THO: How do you see the situation in Syria?
Michael Izady: For me it is a very personal thing. I was in Syria just before all these things started. During that time Turkey and Syria had perfect relations. It was a peaceful environment, quite well. Syria is the extension of Anatolia, it looks like Anatolia. To be destroyed like this, it is really bad for such an amazing place, history, civilization, people and everything. It was a wonderful place. It started with Tunisia, Libya, and then Bahrain, and then it hit Damascus. I am sure there should be an end. But the question is would it be a pleasant end, I do not think so. After 8 years of fighting, Assad succeeded to stay in power, the whole country is destroyed people are praying for the old days to come back. Turkey doesn’t want Assad to stay in power but on the other hand one should remember that Assad’s family is from Turkey, they are from Iskenderun and they moved to Syria after Turkey got Iskenderun. The family has a historical animosity against Turkey because they were a powerful family in Iskenderun and they lost everything and moved to Syria. Assads have personal anger against any government in Turkey but AKP developed a very good relationship with them later on. Syria supported the PKK continuously until Turkish general Atilla Ates threatened Syrian regime to stop helping the PKK and sheltering Ocalan. Do not think Assad regime treated the Kurds well. The Kurds in Syria were treated horribly, half of them were never even granted citizenship. So, why would Assad regime support PKK while they are in a very bad relations with their own Kurdish minority, it is just to harm Turkey.
THO: How do you see the US’s presence in the Middle East?
Michael Izady: The US is so present in the Middle East, now more than ever before. The US is very much involved in the Middle East. Turkey is coming back to the Middle East. The Soviet Union is gone, so Turkey’s strategic buffer zone positioning between the East and the West has changed, during the Cold War, Turkey hasn’t been as involved in the Middle East. But the context has changed after 1991. Before, Turkey was a crucial ally for NATO in Europe’s security. In the 1990s, the US encouraged Turkey to get more involved in the Middle East, improve the relations with the Kurds in Iraq etc. A NATO ally in the Middle East, this was a good strategy for the US. When I spoke several times at Congress, I myself supported Turkey’s increasing presence in the Middle East and recommended the administrations then.
THO: How do you see the Turkish-American relations ?
Michael Izady: Turkey is still a crucial NATO ally. For Turkey to have some credibility in the Middle East, Turkey must have some disagreements with the US. Turkey can’t support the US fully in the Middle East. Turkey provides for the West an alternative way of Islam against fundamentalism, ISIS, etc., the Turkish model of Islam is you can be Islamist and not destructive.
Turkey is building mosques from Tokyo to Bosnia, and no one cuts heads! Those in Saudi Arabia, Vahhabist and fundamentalists they do! Actually the Turkish role and Turkish model of Islam is very constructive in the Middle East and helpfu. It is an alternative model to fundamentalist and terrorists.
When I spoke at Congress, I recommended that Turkey should be switched from Europe, NATO, Soviet oriented policy into the Middle East oriented one. Turkey should pay more attention to the Middle East. It is the old empire, it was always in the Middle East. Without Turkey being around, Iran will be the only player. There are only two big powers in the region; Iran and Turkey. Syria is really an extension of Turkey. Turkey should be the model to bring under control the violist Islamic fundamentalism. Turkey is a totally secular, open society. If Turkey is not in the play; Iran will be. Look at the situation in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Iran is all over the place, stretching its power to the Mediterranean.
The US came to Iraq in 2003 and handed over the country to Iran through its Shia population. Lebanon is already since the 80s under Iranian influence, the missing link was Syria, and now you have situation in Syria. Syria is the playground that everyone is in. Its very important in a much broader picture in the long run. But Iran and Turkey have been competing for the last 500 years, they are not allies, they just cooperate when they see it necessary. Russian situation is completely different. Russia is not USSR so it is not a super power anymore, it’s a great power but the alliance between Iran and Russia should not be exaggerated. Russia has its own interests, they want Syria to be dependent on Russia. For Russia, Syria should not be made a colony of Iran. They are working with each other but every time when Israel comes into the picture, Russia sides with Israel. Russia doesn’t have a love or lost for Iran, Iran is not big enough for it. Look at those Turkish construction companies in Russia, they make billions of dollars business. What does Iran have in Russia? Nothing.
THO: How do you see the future of the Kurds in the region?
Michael Izady: I said to President Ozal that the PKK didn’t start the Kurdish problem in Turkey, actually the Kurdish issue has caused the PKK. PKK is a product of this not the cause of it. If you get rid off PKK, they will get another one. Kurdish minority in Turkey should be a blessing for Turkey.
Today in 2019, the Kurds in Turkey are in a much better situation. But the Turkish state is still cautious. The most important thing is most of the Kurds are living in western Turkey, the largest Kurdish state is not Diyarbakir nor Erbil, its Istanbul. Today, you can’t separate African American society in the same way the Kurds are separated in Turkey. There is no separation. It makes no sense. Look what happened this year in Iraq. The US will not allow any separate Kurdish state in the region unless it changes the grand strategy and leaves the Middle East. I advised the Kurds in Iraq to never ever talk about independence. You can talk about federalism but not a separate state. Kurds should work for Iraq to be more democratic, that is all. I see the future is brighter for everyone in the region. It may not look like it today, but it will be so in the long term.