autonomy or preparation for a state?…

 

The announcement of autonomy followed the capture of the multi-ethnic Syrian border town of Ras al Ayn from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front rebels. The Sunni extremist group had tried imposing its strict form of Islam on the more moderate Kurds. Clashes between Kurdish gunmen and Islamists belonging to al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant over the past weeks left dozens of gunmen dead on both sides. Kurdish commanders charged that the mainstream Free Syrian Army commanders are also sending fighters to join the al-Qaeda-linked groups in fighting the Kurds, hinting at the possibility of an Arab-Kurdish mini-war breaking out in Syria.

 

However, it is still unclear if the Syrian Kurds declared autonomy with an eye toward eventual independence.

PYD officials tried to play down the significance of the declaration. “This is not a call for separation,” PYD leader Salih Muslim maintained in an interview with France 24. “It’s just that for a year now we have been on our own in our own territories and people have needs, they want some kind of administration to run their issues, they can’t be left like that.”

 

According to Kurdistan expert Ofra Bengio of Tel Aviv University, independence is not on the Syrian Kurds’ agenda any time in the near future. “The PYD is not talking about independence now and will be reluctant to use such terminology in order not to antagonize any of the governments or the international community,” she said. “Autonomy is the safer goal now.” “Things may change according to changes on the ground,” she added….

 

While Syria crumbles, the KRG in Erbil continues to help Syrian Kurdish doctors and teachers find employment in the Kurdistan Region. Kurdish students from Syria are allowed to enroll in universities in the KR, despite the fact that Bashar Assad refused to grant them passports. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds have fled to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Duhok since the civil war started. KRG President Massoud Barzani has also served as a mediator between rival Syrian Kurdish factions, the PYD and the Kurdish National Council, closely allied with Barzani’s party in Iraq. Syrian fighters have been training in Iraqi Kurdistan with Barzani’s blessing.

 

Still, the relationship is complex. The PYD is very closely affiliated with, and often seen as an extension of, the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), a militant group that until recent peace talks fought a long and bloody campaign against Turkey. It constitutes the rival to Barzani’s KDP for leadership of Kurds across the region. The two sides battled each other during the Kurdish civil war in the 1990s. Earlier this year, the PYD arrested 75 members of Syria’s branch of the KDP, and Barzani responded by closing the border between the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish regions. Recently, the PKK has been supporting parties in the Kurdistan Region that are critical of Barzani’s grip on power.

 

The relationship “is one of interdependence,” explained Bengio. “The Syrian Kurds need the KRG as a mediator and as strategic depth and the KRG needs the Syrian Kurds for its goal of turning itself into the national center for all Kurds as well as for gaining a closer outlet to the sea.” Though the KRG sets the agenda for Syria’s Kurds, and not vice versa, autonomy in Syria may affect the calculus in Erbil….

 

A non-binding poll conducted by a pro-independence movement during the 2005 Iraqi elections found that over 98% of Kurdish respondents supported independence. During my time in the region in late 2012, I noticed that the only Iraqi flags flying were those on federal government buildings. Kurdish drivers even went out of their way to cover the part of their license plates labeled “Iraq” with a homemade sticker reading “Kurdistan.”

 

But what will it take for KRG to actually make that leap? The emergence of a strong central government in Baghdad that could once again threaten Kurds might push them over the edge. “The Kurds in Iraq are and forever will be suspicious of Iraq and Iraqi leaders,” said Nuri. “The scars imprinted on the Kurdish people in Iraq through decades of killing and persecution will probably take centuries to heal.”

Israeli and American interests at odds When the move to independence does finally come, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq will be hostile to the development. Still, the American reaction is what counts. “I do not think that the three neighboring countries will launch a war if Washington supports it,” Bengio argued. “Washington’s stance is a key to all the others.”

 

But America, after investing so much blood and treasure into keeping the Iraqi state together after Saddam’s downfall, is not interested in seeing it fracture along ethnic lines. The Americans “want to keep the political map of the region as it is,” noted Saadi. On this issue, Israeli interests run counter to the current American position. Ties between Israel and the Kurds run deep. A Mossad officer named Sagi Chori was sent to help his close friend, the late iconic Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani, manage the Kurds’ battles against the Iraqi army in the 1960s. (The partnership has been well-documented in Kurdish and Israeli media.) And reports of Israel training Kurdish commandos continue to surface. Nationalist Kurds tend to see Israel as a role model for an independent Kurdistan, a small nation surrounded by enemies and bolstered by a strategic partnership with the United States.

 

Israel has long developed alliances with non-Arab countries on the periphery of the Middle East. Today, that policy rests on partnerships with Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, and Caucasian and central Asian countries. Kurdistan fits perfectly into that framework.

 

The new Kurdish country will likely open full diplomatic relations with Israel. “The Kurds are the only nation in the region that has not been filled with hatred toward Israel and America,” said Saadi. “The way Kurds see the world is different from Arabs… Generally, Islamists are more powerful in the Arab world, they think that Islamic Sharia is the solution. However, the majority of Kurds believe in a European style of government. The problem is they don’t know how to get there. They don’t have experience.”

 

With few friends in the region, the Kurds will likely look to Israel to help them gain security and closer relations with the United States. As Arab governments in the Middle East totter and fall, and Islamists look to exploit the chaos, the alliance is one that both countries may find beneficial to pursue.

 

Contents

 

TURKEY’S JIHADI DILEMMA

Soner Cagaptay and Aaron Y. Zelin

CNN World, Aug. 12, 2013

 

In late May, the Turkish government uncovered a plan to use Sarin gas as part of a potential bomb attack in southern Turkey. Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), was allegedly behind the plot, and the subsequent arrests highlighted the increasing trouble jihadi radicals could pose for Ankara. Indeed, the longer Turkey turns a blind eye to jihadi rebels crossing its territory into Syria, the more likely there will be blowback.

 

The reality is that providing jihadists access to a neighboring country can result in unintended consequences as radicals ultimately bite the hand that feeds them, something Pakistan should have learned over Afghanistan, and Bashar al-Assad has discovered as Syria-backed al Qaeda elements from Iraqi territory have turned against the regime in Damascus.

 

True, Turkey has neither the vulnerabilities of Syria, nor Pakistan – the country is a democracy and a majority middle class society, so does not have the social and economic problems so often conducive to jihadist radicalization. Nor does Turkey have a homegrown jihadist tradition. A foreigner orchestrated the 2003 Istanbul bombings that targeted the British consulate, the headquarters of a Turkish bank and two synagogues, and few Turks have since demonstrated a taste for jihad.

 

However, with jihadist radicalization taking root in Syria, there are some troubling anecdotal signs that some Turks are reaching out to recruiters in an effort to take up the cause. For example, a cook at a luxury hotel in Istanbul erroneously contacted Jihadology.net, which is managed by one of the authors, asking for help to become a jihadi fighter (jihadology.net is actually a clearinghouse of information on the issue). Turkish officials, meanwhile, have also also spoken to us of a group of Turkish citizens of Chechen origin who previously fought against Russia, but who have crossed into Syria recently to join the fighting there.

While it’s true that the language barrier between Turks and Arabs might limit large scale jihadist recruitment of Turks, Syrian or foreign jihadists could still recruit Sunni Arab citizens in Turkey that mostly live in Urfa Province, which borders Syria’s al-Raqqa Governorate.  This area lies just across from a Syrian zone that opposition rebels, including JN, have freed from regime control.

 

And jihadist radicalization poses yet another threat as Turkey increasingly becomes a staging ground for the facilitation and smuggling of foreign nationals, including jihadists, into northern Syria to fight the al-Assad regime. This is not because Ankara supports the jihadist cause. Rather, Turkey is calculating that al-Assad will fall, and the “good guys” will take power. Ankara therefore sees jihadists as a tool whose fighting power could precipitate the fall of the al-Assad regime.

 

But, what if Assad’s regime does not fall, or Syria is not taken over by forces acceptable to Ankara? Turkey’s government does not seem to have considered the more likely scenario, one in which Syria slowly collapses into a weak and divided state split between al-Assad and his opponents, including JN. If this should occur, Turkey would face a jihadist threat on its doorstep, across a 540- mile border that stretches along mostly flat terrain. Ankara has provided the Syrian rebels with a safe haven on its territory, a policy that has already rendered the physically unchallenging border essentially moot: in most places, one can simply drive across the border without obstacles.

 

Sadly, even only a few radical fighters could pose a threat. In mid-June, a jihadist in Syria from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, whose accent suggested that he is an ethnic Arab and college-educated Turkish citizen, released a video on YouTube calling on all Turks to take “arms against all injustices wherever they are.” Moreover, any transnational attacks that emanate from Syria would likely see plotters traveling through Turkey, Syria’s only neighbor, which acts as a conduit between the Middle East, Europe and beyond.

 

Following the Reyhanli bombings, Turkey has tightened its borders and the country’s law enforcement are paying special attention to possible JN moves from Turkey into Syria. But Ankara must do more, and Turkey should cooperate more closely with allies to monitor the situation. And if Washington really wants to help? Well, it could make clearer to Turkey’s leadership that the endgame in Syria might be a weak state scenario with “bad guys” left roaming around. Ankara could quickly regret kicking the Syria can down the road.

 

Contents

 

SNAPSHOT OF AN UNEASY COMMUNITY:

Igal Aciman

Jerusalem Report, Aug 6, 2013

 

In a random survey other Jews interviewed said they were staying, but took pains not to flaunt their Jewish identity in view of rising anti-Semitism in Turkey. Turkey’s Jewish community was initially skeptical of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which rose to power within a year of being founded in 2001, due to its Islamist affiliations. But the government’s success in stabilizing the economy and jump-starting the accession talks with the European Union in 2005 led many in the community to switch their preference to the AKP. Ultimately, AKP’s support among Jews neared 40 percent in the 2007 elections, mirroring the same trend among the overall Turkish population.

 

However, unlike in the overall population, this support seems to have dropped dramatically over the last five years, as many community members become increasingly concerned about curtailed civil liberties, including censorship of the media and the Internet. Furthermore, the rapid acceleration of confrontation with Israel by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its use as a populist tool in domestic politics has fanned anti-Semitic sentiments.

 

Erdogan recently appointed a journalist, Yigit Bulut, well known for his far-reaching conspiracy theories, as his chief economic adviser. Bulut recently said on TV that he believes foreign powers, including the “Israeli Foreign Ministry” and the “interest rate lobby” are trying to “assassinate Prime Minister Erdogan from far away,” using “telekinesis.” The announcement of the appointment came only days after Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay accused the “Jewish Diaspora” of inciting the anti-government protests, which began May 28 and saw over 2.5 million protesters take to the streets across the country.

 

Shortly afterward, Ergun Diler, the chief columnist for the pro-AKP Takvim newspaper, published an article headlined “Time for Payback,” in which he questioned the loyalty of Turkey’s minorities to their country, with a specific focus on the Jews. “The struggle is between the Muslims and the Jews, who do not want peace in this region,” the columnist wrote, adding, “you were never Turkish in the first place.”

 

Continuous Jewish presence in the land that is Turkey today goes back 2,500 years, all the way to the Babylonian exile. Yet the bulk of Turkish Jews arrived in the Ottoman Empire following their expulsion from Iberia in 1492. For over five centuries, those Spanish Jews have preserved many of their customs, music, culinary and artistic traditions, as well as the community’s native language – Ladino. According to Naim Guleryuz, president of the Quincentennial Foundation, which commemorates the arrival of Sephardi Jews to Turkey, Sephardim make up 96 percent of the Jewish community, with a few Ashkenazi and Karaite families accounting for the rest.

 

Estimates vary, but Turkey’s Jewish community numbers around 17,000. The figure was approximately 26,000 in 1992 and 23,000 in 2002, the year in which AKP was elected to power. There are sizeable Turkish- Jewish communities outside of Turkey, as well. Some 77,000 former Turkish Jews live in Israel. Today, almost all remaining members of the community live in Istanbul or Izmir. Many are self-employed in trade, medicine and law, or work in various privatesector professions.

 

Jewish identity somehow always attracts attention in Turkey, even when the person’s ethnicity has nothing to do with the subject matter. Last year, the stateowned broadcasting company, TRT, sent Can Bonomo, a young Jewish musician from Izmir, to represent his country at the Eurovision Song Contest. Some pundits, including reputable ones, brought up his Jewish identity as a possible cause for his selection to sing in an international song competition. An anchorwoman at a mainstream news channel asked Bonomo whether he was chosen “because Turkey wants to ingratiate itself with pro-Israeli lobby groups.”

 

In response, a surprised Bonomo had to reiterate that the media coverage focusing on his Jewishness was not relevant to the Eurovision contest. “Music doesn’t have language, religion, or race,” he said. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey. I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that anyone needs to know.” Bonomo placed seventh out of 42 countries in the competition.

 

I interviewed five community members for The Report in order to get a snapshot profile of Turkish Jews. Together, they reflect the variety of views in the community regarding domestic politics and rising anti-Semitism.

 

“I am not scared, but I don’t feel free anymore – not just as a Jew, but as a Turkish citizen as well,” explains Raisa Ers, a 25- year old Jewish woman from Istanbul. Her blue eyes and light skin give away her half- Ashkenazi background. Ers studied mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania in the US. Born and raised in Istanbul, she decided to return to her hometown in 2011 after completing her bachelor’s degree. Now she is packing to move to Israel “My reason for leaving is multifold,” Ers says. “The political environment is one of them.”

 

She relates she had not taken part in the street protests herself but followed the events through friends. “Still, the response of the government to the protests demoralized me,” she explains. “People were killed merely for expressing their views. I don’t think any good will come out of it. I have lost hope,” Ers asserts with a sad smile. What else caused you to decide to leave? “I can’t trust the educational system for raising my future kids,” she responds.

 

As a third reason, she explains that most of her close friends, the majority of whom are not Jewish, have already left the country. “Most live abroad now, mainly in the US. So, I don’t have much of a social life here anymore.” While Ers is excited about making aliya, she also expresses concerns about feeling part of a minority in Israel, too. “I am not sure about what their attitude is going to be towards me, as a Turkish immigrant who studied in the US,” she says.

 

Not everybody in the community feels it is time to leave. Joelle Dana, 29, is a public relations consultant. She was also born and raised in Istanbul, though she studied communications at the University of Milan and worked in Italy for some time before returning to her hometown in 2009. Now, engaged to marry her physician fiancé, also a Turkish Jew, she has no plans to leave again.

 

“I have never been personally affected by anti-Semitism,” Dana says. “I know people who have, but personally I have not suffered any discomfort due to my Jewish identity. Perhaps, I am naïve, yet I am happy living in my safe bubble.” Dana acknowledges that the “bubble” might burst one day, but she believes this would not affect her any more than her non-Jewish friends, whom she describes as the relatively more secular and educated stratum of the Turkish society. “So, if I leave, it will be only because somebody forces me to leave. Otherwise, I am here to stay!” she remarks.

 

Getting into a discussion on politics, Dana notes the accomplishments of the AKP government. “Social security, health care and public transportation” are the areas where they have done a good job, she believes. Still, she says she did not vote for them in any of the past elections because of her concerns about secularism and civil rights. “It is probably true that more Jews are leaving the country now than a decade ago, but the remaining community members also work harder than before to preserve their culture and identity,” she explains. However, she is wary about flaunting her Jewishness. “In recent years, I do all that I can not to reveal that I am Jewish when I speak with someone I don’t know well,” she says…..

 

Contents

 

On Topic
 

Turkey’s Syrian Kurdish Gamble: A Double Edged Sword: Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, August 11, 2013—Salih Muslim, the leader of the Democratic Unity Party (PYD) which is often referred to as the Syrian “franchise” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish rebel group that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey since 1984, is expected to come to Ankara at the start of this week for a second round of talks with Turkish diplomats and security officials aimed at normalizing relations.

 

Ideology in Foreign Policy: Kurd and Islam: Baskin Oran, Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, August 4, 2013—While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tries to make peace with the Kurds of Turkey, he still issues dire threats to their Syrian extensions because his "Islamist  ideology” dictates so. This, of course, submerges our peace process.

 

The Great Turkish Conspiracy: Robert Ellis, Gatestone Institute, July 8, 2013—When it comes to explaining the widespread protests against the Turkish prime minister and his authoritarian rule, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] has apparently decided. It is everyone else's fault.

 

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