The history of Turkey augurs genocide in northern Syria.
Prior to World War I, the Ottoman Empire was a true multicultural state. In a hardly modern arrangement, the tribes and ethnic groups were co-opted in a representational scheme. There is some similarity in the relationship between the Kremlin and Chechnya, though Ramzan Kadyrov would be a lot harder to replace than an Ottoman governor.
But the center, Istanbul, was weak. In World War I, the actual rulers of Turkey, the Three Pashas, allied with the Triple Alliance, which lost. The empire fell prey to centrifugal forces exploited by Britain and France. It was dissected into artificial, unstable states, deliberately incorporating antagonistic ethnic groups. This is the face of the modern Middle East.
The center of the former empire, modern Turkey, contained mostly ethnic Turks, but included Armenians and Kurds. The Three Pashas decided that having lost 90% of the real estate, the remainder would be exclusively Turkish. Armenians were a significant minority in the Turkish heartland, Anatolia. Preceding the birth of modern Turkey under Kemal Ataturk, Turkey was in violent political flux. At the same time, a tide of dispossessed Muslim refugees from the north strained resources of the preindustrial state, when the primary asset was land. The Armenians lived vulnerably in the midst of this unstable society.
Three factors combined:
- Ethnic hatred, or the desire for a mono-culture in what remained of Turkey.
- Overcrowding by Muslim refugees.
- Political expediency, as seen by the Three Pashas.
In, 1915, in a rehearsal for the Holocaust, the Armenians were rounded up and marched south into the Syrian Desert, to die without food or water at 35°20′00″N 40°9′00″E, the location of modern Deir ez Zor.
It wasn’t hard for the Turks to commit the Armenian Genocide, which today they still do not admit. There were no protests. T. E. Lawrence was the British leader of the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans. In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the basis of Lawrence of Arabia, he remarks on the passivity and obedience of Turkish soldiers. If directed to be friendly to an Arab village, they were remarkably obedient. If directed to slaughter the inhabitants, their obedience was thorough.
To understand what is yet to come, consider the geography. Most of the area is typical of the Syrian desert, which can support only sparse populations of nomads and livestock. This is why, in 1915, 150,000 Armenians perished at Deir ez Zor. It wasn’t land to colonize; it was land to die in.
The Turks will tell you they need a buffer zone because of cross-border support for the PKK in Turkey. There is something to this. But it should be remembered that the PKK was created by extreme oppression of Kurdish culture, which included the banning of Kurdish dress, language, and even the identity of “Kurd.”
The conflict was well on the way to solution, in the form of cultural accommodation, by Prime Minister Turgut Özal, when he died in 1993. Based on exhumation in 2012, he was poisoned. The Three Pashas remain alive in the Turkish State.
These similarities with the Armenian Genocide suggest a repetition:
- Turkey is overloaded with refugees.
- The secular, inclusive state of Kemal Ataturk has receded, while the observations of T.E. Lawrence remain pertinent.
- The state is still devoted to Turkish monoculture, with both covert and overt manifestations. Turkey continues to deny the Armenian Genocide.
So the region is primed for genocide. How will it come off? According to (Reuters) Explainer: Turkey set to redraw map of Syrian war once more, the initial military target lies between Tel Abayad and Ras al-Ain. This is desert, with two cross-border cities. By itself, this is of little concern.
The northeast corner of Syria is historically part of the Kurdish region that spans Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The 20 mile zone would obliterate it. But as this area is mountainous and not very rewarding, Turkey will first deprive the Kurdish proto-state of its primary natural resources: the fertile, watered river valley of the Euphrates, and the oil fields around Deir ez Zor.
Then they will drive the Kurds into the desert to die, as they did with the Armenians in 1915.
(Reuters) Trump threatens to ‘obliterate’ Turkish economy over Syria incursion plan. The threat of U.S. economic pressure will mean nothing to the Turks.
The history books of the future will have something to say about this. Betrayal and genocide are terrible things to have your name on.
I’m feeling some shame myself.