Published: Wed May 22, 2013
As the civil war in Syria becomes more violent and pulls more of its neighbors into the conflict, international borders may begin to tear apart and need to be redrawn, according to regional expert Michael Gunter.
This summer, Gunter, a political science professor at Tennessee Tech University, will give at least five talks across Europe about the region and its various conflicts. The separate conflicts, however, should not blind national leaders and policymakers from seeing the larger themes and tensions currently being played out.
“In Syria, we are challenging the existing international boundaries in the Middle East,” Gunter said. “The boundaries in the Middle East were drawn by England and France after World War I to serve their oil interests. I think we could see a redrawing of international borders.”
Sectarian strife and competing demands for water and oil resources will be the theme of an hour-long session in London’s Parliament building with the British Foreign Office. Gunter will give a 10-minute presentation and answer questions from the nation’s international policymakers for the remainder of the hour.
“You could say Syria is a war of all against all, but it’s basically Sunni against Shiite,” Gunter said. “That is hidden somewhat by the names of the countries, but if you know who is in charge of each, you see it immediately.”
“Of course, there are other things going on and there are cases of Shiites backing the rebels and vice versa.”
As the region’s powers and other armed groups take a side, Gunter says the U.S. should stay out of the conflict, but back the United Nations’ efforts to set up a peace conference.
“The idea that we should put the American army there and solve all the problems is ridiculous,” he said. “Maybe we could, but we’d probably start a whole host of different problems.
“Every terrorist in the world is there and they would love to get a piece of the U.S. We would be handing it to them on a golden platter.”
Gunter’s other talks this summer will be more specific to his research interests: the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, questions surrounding the Turkish-Armenian conflict in the beginning of the 20th century.
Gunter’s travels will begin with a talk about the birth of modern Turkish and Armenian nationalism in a large conference about the Caucasus in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
After a bit of sightseeing around the Caucasus, which as a Caucasian, Gunter jokingly considers his homeland, he will travel to London to present his ideas about Syria to the Foreign Office and another at the London School of Economics about the ongoing peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurds.
The Kurds are an ethnic minority in the country that has historically wanted its own nation but now is beginning to change its demands to a wish for full rights in the burgeoning democracy. Gunter has written several books and dozens of articles about the Kurds in Turkey, and was the first – and possibly only – U.S. citizen to meet Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan is the president of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and was considered a terrorist for decades. He is now one of the leaders of the peace talks with the Turkish government.
In London, he will give a third talk, again about the Kurdish peace process at the Garden Court Chambers. The avid tennis fan also said he intends to do “whatever is necessary” to catch part of the opening of the Wimbledon Championships.
At another large conference at Oxford University about the Middle East, Gunter will give a talk, “The Colonial Heritage and the Kurds in Syria.”
One of TTU’s longest serving professors, Gunter has published 18 books and more than 150 articles. He was hired by former TTU president Everett Derryberry in 1972. He is the secretary-general of the European Union Turkey Civic Commission, a non-governmental organization working to facilitate Turkey’s acceptance into the EU, as a way to solve the Kurdish problem in that nation through further democratization.