The events in the Middle East over the past few years have prompted intense speculation about whether Iraq and Syria will collapse and be replaced with new political entities reflective of ethnic and sectarian differences. In today’s show, Aaron speaks with Michael Stephens, the Research Fellow for Middle East studies and Head of RUSI Qatar, about the recent Kurdish offensive in Syria, the problems in the Kurdistan Regional government, and the various plans for the establishment of buffer zones in Syria. The show asks whether the current efforts to defeat the Islamic State are effective and delves into the question of whether the break up of Iraq and Syria is inevitable.
The fall of Tel Abyad poses a number of challenges for Turkish foreign policy. The Kurdish advance has sparked claims of ethnic cleansing, resulted in 23,000 refugees fleeing to Turkey, and sparked concerns that Islamic State fighters have quietly slipped into the border town of Akcakale. To discuss the political and humanitarian aspects of the battle for Tel Abyad, Aaron speaks with Has Avrat, a southeast Turkey based specialist in humanitarian refugee issues.
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On June 7, over 50 million Turkish citizens went to the polls to vote in the country’s general election. While most polls showed Turkey’s fourth largest political party, the HDP, winning enough votes to pass the 10% threshold, few predicted that the AKP would fall short of winning enough seats to form a government. The AKP’s relatively poor showing has now raised questions about which opposition party makes the most sense as a n opposition party. To discuss these issues, Aaron speaks with Amberin Zaman, the Turkey correspondent for The Economist and a columnist for Turkey’s Taraf newspaper.
With the Turkish national election just days away, the future of the country’s political system hinges on Turkey’s fourth largest political party, the HDP. To get a sense of the the party’s electoral chances, and whether the HDP’s efforts to undercut the AKP in Turkey’s Kurdish majority southeast are paying off, Aaron speaks with Noah Blaser and Piotr Zalewski about their recent trip to the cities of Urfa, Mardin, Midyat, and Diyarbakir.
Turkish citizens are playing an active role in the Syria civil war. With as many as 1500 Turks now fighting in Iraq and Syria, numerous Turkish officials are now expressing considerable concern about returning fighters. In today’s podcast, Aaron speaks with northcaucasuscaucus, a blogger and analyst following Turkish and Azeri foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, about the history of the Turkish foreign fighter phenomena dating back to the Afghan Jihad.
The famous Anatolian folk song, Yemen Turkusu, describes the painful memories of one Ottoman military unit from Mus, after being deployed to battle during World War I. The song’s haunting lyrics capture the difficulties the Ottoman’s faced in Yemen, saying “those who go never return.” Historians describe the Ottoman’s experience in Yemen as tumultuous, frequented by numerous local uprisings, and clashes with a powerful actor in the northern mountains: the Zaydi tribe, or the Houthis. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ignored history when he committed to supporting the Saudi led mission to rollback the gains of Yemen’s Houthis. Erdogan explicitly linked the Houthis’ rise to Iranian support – and called on the Islamic Republic and associated terror groups to withdraw. The antecedents for Turkey’s Yemen policy began in March during Erdogan’s high-profile visit to the Kingdom to meet with King Salman.
To discuss Turkey’s Yemen policy, Aaron speaks with Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, about Ankara’s approach to the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood and why Ankara’s support for the Saudi airstrikes is low-risk and high reward.