Non-State Armed Actors in the Process of Civil War Expansion: Syrian Civil War, ISIS, YPG and their Effects on Turkey


The main argument of this paper is that conflicts easily diffuse to neighboring states and regions under specific conditions and by direct or indirect diffusion mechanisms. The diffusion of civil wars is, therefore, a multifactorial process which must be assessed in terms of its catalyzing conditions and its mechanisms of diffusion....

Prof. Dr. Emel PARLAR DAL
Marmara University

1. Introduction

The main argument of this paper is that conflicts easily diffuse to neighboring states and regions under specific conditions and by direct or indirect diffusion mechanisms. The diffusion of civil wars is, therefore, a multifactorial process which must be assessed in terms of its catalyzing conditions and its mechanisms of diffusion (Parlar Dal 2017). To that end, this paper asks the following research questions: 1) Under which conditioning factors and by which diffusion mechanisms has the Syrian civil war has spread to Turkey between 2011 and 2016 via ISIS and the YPG? 2) In which ways and under the influence of which driving conditions and mechanisms did ISIS and the YPG impact the contagiousness of the Syrian conflict in the Turkish case?
In responding to these research questions, this paper aims to accomplish the following tasks: 1) to fill the conceptual and empirical lacunae in the conflict studies literature with its comprehensive framework by linking the driving factors behind civil wars to their diffusion to neighboring regions and states. 2) to theoretically and empirically apply the concept of diffusion of conflict/civil war to the topic of “the Syrian civil war and Turkey.“ 3) to integrate ISIS and the YPG, as cases of VNSAs, into the comparative study of conflict diffusion.
2. Assessing the Causes and the Diffusion of Civil Conflict from A Theoretical Approach
The diffusion of civil conflicts into the neighboring and other countries and its impact may be best analyzed by the use of a two-layered framework consisting of the conditioning factors of diffusion and direct and indirect diffusion mechanisms. In the conflict studies literature the concept of diffusion signifies the spread of instability from one geographic area/region to another. The table 1 resumes the conceptual framework used in this paper. The conditioning factors first looks at the structural, political, economic-social and cultural/perceptional background of the diffusion and second, the diffusion mechanisms look at the direct and indirect channels of diffusion.

2.1. Conditioning Factors of Civil War

The conditioning factors of the diffusion of a civil war are structural, political, socio-economic and cultural. Structural factor with regards the Syrian civil war mainly refers to the preexisting weak state structure which makes the country open to foreign interventions by major and regional powers with differing interests. The growing intrastate security concerns among various nonstate armed groups in the country acting under fragile and volatile coalitions.

The rather peaceful relations between different ethnic groups in Syria deteriorated with the emergence of threat perceptions among these ethnic groups (Brown 1996, 16). Similarly, among the political factors, The current Syrian regime under the Bashar Al-Assad government generated significant resentment, especially in 2011 when the necessary democratic and political reforms were not been realized and the opposition was restricted. The policy of ethnic discrimination and national persecution against Sunni, Christian and Kurdish groups continued under the rule of Bashar al-Assad and helped fuel the the uprisings in late 2010. The Assad family’s undisputed power in Syria and its family members’ privileged positions in the main organs of the state, especially the military, can also be seen as a reflection of Syria’s long-lasting elitist policies. It can also be claimed that the dynamics of Syrian inter-group politics also made the Syrian conflict more likely given the incompatible objectives of the diverse ethnic and religious groups.

Political factors as conditioning factors leading to the Syrian civil war can be resumed under four categories: discriminatory political situations, exclusionary national ideologies, inter-group politics and elite politics. Excluded from the political participation processes, groups tied by strong ethnic or ideological bonds in particular may try to channel their demands by employing violent tactics and could easily trigger further violent actions.
Regarding the socio-economic factors leading to the civil war in Syria, it must first outline that since the Syrian economy depended on the agricultural sector to a great extent, the devastating drought and dust storms in Syria between 2006 and 2011 in the absence of advanced irrigation infrastructure not only caused a blow to the economy but also forced the population to leave the countryside in large numbers and move to urban centers (Polk 2013). The termination of state-sponsored food subsidies negatively impacted society and constituted further sources of grievances (Tomass 2016, 165). The oil sector in Syria was also in decline with falling numbers of produced barrels, an important part of which were consumed for energy and industry in the country.
Cultural/perceptional factors

With regards to the cultural/perceptional factors, it was a common belief among the Syrian society that the Alawites had easier access to top political positions. Many different ethnic groups, most notably the Kurds and Yezidis, have historically been subject to Arabization policies of the Baath party in Syria.

Link to the related book: New Security Ecosystem and Multilateral Cost
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