Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan rewrites history

As if Turkey’s Erdogan does not have enough problems to contend with, it seems he also set on intervening in Iraq, for purely parochial reasons, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

War rages on all fronts for Turkey. The presidential rhetoric that reverberates throughout the Anatolian propaganda machine speaks nonstop of a net of conspiracy looming on all sides. It is 1930s Germany after the Reichstag fire (and a far cry from era of Germany unification after 1989, regardless of Ankara’s charades).

So “vigilance” is not the only catchword of this critical juncture in Turkish history. It is essential take the initiative and deliver “pre-emptory strikes” against all who plot against the proud and defiant Turkish nation and its great “Reis” (leader). As those nefarious schemers keep emerging from the ranks of that Reis’s former friends and political companions of the road, his government’s former peace partners, not to mention long-term allies, Ankara is seized by frequent temper swings. These, in turn, require a lot of fancy rhetorical footwork and no small amount of inventiveness which, in turn, calls for a fresh and hawk-eyed rereading of history that has apparently been distorted by indigenous groups that lay claim to cherished portions of Anatolia.

That rereading is crucial to Erdogan’s irredentist vision for a “new Turkey” that revives the glories of the imperial past and severs all connection with the present. As that vision is infused with a strident militarism clad in Ottoman armour, clearly the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, the perpetual military clashes in the Anatolian southeast (which have necessitated curfews throughout the towns and cities with predominantly Kurdish populations), and the ongoing aerial bombardments against separatist terrorists in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq are not enough.

At the same time there is the perilous domestic front to contend with, by means of the merciless waves of holy purges needed to eradicate the movement that is now referred to as the “parallel entity.” It is headed by the preacher and Pennsylvania recluse Fethullah Gulen, accused of masterminding the 15 July coup attempt. True, Turkey has been turned into one huge prison, as Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), put it. Not that this makes much difference since his and all other critical voices have been drowned out by the one voice that blares uniformly across the country’s media outlets, known collectively as Erdogan TV. But just to make sure, another 20 or so television and radio stations were silenced last week, more academics and journalists were tossed into jail, and even a few dozen policemen were handcuffed and added to the prison glut. Curiously, the vast majority are from the secularist left that never had anything to do with Gulen and, in fact, were among that movement’s harshest critics.

One might have thought that with a ground intervention in Syria and all those curfews, arbitrary arrests and incarcerations orchestrated in the name of OHAL (the state of emergency just extended this week for another three months), the government had quite enough on its plate. But the idealistic visionary who inhabits the presidential Ak Saray has set its sights on two more fronts. Even before setting off to attend the UN General Assembly opening ceremonies last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted that his country needed to engage in a military operation similar to the one taking place in Syria. He was referring to the planned liberation of Mosul. Upon his return from New York, he not only reiterated the hint, he escalated it to a demand — literally.

Turkey’s conditions for the operation to liberate Mosul proclaimed a Haber Turk headline that observers described as provocative. It reported that coalition forces plan an operation to take place in October to free Mosul from Daesh (Islamic State group) control and that the operation will engage some 40,000 local Iraqi troops. Turkey plans to be part of that operation in the framework of its historic responsibility and solidarity with the Turkmen.

The magic word here is “Turkmen”, which resounds powerfully among a large swathe of ultranationalist Turks in their various National Movement Party (MHP), Grey Wolves and Alperenler shades, who see Mosul as an integral part of the Ottoman body before Iraq was amputated off in the 1930s due to the treachery of the rulers in those times. The dream had once enticed Turgut Ozal, head of the Motherland Party who served as president from 1989- 1993, and today it looks like Erdogan wants to revive it.

Of course, he knows it is unrealisable but he also knows that it will tantalise ultranationalist zealots and secure their support for his projects, one of which is the war against the Kurdish secessionist drive that Erdogan initiated in July last year after jettisoning a two-and-a-half-year long truce agreement with the PKK. This war is the war that is needed to serve as the justification to intervene in Mosul with the stipulation that Iraqi Kurds do not take part in the liberation of their own country on the grounds they would run up against Iraqi Turkmen, and that a Kurdish victory in Iraq would embolden Kurdish secessionist forces in Turkey.

Naturally, as any form of Turkish intervention was unsolicited by any official party in Iraq, Iraqi authorities opposed any form of Turkish military intervention and, indeed, military presence on their territory. This is particularly the case after the diplomatic contretemps over the Bashiqa military camp.

The rest of any critical opinion in Turkey that has yet to be thrown into jail has warned of the consequences of Ankara’s warmongering. The very least they could do was to point to the approximately three million refugees that have already poured into Turkey and to the potential of clashes between Turkmen and Kurds and Shia and Sunni, not to mention the possibility that the Turkish supported Sunni Turkmen will turn around and support the Daesh groups they are meant to attack and/or engage in some friendly fire against the coalition forces they are supposed to side with. Needless to say, the ears of those who must be obeyed in Ankara are deaf to such reservations.

In his weekly regular meeting with village and municipal mukhtars, one of Erdogan’s population mobilisation mechanisms, Erdogan turned his crosshairs in another direction. This time it was towards the Aegean and specifically the islands that were relinquished to Greece in accordance with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. Of course there are mosques and the like on those islands, just as there are Greek churches in Turkey. But this was not the point. The point was that the Turks who sat at the negotiating tables in Lausanne had been unable to defend Turkish rights. The point behind this was to take yet another stab at the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Kamal Ataturk.

CHP chairman Kilicdaroglu, who fewer and fewer people in Turkey will be able to hear in the forthcoming days, had the audacity to ask why Erdogan had suddenly decided to attack the Lausanne Treaty, that treaty being a reason why Erdogan himself is able to assume the presidency seat today. Kilicdaroglu warned the Turkish people against designs to drag Turkey into an ugly past that will only bring further destruction, misery and backwardness.

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