Author: asturkeysleeps

Can a Turkey sliding into despotism and censorship still join the EU? The answer must be no

This is a cross-post from the Guardian.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

It is waging war on an ethnic minority, its riot police just stormed the offices of a major newspaper, its secret service faces allegations of arming Isis, itsmilitary shot down a Russian bomber – and yet Turkey wants to join the European Union. The country’s swift descent into despotism poses yet another existential problem for the west.

The sight of Europe’s leaders kowtowing to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in the hope he would switch off the flood of refugees to Greece, was sickening. After the Turkish courts authorised police to seize the Zaman newspaper, tear-gassing its employees and sacking the editors, the new bosses immediately placed Erdoğan’s smiling picture on the front page. He has a lot to smile about.

Erdoğan’s mass support in Turkey is real. To the conservative heartlands, where Islam was suppressed for decades by one secular military regime after another, he initially seemed to have achieved an ideal stasis. The liberal, networked, progressive part of Turkey would leave the reactionary, religious, patriarchal part in peace, and vice versa. The Kurds would renounce guerilla warfare in favour of parliamentary opposition. Erdoğan would lead the country towards EU accession, at a pace slow enough to allow the obvious failings in democracy to be ignored.

But it has all gone wrong, and for the same fundamental reason that Assad’s regime in Syria collapsed: the unwillingness of educated youth to be ruled by simpletons running a “benign” police state.

The revolts that swept Turkey’s cities in June 2013 were triggered by the inability of Erdoğan and his old-man’s form of Islam to tolerate the basic microfreedoms that the younger generation want: the right to drink alcohol on campus, the right to uncensored social media, the right to protest peacefully about the same things European kids protest about – in the case of Gezi Park, the bulldozing of green space for a shopping mall.

Since then, Erdoğan has overcome all obstacles. The protest was suppressed by the simple method of firing US-made tear gas canisters into the crowd and laying waste to the urban areas of the Kurdish minority, who had joined the struggle.

Then Erdoğan got himself made president. And having narrowly lost his parliamentary majority in June 2015, he regained it late last year after a campaign that left the offices of the pro-Kurdish HDP party burned out in several cities.

Simultaneously, the Turkish military provoked an end to a three-year ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK, unleashing the army into the Kurdish towns of southern Turkey on a scale that has left some the mirror image of burned-out Syrian towns just across the border.

But all this is nothing compared to the strength of the hand Erdoğan has yet to play. With failed or failing states now in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, the more Turkish democracy fails, the more the west has to support him. And the more the European Commission, in particular, hangs on to the conceit that Turkey will one day join the EU, the more it strengthens forces in Europe who want to leave the union altogether.

Transcripts leaked to a Greek website last month appeared to show Erdoğan overtly threatening Europe with an uncontrolled flood of refugees unless he is given money and rapid accession to the EU. Although they were given credence by some news agencies, the transcripts have the ring of black propaganda of the kind Erdoğan’s newest enemy, the Russian secret service, is adept at producing. Real or fabricated, the tragedy is that they cannot be far from the truth: Europe is already turning a blind eye to the erosion of democracy, to collusion with people traffickers, and to military action against civilians.

What happens next must be done calmly and proportionately.

The citizens of the EU have a right, first of all, to demand honesty from their own governments, and the commission itself. The EC’s “progress report” in November was an exercise in hypocrisy: while noting the slide to despotism, censorship and brutality, the report praised Turkey for its economic progress. Imagine what the same rapporteurs might have made of an accession request by Mussolini’s Italy.

The critical question is not, as the racists of eastern Europe ask, “Can 75 million Muslims join Europe?” It is: can a state so fundamentally in breach of the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership remain in any kind of accession process? The answer must clearly be no – and once Erdoğan is told so, the EU has a duty to offer a programme of support to the secular democratic forces that need to come to power in order for accession talks to be resumed. The commission – which had no problem telling Greeks which way to vote in July 2015 – would surely have no problem supporting democratic parties against repressive ones in Turkey.

That would leave Erdoğan in strategic trouble. But it would not immediately solve the situation in the Aegean. It would require Europe to double-down on its strategic commitment to Greece, with border forces, debt relief, aid and solidarity.

To those in Europe wishing to demonstrate to a wavering Britain why we need the EU, there could not be a better opportunity. It’s a chance for a clear condemnation of the breaches of human rights; for clear action in support of Greece, a member of the union, against implicit threats by a non-member; and for centralized action to deal with any flood of refugees Erdoğan wishes to unleash.

The prospect will be viewed with dismay by the centrist political class that helped create this mess. It brings them face to face with a choice they do not want to make: democratic values over market logic; moral decisiveness over the illusion that everything will be all right.

Was Berat Albayrak picked as sacrificial offering in the oil trade with the ISIL?

Beyrat

As Italian prosecutor Manuela Cavallo’s launching an investigation into money laundering claims about Bilal Erdogan, who recently moved to the Italian city of Bologna with his family, made it into news reports, another initiative, the Russian Federation kicked off at the United Nations, has raised the possibility of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak’s being tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague on charges of aiding and abetting the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  In a letter it sent to the UN Secretary General and the UN Security Council Member States on January 29, 2016, the Russian Federation provided detailed information regarding the illegal oil trade between the ISIL and the individuals, organizations and firms close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).  Titled “ISIL’s illegal oil trade”, the letter contains serious accusations about Turkey.  It argues that majority of the ISIL-controlled hydrocarbon is transferred via Turkey and oil products are carried into the Turkish soil mainly through border crossings Karkamış, Akçakale, Cilvegözü and Öncüpınar.  The letter reads:

“Everyday 100-150 oil tankers pass through these checkpoints.  Moreover, crude oil is carried through rural paths that are not controlled by Turkish security forces.  A total of 4,500 vehicles are used to this end.”

The letter also claims that several Turkish firms such as Seri Otomotiv, owned by Mustafa Seri in Konya, and Sam Otomotiv, owned by Habib Haydaroğlu in Antakya, play a role in providing the ISIL with vehicles.  It is maintained that the majority of the crude oil smuggled out of the ISIL-controlled areas is transported to the Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation’s (TÜPRAŞ) refinery in Batman while a small portion of it is processed at small facilities in Turkey and distributed by the filling stations of the firms like “Opet Nizig, Alpet, Kadoil, Oneoil, Teco Alacalı and Mavigöl Gaz.”  Underlining that those who sell illegal oil products in Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Kahramanmaras, Kilis and Hatay have secured protection from local authorities, the letter suggests that a significant portion of oil is shipped from the Turkish ports on the Mediterranean coasts, particularly from Ceyhan.  The letter says:

“The tankers of ‘BMZ Grup Denizcilik ve İnşaat A.Ş.’ are used in the transportation. The firm was established in 2013; its registered capital is around $1 million and its head office is located at ‘Gürgen Sokak No. 3, Üsküdar’. The firm’s fleet consists of five tankers: Mecid Aslanov, Begim Aslanova, Poet Qabil, Armada Fair and Armada Breeze.” In the letter, it is alleged that the firm Powertrans, affiliated with Çalık Holding, where President Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak was the General Manager, played a role in the oil trade with the ISIL. In addition, it is noted that Turkish Petroleum International Company made a deal with Kurdish business from northern Iraq with guarantees from the Turkish government and oil production and processing projects are currently being undertaken in cooperation with the companies in the Kurdish Autonomous Region. “We have reasons to believe that this arrangement is an outlet for the ISIL to sell its energy sources. In cooperation with BOTAŞ, the TPAO and Genel Enerji are increasing their capacities for the crude oil that will come from Iraq and Syrian Arab Republic. In this context, the Yumurtalık oil station has been expanded to have a storage capacity of 1.7 million tons” it said. Pointing out that the crude oil so legalized in Turkey is sent to various parts of the world, making it difficult to keep track of it, the letter lists the other firms that are involved in the oil trade drilled from the ISIL-controlled areas as follows: “Palmali Shipping and Agency JSC (Turkey), General Energy (United Kingdom and Turkey) and Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia).”

The letter maintains that the ISIL uses the revenues from this oil trade to acquire weapons, military equipment, explosives, and ammunition among others while the donations from various individuals and Islamic organizations in some Gulf countries and Turkey constitute another source of income for the ISIL and the ISIL’s military council can secure more than $30 million every month in this way. It states that terrorists use Turkish territories effectively also for distribution of illegal weapons and explosives and they are abided by some associations and foundations in Turkey.  The letter puts forward that the number of oil-carrying vehicles from Turkey to Syrian Arab Republic rose by nine-fold between 2012 and 2015 and 400 vehicles worth of around $7.2 million have been procured in four years and the amount of supply for the first nine months of 2015 is expected to be $3.2 million.  In the letter, it is also argued that weapons and explosives are sent to the ISIL through uncontrolled parts of Syrian Arab Republic’s common borders with Turkey and Iraq and that Syria’s border crossings Bab al-Hawa (10 kilometers southeast of Reyhanli), Bab el-Selam (6 kilometres northeast of Azez) and Cerablus (105 kilometres northeast of Aleppo) are used for arms and explosives shipments from Turkey.  It is true that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but the fact that Berat Albayrak is the only person from AKP government whose name is highly affiliated with the most violent terror organization (ISIL) has been recently appointed as Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, raising questions that he has been deliberately sacrificed for this purpose-filled position.

An extensive recent report published by WSJ into ISIL’s financial activities in Turkey ( …) reinforces these allegations.

Erdogan is on the brink of ultimate power, but Turkey is falling apart

This is a cross-post from the Independent.

The biggest losers are the Turkish people, as critics and political opponents of the President’s regime are labelled ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’

president-erdogan-turkey.jpg

Until 2002, when the AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power, Turkey was doing pretty well in following Kemal Atatürk’s dictum: “peace at home, peace abroad”. Admittedly, there were three military coups between 1960 and 1980 to keep Turkey on track, together with ‘a soft coup’ in 1997. But the country was still a respected member of NATO with prospects – however distant – of EU membership.

With the advent of the AKP under the leadership of a former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, things started to unravel. The AKP presented itself as a Western, reformist, neo-liberal and secular party, and, as late as 2012, 16 EU foreign ministers drooled that Turkey was “an inspirational example of a secular and democratic country”. But as the deputy chair of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), Faruk Logoglu, pointed out, their perception of the state of affairs in Turkey was “sadly out of focus”, and ignored the fact that the AKP government pursued an authoritarian policy of gradual Islamisation, leading to the erosion of Turkish democracy and secularism.

Turkey’s foreign minister and now Prime Minister, Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, replaced Atatürk’s dictum with “zero problems with neighbours” and a grandiose vision of Turkey’s role in the world. It was also Davutoglu who inspired Erdogan with neo-Ottoman fantasies.

Consequently, Turkey is now at loggerheads with all its neighbours, in particular Syria, and has even managed to alienate Russia after the shooting down of the Su-24 in November. At home, in his pursuit of untrammeled power, Erdogan has provoked a civil war which threatens to dismantle the Turkey Atatürk and his fellow nationalists created.

In 2005, Erdogan was hailed as the first Turkish leader to acknowledge there was a Kurdish question, and in 2013, after secret talks with the PKK, their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan called for a ceasefire. In February last year the AKP government and the Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) agreed on a 10-point plan to end the conflict, but after the HDP gained 13 percent of the vote in June’s election and threatened to block his plans for an executive presidency, Erdogan disowned the agreement.

Prior to the election, there were more than 130 attacks on the HDP’s offices, vehicles and supporters, culminating in two bombs at a rally in Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurdish southeast. A similar attack in the Kurdish border town of Suruc on 20 July, killing 33 activists, reignited the conflict with the PKK, as the government was suspected of having a hand in the attack.

The twin bombs at the HDP’s rally in Ankara on 10 October, which killed 102 people, reinforced these suspicions, as there were links to the two previous attacks, but President Erdogan claimed this was a collective act, involving ISIS, the PKK, the Syrian intelligence agency, Mukhabarat, and the Syrian counterpart to the PKK, the PYD (Democratic Union Party).

However, the PKK’s youth wing, the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), declared autonomy in a number of towns in the southeast and dug ditches and built barricades to repel government forces. Many civilian casualties have been caused by what Human Rights Watch has termed “the abusive and disproportionate use of force”, where the populations of towns under siege have been left without food, water, electricity and medical help and 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

Almost 2,000 court cases opened in 18-months for ‘insulting’ Turkish President Erdogan

This is a cross-post from RT.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan © Murat Cetinmuhurdar / Presidential Palace

Around 2,000 legal cases have been opened in Turkey for insulting Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since he became president 18 months ago. Mocking the president carries a maximum of four years in jail with schoolchildren and journalists amongst those arrested.

The revelations were made by Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who said the ministry had allowed 1,845 cases on charges of insulting Erdogan to proceed, Reuters reports.

“I am unable to read the shameful insults made against our president. I start to blush,” said Bozdag, who is a member of Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party.

Those convicted of insulting the Turkish leader could receive a maximum prison sentence of four years. However, before Erdogan became president in August, 2014, the law was rarely invoked. Those critical of the president say he is using the legislation to crack down on dissent.

People of all ages have fallen foul of the law. In February, a 13-year-old boy was briefly detained on charges of “insulting” the president on Facebook. The teen’s social media page had been under surveillance for months by police.

His family’s house was raided by anti-terror teams on February 25, following a tip-off from “a secret witness,” who claimed the boy had insulted Erdogan in a comment he allegedly posted below a video on Facebook.

n October, two boys aged 12 and 13 were arrested and are facing up to four years in prison for ripping up posters of the Turkish leader.

Former Turkish football star Hakan Sukur is also facing jail time for insulting the Turkish president on Twitter. Although Turkey’s record goal scorer said he had not intended to target the president, prosecutors argued his tweets were “clearly related” to the Turkish leader, the Dogan news agency reported in February.

It would also seem that criticizing Erdogan in the privacy of one’s own home is also illegal. Last month, a 40-year-old man filed a legal complaint against his own wife for insulting the Turkish president.

“I kept on warning her, saying why are you doing this? Our president is a good person and did good things for Turkey,” the man known as Ali D. said.

The wife reportedly provoked legal action against herself by telling her husband to “record and lodge a complaint” if he dislikes her behavior so much.

Ali recorded his wife’s “insults” and enclosed them as evidence in the case, when he lodged a complaint with prosecutors in the city of Izmir.

“Even if it is my father who swears against or insults the president, I would not forgive and I would complain,” the man told the Yeni Safak publication.

Erdoğan’s lawyer files ‘insult’ complaint against HDP co-chair

This is a cross-post from Hurriyet.

DHA photo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s lawyer has filed a criminal complaint against Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, claiming that the latter “insulted” him in a recent speech.

The indictment filed to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office by Erdoğan’s lawyer Hüseyin Aydın included related sections from Demirtaş’s speech at a HDP meeting in the southern province of Mersin on Feb. 27.

It said these statements amounted to “insulting the president,” which is a crime according to Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code.

During his party’s Mersin meeting, Demirtaş had said: “He [Erdoğan] wants to be the caliphate of Islam. But thieves cannot be caliphs.”

The indictment said Kurdish-issue focused HDP co-chair Demirtaş’s remarks “cannot be considered within the scope of freedom of thought and expression.”

It also said they “cannot be defended legally as they amounted to statements beneath one’s dignity and honor.”
Since becoming president in August 2014, Erdoğan’s lawyers have filed hundreds of lawsuits over alleged “insults” uttered by schoolchildren, journalists, and opposition politicians.

Turkey’s Revival of a Dirty ‘Deep State’

This is a cross-post from Consortium news.

Exclusive: NATO keeps backing Turkey, one of its members, despite its aid to the Islamic State and other jihadists fighting Syria’s secular government — and even though Turkey’s erratic President Erdogan may be leading NATO into a risky showdown with Syria’s Russian allies, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Turkey’s embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is resurrecting the “deep state” alliance of secret intelligence operatives and extreme rightists that he so notably challenged just a few years ago while putting hundreds of military officers and other opponents on trial for conspiring against Turkish democracy. In a remarkable about-face, Erdogan is now emulating the ruthless tactics of previous authoritarian rulers at the expense of Turkey’s evolution as a liberal state.

Like many of his secular predecessors, Erdogan has reverted to waging an all-out war against radical Kurdish separatists, the PKK. He is dramatically expanding the once discredited National Intelligence Agency, which in years past recruited Mafia criminals and right-wing terrorists to murder Kurdish leaders, left-wing activists and intellectuals. And he appears to be forging an alliance with ultranationalist members of the National Action Party (MHP), who supplied many of the ruthless killers for those murderous operations.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

These developments should alarm U.S. and European leaders. They are ominously anti-democratic trends in a country that once promised to meld the best of Western and Near Eastern traditions. They are also helping to drive Turkey’s secret alliances with Islamist extremists in Syria and its violent opposition to Kurdish groups that are leading the resistance to ISIS in that country.

Erdogan successfully cultivated a democratic image after his moderate Islamic party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), gained a two-thirds parliamentary majority in the November 2002 elections. Then in 2008, with public support for his party sagging, Erdogan oversaw the mass indictment of more than 200 former military officers, academics, journalists, businessmen and other opponents of the AKP.

The 2,455-page indictment alleged a vast conspiracy by members of an alleged “Ergenekon terrorist organization,” named after a mythical place in the Altay Mountains, to destabilize Turkish society and overthrow the government.

The alleged Ergenekon plot drew credibility from an all-too-real alliance of intelligence operatives, criminals and rightist terrorists exposed in the aftermath of the so-called “Susurluk Incident.” A car crash in the Turkish town of Susurluk in 1996 connected one of the country’s leading heroin traffickers and terrorists with a member of the conservative ruling party, the head of the counterinsurgency police, and the Minister of Interior.

Subsequent investigations linked this “deep state” network to a former NATO program — sometimes known by the name of its Italian version, “Operation Gladio” — to foment guerrilla resistance in case of a Soviet occupation of Turkey.

In contrast to the legitimate revelations that grew out of the Susurluk affair, the Ergenekon proceeding at times resembled a Soviet show trial. A court handed down life sentences to a former head of the Turkish military and several top generals, the heads of various intelligence organizations, a prominent secular ultranationalist, secular journalists, and a prominent deputy from a secular opposition party, among others.

A separate proceeding, known as “Sledgehammer,” convicted more than 300 secular military officers of involvement in an alleged coup plot against the AKP government in 2003.

Critics accused the Erdogan regime of using the cases to neutralize its potential rivals as part of its broader suppression of political dissent.

“The intimidation and the number of arrests have steadily risen in the last 10 years,” Der Spiegel observed in 2013. “Many journalists no longer dare to report what’s really happening, authors avoid making public appearances and government critics need bodyguards. The anti-terrorism law is an effective instrument of power for the government as the supposed terrorist threat is an accusation that’s hard to disprove. It plays on a deep-rooted fear among Turks that someone is trying to destabilize and damage the nation.”

The two big trials that fanned that fear were based on falsified evidence and a politicized judicial system. The injustice was effectively recognized by Istanbul’s high criminal court in 2014 when it freed the former army chief of staff convicted in the Ergenekon case. In March 2015, a prosecutor admitted that evidence submitted in the Sledgehammer case was “fake” and 236 convicted suspects were acquitted.

However, just as Erdogan had used those two cases to purge the Turkish power structure of his secular critics, so he used the discrediting of those cases as an excuse to purge supporters of another rival, the exiled moderate Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan accused them of terrorism and of creating a “parallel state” to challenge his rule. The crackdown followed judicial actions and news leaks, attributed to Gülen followers, that implicated Erdogan’s family and supporters in high-level corruption. As the New York Times observed, Erdogan turned his back on those show trials “for the simple reason that the same prosecutors who targeted the military with fake evidence are now going after him.”

Now, in a complete reversal of his previous warnings about the dangers of the deep state, Erdogan is actively cultivating the very institutions that were at its core.

For example, the government is planning a 48 percent increase in spending for the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) in 2016, on top of a 419 percent increase over the past decade. The new money is slated to pay for construction of a big new headquarters building and to expand the agency’s operations.

According to Turkish expert Pinar Tremblay, “What we are observing here is a national intelligence agency that has become a prominent player in the decision-making process for Turkish politics. … [MIT head Hakan] Fidan acts as a shadow foreign minister. He is present in almost all high-level meetings with the president and prime minister. It is an open secret that both the president and the prime minister trust Fidan more than any other bureaucrat.”

After MIT trucks were caught in 2013 and 2014 smuggling ammunition, rocket parts, and mortar shells to radical Islamic groups in Syria, Erdogan’s allies put police and other officials involved in the raids on trial for allegedly conspiring with Gülen against the government.

A recent report also suggest that Erdogan is also seeking support for his Syrian adventures from members of the National Action Party (MHP), sometimes known as the Grey Wolves. Once openly neo-fascist in ideology, the party figured prominently in terrorist violence in the 1970s and 1980s with backing from military and police officials. Mehmet Ali Agca, the terrorist who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, was a member of the Grey Wolves.

Members of a youth branch of the MHP are reportedly now fighting in Syria to support that country’s Turkish ethnic minority, the Turkmen, against Syrian Kurds. (The Turkmen are also being armed by the MIT.) At least one MHP notable was killed recently by a Russian bombing raid; one of the mourners at his funeral was the Turkish gunman who murdered the pilot of the Russian jet shot down by Turkey in November.

A leading Turkish expert on the Grey Wolves, journalist Kemal Can, says they are drawn to supporting the Turkmen less for ideological reasons than because of state recruitment. “I think that, directly or indirectly, the state link is the decisive one,” he said. “The ultranationalists are the most fertile pool for secret operations.”

Many members of the MHP are also drawn to the cause by their violent opposition to the Kurds and other non-Turkish minority groups.

After PKK militants attacked Turkish soldiers and police last summer and fall, Grey Wolves attacked 140 offices of the HDP, the Peoples’ Democratic Party which supports the rights of Kurds and other minorities, according to the leftist Turkish journalist Sungur Savran, setting many offices on fire:

“Ordinary Kurds were hunted on the streets of the cities and towns of the Turkish-dominated western parts of the country, intercity buses stopped and stoned, and Kurdish seasonal workers attacked collectively, their houses and cars burnt down, and they themselves driven away en masse.”

Such polarizing violence suited the needs of Erdogan’s AKP party, which wants to eliminate the HDP from parliament in order to gain the super-majority it needs to revise the constitution to enhance Erdogan’s powers as president.

Last September, intriguingly, one leader of the ultranationalist MHP urged restraint against ordinary Kurds, saying that “equating the PKK and our Kurdish-origin siblings is a blind trap” that would ensure wider ethnic conflict. Further, he claimed that groups acting in the name of the Grey Wolves to attack Kurds were actually “Mafia” fronts for President Erdogan.

His claim about the “Mafia” may have been more than metaphorical. Following Erdogan’s recent denunciation of hundreds of Turkish academics as “traitors” for protesting the government’s vicious crackdown on Kurdish communities, an ultranationalist organized crime boss – who was briefly imprisoned for his alleged role in the Ergenekon conspiracy but is today chummy with Erdogan – promised to “take a shower” in “the blood of those so-called intellectuals.”

So there you have it: The Erdogan regime has revived an alliance of intelligence officials, right-wing ultranationalists and even organized criminals to crush Kurdish extremism, to cow political critics, and to support radical Islamists in Syria.

The Erdogan regime, once the great scourge of alleged anti-democratic conspirators, has recreated the Turkish deep state as part of a menacing power grab. It represents a direct threat not only to Turkish democracy, but to Turkey’s neighbors and NATO allies, who will bear the consequences of Erdogan’s ever-more risky, erratic and self-serving policies.

 

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.