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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.

 

 

 

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

Sultan Erdogan

This is a cross-post from the Daily Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erdogan’s ‘facts’ muddle Turkey’s economic reality

This is a cross post from Almonitor

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very persistent lately on two issues: that Turkey should have a “presidential system,” and that Turkey’s central bank should lower the interest rate of Turkish currency. As the elected leader of the nation, Erdogan may certainly advocate such opinions, but his attempts to redefine the very basic facts of politics and economics 101 are a bit over the top.

Let’s begin with the first issue: the presidential system. Erdogan and his top advisers began promoting this idea about two years ago, when it became apparent that Erdogan would continue his career as president after serving three terms as prime minister. The problem was that under Turkey’s existing parliamentary system, the president is nonpartisan and largely symbolic, whereas the prime minister holds the real executive power. This has not stopped Erdogan from becoming “a different president,” as he said repeatedly during his electoral campaign last summer. He wants to turn his de facto dominance over the state — and various aspects of society as well, as I explained here — into a de jure reality. This means discarding Turkey’s 140-year-old parliamentary tradition in favor of a “presidential system,” in which the elected president will face very few, if any, checks and balances.

This sounds troubling in itself, but there is something even more troubling: Erdogan’s denial of some of the very basic facts of political science just for the sake of propaganda. On Jan. 27, Erdogan told a group of journalists: “Almost all developed countries have this [presidential] system.” This is patently false, as “almost all developed countries,” in fact, are parliamentary democracies, either as republics or constitutional monarchies (for example, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and many more).

In fact, what is rare among “developed countries” is the presidential system, of which the United States is arguably the only good example with a long history of liberal democracy. Many other “presidential systems” are found in the former or recent authoritarian regimes of Latin Africa, Africa and Central Asia.

The problem is, no one around Erdogan dared tell him that his argument was based on a misrepresentation of the facts. This is probably why he took it even further. On Jan. 30, he made another counterfactual statement. “In my opinion, Britain is a semi-presidency,” he said, “and the predominant constituent is the queen.” Both assertions were appallingly false, for Britain is the archetypal parliamentary democracy, and the queen’s powers are symbolic. But again, no one in Erdogan’s party (or media) dared to challenge him.

While these political discussions took place, Erdogan kept pushing for an unusual theory of macroeconomics as well, dictating that high interest rates lead to high inflation. (The established economic theory, as explained here, asserts the opposite: Interest rates and inflation are negatively, not positively, correlated.) But Erdogan insists on his personal theory, harshly criticizing the Central Bank of Turkey for not lowering the interest rates of the lira, despite his repeated calls to do so.

Yet, this time someone spoke out against Erdogan: Durmus Yilmaz, the former head of Turkey’s central bank. Yilmaz was appointed to the position by Erdogan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP) Cabinet in 2006 and led the institution quite successfully until 2011. It is notable that Yilmaz, during the time of the appointment, was criticized and even ridiculed by some secularists in the Turkish media for the simple fact that his wife wears a headscarf. After the end of his term in 2011, Yilmaz took a job as then-President Abdullah Gul’s economy adviser.

In other words, no one could argue that Yilmaz is an ideological enemy on Erdogan. Yet, he opposed the president’s constant intimidation of the central bank on interest rates, saying: “There is a 350- or 400-year-old economic literature. If it is not true, then let’s burn the books of Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes. And let’s change the law of the central bank and make the rates zero. If this works, then I will publicly apologize for my economic illiteracy and I will say ‘I do not know this job.’”

Yilmaz’s emphasis on the centuries-old economic literature was notable, for it underlined the gap between the facts of economics and Erdogan’s self-serving ideology.

I believe that in the broader scheme of things, these discussions point to a worrying transformation within Turkey’s ruling AKP. Until 2011, the AKP was widely deemed quite successful with regard to both politics and the economy. This success was mainly thanks to the party’s abandonment of its former Islamist ideology and its acceptance of pragmatic policies based on global norms. In foreign policy, the motto was “zero problems with neighbors.” In economics, it was integration with global markets.

Yet this very success tempted the AKP, prompting it to revert back to its Islamism and initiate a much more ambitious narrative of building a new regional order, and even a new global order. Meanwhile, Erdogan turned into an unquestionable leader who is not limited by facts and creates his own facts, as envisioned by his Islamist ideology and extraordinary intuition. In the eyes of his hard-core supporters, he is not a mere political leader who formulates pragmatic policies. He is a total leader who redefines everything — from family matters to economics, or even the very definition of democracy.

It is a safer bet for Turkey, however, to stick to the economic literature of Smith and Keynes, rather than adopt an economic version of Lysenkoism. The trouble is that, besides exceptionally brave figures like Yilmaz, few people are willing to speak out within the AKP universe, lest they risk being branded a soulless “Orientalist,” a spineless “traitor” or even a heinous “spy” who works for the mystical “interest-rate lobby” and other monstrous enemies of the all-glorious “New Turkey.”

 

Erdogan’s new sultanate

This is a cross-post from the Economist.

Erdogan’s new sultanate

Under Recep Tayip Erdogan and his AK party, Turkey has become richer and more confident. But the party’s iron grip is becoming counterproductive, says Max Rodenbeck

 

SEEN IN SILHOUETTE from a commuter ferry bustling across the Bosporus, parts of Istanbul seem to have changed little from centuries past. Looking to the west, towards Europe, the old walled city is still capped by multiple domes and spiky minarets. But turn to the east, towards Asia, and a different picture unfolds.

Standing as sentries to the narrow strait, giant gantry cranes heave containers onto waiting ships. Beyond them, along the low-slung Marmara shore, march soaring ranks of high-rise buildings. To the north, the hills on the Asian side of the Bosporus prickle with a metallic forest of communications towers. And on the highest of those hills rises a startling mirror to the old Istanbul: the giant bulbous dome and six rocket-like minarets of a colossal new mosque (pictured). When finished later this year, this will be Turkey’s biggest-ever house of prayer.

The scale and symbolism of the mosque, like so much of the frenzied construction that is reshaping this city, reflect the will and vision of one man: Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After over two decades in power, from 1994 as mayor of Istanbul, from 2003 as Turkey’s prime minister and since August 2014 as president, Mr Erdogan towers over his country’s political landscape. To detractors he is a would-be sultan, implacable, cunning and reckless in his ambition. To admirers he is the embodiment of a revived national spirit, a man of the people elevated to worldly glory, a pugnacious righter of wrongs and a bold defender of the faith.

Mr Erdogan has presided over some startling transformations. In two short decades his country, and most dramatically its long-neglected Anatolian hinterland, has moved from relative poverty and provincialism to relative wealth and sophistication. An inward-looking nation that exported little except labour has become a regional economic powerhouse, a tourist magnet as well as a haven for refugees, and an increasingly important global hub for energy, trade and transport.

In many ways Turkey’s 78m people have never had it so good. Since the 1990s the proportion of those living below the official poverty line has declined from the teens to low single digits, and the share of the middle class has doubled to over 40%. By every measure of living standards, the gap between Turkey and fellow members of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, has shrunk markedly.

Under the subtle but relentless Islamising influence of the Justice and Development (AK) party, co-founded and led by Mr Erdogan until he became the nation’s (theoretically non-partisan) president, the Sunni Muslim component of Turkey’s complex national identity has strengthened. The long shadow of Kemal Ataturk, the ruthless moderniser who 90 years ago built a secular republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, has faded. The AK party has marched the army, long given to ejecting elected governments from power, back to its barracks. Turkey has resumed its role as turntable between east and west.

When the AK party stumbled badly in parliamentary elections in June 2015, pundits were quick to herald an end to Mr Erdogan’s long winning streak. Whiffs of corruption and abuse of power had tainted his party, and terrorist acts by Islamic State (IS) and the influx of more than 2m Syrian refugees into the country had made Turks question his judgment.

Who dares, wins

Shorn of a parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002, the AK party should have sought a coalition partner, but instead Mr Erdogan boldly gambled on a new election on November 1st. To everyone’s astonishment his party surged back, trouncing a trio of rival parties. With 317 seats in the Grand National Assembly, Turkey’s unicameral 550-seat parliament, the party can now again legislate at will.

 

However, its majority is insufficient to allow it to revise Turkey’s 1982 constitution on its own. That was what Mr Erdogan had been trying to achieve in the June election, in the hope of creating a presidential system that would greatly widen his ostensibly limited (but in fact extensive) powers as president. In the absence of a two-thirds majority, he must work in tandem with his hand-picked prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who is a less divisive figure.

Ahead of the November election Mr Erdogan wisely toned down rhetoric about expanding his own powers but quietly strengthened his control over the party. At a party meeting last September he engineered the replacement of 31 members (out of 50) of the party’s politburo with people personally loyal to him. One of these, his son-in law, is now also a cabinet minister; and one of the party’s new members of parliament is Mr Erdogan’s former chauffeur.

Today there is no doubt about who is boss. Bureaucrats in Ankara, the capital, respond to the merest whisper from the saray (palace), the grandiose 1,000-room presidential complex, built atop a hill on the city’s outskirts at a reported cost of $615m and opened in 2014. The famously short-fused Mr Erdogan will almost certainly continue to dominate Turkish politics until the end of his term in 2019, and very possibly beyond: some say he has set his sights on 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic. By then he would have served at the helm of the Turkish state for far longer than Ataturk himself.

Today there is no doubt about who is boss. Bureaucrats in Ankara, the capital, respond to the merest whisper from the saray (palace), the grandiose 1,000-room presidential complex, built atop a hill on the city’s outskirts at a reported cost of $615m and opened in 2014. The famously short-fused Mr Erdogan will almost certainly continue to dominate Turkish politics until the end of his term in 2019, and very possibly beyond: some say he has set his sights on 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic. By then he would have served at the helm of the Turkish state for far longer than Ataturk himself.

To his party’s pious core constituency, that is something to rejoice in. Much of the country’s urban working class, as well as those living in the stretch of central Anatolia sometimes known as Turkey’s Koran belt, share this cult-like devotion to the former food vendor and semi-professional footballer turned statesman. Other AK voters, such as small businessmen and property developers, may be warier of Mr Erdogan. They support the party mainly because of its record of economic growth and relative stability after decades of turbulence. The AK’s swift comeback between the June and November polls reflected fear of a return to political volatility as much as enthusiasm for its policies.

 

The collapse last summer of peace talks between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), an armed rebel group, raises the spectre of more bloodshed. The talks had made little progress but did much to calm the restless south-east, a region dominated by ethnic Kurds, who make up 15-20% of Turkey’s population nationwide. Fighting in the region in the 1980s and 1990s had left some 40,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians dead and displaced perhaps 1m Kurds from their homes. Soon after the June election, clashes between security forces and Kurdish activists, which had been suspended for two years, resumed. In the months since, heavily armed police have clamped curfews on Kurdish towns. The clashes have left well over a hundred civilians dead, in addition to scores of Turkish security men and, says the Turkish army, more than 400 alleged PKK guerrillas.

At the same time Mr Erdogan faces rising economic headwinds. Between 2002 and 2007 Turkey’s GDP grew at an annual average of 6.8% and its exports tripled, but since then GDP growth has settled at around 3.5% a year and exports have remained virtually flat. Income per person, which the AK party four years ago rashly promised would rise to $25,000 a year within a decade, is stuck at around $10,000.

None of this is disastrous, and Turkey’s economy is far more robust than it used to be. The trouble is that Mr Erdogan’s government has continued to behave as if the good times had kept rolling. Although the country’s chronic current-account deficit has narrowed lately, thanks to falling energy prices, Turkey relies heavily on foreign capital and is finding it increasingly difficult to attract money from abroad. Yet in recent years its government has shied away from reforms to boost the meagre domestic savings rate or promote industry, even as a consumer credit binge and heavy infrastructure spending have crowded out private investment. Rigid labour and tax rules remain a burden. Mr Erdogan himself has shaken confidence further by bullying his central bank to keep money cheap and by hitting the business interests of political rivals. Without a serious policy shift, including an effort to deal with concerns about institutional independence and the rule of law, Turkey’s economy will continue to underperform.

Darker scenarios have less to do with the country’s domestic market than with geopolitics. Because of the way it straddles cultures and continents, Turkey has always held a complicated hand. In recent years the mayhem on its southern borders, coupled with renewed tension pitting its NATO and European allies against an expansionist Russia, have made its position all the more delicate. Yet Mr Erdogan’s government has failed to show much diplomatic finesse.

Everyone agrees that Turkey has been immensely generous in accommodating well over 2m refugees from Syria’s civil war. It has also worked hard to resolve long-standing squabbles with neighbours such as Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Armenia. But it has often appeared aloof and suspicious, failing to communicate effectively or to work with allies.

The most important of these, and Turkey’s dominant trading partner, is the European Union. Fear of a continuing tidal wave of migrants has lately prompted Europe to proffer aid and a resumption of stalled talks on Turkish membership in exchange for tighter border controls. But there is little warmth in the relationship. Most European governments still see Turkey as a buffer more than a partner. And Mr Erdogan’s government has appeared more concerned to extract concessions than to adopt European norms as a good thing in their own right.

The danger of isolation was sharply underlined in November when Turkish jets shot down a Russian fighter over Syria that had briefly entered its air space. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, swiftly responded with a broadside of sanctions. The Russian measures could trim up to 0.7% from Turkish GDP growth this year, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

With lukewarm support from its allies, Turkey has tried to calm the excitement. But given its support for militias fighting against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and Russia’s growing military commitment to his survival, there could well be more clashes. Turkey seems in danger of stumbling into an unplanned but potentially costly fight. It imports most of its gas from Russia, and Turkish construction firms have well over $10 billion-worth of Russian contracts on their books.

Worried voters in November rallied behind Mr Erdogan, backing a strong, tested government

Now Turkey faces a new threat. A double suicide-bombing in Ankara on October 10th last year aimed at a march by leftist trade unions and Kurdish activists killed more than 100 people. In January suicide-bombers struck again, this time in the heart of Istanbul, killing ten tourists. Both attacks were attributed to Islamic State. In a country that has long seen itself as insulated from Middle Eastern turmoil, the intrusion of violent radical Islam came as a particular shock. Worse, it partly reflected Mr Erdogan’s slowness to recognise the danger of blow-back from his own policies in Syria, where Turkey for too long indulged radical Islamists so long as they opposed the Assad regime.

Rather than blame the party in power for such setbacks, worried voters in November rallied behind Mr Erdogan, backing a strong, tested government rather than risk rule by a possibly weaker coalition. It helped that the ruling party, in effect, controls Turkey’s mainstream media, which pumped up nationalism in the face of danger. Mr Erdogan had carried the 2014 presidential election with a slim majority of 52%, and his AK party, for all its success, enjoys the support of just half the Turkish public. Many of the rest remain sceptical or even bitterly opposed to him.

This special report will argue that Turkey’s leaders, with their ambitions still set on mastery, are not doing nearly enough to heal such internal rifts. The Kurdish issue looms as one big danger, and so does the Turkish economy’s growing vulnerability to external shocks. Mr Erdogan’s blustering, bulldozing style, together with his party’s growing intolerance for dissent, portends trouble.

 

Turkey at a crossroads as Erdoğan bulldozes his way to lasting legacy

This is a cross-post from the Guardian.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waves to crowds during a rally to commemorate the anniversary of Istanbul’s conquest by Ottoman Turks 562 years ago.

The rolling hills by the Black Sea, 90 minutes north-west of Istanbul, have long been prized for their dense forest and pristine lakes. Now the water buffalo that graced this landscape and supplied the city with much of its dairy produce are vanishing from what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, has turned into one of the world’s biggest building sites.About 2.5m trees are being cleared from an area of 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres). The lorries are bumper to bumper, 24 hours a day. The locals can barely sleep, nor cross the street for the noise and the traffic. “The forests are gone, the villages are gone, the livestock is gone,” says Cemalettin Gün, a farmer. Prominent among the tens of thousands of election posters covering Istanbul is the explanation for the construction frenzy. “We are building the world’s biggest airport,” boast the posters of the governing Justice and Development party, or AKP, that Erdoğan created and turned into the most formidable political machine in the country’s history.

Erdoğan loves gargantuan, world-beating projects – a huge election poster of himself and the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, entered the Guinness Book of Records last week as the biggest ever, anywhere. And he seems to like felling trees. Less than a year ago in Ankara he moved into a new presidential palace of pharaonic proportions, worthy of Nicolae Ceaușescu or Saddam Hussein. It outstrips Washington’s White House by a factor of 30. The staff include five experts, who check Erdoğan’s food for poisoning or contamination. The Ankara palace also required a major exercise in forest clearance. Turkish courts, most recently last week, repeatedly ruled the building illegal. “Let them try to knock it down. I’m moving in anyway,” the president responded.

When Turkey goes to the polls on, in what is shaping up to be an epic and fateful election, Erdoğan and his legacy will be the main, if not the only, issue on voters’ minds. “It’s what he calls the new Turkey,” says Cengiz Çandar, a leading political analyst. “This is about his legacy and he’s very ambitious. He needs a strong presidency. He’s also very uneasy about corruption allegations and needs safeguards. Some fear it might be Turkey’s last election – before a dictatorship.

The reason for such worries is that Erdoğan has turned the ballot into a kind of referendum on his one-man drive to rewrite the country’s constitution, abolish parliamentarianism and install a powerful new executive presidency occupied by himself. Paradoxically, he is not even running for election. As head of state since last August, following a three-term, 12-year premiership, he is supposed to be non-partisan, above the political fray. Instead he is pounding the country, speaking himself hoarse. During a recent campaign week, he notched up 44 hours on loyalist national television.

“Erdoğan has proven since 1994 – when he was mayor of Istanbul – that he can reach any goal he sets himself,” says Metin Yüksel, the deputy editor of Sabah, a daily newspaper and AKP mouthpiece. “No opposition has been able to stop him. Turkish voters like a leader.”

The main question in the election is whether Turkish voters will opt not so much to stop Erdoğan as to clip his wings and deny him, for now, his big plans for systemic change, entrenching his own power. Since his 2002 landslide thrust Turkey into a new era that started with great promise and in recent years, by general consensus, has degenerated into whimsy and authoritarianism, Erdoğan has led the AKP to three election victories, increasing its vote every time and securing comfortable absolute majorities in the 550-seat parliament in Ankara.

Constitutional grapple

To change the system, the AKP needs a two-thirds, or 367-seat, majority enabling it to rewrite the constitution. Failing that – and it looks highly improbable – it needs a three-fifths, or 330-seat, majority, which would allow it to call a plebiscite on constitutional revision. That, too, is unlikely, according to the opinion polls. But there is general agreement that the party is the slickest, most organised political machine Turkey has ever seen. All bets are off. The AKP owns the bureaucracy, controls the media, has returned the army to barracks and marginalised the military, traditional arbiters of Turkish politics. Erdoğan used his final term as prime minister to curb the independence of the key institutions of state – the constitutional court, the parliament, the central bank, the prosecution and judiciary services.

Turkish court rejects Erdogan’s complaint against opposition leader calling him ‘thief’

This is a cross-post from RT News.

A local Turkish court has dismissed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appeal against an opposition party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The Turkish president filed two lawsuits this week, seeking damages after Kilicdaroglu called him a “thief”.

Erdogan’s lawyers have been seeking 200,000 Turkish lire ($66,000) in damages, saying this was an “attack on his personal rights.” On Thursday, Ankara 7th Civil Court of First Instance dropped the case.

“Politics should not be turned into such environment. They are setting a bad example for our children,” Judge Leyla Kundakçı said after announcing her ruling, Hurriyet newspaper reported. “But the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are obvious.”

Two years ago, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu slammed Erdogan, who was the prime minister then, as “thief” and “prime thief”.

“A prime thief, a thief cannot be prime minister,” Kilicdaroglu said in February 2014.

“The attack, which directly targeted his personal rights, is heavy and unfair. ‘Prime thief’ and ‘thief’ are concrete criminal charges that cannot be accepted within freedom of expression and the right to political criticism,” Erdogan’s lawyers said, as quoted by Hurriyet.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan. © Kayhan Ozer / Presidential Palace Press Office

The opposition party leader’s defense insisted that Kilicdaroglu was only voicing his opinion, referring to the government corruption scandal, during which probes were launched against 53 suspects.

Among the people involved in the 2013 Turkish corruption scandal were former ministers’ children, businessmen and even an Iranian gold trader married to a Turkish pop star. They were accused of bribery, fraud, money-laundering and gold-for-gas deals with Iran. The suspects were said to be a part of a network of corruption which could be traced to Erdogan’s inner circle. As a result, several ministers resigned, hundreds of police officers were fired. Erdogan denied any corruption charges and said they were an attack on him ahead of the general election.

On Monday, Erdogan’s team filed another complaint against Kilicdaroglu, this time seeking 100,000 Turkish lire ($32,000) over the CHP leader labeling the president “a dictator.”

The previous week, Kilicdaroglu called the Turkish president “a dictator” just one day after Erdogan urged prosecutors to investigate academics who signed a declaration criticizing military action in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Twenty-seven of the signatories were briefly detained.

“Academics who express their opinions have been detained one by one on instructions given by a so-called dictator… You may not agree with the content of the declaration. We also have issues with it, we also have our disagreements. But why limit freedom of speech?” said Kilicdaroglu.

Insulting the president is considered a crime in Turkey and the punishment for it can be as much as four years in jail.

The biggest opposition party in Turkey, with 134 seats in the 550-member Turkish parliament, the CHP, has been led by Kilicdaroglu since May 2010.

Erdogan’s European lobby group UETD-UK holds political conference in a British school!

Erdogan Dictator

It is abundantly clear to anybody following political events in Turkey over the past few years that Erdogan’s government continues to silence free speech, restrict freedom of expression and abuse the rule of law.   This has resulted in journalists being arrested, media channels being closed down and judges jailed.   The dictatorial tendencies of Erdogan and his AK Party grow more and more every day.  It is somewhat worrying then to learn that Erdogan’s lobby group in the UK, Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD-UK), held a political conference at a British school in 2014.

British schools are not supposed to allow the promotion of partisan political views on their premises, yet the Petchey Academy (Hackney) allowed UETD-UK to hold a conference which heavily promoted biased political views.  The subject of the conference was: “History of military coups and 28th February Post-modern Coup, recent Gezi Park Protests and 17-25 December graft probe”.   The rationale for the conference was described as follows:

“As Turkish citizens who reside in Britain, who love their country and nation, we stand up against any sort of tutelage, to protect our Prime Minister and our Government and the will of the public”

Later the Facebook page of UETD-UK announced an additional aim of the conference:

“to protect our “World Leader” Recep Tayyip Erdogan”

The phrase “world leader” to describe Erdogan is used on pro-AKP TV channels around the clock (around 80 percent of the Turkish media are now under the control and influence of AKP).   Far from being seen as a world leader, nearly a half of the Turkish population do not support him and even less do outside of Turkey.  One of the keynote speaker’s at the conference was Metin Külünk: AK Party Foreign Relations Deputy Chair and Istanbul MP.  In his speech he made it clear that AKP did not want to share power with any other party and anybody opposing it would in fact be opposing Turkey itself!

Interestingly, the leader of UETD-UK Mutallip Unleur, is also a Director of Oak Free School Trust.  His group attempted to set up two free schools in 2013 but we understand that applications for both were rejected by the Department for Education.  He is also a Trustee of Nida Trust which describes itself as an educational charity.  Perhaps he is now using his connections in education to further his personal political agenda?

Our main concern is whether it is appropriate for a British school to be leasing its premises to political groups who are spreading heavily biased political views.  We will be raising this with the Department for Education and asking them what due diligence schools are required to carry out before they lease their premises to political groups such as UETD-UK.  We will also be asking whether Petchey Academy, on this occasion, failed in its duty to stop the promotion of partisan political views.  We’ll keep you updated!

 

 

Noam Chomsky slams Turkey’s Erdogan for arresting Academics, supporting Extremism

This is a cross-post from Informed Comment.

Chomsky on Erdogan

Michael Weaver of the Guardian reports retired MIT linguist Noam Chomsky’s reply to a personal attack by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan criticized Chomsky and other international scholars who signed a petition against the Turkish government’s current vendetta against Kurdish-Turkish citizens in the country’s southeast. Erdogan demanded that Chomsky come to southeast Turkey to see the terrorism committed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) with his own eyes, implying that Chomsky and other signatories of the petition are mere armchair scholars.

Chomsky replied via an email to The Guardian:

“Turkey blamed Isis [for the attack on Istanbul], which Erdoğan has been aiding in many ways, while also supporting the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different. He then launched a tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds – who happen to be the main ground force opposing Isis in both Syria and Iraq. Is there any need for further comment?”

Chomsky points out that the Turkish air force has bombed the Syrian Kurds of the YPG, who are distantly linked to the PKK. They are post-Marxists with an anarchist bent– i.e. their ideology is close to Chomsky’s own. Those Syrian Kurds have been the most effective fighters against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). So for Turkey to attempt to weaken the Syrian Kurds inevitably helps Daesh.

PKK fighters have also helped against Daesh in Iraq. Turkey has also been bombing them. But the PKK has killed dozens of Turkish troops and police in eastern Anatolia since Erdogan broke off the peace talks last summer.

Erdogan’s government is supporting the Syrian Army of Conquest, a Saudi-backed Salafi movement of rebels against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. One component of the Army of Conquest is the Nusra Front or al-Qaeda in Syria. So Chomsky is reminding Erdogan that, iimplicitly, his government backs al-Qaeda while bombing Kurds who are the best hope for a victory over Daesh.

I doubt if Erdogan’s government is helping Daesh. But it is clear that Turkish and American armaments have been leaking from “vetted” groups to al-Qaeda and Daesh. And, there isn’t much evidence of Erdogan having taken Daesh very seriously– the Turkish air force has flown a hundred times more missions against the PKK than against Daesh.

The dispute began when over a thousand academics in Turkey and abroad signed a petition directed at Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, saying they would not be party to the crimes committed against innocent Kurdish-Turkish villagers in the country’s southeast, who were being harmed and even starved by arbitrary curfews. The letter said:

“As academics and researchers of this country, we will not be a party to this crime!

“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

This deliberate and planned massacre is in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party. These actions are in serious violation of international law.

We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift the curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage. For this purpose we demand that independent national and international observers to be given access to the region and that they be allowed to monitor and report on the incidents.

We demand the government to prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement. We demand inclusion of independent observers from broad sections of society in these negotiations. We also declare our willingness to volunteer as observers. We oppose suppression of any kind of the opposition.

We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met”

The Turkish state responded heavy-handedly, arresting nearly two dozen academics on charges of signing the petition, most of whom were released after questioning. The petition does not support the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization, but rather supports the human rights of Turkish citizens of the southeast. But Erdogan and his partisans accused the petitioners of supporting terrorism. It is a ridiculous charge, similar to the tactics of the Likud Party of Israel, which equates opposition to Occupation and oppression of Palestinians with support for terrorism.

The Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America wrote a letter to the Turkish governmentprotesting these moves:

“Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu:

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our serious concern over reports that the Higher Education Council (Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu, or YÖK) had an emergency meeting to commence an investigation against scholars who signed a petition for peace in the Kurdish regions of the country (“Peace Petition”). YÖK officials are reportedly treating this petition as pro-PKK “terrorist propaganda” that falls outside of the protections of academic freedom. Further, there are reports that YÖK plans to convene university rectors to take additional action against signatories at their universities. These actions by YÖK represent a violation of academic freedom and are consistent with broader efforts on the part of the state to punish critics of state policies.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The government’s actions against the Peace Petition signatories are distressing for at least three reasons. First, investigating the signatories after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the campaign in a public address, calling the signatories “traitors,” suggests that YÖK’s actions are inappropriately politicized. As we noted in our letter sent on January 7, 2016, the government has enhanced YÖK’s regulatory authorities in ways that are inimical to university autonomy. In this environment, it is hardly surprising that universities are proactively taking punitive measures in anticipation of your government’s actions. Within a day of President Erdoğan’s speech and the announcement of the YÖK investigation several universities initiated punitive measures against their faculty. Assistant Professor Hülya Doğan at Bartın University is reportedly under investigation by her university for being a signatory of the petition. Likewise Sivas Cumhuriyet University has reportedly launched an investigation against Professor Ali Çeliksöz for having signed the petition. Associate Professor Latife Akyüz has been suspended by Düzce University administration, and a criminal investigation has been opened against her for “terrorism propaganda”—all for being a signatory of the petition. The rector of Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri, has reportedly demanded the resignation of Professor Bülent Tanju solely on the grounds that he is a signatory of the Peace Petition. The local prosecutor in Kayseri, taking note of the rector’s action, has also initiated a criminal investigation against Professor Tanju under Articles 216 and 301 of the Penal Code. The mere act of signing the Peace Petition has left Professor Tanju facing possible charges for “inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples” and “denigration of the Turkish nation” under these penal provisions. Lecturer Ümran Roda Suvağcı from Hakkari University has been taken into custody for having signed the petition. Further disciplinary investigations have reportedly been initiated by the rectors of four universities—Samsun Ondokuz Mayıs University, Antalya Akdeniz University, Abant Izzet Baysal University, and Ankara Hacettepe University—against members of their faculties who are signatories. Many more universities are likely to follow suit, amounting to a wave of punitive actions against academics solely on the grounds that they have criticized the government’s policies in the southeastern provinces. In a university system in which rectors are appointed by the state and YÖK is free to initiate politicized investigations of academics, the actions being taken against signatories of the Peace Petition are a stark reminder that restrictions on academic freedom have become a matter of state policy in Turkey.

Second, among the signatories of the petition are scholars whose research is on the Kurds, other minorities, politics, history, and other related fields. That is, their scholarly work is related to the concerns raised in the text of the petition. By treating the Peace Petition as treasonous and launching an investigation of signatories, the government is effectively interfering with the ability of these academics to conduct their research. President Erdoğan suggests that the petition calls for foreigners to intervene to correct the situation in Turkey. In fact, the petition called for national and international independent observers to monitor the situation in the Kurdish region. This is not a call for foreign intervention, but rather an invitation to engage in the kind of independent observation that is the hallmark of both human rights monitoring and academic research. To investigate and criminalize a petition in which scholars call for independent observers to monitor areas under siege and curfew where civilian deaths have been reported is to strike at the heart of the academic enterprise—the ability to conduct independent research.

Finally, since the general elections in 2011, this is our twentieth letter calling upon your government to protect academic freedom in Turkey. Unfortunately, more often than not these letters have identified instances in which members of your government have used their authority to silence critics within Turkish academic circles by branding them terrorists or traitors for engaging in academic research or exercising their right to free speech to call for peaceful political change. Equally, these cases have often arisen in the context of academics’ conducting research or publishing findings critical of your government’s policies with respect to Kurdish citizens or the Kurdish regions of the country. The politicization of regulatory powers over higher education to punish dissent and silence critics of your government’s policies on various issues, including Kurdish rights, represents a serious violation of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and has cast a long shadow over the democratic credentials of your government.

As a member state of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Turkey is required to protect freedom of thought, expression and assembly. Turkey is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), all of which protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, which are at the heart of academic freedom. These rights are also enshrined in articles 25-27 of the Turkish Constitution. We urge your government to take all necessary steps to ensure that these rights are protected.

We respectfully ask that your government take immediate steps to ensure that YÖK drop any investigation of or action against the signatories of the Peace Petition and that any actions—including university, YÖK or criminal investigations or charges—against Professors Bülent Tanju, Hülya Doğan, Latife Akyüz, Ümran Roda Suvağcı and others be reversed. As of this writing reports are emerging about additional disciplinary investigations as well as an independent criminal investigation launched by the Istanbul Public Prosecution Office against all the signatories under Article 301 of the Penal Code and Article 7 of Anti-terror Law alleging “terrorist organization propaganda”; we respectfully demand that any such investigations also be dropped. Against a backdrop of mounting international condemnation of the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms under your administration, taking steps to protect academic freedom and the right to education would be an important step to address concerns about human rights in Turkey.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Yours sincerely,

Beth Baron
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona ”