Islamists at odds, Kurds side by side

Islamists at odds, Kurds side by side

I could not find a better title to sum up the crises experienced in our region lately: Islamists at odds, Kurds side by side. 

When I say “our region,” I mean Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey especially and the entire Middle East in general. 

Once upon a time, when “Islamism” was mentioned these sorts of organizations came to mind: Muslim Brothers based in Egypt but having scattered to all Arab countries, Cemaat-i Islami in Pakistan and the multinational Hizbüttahrir. The Saudi Arabia regime, though, wanted to control Islamic institutions through an institution called Rabita and tried to pull them to its own line (Wahhabism). However, Islamists were under the shadow of nationalists and leftist movements and did not have a promising future. Then the revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini and the jihad against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan came up as examples that the ambitions of Islamists were more than just dreams. And suddenly Islamism started becoming the most effective political, social, cultural and even economic stream in the Islamic world. 

As soon as the Islamic regime in Iran completed eliminating the other non-Islamist children of the revolution, it attempted to put other Islamists in various regions of the world who looked up to them under their influence in the name of “exporting the revolution.” In this context, whenever Islamism, even when Islam, was mentioned, it was Iran and Khomeini that came to mind. 

Emergence of al-Qaeda 

However, Tehran’s policy of exporting the revolution did not succeed except for Shiite communities in Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and some Gulf countries. In the Sunni world though, the mujahedeen (warriors) who mostly came from Arab countries, financed mostly by the Saudi regime (and through them the United States) and who were fighting voluntarily in Afghanistan quickly opted to establish their own network. As a weird twist of fate, a while later, this network led by Osama bin Laden took the name al-Qaeda declared jihad against Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries and also against the United States: September 11 and all the others are well known.

Before coming to the topic of Syria, let’s remember Iraq first. The Shiite Arabs and the Kurds benefited the most from Saddam Hussein’s toppling. Iran most welcomed the fact that Shiites got the lion’s share in the administration. It was obvious that the Sunnis would not be willing to give up power but it was thought that they would not resist too much. Then al-Qaeda stepped in. Volunteers coming from all over the world (most infiltrating from Syria) and other al-Qaeda cells formed with the participation of Sunni tribes made life very difficult both for the American invaders and Iraq’s new administrators. Al-Qaeda’s presence continues in Iraq with less of an influence. 

New combat zone: Syria 

I am indeed aware that the Baath regime trying to survive in Syria is not Islamist; on the contrary, it claims to be “secular.” However, considering that this same regime basically has backing from the Islamic Republic of Iran, it can be recognized that what is being experienced in Syria, in the final analysis, is the extension of efforts to break Iran’s influence in the region, or at least to minimize it. 

As you know, from Syria we are only able to access the propaganda of the clashing sides rather than independent, objective stories and comments of journalists. Bashar al-Assad basically says he is fighting with “terrorists from al-Qaeda” and he is trying to convince the world that if he leaves, then Syria will be ruled by a Talibanist totalitarian regime. On the other hand, opposition groups claim that elements from Lebanese Hezbollah financed by Iran are fighting against them to support al-Assad. 
Personally, I think that, after the killing of bin Laden, certain individuals, cells and groups from al-Qaeda or close to that network might have again come under the control of Saudi Arabia. However, when taking into account what has been experienced in the past, this cooperation is highly risky and it has to be kept in mind that tomorrow it can have a boomerang effect. 

Back to the title again: While severe clashes are taking place among those powers and centers in our region that somewhat try to identify themselves with the religion of Islam, it is the Kurds that receive the maximum benefit from them. We see that Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria (probably also in Iran) and their organizations have left behind their own domestic conflicts, disagreements and differences, and are acting together on the path to exist in the strongest way in our region that is re-shaping. And they have come a long way.

* Ruşen Çakır is a columnist for daily Vatan in which this piece was published on July 25. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.