Destiny is not a matter of choice. Sometimes we can't make sense of events in the short term, but in the long run, something good in the bigger picture is gradually revealed to us.
As we are now entering the fifth year of the Syrian conflict, as a citizen of Turkey I want to look beyond a war on our doorstep and try to foresee what this devastating regional crisis might bring to us.
The Syrian conflict began in 2011 when President Bashar al-Assad violently cracked down on peaceful protestors calling on him to step down - the children of a school in the city of Daraa being his first victims. Assad (with the assistance of Lebanon, Iran and Russia) massacred his opposition, and simultaneously outwitted his neighbors and the West who called on him to refrain from butchering his people. After a couple of years, the rebellion turned into a regional crisis, transforming the Syrian landscape in to a complex warzone of proxy fighters.
To answer this question, we have to understand that Assad is now essentially only a figurehead for the Baathist mentality festering in Damascus. It wasn’t only Assad himself torturing the opposition, it was the very foundation of Syrian institutions, through an ideology deeply embedded in the system of Syrian daily life, taught in schools and nurtured by the tentacles of its deep state.
We have to understand that Assad is now essentially only a figurehead for the Baathist mentality festering in DamascusCeylan Ozbudak
Even if we assume the rebels were to take over after a few months of fighting, without changing the underlying ideological structure of the whole Syrian body politic and the deep state, the result would possibly resemble Iraq after Saddam or Egypt after Mubarak.
Ignoring Turkey’s pleas
Turkey on the other hand has been suffering the most as a neighboring country to the civil war in Syria. The Syrian conflict has created the worst refugee crisis in 20 years and it is still far from being over.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Guiterres, said that Turkey has now become the largest refugee-hosting country in the world and spent $5 billion on those living in the camps. The international community has routinely ignored Turkey’s pleas for international intervention to establish a safe zone for Syrian refugees, a peaceful resolution to the crisis and to help strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition from the very beginning, which has left us with a regional crisis and a newly spawned extremist group, ISIS. In the ailing Syrian towns, despite being central to the 2014 U.N. Security Council resolutions, humanitarian access to large parts of the population is non-existent.
Settlements to such deep conflicts cannot be found in micro-solutions. The troubles in Syria did not start in 2011. Peace left Syria when the imperial unity of the Ottomans was broken. Syria, like many other Arab lands, was under Ottoman rule for four centuries. In this era, the Ottoman army protected that land and Ottoman statesmanship governed the entire Levant. After the League of Nations decided to partition the Ottoman Empire, Syria fell under the mandate of France: Following the mandate, successive military coups occurred. The Syrians, like the other newly formed Arab nations, never really had an opportunity to experience democracy or create institutions to foster civil society.
Jose Manuel Barroso, former president to the European Commission, warned the EU in 2011 by saying, “The dynamic of globalization in financial and economic terms, but also in geopolitical terms, confronts Europeans with a stark choice; live together, share a common destiny and count in the world, or face the prospect of disunity and decline.”
This applies to the Middle East as much as Europe. The fragmentation of the Middle East brought irrelevance, and definite decline. Despite the Twitter hashtags we support today, it is a sad statistical fact that Middle Eastern lives simply don't matter. Surely we cannot go back to an empire that rules the Middle East, but we can solve our multi-faceted malaise through an EU-like democratic confederation of independent nations.
Even though Syria today looks like a Gordian knot, it is no different than the first three French wars of religion. The taking up of arms, desultory military operations, sectarian conflicts and unsatisfactory peace agreements defined them. Although those wars were fought on French soil, foreign powers became involved with them: The Huguenots looked to England, the German Protestant princes and the Dutch rebels for military and financial help, while French Catholics were linked to the Papacy, some Italian states and Spain.
They had different names but these were the proxy powers of the world back then. Looking at today’s Middle East, political and economic integration might seem impossibly out of sight but wasn’t the European Community (later to be named the European Union) put in place to basically stop Germany and France (and in a broader perspective, England as well) from fighting each other?
Conflicts give birth to alliances
Syria is still here, still a part of our world; she may be injured, betrayed, beaten to dust and discouraged but this ancient land still exists. History has repeatedly proved to us that conflicts and catastrophes are the least desirable, but nonetheless the fastest engines for forming alliances. Even if we don’t like the shape of our region today, destiny might well be carving out a brand new alliance out of this mess. If Barroso is warning the EU against division, why are we sitting back and watching the Middle East disintegrate further with every passing minute?
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak