War in the Country, War in the World

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

By Yawsef Beth Turo journalist and TV-presenter Suroyo TV

It was in the first years of the past decade when Ahmet Davutoğlu was foreign minister that Turkey showed signs of moving closer to the principles of the Rule of Law. His statements and comments attracted much attention in the media. At the beginning of his term in office, Davutoğlu published a commentary in Foreign Policy on March 21, 2013, with the headline “Zero Problems in a new Era”. He wrote about the process of democratization of North Africa and the Middle East, and about the conflicts that needed to be settled with European neighboring countries.

During this period, the AKP government attempted to solve the ongoing conflict with Cyprus, to reduce enmity with neighboring Syria, and to normalize relations with Armenia. It was also thought and hoped that Turkey would finally take up and face the issue of the Sayfo Genocide of 1915, try to peacefully resolve the Kurdish question, and to really engage in dialogue with its other indigenous minorities. All this prompted positive reactions both inside the country and abroad.

Looking back to the factual events of the 2010s, the outcome is clear. In retrospect, all above constructive ideas and positive events turned out illusory.

Today Turkey has many unresolved conflicts with as many neighboring countries. And in domestic politics, the situation is even more troubling. The peace process with the Kurds, which resulted from the dialogue with the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, came to a standstill. The rapprochement with the Armenians stopped, and the country’s minorities no longer feel safe. The much desired opening up of Turkey failed, journalists and opponents were imprisoned and democratically elected members of the HDP were jailed for criticizing the AKP-government. Selahattin Demirtaş, Can Dündar, Ahmet Altan, Osman Kavala, and many other politicians, journalists, and scholars were removed from the political scene because of their critical views.

As if it were not enough to eliminate the country’s cultural diversity, the country’s own cultural heritage has recently been targeted in an Islamization campaign accompanied with aggressive Islamic discourse. The famous Hagia Sophia was turned from a museum into a mosque. As a result of this populist nationalist behavior, many Suryoye (Arameans-Chaldeans-Assyrians) have given up their efforts towards their homeland Tur Abdin in southeastern Turkey. Every time confidence and hope for better conditions sprouted, it was deliberately destroyed. The confidence of our Suryoyo people in the Turkish state and its officials has hit rock bottom. Hopelessness is paramount and widespread. The burning by local functionaries of fields and agricultural lands belonging to the villages of the Suryoye in their ancient homeland of Tur Abdin, southeastern Turkey, had no other aim than to expel the small remaining group of Christian Suryoye.

The well-known statement of founder of the Turkish Republic Atatürk is that “Peace in the country, peace in the world” is being trampled on. But today the principle of “War in the country, war in the world” fits better instead. Because Turkey cannot find inner peace it has become an aggressor against neighboring countries and peoples. Turkey has always tried to divert attention away from its bloody history and internal conflicts. Therefore, it fails to resolve these internal conflicts within the different groups of its population, with polarization and alienation as a result.

Turmoil in Turkey is not just limited to its interior. To name only a few conflicts with neighboring states: Turkey is in dispute with Greece and Cyprus over natural gas in the Mediterranean, with Armenia because of the fighting over Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), and with Libya where Turkey supports the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey regards every development around it as a threat. That is why it invaded northern Syria and northern Iraq. Any emerging attempt at autonomy in the Nineveh Plain or in the Shingal Mountains is fiercely and without hesitation suppressed. While this behavior on the surface may be seen as a reflex on the part of Turkey, the fact is that the ideology of exclusively Turkish-Muslim nationalism lies deep below this surface. The Turkish establishment remains firmly committed to the ideas of the Young Turks after the First World War.

The attacks on Cyprus were followed by Turkish interference in northern Syria and the occupation of the border towns Afrin and Kobane. If no one would have stopped Turkey, it would today seek to bring down the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. For this purpose, Turkey used Suryoye and other Christian minority elements as a cover to legitimize its invasion and occupation. But through the work of the International Coalition – especially the U.S. – Turkey was stopped. The Turkish aim was clear: the destruction of the Democratic Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria, which was founded by Suryoye, Kurds, and Arabs on an equal basis of peoplehood. There were many provocative attempts to sabotage this cooperation of peoples. When it proofed hard to break this model of democratic coexistence, Turkey (and Syria for that matter) tried to bring in those Suryoye, Kurds, and Arabs who sided with it against the Democratic Autonomous Administration. But fortunately, these attempts failed. This does not mean that the dangers of the Turkish invasion in northeastern Syria are gone. Turkey is and will still using every opportunity to gather forces against autonomy and spillover effects and bring down the Democratic Autonomous Administration.

The autonomous self-government was co-founded in 2015 by joint efforts of Suryoye, Kurds and Arabs. The basic principle is that every people can teach its mother tongue, speak its own native language, and preserve its identity. The Administration’s constitution states that every people may preserve and live its traditions and customs, religion, and culture without restrictions and with mutual respect. There is no doubt that there are deficits and that there is still room for improvement. But it is the beginning of a process in which different ethnic groups can live together on an equal basis and which must be developed further.

I consider this model an important project for many peoples of the Middle East. And I believe it is a model that can solve many problems and conflicts of the many different ethnic groups, religions, and cultures in the Middle East. Unfortunately, self-determination and self-government is not accepted by the current leaders and authoritarian states that want to keep the status-quo. At the top of the list is Turkey, which denies its relations with ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Through these relations it mingles and tries to create trouble in neighboring countries and to support radical Muslims against emerging democratic efforts. For the status-quo regimes, every opening and every new peace based on equality is a threat to their territory and power.

Today, the Suryoye have become more aware about their nationality and their own needs and possibilities in their homeland. They have political organizations and politicians who represent them in the Democratic Autonomous Administration. They have the Syriac Military Council (Mawtbo Fulhoyo Suryoyo, MFS), which defends them militarily. They have the Sutoro police forces, which safeguards peaceful coexistence. They have teachers who can officially teach their Suryoyo mother tongue in schools.

All these points are a benefit to us Suryoye. In the context of equality for all citizens, this is only the beginning of the process mentioned above. Because Turkey regards this process of equality and rapprochement of peoples and ethnic groups a threat, it is isolated in both domestic and foreign policy. Turkey has degenerated into a country in which one’s own identity is no reason for happiness.

Yawsef Beth Turo was born in Mardin, Tur Abdin in southeast Turkey, and now lives in the Netherlands. He studied Arabic and Suryoyo (Aramaic) in the Dayro du Zahfaran or Zafaran Monastery. He is a journalist and TV-presenter at Suroyo TV, the world’s first television station to fully broadcast programs in Suryoyo. Yawsef Beth Turo is an activist affiliated with the European Syriac Union, Bahro Production, and the Enstitut Mesopotamie Bruxelles. You can follow him on @bethturo

This article was originally published by Zentralrat Orientalischer Christen in Deutschland e.V. on 17 October 2020. The original can be found here.

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