Turkish presence in the Iraqi town of Mosul, which has been devastated at the hands of both internal and external forces, gives hope for regional peace
The events currently unfolding in Mosul are no less significant than those in the aftermath of World War I. A century ago, geopolitical changes were accompanied (and preceded) by a well-documented intellectual tide that replaced one historical era with another. This provided a nationalistic cover for military action before the event (the Arab Revolution) and a political path for the region and its peoples to follow for the next half century. Today, the city of Mosul is going through no less tumultuous events, away from the headlines and with no scrutiny or analysis of what is going on and what is intended for the city and its people; a scenario that is becoming more recognizable with each passing day.
The changes that followed the First World War were "physical" in nature, meaning that the Ottoman regional structure (or society) simply fractured into smaller parts with the same characteristics, political structures and way of life as the original system, re-producing governments in the image of the old central government in Istanbul. The rubble of the Ottoman Empire was the only available building material for any new structure. In the new nation states, it was the Sunni Arab character that represented the political and cultural umbrella of citizenship within the new regional structure, to include and protect religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities. The Sunni political class in each state simply re-enacted its previous role and re-established this protective umbrella over a smaller geographical area. This resulted in the creation of the "Arab modern states," a concept that succeeded, to a large extent, to foster a civic society in which minorities were protected in the midst of violent and riotous political, military and economic times.
This reading of the events on the ground is shared by John Philby, the chief British Colonial Office intelligence officer (or spy) during World War I, who wrote: "People assumed that the Eastern Question had ended with the birth of Sykes-Picot. The error of this conviction became clear when the same Sunni Muslims who represented Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus or Baghdad in the Mebusan [the Ottoman lower house or Chamber of Deputies] remained in positions of leadership after the end of the Ottoman era and the birth of the modern independent Arab State. These institutions were a continuation of the Ottoman Empire and did not fall with it."
The structure of the state
The Sunni Arab characteristic was the glue that held society together and enables minorities to live peacefully within the overall socio-political order. These minorities lacked and to this day still do, the basic societal concepts needed for peaceful co-existence in a multicultural, multi-ethnic society. They had nothing but contempt for each other, feelings fostered by a philosophy of revenge and retribution. Their only vision for co-existence was that of living in isolated cantons. They envisaged no economic system beyond that of fighting for water, vegetation and fuel, the lowest stage of development of human society.
The re-establishment of the old order over smaller geographical areas was not without its price. Sunni Arab society paid the price for the creation of the modern Arab State by accepting to live on an equal cultural and historical footing with their new partners in this new political structure (partners who were "subjects" within the old regional structure). The glories of history had to be shared with sects and groups that had not contributed one brick to the monuments of Arab-Muslim civilization and had not helped shine the light of Islamic civilization onto one square meter of this earth; groups that had not labored to liberate one inch of occupied Muslim land, but had instead helped and aided every and each aggressor. These groups, despite their history, were accepted as equal citizens in a new start towards a new "modern" society; a step worthy of re-examination in light of today's developments.
Despite these concerns, a new umbrella was erected and it did provide an overarching structure for the institutions and central administration of the new states, represented by a top-down decision making mechanism and an emphasis on the security of the state. This desire of the Sunni Arab political class to re-establish the principles of citizenship and the state on their respective small geographical patches following the collapse of the larger regional structure (the Ottoman Empire) could be likened to a big successful merchant who loses his business empire then decides to start all over again with a small shop, because that is the only way he knows how to live. This Sunni Arab desire to establish the principles of citizenship within the umbrella of the state is still true today, but in a much more complicated and rapidly changing regional scene in which the shrinking geographical patch is not the only or even the most pressing problem.
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, these "physical" changes that followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire played an important role in affecting a "chemical" change in society following the collapse of the state that fostered and protected it. This change was made deeper and more wounding by the fact that it was not the result of mistakes or local corruption - these could have been remedied and corrected by society and its elite class - but enforced by an occupying force that benefited directly from the collapse of society and the liquidation of the elite ruling political and social class.
Despite the depth and significance of the changes affecting Mosul, they have so far remained within the confines of television news rooms. This represents a first reaction to the event, rather like a hospital emergency department dealing with a patient immediately after an incident. The events, despite their grave importance, have not yet been analyzed with the depth they deserve and are still discussed as a fast moving current story, or at best simply being compared with historic events in an academic manner divorced from any socio-political context.
The situation in Mosul will not violate the rules and forces that govern the rise and fall of societies. If society could be defined as a collection of rules for co-existence, set by a dominant political or military group and accepted by others, then the presence of various groupings on the same stretch of land without an army, a police force or the rule of law will create a situation in which each group will strive to be that one dominant force. This inevitably leads to conflict and civil war until a winner emerges, capable of enforcing their will. The English civil war in the 17th century, the American civil war in the 19th century, and the Swiss civil wars between 1315 - 1885 are examples of this, as are the wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. What's different about the current situation in Mosul and what places it outside these societal rules is the phenomenon of the "proxy war" in which components of the broken society are used as pawns in the hands of external forces engaged in open warfare, or - at best - in a futile political battle that makes it virtually impossible to achieve any sort of political stability (Lebanon for example).
The upper hand in the early stages of such a struggle will always belong to the minority forces who benefit from their previous parallel existence within the bigger society. This provides minority groups with a second identity (besides the national identity), economic independence, links with external powers, an ability to mobilize and a readiness to quickly re-align outside the confines of the collapsing instruments of the old state. The majority group, on the other hand, loses everything and is completely paralyzed by the loss of the official instruments of the state, rather like an electrical device disconnected from the power supply. This simple fact explains the social paralysis in majority communities and their inability to withstand internal pressures following the fall of the state (e.g. the Byzantine Empire). However, the change of the political center of the majority community of Islam (ahl al-Sunnah) takes the society through a different route.
Rebuilding, mobilization and continuation of the journey
In 1545, the Ottomans liberated Mosul from a Safavid occupation that lasted nearly a decade, rescuing the city from a social, political and economic crisis. At that time, Istanbul was at the peak of her economic and military powers and enjoying a golden age in terms of state organization and the rule of law (during the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent). This was a defining period in Mosul's history, giving the city and its population, to this day, their characteristics of chivalry, discipline, prudence and resilience. The military defeat of the Safavids was a step on the long road to recovery for the city. The liberation did not only save the city and its population from a certain social and political annihilation, but injected new life into the city allowing it to become an oasis of life in the region and (much later) one of the pillars of the modern state of Iraq.
In the absence of the state, the mobilization and realignment of a society formed and defined by its allegiance to that state is a great challenge. This mobilization was not possible in Abbasid Baghdad under Buyid occupation in the fourth century until the caliph (Al Qa'im bi Amri Allah) "invited" the Seljuk Turks to "intervene in order to spread justice and protect his subjects," allowing Tughril to enter Baghdad in the year 447. History is clear that "the state" to ahl al-sunnah is like water to a fish. In its absence, the Sunni community simply cannot function or unite towards a common goal. Fourteen years of the absence of the state in Iraq testifies to this.
The conditions that made the events of 1545 possible do exist today. Mosul is in serious need of rescue and revival, but conditions today are different from what they were in 1545, and so the means of this rescue must also be different. Events in Syria are an accurate reflection of the Iraqi scene, and vice versa. Turkish military intervention in Syria has not been a controversial or divisive issue to a population facing one of two choices: a military occupation by friendly forces, or total obliteration by an enemy. The use of the Turkish army by various dispersed Syrian groups and tribal Arab forces (estimated to be around 30,000 fighters) as an instrument to organize and fall behind is a helpful development, entirely in line with the hopes and wishes of the local population. With Turkish help, these groups can build a disciplined fighting force capable of re-developing and administrating liberated areas. This provides a good solution to the problem of the absence of the state, which represents the ultimate gift to the Iranian strategy makers.
The one and final solution
In Mosul today there is a mobilization challenge, its sons are not able to mobilize effectively and are massively outnumbered by the Shiite factions massing outside the city. The city that had, in the recent past, provided the backbone of the national Iraqi army does not lack military expertise. The real problem is the collapse of the structures of the state and this, alone, is what is required to rescue the city. At this decisive moment in time, the group in Mosul that enjoys the best relations with Turkey must be the one that has the best chance of achieving this by cooperation with the Turkish army, and are best placed to advocate for this vision of society through the international platform that Turkey provides.
The "Guard of Nineveh" is a force supported and armed by Turkey, and is already in an advanced stage of coordination with Turkish forces. With the backing and support of the Turkish army, this existing relationship allows rapid advances to be made towards the creation of an effective military force in Mosul. A declaration by the "Guard of Nineveh" of a general call to arms and the recruitment of the sons of Mosul into this fighting force is the only and last choice available to the people of the city, faced as they are with the certainty of a Shiite fire. Those who choose not to support this choice without offering a feasible alternative will surely be culpable in the coming massacre.
In the coming days and weeks, the battle for Mosul will not be confined to the military arena. The conflict will rage in the international corridors of power and be the subject of "agreements" between various global players. These discussions and agreements will take place in the context of future plans for the region, the power struggle between different regional and international powers and the mass migration of refugees to Europe and the West. In these coming battles, Turkey will require not only guns and the bullets, but a completely new arsenal, if she is going to win the peace and present herself a worthy leader in the region.
Sunni Arabs and Turkey both need a significant victory in the Arab homelands. Arabs want to survive the Persian/Shiite war of obliteration, while Turkey wishes - in addition to the obvious security concerns- to present her civic example to the region, in contrast to the destructive Iranian one. Turkey successfully achieved this in Jarablus, a town in Syria brought back to life within weeks, but she needs a large urban center (like Mosul or Aleppo) to exhibit and demonstrate her social, administrative and civic systems (the systems that the region lost following the demise of the state). The new Sunni Arab-Turkish state structure will then become the hope and desire of all the peoples of the region (including the various minority communities). In doing so, Turkey will emerge victorious in the battle which is engulfing the region; the battle of state building. This would be a victory to rival Chaldiran; a victory with a 21st century flavor.
* Researcher and expert in Turkish-Arab strategic relations and minority affairs. Director of the Centre of Al-Mashreq Al-Arabi, Birmingham, U.K.
to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the
used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan
ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen