Syria: Lessons in ‘armed struggle’ as the government changes strategy

Syria: Lessons in ‘armed struggle’ as the government changes strategy

Representatives of Syrian opposition groups, which are carrying on their activities in Istanbul, keep sharing their views on various issues with the media. The most interesting among those views were the remarks of deserted Col. Riad al-Asaad of the Syrian Air Force to The Independent on Oct. 10 on behalf of the Syrian Free Army. He said guerilla warfare was the sole way to topple the regime. We have no idea about the expertise of the Air Force colonel on this issue, but it is understood that opponents have been debating this strategy for regime change in Syria. This monologue has been penned out of sharing the wish of a writer who himself is also a citizen of a nation that struggled/is struggling with knotted guerilla warfare.

Initiating and maintaining guerilla warfare for the purpose of regime change depends on a whole slew of factors that are highly complicated and vary over time. Those factors can be classified as follows: the availability of a “political cause” that is functional, easily embraceable and unattainable overnight; the existence of a leader fit for the social psychology, character and culture of the country in which guerilla warfare is to be initiated; the presence of “receptive” neighbors, which might allow the establishment of “safe havens” for the guerillas on the other side of the political borders; the presence of land sufficiently vast and geographically suitable for guerilla warfare; the provision of logistic support required for guerilla warfare; and the existence of a potential population from which the required “elements” of the organization can be recruited.

It is true that there are political problems in Syria that might not be ironed out in a short time. Looking through that frame, there are a range of rough and ready “political” causes for guerilla warfare in Syria that the “opposition” is thinking of commencing in order to change the regime. Although the “political cause” loses its meaning shortly after the armed movement starts, its importance is incontestable in the beginning. However, someone might not want to take the risk of long-running “guerilla” warfare for “light” ideas like “democracy” in countries like Syria. What is necessary for them are political reasons, such as ethnic, sectarian and inter-tribal ones that are proper and compatible to the culture and realities of the region. In Syria’s case, those reasons are ethnic for the Kurds, sectarian for the Arabs and political and economic for the tribes.

It is possible to label northern Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon as the list of potential countries that might provide “safe havens,” military training and logistics to such a struggle. But such an initiative has a lot to answer for those countries in the mid-term. Those problems have the potential of pushing Syria into a long-running civil war. On the other hand, such a conflict that Syria would drift into, in time, would have the potential of spilling over into the countries which have provided “safe havens” to the guerillas. How do we know this?

When Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan fled to Syria in 1979, the administration of Damascus provided every possible facility to him that the PKK needed. Moreover, it supported the PKK’s political activities among the Syrian Kurds and actions in Turkey with the recruited militants. Thus, the PKK became the most influential organization among the Kurds in Syria. Shifting political balance, developing political consciousness and deepening ideological networks in the region at the moment have transformed the PKK-organized Kurds into a serious threat to the Syrian regime. Those who have the idea of creating guerilla movement had better take a closer look at the last 30 years of the region, because it is quite pragmatic.