Balkans: The Syrian Invasion Is On Again


March 18, 2012:  Macedonia has been enjoying something of an economic boomlet. Given Greece’s economic turmoil, some Greek companies have begun new operations in Macedonia. However, the Macedonian government is very concerned about  increasing ethnic violence between Macedonian Slavs and Albanians and with reason. Around 40 people have been injured in Slav-Albanian ethnic violence since early January. Several of the incidents have been attacks involving groups of young people. Though no report has yet described the clashes as gang violence, gang formation would be a likely next step if the violence continues. The step after that is particularly troubling. In the Balkans gangs have a tradition of becoming guerrilla bands. So the government regards the recent incidents as a cause for worry.

In 2001, the government defeated an insurgency launched by Albanian separatists. The Ohrid Framework Agreement (August 2001) which ended that insurgency guaranteed Macedonian Albanians equitable (proportional) representation and power in the government, to include a guarantee that the police forces would reflect the country’s ethnic composition and ethnic distribution. So the subject of ethnic balance in Macedonia has real political and security implications. Macedonia has a population of around two million. No one is quite sure what the next census will reveal. Macedonian Albanians claim they number 600,000, which is roughly 30 percent of the population. The last official figure was 500,000 or 25 percent. Macedonian Slavs argue that they have lived up to the Ohrid Framework Agreement but their Albanian compatriots are abusing the power-sharing system and intend to carve the country into enclaves. Macedonian Albanians counter that Macedonia would have fallen apart in 2001 if not for the Ohrid Framework Agreement. That may or may not be true but the agreement did end the bloodshed. The Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA, the main resistance group) also handed in 3,000 weapons. Still, some neighborhoods in Skopje, the capital, have become ethnically contested areas, as Albanians move in and Slavs leave (thus the worry about youth violence in the capital turning into turf battles). One pro-Slav commentator recently described what he claimed is an Albanian tactic for driving Slavs from a neighborhood. Albanians (who are predominantly Muslim) move in and build a mosque. The mosque then blasts the prayer call (over loud speakers) five times a day. The Christian Slavs move out because of the noise. Macedonian wits have dubbed it sonic cleansing. The ethnic tension, however, isn’t funny. Nor are Slav suspicions that Albanians still yearn for a Greater Albania, which would include Kosovo and parts of western Macedonia. (Austin Bay)

March 17, 2012: Turkey has told its citizens who are living in Syria to leave Syria. The government is considering closing its embassy. Officials formally acknowledged that Turkey is planning to establish a military buffer zone on Syrian territory as a means of controlling a growing flood of Syrian refugees. The Turks estimate that there are 30,000 Syrians trying to enter and join 15,000 Syrians already living in Turkish refugee camps. Turkey’s Red Crescent reported that it may have to assist (in a worst case scenario) as many as 500,000 Syrian refugees.

The government of Greece believes the recent debt settlement has given it a chance to stabilize the country. However, security officials are concerned that as parliamentary elections approach, street protests and violence will increase. The elections are scheduled for late April 2012, but might be pushed into May. The International Monetary Fund also stated that Greece is in such fragile economic condition that it cannot survive any unexpected economic shock. So Greece may need more debt relief and loans in order to remain in the Euro-zone even if it fulfills all of its promised budget-cutting goals. Sustained political shocks, like lengthy strikes and damage to infrastructure, can easily become economic shocks.

March 16, 2012: The Turkish government is once again considering a military option (code phrase for an invasion) in Syria. The government cited reports of attacks on refugees by forces loyal to Syria’s dictator, Bashir al Assad. One military option previously discussed is an incursion to seize a ten to twenty kilometer strip of Syrian territory in order to create a security zone to protect Syrian refugees.

March 14, 2012: Now Turkey is in on the natural gas exploration act in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey will drill an exploratory well off the coast of Cyprus (specifically off the coast of the northern Turkish state-let) sometime later this year.

March 13, 2012: A high level Turkish criminal court ended prosecution of the 1993 Sivas Massacre (where 35 people were killed by a Sunni Islamist mob). The court ruled that the statute of limitation had run out on six fugitive defendants. Most of the people murdered were Alevi Muslim intellectuals and artists who were meeting in Sivas. Alevis are regarded as a Shia sect. Lawyers representing the families of the victims argued that the crimes should be treated as crimes against humanity (which have no statute of limitation).

March 12, 2012: A Turkish court freed four reporters who had been accused of being part of the Ergenekon conspiracy. The court released the reporters based on time spent in prison. The charges against them may also be amended. Currently they are accused of being part of a coup plot, which the journalists have insistently denied. Several hundred people remain in jail on charges relating to Ergenekon. The government claims Ergenekon is a conspiracy led by the Turkish military’s shadow state. The government’s critics claim Ergenekon is a paranoid fantasy generated by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).

March 11, 2012: Turkey reported that troops loyal to Syria’s Assad regime had massed near the town of Idlib, near the Turkey-Syria border. The Syrian loyalist troops were supported by tanks.

March 10, 2012: Kosovo police and members of the EU’s EULEX government and judicial contingent announced that they had seized a large quantity of illegal drugs at the Vermica border crossing between Albania and Kosovo. EULEX described the seizure as a joint operation.

March 9, 2012: A major bond and credit rating agency declared the government of Greece to be in default on its debts. For one, “The exchange amounts to a diminished financial obligation relative to the original obligation.”

March 7, 2012: Serbia announced that it is considering letting Kosovar Serbs vote in upcoming Serbian elections.

March 6, 2012: Romania announced that newly discovered natural gas fields in the Black Sea will make the nation energy-independent within the next decade. 

Greek Cypriots expressed understandable outrage at a statement by a Turkish government minister that the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus (the Turkish Cypriot state-let) might someday be politically connected to Turkey. The Turkish minister had said that Turkey wanted the island reunited, but the terms of reunification must satisfy both the Greek and Turk Cypriot communities. If the terms failed to satisfy both communities, well, the Turkish community might become connected to Turkey. In this context the statement could be read as a goad to negotiation. That said, Turkish Cypriots have favored reunification or, failing that, a separate state. Joining Turkey has not been a goal, and there are indications that many Turkish Cypriots would be against it. Politically linking the Turkish state-let to Turkey would be a major policy change for the Turkish government. For one thing, it would violate a host of international agreements.

March 3, 2012: The prime ministers of Romania and Moldova held a joint meeting of both national cabinets. In 2010, Romania and Moldova signed a declaration of strategic partnership much to the chagrin of Russia.




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