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  • Author: Max Erdemandi
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Recent discussions on the Turkish state’s actions, which have devastated Kurdish people within and outside of its borders, suffer from a familiar deficiency: they neglect the historical and cultural foundations of the dynamics that placed the Kurdish people at the center of Turkey’s national security policy. Serious human rights violations and voter suppression in southeast Turkey, the massacre of Kurdish people in various parts of northern Syria, and purging of Kurdish politicians on false accusations are all extensions of Turkey’s decades-long, repeated policy mistakes, deeply rooted in its nationalist history. Unless there is a seismic shift in the drivers of Turkish security policy, especially as it pertains to the Kurdish people, Turkey is bound to repeat these mistakes. Furthermore, threat externalization with linkage to legitimacy of rule will further erode the democratic institutions of the state and other authentic aspects of Turkish identity.
  • Topic: Security, Nationalism, Ethnicity, Syrian War, Borders, Violence, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Turkey, Russia, and Washington have compelling reasons to welcome a new ceasefire agreement, however imperfect, but they still need to address the longer-term dangers posed by the Assad regime’s murderously maximalist strategy. Recent fighting between Turkish and Syrian regime forces in Idlib province has seemingly wiped away the last vestiges of the September 2018 Sochi agreement, brokered by Russian president Vladimir Putin as a way of pausing hostilities and dividing control over the country’s last rebel-held province. Beginning last December, renewed Russian and Syrian attacks against civilians sent a million residents fleeing toward the Turkish border, creating another humanitarian disaster. Then, on February 27, thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed when their unit was attacked in Idlib—Ankara’s largest single-day loss in Syria thus far. Turkey initially blamed Bashar al-Assad for the deaths, but eyes soon turned to his Russian patron as the more likely culprit, elevating tensions between Ankara and Moscow to a level not seen since Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Meanwhile, the Turkish military and its local partner forces launched a string of attacks against the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backed militia allies. On March 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Putin in Moscow to discuss these rising tensions. If the two leaders reach another ceasefire deal, will it last any longer than the short-lived Sochi agreement? More important, what effect might it have on the latest refugee crisis threatening to wash over Turkey and Europe?
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements, Syrian War, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Idlib
  • Author: Mohanad Hage Ali
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The Syrian conflict has magnified threats to minorities with long-term implications both within and beyond Syria’s borders. The deployment of excessive firepower by the Russian and Iranian-backed Assad regime, and the concurrent rise of Islamic extremism have had both direct and indirect impacts on minorities. Local, regional, and international actors have weaponized minority groups to bolster their influence, further intensifying schisms in the Syrian social fabric and in the international community as a whole. The flow of one million Syrian refugees to Europe between 2015 and 2016 strengthened an already powerful wave of anti-immigration, nationalist populism throughout the continent and across the Atlantic. As an openly Islamophobic and, more implicitly, anti-Semitic movement, the wave has contributed to widening the scope of the Syrian conflict’s schismatic effects beyond the country’s borders.
  • Topic: Minorities, Violent Extremism, Refugees, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Shannon Dick
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In 2013, the United States began a secret operation to train and equip opposition forces fighting against the Assad regime in Syria. Through the CIA, the United States facilitated the transfer of an estimated $1 billion in arms, ammunition, and training to Syrian rebel groups in hopes of influencing a negotiated end to the war. But these were not the only weapons flowing throughout Syria — Syrian government stockpiles served as a key source of armaments, and countries from around the region funneled arms into the country to support a variety of actors. In this way, the story of weapons in Syria reads as a cautionary tale about the unintended and lasting consequences of arms transfers, especially to countries in conflict.
  • Topic: Intelligence, Weapons , Arms Trade, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Skylar Benedict
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
  • Abstract: Examining the historic roots of Jordan’s water management policy. First, Jordan deals with natural water scarcity arising from the country’s arid semi-desert climate and seasonally fluctuating surface water sources. Second, Jordan currently depends on costly water projects such as the Disi Water Conveyance Project and the King Abdullah Canal to meet its municipal, agricultural, and industrial water needs. Third, the sudden influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war has led to an increased strain on water resources. While realistic, this narrative’s exclusive focus on the present hardships obscures a much longer history of water management in Jordan—one characterized by successive political conflicts and increasingly centralized and unsustainable water extraction policies—that has equally contributed to the country’s current scarcity challenges.
  • Topic: Environment, Water, Refugees, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Jordan, United States of America
  • Author: Marwa Daoudy
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
  • Abstract: Over the past few decades, a new narrative has emerged that seeks to link climate change with political and social unrest. This idea of a climate-conflict nexus is similar to the “water wars” scenario of the 1990s, in which the media and some scholars predicted that water scarcity would be the major driver of inter-state conflict in the twenty-first century. More recently, this climateconflict narrative has been applied to the Syrian case. According to this logic, climate change caused the 2006-2010 drought in Syria, the drought caused agricultural failure, agricultural failure caused poverty, and the resulting displacement and discontent culminated with the 2011 uprising. My forthcoming book, The Origins of the Syrian Conflict: Climate Change and Human Security (Cambridge University Press, spring 2020) questions this line of reasoning, arguing that government policies were at the heart of Syria’s vulnerabilities in the buildup to the uprising. Although global warming is real and international action is urgently needed, climate change was not what was at the forefront of the minds of Syrians in 2011. Instead, most people were focused on a moral ideal: the end of repression and injustice.
  • Topic: Agriculture, Climate Change, Environment, Water, Food Security, Inequality, Syrian War, Revolution
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  • Abstract: Today, 15 March, marks eight years of deadly conflict in Syria. Since 2011 half a million people have been killed, 11.9 million have been displaced from their homes and 13 million remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance. As the conflict enters its ninth year and the prevailing media narrative is that the civil war is coming to an end, civilians in Syria still face the threat of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Humanitarian Aid, International Law, Syrian War, Justice, Responsibility to Protect (R2P), Atrocities
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Gregory Waters
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Tiger Forces is a Syrian Air Intelligence-affiliated militia fighting for the Syrian government and backed by Russia. While often described as the Syrian government’s elite fighting force, this research portrays a starkly different picture. The Tiger Forces are the largest single fighting force on the Syrian battlefield, with approximately 24 groups comprised of some 4,000 offensive infantry units as well as a dedicated artillery regiment and armor unit of unknown size. Beyond these fighters are thousands of additional so-called flex units, affiliated militiamen who remain largely garrisoned in their hometowns along the north Hama and Homs borders until called on to join offensives as needed. Despite a decentralized command structure, the Tiger Forces' capabilities far exceed any other unit currently fighting in the Syrian civil war. The main source of the unit’s success stems from its two full-strength infantry brigades with dedicated logistical support and the ability to call on the Syrian air force—and after September 2015 the Russian air force—at will. While there is likely some degree of higher-than-average competence among the Tiger Forces’ officer corps, this research demonstrates that the true power of the unit does not come from their alleged status as elite fighters but instead from their large size, supply lines, and Russian support.
  • Topic: Security, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Shiraz Maher
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: A close look at the competing claims, actors, and movements for authority within the Syrian civil war reveals three distinct periods of political and religious influence: that of Syrian scholars, who were the first to inject religious language into the revolution; that of Salafi scholars predominantly from the Gulf; and lastly, that of jihadi organizations like ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, who were active on the ground. This paper focuses on which figures relied on action—rather than theoretical abstraction—to establish legitimacy and authority on the ground in Syria. Tracing the conflict from the first clerical attempts to coordinate the Syrian opposition to the conflict’s regionalization, and, later, internationalization, this paper demonstrates that the words of actors on the ground are more likely than those of far-off figures—however popular—to resound effectively.
  • Topic: Politics, Religion, Syrian War, Islamism, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Tobias Schneider
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: Originally styled as a small detachment of volunteers and refugees mobilized to defend the shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab outside Damascus, the Fatemiyoun formation’s size and presence across Syria has slowly expanded throughout the war. At home, the IRGC began cultivating a narrative of Afghan “resistance” to transnational Sunni jihadism. Joining the Syrian jihad was increasingly promoted as a path to legal and social recognition within the Islamic Republic at a time when thousands of desperate young Hazaras were setting out to emigrate to Europe. This paper analyzes the origins and expansion of the Fatemiyoun Division, its recent role in the Syrian civil war, and the impact its Syrian jihad has had on the Hazara community in Iran as well as transnational militancy in Afghanistan. As the Syrian conflict winds down, the future of the Fatemiyoun as a fighting force remains unclear. But even if the formation were to be disbanded, the networks, narratives, and capabilities developed in Syria could help the IRGC raise a similar formation again in the future.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Refugees, Syrian War, Shia
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iran, Middle East, Syria