Category Archives: Turkey

Laying to rest the myth that the 15th July 2016 was a “controlled coup”

Sedat Ergin has been conducting a forensic study of the various indictments and the administrative coming and goings in Turkey since the 15th July attempted coup, with regular contributions on the subject in Hürriyet Daily News. Now an interview with Ergin summarises his findings. In part of the interview he says:

There are a number of questions lingering that need to be clarified. Chief of General Staff Akar and National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan did not conduct a proper crisis management once they received word of the coup attempt. They should have taken a different course of action. So there was operational failure on their part and it was wrong to keep the civil authority uninformed.

Another issue is the fact that Fidan, after assessing the intelligence with Akar, called the president but could not reach him. He then asked the president’s security chief whether they could protect themselves.

This shows that he was concerned about something that could affect the security of the president, and it also needs clarification. But such question marks should not lead us to the conclusion that this was a controlled coup. The huge volume of evidence in the indictments shows us that this was indeed a very serious coup attempt, not the kind you would face in a “controlled coup” environment. Read full article here

A separate question is raised as to the severity of the Turkish government emergency measures that remain in force until today. Such measures necessarily have a “authoritarian” character to them. But what if there is credible evidence that the foreign intelligence services of two major powers were behind the coup attempt, putting the very sovereignty of the Turkish at stake? What then? To paraphrase the German BILD propaganda during the last Turkish referendum on the constitution: What would Atatürk have done?

Turkey launches Operation Euphrates Sword: keeping Russia and the US apart

Turkish forces have built up around the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis in the past couple of weeks, from where Operation Euphrates Sword is currently being launched by the Turkish armed forces without any official press release. The low key operation has been billed as a mere continuation of Operation Euphrates Shield. The small Russian contingent in Afrin has withdrawn in anticipation of the Turkish advance.

The area between Al-Bab, which is held by the Free Syrian army and Turkish support troops, and Afrin – including Sheikh Isa, Tal Rifaat and Menagh, where there is an old Syrian airbase – will be the initial target of the Turkish advance. The second objective will be the area between Afrin and Idlib, which is the headquarters of Al-Nusra Front.

The Astana talks, according to the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, İbrahim Kalın, are in the process of setting up de-confliction zones in Syria. He announced that the parties to the talks (Russia, Turkey, Iran) ‘… are working on a mechanism that will probably involve Turkey and the Russians in Idlib, Russians and Iranians around Damascus and Jordanians and Americans in the Daraa area in the south.’ This particular involvement of the Americans is a proposal of the Russians and the Turks, which the US has yet to respond to (as of 07-07-2017 Trump and Putin agreed this at the G20 summit).

However, on another front, and since the consolidation of the alliance between the US and the YPG militias of the Kurdish Syrian PYD movement, Turkey is convinced that a Syrian-Kurdish state on its borders will be in the offing after the Raqqa operation is over. The massive arms supplies by the US to the YPG are being described by Gen. James Mattis as temporary, and he is described as probably being sincere on his own account. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that the American foreign policy establishment has for a long time been, and will continue to be, gunning for régime change in Turkey.

A consensus has formed in Turkey that the CIA was involved in the July 15 coup in Ankara last year with the help of the Pennsylvania-based preacher, Fethulla Gülen. The American foreign policy establishment is using its soft power to propel the narrative that Turkey is breaching human rights and sullying its democratic record in its treatment of journalists, academics, soldiers and bureaucrats suspected of links with Gülen. Turkish authorities, however, refuse to back down on their controversial methods, however, which cast a net of suspicion over a wider number of people than can stand the test of the law.

The emergency measures are, nevertheless, intended to reduce the chances of a follow-up coup, in the light of obfuscation on the part of the Americans in regard to the events of the coup, as well as clear interference on the part of Germany in Turkey’s last referendum process. Were the US and German governments keen specifically on supporting human rights and democracy in Turkey, closer cooperation with Turkey in Syria and over the Gülen affair would be a natural way forward to allay the country’s fears. Clearly, however, the two Western countries are more interested in escalating tensions over Turkey’s security embarrassments, in order to further widen the divisions within Turkey, in the continual hope that the AKP government will at some stage be overwhelmed by events.

Irrespective of whether the PYD has legitimacy among its own Kurds or not, it serves the US narrative to push the agenda of a ‘secular’  movement against the conservative AKP alliance ruling Turkey at the moment. This is especially the case since the PYD is part of the wider Kurdish KCK organisation which is fighting a guerrilla war with Turkey against the state through the PKK. Furthermore, there is no lack of funding. US ally UAE is backing the PKK against Turkey just as it funded the attempted July 15 coup.

It is clear from the recent downing of a Syrian army jet and the aggressive posturing by the White House against the Assad régime that the US is in the process of carving out an enclave in northeastern Syria from which it will seek to pursue its plans against both Turkey and Iran. These recent moves have pushed Russia to advance the de-confliction plans at Astana more quickly than expected and to allow Turkey’s plans to expand its zone of control in northern Syria to include Afrin, and Managh airbase, where some of the YPG militias are based. Turkish timing in based on the current YPG focus on the fight in Raqqa.

The Turks see this new operation as necessary to cover their backs in the coming effort to police the rebel held areas around Idlib, while the Russians do not wish to have any sizeable commitment on the ground beyond the strategic capabilities already in place at the Khmeimim airbase, which will provide air cover for the Turks. An agreement between Russia and Turkey in that zone will alleviate Russia’s difficult position by reducing the risk of outright air confrontation with the US. This is definitely in the global interest. Russia’s S-400s can easily clear the air of US fighter jets in the region, but such action would lead to a serious global escalation. Best keep the S-400s as a threat than actually use them (I think Sun Tzu said something like that).

These developments are in the interests of world peace in that they reduce the chances of conflict between Russia and the United States. Apart from the possibility of a joint US-Jordanian participation in a southern deconfliction zone, direct US influence in Syria will be limited to the area east of the Euphrates. More important is the fact that the permanence of Russian bases in the country in the Latakiyya area are no longer dependent merely on Assad’s de juro backing, but on Turkey’s de facto protection. The US is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for its double dealing with the Turks, as James Jeffrey, previous Ambassador to Ankara, predicted would happen.

The German incitement to hatred, the Turkish Referendum and the political realities of European neoliberalism

This centre spread in the BILD newspaper led the German, Austrian and Dutch media onslaught telling Turkish voters to vote NO in their referendum on constitutional change (in both German and Turkish). A YES vote would see a separation of legislative and executive powers in Turkish governance, both currently in the gift of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would thus consolidate his presidency. BILD, owned by the media giant Axel Springer, is the largest circulation newspaper anywhere outside East Asia.

The question has to be asked why this newspaper told Turkish voters that the founder of their new Republic, Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” (pictured) would have voted NO in this referendum. Read full article here. A short version is also available on openDemocracy here.

Another wall in the Middle East

The Turkish-Syrian border: another wall in the Middle East

Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow has clarified the status of Russo-Turkish relations. Russia does not want to open up a “front” with the US in Syria, by opposing the new Syria Kurdish US-sponsored government (PYD) . Therefore, despite the Turkish president’s pleas, the PYD office in Moscow will remain open, and cooperation between Russia and the Syrian Kurds continue. This cooperation came to light when evidence was uncovered that the YPG, the armed militia of the PYD, was using Russian satellite imagery to plan its military campaigns.

Turkish-Russian relations, on the other, have actually blossomed, and have reached the point that Erdoğan is even considering buying S-400 systems for Turkish air defence. The core of the two countries’ fast growing commercial relations centers on the building of the Turkstream pipeline through Turkey to Europe for Gazprom to avoid using Ukraine to transit its gas. However, when the Turkish army set about organising to assert its claim over the town of Manbij, where the YPG is ensconced, thus broadening its ‘safe’ region in Syria , Russia forestalled the move. It quickly brokered an agreement between the Syrian régime and the PYD to install régime forces in the path of Turkey forces, across the villages on Manbij’s western front.

It thus becomes clear that the region now dominated by Turkey and its rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), from A’zaz to el-Bab and across to Jarablus, is considered by Russia to be a sufficient concession to Turkish demands to secure its borders with Syria. Russia, on the other hand, seems to be happy with Turkey’s relationship with the Ukrainian government in Kiev, recently consolidated by a visa-free travel agreement between the two Black Sea neighbours, despite Russia’s problems with Kiev.

Meanwhile, Turkey is building a massive wall along its southeastern border to separate it from the new Syrian Kurdish cantons. Turkey is nevertheless allied with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Mahmoud Barzani and the Rojava Peshmerga forces, which are the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish National Council (ENKS). The ENKS is the umbrella group for Kurdish political parties in north Syria, excepting for the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Despite the visit of  an ENKS delegation to Washington, which aimed at highlighting the PYD administration’s oppression of other Kurdish political groups in northern Syria, the Pentagon seems to be firmly wedded to the PYD for its Northern Syrian strategy.

Pentagon actions in Syria and Iraq turning the US into a bit-player in the face of Russian strategy

Local populations displaced from Manbij

The Pentagon has led the way in forming Middle East policy, normally the province of the White House and the US State department. In Iraq, where it still controls a huge base in Baghdad’s Green Zone (known as the US Embassy) it is fighting alongside the Iraqi army to retake Mosul. But whatever it does, because it has not set out its strategy on the basis say of protecting the persecuted Sunni minority of the country, but rather simply as “fighting ISIS”, all its decisions play into the hands of the Iranians, who control the situation.

The situation is even worse in Syria, where Generals Townsend and Votel have built an alliance with the Kurdish YPG, purportedly again to “fight ISIS”, but really simply to re-establish a military presence in Syria, which had been lost. Joseph Votel was very vocal about the Turkish government’s purge of pro-US officers and Votel’s personal contacts in the Turkish military (TSK) involved in the July 15 attempted coup. The dogged resistance to Erdogan’s independent foreign policy in the US military-industrial complex has earned the Turkish President the enmity of the West’s liberal establishment. More particularly, the Pentagon’s support of the YPG is aimed at hurting Turkey, supposedly a NATO ally, albeit it one that is no longer on a tight leash.

As Liz Sly has reported the YPG or the People’s Protection Units, are the military wing of a political movement called the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has been governing northeastern Syria for the past 4 1/2 years, and which seeks to apply Abdullah Ocalan’s Marxist vision to the areas with a majority Kurdish population vacated by the Syrian government during the war.  Its rule is one of force and does not have the democratic mandate of the Kurds living in the areas it controls, let alone that of the non-Kurds (Arabs, Turcomans). It depends for its survival on US support.

The YPG is ultimately a reverse expansion into Syria of Öcalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which was launched in Diyarbakir in 1978 to demand independence from Turkey for the Turkish Kurds. It soon set up a safe haven in Syria with the backing of Hafez al-Assad, who wanted to put pressure on Turkey over water supplies at the time of the building of the Euphrates dams. But Öcalan was able to play both ends against the middle and ever since July 1979, and despite the eagle eyes of the Syrian regime watching his movements, Öcalan was able to export his Marxist-Leninist “vanguard” party idea to Syria, laying the foundation stone for the PYD as a purely political movement to start with, with US support.

While the traditional “white Turk” Kemalist governments in Turkey pursued a policy of heavy repression in Southern-eastern Turkey in response to the PKK’s activities there, Erdogan called for the “Kurdish opening” in 2005, despite the opposition to this by the Turkish military establishment. He tried to broaden the Turkish democratic space into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious political project. But the PKK’s insistence on a continuing war tipped the delicate political balance within Turkey against Erdogan, who was then forced to relent to the demand of Turkish nationalist elements to suppress Kurdish ambitions. Since then like-for-like aggressive action has had to be adopted by the Turkish authorities in response to the PKK’s terror tactics and its murder of civilians as well as military personnel in Turkey.

The US military’s blithe dismissal of the tight links between the PKK and the YPG is aimed at putting pressure on Turkey over its independent foreign policy. Effectively the Pentagon is supporting terror within a NATO ally’s borders. The Turkish government continues dialogue with the US on this subject and threatens but does not deny use of military bases in Turkey to the Pentagon. Nevertheless the strategy has pushed Turkey increasingly into the arms of Russia and this has led directly to victory for Russian policy in Syria, in particular, to the survival of Bashar al-Assad.

What is worse is that now the Pentagon has painted itself into a corner in Syria in virtue of its contradictory policy. Response to the deluge of Syrian refugees from the Syria wars, Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” without US knowledge, although it had obtained a reluctant agreement to the idea from Obama in principle, in order to carve out a safe region in which Syrians opposed to the Assad government in Damascus could stay. As much as anything, its timing was a response to the PYD/YPG’s attempt to carve out its own state in northern Syria along the Turkish border. In the process, the YPG had been pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing, to establish its rule.

On US advice, the YPG integrated a small proportion of the displaced Arab male youth into its so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), after their careful Marxist-Leninist political indoctrination, in order to deflect criticism of the inbred nature of the organisation and its ruthless tactics. However, the deceit became all too apparent as these Arab elements became marginalised. An important town ethnically cleansed by the YPG is Manbij, which became a target in the campaign of the TSK and the Syrian opposition groups formed into the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), which the TSK operationally supports, to clear a northern Syrian safe region.

Seeing the TSK/FSA success in clearing ISIS out of al-Bab, and then turning towards Manbij to clear that town for Arab re-settlement, the PYD/YPG contacted the Russians who brokered the handing over of the villages surrounding Manbij to the west to the Assad government, ostensibly to act as a buffer zone. The Turkish government said in response that it welcomed the hand-over of the Manbij outskirts to the Assad government, in exchange for keeping Manbij itself. However, as it became clear that the PYD/YPG was now seeking Russian protection, not wanting to compromise its position in that zone, US forces arrived to reinforce the PYD/YPG.

Joseph Votel and the Pentagon staff behind him state that their alliance with the YPG has a purpose to employ what it considers the best fighting force in the area against ISIS in Raqqa. However, engaging against the extremely difficult and entrenched positions of ISIS in Raqqa will mean that Manbij will have to be emptied of its defensive forces, both in respect of the YPG and the US, in order to make any credible attempt against this vast and sprawling ISIS fortress in Raqqa, recently reinforced by surviving ISIS brigades from al-Bab. The Turkish position, and that therefore of the FSA forces it backs, is seen therefore as a hindrance to the Raqqa operation.

This now cannot take place without full Russian cooperation in respect of an agreement to hold the TSK/FSA in its current positions to allow the Raqqa operation to proceed. While Russia gains everything from this political chess game, the US thus paints itself into a corner, not only tactically, but strategically, as its armed forces sacrifice the country’s relationship with Turkey, which is not only supposedly a NATO ally, but has the second largest army within the alliance, and is the most geographically strategic NATO country.

Russia, meanwhile, is benefiting from Turkey’s turn to the east, but calculates that Turkey has no choice but to pursue good relations with Russia as a result of its economic and commercial strategy, and as a result also of the fact that Russia is the Syrian policeman. Putin continues to develop good relations with the Syrian Kurds, in order to avoid losing its hegemonic role over Syria. This means that Turkey will have to stand back from further expansion of its safe region.

But thus allowing the Syrian Kurds political independence from the US, Russia continues to protect its dominant position, which it denies to the US simply in virtue of avoiding polarisation on the ground between Syrian factions backed by rival superpowers. The US is thus boxed into being a bit-player on the Syrian scene, just as it is in Iraq.

It is clear that the Pentagon has pursued war willy-nilly against any and all more nuanced White House foreign policy, not just now under Trump, but also under Obama. As the Pentagon increasingly goes AWOL, and the liberal establishment and its mainstream media promotes the aimless self-interested aggression-for-its-own-sake of the US military-industrial complex, US policy in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will continue its disjointed, self-contradictory path, dooming the US empire to further abject failure after failure, in a replay of the fall of Rome, drawn out in slow motion over decades as a result of the sheer capacity of the US Congress to fund mind-boggling, but obviously purposeless military budgets.

German stupidity and ‘das Türkisch Problem’

In the latest bout of Germanic Erdoğanophobia, as European liberalism reaches new dizzying civilizational heights, several German towns prevented appearances last week by Turkish ministers seeking to address their diaspora on the subject of the Turkish referendum on constitutional change.

They lamely cited security and safety concerns, a cop out which was blown out of the water when speakers opposed to Erdogan were given the nod to speak publicly. The cancellations have infuriated the Turkish foreign minister, who accused Berlin of working against the “Yes” campaign in the referendum, and summoned the German ambassador to complain.

Beside himself with elation at the stupidity of the Germans, which the angry outbursts during the speeches on his tour of towns in Turkey fail to mask, Erdoğan continues effectively to mine the gift of divisiveness which, over the past 23 years, has made him one of the most successful elected politicians of all time. As Barçın Yinanç writes: ‘[Erdoğan] might well be rejoicing over the fact that the Germans have given him a useful opportunity to bash them, which always increases his approval rate.’

The Arabisation of Istanbul’s Fatih district

Usually the first destination for new migrants coming to Istanbul is the Fatih district. The relatively low-cost district has been called home by people from many countries, with each new wave of migrants almost always transforming its fabric until the next group comes along.

A new security architecture for the northern Middle-East

Iran, Russia, and Turkey meet to shape a new peace arrangement in Syria, following the increasing absence of the Western powers from the Middle-East, as a result of their disastrous policies since the Iraq War. This has signalled, as I explained in July this year,  the trend towards the consolidation of an entirely new security architecture directed by the three major powers in the region. The Iranian sensibilities which have slowed down the evacuation of Aleppo, have been accommodated by Russia and Turkey not only from an immediate need to complete the evacuation, but also from an overall understanding that there are, despite everything, overall common interests.

The interconnected interests of the three powers effectively means that Western influences will be squeezed out of the region, despite the fact that the US is using the fight against DAESH/ISIL  to try to stay in the game. The Iranian backing of Shia militias, if they are contained and do not attempt to move into Tel A’far or into the countryside around Idlib, is increasingly seen by Turkey and Russia as a valid strategy by Iran to counter the unfortunate proclivity of Sunni jihadis to accept Western aid, which is given to them either directly or through Saudi Arabia despite the fact that they are demonised in the Western media.

The new security architecture is strengthened, not weakened, by the different approaches and occasionally sharp disagreements of the three powers over their local interests, simply because of the overall danger posed by the covert interference of Western powers. The most important example of this is Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian insistence on the permanence of the Assad régime (and Assad personally when it comes to the Iranians), which has come about because of the fact that Western intelligence agencies continue to back deep state operators in the country in order to sow terror even after their attempt to overthrow of the Turkish government failed.

Future US policy towards the region is complicated by the fact that Trump seeks an alliance with Russia while inconsistently demonising Iran and that Trump’s pro-Russian stance itself may fail to become effective as a result of the objections of the US deep state. As the Turkish government consolidates its gains after foiling the July 15 coup attempt, it is clear that rather than achieve the objective of turning Turkey into a client state that could be used to undermine and encircle Russia, the actions of the Western intelligence agencies have of late driven the two powers together. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what the strategy of the Western intelligence-media conglomerate is, and it is precisely this Cold War mentality which increasingly cements the cooperation of the three rival powers in the northern Middle-East.

Qatar, a close ally of Turkey, has effectively underwritten the new political settlement in Syria, in view of its massive investment through Qatar Investment Authority and Glencore (in which it is majority investor) into Rosneft. It is this move in particular which encouraged Putin to stick his neck out to seek a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis at the planned summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The rapprochement between Qatar and Russia will put pressure on Syrian rebels to change their attitude and accept a political settlement which includes Assad.

In fact, Russia had tried and failed to form alliances within Syrian rebels groups in the past to bolster its interests on the ground. Within the past twelve months it had resumed pursuing diplomatic efforts in this regard.

Trump likely to alter US policy on Turkey

Anadolu reports: Turkey should be a top priority in U.S. foreign policy, a top adviser to President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday in an article that slammed Barack Obama for failing to understand Ankara’s geopolitical position.

“We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests,” retired Gen. Michael Flynn wrote for the Hill newspaper. He also called Turkey “a source of stability in the region”.

Flynn was a key national security adviser to Trump during his presidential campaign and is expected by many to be appointed to a Cabinet position, possibly as defense secretary.

The veteran general wrote that it was “an unwise policy” for the Obama administration to keep Ankara at arm’s length,

“We need to adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority. We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective,” he wrote.

Noting the extradition request by Turkey of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader, Fetullah Gülen, as one of the key points of contention between Washington and Ankara, Flynn suggested the U.S. handover Gülen.

Ankara has asked Washington to extradite Gulen for his role in infiltrating state instutitons in Turkey and carrying out a failed bloody coup July 15.

“What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort while running 160 charter schools funded by the Turkish taxpayers?” Flynn asked.

The former chair of the Defense Intelligence Agency suggested that although Gülen presents himself as a moderate Islamic scholar, he is a radical who “has publicly boasted about his ‘soldiers’ waiting for his orders to do whatever he directs them to do.”

Flynn compared Gülen to Ayatollah Khomeini — the leader of the Iranian revolution-urging the U.S. government not to repeat its mistake by supporting Gülen as it did Khomeini.

“Washington’s silence on this explosive topic speaks volumes when we hear the incredulous claim that the democratically elected president of Turkey staged a military coup, bombed his own parliament and undermined the confidence in Turkey’s strong economy, just so that he could purge his political opponents,” he added.

Flynn also cited allegation of corruption against the Gülen network in the U.S., saying the terror leader has brought more people than Google into the country to teach English but they are not fluent in the language.

Meanwhile, the Vice President-elect Mike Pence told Turkish daily Hürriyet on Wednesday that Turkey is the most important U.S. ally in the region and added that the new U.S. administration will restore relations back to its glory and further strengthen ties.
FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile on a 400-acre property in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania since 1999. In the July 15 coup attempt that he masterminded, a military junta tried to stage a coup to topple the democratically elected president and government in Turkey and impose martial law. The attempt was prevented by troops loyal to the government, along with police units and millions of Turkish citizens in favor of democracy. In total, 246 people, mostly civilians, were killed by pro-coup soldiers while over 2,000 were injured.

Turkish authorities issued an official request for Gülen’s extradition on Sept. 13, under a 1979 treaty between Turkey and the U.S. Bozdağ held a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Attorney General Loretta Lynch in late October, regarding the provisional arrest of the U.S.-based fugitive

Half of Syrian refugee children in Turkey in education system

syrian-schoolchildren

Ali Rıza Altunel from the Turkish Education Ministry announced today that a 300-million-euro fund would be used for a new educational project, as part of the Turkey-EU deal on migrants.

Altunel noted that there are currently 833,000 Syrian children in Turkey of school age.  But unfortunately, only 475,000 of them are receiving education. However, with this financial support Turkey aims to raise the number of children of Syrian refugees being schooled by 20,000 immediately.

The dark side of this good news is that many refugee children are working to support their families, or worse. Clearly, good is not enough.