Russo-Turkish Conflict over Syria & Iraq Boils: “Manifestations of impotent Rage”

by Juan Cole Juan R. I. Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and many other works. He has translated works of Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran. He has been a regular guest on PBS's Lehrer News Hour, and has also appeared on ABC Nightly News, Nightline, the Today Show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, Rachel Maddow, the Colbert Report, Democracy Now! and many others. He has given many radio and press interviews. He has written widely about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Iraq War, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iranian domestic struggles, the Arab Spring and its aftermath, and foreign affairs. He has a regular column at He continues to study and write about contemporary Islamic movements, whether mainstream or radical, whether Sunni and Salafi or Shi`ite. Cole commands Arabic, Persian and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam. He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, and continues to travel widely there. 12.12.2015

The Turkish and Russian government have continued their war of words that followed on the shooting down of an Su-25 bomber on Nov. 24. Issues include a new Turkish accusation that Russian bombing in the north of Latakia province aims at ethnically cleansing the Turkmen populations there, and that the Iraqi government’s demand that Turkey withdraw its troops from the north was provoked by Russia.

On Wednesday, Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Russia of bombing northern Latakia province in hopes of stampeding the local population of Sunni Turkmen out of there, so as to strengthen the hold on the province of the Shiite, Alawite minority that supports Bashar al-Assad.

Russia denied the charges, saying they were “manifestations of impotent rage.”

At the same time, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not withdraw 150 Turkish military trainers from a town north of Mosul. They have been training Kurdish Peshmerga or fighters to confront Daesh / ISIL. Erdogan hinted that Russia may be behind the Iraqi insistence that they withdraw, presumably via Iran. Russia has been bombing Muslim fundamentalist fighters taking on the Syrian government. He complained about Sunni Muslims being marginalized in both Iraq and Syria as a result of the “Russian-Iranian-Iraqi Triangle,” which he implied supported Shiite dominance in the region.

BBC Monitoring translated some of the comments on the “8 December episode of Russian state-controlled Channel One’s weekly late-night talk show “Structure of Moment” (Rus: Struktura momenta) discussed Turkey sending its some 150 troops to train Iraqi Kurdish forces near the city of Mosul” to fight Daesh (ISIS, ISIL):

“Russian nationalist pundit Sergey Kurginyan said that Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had” departed from “a ‘European course of Turkish development’. We can see an emerging new Turkey taking on anti-Russian actions and ignoring the international law, Kurginyan said, suggesting that the country’s new goal was an expansion of its influence.

This view was echoed by State Duma deputy speaker Oleg Morozov, saying that “Turkey chose the route of pan-Islamism, whereas other countries comply with the international rules”. “

The Russian nationalist guests also expressed worries that Daesh might spread from Afghanistan into Central Asia and up into Russia itself. They noted the fear that Russo-Turkish tension might also harm Russian relations with the Central Asian countries (several of which speak forms of the Turkic language family), though one guest dismissed this anxiety, saying it is not as if Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan are close to Turkey.

The transcript ends, “Kurginyan also suggested there was a strong link between Turkey and ISIL, saying that being a Sunni radical country, Turkey cannot break ties with ISIL.”

(Turkey’s Sunnism and Daesh’s cult don’t actually have much in common, despite what Kuginyan alleged.)

Another point of potential contention is Turkish control of the Bosphorus Strait, which links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, and which Russia uses to supply the Syrian regime. “Turkey denied Thursday any intention of revising the Montreux Convention, which permits free passage in peace time.”

Russia also began importing Syrian agricultural goods to replace Turkish ones, orders for which Vladimir Putin had cancelled after the shootdown of the Russian bomber.

Russo-Turkish relations continue to deteriorate, with potentially bad economic fallout for both countries, as well a continued danger of further military escalations.

For Juan Cole's web site, please click here.


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