Marat Terterov: Armenia’s long term security will be better served by strengthening economic security, rather than defining national security on the basis of the Tsarist Russian catch-cry “armiya i flot”
ArmInfo’s interview with Ruben Safrastyan, Ph.D, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Armenian National Academy of Sciences.
by David Stepanyan
What are the key internal and external factors that have the current instability in Syria?
This instability certainly has internal reasons. Over the last decades, a middle-class has emerged in Syria, which is, naturally, discontented at concentration of economy in the hands of the family of the Assads. There is also certain discontent at the level of political freedoms in the country. All these are objective reasons and the many thousand strong demonstrations in Syria since the spring of the last year stemmed from those very reasons. At a certain stage external forces joined those protest actions and began to manipulate on inability of Assad's government to carry out economic and political reforms to reduce the domestic discontent. Eventually, those external forces began to openly seek to overthrow Assad's power. Therefore, analyzing the reasons of the current chaos in Syria, one should not neglect the objective reasons of that. Together with the desire of external forces to overthrow Assad those objective reasons have led to the present-day situation in Syria. Nevertheless, Assad's power is still enlisting support of the population of Syria, while the opposition is quite patchy.
If Assad is overthrown, who will replace him, can it be the Muslim Brotherhood?
Speaking of Asad's replacement by Muslim Brotherhood is untimely in the light of certain balance of forces of the opposition and authorities in Syria, which implies rather a long fight.
You mean that the scale of the Syrian events is being exaggerated?
Yes. Bashar Assad is still controlling the situation. But should it continue for a long time, the Syrian President may be overthrown or even annihilated. I expect that there will be some intermediary period when the key actors will be Assad and the opposition. If this happens, the political system of the post-Assad Syria will embrace all major forces: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Liberals, Ba'ath and Al Qaeda-related forces.
Why is the United States willing to replace predictable Europe-oriented Assad by unpredictable Islamists?
The key reason why the United States is so eager to replace predictable Europe-oriented Assad by unpredictable Islamists is that Assad's Syria is partner to Iran and Russia. Consequently, Assad's overthrow will weaken those countries' positions in the Middle East. The other reason is that the Americans are willing to improve their relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Kurds living in the north of the country have faced no resistance to their attempt to gain control over the region. Is Assad weak or is he shrewd?
Assad made another tactical step withdrawing the Syrian army from the northwestern regions of Syria and opening the Syrian border with Iraq and Turkey. Hence, Assad plays the Kurdish card against Turkey. On the other hand, the Kurdish organizations in the territory of Syria have rather close ties with the Iraqi Kurdistan led by Barzani. By the way, the Kurdish population is not very large - nearly 1.5 million, which is less then 10% of the 20 million population of Syria. Those organizations strive to create autonomy as part of Syria so far and may seek independence in future.
Turkey was very much worried to know that the north-western part of Syria had been seized by the Kurds. What consequences the appearance of Syrian Kurdistan may have for Turkey?
It is a very serious threat to Turkey, which will find itself in a nightmare if another Kurdish quasi-country appears on its border. In the meanwhile, there are Kurdish PKK fighters operating against Turkey from inside Syria. The example of the Iraqi Kurdistan where PKK camps are located confirms that after withdrawal of Syrian troops from the Turkish-Syrian border, PKK fighters will get an opportunity to easily penetrate into the territory of Turkey from Syria and double the capacity of PKK in the fight against Turks. PKK had camps in Syria yet before that, but starting 90s president of Syria closed his country for the Kurdish fighters thanks to cooperation of the Turkish AKP and Assad's Baas Party. Now, due to the tough stance of Ankara, Assad has again given the go-ahead for the PKK's fight against Turkey from inside Syria. Thus, it was a very rash decision from the Turkish government to oppose Assad. I am disposed to think that Ankara's policy towards Syria is "adventurous". That policy is not based on the current geopolitical and political situation. Consequently, Ankara's attempt to gain weight in the region is adventurous. This has not only intensified the Kurdish factor, but also began to arouse discontent of the West and the USA, as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab states. All these actors believe that it does not behoove Turkey to play too big role in the developments in the Arab world.
Can Turkey come out of the deadlock it has put itself in by starting the military expansion of the north-western Syria?
That issue has been discussed in Turkey for long. There were suggestions to create a buffer zone on the border with Syria, or humanitarian corridors in the territory of Syria. In both cases, they were suggesting to use the Turkish army in the territory of Syria against the government troops. However, over the last few months, Turkey has been displaying rather a restrained policy in the given issue due to the discontent of the USA and Arab states at Ankara's agility. In addition, there are forces opposing Turkey's military intervention in Syria also inside Turkey e.g. Turkish Armed Forces General Staff. But situation is changing very rapidly and the position of Turkey as well. Now, that country bursts to Syria under pretext of neutralizing Syrian chemical weapons. So far, one cannot fully rule out Turkey's attempts to take preventive measures against Syria under pretence of striking the PKK camps in the territory of Syria. Thus, Turkey has at least two pretexts for military intervention in Syria
Will Russia, China and Iran be consistent in defending Assad?
The role of Russia and China in all this is also significant. These countries are the key factor preventing military intervention in Syria in case of relevant voting at the UN Security Council. Obviously, the West and some Arab countries will receive no right to interfere with the situation in Syria on some pretext of other.
If the Syrian regime falls, Iran will find itself surrounded by unfriendly regimes. Can this mean an end to the rule of ayatollahs in Iran?
The U.S. contributes to exacerbating the situation in Syria mainly to overthrow the power of Ayatollahs. Therefore, I think, possible overthrow of Syria will greatly help isolating Iran. For that purpose, other tactical and strategic mechanisms will be used as well. The major goal of the current information war against Iran is to create relevant conditions for a change of power in Iran through weakening it. Washington will hardly dare to intervene in Iran unless there is a direct threat of accretion of nuclear weapons by Iran.
The key pretext for the American invasion of Iraq was also the search for a nuclear weapon. But they did not find anything, did they?
Iran is not Iraq and plays a tangible geopolitical role as a regional superpower. Tehran makes independent foreign political decisions, and the USA is not happy about that, indeed.