Non-English language media on the Syria crisis
Some non-english language takes on the syria crisis from turkey, iran and russia, shaved down by way of BBCM form the last few days:
The moderate Mardom Salari notes that “Perhaps Turkey has acted in an extreme manner and perhaps Iran has not paid enough attention to it and stayed passive. If Al-Asad’s government fails and another government takes power in Syria, Iran will be left with nothing.”, while E’temad outlines three possibilities for Syria: “the regaining of control by Bashar al-Asad, the victory of the opposition groups, and the disintegration of Syria into three autonomous regions including a Kurdish region…”.
Commentary by Ali Tatmaj in Hemayet states that “…some say Saudi Arabia is trying to divert attention from its internal developments by creating problems elsewhere [ie in Syria]”.
The influential business daily Kommersant puts forward that: “The revolution in Syria… is gradually turning into a religious war. Islamist groups are starting to take an increasingly visible role in the opposition ranks…”, in an article by Maksim Yusin entitled “Syrian opposition losing secularism”.
The Turkish press concentrates heavily on the Kurdish aspect of the Syrian conflict with comparisons drawn between the Turkish position almost a decade ago vis-a-vis Iraq. From Today’s Zaman, Ihsan Dagi is critical of the Turkish attitude towards the Kurdish population, putting the response of the country down “to the fact that there are demands from the Kurds of Turkey concerning their political and cultural rights”, he adds: “It is futile to try to build a future on the misfortune of the Kurds.” Meanwhile, Emre Uslu argues that there is little Turkey can do to prevent the developments: “The first [thing to do] is using Massoud Barzani’s influence over Kurds to try and “balance” out the PKK’s existence. In addition, Turkey should stir up Arab nationalism and unrest against the PKK to “balance” out the PKK’s activities.”
Nuray Mert on the privately-owned Hurriyet website, takes another view. Mert argues that “history is repeating itself” as Turkey responds much in the same way as it did in Iraq, arguing that: “Turkey may think that it has an advantage of supporting a Syrian opposition force that can be pitted against the Kurds. In fact, such “meddling” in Syrian affairs is the kind of “dirty politics” from which Turkey should refrain.” Mert continues, adding that it is a mistake to assume “all countries and parties will refuse to negotiate with the PKK indefinitely and to expect [Massoud] Barhani to be a “vassal of Turkey”.”
Hurriyet also reported that the Turkish army is requesting regular Syrian weather forecasts in order to direct artillery more accurately.
Iranian media was diverse and critical of Western actions over Syria. Turkey’s actions are also criticised (see Siyasat-e Ruz) as creating “headaches” for themselves by antagonising the situation.
An unattributed commentary from Hemayat discusses international action in the region regarding Syria arguing that: “the West is trying to use Jordan, just like Turkey, to strike Syria.”. In this context, commentary from Reza Hojjat in Javan says that, “since 11 September 2001, the US has been interested in “hardware changes: to how the world functions.” This trend is also apparent in the government IRNA news agency statements from Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast. He says that “the US is considering destabilizing Syria to weaken the “resistance line”.” Furthermore, he stresses “that Iran believes in settling the Syrian problem; for this goal, foreign interference and dispatching weapons should be stopped and then in a peaceful atmosphere people[s] demands should be presented and the government should take basic steps toward reforms.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that “it would not be justifiable to imagine that the Syrian regime will collapse”, in a meeting with the Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister.
Russian press coverage was minimal, but the Moscow Times’ editorial by Alexander Golts criticises Russia’s support for Syria as being a judgement deemed to be “advantageous for Russia’s foreign policy” that “would require little or no investment on the Kremlin’s part.” Golts also rails against Russia’s weak reaction to Syria’s remarks regarding Syria’s tacit acknowledgement of its chemical weapons stocks; he describes the Foreign Ministry as issuing “another meaningless statement”.
The Turkish press coverage extensive, but narrow in context, focusing almost entirely once again on the Kurdish issue. Opinions are split regarding an apt Turkish response with some (including Sedat Laciner and Othman Ali) calling for Turkey to learn lessons from Iraq, and show measured strength not just through rhetoric. Laciner urges more support for opponents of the regime, and: “Furthermore, you try and organize the ethnic, sectarian and political groups in that country in accordance with your goals.”
Others argue that Turkey will have to improve its relations with the Kurds, as an autonomous Kurdish state within Syria begins to look more likely. This is noted in Hurriyet in a column by Semeh Idiz. Idiz states that: “Turkey will most likely be unable to do anything to prevent the emergence of an autonomous or independent Kurdish region in Syria”.
On the domestic political scene, Turkey’s main opposition party said to Today’s Zaman, “that a decision by the Turkish government to depart from the country’s deep-rooted foreign policy traditions has failed to make Turkey a proactive actor in its region”, while “Turkey is not Iraq”, and Russian and Chinese positions cannot be ignored. It was also from Today’s Zaman, that Othman Ali’s Op-Ed article stated that “Turkish authorities are worried that the PKK is using the current crisis in Syria to expand the area from which it can confront Turkey… this move by the PKK, which will lead to intra-Kurdish fighting, gives Turkey a casus belli for intervention in Syria”. He added: “Turkey cannot afford to see the PKK roam freely in Syria and use it as a base from which to launch armed attacks on the country.”
Finally, Gozde Nur Donat, in Today’s Zaman echoes the message of other articles calling for Turkey to urge action from Iraq’s Massoud Barzani with regard to controlling the Kurdish groups in Syria. While, turning away from the dominating Kurdish story, Sinem Cengiz looks at the rise of jihadist movements in the Syrian struggle: “The Syrian opposition needs a strong motivation to carry out their struggle against the Assad regime. Therefore, the Islamic motive of these jihadist groups is an important factor that plays a critical role in the struggle of the opposition” said Veysel Ayhan, an expert on the Middle East from Abant Izzet Baysal University.
Significant Iranian media reactions came first from Keyhan’s editorial by Sa’dollah Zare’i, titled: “It is Damascus’s turn to attack”. Zare’i argues that Israel was behind the recent bombing in Damascus at the Syrian National Security Building: “It is obvious that preparing for such an act is beyond the capacity of such newly emerging organisations as the Syrian Liberation Army or the Opposition Coordination Council whose centres are outside Syria.”… “Based on a coordinated multi-faceted program the plan was to bring down the government of Syria before the start of the blessed month of Ramadan and to impose upon the people of Syria a government affiliated with America and Israel called a “gift from heaven”.
Ahmad Kazemzadeh in Javan argues that “Syria’s Libyaization has started”, insomuch as the “efforts are to turn Aleppo into Syria’s Benghazi.”
Many outlets, including Hoda Dehqan-Barzafshan in Siyasat-e Ruz, criticised Turkey’s role severely as being destabilising for Turkey and the region. Ja’far Haqpanah in Tehran-e Emruz noted on this point that Turkey is “punching above its weight”.
Finally, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani “stressed the need for foreigners not to interfere in Syria’s affaires”… “He went on to say that difference in the stances of Tehran and Ankara should not hamper mutual cooperation” as this “would serve the Zionist regime’s sinister goals”. Rafsanjani “stressed materialization of rights and demands of the Syrian nation and helping them decide their future.”
Russia’s Interfax-AVN quoted Aleksandr Khramchikhin (deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis) as saying that supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the rebels (which are now an “open secret”) may continue but “will not change the inclination of the civil war in Syria dramatically, he said.”
Meanwhile, Russian radio interviewed Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Syria, on the Kurdish movements in the country: “According to him, there are Syrian military personnel in some of the towns controlled by the Kurds, but they do not interfere in local self-administration.” He added: “For over 30 years, under the pretext of fighting against the PKK, Ankara has been fighting against all Kurds, including the Democratic Union Party”.
Russia’s state TV channel Rossiya 1 showed “footage from YouTube said to be Syrian rebels in Aleppo executing in cold blood fighters who support Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.”
Turkish media focuses on the Kurds in Syria, which is increasing linked with other domestic issues in Turkey such as criticism from the opposition of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Coming from an economic perspective, Erdal Saglam argues in Hurriyet that Turkey would benefit from changing its policy towards its Kurdish minority in a similar way to Iraq. In order to do so, Turkey needs “to provide economic development in the region”, which can be done through the already existing energy deal with Iraq being “made effective and further developed”. An Iraqi Kurdish official also called for Turkey to engage with Kurdish groups in Syria and soften its approach.
Remaining with the Kurdish focus, Yeni Safak carried a report by Abdulkadir Selvi entitled: “Is a Kurdish State Being Established in Syria?” Selvi argues that “a Kurdish administration similar to the one in Iraq will come about there [in Syria], and later the two of them will join together. Then it will be the turns of Turkey and Iran, the other links in the chain.”… “These things are not the results of Turkey’s Syria policy. They are problems produced by the situation into which Syria has fallen.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to urge “for cooperation in Syria’s transition process, instead of unilateral moves on Iraqi Kurds”.
Finally, Dogu Ergil writes in Today’s Zaman that Turkey’s policy on Syria is foolhardy. “Turkey became a side in Middle East politics. Now the Shi’is of the region and the Alawites of Syria see Turkey as an opponent. Unfortunately, the feeling is mutual.” Turkey is also, he says, “not acknowledging the fact that a substantial portion of the Kurds residing in Syria are those or scions of those that have escaped pursuit and persecution following sundry Kurdish rebellions that took place after the declaration of the republic. So they are basically citizens of Turkey…”
An E’temad commentary by Mirmahmud Musavi “says Turkey has made advances in political and social freedoms… ‘In regards to the Syrian issue, whatever decision is the Turkish government makes must be subject to the fact that the escalation of the crisis in the region and a tendency for a military conflict could seriously affect and halt this vital and historic process.’”
Jomhuri-ye Eslami’s editorial focuses on the rise of Islamist movements in Syria stating: “Today, Syria has become the marching ground of terrorists of various nationalities, and despite its claims, the West is shamelessly supporting these terrorists”. Tehran-e Emruz goes further regarding the role of support for the opposition arguing al-Asad will be able to stay in power up until the US presidential election. Hasan Hanizadeh adds: “If the Bashar al-Asad system falls, firstly, a puppet government in line with [the policies of] America, the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia will be formed in Syria, the objective of which will be the cutting of the Tehran-Damascus-Beirut axis.”
This dismantling of Iran’s strategic interests was also the focus of an analytical report by Hoda Dehqan-Bazrafshan in Siyaset-e Ruz. The report notes, regarding Turkey, that: “On the one hand the [Turkish] army accuses the Ankara government of taking steps to weaken this nation’s secular system and on the other hand the government accuses the army of being incapable of dealing with the PKK.” He continues: “If Turkey can play an effective role bringing down Bashar Assad, in the next stages it will definitely seek to suppress Lebanon’s Hizbollah from the resistance scene in Lebanon, to create insecurity in Iran in the years to come and even in the months to come”. ISNA reported that Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi urged Turkish officials to stop supporting Israel and America in creating unrest in Syria.
In other news, Tehran denied training PKK militants inside Iran, after a report from Turkey’s Aksam newspaper. Meanwhile, IRNA reported that Kofi Annan’s resignation heightens the responsibility of regional actors in the crisis in Syria.
Examining Turkish involvement in Syria, Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that “Turkey is once again redeploying troops to the border with Syria. Ankara fears that a number of areas in Northern Syria will pass to the control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and be used as a base for raids on Turkish territory”. In this regard, the report sees Turkey’s actions as moving towards an intervention in Syria.
Meanwhile, the Vedomosti business daily stated that: “According to a source close to the Russian Defence Ministry, US special services started supporting Syria’s armed opposition last year; modern American communications equipment was supplied to the rebels as far back as last winter; and private military companies from the United States have participated in training militants at camps in Turkey for many months, on the CIA’s instructions”, the paper adds that this support cannot bring victory for the rebels because they are not unified. Nezavisimaya Gazeta added in this regard that “Washington is carrying out a secret reconnaissance operation on support for Syrian rebels on which it has already spent 25m dollars…”
In discussing US action on Syria, the left-leaning Trud newspaper points to the changing global scene as the main motive: “The world is seeing the rise of another power capable of challenging America’s military might: China…”
The Russian Interfax news agency reported that Russia regretted the departure of Kofi Annan from the international diplomacy on Syria.
Turkey’s Milliyet (centrist) paper noted that “… it is not clear what kind of authority will be formed in northern Syria. [However] it is not difficult to guess that if a PKK-PYD dominated northern Syria arises, Turkey will receive terrorist attacks both from northern Iraq and from this region”. Meanwhile, Posta (tabloid) retorted: “If we talk about democracy, we have to accept its outcomes as well… An independent Kurdish state is not a disaster for Turkey at all.”
Emre Uslu in Today’s Zaman aimed to counter reports that Iraq’s Massoud Barzani could play a vital role in controlling Kurdish activity in Syria: “Barzani has very limited influence over Syrian Kurds, especially on the Kurds who live around Kurd Mountain, which is close to Aleppo”. The decision of Turkey’s Davutoglu to visit Barzani, is reported to “function as a pacifier for Turkish public anger and will prevent questioning and criticism of the Turkish government’s failure to anticipate the emerging PKK state inside Syria”. This feeling is echoed by the Radikal newspaper in a column by Fehim Tastekin.
Away from the Kurdish issue, the state-funded Anadolu agency reported rebels statements that they severely lack ammunition. The privately-owned Hurriyet website said that Turkey was preparing for an “influx of 100,000 refugees from Syria”, as additional camps are built in border regions. Turkey also increased its military at the border. Elsewhere, Ibrahim Kalin, in Today’s Zaman analyses prospects for minorities in “post-Assad Syria”. He argues: “The so-called “al-Qaeda threat in Syria” has been vastly exaggerated to cast doubts on the Syrian revolution… While most Christians have remained silent because they, like Sunnis, Kurds and others, fear the regime’s retaliation against them, it is simply not true that the Syrian Christians as a whole are behind the regime”.
Lastly, Turkey’s minister of EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, Egeman Bagis urged for action on Syria as the conflict worsens.