Tomorrow when the war began, Homer's perspective

The Thirty Years War of the Middle East

The journalist Rauf Karakocan compares the current conflict situation in the Middle East with the Thirty Years War in Europe and explains why the conflict has reached a new level, especially in the case of Qatar. Finally, using the example of the Kurdish third way, he shows perspectives for overcoming the “Thirty Years' War in the Middle East”, July 10th, 2017

The Thirty Years War began as a religious war and developed into a hegemonic war for supremacy in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and other parts of Europe. It finally came to an end with the establishment of the European state system. There is talk of the Thirty Years War, which terrified the European continent between 1618 and 1648. With the Peace of Westphalia, which marked the end of this war, Europe had a new political order. Its basis should be the nation-state in its purest form. As one of the victors of the Thirty Years' War, Louis XIV summed up the essence of this new model of society with the following words: "L´État, cèst moi" (The state, that's me!). From then on, the absolutist state ruled Europe.

In the Middle East, a conflict is also spreading that is very reminiscent of the Thirty Years' War in Europe. For many years a conflict that developed along the Shiite-Sunni dividing line kept the region in suspense. But in the meantime, as the crisis over Qatar shows, this formerly religious conflict has changed its character. We are now dealing with a hegemonic war in the Middle East that can no longer be explained simply as a power struggle between a Shiite and a Sunni axis.

Why Qatar And why now?

The Islamic State (IS) is largely defeated and no longer represents a serious threat in the region. It is therefore not surprising that the centers of power have long since entered a conflict over personal supremacy. The USA, Europe, Russia, Iran and other actors are currently trying to expand their sphere of influence in the Middle East. Shortly before the end of the IS operations in Mosul and Raqqa, the important centers of power suddenly meet in Qatar.

Qatar was not chosen by chance. After all, it is one of the richest countries in the world. Because of its gas and oil reserves, Qatar has also developed into an important center of power. Although the desert state has hardly any military power of its own and the vast majority of the country's inhabitants are of foreign origin, this does not prevent the country's leadership from showing itself self-confidently on the stage of international politics. Because the country is developing just as much external impact through its foreign investments and banking as through its media domain in the form of Al-Jazeera, which reaches people all over the Arab world and beyond. The presence of US soldiers in Qatar is seen as a factor of self-protection, as is the opening of a Turkish military base within state borders. With this security behind it, Qatar has in recent years increasingly tried to strengthen its own influence through the support of various Islamist forces in the region.

Now the announced sanctions against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt may seem like a surprising development. But behind this step there have long been simmering conflicts. On the one hand, these conflicts stem from the relationship between Qatar and Iran. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and Israel were bothered by the support of Hamas. The Egyptian President al-Sisi is also bothered by the support for the Muslim Brotherhood from the Qatari ruling house. The financial aid for jihadist groups in Syria by the desert state then brought the barrel to overflowing, so to speak.

The two war barons Turkey & Qatar

The main reason for the sanctions against Qatar is that the country pursued diplomatic relations and a foreign policy course that was contrary to the customs of the western camp. For example, they tried to develop their own regional policy in Syria with the support of armed groups. The bringing together of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or the formation of the so-called Roj Peshmerga, which is made up of refugees from Rojava and was founded as an alleged alternative to the YPG, are examples of the paramilitary units that are heavily under the control of Qatar and the Turkey stood.

However, the character of the Syrian civil war developed in such a way that the contradictions and disputes developed hand in hand. The balance of power changed almost daily, so yesterday's friend could quickly become tomorrow's enemy. The steadily growing spiral of violence in Syria has a lot to do with this character of the war.

If we want to come back to our initial comparison with the Thirty Years War: The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation of the Middle East represented the Ottoman Empire. The Catholic and Protestant principalities from that time are the nation states that emerged from the decline of the Ottoman Empire founded out. The Catholic-Protestant war, on the other hand, is represented in our comparison by the Sunni-Shiite conflict. These parallels make the current situation in the Middle East look like a current version of a 400-year-old conflict in Western Europe.

Due to the internal dynamics and external interventions, the Middle East has entered a phase of dissolution of existing nation-state structures. Along with this phenomenon of disintegration, there was an open conflict between the religious groups that had previously been forcibly kept under a state roof. The Catar crisis represents a new stage in this far-reaching conflict. Even if no open war is being waged in Qatar - yet - the effects of the conflict will already spread to Turkey and Iran. So we have a situation in which the ethnic and, above all, religious conflicts in the Middle East are only the publicly visible side of the coin. The other side of the coin, which is not immediately recognizable, is the war for the hegemonic supremacy of the centers of power. Qatar is the obvious proof of this.

Is Iran the real target?

The conflict situation over Qatar cannot be properly understood without the role of Iran. Because the Iranian state is at the center of this development. Over the past few years, the Shiite regional power has been extremely successful in increasing its influence in the Middle East step by step. The Arab Gulf States, above all Saudi Arabia, are following this with great unease. But Iran is still a long way from achieving its goal. The successes of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia against IS in Iraq, for example, are to be combined with a planned advance of the Syrian army in such a way that Iran opens up a corridor to the Mediterranean via these two groups. Because of the additional good relations that Tehran has with Qatar, and because of the incitement of the Shiite majority in Bahrain against the Sunni ruling house, Saudi Arabia felt so cornered by its traditional arch enemy that it had to act. For its part, Iran is well prepared for the conflict with Saudi Arabia and has set up paramilitary units in the region beyond its borders that are under its control. This conflict reflects both the religious war and the hegemonic war in the Middle East.

Against the growth of Iranian influence, the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia have now moved together and are confronting the other states in the region with the decision to make their position clear. Qatar is the first victim here. The choice of which the desert state faces is as follows: Either give up and turn away from the previous foreign policy or go further into the arms of Iran and Turkey in the hope of getting enough air to breathe. If Turkey is faced with a similar choice in the near future on the path of Iran's isolation, we should not be surprised.

A corridor for Qatari gas

Because Turkey was the first state to take the side of the small desert state with a statement after the catar crisis occurred. We may have to look again at what prompted Turkey to take such a position: First of all, Turkey's intervention in Syria was probably not only intended to separate the Kurdish cantons from one another. The possibility of building a corridor for Qatari gas also played a role in this decision.

Relations between Turkey and Qatar must be dealt with and assessed in this context. The common ground between these two states does not only stem from economic cooperation. The two countries form a unit that finances and provides logistical support for terrorist organizations such as IS, the Al-Nusra Front, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. While Turkey is exhausting its potential based on the money from Qatar, Qatar is trying to guarantee its security based on Turkey. The words Louis XIV have turned into the words “The Turkish state, that is Erdoğan”. The “One Religion, One King, One Justice” discourse is known to be the main reason for the Thirty Years War. The R4bia (emblem with a black hand with four outstretched fingers) of the dictator is Erdoğan or he is very similar to it. The formula for a state, a nation, a flag and a fatherland was made into a slogan in itself. The monism tries to destroy all differences. Ethnic and religious minorities, especially the Kurds and Alevis, are denied. With the gradual elimination of the entire opposition, attempts are being made to establish “absolute rule”.

While attempts are being made to establish a new equilibrium and division in the Middle East, developments in Erdoğan's Turkey are interpreted differently. There is a relapse into reviving the neo-Ottoman dreams. The immoral politics of exploiting all possible circles for one's own interest is considered a skill. It is acted according to the understanding “Everything is permitted for power”. In order to become a regional actor, Turkey has turned into a terrorist state. With this mentality she supports the IS, acts at Qatar's expense and, by using the R4bia symbol, carries the mentality of the Muslim Brotherhood to the level of government in Turkey. The Kurds are attacked and Rojava is attacked.

Turkey took its own course in the so-called Third World War. It is not possible that it will find its way in the region as it stands against Europe and America on many points. She is responsible for every crime. She also has a fundamentalist and nationalist mentality. The probability of Turkey being on the losing side in this war is very high. If Voltaire had lived at the end of this war, he would probably make the statement: "Neither the neo-Ottoman rule, the Erdoğan dictatorship, nor the Rabia remained".

The third way of the Kurds

The Kurds, on the other hand, have succeeded in taking on the role of the decisive actor in this situation. Because instead of choosing one side, they have chosen and internalized their own path, namely the third path. They rely on their own ideas for a solution to the armed conflict as well as the approach of self-defense, and at the same time stay away from religious and ethnic disputes. You apply an administrative model in which all circles of society can express themselves and have a say in all decisions. The US and Russia are aware of the role of the Kurds and relate to them on this basis. The Kurds are currently active in the region and will have a decisive influence on the outcome of the war. And the more decisive the role of the Kurds, the greater the chance that the free will of the peoples and the democratic society will emerge from the so-called 3rd World War. Because that is the Kurds' solution project that will mark the Peace of Westphalia in the Middle East. Other bloody and complicated solution preferences would only mean another defeat for the societies of the region.

The original of the column was published on July 8th, 2017 under the title “Otuz yıl savaşlarının Ortadoğu versiyonu” in the daily newspaper Yeni Özgür Politika.