Turkey, Syria, the Kurds, Past and Present, Revised

The debacle in Turkey for Turkey, Syria and the Kurds has its roots extending back to the Ottoman Empire, its collapse and the Sykes-Picot carve-up in 1916 of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. As if that was not enough Sykes-Picot was followed by three treaties that exacerbated the situation: The Treaty of Sevres, The Treaty of Montreux and the Treaty of Lausanne.

But, one needs to rewind history to understand how the Ottoman Empire came into being and understand its historical significance. So. Let’s begin with the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire created by Constantine in 300 AD


The Eastern Roman empire was then conquered by the Muslim Ottomans in 1154 and established an Empire that lasted until 1914 being brought down by its ill-fated decision to ally itself with German against the Allies. However, it is one of the longest surviving and greatest empires covering at its apogee the territory illustrated in this map below, right to the gates of Vienna in 1683. That also marked the beginning of the decline of the Empire and a slow and painful process accelerated by internal strife and corruption

At its apogee

By 1914, the yellow portion was what remained of the Empire

The Sykes-Picot Agreement was cobbled together in May 1916 in anticipation of the end of WWI by a UK colonel, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Picot, a French lawyer and diplomat. They sat down over a map of the existing Ottoman Empire and literally began drawing lines on the map delineating areas of influence or control for the British and French governments. This was done with the support of the Russian and Italian regimes at that time (before the Russian revolution 1917). Herewith the map:

As one can see, this was done with no regard to ethnic or religious considerations, only for what would benefit the colonial powers with respect to commodities, such as oil reserves and access to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea, the resolution of Palestine being left open for a later date.

This map was then altered by the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 and dealt with the dismemberment of Turkey, the principal remnant of the Ottoman Empire.

However, Ataturk and the Turkish rebels fought the colonial powers to a standstill resulting in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 between Turkey and the Colonial Allies that created today’s Turkey and its borders.

Then yet another Treaty that haunts the region today is The Treaty of Montreux in 1936, a huge potential for conflict but seldom if ever mentioned in the press

The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits is a 1936 agreement that gives Turkey control over the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles and regulates the transit of naval warships. The Convention gives Turkey full control over the Straits and guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime. So, if Turkey and the US come to conflict, Turkey could exercise its rights under the treaty and close naval access to the Black Sea. The US presently has naval vessels in the Black Sea to keep an eye on Russia and its naval base in Crimea. Question: would the US, not known to abide by past treaties, honour the Treat of Montreux? If not, this could lead to serious consequences


Syria and its Past

But what about Syria? Where from and whereto? Its name orginates from Ashur, 10th century BC and later was changed to its present name that derives from Assyria in Mesopotamia, It was merely  territory in the Ottoman Empire, Then, after the Sykes-Picot “Carve-Up” and the 1920 Paris 1919 Peace conference Syria is a French Mandate

In 1945 Syria becomes an Independent State ruled by a Alawite/Shia minority government  (Assad family) occupying a small piece of the territory of Syria, a predominantly Sunni religious country. a recipe destined for disaster now realised

These maps display the breakup and civil strife beginning in 2000-2018

Russia and Syria

One may ask the importance in Syria for Russian involvement and the answer lies in the Syrian Mediterranean port of Latakia where the Syrian Assad government granted naval rights to Russian vessels. This gives Russia its only 12 months a year ice-free port other than Crimea that is hostage to the Treaty of Montreux. Russia also uses Latakia as an airbase for eventual intervention in the region

The Kurds

Now on to the core issue in the present conflict, The Kurds and a  look at Kurdish history:

  • The Kurds are a non-Arab ethnic group of between 25 and 35 million people spread mainly across Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey but without a state of their own.
  • The Kurds inhabit largely mountainous, regions across southeastern Turkey through northern Syria and Iraq to central Iran.
  • The greatest number live in Turkey, where they account for about 20 per cent of the overall population.
  • Kurds also make up 10 per cent of the population in Iran, 15-20 per cent in Iraq and 15 per cent in Syria.
  • The collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I opened the way for the creation of a Kurdish state, which was provided for in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres.
  • However Turkish nationalists, led by army general Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, opposed the harsh terms of the treaty and launched a new war.
  • It resulted in a new accord, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which established the boundaries of modern Turkey and effectively drew a line on the international support for an independent Kurdistan.
  • But the Kurds have retained ambitions for a unified nation that are seen as a threat by the governments all four of the main countries where they live.
  • In Turkey, the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 35-year insurgency against the army in the mainly
  • Kurdish southeast is outlawed as a terrorist organisation.

And where are teh Kurds?

They are in Turkey, Syria, Northeast Iraq, North-West Iran and the Kurdish Dream, a Kurdistan stretching from Turkey through Syria, Iraq and Iran, more a fantasy never to be realised

To make matters worse Turkey is in the of creating a “safe  zone”, a one free of Kurds to prevent what the Turks perceive as a terrorist threat tot southern Turkish territory.

So, what are the implications of all this? Herewith a list of possible outcomes a list that could change from day to day.

Action by Turkey

  • Possible release or escape of ISIS prisoners, a new ISIS war but conducted by whom?
  • Release of 3.6 mio Syrian refugees into Europe as retaliation for Europe’s refusal to collaborate
  • Retaliation for Sanctions or threat by US Congress to suspend Turkey from NATO, Turkey simply leaves NATO leaving a huge hole in NATO’s southeastern defence system
  • Turkey has been denied US F-35 aircraft because it installed Russian S-400 missile defence system so it could replace them with the. new Russian S-57 advanced Stealth aircraft.
  • A really pissed off Turkey uses Treaty of Montreux to closes access to Black sea by naval warships (The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits is a 1936 agreement that gives Turkey control over the Turkish Straits (the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits) and regulates the transit of naval warships. The Convention gives Turkey full control over the Turkish Straits and guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime. It restricts the passage of naval ships not belonging to Black Sea states. The terms of the convention have been the source of controversy over the years, most notably about the Soviet Union‘s military access to the Mediterranean Sea.)

By US/NATO/Turkey

Suspend Turkey from NATO (already threatening to do so by US congressional war hawks) sort of  like shooting themselves in the foot or going to war with Turkey!)

  • Would the US really abide by the Montreux Treaty blocking US from Black Sea where they presently have naval vessels to keep an eye on Russia?


  • What happens to warming Russian Turkish relations with Russia supporting Syrian forces opposed to Turkey: no sale of Russian weapons systems? Erdogan is at the time of this writing conferring with Putin, Putin now being the kingmaker, with Assad. Putin is far more adept at playing this high stakes game than the US politicians of either party
  • Do the Kurds get a new protector from Russia and Syria?
  • Russia must protect Syria to assure its hold on Latakia, as Syrian grant to Russia as the only warm water port access if Turkey closes Black Sea access to Crimea!!! Conflict with Turkey?

Seems to me Turkey has a lot of cards to play but many of them could involve direct conflict with NATO, Russia, Syria or directly with US. It is now over to the Russians who have a foot in every camp.

I am sure there will be a sequel to this post that is part history, part speculation and part guessing game.




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