Turkey has claimed to have sent “thousands” of Islamic scholars and teachers to Europe to influence Turkish-background children to remain loyal to the near-east country, according to a letter sent to school children in Austria.
The claim came in a highly controversial letter that was allegedly sent by the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to mostly 14-year-old children in two schools in Vienna, Kronen Zeitungreports.
The campaign letters, sent from Erdoğan’s ruling AKP party ahead of the national election later this month, claim that, “In order for our children to learn their native language, their religion and their culture, we have sent thousands of teachers and religious scholars abroad.”
The letter has been condemned across the Austrian political spectrum with city council president Heinrich Himmer of the Social Democrats (SPÖ) saying: “I want Erdoğan and his party to leave Vienna’s schools and all pupils in peace immediately.”
“The letter, however, clearly asks Turkish families to vote for Erdoğan – ‘for a strong Turkey’,” Mr. Himmer added.
Anti-mass migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) club chairman Johann Gudenus called the letters an “incredible scandal” and went on to add the letters show that Erdoğan views the Austrian capital as a province of Turkey.
The letters come after increased tensions between Austria and Turkey over the closure of several Turkish-linked mosques and associations as well as the deportation of dozens of imams by the conservative-populist government led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
In response to the mosque closures, Erdoğan predicted a “war between the cross and crescent”, and later added: “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?”
Tensions between the two countries flared in late 2016 when Austria vetoed a motion to allow Turkey to progress toward European Union membership. Following the veto, Turkey promised to confront Austria on “all levels”.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked Austria’s impending closure of mosques and consequent expulsion of Turkish-funded imams, saying the move is anti-Islamic while promising a response.
“These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul covered by AFP.
Austria’s populist government made the announcement on Friday morning at a press conference as part of the governing coalition’s campaign against radical Islamic ideology and the influence of countries like Turkey in the Austrian Islamic community, Kronen Zeitungreports.
Media reports that between 40 and 60 imams, including their families, could be expelled in total. The imams all stand accused of receiving funding from abroad. Official investigations have been launched in 11 cases. Two of the imams had already been denied extensions to their residency permits.
Among the mosques facing closure is the Mosque of the Grey Wolves on Antonsplatz, in the working-class Vienna district of Favoriten, where the Gallipoli reenactment took place.
The other six mosques are in Vienna, Upper Austria and Carinthia, in all of which hardline salafist teachings are said to be widespread.
Mr. Erdogan, speaking Saturday, said: “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?”
“That means we’re going to have to do something,” he added without elaborating.
Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals.
Relations between Ankara and Vienna have been strained since a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 which was followed by a wave of arrests. Mr. Erdogan’s speech precedes presidential and legislative elections on June 24 in which he faces stiff opposition.
During last year’s Turkish referendum on expanding the president’s powers, tensions ran high between Vienna and Ankara after Austria said it would not allow campaign-related events.
The new policy comes after a number of scandals involving mosques in Austria, including one in which Islamists were plotting to overthrow the government to replace it with an Islamic caliphate. The ATIB association came under fire last week when a Turkish mosque posted images of young children swearing oaths to the Turkish state.
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The US now believes that it cannot attack Iran without killing Erdogan first and that Putin, without Erdogan at his side, will back away from supporting Assad or offering further arms sales to Iran.
Yesterday, Turkey’s President Erdogan, in a surprise move, expelled the American and Israeli ambassadors, ostensibly for their role in the the attacks on Gaza protesters leaving up to 3000 dead and wounded.
There is a backstory here, of a plot between Trump and his neocon handlers and their master, Netanyahu. Erdogan has found another plot and identified the US and Israel. We outline below what we know.
A coup is in the planning to begin with the killing of Erdogan. Israel is planning it, we get it from everywhere, particularly our contacts in the Turkish Army.
This began long before Erdogan expelled the American and Israeli ambassadors.
Erdogan simply had enough, when he saw Kushner and Ivanka smiling while 3000 people were being gunned down by the IDF, he exploded. From Russia Today:
“Israel has told Turkey’s consul to leave the Jewish state, according to the Israeli foreign ministry. It comes after Ankara ordered Israel’s ambassador out of Turkey over the violence in Gaza.
A spokesman for the ministry said the consul had been summoned and was told to return to Turkey “for consultations for a period of time,” Reuters reported.
It came just after Turkey told Israel’s ambassador to leave the country. “TheIsraeli ambassador was told that our envoy to Israel was called back for consultations, and was informed that it would be appropriate for him to go back to his country for some time,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry source said.
The Israeli ambassador, Eitan Naeh, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara on Tuesday, according to Haaretz. He has served in the position since October 2015.
It comes after Turkey recalled its own ambassadors in Israel and the United States “for consultations” over the violence on Monday. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan referred to the crackdown by Israeli forces as “genocide” and called Israel a “terrorist state,” while reaffirming his country’s commitment to standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
His statements prompted a response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused the Turkish president of being “among Hamas’ biggest supporters…there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter…I suggest that he not preach morality to us.”
Erdogan then tweeted that Netanyahu is the leader of an ‘apartheid state that has occupied a defenseless people’s lands for 60+ years in violation of UN resolutions.’”
Only the British are standing with Erdogan, pulling him away from the US. Across Turkey feeling against the US is running high, in the street, in government, across the region.
We also expect Erdogan to reach out to President Assad, this is a rumor, that Turkey and Russia will join together in aiding the liberation of Idlib province.
Eventually, Israel will be targeted, more than simply Hezbollah, but pushed into a land war that will test the resolve of Israel’s military allies in the Persian Gulf along with her primary backer, Saudi Arabia.
One thing that has upset the region was seeing Netanyahu on the dais with Putin on V Day in Moscow, Netanyahu with his hand insultingly on Putin’s back, as though President Putin were a small child.
Or was Putin showing Israel its fate at the hands of resurgent Russian military power? We wait and see.
Erdogan has been one of the most enigmatic personalities of our time. Turkey, an economic powerhouse of NATO, highly industrialized and strategically placed, has been treated like a “street whore” by the US. There is little question that the US was behind the 2016 coup against Erdogan.
What has now become clear is that Erdogan now accepts that the US has covertly built a Kurdish-based terror organization inside Turkey, flooding it with American weapons.
The US now believes that it cannot attack Iran without killing Erdogan first and that Putin, without Erdogan at his side, will back away from supporting Assad or offering further arms sales to Iran, particularly 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft capable of operating against and even inside Saudi airspace.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) has become a feared figure among the Saudi elites who have been violently purged from their comfortable positions of power, while becoming a figure of hatred across the Shi’a Axis of Resistance in places like Iran, Syria, Yemen and increasingly among all parties in Lebanon.
But there is one world leader who is clearly not afraid of nor impressed with MBS, that man is Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has given a speech in which he both mocked and criticised Muhammad bin Salman’s recent comments that he seeks to “return” Saudi Arabia to “moderate Islam”.
“The term ‘moderate Islam’ is being lathered up again. The patent of moderate Islam belongs to the West. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam; Islam is one. The aim of using such terms is to weaken Islam.
Perhaps the person voicing this concept (Muhammad bin Salman) thinks it belongs to him. No, it does not belong to you”.
Erogan then stated that the term is essentially European in origin. In Erdogan’s newly anti-European posture, this is a deep insult to Muhammad bin Salman, to imply that he’s attempting to Europeanise Islam.
“They are now trying to pump up this idea again. What they really want to do is weaken Islam … We don’t want people to learn about religion from foreign facts.
You say ‘moderate Islam’ but you do not allow women to drive. Is there any restriction in Islam banning women from driving? There is no such thing”.
Erdogan came to power in Turkey on the promise of replacing a static economy with one that is dynamic and modern, combined with the promise to make Islam an integral part of Turkish society in a blow to secular Kemalists who wished Turkey’s guiding force to remain nationalistic secularism.
Superficially, Muhammad bin Salman wants something similar for Saudi Arabia, only in respect of Islam, MBS claims to want to replace hard-line Wahhabism with what he calls “moderate Islam”. Ataturk’s secular Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 while the consolidation of Saudi Arabia took place in 1932 and in this sense, the rise of Kemalism in Turkey mirrors the rise of Wahhabism on the Arabian Peninsula. Just as Erdogan challenged the Kemalist status quo in Turkey, so too is MBS challenging elements of the Wahhabi status quo in his country.
But the real schism between Erdogan and Muhammad bin Salman, doesn’t have anything to do with Islamic scholarship or any other ideological issues, it has everything to do with the Qatari crisis and broader regional alliances.
With Saudi Arabia still boycotting Qatar and Turkey still very much supporting Doha, including with the presence of Turkish Army troops in Qatar, Erdogan is striking a blow against Saudi Arabia’s geo-political ambitions more than anything else.
Erdogan has long been associated with the Qatar backed Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist group which is illegal in secular Egypt (a Saudi ally) and Syria (a Saudi enemy) but also in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. In secular Arab states, the Brotherhood is seen as a tool of terrorism and social instability while in Saudi Arabia, it is seen as a challenge to the integrity of Wahhabism. Furthermore, Turkey’s burgeoning relationship with Iran has given Erdogan all the more reason to lash out at Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader.
Iran is far more comfortable with Erdogan positioning himself as a leader figure among Sunni Muslims than it is with anyone from the much loathed Saudi Arabia. While Iran’s Shi’a clerics would never openly praise Erdogan’s religious credentials, there is no doubt that Iran’s leadership is pleased with Erdogan helping to slam Muhammad bin Salman’s Islamic credentials while Tehran and Hezbollah slam Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy record and Islamic credentials from an Arab Shi’a perspective that is similar to that of Iran.
I recently postulated that if and when Saudi Arabia is able to see that its war in Yemen is a failure, Qatar could position itself as a former Saudi ally that seeks to both make peace in Yemen and make amends with its neighbour but this time on Doha’s terms rather than on the outlandish terms Saudi previously attempted to impose.
While Saudi Arabia is busy purging itself, it ought to realise that attempting to purge the Qatari leadership was yet another geo-political failure and that normalising relations with Doha would be a win-win situation in the context of recent events. In this respect, Turkey too could play some role in a settlement for Yemen. Turkey as a non-Arab state is well placed to be seen as not playing favourites in a dispute between Saudi Arabia and moderate Houthi rebels in Sana’a.
Furthermore, the statement from Erdogan also solidifies Turkey’s position in what I call the new northern Middle East alliance. Turkey’s good relations with Iraq and Iran and its common enemy with Syria; the Kurdish ethnic supremacists, means that Turkey’s allies are mostly in the ‘north’ of the Middle East. By contrast, Saudi Arabia has increased its clout in the ‘south’ of the Middle East, with the exception of Qatar which in many ways is a geo-political ‘pivot state’ in the new south of the Middle East.
This trend is made all the more clear when one sees Saudi and Israel on the rapid road to public normalisation of relations. The regimes are already allies in all but name. At the same time, Turkey which was once a solid partner of Israel, is becoming increasingly opposed to Israel’s pro-Kurdish designs on the region, something which has only encouraged Erdogan to come out in favour of Palestinian justice with more zeal.
This is what lies behind Erdogan’s rejection of “moderate Islam”. It is a fundamental dispute with Saudi Arabia’s geo-political position, even though ironically, Saudi Arabia is pivoting closer to Turkey’s non-Muslim partners Russia and China while maintaining a better relationship with Washington than Erdogan’s Turkey.
First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs, Dmitry Novikov, said in an interview with RT that Turkey taught yet another lesson to Russia.
“This is another lesson that shows that it is very difficult to build a long-term relationship with Turkey as U-turns in foreign policy can be possible even with one and the same president in power. Generally speaking, Turkey has never been Russia’s ally when it comes to the Crimea, and one needs to take it for granted to avoid illusions as far as Turkey’s policies are concerned,” the MP said.
[ Editor’s Note: The doo doo has hit the fan for Barzani. What I have been posing in my interviews over the last few days is that, with only Israel supporting the Iraqi Kurdish separatist move, there will be no international group to oppose the sanctions that will be raining down on Kurdistan.
And the biggest blow will be Erdogan cutting off access to Kurdish oil being exported through the Kirkuk-Ceyon pipeline. That will kill a major part of Barzani’s income. Sure, he has stashed away tons of pilfered smuggled oil profits, but that might not last long.
Kurdish government workers are months behind getting paid, and I see that getting worse quickly. The glee we see in the streets today seems oblivious to what might be waiting down the road.
And what will happen when Baghdad cuts off the revenue-sharing agreed upon back in 2014 – 25% of the country’s oil revenue in return for 550,000 barrels a day? What if Prime Minister Abadi tells Barzani he can eat his oil because he is deemed to be leading an insurrection? Kurdistan’s airspace may also be shut down so goods cannot even be flown in.
Sure, I am aware of the Kurds’ past suffering, but that was another time. This looks like they are wanting to suffer. Was anyone thinking about these consequences when they dreamed up this…event. I hardly know what to call it – it seems so crazy. If I am missing something here, please fill me in in the comments… Jim W. Dean ]
Who’s smiling now?
– First published … September 25, 2017 –
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara will seal its border with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region over a contentious independence referendum the semi-autonomous region held on Monday, threatening the Kurdish leaders with blocking their key oil exports.
Speaking at a forum in Istanbul on Monday, the Turkish leader said the “entrance-exit will be closed” at the Habur border crossing, Turkey’s sole land border crossing with the Arab country and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s main gateway to the world.
“After this let’s see through which channels they will send their oil… and who they will sell to. The valve is with us. It’s finished the moment we close it,” Erdogan further said, referring to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline that links oil fields in northern Iraq to the oil terminal in the Mediterranean.
Enjoy it while you can, folks
The KRG, led by Massoud Barzani, held a non-binding vote on the secession of the Kurdish region from Iraq on Monday in a highly provocative move, which has infuriated the central government in Baghdad.
The vote, which was announced by the KRG earlier in the year, is being held in the region much to the consternation of the international community, particularly the regional countries, that warned it could most likely throw the already violence-weary country into more trouble.
Turkey, among others, has strongly opposed the referendum from the beginning and has already warned that the disintegration of Iraq has the potential to turn into a major conflict.
Military option in Kurdistan?
Elsewhere in his remarks on Monday, Erdogan did not rule out the military intervention in Iraq’s Kurdish region to counter the creation of a Kurdish state on its southeastern border, hinting that the would-be state could be a safe haven for Kurdish militants, who fight against Ankara.
“Just as we’ve liberated Jarablus, al-Rai, and al-Bab from Daesh [Takfiri terrorist group] in Syria, if need be, we won’t shy away from such steps in Iraq. We may come there overnight all of a sudden,” the Turkish president warned the KRG, referring to Turkey’s military intervention in Syria, carried out last year, against Daesh terrorists and Syrian US-backed Kurdish militia, known as the YPG (People’s Protection Units).
In August 2016, Turkey began a unilateral military intervention in northern Syria, code-named Operation Euphrates Shield, sending tanks and warplanes across the border, which Damascus denounced as a breach of its sovereignty.
Last week, the Turkish military commenced a drill in the region around the border town of Silopi, which is close to Syria and Iraq, involving 100 military vehicles, which continued with reinforcements this weekend and it is planned to continue until Tuesday.
“We are taking and will take all the steps on political, economic, trade and security fronts. The armed forces did not take necessary steps in Silopi for no reason. There is no compromise,” Erdogan promised.
Turkey regularly bombs the mountainous border area between Iraq and Turkey where PKK militants are based. Ankara has also deployed troops into the Iraqi soil, triggering a diplomatic crisis with Baghdad, which brought them to the brink of war at one point.
However, Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population, has robust economic ties to Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government. The standoff has weakened the Turkish lira beyond 3.5 to the dollar for the first time in four weeks.
Turkey considering closure of airspace to KRG
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Ankara was evaluating measures regarding its border gates and airspace in response to the Iraqi Kurdish plebiscite on independence in northern Iraq.
“I formed a study group with officials from concerned ministries… They are working on the details and without losing time, we will take our steps regarding the management of our airspace and border gates,” said the Turkish premier in an interview aired by multiple Turkish broadcasters on Monday.
He noted that the Turkish government would make decisions during more direct talks with Baghdad after the referendum, adding that economic, political, diplomatic and military steps were being discussed.
“We will not enter an adventure unexpectedly in any way, but if there is an attitude that will harm the interests of our country, we will respond without delay,” Yildirim said, thought promising Turkish citizens that “we are not going to war.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also warned on Monday that Ankara would intervene militarily if the Turkish population in Iraq was targeted.
Turkey takes Kurdish Rudaw channel off air
Meanwhile, reports say that Ankara has taken Kurdish television channel Rudaw off its satellite service, TurkSat. The channel is said to be linked to the KRG and has purported affiliation with Barzani.
“We have only heard about the decision through the media. TurkSat has not notified us yet. So we are still on air, but the broadcast may be halted when we are notified,” the Reuters quoted an unnamed Rudaw television official as saying.
Iran has also announced that it is opposed to the “unilateral” scheme for the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan, underlining the importance of maintaining the integrity and stability of Iraq and insisting that the Kurdistan region is part of the majority Arab country.
On Sunday, Iran also closed its airspace to all flights to and from the Kurdish region at the request of the Iraqi government. In a statement on September 18, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had urged Iraq’s Kurdish leaders to scrap the vote, saying it would undermine the ongoing battle in the Arab country against Daesh.
On April 16th, 2017, Turkey will hold a referendum on “constitutional changes” which would grant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan additional authority. The Netherlands and many European countries have significant Turkish populations who are eligible to vote in the referendum and Erdogan’s design to campaign in those countries has led to a significant diplomatic crisis.
After Turkish riots overtook Dutch streets, the Netherlands government has withdrawn permission for Turkish officials to campaign in the country, citing “risks to public order and security.” Erdogan has threatened harsh sanctions and even alluded to war over these measures – all mere days away from the Netherlands own parliamentary election.
Russia furious at Turkish move to set up rebel “safe zone” inside Syria to assist Jihadi rebels there, putting the recently announced “normalization of relations” between Russia and Turkey in jeopardy.
In the immediate aftermath of the Turkish capture of Jarablus in Syria Turkish President Erdogan telephoned his “friend Putin” on Friday 27th August 2016.
The Kremlin’s account of the conversation is remarkable even by its standards for its terseness
“The two leaders discussed the development of Russia-Turkey trade and political and economic cooperation in keeping with the agreements reached in St Petersburg on August 9. Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan exchanged opinions on developments in Syria and pointed out the importance of joint efforts in fighting terrorism. They agreed to continue their dialogue on the issues of the bilateral and international agenda.”
The true subject of the discussion will in fact have been the Turkish capture of Jarablus in northern Syria.
Whilst it seems the Turks did inform the Russians of this move in advance, it is clear that the Russians are to put it mildly unhappy about it.Though the Turks appear to have tried to arrange talks with the Russian military leadership presumably to discuss this move – even announcing a visit to Turkey by General Gerasimov, the Chief of the Russian General Staff – no such talks are taking place, with the Russians denying that a visit to Ankara by their Chief of General Staff was ever agreed, and the Turks now saying that the visit has been postponed.
The Russian media meanwhile is carrying articles making clear the extent of Russian anger.An article in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, which is clearly based on official briefings, is accusing Turkey of “going further than promised in Syria”.That this article reflects official thinking in Moscow is shown by the fact that the semi-official English language Russian news-site “Russia Beyond the Headlines” has republished it in English.
The article makes it clear that Turkey did not coordinate the Jarablus operation with Moscow or Damascus, and that it was much bigger than Moscow was led to expect.The Russians are also clearly annoyed by the extent to which the operation has been coordinated by Turkey with the US, which is providing air support.
“For Moscow, Ankara’s operation was an unpleasant surprise, demonstrating that the expectations for a convergence of the countries’ positions on Syria that emerged after the meeting between Putin and Erdogan were premature.In deciding about the operation in Jarabulus, the Turkish leader has sent a signal that relations with the U.S. remain a priority for him, and he prefers to act in the framework of the antiterrorist coalition led not by Moscow, but Washington.”
(Bold italics added)
I have repeatedly warned against over-high expectations that the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Russia amounted to any sort of realignment.I have also said that despite Turkish annoyance with the US over the recent coup attempt, Turkey remains a US ally, continues to be committed to regime change in Syria, and is not going to throw the US out of Incirlik or allow Russia to use the base.My only surprise is that judging from this comment it appears there were some people in Moscow who thought otherwise.
The Kommersant article then continues ominously
“According to Kommersant’s information, in case of aggravation of the situation, the Russian military and diplomats are ready to employ bilateral channels of communication with their Turkish counterparts, as well as express their concerns to the U.S. if necessary.According to Vladimir Sotnikov, director of the Moscow-based Russia-East-West centre, Ankara’s actions could seriously affect the process of normalisation of bilateral cooperation that was agreed by presidents Putin and Erdogan in St. Petersburg”.
(Bold italics added)
That suggests that behind the mild public language strong complaints have been made in private by Moscow to Ankara.Erdogan’s call to Putin looks like an attempt to assuage Russian anger, to reassure Moscow about Turkey’s intentions in Syria, and to keep the “process of normalisation” between Turkey and Russia on track.The terse Kremlin summary of the conversation suggests that Putin in response made Russian feelings and concerns perfectly clear, and that there was, in the diplomatic language of the past, “a full and frank exchange of views” ie. a row.
Why are the Russians so angry about the Jarablus operation?
Here I acknowledge my heavy debt to the geopolitical analyst Mark Sleboda who over the course of a detailed and very helpful discussion has corrected certain errors I have previously made about the Jarablus operation and has greatly enlarged my understanding of it.
In my two previous articles discussing the Jarablus operation I said that it looked to be targeted principally at the Kurds, whose militia, the YPG, has over the last year significantly expanded the area in north east Syria under its control.I also discounted the possibility that the Turkish seizure of Jarablus was intended to affect the course of the battle for Aleppo by providing supplies to the Jihadi fighters trying to break the siege there.In my latest article I said the following
“….. it is not obvious that the rebels actually need a “safe zone” in this area. They already have a corridor to send men and supplies to Aleppo through Idlib province, which they already control.Why add to the problems of setting up a “safe zone” much further away in north east Syria when the rebels already control territories so much closer to Aleppo?”
Mark Sleboda has explained to me that the principal corridor to supply the rebels in Syria has always been through the area of north east Syria around Jarablus.In his words
“Idlib is not an acceptable supply route from Turkey to forces in Aleppo province because the Turkish-Syrian border in Idlib is mountainous terrain – small and bad roads and then long routes all the way through Idlib past SAA held territory into Aleppo province. The Jarablus Corridor north of Aleppo is and has always been absolutely vital for the insurgency,. That’s why Turkey, Brookings, etc have always placed so much priority on a no fly zone there. Now its come to realisation.”
In other words the Turkish capture of Jarablus before it could be captured by the YPG was not primarily intended to prevent the linking together of two areas within Syria under Kurdish control – though that may have been a secondary factor – but was primarily intended to secure the main supply route (or “ratline”) Turkey uses to supply the Jihadi fighters attacking Aleppo.
Beyond that it is now clear that Turkish ambitions go much further than Jarablus.Various Turkish officials have over the last two days been speaking to the Turkish media of Turkey establishing a large rebel controlled “safe zone” in this area of Syria. Moreover – as Mark Sleboda says – they have now secured US support for it, as shown by the very active role the US air force is taking in supporting the Turkish move on Jarablus.
As Mark Sleboda has also pointed out to me, creating this rebel “safe zone” within Syria has been a declared Turkish objective for over a year.The Turks have up to now been prevented from realising it because of US reluctance to provide the necessary support, and because of concern in Washington and Ankara about a possible Russian military reaction.With the move to Jarablus and beyond now carried out with US support and through Russian acquiescence obtained by stealth, the Turks have now achieved it.
What implications does this have for the war in Syria and for the continuation of the Russian – Turkish rapprochement?
Going back to the war in Syria, my own view remains that this will not in the end decide the outcome of the battle of Aleppo, where reports suggest that the Syrian army is continuing to gain ground despite the uninterrupted – and in fact increasing – flow of supplies to the Jihadi fighters across the Turkish border. My longer term view also remains that if the Syrian government succeeds in recapturing the whole of Aleppo and eventually Idlib, then it will have won the war.However what this episode shows is that the war is far from won, and that the Turks and their US backers are still prepared to go on escalating it in order to prevent the Syrian army winning it.
Beyond that I think the British reporter Patrick Cockburn may turn out to be right, that by trying to establish a “safe zone” within Syria Turkey is overplaying its hand and is taking a step that
“….would embroil Turkey in the lethal swamp lands of the Syrian-Iraqi war.”
Already there are indications that the Turkish move is provoking a local reaction from the YPG and the Kurds.Despite earlier reports that the YPG was withdrawing all its forces back across to the eastern bank of the Euphrates, there are now credible reports of scattered resistance to the Turkish move by Kurdish militia aligned with the YPG, and there are also reports of mobilization against the Turkish move in the Kurdish areas of Syria.
In my recent article I made the following point about the potential ability of the YPG to wreck any scheme to set up a rebel “safe zone” in this part of Syria
“North east Syria is a bitterly contested area in which the dominant force is not the rebels but the YPG.It does not look like a credible “safe zone” for the rebels or a credible launch area from which to launch attacks on Aleppo.On the contrary an attempt to create a rebel “safe zone” in this area would antagonise the YPG, and would restore the alliance between the Syrian government and the YPG to full working order, leading to constant fighting in the area of the so-called “safe zone” between the Syrian rebels and the YPG.That would surely defeat the whole purpose of the “safe zone”, rendering it unsafe and effectively worthless as a “safe zone”. Of course the Turkish military could try to garrison the area to defend whatever “safe zone” it created inside it.That would however require an incursion into Syria that went far deeper than the one to Jarablus, and which would risk the Turkish army becoming bogged down in a lengthy guerrilla war on Syrian territory with the YPG.I doubt Erdogan, the Turkish military or the US would want that.”
In his article discussing the Turkish incursion Patrick Cockburn makes essentially the same point
“Turkey may be able to prevent the Kurds permanently extending their rule west of the Euphrates, but it would be a very different and more dangerous operation to attack the de facto Syrian Kurdish state, which has spread itself between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers since the Syrian Army largely withdrew from the region in 2012.”
Setting up a rebel “safe zone” inside Syria in the teeth of the opposition of the YPG is however what Erdogan and the Turks – backed by the US – have now decided to do.
In recent days there has been some renewed talk of Russia becoming bogged down in the war in Syria.In my opinion the country that runs by far the greatest risk of getting bogged down in Syria is not Russia but Turkey, which already has to deal with an Islamist terrorist campaign and a Kurdish insurgency on its own territory – both in large part consequences of the war in Syria – and which cannot afford to add a war between the Turkish army and the potentially Russian backed YPG in Syria to its mounting problems. That however is what Turkey by its latest move now risks.
There remains the outstanding puzzle of US policy.The US actively encouraged the YPG to capture the town of Manbij – which lies west of the Euphrates – from ISIS, and provided heavy air support for the YPG operation to the capture Manbij.It is now demanding that the YPG withdraw from Manbij and from all areas west of the Euphrates, and is providing air support for a Turkish military operation that is at least in part targeted against the YPG.
It is impossible to see any logic in these moves.As I said in my previous article
“It is impossible to see any coherent strategy here.Rather it looks as if CIA and military officials on the ground in Syria have been going their own way, encouraging the YPG to expand as fast as it can, heedless of the larger consequences.The political leadership in Washington, when it finally woke up to what was happening, then had to take disproportionate steps to bring the situation back under control.”
Regardless of this, the Turkish move into Syria should bury once and for all any idea that Turkey is in the process of undertaking a geopolitical realignment away from the West and towards the Eurasian powers.Not only is Turkey still a US and NATO ally, but it is now conducting an illegal military operation against Russian opposition in Syria with US military support.That is not the action of a country in the process of carrying out a realignment and preparing to switch alliances from the West to Beijing and Moscow.
The Russians and the Turks are now talking to each other, which for several months they had stopped doing.The Kremlin’s summary of Friday’s conversation between Putin and Erdogan shows that they are still talking about improving their trade links and economic ties.However, as the Kommersant article shows, even that limited progress now appears to be in jeopardy as the two countries’ conflicting stances in the Syrian war once again threaten to pull them apart.
In other words Turkey remains, as it has always been, an ally not of Russia and the Eurasian powers, but of the US and the West, and its actions in Syria are a clear demonstration of that.
Wannabe sultan Erdogan’s policies aren’t pretty. His reign of terror continues into its eighth day, likely lots more purging ahead.
What’s unfolding followed what looked like a stage-managed sham military uprising – sloppy, inept and stillborn when initiated, Erdogan never in danger of being toppled.
Citing “Turkish and foreign intelligence sources inside Turkey,” investigative journalist Wayne Madsen called the July 15 uprising a “ ‘false flag’ coup…limited by Erdogan’s design from the start.”
“The coup attempt was a standard ‘fly paper’ operation,” used to flush out opposition elements, seeing which ones stick, eliminating them as a threat to his absolute rule.
He’s taken full advantage, using the events of July 15 to eliminate potential challenges – cleaning house, targeting tens of thousands.
His mass purge continued on Saturday, signing a decree, usurping power to detain anyone for any reason up to 30 days – targeted individuals denied legal rights guaranteed under Turkish and international law.
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, he ordered closure of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities, as well as 35 hospitals and medical facilities – over suspected links to regime opponent Fethullah Gulen, longtime CIA asset living in Pennsylvania. He denies involvement in the July 15 uprising.
State of emergency powers let Erdogan enact laws without parliamentary approval, crush fundamental freedoms as he sees fit, do whatever he pleases unrestrained – tyranny by any standard.
Turkey needs more prison capacity to handle large numbers arrested and detained. How many more remains to be seen. For now, daily targeting continues.
A massive military restructuring is underway, overseen by the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff.
“They are all working together as to what might be done, and… within a very short amount of time a new structure will be emerging. With this new structure, I believe the armed forces will get fresh blood,” Erdogan explained.
His pledge to protect democracy while mass purging and arrests continue is laughable on its face. Despots always claim they’re right, concocting phony reasons to make their case.
Erdogan long ago lost credibility, a thuggish outlaw, waging wars at his discretion, crushing fundamental freedoms while claiming democratic credentials.
Legitimate opposition is considered terrorism or treason. Critics, including journalists, human rights workers, academics, students and children, are subject to arrest and imprisonment. Cleansed courts are more rubber-stamp than ever. Guilt by accusation is automatic.
According to Fars News, Rai Alyoum and other Arab media cited Ankara diplomats, saying Russian intelligence warned Erdogan of the July 15 uprising hours before initiated – based on “intercepted highly sensitive encoded radio messages,” information passed to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov indicated no advance Russian knowledge of what happened on July 15.
Both countries are adversaries, not allies – notably on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict. Turkish relations with Washington are cool – US policy toward Russia extremely hostile.
Putin’s outreach to Erdogan, if true, is geopolitically sound, attempting to get Turkey to stop supporting terrorism in Syria in return for restoration of normalized ties.
Billions of dollars in trade are at stake, business Turkey’s economy vitally needs. Perhaps Erdogan promised to do more than he intends, playing the Russia and US card simultaneously. He can’t be trusted.
Putin is too savvy to fall for his tricks. Yet an opening exists to damage Washington’s imperial agenda further.
Russia’s intervention against terrorism in Syria hurt greatly. Getting Turkey on board for diplomatic conflict resolution would be a huge Putin victory, a major Obama setback.
Given Erdogan’s untrustworthiness and unpredictability, nothing can be counted on except in hindsight if successful.
Whatever unfolds, Washington won’t sit idle on the sidelines watching, letting the chips fall where they may. Not a chance!
Democracy, freedom and the rule of law have no value any longer, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. He added that those who don’t support Ankara’ efforts to combat terrorists in the country are Turkey’s “enemies.”
“Democracy, freedom and the rule of law…For us, these words have absolutely no value any longer. Those who stand on our side in the fight against terrorism are our friend. Those on the opposite side are our enemy,” Erdogan told local leaders in Ankara on Wednesday, according to the DPA news agency.
Ankara is planning to deploy “an iron fist against terrorism” and “fight Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants” in the country’s south east Erdogan said.
Turkey views all Kurdish militia that are also spread widely throughout Syria and Iraq as a direct national threat. Erdogan repeated Turkey will strike Kurds everywhere.
“Wherever you run, our soldiers, police and village guards will find you there and do what is necessary,” the president said, referring to Kurdish militants.
He also urged the authorities to “swiftly” end immunity from prosecution for pro-Kurdish politicians.
“I no longer see as legitimate political actors the members of a party, which is operating as a branch of the terrorist organization,” Erdogan said. The Turkish president has repeatedly accused the Peoples’ Democratic Party of Turkey (HDP) of supporting PKK fighters.
This is not the first controversial comment made by the Turkish president. In January, he reiterated his desire to ensure Turkey’s adoption of a presidential system of government. He has even cited Adolf Hitler’s Germany as an example of how this can be achieved.
“There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany,” he said on Thursday, according to a recording broadcast by the Dogan news agency. “There are later examples in various other countries.”
In February, Erdogan accused Washington of causing the bloodbath in Syria by not recognizing as terrorists Kurdish forces fighting against Islamic State (IS, former ISIS, ISIL) in the region.
“Oh America! I told you many times, you are [either] beside us, or all of these terrorist organizations. You haven’t had a good grasp of them, and that is why the region has turned into a sea of blood,” Erdogan said, referring to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the US does not recognize as terror groups.
The conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish population, who demand greater autonomy, has been continuing for decades. With several failed ceasefires between the sides, Ankara has been blamed by a number of human rights groups for putting civilian lives at risk in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
In summer 2015, Ankara launched a military operation to crack down on Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The violence ended a two-year truce.