Kurdish historian and political scientist Hamit Bozarslan* spoke to Ferhat Çelik of Mezopotamya News Agency on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ongoing war between the two countries, and the possible impacts of the war on Turkey, the Middle East and the World.
First, I want to ask: Whose war is this? The people’s, the state’s, or the great powers?
We need to look at the political literature over the past 20 years and the rhetoric of Putin to understand this war. A speech by Putin on the 21st of February is of great significance. It was a very long speech consisting of 11 pages. On the 9th page, Putin says: “There is no such thing as the Ukrainian people; Ukraine never existed. Ukraine is equal to communism. Communism established Ukraine, Lenin established it; Stalin tried to correct Lenin’s mistakes, but he was not successful.”
What we see here is a complete rejection of the existence of the people. Putin wants to take revenge from history. You could feel this in his rhetoric over the last 20 years, but nobody wanted to take it seriously. Putin sees the current period as a chance to take revenge from the past. ‘Taking revenge from the past’ results from Putin’s self-perception as the founder of an empire.
There are three or four founders of empires in the history of Russia. The first one is Vlademir, the tzar who founded the Russian empire. There is Ivan the 4th. Then there is Stalin. Putin wants to have his name mentioned in history books as the 4th or the 5th founder of an empire. It is crucial to understand this because this is not a war between two peoples. Ukraine has never attacked Russia. There is no previous major armed conflict except for clashes in the Donbass. This is a case of complete denial by Putin of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
Many countries are applying sanctions on Russia, and this situation is likely to create problems for the whole world, one of which is an oil crisis. US President Biden recently talked to the Venezuelan President Maduro for an oil deal. Is the balance of power between Russia and the US changing?
It is too early to try to answer such questions. We might be able to provide some answers in a couple of months, or maybe a bit later in Autumn. Previously there was a certain amount of trust in Europe for Putin, and he was perceived as “a man of his word.” Nobody was expecting such an attack in Europe. The European leaders are now left in a position to accept that there is no other alternative but to ally with the US. Europe has never been so close to the US and NATO in the last 20 years as it is now.
We can also say that Putin made a huge miscalculation. Europe may go through a crisis because of this war, and it may see some social unrest. But the Covid-19 crisis has already shown that the European countries can have large budget deficits when required. In other words, Europe is financially strong. Maybe we will witness a decreased dependency on oil and gas in the world, new technologies emerging, discovery of new energy sources, and an increased tolerance to antidemocratic governments such as the one of Maduro.
The war also impacts Turkey. Turkey is dependent on Ukraine and even more so on Russia for many imports. How do you think the war is likely to affect Turkey?
First, we can say that Turkey has in a sense been taken captive by Russia. This was demonstrated very clearly in Syria. Russia doesn’t hate the Kurds, not at all. But they could still loose Afrin very easily. After Turkey bombed Afrin for 72 days and eventually turned it completely into a land of jihadists, an ethnic cleansing was carried out, and Russia did not show the slightest reaction except for a few words on human rights. Turkey is not dependent on Ukraine today. Turkey can easily afford to sacrifice its relations with Ukraine. We remember how Uyghur Turks were sacrificed previously. Tomorrow it will probably be the Palestinians. We don’t see much concern and sympathy for the oppressed in Turkey. At least in terms of Erdoğan’s policies (…) It will also be very costly now if Turkey tries make a move against Russia. An economic cost, primarily. Turkey has a great dependency in natural gas and oil. Also, the presence of Turkey in Afrin and Idlib is only possible with the permission of Russia.
Therefore, it is impossible to think that Turkey has any capacity for manoeuvre. It would be true to say that Erdoğan seeks historical revenge as well. The objective of destroying Rojava [North and East Syria] was a part of this. Today, the attacks targeting South Kurdistan [Iraqi Kurdistan] are clear demonstrations of the kind of an empire Turkey intends to build.
Can we conclude that Turkey’s deep historical fear of Kurds prevents them from supporting the same side in the ongoing war?
This fear has shaped the policies of Turkey in Syria. Even the purchasing of S-400s is related to this historical fear. This is a fear that Turkey never manages to transcend. Just as Putin does not accept the existence of Ukrainians, Turkey does not accept the existence of Kurds. Turkey does not accept them as a social agent in history. Therefore, they are unable to implement any other policy but war. Although there are some periods of reform, this only lasts for a year or two, after which they (…) return to their traditional policies of targeting the Kurds.
One day, perhaps after the current secretary of NATO leaves office, Turkey may be asked to be more loyal to NATO. It is impossible to guess what they’ll do in such a situation. Yes, Turkey has not been specifically targeted by Russia in the context of the Ukraine war, but Putin has trapped Turkey by means of the war.
What kind of a trap?
The message [delivered by Russia to Turkey] is: “You cannot separate from me; you cannot get closer to Europe or the US. You are under my domination.”
* Prof. Dr. Hamit Bozarslan is a historian and political scientist, currently teaching at L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. His published works include ‘Une histoire de la violence au Moyen-Orient’, ‘Passions révolutionnaires: Amérique latine, Moyen-Orient, Inde.