Monday,21 August, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)
Monday,21 August, 2017
Issue 1345, (18 - 24 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan off to Washington

Tensions seethe between Turkey and its NATO partners ahead of the visit of Erdogan to Washington. Syria is the greatest point of contention

Erdogan off to Washington
Erdogan off to Washington

An observer of the written and audio-visual media in Turkey is immediately struck by how radically the rhetoric of the mainstream press in Turkey with regard to the West (the EU and the US) has changed. The attitude towards what one had thought was the orientation on which Turkey had set its heart is filled with scepticism and suspicion.

Since about a decade ago, Anatolian language towards Europe and the superpower on the other side of the Atlantic has been growing gradually antagonistic, a trend that proceeded in tandem with a steady recoil from modernism, a mounting rejection of the republic founded by Kemal Ataturk and growing infatuation with a Turko-centric outlook that harks back to an ancestral Turanic past and seeks to revive Ottoman glories. The outlook and its attendant reactionary attitudes have been systematically cultivated and promoted by the Islamist and ultranationalist ruling party.

However, the crucial turning point in this trend came in the wake of the “coup attempt” in mid-July last year when the powers-that-be in Ankara felt that the Americans and Europeans were not quick enough to show their sympathy and condemn the handful of soldiers that rebelled against the “freely elected” government. Indeed, the occupant of the White Palace and his press pool suggested that those Westerners had secretly wished that the coup had succeeded and ousted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “They place themselves at the top of the list of countries that defend human rights, but their deeds flagrantly expose their true intentions,” railed one of the government’s many propaganda organs.

It made no difference that the Europeans and Americans reiterated their condemnations of the coup and repeatedly declared that they stood by the choices of the Turkish people. The gap continued to expand and deepen as one crisis followed the next. Erdogan and cronies found that easy to explain: The countries that he had thought were his friends turned out to be insincere. The proof was to be found in the fact that they “sympathised with and harboured those responsible for bombing the parliament and military and security buildings in Ankara” 10 months ago. “Those responsible”, of course, are the members of the so-called “FETO terrorist organisation”, the diabolical genius behind which is Erdogan’s erstwhile political mentor and companion who has chosen self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

Now, to make matters worse, those “evil Westerners” are playing the “Kurdish card”. This is not to say that they are meddling in the age-old intractable Kurdish question inside Turkey. Rather, in the eyes of the ruling party, they are “exporting” it to the Syrian crisis. Moreover, the plan will not end with the elimination of IS (the Islamic State group), as the international coalition pretends, but rather by giving root to a new political geography in northern Syria that, according to ruling party pundits, will ultimately strike at the heart of Turkish unity.

Politicians in Ankara screamed and threatened, warning of the danger of supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the war against IS on the grounds that the majority of these forces are Syrian Kurds, which automatically makes the SDF an offshoot of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the West also ranks as a terrorist organisation. But to no avail. The US-led coalition kept insisting there was no connection. Yildirim can say, “It’s not right to use one terrorist organisation to fight another. This is not appropriate behaviour for serious nations,” as often as he likes. The US will still respond that the SDF and the affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) are not terrorist organisations and are not linked to the PKK. To top this off, Donald Trump confirmed in no uncertain terms that the coalition intends to supply the SDF with heavy weapons and military equipment. This affirmation, moreover, came right on the eve of Erdogan’s visit to the White House.

The Erdogan propaganda machine was outraged. They accused Turkey’s allies of animosity, of punishing Turkey for its “progress”, of jeopardising the southern borders of one of their fellow NATO members, of colluding with FETO, of handing the key to drawing the northern Syria map to the “PKK” as part of designs for a “new Middle East”. Press pool pens quivering with righteousness and implied threat proclaimed: “We will defend Turkey’s borders and we will strike those who threaten our national security with a hand of iron!”

Ironically, Erdogan, who initiated the vitriol against the European (and US) “crusaders” bent and making war against Islam by, for example, harbouring the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, found himself in the position of having to rein in his growling mouthpieces. They were calling on him to cancel his US visit and, moreover, to close Incirlik airbase to coalition forces. That clearly would not do, not when regional developments were not working in his favour. So, he said that he would go ahead with the visit in the hope of persuading Trump to change his mind. He would use all his charms to impress upon the US president how eager the Turks were to take part in the liberation of Raqqa so long as Syrian Kurdish fighters are not involved. In impassioned tones, he said that he would tell Trump that “Turkey and the US together will turn Raqqa into a graveyard for the jihadists!”

Finally, before setting off, he suggested that instead of arming the Kurds, the US should shift its support to the “Free Syrian Army”, apparently forgetting that this force accomplished very little success against IS, contrary to the SDF. Indeed, it is precisely because of its impressive victories against IS that the SDF has earned praise from Western military leaders as the most effective force on the ground in Syria in the fight against terrorism. This is why the US-led coalition believes that the SDF and its contingent YPG and YPJ forces merit the military hardware that will make them “more effective, stronger and more resolute in the war against terrorism”. This conviction is clearly shared by Trump.

So what exactly does Erdogan hope to gain from this trip?

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