Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey’s very own Sun King

Erdogan’s internal authoritarianism also drives Turkey’s foreign policy that soon could see the country wage open war on Syria, writes Jeremy Salt

Al-Ahram Weekly

Turkey is in a turbulent and uncertain state. Street demonstrations are crushed with tear gas and water cannon. Protesters are killed without one policeman being convicted. A 15-year-old boy who died 269 days after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister is called a member of a terrorist organisation by the prime minister without a shred of evidence provided. Of all the abusive remarks Erdogan has ever made, this must rank as the most truly contemptible. Evidence of massive corruption at the highest levels of government is followed by the “reassignment” of prosecutors and more than 10,000 police in an apparent attempt to stifle investigations and destroy the “state within the state” (the Gulen movement). Direct control of the judiciary by the executive follows, along with the closing down of Twitter and YouTube to stop the flow of surreptitiously recorded conversations into the media. In one of the most recent leaks, the possibility of a false flag operation on a supposedly sacred Ottoman tomb in Syria is raised in conversation between the foreign minister, the head of the national intelligence organisation (MIT), the deputy chief of the general staff and a senior foreign ministry official. The MIT head, Hakan Fidan, offers to launch a missile attack and send four men across the border to get things going.

Sitting atop this steaming pile of political ordure is the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s very own Sun King. His face is everywhere and his fingerprints are on everything. He is the government in this country. His supporters adore him. They roar their approval no matter what he says. He rules by division, turning one half of the country against the other and presenting himself as the victim of terrorists, atheists, the state within the state, leftists, marauders, holding companies and the interest rate lobby. Now we have the cat lobby, cats being blamed for power failures during the counting of votes after nationwide municipal elections held 30 March. As power failed in more than 40 cities, towns and villages, the cats obviously organised themselves very well, sticking their paws or tails into electricity grids and causing one shortage after another. Coincidentally, of course, electricity in all the affected areas is supplied by companies close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP).

Reports came in from across the country of ballot papers being burnt, of bundled-up bags of ballot papers being found on rubbish dumps, of one person signing a mass of ballot papers and of JDP officials being inside polling stations while the votes were being counted. Thus, the official 46 per cent received by the JDP cannot be regarded as reliable. In some electorates the result was turned around after a recount but in the national capital, where JDP incumbent mayor Melih Gokcek officially received 44.7 per cent of the vote against 43.8 per cent for the Republican People’s Party Mansur Yavas, the head of the electoral body refused calls for a recount. Yavas says he is certain of electoral fraud and has appealed.

In his election victory balcony speech, Erdogan warned his enemies of his pending revenge. He also raised the question of Syria, which he said “is at war with us”. This was a crude inversion of the truth because it is Turkey, and specifically Erdogan, who is at war with Syria. He had choices three years ago and it was his choice to prolong the conflict in Syria by giving support to armed groups in the campaign being waged against the Syrian state and society as part of the broader campaign against Iran by the collective calling itself the “Friends of Syria”. Arms have poured across the Turkish border. The “refugee” camps in Turkey teem with takfiri jihadis, free to move between the camps and crossing the border to fight and kill before returning to the food, blankets, heating and medicine provided by local and international aid agencies. When wounded they are carried back across the border and treated in Turkish clinics. Istanbul is a junction for takfiris — terrorists as they would be defined in any other circumstances by the governments supporting them — flying in from across the world. They walk to the domestic terminal and take the first plane to Antakya or Adana, where safe houses await them.

Erdogan is in this war up to his neck. As he is not a man who steps back it can be assumed he is prepared to take it even further — anything rather than admit defeat. Were the Turkish people aware of what is going on, if they knew of the atrocities being committed by these takfiri marauders, including massacres, beheadings, pillaging and the desecration of churches, they would not support this campaign. But the sad truth is that they do not know the truth. The media, largely cowed and intimidated where it is not blatantly pro-government, has never even tried to unearth the depth of Turkey’s involvement. Thus when Erdogan says “Syria is at war with us” and rattles on about the slaps Turkey is going to give its enemies his supporters roar their approval.

The most dangerous point along the Turkish-Syrian border right now is the western corner of Hatay province around the town of Yayladagi and the Sunni Muslim and Turkmen “refugee” camps nearby. The Sunni Muslim camp is one of the most extreme of the camps, a corner of Afghanistan on the Turkish-Syrian border. The town and the camp teem with takfiri jihadis. The Yayladagi region appears to have been the jumping off point for the major offensive launched during the election campaign against the largely Armenian town of Kessab. First stop was to smash up the border post. Video shows armed men strolling across the border from Turkey without one policeman, jandarma or soldier in sight to stop them. A Turkish parliamentarian, Mehmet Ali Edipoglu, saw dozens of Syrian-plate cars transporting terrorists — as he called them — who were firing at the Kessab border post from the military road on the Turkish side.

Pausing to scrawl “Allahu Akbar” on the walls of the border post they moved on to the key strategic communications position of Observatory 45 where an ecstatic henna-bearded Chechen was filmed praising God for the victory. Then it was on to the town of Kessab where they desecrated churches, pillaged apartments and smashed bottles of alcohol in the streets. Turkey has denied Syrian charges of providing logistical support and cover for the takfiris through tank and artillery fire across the border. The shooting down of a Syrian plane attacking the takfiris also took place during the first stages of the advance on Kessab. Against the Turkish government’s claim that the plane was inside Turkish air space when it was hit stands the fact that the pilot ejected and landed far on the other side of the border. If the plane had been hit while in Turkish air space the pilot would have landed either in Turkey or just across the border where the takfiris would have killed him as they did the pilot of a helicopter shot down last September. There are no Syrian forces near the border and the pilot had to land well away from it to survive.

Kessab is a picture postcard resort town set in hills overlooking the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful spot and the combination of an attack by fanatics allegedly backed by the Turkish government is a nightmare for Armenians. Of the town’s 2,000 population only a remnant remain. The rest have sought refuge in nearby safe cities or across the border in Lebanon. Kessab is only one example of the damage wrought by the armed gangs, but the fact that it is Armenian has provoked outrage amongst Armenian communities around the world. Many Armenians are now said to be flying into Syria to join the fight against the armed groups. Against the claims of Turkish involvement in the attack on Kessab, the offer by Ahmet Davutoglu of a refuge for Armenians and the pictures of two elderly Armenian women transported across the border by the kind gentlemen of Al-Nusra Front to whom they entrusted the keys of their house are grotesque.

Thwarted by the way Bashar Al-Assad has resisted all attempts to destroy him, and defied his predictions three years ago that he would soon be gone, Erdogan may take the Syria campaign a dangerous step further. In the leaked conversation revealing consideration of a false flag operation, reference was made to John Kerry and his apparently recent presentation of a detailed map for the establishment of a “no fly” zone in Syria. Open military intervention is possibly more likely because of US loss of face over the Ukraine. The Arab media is reporting that the US has opened an air corridor from Jordan to Antakya for the transit to the front line of large numbers of well-trained takfiri fighters, many Chechens and Saudis. Operations across the border near Yayladagi appear to be the opening of a new front in Assad’s home province of Latakia. Out of weakness, King Abdullah of Jordan has had to do what he is told but in Erdogan the US has a bullish partner who on many occasions has expressed his willingness to go all the way if the US decides on direct intervention.

Recently the Turkish Medical Association issued a statement querying Erdogan’s mental health. It is not surprising they should think this. Erdogan’s behaviour in recent years has become increasingly authoritarian, belligerent, vindictive and hubristic. His primary mode of defence is attack. He rules by division. He divides black Turks (the poor) from white Turks (the secularised urban middle class) and blames the problems that have beset his government in the past year on a host of enemies out to undermine Turkey by attacking him.

Among his hardcore supporters it has worked. When he speaks they roar their approval. What do they care about Twitter, YouTube and Facebook? Many of them don’t even use the Internet, just like supporters of Erdogan’s blood brothers in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood. When he says that the leaked conversation in which he tells his son Bilal to get rid of the hundreds of millions of dollars and euros stashed away in family houses is a montage they believe him. The undermining of the institutions of the state doesn’t affect them at all. Erdogan gives them roads, bridges and cheap housing, and they don’t seem to care about the rest. Housing is real. Justice is an abstract. Erdogan is their man — their lion — and they urge him not to bow down.

In any other country calling itself a democracy, any one of the crises and scandals engulfing Turkey in the past year would have seen the government out of office within 24 hours. It would have been shamed into resigning by the pressure of public opinion, or it would have been forced to resign through the use of a constitutional mechanism. In Turkey, those who were ashamed have already resigned from the JDP parliamentary party or branches, but they were few in number and the rest are sticking with the vote-winning Erdogan — even though he has divided the country beyond any possibility of repair — as long as he stays in office. According to JDP rules, having served three terms in parliament, he must stand down as prime minister this year. He can always change the rules and stay on or — perhaps more likely — he will run for the presidency.

Erdogan has succeeded in wrenching Turkey from its traditional moorings. This is a mighty achievement, but whereas Ataturk set the country on the path of modernisation based on science and reason, Erdogan is driving it deeper into a reactionary religious future in which his “pious generations” will have prevailed. Man’s fate will not be decided rationally by man (or woman) but by the unpredictable whims of invisible entities flying around the celestial sphere with wings on their shoulders. While the people concentrate on the afterlife, the politicians and the businessmen will look after their interests in this one.

Erdogan has sponsored a war on Syria that has caused immense destruction and loss of life which, of course, true to form, he blames on someone else — Bashar Al-Assad. He has turned the southeast region of his country into a mustering ground for armed men whose world-view is death-based. Some are mercenaries and some are plain religious fanatics. Some are deluded young men led astray by self-described sheikhs who defame Islam with every word they speak, and some are plain psychopaths but in the dirty business of destroying Syria they are in combination perfectly suited to the task at hand. There is not a “moderate” amongst them. In any other circumstances, the governments of the US, France, Britain and Turkey would not hesitate to call them terrorists. When active on their own soil or threatening their own interests, they do.

If the US asks Erdogan to step up to the plate and turn his country into a launching pad for a direct military attack on Syria behind the cover of a “no fly” zone or a “humanitarian corridor” he has indicated many times before that he will do it. Whatever he does inside his own country is one thing, but beyond Turkey’s borders, Erdogan competes with Binyamin Netanyahu for the title of the most dangerous man in the Middle East.


The writer is associate professor of Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

add comment

  
 
 
  • follow us on