Revolution against all governments: Critical reflections on the attitude of the Syrian opposition towards Turkish politics
Translated by Bordered by Silence
Translators intro: I chose to translate this text because there aren’t many texts circulating in English critiquing the complicity of the Syrian opposition groups in Turkey with the increasingly authoritarian position of the Turkish government, especially not from an anti-authoritarian perspective. Though I do consider this text to be substantially anti-authoritarian for its insistance that revolt must not confine itself to a single country or tyrant, the author situates his argument relative to several categories that are essentially authoritarian, particularly “state-building”. Though state-building is often presented as nearly a synonym to “peace-building” and the word “state” is sometimes carelessly used to mean “society”, there author doesn’t get into enough detail on these concepts to allow us to understand them other than literally. That said, “state-building” and “the rule of law” are juxtaposed with radical Islamist groups and “developing citizenship” is presented as an alternative to the sectarianism pushed by meddling foreign states — this is a context for which anarchists in North American or Europe have no comparison. That’s why, in spite of the references to “state-building”, “citizenship”, “rule of law” and rights discourse, I still consider this text to be of interest to anarchists and to anyone interested in understanding grassroots struggle in the Syrian diaspora.
Translated from Tamaroud [At the time of posting, tamaroud.com seems to be offline… text is available in google’s cache]
Some quick critical reflections on the practices of the Syrian revolution, taking its attitude towards Turkish politics as an example:
As a refugee or resident in Turkey, I’m overcome by contradictory feelings when I talk about this country, which has taken in millions of refugees, particularly from Syria and Iraq. Its political elites are engaged in several ongoing regional issues, notably Syria with all its ramifications. What I find striking here is the widespread attitude of support for the Turkish government by a large section of the Syrian opposition located in the territory of this state that seems to defend the cause of the Syrian people. This raises major doubts about the solidity of their values, which have in turn led to popular protests in Syria about the suitability of the opposition and the effect of passing on their views to future generations.
The question is this: why would Syrians in Turkey defend the politics of the Turkish government and justify most of the recent decisions and behaviours of its disgraceful ruling party? Especially as this party sets caution aside to proceed with lightning speed towards a classic form of authoritarianism following the failed coup attempt? Prominent opinion makers in Turkey keep their mouths shut, especially those who find themselves in official positions in the state.
The occurrence of the coup and the specific way it was carried out, and perhaps justified by the social norms in this country, have lead the government and president Erdogan to turn towards authoritarian politics, or dictatorship if you will, in a clearer form. This is a superficial perspective, but it’s one that’s present within the Turkish political space.
It’s not our concern whether there’s a link between those arrested and those who had a hand in the bloody coup – it’s not important. That’s what I feel and observe as a person living in Turkish territory, regardless of my legal status as a refugee or visitor or foreign citizen or as Turkish. Anyone who speaks up is at risk of both arrest and character assassination, whether writer, journalist, artist, academic or student. These practices offend me, firstly, as an individual who believes in freedom of opinion and of expression and who is among those who’ve suffered the worst kinds of political and social persecution; secondly because I in normally have no right to remain in Turkish territory and so I feel grateful for the hospitality of the Turkish people. If I turned my back on what’s happening around me and how the fallout is affecting human rights, I’d be helping to justify people being arrested on the basis of their thoughts and words.
We assume that we didn’t all refuse to live in the shadow of the Syrian regime just to settle for that of a different government on the pretext that we need to remain in its territory. That would be lying to ourselves and has nothing to do with any real revolutionary tendency. We don’t only reject repression and authoritarianism when it’s happening to Syrians, but rather when it touches any human being. Because we have principles: just as we did not choose the citizenship we bear, the building of a revolutionary consciousness doesn’t choose a homeland for itself. It seems hard to believe that a government that sets about arresting writers and students en masse would occupy itself with the freedom of people elsewhere.
Since the agreement between Turkey and Europe to restrict the movement of migrants from Turkey and Greece towards Europe, the consequences have been plain to see: Syrians in Turkey during this crisis are being treated as an object for use in extortion and blackmail by the Turkish government. This is in contradiction with the hospitality involved in their taking in three million young refugees no older than ten who work hard to earn a living. It’s widely known and well documented that in the past months the Turkish government stopped hundreds of Syrians from travellng to third countries like Canada or Australia despite their having completed all of the required paperwork. If they had offered the Turkish government something in exchange, the issue certainly would have been easier to resolve.
In the midst of the cycle of war in Syria, the Turkish president Erdogan has joined forces with Russia, describing the Russian president, who has directed his forces to systematically destroy Syrian cities, as a friend. Erdogan describes no one else this way, and this comes after his much harsher previous rhetoric, when he said the Russian president was killing the Syrian people, when he told us that he was sympathetic to the Syrian opposition and stood alongside them – after that, we get this kind of politics?
Truly, if we are going to justify every political and military maneuver carried out by an ally of the opposition, we can’t blame the supporters of the regime and its crimes when they in turn justify the actions of their regime, describing is as a war against terrorists. For instance, why would we oppose the interventions by Iran and the Hezbollah militia if we’re going to justify and welcome interventions by Turkish and other forces on Syrian territory…
Why does the Arab media and the Syrian opposition support radical [islamist] groups that don’t in any way believe in developing a state based on citizenship and the rule of law? We know well that the moment the regime falls, a new military alliance of states will form to liquidate those groups described as hard line because they are incomplatible with the new, emergent state. Meanwhile the opposition media, parties, and organizations that are close to liberal thought, such as the opposition coalition and the national council “of the revolution”, invite the radical groups in for now because they need their guns and because they represent a negotiating chip with the blood-thirsty regime. Once the war is over, various opposition formations will support the liquidation of the murderous islamist groups that refuse to integrate into the state-building project; history will show that this will inevitably lead to a confrontation among different sections of the Syrian opposition at all levels.
When we criticize the sympathy some Syrians have for Turkey’s political direction, it doesn’t mean we agree with the kinds of support given by Saudi Arabia or Qatar, though their positions are quite different from Turkey’s, in spite of the reservations we have with the Turkish government’s policies. Turkey’s recent contributions are preferable to the position taken by the Gulf states – at least Turkey has allowed in refugees. As well, Saudi Arabia, for instance, supports the most brutal groups in Syria and Qatar does the same. Great! Well then why don’t they welcome in even one Syrian refugee? How two-faced can you be? The suffering of the Syrian people isn’t only political, but also human, stemming from displacement, hunger, and a lack of security – what are the Gulf countries offering on this level? As if by chance, the Emirati oil company fired all of its Syrian employees under the pretext of possible security threats.
Why does the opposition accept the situation that leads to this? For political gain, because each state has its own interests and objectives. We know that each country pragmatically follows its own political course, but when you’re the political opposition that’s supposed to be for all of the Syrian people, it’s just not right. The opposition shouldn’t adjust itself to or accept all kinds of interventions and political volatility and it’s quite possible that this will have negative consequences, such as what happened in the city of Aleppo and in many other areas in Syria.
What, practically, is the goal of all this, other than to continue the war in the ugly, monstrous form we now see? These alliances don’t contribute to building an idea of a state or a developed society, but rather to building militias, and not only armed ones but also intellectual, social, and educative militias.
In truth, I don’t have the clear, logical solutions to this that some will be looking for. What I want to say in this matter is that, firstly, if we want to take ownership of the issue and be honest, and then if we truly desire to spread ideas that contribute to building a state, these alliances won’t help us and won’t build a state. If we want to be in the right, we have to distinguish ourselves from the positions of others on the current bloody situation, and not just through shallow words and play-acting, but with real substance. Let’s not give in to the trickery and slogans, like we did in the days of the high rhetoric from Arab nationalists that turned out to be lies at the expense of thousands of arrested people who died under torture arrested. We don’t have to accept such insults to our intelligence.
To return to Turkey, some opposition members consider the Turkish president to be a leader of the Islamic world and so everything he does is justified, even though he doesn’t always appear to be the number one defender of the Muslims who are drawn to him by his intensely emotional religious discourse. When the American president Donald Trump released his decree forbidding Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States, many international politicians condemned this step, but we didn’t hear even one word from the Turkish president in opposition to this policy. It was the Canadian Prime Minister who brought up the travelers stuck in American airports, not the supposed leader of the Musilm world. On the contrary, recent developments suggest the Turkish president is just as much a friend of Trump’s as he is of Putin.
I feel humiliated when, sitting in a cafe in Turkey with a friend, he lowers his voice when he mentions Erdogan’s name. You, part of the Syrian opposition living in Turkey, you who has such love for Erdogan, why, deep down, do you still fear him? This is how people were within Syria and yet it still hasn’t changed by now!!??
Of the circumstances that push me to write this article, the core reason is not to criticize Turkish policy as such or to encourage Syrians to be hostile towards the Turkish government, but just that I’m sorry to see Syrians continuing to trust in empty words at the expense of the truth of the current situation, after all they’ve suffered in displacement, death, and destruction, after all these thousands of casualties and prisoners. After all this, the situation leaves us feeling both cautious and uncertain.
Those who follow the Syrian situation should be able to see that the Syrian opposition carries out critical analysis on practical political issues: this would build our reputation and increase our standing, and also help to recall why the popular revolution broke out in the first place.
The opposition’s allies, such as they are, are like the regime’s in that they don’t concern themselves with the rule of law or human rights or any other statutes. Is it not the Saudis – and this is just a small piece of the Saudi government’s abuses – who threw the activist Raif Badawi in prison because he called for the abolition of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice ? And is it not Qatar who sentenced a poet to life in prison because he sympathized with the Arab revolutions while all the Qatari media channels didn’t dare to even hint at what was going on?
This primarily political motivation has been present since the days of the amazing peaceful demonstrations against the regime. But there was also a deep feeling of injustice from the years of insults against our dignity and that it was high time for this to end. This feeling of injustice was the basis of the revolutionary current, but it has largely disappeared because of the changing international and domestic political situation marked by the system of exchanges here and there for the benefit of some sect or another . The underlying reason for this is the comfort the opposition brigades have developed with the culture of weapons.
If a massacre occurs in a pro-regime area, we rarely hear opposition media condemning this massacre. At this particular point, we need to be different from the other side, from the regime’s shabbiha , not just be the shabbiha of the opposition.
Written by Mutaz Nadir
1] This is a policing body charged with enforcing the Saudi state’s interpretation of Islamic conduct
2] It’s not one hundred percent clear what this refers to, but it likely refers to population transfers. In Daraya, Homs and Zabadani, and later in Aleppo, the regime and the opposition (often through their supporters) agreed to transfer people between regions by the thousands usually on the basis of religious sect or ethnicity.
3] The shabbiha are groups of pro-regime enforcers who were responsible for some of the worst violence in the early days of the revolution