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Turkey, the Kurds and the US debacle in North East Syria

US policy in north east Syria has hugely complicated and exacerbated the situation there, setting the Turks and the Kurds against each other, and provoking threats of US military action in support of a misconceived policy that has not been thought through.

Alexander Mercouris

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The war in Syria has been described as a game of three dimensional chess played by nine different players.

I don’t think this is really true.  The main part of the war is a straight contest between the Syrian government and its Jihadi opponents who are trying to overthrow it.  As our contributor Afra’a Dagher has written, these Jihadis often use different names; however in terms of who they are and what they represent who are their external sponsors, they are always the same.

The situation in north east Syria is however more complex than elsewhere in Syria, so I will try to explain it in more detail.  Whilst it is highly dangerous, as I will show the danger here comes not from what Erdogan and Turkey are doing, but from the US, which has experienced in this area a major debacle.

Turkey and the Kurds

There is much confusion about the Turkish incursion which led to the capture of the previously ISIS controlled border town of Jarablus. 

The key point to understand about this incursion is that its intended target is not the Syrian government but the Kurdish militia known as the YPG (the “People’s Protection Units”).

What has upset the situation in north eastern Syria, provoking fighting between the Syrian army and the YPG and the Turkish incursion that has led to the capture of Jarablus, is the dynamic expansion of the territory in north east Syria which is controlled by the YPG.

This map gives an idea of how the area under YPG control expanded in 2015

With US support the YPG – disguising themselves the “Syrian Democratic Forces” – have recently captured from ISIS the town of Manbij, which is located west of the Euphrates river. 

This was the key event that provoked the Turkish incursion.

Most Kurds live in Turkey where they may account for anything between 10% to 20% of the population (opinions differ).  Turkey has had a long running problem assimilating its Kurdish minority and there has been a long history of conflict, with some Kurds during some periods of recent Turkish history fighting insurgency wars against the Turkish government and seeking outright secession from Turkey and the formation of an independent Kurdish state. 

In light of this Turkey considers the Kurdish problem an existential problem for Turkey, one that places in jeopardy the very existence of the Turkish state, at least in its present form.

During the recent period of rule in Turkey by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Erdogan relations between the Turkish authorities and the Kurds have known periods of improvement.  However they have recently sharply deteriorated, and there is now an ongoing insurgency situation in eastern Turkey pitting the Turkish military and Kurdish insurgents led by the PKK (the Kurdish Workers Party).

The Turkish government accuses the YPG of being in league with the PKK.  It therefore vigorously opposes the establishment of any Kurdish YPG controlled zone within Syria along the border with Turkey.     

The Turks have previously made clear that they consider the Euphrates a “red line” beyond which they will not tolerate expansion by the YPG.  The YPG captures of Manbij meant that the YPG had crossed this “red line”.

Manbij lies immediately south of Jarablus.  Had the Kurds advanced north from Manbij and captured Jarabulus and its surrounding areas, they would have connected two Kurdish-held YPG controlled areas in northern Syria, creating precisely the sort of autonomous YPG controlled Kurdish zone along Turkey’s border with Syria that Turkey is determined at all costs to prevent.

The Turkish move towards Jarablus is intended to pre-empt the YPG’s capture of the town and this from happening.

The YPG and the Syrian government

The YPG and the Syrian government have been uneasy allies in the Syrian war. 

The ideology of the YPG is secular, Kurdish nationalist and leftist – the diametric opposite of the Wahhabi Jihadist ideology of the Syrian government’s opponents.   That by definition makes the Kurds and the Syria’s government’s Jihadi enemies, enemies of each other.  On the principle that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that has forced the YPG into an uneasy alliance with the Syrian government.

The YPG’s focus is however not on the survival of the Syrian government but on securing its control of the Kurdish populated areas of northern Syria.  Its alliance with the Syrian government its therefore purely a function of the fact that the two have the same Jihadi enemies in common.

In the longer run it is why relations between the Syrian government and the YPG might fall into conflict.  Ultimately the YPG is pursuing a Kurdish nationalist agenda within Syria, which is very far from that of the Syrian government, which wants to re-establish the Syrian state’s authority over the whole of Syria.

The fragility of the alliance between the Syrian government and the YPG was recently exposed when the YPG, emboldened by the capture of Manbij, acted to consolidate its control of north east Syria by seeking to oust the Syrian military and Syrian government from the town of Al-Hasakah at the eastern end of the belt of territory the YPG controls. 

This led to armed clashes in Al-Hasakah between the YPG militia and the Syrian army, which spilled over into fighting in Aleppo between Syrian troops there and the YPG militia which is participating in the siege of eastern Aleppo.  There were even reports that for a short period the YPG briefly shelled Syrian army positions on the Castello road.

These moves have been interpreted in both Damascus and Ankara as the YPG preparing to take full control of the Kurdish populated territories in north east Syria.  Both Damascus and Ankara strongly oppose this, Damascus because it threatens the unity of Syria, Ankara because it considers the YPG to be an extension of the PKK, and does not want a YPG controlled independent Kurdish region on its border which could act as a safe haven for the PKK.

Turkey’s Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’

The Turkish incursion and the capture of Jarablus were intended to pre-empt the YPG’s intended capture of Jarablus. 

Erdogan and his government have made this quite clear.  The name of the Turkish operation is “Euphrates Shield”, which clearly refers to Turkey’s “red line” against the Kurds along the Euphrates river.  Moreover it seems the YPG did attempt to advance on Jarablus on Monday 22nd August 2016, and were shelled before they got there by the Turkish army.

The Kurds and the YPG for their part have made it quite clear that they understand that the Turkish incursion is ultimately targeted at them.  Redur Xelil, a spokesperson for the YPG, has denounced Turkey’s incursion as an act of “blatant aggression.”  Salih Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), has written on Twitter that Turkey is now in the “Syrian quagmire” and will be defeated like ISIS.

Turkey and the unity of Syria

What is perhaps most striking fact about this latest episode is that Erdogan has now come out publicly as the champion of Syria’s unity.  He is reported to have said on Wednesday 24th August 2016 that

“Turkey is determined for Syria to retain its territorial integrity and will take matters into its own hands if required to protect that territorial unity.”

This is in fact completely logical.  Given that Kurdish separatism is for Turkey an existential question, Turkey – whether led by Erdogan or his opponents – will always prefer to have north east Syria controlled by whatever regime is in power in Damascus – even if that regime is led by Bashar Al-Assad – than have it controlled by the YPG.

What that means is that for the first time since the start of the Syrian war there is a commonality of interest between the Turkish and Syrian governments.  That does not mean that there is a rapprochement underway between them, or that the Turkish government has changed its policy of wanting the overthrow of the Syrian government.  It does however mean that the Syrian government is not as hostile to the Turkish move towards Jarablus as it might otherwise have been, which explains its relatively mild reaction to the Turkish move.

I understand that there are some people who think Erdogan is lying about wanting to preserve the unity of Syria and that his ambitions extend far further and that what he is really aiming at is the conquest of large belts of northern Syria up to and including the city of Aleppo.

I have to say that I doubt this is true.  Conquering these territories and assimilating them into Turkey looks frankly beyond Turkey’s power.  It would antagonise the Arabs to the south and the Russians and Iranians to the north and east.  It would not serve the interests of the US; and potentially, by adding large Arab and Kurdish populations to Turkey, it would only exacerbate Turkey’s already complex internal problems. 

Of course Turkey could expel these people from their lands, but doing so would simply create another set of problems and would surely only worsen further the already difficult situation Turkey has with its own Kurds in Turkey itself. 

Frankly this project looks like a recipe for endless war, which Turkey in its present state simply cannot afford.

Erdogan is many things but he is not stupid, and I am sure that he understands this.  His objective in Syria is not the conquest of its northern regions by Turkey or Syria’s partition.  It is the conversion of Syria into a Turkish satellite state by the establishment of a government friendly to Turkey in Damascus.

The Turkish incursion and the Battle of Aleppo

Erdogan remains committed to President Assad’s overthrow and publicly supports Jabhat Al-Nusra, the strongest Jihadi group fighting the Syrian government in the battle of Aleppo. 

Nothing Erdogan has said or done since the failed coup attempt suggests that he has modified this strategy in any way.  He continues to allow Jihadi fighters and supplies to cross the Turkish border into Idlib province en route to the fighting in Aleppo.  All suggestions that Erdogan is preparing to ditch the rebels in Syria and to reconcile with President Assad is simply wishful thinking.

There are widespread fears that Erdogan’s plan is to create some sort of rebel “safe area” in north east Syria that the rebels can use as a launch pad to support their ongoing offensive against  Aleppo and that is what the advance on Jarablus is all about.

Again I have to say that I doubt this is true.  North east Syria is a bitterly contested area in which the dominant force is not the rebels but the YPG.  It does not look like a credible “safe zone” for the rebels or a credible launch area from which to launch attacks on Aleppo.  On the contrary an attempt to create a rebel “safe zone” in this area would antagonise the YPG, and would restore the alliance between the Syrian government and the YPG to full working order, leading to constant fighting in the area of the so-called “safe zone” between the Syrian rebels and the YPG.  That would surely defeat the whole purpose of the “safe zone”, rendering it unsafe and effectively worthless as a “safe zone”.  

Of course the Turkish military could try to garrison the area to defend whatever “safe zone” it created inside it.  That would however require an incursion into Syria that went far deeper than the one to Jarablus, and which would risk the Turkish army becoming bogged down in a lengthy guerrilla war on Syrian territory with the YPG.  I doubt Erdogan, the Turkish military or the US would want that.

I should say the US warning that it will shoot down aircraft that threaten US troops in the area also does not look to me like support for the setting up by Erdogan of a rebel “safe zone” in this area. 

Firstly the US warning is simply standard US practice where the US has troops on the ground, as it is known to have in this area.

Secondly the US troops in question were backing the YPG – the same group Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ is targeted against – which as I have said would be bitterly opposed to the setting up of a rebel “safe zone” in this area. 

A warning whose effect was to protect the YPG from air attack by the Syrian air force does not translate into a warning intended to back the setting up by the Turkish army of a rebel “safe zone” in an area against the strong opposition of the YPG.

Besides it is not obvious that the rebels actually need a “safe zone” in this area.   They already have a corridor to send men and supplies to Aleppo through Idlib province, which they already control.  Why add to the problems of setting up a “safe zone” much further away in north east Syria when the rebels already control territories so much closer to Aleppo?

Overall, seeing this Turkish incursion as somehow intended to influence the outcome of the battle of Aleppo looks misplaced.  There are sufficient reasons for it based on concerns about the danger to Turkey – real or imagined – posed by the YPG.  One should not look for more reasons for a move when the already apparent reasons are fully sufficient to explain it.

The US, Turkey and the Kurds

The US is the prime backer of the YPG.  It was US bombing that made the YPG’s capture of Manbij possible.  It was the US that probably encouraged the YPG to turn against the Syrian government in Al-Hasakah, and which may have encouraged the YPG to push on and try to create an autonomous role within Syria.

As I have said previously, this is very much in keeping with classic US “third force” strategies, used by the US in many wars of which this is just the latest example.

What is fascinating about this whole affair is how quickly the US has acted to dump the YPG. 

Given the choice between Turkey and the YPG, the US has unhesitatingly supported Turkey.  Not only are US aircraft providing support for the Turkish military in Operation “Euphrates Shield” but Vice-President Biden, on a fence-mending trip to Turkey, has publicly said that the YPG must withdraw to the eastern side of the Euphrates or risk losing US support.  This was it was all explained by a US official speaking to the Wall Street Journal

“We’ve put a lid on the Kurds moving north, or at least doing so if they want any support from us, which I think is a fairly significant piece of leverage.  So for the moment I think we’ve put a lid on the biggest concern that the Turks have, which I think gives us some breathing space to make sure this operation in Jarabulus [sic] is done the right way and that we and the Turks do it together.”

More remarkable still is that Biden is also reported to have backed Erdogan’s call for the preservation of Syria’s unity.  RT reports him saying at joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim

“No (Kurdish) corridor. Period. No separate entity on the Turkish border. A united Syria.”

This incidentally all but proves that despite tensions between Turkey and the US since the coup attempt, the two countries remain allies.  As I have said previously (see here and here) expectations of Turkey switching alliances, quitting NATO and driving the US out of Incirlik are wrong.

Summary

This crisis in north eastern Syria is a case study in the violence and chaos that flows from the contradictions of US policy in Syria.

The US officially brands Jabhat Al-Nusra a terrorist organisation but denies that the YPG is one.  Turkey – the US’s primary ally in this region – denies Jabhat Al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation but insists the YPG is one.

The US is prepared to defend the YPG if it is attacked by the Syrian military.  However it will not defend the YPG if it is attacked by the Turkish military.  On the contrary it will act to facilitate the Turkish military’s attack – as it is in fact doing.

The US backed the YPG when it attacked Manbij, which lies west of the Euphrates.  However it now insists that the YPG must withdraw back to the eastern side of the Euphrates – which means it must evacuate Manbij – or forfeit US support.

The US appears to have incited the YPG to attack the Syrian military in Al-Hasakah so that it could consolidate its control of the territories in which it operates and form an independent zone there.  Following protests from Turkey it now says the YPG cannot have an independent zone there under its control.

It is impossible to see any coherent strategy here.  Rather it looks as if CIA and military officials on the ground in Syria have been going their own way, encouraging the YPG to expand as fast as it can, heedless of the larger consequences. 

The political leadership in Washington, when it finally woke up to what was happening, then had to take disproportionate steps to bring the situation back under control. 

In the process two US “allies” – the Turkish military and the YPG – have practically come to blows with each other, and Turkey has suddenly discovered a commonality of interest with the Assad government in Damascus to block the setting up of an autonomous YPG controlled Kurdish region in north east Syria, probably sending the deputy head of its military intelligence service to Damascus to coordinate policy there.

It is this very lack of coherence in US policy which however is what is so dangerous about this whole situation. 

The US has pursued a policy in north eastern Syria that led it to give a warning of military action a few days ago.  However it is now clear that this policy was never properly thought through. 

To say that this is an irresponsible and reckless way of going about things in a conflict situation where the Russians are also involved is a gigantic understatement.  Yet there is no public debate or discussion about it either in Washington or in Western capitals.

If US policy is being made on the hoof in Syria in such a careless and irresponsible way then the danger of something going catastrophically wrong is hugely magnified.  Yet it is clear that that is precisely the situation we are looking at, and be it noted that this is before the hawkish Hillary Clinton has become US President.  It is impossible to look at this situation without being seriously worried.

  

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Fusion GPS founder trapped in legal jeopardy, bets on Democrat midterm win to bury Russiagate hoax (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 135.

Alex Christoforou

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Fusion GPS researcher Nellie Ohr and ex-FBI official James Baker are set to testify before Congress, but Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson is taking the Fifth.

The man at the center of the Russiagate hoax, Glenn Simpson, headed the espionage/PR smear firm Fusion GPS, which ordered the discredited and fake Trump ‘dossier’, which John McCain handed to the FBI, and which Buzzfeed News published as actual news.

Simpson has a lot of explaining to do, and now appears trapped in his “under oath” lies.

Simpson had previously testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that he never met with DOJ official Bruce Ohr, husband to Fusion GPS researcher Nellie Ohr.

Simpson also stated under oath that he never discussed with Bruce Ohr the Steele dossier prior to the October FISA application, which was used to spy on Carter Page and kick off the ‘Russiagate hoax’.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the legal jeopardy entangling Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson. Republicans are close to breaking the ‘Russiagate hoax’ wide open, but Simpson is betting on delay tactics, and a subsequent Democrat midterm House victory, to save his ass from prosecution, and bury his involvement in a brazen attempt to discredit and remove an elected US President.

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According to Zerohedge, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson may be in “real legal jeopardy” over inconsistent testimony given to Congress regarding his involvement in a massive counterintelligence effort against then-candidate Donald Trump, including the infamous Steele dossier.

Speaking with Fox News Maria Bartiromo, John Ratcliffe (R-TX) said…

“I’m not surprised that Glenn Simpson is taking the Fifth.”

“He probably should. He’s in real legal jeopardy. Very clearly someone is not telling the truth.”

Via The Daily Caller… 

Simpson, who investigated the Trump campaign on behalf of the DNC and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, informed Congress on Thursday that he will plead the Fifth to avoid speaking with members of the House Judiciary and House Oversight & Government Committee in an interview set for Tuesday.

“The reason for that … is that Glenn Simpson had previously testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that he never met with Bruce Ohr or discussed with Bruce Ohr the Steele dossier prior to the October FISA application in 2016 or the 2016 presidential election,” said Ratcliffe, a member of the House Judiciary panel.

Via Fox News ‘Sunday Morning Futures’

Via Zerohedge

Ohr told the Judiciary and Oversight & Government Reform Committees in an August 28 interview that he met with Simpson in August and December of 2016 to discuss Fusion GPS’s opposition research into Donald Trump.

Bruce’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was hired by Fusion GPS for the anti-Trump effort at the time.

Simpson, however, told a different story to the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017, when he said that he hadn’t been in contact with anyone from the DOJ or FBI until after the election. While he did acknowledge meeting with Bruce Ohr (meetings which would result in Ohr’s demotion), Simpson never disclosed his wife’s employment.

“Ohr, who has been demoted twice since December, was also in frequent contact with Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier. Steele, a former British spy, was hired by Fusion GPS in June 2016 to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible links to the Kremlin.

Steele met with the Ohrs on July 30, 2016, a day before the FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump team. Ohr met just after with FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe.” – Daily Caller

Following the 2016 election, Steel and Ohr met over a dozen times, despite the FBI having blacklisted Steele for improper media disclosures concerning his work.

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Hillary and Holder are hurting Democrat Party with their rhetoric

Democrat-written opinion piece points out the fact that the party has radicalized so much it has left its own supporters behind.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News ran an opinion piece written by Douglas E. Schoen early Sunday. It points out how radicalized the Democrat Party has become, and it is noteworthy because Douglas Schoen is a Democrat himself. He writes (emphasis added):

As Democrats campaign for the Nov. 6 midterm elections, they have plenty of legitimate criticisms to level at President Trump and Republicans who control the House and Senate. But Democrats were hurt in recent days by amazing and disgusting comments made by Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

As a Democrat, I want my party to win as many seats as possible in the House and Senate and to capture as many governorships and other state offices as it can. But the Clinton and Holder remarks do not advance that effort – they hurt it.

Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Clinton said Tuesday that “you cannot be civil with” the Republican Party because it “wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” She added that “if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”

But even worse than Clinton’s comments were those of Eric Holder, who said at a recent campaign event in Georgia that Democrats should abandon the advice of former first lady Michelle Obama, who said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that her party and mine should respond positively to negative attacks from the GOP.

Mrs. Obama said that “when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

Holder argued just the opposite, saying: “When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.” He later said he wasn’t advocating violence – not literal kicking.

I beg to differ with both Clinton and Holder.

The only way the Democrats can regain the majority in either or both houses of Congress is by being civil, and pointing out the differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issues.

This is the real issue that should govern elections. Rather than the politics of popularity, one needs to consider policy points and which side offers points that are actually achievable, believable, concrete, desirable and specific. Calling President Trump and his administration names does not offer any constructive dialogue on policy matters.

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Conservatives and Trump supporters know this and it is precisely because of this that Donald Trump won the White House.

While the mainstream media (and here we can include Fox News largely) tried every possible way to ridicule Donald Trump’s candidacy, the people that actually listened to what he had to say found him very impressive on policy as much as his ability to speak as the voice of the people. The recent hysteria around Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court was hysteria up front, driven by real policy fears from the deep core of liberals, as they know that this Justice is likely to form an effective wall against liberals ramming their agenda through the courts since their efforts fail legislatively so often.

Mr. Schoen continues:

As a centrist Democrat, the issue that strikes me most is the degree to which the national debt and the deficit are now out of control.

America faces uncertain and unstable times financially. Yet we are seeing a Republican-controlled Congress that has largely failed to do anything besides provide tax cuts for major corporations and the wealthiest individuals. This is by no means certain to have fundamentally altered the path of the economy or to provide economic growth.

Put another way, what the Trump administration has failed to do is to fix health care and cover pre-existing conditions more fundamentally; lead America in a fiscally responsible way; and pass tax cuts that help the average American. The Trump tax cuts have driven up the national debt and endangered funding for programs that benefit millions of people in our country.

So, here are policy points. Now we can begin to have a debate. Is Mr. Schoen right, or wrong in his information? This is far different than name-calling!

Democrats have long argued the need for a centrist agenda that focuses on:

  • Providing health-care benefits – whether private or public – to all Americans to cover expansively all pre-existing conditions.
  • Protecting the environment from the policies of the Trump administration that have only encouraged –and I dare say exacerbated – environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Promoting a pro-growth, inclusive agenda that seeks to put working people first, and the interests of Washington insiders and economic elites second. President Trump claims that he is doing this – he calls it “draining the swamp” – but this has not happened.

There is no justification for the angry rhetoric of Clinton and Holder, which only feeds into Republican claims that Democrats are an angry mob that can’t get over Clinton’s loss to Trump two years ago.

And Holder looks particularly bad because he was once the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, yet now sounds like he is effectively advocating what appears to be either illegal activities, or metaphorical initiatives that run counter to our traditions and our politics.

Hillary Clinton has said she won’t run for office again, but Holder has said he may run for president in 2020. Whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be needs to be a responsible and respectable opponent – not one who calls for kicking the GOP or for incivility.

We should have learned from the Senate confirmation hearing for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that resisting for the sake of resisting doesn’t work. In fact, Democratic attacks on Kavanaugh may well have backfired, recent polls show.

The Democratic Party itself is lost now, without a message, a direction, a strategy, or agenda to confront a Republican Party that is seen as in many ways as having let the American people down.

We need change – but it must be constructive change. This Democrat believes that the comments that Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton made are wrong, counterproductive, and deserve to be rejected by the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Perhaps Fox News ran this opinion piece because Douglas Schoen is the first rational Democrat contributor to say anything in some time. However, it also appears that Mr. Schoen is a minority in his own party. It is a greatly logical approach to argue policy, as he has and as anyone who really understands American government should. But it is unclear as to whether the bulk of the Democrat Party even has reasonable people remaining.

If they do, it may well be that they are being betrayed by their party’s increasingly leftist and radical positions. The Party apparatus seems focused, but it also seems to have left people like Mr. Schoen behind.

Who knows? Maybe that will bring them into the Trump camp.

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Patriarch Bartholomew lifts anathemas on schismatics in Ukraine (VIDEO)

Most of the Orthodox world is in strong opposition to this move by Patriarch Bartholomew, whose motivations seem not to be of Christ.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The biggest news in the Eastern Orthodox world in recent times occurred on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, lifted the anathemas against two schismatic Ukrainian Churches and their leaders, paving the way to the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian national Orthodox Church.

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This announcement was given in English and is shown here in video with the textual transcript following:

“Presided by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod convened for its regular session from October 9 to 11, 2018 in order to examine and discuss items on its agenda. The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length, the ecclesiastical mater of Ukraine in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishp Ilarion of Edmonon, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine, and following extensive deliberations decreed (emphasis added):

First, to renew the decision already made, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine;

Second, to re-establish at this moment the stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev—one of its many starvorpegion in Ukraine that existed there always;

Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church;

Fourth, to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through economia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the clergy-laity assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople;

Fifth, to appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties as well as every other act of violence and retaliation so that he peace and love of Christ may prevail.”

There are a few things that must be said about what this declaration is not before we get to the matter of what the points of actually are. The point of reference is the strict letter of the text above itself.

  • This is not a granting of autocephaly (full independent self-rule status) like the fourteen universally canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. However, it is a huge step towards this status.
  • As far as Constantinople is concerned, Filaret Denisenko, the leader and “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and Makary, the “Metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church”, and all their faithful are now restored to communion. The statement says that this applies to “The Church” which may be trying to state that these two men (and all the faithful that they lead), are now in communion with the entirety of canonical Orthodoxy, but more likely, this may be a carefully worded statement to say they now are in communion with Constantinople alone.
  • There is an official call for the cessation of the violence directed against the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and communities, who are the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and who are also the largest by far in that country. The Kyiv Patriarchate and Uniate (Roman oriented) Greek Catholics in Ukraine have gone on record for seizing MP church properties, often by force, with neo-Nazi sympathizers and other radical Ukrainian nationalists. So this official call to cease the violence is now a matter of public record.

However, the reaction has been far less civil than the clergy wished for.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “Expressing his view of the Moscow Patriarchate, Poroshenko added, “This is a great victory of the God-loving Ukrainian people over the Moscow demons, the victory of Good over Evil, the victory of Light over Darkness.”’

Perhaps this is the reason Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine (exarch under the Moscow Patriarchate) has been labeled an enemy of Ukraine and is now receiving death threats. Very civil.

Poroshenko’s statement is all the more bizarre, considering that it has been Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that have been violently attacking Moscow – related parishes in Ukraine. This has been corroborated by news sources eager to pin the blame on Russia, such as the U.K. Guardian.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists, based in Kiev and supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been under intense cyber attack since October 11th, when the EP’s announcement was issued.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary: “What happened at the Synod in Istanbul yesterday shocked the entire Orthodox world. It seems the Patriarchate of Constantinople is consciously embarking on a path of schism in world Orthodoxy. Patriarch Bartholomew ignored the calls of the Local Churches to convene a meeting of the primates to work out a common and conciliar solution to the Ukrainian Church issue and unilaterally made very serious but erroneous decisions. I hope the Orthodox world will give this action an objective evaluation… Having received the schismatics into communion, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make them canonical, but has himself embarked on the path of schism. The schismatics remain schismatics. They did not receive any autocephaly or tomos. It seems they have lost even that independence, although non-canonical, that they had and which they always emphasized.”

Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia:“The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia wrote two letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch, advocating that the provision of a new autocephaly is possible only with the consent of all local Orthodox Churches. According to Sedmitza.ru (Translation by Pravoslavie.ru),

“In these letters, it was very clearly stated that the granting of autocephaly cannot be the prerogative the Patriarchate of Constantinople alone, that new autocephalies must be created only with the consent of all the Local Orthodox Churches, as the Holy Synod of Antioch also said in its recent statement.”

Pat. Irinej also warned the Patriarchate of Constantinople against making such major decisions unilaterally, because “it will not bring harmony and peace to the Ukrainian land, but, on the contrary, will cause new divisions and new schisms.”

The Holy Synod of Antioch, the oldest Orthodox Church, and actually the very first place where the disciples of Christ were even called “Christians” weighed in on the issue as well and they had several things to say:

“The fathers examined the general Orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to a unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissensions and quarrels within the one Church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox world.

To summarize, this move by Constantinople is not being warmly received by many, many people. Most of the local Churches are on record giving their reaction to this process. In brief, here is the list most of the Local Churches and a one or two word summary of their reactions.

Patriarchate of Georgia: Unilateral action is wrong; Constantinople and Moscow must cooperate and find a solution together.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem: recognizes Ukraine as a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church alone, as do all other local Churches

Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa: The Church does not bow to politicians. Moscow-led church is the only canonical Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop of Cyprus: Decries the Ukrainian situation but offered to mediate a discussion between Moscow and Constantinople

Bulgarian Patriarchate: Interference of the State in Church affairs leads to serious and negative consequences for both.

Polish Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Sawa called for a council of Orthodox ruling hierarchs to discuss this situation.

Estonian Orthodox Church: Condemns Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

Greek Archdiocese of America: Supports Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church of Greece (Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus quoted): “Schismatics, as we know, are not the Church, and communion with them is forbidden by the Divine and holy canons and the Apostolic and Ecumenical Councils. Why then this persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing schismatics as an autocephalous Church? To provoke schisms and divisions in the one universal and Apostolic Church of Christ?”

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR): Ceased commemoration of Constantinople, ceased concelebration with Constantinople.

This issue has also rocked the secular geopolitical world.

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