Saturday,22 July, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1326, (5-11 January 2017)
Saturday,22 July, 2017
Issue 1326, (5-11 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan’s policies backfire

The New Year’s Eve terrorist attack in Istanbul appears unlikely to be the last as Turkey’s woes continue under Erdogan, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

#IS claimed responsibility for the blast in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub # the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara
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Not all the government’s the news bans and communications jamming could prevent the circulation of video footage of the horrific assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, by a Turkish police officer. In what has been described as one of the “easiest assassinations in history”, 21-year-old Mevlüt Mert Altintas from Aydin merely had to show his police ID in order to enter the art gallery where the Russian ambassador was viewing an exhibit 19 December, days ahead of Christmas. The timing was not a coincidence, especially given the assassin’s jihadist diatribe as he committed his crime. According to his sister, Altintas picked up jihadist rhetoric and ideology at the time he was posted at the presidential palace in Ankara. While off duty in Istanbul, he acted it out, claiming he was avenging the children of Aleppo. Although he did not say it directly, he implied that the powers-that-be in Ankara were also responsible.

Nightmarish tragedies would visit the Turkish people two more times this season. One took place just across the border in Syria, the other in the heart of Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. Both were inspired by the same jihadist ideology that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) helped nurture before turning against its jihadist allies.

The first tragedy took place in northern Syria, in Al-Bab, only a few kilometres from the Turkish border, where Turkish forces are carrying out “Operation Euphrates Shield.” Again, Twitter bans and Internet slowdowns could not suppress circulation of a 19-minute long video-clip showing the horrifying immolation of two Turkish soldiers at the hands of their Daesh (Islamic State group) captors. The incident came only days after the assassination of Ambassador Karlov. Yet, in spite of this, and worse, in spite of the anguish of the soldiers’ parents and the concerns of public as a whole, the political authorities — the president, the prime minister, and foreign minister — kept mum. It was as though they were pretending that nothing had happened. Of course, no mention of the incident appeared in most of the mainstream press.

In tandem with the rising Turkish death toll rises in Operation Euphrates Shield (16 Turkish soldiers were killed in a single attack in December), Ankara has been beating a steady and inevitable political retreat. In the end, Ankara simply handed the keys to the Syrian question to Erdogan’s “dear friend” Vladimir Putin.

Naturally, this entailed some redrawing and re-colouring of once immutable red lines. For example, Erdogan has bowed to the Russian point of view regarding pockets of terrorism. “Some organisations that the Security Council has listed as terrorist will not be included in the ceasefire,” Ankara acknowledged in the deal it struck with Moscow and Iran regarding a solution to the Syrian conflict. In another significant retreat, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that if the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) lay down their arms and support the principle of Syria’s territorial integrity, they can be included in the framework of a comprehensive solution. Before this, Ankara had absolutely opposed the participation of these Syrian Kurdish organisations in any negotiations or political processes regarding Syria. In fact, it refused to regard them as anything but extensions of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

As for that “enemy” that is still in the seat of power in Damascus, Cavusoglu only brought his name up once in his televised address from Alanya last week. Political experts have interpreted this as a face saving gesture, on the one hand, and as a first step in footwork required to prepare the Turkish public for the fact that sooner or later their government will be dealing with the regime it had sworn to overthrow in Damascus. Interestingly, in this regard, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli, in an opening speech at the Coordination Board for Improving Investment Climate in Ankara on Friday, said that Turkey’s trade ties with Syria and Iraq will improve in 2017. This came two days after Minister of Finance Mehmet Simsek acknowledged that Turkey was facing a crisis in foreign currency revenues.

Clearly, Turkey, which is reeling economically, is now pinning its hopes on re-normalisation with a region that has been torn by war and conflict. Prime Minister Benali Yildirim, conscious of the economic strains on average people, appeared delighted at the prospects of a changing climate being ushered in by the ceasefire that went into effect last week, heralding a resumption of trade relations with erstwhile enemies.

However, it was not long before another jihadist tsunami struck. This one was much bloodier and it occurred one hour past midnight on 1 January 2017. The perpetrator and those behind him clearly intended to deliver a message to the presidential palace, which had once indulged them so generously, that Turkey would never see stability now that “Sunni” Ankara has entered a pact with “Orthodox Christian” Moscow and “Shia” Iran.

Ironically, earlier on New Year’s Eve day, Yildirim dropped by a Syrian refugee camp in the southern border town of Kilis, where he reaffirmed his government’s determination to eliminate terrorism that targets innocent people in both Turkey and Syria. Later that day, the great Erdogan, with his customary boundless confidence, informed the Turkish people in his end of the year address that Turkey would uproot terrorism. Suggesting that the terrorist groups (PKK, the Gulen “FETO” organisation and Daesh) were the visible face of the designs of foreign powers, he vowed that Turkey would defeat them all. A few hours later, Turkey would be shaken by the massacre perpetrated by a jihadist crazy in the well-known Reina nightclub attack in Istanbul’s district of Ortakoy.

That bloody orgy is what kicked off the Turkish New Year. That it occurred against the backdrop of a mounting rate of terrorist attacks during one of the most turbulent and polarised periods of Turkey’s modern history forebodes more ominous days ahead.

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