The Long View: Turkey is funnelling weapons and armed men across the border into Syria
How the government howled. With the help of a neighbouring state, “terrorists” were trying to destroy the government and its army, blowing up and murdering its supporters. “Terrorists” were crossing the international border, arms were being shipped over the frontier and given to rebels fighting the government, “non-lethal” aid was being sent to the opposition. I couldn’t help remembering this when I crossed that same border four days ago. Not from Turkey into Syria, but from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland.
There, to the left of the Newry road on a plateau of rock and green grass, lay the broken wire-mesh anti-mortar screen which once guarded the fortress where British troops – so often attacked by the IRA from Dundalk in the Republic – guarded the border. When the British-supported government of Northern Ireland turned on its Catholics in 1969, thousands of Catholic refugees flooded across the border into the Republic. Sound familiar? When British paratroopers were ambushed at Warrenpoint, soldiers fired back across the border at a “terrorist”. He wasn’t a terrorist, but an innocent holidaymaker. The IRA gave press conferences in pleasant Dublin suburbs and, oh my, the British government howled.
Odd how these things get forgotten. Now it is plucky little Turkey, hosting the opposition to the Syrian regime, funnelling weapons and armed men across the border into Syria – encouraging the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad – which is the victim. The IRA’s’ “terrorism” against the occupying Brits has been transmogrified into the valiant Syrian resistance against a vile Alawite-led regime whose Baathist acolytes must be crushed in order to bring democracy to Damascus, etc, etc.
Now the usual caveat – which will be forgotten by those who wish to accuse the writer of being a member of the Syrian intelligence service: Bashar al-Assad is a despot, his regime is awful, its policemen torture on a scale that would stun the RUC thugs who beat up their Catholic prisoners in Castlereagh, and Syrian militias fill mass graves; there were no mass graves in Northern Ireland.
BUT. When it comes to international law, to moral compromise, to sheer hypocrisy, the Western powers take the biscuit. La Clinton raves on about Syrian depravity when Syrian shells slaughter a Turkish woman and her four children – which they did – but gives succour to the gunmen who torture and kill and suicide-bomb the regime’s supporters inside Syria. Clinton’s predecessors at the State Department took a quite different view about Northern Ireland. William Hague rabbits on about our “non-lethal” aid to Syrian rebels; but didn’t the Irish authorities give “non-lethal aid” (bandages, funds, intelligence information) to our political and military enemies in Northern Ireland?
Typically, Al-Jazeera – to which I sometimes contribute my two-pence worth of thought – was the first channel to cover the response of local Turks to the killing of the family in Akçakale: they blamed their own Turkish government for using the village as a jumping off point for rebels entering Syria – and thus turning their town into a target.
And another story that isn’t being told. Syrian shells exploding in Turkey are largely landing in the province of Hatay (Akçakale is further east), but what is not being reported is that until 1939, Hatay was part of Syria – and that Syria still claims this coastal province as Syrian territory. The real story – since it involves Europe and Hitler – should be told. For hundreds of years, this territory was Syrian. Alexandretta (now Iskenderun) was the finest port in Syria. But as the power of Nazi Germany grew in the 1930s, the French, who then held the League of Nations mandate for Syria, decided to hand the whole place over to the Turks – in the hope that Turkey would join the Allied side against Hitler.
A fraudulent referendum was held and the mass of Arabs in the province – tens of thousands of them Alawites, who form the backbone of Assad’s regime today – fled south, along with an almost equal number of Armenians who had survived the 1915 Turkish genocide. Today, the children and grandchildren of those Armenians tacitly support the Assad regime. Turkey, of course, chose to stay neutral until the very end of the Second World War. Visiting Turkish generals were thus hosted on the Eastern Front by the Nazi Wehrmacht and toured the West Wall before the D-Day invasion as guests of Marshal Erwin Rommel. They were treated with trust and respect, they reported back to Ankara.
Don’t expect to hear any of this today. Hatay is Turkish, Hitler is dead. The Newry fortress is long abandoned. The IRA – up to a point – won. Funny thing, history. Here today. Gone tomorrow.
ROBERT FISK- THE INDEPENDENT