Will Syria’s civil war lead to partition?
- Undoubtedly, the ethnic and sectarian cleansing will lead to mostly homogeneous regions
- Another huge obstacle is the Turkish government’s hostile attitude regarding the Kurdish drive towards autonomy and separatism
- Democracy, by nature, involves delayed gratification and perplexity and uncertainty are its daily bread
As the United States, Russia, and other regional and international powers are trying to find a resolution to Syria’s civil war, the warring factions are gradually carving out their own fiefdoms with critical demographic shifts, as a result of five years of intense fighting.
However, like previously in Lebanon’s civil war a few decades ago, the Syrian actors are, so far, rejecting any federalism or partition of the country. Their declared intention is to fight until one side wins the war. The actions and words of Syria’s warlords are utterly antithetical.
Undoubtedly, the ethnic and sectarian cleansing will lead to mostly homogeneous regions. Will that be enough to stop the mayhem and savagery? Is a war among statelets to be feared once the borders of autonomous or independent regions are delineated? Or even worse an ideological conflict that will cause more havoc than the current civil war?
According to Mideast experts, the economic viability of these statelets is highly questionable, especially the regions that are not controlled by Syrian President Assad’s forces and allies. The probability of these autonomous zones evolving into rogue and/or terrorist entities is strong because of profound economic problems and disastrous geopolitics.
Another huge obstacle is the Turkish government’s hostile attitude regarding the Kurdish drive towards autonomy and separatism. Ankara and Damascus have vigorously condemned the establishment of Kurdish-majority areas in northeastern Syria.
The current regime will continue to consolidate the western part of Syria where the minority Alawite has its stronghold. With Iranian and Russian assistance, the regime does not seem to give up, at least not yet, the notion of ruling the whole of Syria.
Of course, the probability that ethnic and sectarian cleansing will continue and intensify is high. Although Russia might increase its military assistance to the Syrian regime, it will have a limited impact on reversing the territorial disintegration of this Middle Eastern country.
State-building sustainability is problematic, considering the Islamic State’s “ideological” purity and its ability and willingness dealing with public services and infrastructure issues. Are the jihadists ready to compromise on their religious beliefs and principles to establish a functioning state?
Many Mideast experts blame the century-old Sykes-Picot agreement among European powers for the current state of affairs in the region. The French-British project to divide the Ottoman Empire into fictitious zones with artificial boundaries has plunged the Middle East, according to these experts, into unending wars and economic hardship. Moreover, the creation of the state of Israel has further aggravated the tension in the region.
The dismemberment of Syria and Iraq is the main objective of jihadists who say that the artificial borders were imposed by European colonial powers and do not align with pure Islam’s caliphate’s boundaries. Hence Islamic State’s attempt to blur and alter the borders of Middle Eastern countries.
Are the civil wars and the political and socioeconomic turmoil the product of the failure of European colonial powers to come up with a more equitable and less messy and grotesque drawing of the borders? There is no doubt that state- and nation-building efforts have been an unmitigated disaster.
Pointing accusatory fingers at Western powers is a facile way to justify the incompetence and unwillingness of the Arab world to decisively deal with this perennial issue. Yes, Israel’s intransigent attitude toward the Palestinians and the two-state solution is unacceptable and further inflame passions. However, exclusively blaming Western powers for the hundreds of thousands of victims of internecine wars and the Arab-Israeli conflict constitutes the apotheosis of political inanity.
Since oil is still considered the main source of revenue in the Arab world, in case of the cantonization of Middle Eastern countries, it is crucial that Kurdish, Shia, Sunni, Alawite, Druze, and Christian regions have an appreciable amount of oil to trade and thus evolve into financially viable states. Otherwise, more mayhem would ensue any inequitable economic distribution.
Even then there is no guarantee that stable societies would emerge following the partition of certain Middle Eastern countries. Introducing and developing civil societies are elusive projects as the United States bitterly experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq. Centuries of democratic fluctuations and inertia cannot be accomplished in a few months or years.
Democracy, by nature, involves delayed gratification and perplexity and uncertainty are its daily bread. That’s why the temptation to lose hope and give up on the democratic experiment is powerful and pervasive.
Cantonization might reduce sectarian tension like it did in Cyprus, with the creation of Greek and Turkish zones. If the Cypriot Turks received their own autonomous region, why not the Kurds, Alawite, etc. Will it be less arduous to grapple with small, independent entities even if they are dysfunctional and rogue states? History is ambivalent and as Alexis de Tocqueville said: “History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.” Both can be catastrophic and regrettable.