Dictatorship

How Erdogan targets British Turks via the Turkish Consulate in London

Turkish Consulate London

Erdogan’s anti-democratic actions have caused much negative publicity in recent years – so much so that any positive work he did in the early part of his rule has now been totally wiped out by his autocratic behaviour.  Now when his name is mentioned only one word comes to mind- that is ‘Dictator’.

It is worrying to then learn that the Turkish Consulate in London has been busy targeting British Turks with Erdogan’s propaganda.  It has come to our attention that mailshots are sent to Turks in the UK encouraging them to vote for the AK Party.  This has created a climate of fear in some sections of the British Turkish community as many are concerned about the improper use of their details by the Turkish Consulate in London.  This is clearly a breach of their human rights – every individual in Britain has a right to hold personal views which should be respected.  The consulate’s approach also appears to be unprecedented; no other foreign embassy is known to target its communities in this way.

This also raises wider questions such as: Does the consulate act as the eyes and ears of Erdogan in the UK? Does it also monitor the movements and social media activities of British Turks? Will it use critical comments made about Erdogan and his AK Party to deny visas and confiscate passports?  Will it report British Turks who criticise Erdogan to the security services in Turkey so that their families can be harassed?  These truly are the signs of a dictatorship of the worst kind.

Foreign consulates and embassies are not supposed to target people in this way.  We will be raising our concerns with the appropriate authorities as this type of ‘big brother’ approach goes against everything Britain stands for and as is extremely dangerous.  In the meantime, British Turks and anybody who believes in freedom of expression should write to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Turkish Consulate in London to express their concerns.

Is Turkey ruled by a tyrant? We may soon have an answer

This is a cross-post from the Telegraph.

Woe betide any Turk who dares insult His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

File photo: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a labor union meeting in Ankara, Turkey

Turkey’s leader inhabits the world’s largest residential palace with 1,000 rooms and a floor area four times the size of Versailles. He delights in issuing instructions to his people, notably by telling Turkish women to ensure they produce at least three babies each. He calls Benjamin Netanyahu a “murderer” and Bashar al-Assad a “merciless killer”.

But woe betide any Turk who dares insult His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And by the way, in theory at least, he also wants to join the European Union.

Mr Erdogan is now trying to subdue every possible challenge to his rule. Troublesome journalists go straight to jail where they are joined by ordinary Turks found guilty of “insulting” their leader, in breach of the notorious Article 299 of the Penal Code.

After 14 years of dominance in Turkey, Mr Erdoğan has become one of the most quixotic and accomplished politicians of all. The question which divides his country is whether he is also dangerous.

Here in his home city of Istanbul, which he served as mayor in the Nineties, there are plenty of devout supporters of the president. Devout is the right word, for Mr Erdoğan embraces the religious faithful, the poor and the lower middle class. One Istanbul commentator – no friend of the president – acknowledges the personal charisma of a ruthless but intensely emotional man, who wept in public during his mother’s funeral.

Yet Mr Erdoğan’s behaviour rings more and more alarm bells. After his Justice and Development (AK) party won power in 2002, he broke the army’s grip on politics – and Turkey’s secular modernisers cheered him on.

But Mr Erdoğan is now trying to subdue every possible challenge to his rule.Troublesome journalists go straight to jail where they are joined by ordinary Turks found guilty of “insulting” their leader, in breach of the notorious Article 299 of the Penal Code.

These days, Mr Erdoğan denounces Vladimir Putin at every opportunity. But he has borrowed from the Russian’s political playbook by jumping from the prime ministership to the presidency in order to prolong his dominance.

Now Mr Erdoğan wants to complete this manoeuvre by rewriting the constitution to create an imperial presidency, tailor-made for his own ambitions. As for how long he aims to rule, he talks of being “ready for 2023” – the centenary of the republic’s birth.

So Turkey has an instinctively authoritarian leader who treats the constitution as a personal plaything and plans for decades of dominance. How can this not be dangerous?

Workers of the Zaman newspaper hold placards that read, 'free media can not be silenced' and 'Zaman wont be silenced' during a demonstration in 2014

Workers of the Zaman newspaper hold placards that read, ‘free media can not be silenced’ and ‘Zaman wont be silenced’ during a demonstration in 2014 

¶Terrorists strike in Istanbul from time to time – witness the suicide bombing outside Hagia Sophia in January – but visitors to this heaving metropolis find it easy to forget that one corner of Turkey is already engulfed in conflict. The old war between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerrillas has flared back to life with terrible consequences. A 28-year-old Kurdish journalist, Vildan Atmaca, told me what happened when she tried to reach the scene of a gun battle in the eastern province of Van.

“We tried to go there, but the security forces blocked us,” she said. “So we went to the hospital to speak to people who had been wounded. But the police chased us away from the hospital. Half an hour later, the police came to our office to arrest a reporter for writing ‘false news’. Then I was detained for ‘resisting arrest’.”

For the next six weeks, Ms Atmaca was behind bars in Van. She was not physically assaulted, but she had to endure constant verbal abuse from her guards – often of a sexual nature. Then she was freed on bail, pending trial for allegedly “spreading terrorist propaganda”. Speaking over the phone from a town in the epicentre of the conflict, Ms Atmaca told me: “There is no law, no justice and no democracy in Turkey.”

Family members of army officer Enes Demir mourn as they attend a funeral ceremony for Enes Demir and Dogukan Tazegul, both killed while fighting Kurdish rebels in Sur

Family members of army officer Enes Demir mourn as they attend a funeral ceremony for Enes Demir and Dogukan Tazegul, both killed while fighting Kurdish rebels in Sur

¶Along the natural avenue carved between Europe and Asia by the mighty Bosphorus, a Russian frigate steamed towards the Black Sea. Istanbul straddles one of the great junctions of the world, controlling a vital artery for Russian shipping, both civilian and military.

Mr Putin and Mr Erdoğan have exchanged harsh words and economic counter-measures since Turkey destroyed a Russian jet last November. But the warships that Mr Putin sends to join his Syria campaign must pass under Mr Erdoğan’s metaphorical nose in Istanbul.

So far, he has done nothing to obstruct them: that would be too inflammatory even for him. Given that Mr Erdoğan intends to wield power into the indefinite future, however, who knows what he might have in store?

 

Erdogan now ‘Editor-in-chief’ of all media in Turkey

Editor (1)

Tayyip Erdogan’s stranglehold on the media should be a major issue of concern for everyone who believes in Democracy.  He is now effectively the ‘editor-in–chief’ of all media in Turkey.  Only he decides what stories should be printed and what comments on social media are acceptable.  Any media organisation which dares to criticise him is seen as the enemy and is closed down and taken over by his state apparatus.

In recent weeks the IMC television channel was taken of air and the Zaman newspaper was seized.  Both of these had been critical of Erdogan and his government’s policies – Zaman in particular was considered to be the last effective voice speaking out against Erdogan’s excesses.  There is now no effective media organisation left to criticise the AKP’s abuses.

Last week Erdogan again displayed his dictatorial tendencies when he told a constitutional court which had released two newspaper editors of the opposition Cumhuriet newspaper that such actions could bring its very existence into question – in other words he will not tolerate any court decision which goes against his whims and desires.

The EU would be absolutely crazy to accept Turkey as a member of the European Union as long as Erdogan is leading it.   A leader who cannot tolerate freedom of speech and expression, a leader who only promotes his cronies and brutally suppresses his critics has no place in the EU.

Free speech is a universal human value and any leader who can’t tolerate even the slightest bit of criticism is nothing other than a brutal dictator.

Erdogan to declare a Caliphate in 2023

Erdo Caliph

Those who have been following the pronouncements of Erdogan in recent years will be well aware of his frequent references to the Ottoman Empire.  It comes as no surprise then that Erdogan’s ultimate aim is to turn modern Turkey into a ‘Caliphate’ by 2023 – exactly 100 years after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dismantled the Ottoman Empire.

This goal is driving Erdogan’s aim to convert Turkey’s political system into a presidential one.  If he succeeds in doing this then, when all power has been rested in his hands, he will easily be able to do away with Turkey’s secular constitution and change the system.  However, before he can do that he has a number of obstacles to overcome:  1) the ‘deep state‘ which is staunchly secular and will strongly resist any attempts to change Turkey’s system 2) Turkish nationalists who fervently support Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s vision of a secular Turkey 3) Islamic organisations who consider Erdogan and his AK Party to be corrupt (despite the lip service Erdogan’s pays to religion) and 4) liberal citizens who support democracy and oppose Erdogan’s dictatorial style and policies.

Erdogan has already been demanding allegiance from public figures and suppressing those who have refused his overtures.   These acts have been justified by his followers under the pretext that he is a defacto ‘Caliph’ and therefore allegiance to him is mandatory.   Those who have refused have had their professional lives ruined and their livelihoods taken away by Erdogan and his mafia style employees.

Erdogan’s vanity project, his 1150 room palace, was built to show the world that he is a worthy successor to the Ottoman Sultans.  The rural Turks and those nostalgic for Ottoman ear societies have been hoodwinked into supporting Erdogan’s social engineering project.

Erdogan’s personal ambitions are destroying the country; the economy is faltering, his foreign policy is in ruins and there is no safety for the common citizen anymore.  Instead of fantasising about personal power and having continuous dreams of grandeur, Erdogan should do the decent thing and resign from his position to stop the country from heading towards bankruptcy and being destroyed any further.  But like all dictators, past and present, he will most likely not give up on his personal ambitions, even at the expense of destroying his own country and people.  Erdogan’s dream is turning into a nightmare for Turkey.

The Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD): Erdogan’s European Lobby Group

UETD 1

The Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) was founded in Germany in 2004.   It is essentially a lobby group for the Turkish Government and for the governing AKP party.  It operates not only in Germany, but also in France, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands and the UK where it works to promote the political aims of  Erdogan’s government and convince Turks living in these countries to support them.

Following Erdogan’s undemocratic, autocratic and erratic behaviour in recent years the activities of UETD are now of significant interest.   It must be a particularly challenging job for the UETD and its supporters to convince Turks living in Europe to support Erdogan’s behaviours and aims.  This includes the jailing of journalists, curbs on press freedoms, the sacking of judges and the silencing of political opponents.  For example,  in recent days the Zaman (Turkey’s most widely circulated newspaper) was taken over by Erdogan’s government and its editor in chief was sacked.  The new trustee of Zaman appointed by AKP is no other than Metin Ilhan – the former General Secretary of UETD!

UETD’s current British directors are: Mehmet Macit, Yusuf Kilnic and Muttalip Unluer.  News reaches us that the British branch has been propagating its messages in rather unusual ways and in a manner which potentially goes against British values.

We will be investigating and blogging about these activities in the coming weeks.  Watch this space!

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.

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.

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.”

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.

 

 

 

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.