Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey on the defensive

Fears are growing in Turkey about Western intentions regarding the Kurds and a solution to the Syrian conflict, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

The contours of a new map have begun to appear on the horizon. It is steadily taking shape in a triangle where a single ethnic group predominates and that has long been the scene of horrifying violence and bloodshed.

The area in question stretches across northern Syria, Iraq and southeastern Anatolia. It now appears to be headed for a series of fatal clashes. On the one side, at the very heart of this tragedy, are the Turks. They have become convinced that a large chunk of their extensive territory is on the road to partition, and that it is happening under the very noses of those who are, at least in theory, their allies.

In this framework it appears that the West may be bent on exacting revenge for Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan’s blackmail over the Syrian refugee crisis. The West is playing the EU accession card, since this has to receive an official stamp of approval from the EU’s 28 members.

Yet the Dutch foreign minister recently said that “there is no room” for Turkey in the EU, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has quipped that as long as the accession talks continue at the current pace Turkey will not be crossing the threshold before the year 3000.

Ankara has little choice but to swallow such affronts, confining itself to the terse retort of Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş to the effect that Turkey is not to be faulted in all of this, coupled with some thinly veiled threats regarding the refugee deal.

The EU intends to dispatch a delegation of commissioners to Turkey next week in a bid to smooth things over, but ultimately the episode will remind Ankara that there can be no visa-free entry for Turks into the Schengen space until Ankara amends its anti-terror laws. Given the direction that Turkey has been going under Erdogan’s rule, this may be asking the impossible.

The West is also harping on about the Kurdish theme and Turkey’s intractable Kurdish question. These days, striking a sympathetic chord on this cause is sufficient for Erdogan to be driven into a frenzy of panic and rage.

Surely it was no coincidence that Kurds residing in Europe were given the go-ahead to stage mass demonstrations against the policies of the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, during which protestors called for a halt to “the bloodbaths caused by the brutal war that Erdogan has unleashed against the people of southeastern Turkey.”

The demonstrators held aloft placards with photographs and slogans of support for the dozens of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) representatives in the Turkish parliament whose parliamentary immunity has been lifted preparatory to a purge.

Needless to say, this latest injustice in Turkey has been harshly condemned by European officials who are expected lend all possible support when Kurdish MPs take their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This was followed by the most stunning blow of all — photographs of US soldiers in Syria sporting the emblem of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) on their uniforms. Ankara considers the YPG to be the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

An incensed Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned officials from the US Embassy in Ankara to register Turkey’s protest against this behaviour. Washington tried to soothe the ruffled feathers but, more importantly, a message was conveyed to the government in Ankara.

Part of that message was spelled out by official US spokesmen in Washington. The people in Syria that Ankara has branded as terrorists are not regarded as such by the US. In fact, the YPG have proven themselves to be “reliable” partners in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, the spokesmen said.

This fuelled the wrath of Erdogan and his newly appointed prime minister, Binali Yildirim. Erdogan vowed to crush the PKK and those that support it, referring to the Syrian Kurds across the border.

Erdogan was speaking in the southeastern provincial capital of Diyarbakir, which has a majority Kurdish population. He was there to inaugurate public projects in the city, which seemed to have turned into a ghost town to mark the occasion.

The security services tightened their grip while making room for a crowd of a respectable size to be mustered. Presumably, a portion of this was bussed in after being handpicked by local mukhtars (mayors) whose loyalty Erdogan has been cultivating.

But the crowd still seemed relatively small, for the simple reason that the real locals, who turn out in their thousands for occasions that have nothing to do with the AKP, had not turned up.

On this occasion, the US came in for the lion’s share of the fury that Erdogan vented against the West for its double standards on terrorism and other matters. But in view of the political climate in Turkey at present, it is perhaps not surprising that segments of the Turkish public also echoed the government line, suspecting that some conspiracy is afoot in Western corridors.

Evidence of this is to be found in the rumours now in circulation. Will the Americans hand over the Syrian city of Raqqa to the YPG after liberating it from IS, one question asks.

In other words, they see a repetition of the scenario that was played out in the city of Kobani, liberated in June last year, but on a larger scale and across a larger area, and specifically in places that are geographically, as well as ethnically, close to each other.


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