The End of Artificial Borders

DAMASCUS/ANKARA/BERLIN | | syrientuerkei

DAMASCUS/ANKARA/BERLIN (Own report) - With the ongoing Syrian military successes, discussion in Berlin and other western capitals is focusing more on a possible breakup of Syria's national territory. Syria has already been dissected into three parts, according to foreign policy experts in Washington: Whereas the Assad government is seeking to consolidate its control over Syria's center and the coastal strip, Sunni and often Islamist-oriented insurgents are in control of large areas in the East and the North of the country. The Kurdish dominated areas to the northeast comprise the third region. The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) is proposing that Syria's division be approved. Referring to an "expert" on Turkish foreign policy, the SWP estimates that, in the long run, the Kurdish speaking regions of Syria and Iraq could be integrated into a "federalized" Turkey. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement's political configuration of the Middle East is, therefore, facing dissolution. A new political configuration would allow the establishment of a "secular Sunni counterweight in opposition to a Shiite arc" (Iran and its allies) in the Middle East. The SWP recommends "making every effort" to support negotiations between Turkey and Kurdish organizations toward this objective.


Syria's territorial division is a subject of reflections not only in Berlin. The country's disintegration is perhaps currently most openly discussed among US American foreign policy experts. Syria is not melting down, "it has melted down," according to Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "I can't imagine it all going back into one piece."[1] Joseph Holliday, an analyst with Washington's Institute for the Study of War and former US Army intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, sees a military consolidation. Even though the government's forces have been weakened earlier by defections, today they are largely made up of Assad loyalists. They are mainly concentrating on solidifying the grip on the country's central areas around Damascus and Homs and the coastal areas dominated by the Alawites, while actually relinquishing remote areas, particularly in the East and the North. Three territories are in fact already emerging in broad outlines: one controlled by Assad and cooperating with Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah ("Shiite"), one primarily dominated by Islamist militia ("Sunni") and a "Kurdish" area in the Northeast.

The Lesser Evil?

Also in Berlin speculations about Syria's disintegration are being aired. According to the foreign ministry, the German foreign minister "fears" the "possible consequences of the country's disintegration." With this development, it cannot be excluded that the Syrian war could "spill over" into Jordan.[2] On the question of whether "Syria's disintegration" would not be "the lesser evil," considering the escalation of brutality in the war, an influential newspaper warned of the "danger of radical Islamists establishing their own Caliphate canton in the country's north."[3] In view of the Syrian government's recent military successes - most recently in southwestern Qusayr - speculation about Syria's disintegration "into ethnic enclaves" is persisting.[4] The Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) was the first German think tank to publically consider approval of Syria being partitioned. These considerations are based on a study of developments in the Kurdish areas of the Northeast of the country and an analysis of Turkey's reaction.

Talks with Ocalan

The SWP analysis describes the Turkish government's change of course concerning the Kurdish-speaking secessionist movement, particularly the PKK. In fact, Ankara had already initiated talks with the PKK and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in late 2012. In the meantime a cease-fire has been declared. According to the SWP, the Kurdish population will receive comprehensive autonomous rights, while Ocalan and the PKK renounce on establishing an independent state "Kurdistan," guaranteeing to remain within a federal Turkey. The SWP points out that "threats to as well as opportunities for" Turkish "foreign policy objectives have played a decisive role" in this change of course toward the PKK.[5] This relates to the Kurdish speaking minorities of Syria and Iran.

Economic Integration

A large portion of the Kurdish-speaking population in Syria, according to the SWP analysis, feels very close to the PKK. Turkey has come under pressure, after Ankara was unsuccessful in reinforcing PKK-critical forces in Northern Syria. Pro-PKK Kurdish rebels have since taken control over large areas of that region. Counterposed to this "threat" are the enormous "opportunities" afforded in the Kurdish speaking regions of Northern Iraq. Northern Iraq enjoys not only extensive formal, but even factual, autonomy and lays claim to the voluminous local oil and natural gas reserves - including those in contested Kirkuk. Ankara began closely cooperating with autonomous Northern Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 war on Iraq. Today Ankara is economically reaping the benefits. "Sixty percent of all foreign companies registered in Northern Iraq are of Turkish origin," calculates the SWP. Iraq as "a Turkish export destination" is "today, already in second place behind Germany." Above all, Kurdish-speaking Northern Iraq disposes of "the energy resources that Turkey needs." Therefore, it is "not without reason" that Ankara is seeking "economic integration."[6]

Reconsidering Sykes-Picot

Referring to Turkish sources, the SWP, with its eye on the Kurdish-speaking regions of Turkey, Syria and Iraq, speaks of the "dysfuntionality of existing nation-states and their current borders."[7] For example the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu recently declared that "it is high time," to "reconsider the artificial borders" created in 1916 in the Middle East. He was referring to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which forms the basis for Syria's current territorial boundaries. Ankara would like to "end this heteronomous period of its own and Middle Eastern history," according to SWP's quote of Davutoglu. The foreign minister claims not to be contesting the current borders, however, "partisan experts of his policies" explicitly speak, nevertheless "of the possibility of the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Syria becoming part of a comprehensive politically restructured federal Turkey, in five to ten years." The SWP makes reference to evidently concordant statements by PKK leader, Ocalan, according to which "Turks and Kurds" are "the primary strategic forces in the Middle East." They must take on a "vanguard role" in the democratization of the region - and now overcome the "authoritarian nation-states," created in the Middle East by "the imperialists."

Counterweight opposing Iran

The SWP ultimately names the geostrategic objective behind this operation. Syria and Iraq's disintegration, with Turkey's annexation of their Kurdish regions, would create a "secular-Sunni counterweight to a Shiite arc, extending from Iran to Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah."[8] This would enable the suppression of an ambitious Iran - which, unlike Saudi Arabia, is insubordinate to the West - along with its regional allies, at the expense of the disintegration of Syria and Iraq. Therefore, the SWP suggests, with an eye on talks, Ankara is currently pursuing with various Kurdish organizations, that "European policy should make every effort to support this negotiation process." This concept is hardly new. In 2006, military circles in Washington drew up maps to this effect. However, theirs did not foresee a federal Turkey, but rather an independent "Kurdistan" nation. ( reported.[9]) will report tomorrow, Thursday, on Berlin's efforts to strengthen its influence in the regions of Syria under the control of the rebels.

Other reports and background information on Germany's policy toward Syria can be found here: War Threats against Syria, Iran's Achilles Heel, War Scenarios for Syria, War Scenarios for Syria (II), With the UN toward Escalation, Market Economy for Syria, The Yemenite Solution, Smuggle Supervisors, The Day After, The Day After (II), The Day After (IV), The Islamization of the Rebellion, Air Defense for the Exile Leadership, A Proxy War, In Rebel Territory (II) and In Rebel Territory (III).

[1] Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War; 16.05.2013
[2] Westerwelle fürchtet den Irak-Effekt; 15.05.2013
[3] Christoph Ehrhardt: Damaszener Dämonen; 20.05.2013
[4] Folter und Exekutionen auf Video; 16.05.2013
[5], [6], [7], [8] Kevin Matthees, Günter Seufert: Erdoğan und Öcalan verhandeln. Paradigmenwechsel in der türkischen Kurdenpolitik und neue Strategie der PKK, SWP-Aktuell 25, April 2013. See also Brücke in die islamische Welt
[9] see also A Dirty Little Secret and Neue Staaten