It is not something new for a state to build a wall for defending itself from enemies. In XIV, the Chinese built a great wall from the Yin Mountains in Inner Mongolia to the Yellow Sea.
In Europe, the first great wall was built by the Romans. Their Limes ran from Britain to the Arabian Peninsula. It was not as great as the Great Wall of China but it was also very long. Trajan’s Wall in Odessa, Ukraine, is just part of it.
Such walls were good defense from disorganized robbers but once the professional armies of Vandals, Alans and Goths crossed the Limes, it took them just four years to ruin the Roman Empire. In 1211, Genghis Khan’s professionals crossed the Great Wall of China and just 23 years later the Jin Empire was in ruins.
The tradition to build walls was revived in XX - La Ligne Maginot, Stalinline, Atlantikwall and Mannerheim-linja. None of them has survived but the idea is still alive.
Today, walls are being built not against armies but against migrants and smugglers and they symbolize a state’s awareness of some threat and readiness to confront it.
The first such wall was built in Korea in 1953. The 241 km long Korean wall is no match to ancient walls but it has effectively divided Koreas for more than half a century. Egypt began building a similar war in 1979 with a view to protect itself from the Gaza Strip.
For the moment, as many as 17 countries in Asia (including Russia), 3 countries in Africa and 14 countries in Europe are building or are planning to build walls. One of the first initiatives of Donald Trump as U.S. president was to build a wall along the border with Mexico and it was welcomed.
One of the most cynical projects was the wall built by the “white” government of South Africa in 1975. In order to protect themselves from the “black” revolution in Mozambique, they built a 3,300-volt electrified fence along the border of the Kruger National Park. Officially, it was supposed to protect the park but in reality that “Snake of Fire” killed as many as 200 people a year. In 1990, New Scientist reported that in three years, that wall caused more deaths than the Berlin Wall did in its entire history.
In Europe, there are two reasons for building walls – migrants and Russia. For the moment, anti-migrant walls are being built on the borders of Greece and Turkey, Austria and Slovenia, Bulgaria and Turkey, Hungary and Serbia. With Turkey regulating migrant flows, they are quite effective but if the Turks decide to cancel their agreement with the EU, they may prove to be not enough and we can see more fences built all over Europe. France and the UK have already built one in Calais.
The anti-Russian walls in Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine are symbols of fear but in Ukraine, they are also a good business. None of them is strong enough to prevent military invasions. Recently, I received a demotivational poster from Latvia, which says that if the Latvians build a wall on their border with Russia, it will stop the Russians for … just 30 seconds: they will just stop to laugh at it.
Any symbol is also a message. Presently, the Turks are building a wall on their border with Syria. They decided to do it after the terrorist attack in Curuk in July 2015. That incident killed both Turks and Kurds. The Turks qualified it as an ISIL attack but the Turkish Kurds did not believed them and “in revenge” killed two Turkish policemen in Ceylanpinar.
The Turks are very quick – the wall is to be ready in in Apr-May 2017. And it is not just a wall but two three-meter high and 911-kilometer long concrete lines with watchtowers, a belt road, barbed wire, command posts, drones and armored vehicles. The Turks have spent almost 2 billion TRY or $540 million on this project.
And the wall is already working: in 2016, there were just 73 attempts by smugglers to cross the border against 2,044 episodes in 2015.
But defense from smuggling is not the only purpose of this wall.
When the Turks started to build it, Bashar al-Assad’s fall seemed to be near. So, the Turks’ purpose was to protect their country from ISIL – for to be a secret base for ISIL fighters and to have them on its territory on a constant basis are two different stories. On the other hand, ISIL fighters may join the migrant flows going to Europe and the Turks may well “organize” those flows, at least, for making it known to the Dutch what may happen if you use dogs against sublime Ottomans.
The Turkish Kurds believe that the wall is aimed against them. And this may be true as over the last years, lots of Syrian Kurds have crossed the Turkish border. The east of Turkey is home to millions of Kurds but it is also the source of 62% of all water power in Turkey. So, the Turks have grounds for being worried and building walls.
With Assad is still in power, Erdogan is recruiting moderate Syrian oppositionists against him. He is not going to keep them in his own territory and is creating some safety zone in the province of Aleppo. There he is building “refugee camps” which are de facto military-field camps. Some experts already compare the north of Syria with Northern Cyprus. So, it seems that Erdogan is getting ready for a war for the Syrian legacy.
Strategically, he is absolutely right. But will he be efficient? Recently, I asked my Kurdish friends if there are contraband tunnels crossing the Syrian-Turkish border – like the tunnels used by the Egyptians for supplying arms to the Palestinians or the tunnels used by the Ukrainians for smuggling cigarettes to Slovakia. They smiled and said, “And what do you think?”
Andrey Ganzha, specially for EADaily