Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Turkey’s many squabbles

On every front imaginable, the AKP is facing serious and seemingly intractable problems with neighbours, “friends” and even its own Muslim supporters, notes
Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Against a visual backdrop provided by Syrian state TV depicting scenes of normalcy in the streets of downtown Damascus, the Syrian minister of information held a press conference in which he lashed out at Ankara and its complicity in the conspiracy against Syria. Ankara appeared unfazed and continues to act as though it is gearing up for the post-Assad era. President Bashar Al-Assad will leave, declared Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a lengthy speech on Turkish television on Friday. The implication was that Turkey must now look ahead to consider subsequent scenarios for the Syrian state, which is being fought over by various parties, among which are forces antagonistic to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, in spite of all the assistance that Turkey had given to the Syrian revolution.

But the Syrian horizons, both short and long term, are shrouded in a dark fog. Few believe that an era of peace and stability lays ahead. On the contrary, they predict a series of ferocious storms, some of which may sweep northwards into Anatolia. Decision-makers in Ankara are certainly not in an enviable position at this crucial juncture. Surely they can not simply leave matters in Syria to fate? They need to plan and they will have to act on several fronts. This is the challenge that the Erdogan government is racing to meet.

On Saturday, under intense security measures, Turkey hosted a meeting that brought together 70 Syrian figures including clan leaders and a number of commanders of the Syrian Free Army. Held in Urfa, near the Syrian border, the participants in dialogue, which would last for three days, discussed possible arrangements for the period following the fall of the Al-Assad regime and how to unify the diverse components of the Syrian people.

As the proceedings progressed, protests erupted in some southern Anatolian villages near the Syrian border. Although the demonstrations were relatively limited, their message was clear. They opposed the deployment of the six Patriot missile batteries which are to be distributed between Gaziantep, Adana and Kahramanmarag. Their objection is that the missiles will only court more problems for Turkey and the Turkish people since the purpose of these weapons is essentially to protect military bases, and particularly the large NATO base at Incirlik and the radar base in Karapõnar in Hatay province, from possible missile assaults from Iran and not just Syria. Protesters are not only furious that the decision to deploy the missiles disregarded the potential added risk to civilian lives in the area. It will also burden the country’s national treasury with the bill for accommodating the 1,400 troops that are due to arrive from the US, Germany and the Netherlands and that are expected to stay in the country for at least a year.

The demonstrators were not the only voice of protest. Major newspapers feared that the missiles form a wedge that has created an opening for foreign domination. Significantly, Milli Gazete, which shares the AKP’s Islamist-orientation, was one of the most outspoken critics. On 20 December, it proclaimed that Turkey is “under occupation by NATO”, proof of which was to be found in the many NATO missile and radar bases that were still in place since the Cold War. “There are 28 missile and radar bases in addition to secret military bases that the US uses, under the NATO umbrella, for hostile military purposes against Islamic countries,” it wrote. It went on to observe that over recent days it has come to light that, in addition to the NATO airbases in Diyarbakir and Malatya, there were other “secret” bases in Mardin, Izmir, Balkasir. Mugla, Amasya and Hatay, “all of which serve to promote US interests in the region beneath the NATO cloak.”

It was such anger on the home front that Erdogan was addressing when he stressed, in his three-hour long speech last Friday, that Turkey was a NATO country, that NATO was obliged to protect its members and that the presence of NATO personnel in the country was a far cry from “occupation”, especially since they would be returning to their countries of origin once they completed their mission.

The Erdogan government was feeling the heat from another direction, namely Iran, which has notched up the level of its rhetoric against Ankara which, Tehran charges, persists in acting as the West’s “claw” in the Middle East. Iranian officials have also warned that the Patriot missiles could plunge the region and the world into a third world war. Naturally, it would not have served the purpose of their invective if Iranian officials had recalled Turkey’s support for Tehran in its ongoing struggle against the “accursed” West in order to obtain its right to possess the means to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Nor would it have helped to remind all of Tehran’s desire to extend Shia/Persian influence over the region. But there came a point when Turkish officials felt that Tehran had taken its vituperations too far. In a rare departure from his customary equanimity, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu angrily chastised the Iranian Chief of Staff Fairuz Abadi for threatening that the partition of Syria would lead to the partition of Turkey.

The wars of words have been raging on yet another front. Amidst the ongoing exchange of verbal fire between Ankara and Baghdad, Erdogan charged that Nuri Al-Maliki was dragging Iraq into a sectarian war and that Iraq’s only hope, now, was to return to democracy without Al-Maliki. The Iraqi prime minister, for his part, is no less adept at riling the Turks. His ace is to contact leaders in the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and, with the help of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, encourage them to threaten to ignite civil war in Turkey if the latter attacks the Kurds in Syria. Murat Karayõlan, acting PKK leader, obliged, stating recently that if Turkey intervened or tried to create a buffer zone in Syria it would be looking at a war that would leave no place in Turkey untouched. Ankara takes such threats very seriously and is taking precautions.


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