Month: February 2016

Is the ‘Deep State’ using Erdogan to take revenge against its enemies?

Deep State

The deep state (or state within a state) is believed to be a secret network of military officers and their civilian allies who for decades suppressed and even murdered perceived opponents of Turkey’s secular order.  It allegedly functioned as a kind of shadow government, spreading false propaganda to whip up public fear and destabilising civilian governments through bombing campaigns and even assassinations (events which have again become common place in Turkey today).   Amongst other nefarious activities, the deep state is believed to have orchestrated the death of Prime Minister Adnan Mendres in 1960 and brought down the government of Necmettin Erbakan in the 1990s – both of whom they suspected of having Islamist leanings and therefore perceiving them as a threat.

The deep state’s foundations are believed to have been laid in the 1940s when the CIA trained Turkish soldiers and civilians in the event of a possible Soviet invasion. These groups, known as ‘Gladios‘, received military as well as intelligence training.  They also learnt how to hide weapons around the country which they could later retrieve and use.  Ergenekon, another group allegedly linked to the deep state, was exposed as a result of clandestine activities.

Initially, Erdogan and his allies were against the deep state and managed to initiate the ‘Ergenekon trials‘ and put hundreds of people involved behind bars.   But since 2013, when the AK Party was subject of a major corruption scandal, Erdogan made an alliance with members of the deep state, perhaps seeing them as allies, and freed every single one of their members who was imprisoned during the Ergenekon trials.  It is now believed they are both working closely together – Erdogan needs them to stay in power and crush his ever growing list of enemies and the deep state needs Erdogan to take revenge against those who they believe exposed and helped convict them.

Over the past 2 and half years, Erdogan has been arresting and suppressing journalists, lawyers and civil liberty campaigners based on zero or very flimsy evidence – this has now extended to any public figure or body that doesn’t support him.  He has also been busy taking over media channels so the Turkish public only sees and hears state sanctioned news.  But it’s the deep state which will be having the last laugh.  Once they’ve used Erdogan to eliminate their opponents and do their dirty work they will most likely turn against him – but for now the unholy alliance continues.

Has Erdogan’s ‘Reckless Policy’ Brought Turkey to the Brink of Civil War?

This is a cross-post from Sputnik International.

Riot police use a water cannon to disperse stone throwing Kurdish demonstrators during a protest against the curfew in Sur district, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey, December 22, 2015

Southeastern regions of Turkey are ravaged by a de facto civil war between government forces and Kurdish militants; this conflict could well spill into other Turkish provinces due to growing social unrest in the country, political analyst Andrey Areshev of the Strategic Culture Foundation asserted.

The standoff between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has further deepened following a deadly attack in the Turkish capital, which claimed the lives of 29 people on February 17.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pinned the blame for the suicide bombing on the Syrian Kurds, although Turkey-based Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility. For their part, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has denied any links to the assault.
Turkish police secure the site of an explosion after an attack targeted a convoy of military service vehicles in Ankara on February 17, 2016

Turkish police secure the site of an explosion after an attack targeted a convoy of military service vehicles in Ankara on February 17, 2016

The YPG might seem like the first choice for Ankara, but, according to the expert, there are other forces, which could benefit from destabilizing the country. Those are the ones, who want to discredit the Kurds or wish to change the parliamentary system of government to a presidential one, he suggested.

“Reckless policies of the Turkish leadership, which supports various terrorist organizations,” have contributed to “the Turkish society becoming more radicalized,” Areshev told Gazeta.ru. “In this context, it is not inconceivable that terrorist groups, formally and ideologically affiliated with Daesh, could be linked to the [recent] terrorist acts.”
Furthermore, the Turkish Kurds are not the only ones who oppose Erdogan’s policy in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, he added. Yet, Ankara has focused on blaming the Kurds for its most recent tragedy.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters view the Kurds, living in Turkey and elsewhere, as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity and stability. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Washington views Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria as one of its key allies in fighting Daesh.

“Ankara could consider Washington’s desire to protect the Syrian Kurds as a sign that the Kurds would eventually receive their own state,” the media outlet observed. This political entity “would allow the United States to create a new area of tensions that would contain Iraq, Iran and Turkey.”

It’s Time to Kick Erdogan’s Turkey Out of NATO

Hundreds arrested

This is a cross-post from the World Post.

It has always been a matter of historical curiosity that one of the American diplomats who was deeply involved in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was named Achilles. As the head of the State Department’s Office of Western European Affairs after World War II and the eventual U.S. Vice Deputy of the North Atlantic Council, Theodore Achilles played a lead role in drafting the treaty that was designed to deter an expansionist Soviet Union from engaging in an armed attack on Western Europe. With 11 European nations joining the U.S. as founding members in 1949, the alliance quickly grew to include two other countries – Greece and Turkey – by 1952 and today encompasses 28 members.

It’s a reflection of how difficult it was to imagine that any member of the organization would betray the rest of the alliance that to this day, NATO has no formal mechanism to remove a member in bad standing or to even define what would constitute “bad standing.” Yet, nearly three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO members still make the same solemn vow to one another, known asArticle 5, that they made in 1949: that an attack against any member state will be considered an attack against all member states, and will draw an immediate and mutual response. For nearly seven decades, this combination of factors has been the potential Achilles heel of NATO: that one day, its members would be called to defend the actions of a rogue member who no longer shares the values of the alliance but whose behavior puts its “allies” in danger while creating a nightmare scenario for the global order.

After 67 years, that day has arrived: Turkey, which for half a century was a stalwart ally in the Middle East while proving that a Muslim-majority nation could be both secular and democratic, has moved so far away from its NATO allies that it is widely acknowledged to be defiantly supporting the Islamic State in Syria in its war against the West. Since Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003, Turkey has taken a harshly authoritarian turn, embracing Islamic terrorists of every stripe while picking fights it can’t finish across the region – including an escalating war with 25 million ISIS-battling Kurds and a cold war turning hot with Russia, whose plane it rashly shot down in November. With those fights coming home to roost – as bombs explode in its cities and with enemies at its borders – Turkish leaders are now demanding unconditional NATO support, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declaring on Saturday that he expects “our U.S. ally to support Turkey with no ifs or buts.”

But it’s too little, too late. NATO shouldn’t come to Turkey’s defense – instead, it should begin proceedings immediately to determine if the lengthy and growing list of Turkish transgressions against the West, including its support for Islamic terrorists, have merit. And if they do – and they most certainly do – the Alliance’s supreme decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, should formally oust Turkey from NATO for good before its belligerence and continual aggression drags the international community into World War III.

This is an action that is long overdue. As I argued five years ago, “Erdogan, who is Islamist to the core, who once famously declared that “the mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers”–seems to see himself as the Islamic leader of a post-Arab-Spring Muslim world.” He has spent the past 13 years dismantling every part of Turkish society that made it secular and democratic, remodeling the country, as Caroline Glick of the Center for Security Policy once wrote, “into a hybrid of Putinist autocracy and Iranian theocracy.” Last fall, he even went so far as to praise the executive powers once granted to Adolph Hitler.

Under Erdogan’s leadership, our NATO ally has arrested more journalists than China, jailed thousands of students for the crime of free speech, and replacedsecular schools with Islamic-focused madrassas. He has publicly flaunted his support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood while accusing long-time ally Israel of “crimes against humanity,” violated an arms ban to Gaza, bought an air defense system (and nearly missiles) from the Chinese in defiance of NATO, and deniedAmerica the use of its own air base to conduct strikes during the Iraqi War and later against Islamic terrorists in Syria. As Western allies fought to help repel Islamic State fighters in the town of Kobani in Western Syria two years ago, Turkish tanks sat quietly just across the border.

In fact, there is strong evidence (compiled by Columbia University) that Turkey has been “tacitly fueling the ISIS war machine.” There is evidence to show that Turkey, as Near East Outlook recently put it, allowed “jihadists from around the world to swarm into Syria by crossing through Turkey’s territory;” that Turkey, as journalist Ted Galen Carpenter writes, “has allowed ISIS to ship oil from northern Syria into Turkey for sale on the global market;” that Erdogan’s own son has collaborated with ISIS to sell that oil, which is “the lifeblood of the death-dealing Islamic State”; and that supply trucks have been allowed to pass freely across Turkey in route to ISIS fighters. There is also “evidence of more direct assistance,” as Forbes puts it, “providing equipment, passports, training, medical care, and perhaps more to Islamic radicals;” and that Erdogan’s government, according to a former U.S. Ambassador, worked directly with the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusrah Front.

While Ankara pretends to take military action against ISIS, with its obsessive view of the Kurds, it has engaged in a relentless series of artillery strikes against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that are routing ISIS troops in northern Syria. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group on earth without a homeland – 25 million Sunni Muslims who live at the combined corners where Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey meet. Turkey has waged a bloody, three-decade civil war against its 14 million Kurds – known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK – claiming more than 40,000 lives. The most recent peace process failed when Turkey again targeted the PKK, plunging the southeast of the country back into war while increasingly worrying Erdogan that Syrian and Turkish Kurds will join forces just across Turkey’s border.

The Kurds, like the Turks, are sometimes seen through the lens of who they used to be, and not who they are now. In 1997, Turkey convinced the U.S. to put the PKK on its list of terrorist organizations, and Erdogan claims Syria’s Kurds are guilty by association. But in fact, the YPG has worked so closely with the U.S. against Islamic terrorists that the Washington Post recently referred to its members as “U.S. proxy forces.” The Kurds – whether in Syria, Iraq, or Turkey – are, by all accounts, the fiercest and most courageous fighters on the ground in the war against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. What’s more, the group represents a powerful alternative to the apocalyptic vision of Islamic jihadists, embodying what has beendescribed as “a level of gender equality, a respect for secularism and minorities, and a modern, moderate, and ecumenical conception of Islam that are, to say the least, rare in the region.”

The Turkish government has tried to lay blame for recent bombings in Ankara at the feet of the YPG in an attempt to sway the U.S. to oppose the Kurds. An exasperated Erdogan railed about the loyalties of the West, accused the U.S. of creating a “sea of blood” in the region by supporting the Kurds, and issued an ultimatum: he demanded that the time had come for America to choose between Turkey and the Kurds.

I couldn’t agree more: the time has come for the U.S. to choose the Kurds over Erdogan’s Turkey.

Critics argue that the Kurds are unwilling to take the fight to ISIS beyond their borders, but this actually presents the U.S. with an opportunity. In exchange for fighting ISIS throughout the region, an international coalition can offer the Kurds their own state. A Kurdish state would become a critical regional ally for the US and play an invaluable role in filling the power vacuum that has emerged in the Middle East. With the help of the U.S., a Kurdish state could also help to accommodate Syrian refugees that have overwhelmed immigration systems in Turkey and Europe. In the long term, it would serve as a valuable regional partner to stabilize the region, and it would set a strong example of successful democracy. In other words, Kurdistan could play the role that Turkey used to play.

It’s been said that the difference between being Achilles and almost being Achilles is the difference between living and dying. NATO can do without an Achilles heel: It’s time to kick Turkey out for good.

Erdogan’s Foreign Policy Is in Ruins

Erdogan foriegn policy

This is a cross-post from the Financial Times.

Turkey’s moment had arrived. But it wouldn’t last long: Davutoglu’s hoped-for “new order” was dealt a setback when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government was overthrown by a combination of public protests and the army, and Erdogan’s relations with the new military-led regime disintegrated rapidly. But it was in Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s regime stubbornly persisted in the face of an insurgency that Turkey helped support, where Turkish foreign-policy objectives were ultimately upended.

How Syria changed everything

Before the 2011 uprising, Syria had been the ultimate successful example of Turkey’s “zero problems” foreign policy. Soon after the AKP’s rise to power, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and Erdogan established a close working and even personal relationship. This was a remarkable turnabout, considering that in 1998, Turkey threatened Syria militarily due to its support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which was then waging an insurgency against the Turkish state. Erdogan helped launch indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria, and went on to support the Baathist regime against a U.N. effort, led by the United States and France, to pressure Syrian troops to leave Lebanon.

When the peaceful protests started in Syria, Erdogan at first maneuvered to prevent Assad from succumbing to the same fate as the Egyptian and Tunisian leaders. He counseled Assad to introduce reforms — in fact, he reportedly suggested that these did not have to be very profound — but to no avail.

As Assad gave a free rein to his military to crush the protests, Erdogan turned on his former ally and friend.

A number of factors contributed to Erdogan’s decision: anger that Assad would not heed his counsel, the common perception that Assad would not survive anyway, the belief that he could shape the new Syria, and finally the dramatic escalation of violence during the holy month of Ramadan in 2011 on what Erdogan saw as Sunni protestors. He called for Assad’s removal and publicly proclaimed that the Syrian dictator had only months left in power. Soon, he said in September 2012, “we will be going to Damascus and pray freely with our brothers at the Ummayad Mosque.”

Assad, however, would not fall so easily. The divergence between Erdogan’s wishes to see Assad replaced by a friendly Sunni-based alliance and the reality of the Syrian dictator’s stubborn hold on power frustrated the Turkish leader and pushed him toward a go-it-alone policy. Deep splits started to emerge with the United States, as Erdogan expressed disappointment in Obama’s unwillingness to enter the fray despite massive civilian casualties at the hand of regime forces.

Erdogan’s break with Assad also heralded the beginning of a sectarian Sunni policy that became more pronounced as the Syrian regime endured. Turkey’s policy of encouraging foreign fighters to flow across its border into northern Syria has also helped radicalize the opposition and has raised tensions with Ankara’s U.S. and European partners. The Turkish government knew that many of these foreign fighters would join jihadi militias, such as the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, but allowed them to do so because the homegrown “moderate” rebels had proved unsuccessful in bringing about the demise of the Assad regime. Jihadi fighters, some of whom were battle-hardened and more willing to die for the cause, would presumably complete the task that other Syrian rebels could not.

The unintended consequences of tens of thousands of foreign fighters converging on Syria soon became apparent. Many of the foreign fighters gravitated toward the Islamic State, helping it become the power it is today. In May 2013, during a visit to Washington, Obama urged Erdogan to stop supporting jihadi elements, specifically al-Nusra Front, and prevent their access through the Turkish border. But by then, a jihadi infrastructure within Turkey had materialized that bedevils Turkish security officials to this day.

The prime beneficiary of the loose border controls has been the Islamic State. The infrastructure in Turkey that developed to support the jihadis would ultimately be used to strike against Turkish towns, starting with Diyarbakir, Suruc, Ankara, and lastly Istanbul. The first three bombings targeted Kurds and leftists, leaving more than 135 dead, and the last attack in Istanbul’s tourism district killed 11 German tourists. The Islamic State has also executed its Syrian opponents inside Turkey with impunity and set up exchanges for Syrians and others to ransom their loved ones held by the Islamic State on Turkish soil.

The Kurdish Question

The empowerment of the Syrian Kurds has been the most important consequence of Syria’s spiral into chaos. Disenfranchised and repressed by successive Syrian regimes, the Kurds were able to take advantage of the country’s fracturing to lay claim to territory where they constituted a majority. They soon found a powerful ally in the United States: When the Islamic State advanced on the Kurdish-held town of Kobani in October 2014, the U.S. Air Force pounded the jihadi group, launching an extraordinary and successful relationship that has proved to be the most successful effort at dislodging the Islamic State from territory it has conquered.

But this deepening alliance came at the expense of the Turkish government. The dominant Syrian Kurdish movement, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), is a close ally if not a subsidiary organization of the PKK, which trained and nurtured it, making it into a formidable fighting force. Washington has made it clear that it distinguishes between the PKK and the PYD, despite the umbilical relationship between these two organizations. From a legal perspective, while the PKK is on the U.S. terrorism list, the PYD is not — and has been the recipient of American military support in its war against the Islamic State. As the United States has deepened its relationship with the PYD, Washington’s only concession to Ankara has been to give in to Turkish ultimatums not to invite the PYD to participate in recent Syria peace talks in Geneva.

In retrospect, the Syrian Kurds’ victory in Kobani proved to be the deathblow for Turkey’s domestic peace process with its Kurdish population. At the time, Erdogan was harshly critical of the American intervention in Kobani as he and his party perceive the PYD to be a greater scourge than the Islamic State. In February 2015, he repudiated the agreement his lieutenants had negotiated with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party and the PKK. New documents suggest that the breaking point was his fear that Syrian Kurds would duplicate the Iraqi Kurdish experiment of creating an autonomous region on Turkey’s southern border.

By last summer, the war by and against the PKK at home had resumed with a vengeance. Since the June 7 election, some 256 security personnel have been killed; the casualties on the side of the PKK, while harder to pin down, have also been high. The destruction in Kurdish towns such as Silopi, Cizre, and the Sur district of Diyarbakir, where Turkish tanks have fired on homes and the youth wing of the PKK has decided to put up stiff resistance, has also been devastating.

Erdogan correctly understood that the Kobani siege represented a possible turning point for the Kurds’ fortunes in the region.

He had two choices, co-optation or suppression. He chose the latter.

Even as the Kurds undermined Erdogan’s domestic and international position, the Turkish president found his hands tied even further in Syria by the Russian intervention on behalf of Assad. In a careless move, Turkish fighters in November 2015 shot down a Russian bomber that had briefly intruded into Turkish airspace, an action that triggered a rash of costly economic, political, and military actions in retaliation by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Erdogan had misjudged Putin: The shoot-down was born in the frustrations emanating from his failures in Syria and from watching the Russians and Iranians succeed in bolstering the much-battered Syrian army against Turkey’s allies in the country.

The ripple effects from Syria have put Turkey at odds with Iran. From the beginning of the Syrian conflict until the end of 2015, when the Russians intervened directly and the role of Iran’s Quds Force became more obvious, Turkey and Iran had agreed to disagree on this issue. The extensive business ties between Erdogan’s government, including large-scale gold sales, Turkey’s dependence on Iranian gas, and Iran’s need for the foreign exchange revenues created by these exports have helped the two countries avoid a public shouting match. This is in the process of changing because the confluence of forces on the ground has turned the tide in favor of Assad.

Erdogan has not given up on his dream of Turkish influence in the region. Ankara recently announced that Turkey would open up a naval base in Qatarand set up training facilities in Somalia. When convenient, the Turkish president also has proved capable of altering his policies at a moment’s notice — most recently by warming relations with Israel. A rapprochement with Jerusalem opens the lucrative possibility of constructing gas pipelines from the eastern Mediterranean fields through Cyprus to Turkey.

What’s next for Erdogan

Erdogan faces three interlinked challenges. He is relentlessly pursuing a constitutional change that would allow him to centralize executive powers in the presidency, allowing him to run the country unconstrained by its institutions; the escalating conflict with the Kurds threatens to lead to their complete break with the Turkish state; and the deterioration of the Syrian situation promises not only to exacerbate the Kurdish conflict at home but also weaken relations with the United States, as Washington strengthens its ties with the Syrian Kurds.

Erdogan may well get his way on some of these issues — particularly the creation of a presidential system — but the price will be even greater divisions within Turkish society, and between Turkey and its traditional allies. Erdogan is confident that his approach toward the Kurds is succeeding and is banking on the disillusionment of some in the Kurdish community, especially the more pious elements, to turn on the PKK. In the meantime, however, the suffering in Kurdish-majority cities is likely to have an indelible impact on the Kurdish community. Changing international conditions, primarily in Iraq and Syria, suggest that a military victory now may turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.

As for Syria, there is clearly a major divergence in priorities between Turkey and the United States and Europe. For Turkey’s Western partners, the No. 1 priority is to defeat the Islamic State — whereas in Ankara, the overthrow of the Assad regime and the prevention of a Kurdish autonomous region in Syria are the overriding concerns. The continuation of the Kurdish strife at home will further push Ankara away from its allies on Syria.

The crux of the matter is this: Turkish foreign policy is no longer about Turkey but about Erdogan. Floundering at home and abroad, the Turkish president has embarked on an illiberal course at home undermining what are admittedly flawed institutions and reconstituting them in his image. His omnipresence and unchallenged position mean that foreign policy is the product of his worldview, whims, and preferences. There is no one who can challenge him. The systematic approach of the early years has given way to indulgence; this more than anything explains the ups and downs of Turkish foreign policy.

 

 

 

Bilal Erdogan: Italy names Turkish president’s son in money laundering investigation allegedly connected to political corruption

Bilal Erdogan

This is a cross-post from the Independent.

A son of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under investigation in Italy for money laundering, in connection, it has been claimed, with the 2013 corruption scandal that rocked the Turkish political establishment.

The Bologna public prosecutor has opened a file on Bilal Erdogan, 35, after a key opponent of the Turkish regime officially denounced the president’s son, alleging he brought in large amounts of money to Italy last September to be recycled. The claim was made by the political dissident and Turkish businessman Murat Hakan Uzan, whose brother Cem Uzan founded Turkey’s Youth Party.

The Italian Manuela Cavallo is investigating claims that the money may relate to the massive political corruption scandal involving Turkey’s ruling AKP party. Bilal Erdogan has said he is in Italy with his wife and children purely to resume his PhD studies at the Bologna campus of America’s Johns Hopkins University, which he began in 2007.

In 2013 his name surfaced in the massive graft scandal that hit the AKP and senior Turkish government officials. Turkish prosecutors said it involved an alleged money laundering scheme designed to bypass United States-led sanctions on Iran. They ordered the arrest of 52 people in December 2013 and went on to accuse 14 people – including several family members of cabinet ministers – of bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering and gold smuggling.

The whistleblowers who tipped off the police claimed that the son of the then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan was next in line for questioning.

The subsequent release on YouTube of audio recordings in which President Erdogan was allegedly heard telling his son to urgently get rid of tens of millions of dollars ignited a political firestorm. Mr Erdogan has claimed the recordings were falsified but some experts have contradicted this. Both the Erdogans have denied any wrongdoing regarding the 2013 scandal.

President Erdogan even claimed that a coup attempt was under way and reacted to the accusations by dismissing police officers, prosecutors and judges.

In the complaint filed this week with the Bologna prosecutor by Mr Uzan’s lawyer, Massimiliano Annetta, it is claimed that €1bn (£779m) is still unaccounted for as a result of the corruption, according to reports.

Mr Uzan, who is currently in exile in France, also quoted anti-Erdogan dissidents as claiming that the president’s son flew to Italy in September with a large sum of money as part of a “getaway operation”. Last October, soon after Bilal Erdogan’s arrival in Bologna, the anonymous Turkish whistleblower known in the media as Fuat Avni, who has been a thorn in the side of the Erdogan government, claimed on Twitter that Bilal went to Italy with large amounts of cash, saying: “They [the Erdogan family] are planning to keep Bilal in Italy until the [November] election. They will determine whether he will be coming back according to the situation after the election.”

According to the news agency Ansa, Ms Cavallo is also investigating claims that Bilal arrived in Bologna with an attachment of armed bodyguards who initially were not allowed into the country, until within a matter of hours they were issued with Turkish diplomatic passports.

Giovanni Trombini, a Bologna-based lawyer representing Bilal, acknowledged that a criminal investigation involving his client had been opened but told The Independent that he was not prepared to comment until the exact nature of the accusations against his client were clear. The Bologna prosecutor was not available for comment.

The Sultan and the Tsar

This is cross post from the mail online.

The Sultan and the Tsar: Will the imperial ambitions of Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan spark a new World War, asks historian MICHAEL BURLEIGH

There is no end in sight to the disaster unfolding in the vast refugee camps of Jordan and Turkey, among the 60,000 terrified civilians massing on the Syrian border and on Europe’s corpse-strewn Aegean shoreline.

Far from it. Last week, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad promised to wage war until he had regained every inch of the country. Few believe that plans for an American-backed peace deal can hold. Early indications suggest that the migrant crisis in Europe will be many times worse this year than last.

Entire towns have been laid waste during Syria’s five-year civil war. Up to half a million people on all sides have been killed. Millions are either internally displaced, or worse, languishing in desperate foreign holding centres.

Syria is now the battleground for a proxy war between two regional powers, Russia or Turkey, or more particularly between their ego-fuelled presidents: Recep Erdogan (R) and Vladimir Putin (L)

But all this cannot be blamed only on the murderous advance of Islamic State, Assad’s brutality, or the rebels who wish to depose him. Syria is now the battleground for a proxy war between two regional powers, Russia and Turkey, or more particularly between their ego-fuelled presidents: Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. Or, if you like, between the Sultan and the Tsar.

These two men, driven by their own imperial ambitions, have no intention of seeking peace in Syria, except on their own terms. It is already an international conflict sucking in fighters from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Chechnya and Pakistan, plus Shia from Iraq and Lebanon, and now it threatens to drag in Nato. It is no exaggeration to say the conflict has the potential to become a Third World War.

So it is that the refugees have become a weapon in their own right – a crisis the combatants are relentlessly fuelling in the hope of coercing Western governments into supporting one side or the other.

 

For its part, Turkey feels it is fighting a battle of survival. It wants to prevent the Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq from joining with its own Kurdish population to create their own state – which would mean the dismemberment of Turkey.

But Erdogan is also keen to see the removal of Assad, with whom Turkey has major complaints about water resources. So Turkey has allowed foreign jihadis (including from Britain) to cross into Syria to fight with the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and IS.

Erdogan has 10,000 troops trying to suppress a Kurdish insurgency led by the Marxist PKK (supported by Assad) in eastern Turkey, which is next to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The Turks also want to protect 100,000 ethnic Turkmen in Syria who are also opposed to Assad.

The refugees have become a weapon in their own right ¿ a crisis the combatants are relentlessly fuelling in the hope of coercing Western governments into supporting one side or the other

The refugees have become a weapon in their own right – a crisis the combatants are relentlessly fuelling in the hope of coercing Western governments into supporting one side or the other

It is no mere coincidence that Erdogan is a pious Sunni Muslim, while Assad belongs to the Shia Alawite sect.

Russia meanwhile is determined to protect its influence in the region, including access to the Mediterranean naval base of Tartus. So, along with Iran, Putin is directing Assad’s war with airstrikes, which have mainly targeted the so-called ‘moderate’ rebels backed by the West.

The conflict is already dangerously international. The wily Major General Qassem Suleimani, leading Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, has thousands of Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon under his control; as many as 20,000 Afghan Hazara refugees, paid $750 a month, with the promise of naturalization in Iran; Pakistani Shia volunteers; and last but not least Iraqi Shia militias.

As for the Russians, they’ve recruited 400 Cubans to man their latest tanks, including the T-90, which has explosive plates on the hull that detonate incoming anti-tank missiles.

The Syrian war has become like the Spanish civil war of 1936-39 by pulling in committed fighters from abroad. Foreign jihadis are a kind of international brigade for IS and Nusra, while the large numbers of indigenous Islamist rebels are funded from the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia’s brash new defence minister, deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, last week airily promised to send troops to fight IS, though Hizbollah would make mincemeat of them. The Saudis might try to reverse Assad’s advances by giving the rebels more and better weapons, but ManPad shoulder-launched missiles might then down Russian planes.

Erdogan is keen to see the removal of Assad while Russia is determined to protect its influence in the regionErdogan is keen to see the removal of Assad while Russia is determined to protect its influence in the region

Erdogan is keen to see the removal of Assad while Russia is determined to protect its influence in the region

And the weaponry is frightening. On Putin’s 63rd birthday, 26 Russian cruise missiles flew nearly a thousand miles from corvettes in the Caspian Sea over Iran to hit Syrian targets. Russia has deployed its latest anti-aircraft missile systems (the S-400) and trialed its latest Su 35 ‘Flanker’ combat fighters as well as older Bear and Blackjack strategic bombers.

All of these planes use ‘dumb’ bombs, including cluster munitions, causing many civilian casualties. The conflict works as a sort of live arms fair for Russia while also dividing the West’s allies.

Most leaders in the region are rushing to pay court in Moscow: Iran’s Rouhani; the Saudis; Israel’s Netanyahu; Egypt’s el-Sisi and King Abdullah II of Jordan included.

They need arms or nuclear energy deals with Russia, or just to ensure the Russian or Syrian airforce does not encroach on their airspace, or allow terrorists to do so. Nato’s one member in the region, Turkey, is being diplomatically isolated, largely through Erdogan’s fault.

Which brings us back to the refugees. Turkey’s president is cynically extorting ‘Turkgeld’ (like the Danegeld the Anglo-Saxons had to pay Vikings) from the EU, in return for stemming the tide of migrants.

Turkey¿s president is cynically extorting ¿Turkgeld¿ (like the Danegeld the Anglo-Saxons had to pay Vikings) from the EU, in return for stemming the tide of migrants

Turkey’s president is cynically extorting ‘Turkgeld’ (like the Danegeld the Anglo-Saxons had to pay Vikings) from the EU, in return for stemming the tide of migrants

After the EU offered three billion euros, the Turks said this was just an opening instalment, and by the way, they wanted visa-free travel for all 78 million Turks as well. Prolonging the disruption in Syria, and the refugee crisis, also suits Putin as he calculates that Europe, desperate for peace, could be made to soften its sanctions.

Not that continuing stalemate is the main threat here – the proxy war in Syria is bringing the real risk of escalating into a disastrous, and open, conflagration. Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warned of this in an interview on Friday, insouciantly forgetting that Russian forces have also been involved since September

We have already had Turkey shooting down a Russian fighter. The potential for a disastrous increase in hostilities between Sultan Erdogan and Tsar Putin are obvious.

Whether we like it or not Europe lies next to a war that is escalating by the day.

And the growing number of overladen boats crossing the Mediterranean and the Aegean – or sinking with terrible results – will make that all too clear.

 

 

 

Why did Erdogan’s bodyguards beat up these Ecuadorian women?

Erdogan women

This is a cross-post from Al Monitor

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embarked on a Latin America trip between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4. The main goal of his trip was to expand trade relations with Chile, Peru and Ecuador. On Feb. 4, Erdogan gave a speech at the Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales (National Higher Studies Institute) in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. During his speech, a group of female protesters were heard screaming “Fuera Ecuador Erdogan” (“Get out of Ecuador, Erdogan”) and “Asesino” (“Murderer”). Some of the protesters had “asesino” written on their hands as well. Their protest lasted less than a minute before they were brutally attacked by Erdogan’s Turkish bodyguards. The women were forcefully removed from the room and claimed to have been assaulted; the bodyguards punched their heads, vaginas and breasts. As the female protesters were being dragged out of the auditorium, Erdogan said, “As we see now, there are sometimes disrespectful characters as well. Appropriate responses will always be taken to handle these disrespectful people.”

Outside the building, a larger group of demonstrators had gathered to protest Erdogan’s visit. Their banners read, “Erdogan loves IS [Islamic State]” and “Erdogan Kills in Syria,” while others expressed solidarity with the Kurds. The guards attacked this group as well, breaking the nose of an Ecuadorian lawmaker, Diego Vintimilla. Vintimilla posted photos of his injuries on Twitter. Social media users retweeted it and he received hundreds of supportive messages from Turkey.

The news became a trending topic for the next couple of days in Turkey, with hundreds of entries on social media. However, most of the mainstream TV channels and pro-government newspapers did not even mention the events or show images of the protests. Both in Turkey and in Ecuador caricatures were drawn ridiculing Erdogan’s aggressive bodyguards. Girgir, one of Turkey’s most popular satirical magazines featured the event on its cover, with Erdogan wearing boxing gloves asking not just Turks but the entire world to remain silent. On Twitter, #ErdoganAsesino, #HeilHitlerdogan and #DirenQuito (Resist Quito) became trending hashtags. A few critical Turkish pundits carried this sensitive incident to their columns. One was Hayko Bagdat’s humorous piece for the Diken website titled “To us everywhere is Kasimpasa.” Kasimpasa is a district of Istanbul where Erdogan grew up. It is known for tough and standoffish men ready to confront anyone and everyone.

A satirical column for Daily Zaman was penned by Turan Alkan titled “Who is the biggest parallel: Ecuador,” referring to the nickname for the Gulen movement members. Alkan ridiculed several instances of doublespeak by Justice and Development Party (AKP) elites, and then he indicated that due to Ecuador’s location it must be the place for all Gulen movement members to escape to.

In the meantime, Ecuadorian Deputy Foreign Minister Fernando Yepez summoned Korkut Gurgen, the Turkish ambassador in Quito, demanding an answer about the excessive use of force by the Turkish bodyguards. Ecuadorian Interior Minister Jose Serrano said they had requested the bodyguards to surrender their passports on Feb. 5, but the Turkish delegation had already departed Ecuador en route to Senegal.

At the same time, several Ecuadorian pundits are both upset with Erdogan and displeased with their own leaders. Cristina Burneo Salazar, a professor at Simon Bolivar Andean University of Quito, wrote a searing piece stating that “Erdogan should have never been invited to speak at a university,” explaining how the original location, La Universidad Central, had rejected to host Erdogan. Salazar’s piece has in-depth details about the AKP’s track record on human rights and disrespect of women. She even mentions Bulent Arinc’s notorious comment advising women not to laugh loudly in public.

A group of Turkish businessmen living in Ecuador have announced they will sue the six female protesters who were brutally beaten by Erdogan’s bodyguards. They allegedly said that “these unidentified women entered the lecture hall and called our president a murderer.”

For the people in Turkey, however, the intriguing part was not the aggression against unarmed protesters in Ecuador. After all, in the last couple of years, Turks have witnessed the violent suppression of almost all anti-government protests. Even sporadic protests against Erdogan and his men have met with extreme aggressive reactions in public, with little to no legal repercussions for the instigators. Indeed, Freedom House recently announced that on average there are four court cases initiated every day for the crime of “offending Erdogan” in Turkey.

For Turkish audiences, the real surprise was that a government that came to power with the slogan “zero problems with neighbors” has not only managed to increase friction and conflict with almost all neighbors simultaneously, but also for the first time in Turkish history managed to generate a diplomatic crisis between Ecuador and Turkey. One tweet put it succinctly: “If he [Erdogan] manages to be a problem in Ecuador, no wonder he is a problem in Syria.” In a humorous approach, most Turks were asking if the Ecuadorian protesters were Kurds or Gulenists, and what kind of traitors were they that they failed to respect the “world leader.”

Beyond all these recurring scenes of violent attacks and angry outbursts of AKP members lies a lack of tolerance for dissent. The intolerance level is increasing at an alarming rate, due to what might be called a “preaching to the converted” syndrome. Erdogan and almost all AKP elites, including Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, do not appear before random crowds; all press interviews are exclusively conducted by pro-government members of the media.

Erdogan’s latest favorite audience has been the mukhtars (leaders of neighborhoods and villages) who are vetted rigorously prior to being accepted into the palace. They dutifully clap after each sentence Erdogan utters. For instance, on Feb. 10, during the 20th mukhtar gathering at the palace, Erdogan complained about the alleged US support for the Kurdish troops in Syria while mukhtars cheered him on respectfully.

These loyal and controlled audiences are much more difficult to assemble in foreign countries. In Turkey, the opposition is a feeble voice whose questions are not taken into account.

In regard to Erdogan’s visit to Ecuador, scholars such as Aylin Topal, a Latin America expert and professor of political science at the Middle East Technical University, have argued that the lawsuits against Erdogan’s bodyguards have taken the forefront of the trade agreements signed between Ecuador and Turkey. Yet Ecuadorian activists have expressed their disappointment with their own government for sacrificing human rights in exchange for strengthening trade relations. Indeed, Miguel Molina Diaz, Quito-based journalist and editor, argues that the covering of the nude statues during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Italy was less offensive than what Erdogan’s entourage did against the Ecuadorians and sovereignty due to the Ecuadorian government’s submission to Erdogan.

The financial consequences of Erdogan’s Latin America tour will most likely not be felt in Turkey in the short run. Yet the excessive use of force by Erdogan’s bodyguards’ (allegedly there were 70 of them) in Ecuador have reconfirmed two facts: First, whenever Erdogan cannot preach to the “converted,” he is out of his comfort zone and surprising events are likely to happen. Second, as one of the Ecuadorian protesters, Karla Kalapaqui, told Al-Monitor, “Turkish and Kurdish women everywhere are very brave.” They are indeed!

Will the ambitions of Erdogan and Putin spark a new World War?

Sultan Erdogan

This is a cross-post from the Daily Mail

The Sultan and the Tsar: Will the imperial ambitions of Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan spark a new World War, asks historian MICHAEL BURLEIGH  

There is no end in sight to the disaster unfolding in the vast refugee camps of Jordan and Turkey, among the 60,000 terrified civilians massing on the Syrian border and on Europe’s corpse-strewn Aegean shoreline.

Far from it. Last week, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad promised to wage war until he had regained every inch of the country. Few believe that plans for an American-backed peace deal can hold. Early indications suggest that the migrant crisis in Europe will be many times worse this year than last.

Entire towns have been laid waste during Syria’s five-year civil war. Up to half a million people on all sides have been killed. Millions are either internally displaced, or worse, languishing in desperate foreign holding centres.

But all this cannot be blamed only on the murderous advance of Islamic State, Assad’s brutality, or the rebels who wish to depose him. Syria is now the battleground for a proxy war between two regional powers, Russia and Turkey, or more particularly between their ego-fuelled presidents: Recep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. Or, if you like, between the Sultan and the Tsar.

These two men, driven by their own imperial ambitions, have no intention of seeking peace in Syria, except on their own terms. It is already an international conflict sucking in fighters from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Chechnya and Pakistan, plus Shia from Iraq and Lebanon, and now it threatens to drag in Nato. It is no exaggeration to say the conflict has the potential to become a Third World War.

So it is that the refugees have become a weapon in their own right – a crisis the combatants are relentlessly fuelling in the hope of coercing Western governments into supporting one side or the other.

For its part, Turkey feels it is fighting a battle of survival. It wants to prevent the Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq from joining with its own Kurdish population to create their own state – which would mean the dismemberment of Turkey.

But Erdogan is also keen to see the removal of Assad, with whom Turkey has major complaints about water resources. So Turkey has allowed foreign jihadis (including from Britain) to cross into Syria to fight with the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and IS.

Erdogan has 10,000 troops trying to suppress a Kurdish insurgency led by the Marxist PKK (supported by Assad) in eastern Turkey, which is next to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The Turks also want to protect 100,000 ethnic Turkmen in Syria who are also opposed to Assad.

It is no mere coincidence that Erdogan is a pious Sunni Muslim, while Assad belongs to the Shia Alawite sect.

Russia meanwhile is determined to protect its influence in the region, including access to the Mediterranean naval base of Tartus. So, along with Iran, Putin is directing Assad’s war with airstrikes, which have mainly targeted the so-called ‘moderate’ rebels backed by the West.

The conflict is already dangerously international. The wily Major General Qassem Suleimani, leading Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, has thousands of Hizbollah fighters from Lebanon under his control; as many as 20,000 Afghan Hazara refugees, paid $750 a month, with the promise of naturalization in Iran; Pakistani Shia volunteers; and last but not least Iraqi Shia militias.

As for the Russians, they’ve recruited 400 Cubans to man their latest tanks, including the T-90, which has explosive plates on the hull that detonate incoming anti-tank missiles.

The Syrian war has become like the Spanish civil war of 1936-39 by pulling in committed fighters from abroad. Foreign jihadis are a kind of international brigade for IS and Nusra, while the large numbers of indigenous Islamist rebels are funded from the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia’s brash new defence minister, deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, last week airily promised to send troops to fight IS, though Hizbollah would make mincemeat of them. The Saudis might try to reverse Assad’s advances by giving the rebels more and better weapons, but ManPad shoulder-launched missiles might then down Russian planes.

And the weaponry is frightening. On Putin’s 63rd birthday, 26 Russian cruise missiles flew nearly a thousand miles from corvettes in the Caspian Sea over Iran to hit Syrian targets. Russia has deployed its latest anti-aircraft missile systems (the S-400) and trialed its latest Su 35 ‘Flanker’ combat fighters as well as older Bear and Blackjack strategic bombers.

All of these planes use ‘dumb’ bombs, including cluster munitions, causing many civilian casualties. The conflict works as a sort of live arms fair for Russia while also dividing the West’s allies.

Most leaders in the region are rushing to pay court in Moscow: Iran’s Rouhani; the Saudis; Israel’s Netanyahu; Egypt’s el-Sisi and King Abdullah II of Jordan included.

They need arms or nuclear energy deals with Russia, or just to ensure the Russian or Syrian airforce does not encroach on their airspace, or allow terrorists to do so. Nato’s one member in the region, Turkey, is being diplomatically isolated, largely through Erdogan’s fault.

Which brings us back to the refugees. Turkey’s president is cynically extorting ‘Turkgeld’ (like the Danegeld the Anglo-Saxons had to pay Vikings) from the EU, in return for stemming the tide of migrants.

After the EU offered three billion euros, the Turks said this was just an opening instalment, and by the way, they wanted visa-free travel for all 78 million Turks as well. Prolonging the disruption in Syria, and the refugee crisis, also suits Putin as he calculates that Europe, desperate for peace, could be made to soften its sanctions.

Not that continuing stalemate is the main threat here – the proxy war in Syria is bringing the real risk of escalating into a disastrous, and open, conflagration. Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warned of this in an interview on Friday, insouciantly forgetting that Russian forces have also been involved since September

We have already had Turkey shooting down a Russian fighter. The potential for a disastrous increase in hostilities between Sultan Erdogan and Tsar Putin are obvious.

Whether we like it or not Europe lies next to a war that is escalating by the day.

And the growing number of overladen boats crossing the Mediterranean and the Aegean – or sinking with terrible results – will make that all too clear.

Erdogan’s Daughter is Head of ‘Covert’ Hospital for Treating Injured Isis Fighters

imgturkish-prime-minister-tayyip-erdogan

This is a cross-post from IBT

A recently published investigative report based on the account of a Turkish medical staff has claimed that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s daughter is running a ‘covert’ hospital exclusively to treat wounded Islamic State (Isis) terrorists.

The nurse, who did not reveal her name fearing repercussions, told the Montreal-based Global Research that Sumeyye Erdogan was heading a secret military hospital, located in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa.

The 34-year old, who now lives in Istanbul, said that injured Isis fighters are brought to the hospital by the Turkish army.

“Almost every day several khaki Turkish military trucks were bringing scores of severely injured, shaggy [Isis] rebels to our secret hospital and we had to prepare the operating rooms and help doctors in the following procedures,” she said and added Sumeyye Erdogan would often visit the medical facility.

The former nurse, who lives with her two young children in a rather dilapidated apartment, said that she used to get a salary of $7,500, but that was before the authorities found out that she belonged to a Shia sect.

She said she was forced to leave because of the unfair treatment meted out to her by hospital officials.

“I was given a generous salary of $7,500, but they were unaware of my religion. The fact is that I adhere to the Alawi faith and since Erdogan took the helm of the country the system shows utter contempt for the Alawi minority,” the nurse added.

The Global Research further observed that this is not the first time that the London-educated daughter of the Turkish president Erdogan has been linked to Isis, the terror group.

Sumeyye, according to Global Research, has faced severe criticism on more than one occasion for announcing that she wanted to travel to Mosul to aide the local residents living under Isis rule.

These claims, however, could not be independently verified. However, for long there has been several allegations and conspiracy theories that have claimed that Turkey has been aiding Isis terrorists, a charge Turkey has denied.

Erdoğan, cigarettes and the nanny state

Erdogan 1

This is a cross-post from Hurriyet Daily News

One of the significant changes in Turkish social life under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the smoking ban in public spaces. The first step of this ban came out in 2009, forcing all restaurants and hotels to ban smoking in all closed spaces. Many people at the time believed the ban would never work as Turkey is a heavily smoking nation. But on the whole it did. Turkey’s closed spaces have gradually become smoke-free.

This week the government announced that the ban would now be extended to open public spaces as well, such as the open-air gardens of restaurants and public parks. Again, some people think it won’t work. But I think it will. I also hope and pray that it will.

Personally speaking, I’m a devoted enemy of cigarettes. I really don’t want to have any trace of smoke in the air I breathe. I was therefore fully supportive of the initial smoking bans in 2009 and now I’m fully supportive of the extended bans that are coming. I’m thankful to the AKP for introducing these regulations, which in my view help make Turkey a more livable country.

But I also have a problem with the changes. To be more precise, I had a problem this week when I heard President Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks about the smoking bans. On Feb. 9, Erdoğan hosted in Ankara a group of 250 people who had quit smoking. In his speech on the occasion, he defended the smoking bans but framed the issue with a totally different logic than mine.

“You don’t have freedom to commit suicide, so you don’t have freedom to expose yourselves to terminal diseases … There can be no such freedom as the freedom to smoke … The state must protect its citizens against tobacco, alcohol and drugs, just as it is obliged to protect them against crimes like theft and terrorism,” Erdoğan said.

As these remarks suggest, Turkey’s president does not see smoking bans in public spaces as a measure to protect non-smoking individuals from pollution by smoking individuals. Rather, he wants to protect all individuals from what he sees as bad habits — which notably include alcohol as well.

In my view, individuals should be free to do whatever they want, as long as they do not harm other individuals. Let people smoke and drink all night long, as long as they don’t blow the smoke in other people’s faces or drunkenly drive a car to the hazard of others. Advising them against the harmful effects of such “bad habits” — along with many other bad habits, such as eating too much baklava, which can make you obese — may be a good idea and even a good public health policy. But you can’t interfere in people’s lives to “protect” them from everything you deem to be harmful.

Yet this fundamentally liberal view of the state apparently does not match with the view of our president. His remarks on cigarettes indicate that what he wants to establish is an overbearing nanny state, which will try to steer all of us toward what the president sees as the ideal, moral way of life.

But I have news for the president: This will not work. It will not create a “moral society,” it will rather create a hatefully irritated society, (like we already are now). No wonder his remarks on cigarettes triggered a new campaign among secular Turks to defy the smoking ban by smoking more cigarettes everywhere. You may find this campaign stupid, as smoking is very bad for your health. But a nanny state that dictates a way of life to us is probably even worse.