Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1312, (22-28 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Bravado in Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared war on an ‘axis of evil’ comprising the Kurds and the Gulen Movement, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Turkish army
Turkish army
Al-Ahram Weekly

In just two weeks the Turkish armed forces accomplished what the international coalition had been unable to achieve in four years, said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak this week. He was boasting of Operation Euphrates Shield, which was launched on 24 August and which would continue until the area west of the Euphrates in Syria had been cleansed of terrorist groups, he said.

Adopting more impassioned rhetoric, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “it is a binding duty upon our nation to eliminate the organisation called Daesh [Islamic State or IS] in Syria and ensure that it is unable to carry out actions inside our country.”

In a televised address marking the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, he added defiantly that “no one can prevent us from fighting the terrorist organisations that pose a threat to our people and country. Regardless of who stands behind them and supports them we will fight them,” he said.

He left no doubt as to whom he meant by “them,” referring to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that have been at the forefront of the ground war against Daesh in Syria.

“The Syrian YPG will meet the same end as the separatist PKK and the Gulen-led parallel entity,” Erdogan vowed, referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey and the religious movement led by preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan has declared a war against his own tripartite “axis of evil,” though it is not clear which of the three “evils” tops the agenda of the Turkish government, which is being gradually stripped of its republican foundations and driven back to the totalitarian theocracy of the Ottoman epoch.

 The answer to this question is crucial to understanding what is happening in the explosive region along Turkey’s southern border and threatens to spill over into Anatolia itself and strike deep into the heart of the country.

Despite his bravado, Erdogan did not mention the US openly, though the US was the party he was alluding to when he said it supported the YPG in the fight against Daesh. He also took the opportunity to implicitly blame Washington, together with its European partners, for the aborted coup attempt in Turkey in mid-July, a claim reiterated in virtually all his speeches since the attempted coup took place.

On 11 September, Erdogan said Turkey was now “much stronger, more determined and more dynamic” than before the 15 July coup attempt and that “anyone who contemplates or intends to fight us should bear in mind that they will be confronted with 570,000 soldiers from the armed forces, 260,000 members of the police and security agencies, and 79 million citizens.”

“Had it not been for the solidarity and faith of the Turkish people, it would have been difficult to save Turkey from the coup attempt,” he said, adding that this had been part of a “great game” targeting the Islamic world.

Part of that “game” involved “international campaigns targeting this country on the pretext of defending human rights, whereas in fact they are supporting terrorism,” Erdogan said, referring exclusively to Kurdish groups.

Ankara regards the “US-backed” Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, and it claims that Syrian Kurdish forces seek to establish an autonomous entity in northern Syria, which Ankara will not permit.

To drive this point home and to play on Turkish fears, Erdogan said the crisis in Syria had reached a stage where it no longer just concerned Syria, but rather had become “a question of survival” for the Turkish state and people.

“We do not have territorial ambitions on other people’s land, but at the same time we do not want anyone [else] to take a portion of that land for themselves,” he said.

There is no doubt that it was the Kurds, not Daesh, that Erdogan had in mind. A similar situation has unfolded in Iraq where beneath the guise of fighting Daesh in Nineveh Province the Turkish military has turned its attention to the Kurdish groups.

Meanwhile, the government in Turkey has dismissed popularly elected mayors and municipal leaders on the grounds that they supported forces that sought to “shatter the territorial unity” of the country. The targeted towns and cities are located in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country.

In another one of the ironies that has characterised the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, Erdogan himself was once dismissed as elected mayor of Istanbul for reciting a poem deemed to incite strife and hatred. Some 22 years later he has now fired 28 municipal chiefs in one go, replacing them with appointees from the ruling AKP.

Washington has been concerned by the latest of Ankara’s draconian measures. But AKP officials have grown accustomed to shrugging off criticisms of being undemocratic, and minister of EU affairs Omer Celik said that the appointment of 28 unelected municipal chiefs was “none of the business” of US Ambassador John Bass or any other ambassador.

The fight against terrorism was a “red line” for “a democratic country ruled by law,” Celik said, referring to Turkey. He claimed that the municipalities concerned had used their resources to support terrorist organisations, by which he meant the PKK.

Celik then charged that the mastermind behind the “biggest terrorist attack in Turkey” (the attempted coup), Fethullah Gulen, was still at large in the United States. In spite of repeated requests from Ankara, Washington had not extradited Gulen or even arrested him, he said.

Recently appointed Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu went further, perhaps hoping for a pat on the back from Erdogan. Addressing White House officials, he asked “the reasons that made you hunt down the person responsible for the 11 September attacks? What was your purpose in killing him,” apparently a reference to former Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

“We expect our ally to issue a clear and explicit caution to that person [the US ambassador] for having overstepped the bounds with such arrogance,” he said. “Great powers should avoid appointing small persons as ambassadors, especially to strong countries like Turkey.”

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confined himself to a scolding. Bass should perform his office with “dignity and professionalism” and not act as a judge of Turkey, he said.

Turkey is acting in accordance with the “right to self-defence,” and in the name of this principle Prime Minister Benali Yildirim opened another front, this time against “foreign powers,” left unnamed, that had targeted Turkey as part of a “global conspiracy” and sought to destroy it as they had Syria and Iraq.

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