Turkey has long been a country with an edgy side, but from the outset of the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey’s behaviour has become increasingly concerning. Under a burgeoning return to authoritarian policy coinciding with the start of the regional uprising, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has represented NATO’s commitment to ‘freedom and democracy’, much the same as Tyson Fury represents the gentleman’s game. With the ugliness on show.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, many thought/hoped that NATO (at the time a disused WWII relic) would be dissolved and forgotten about. Instead, the organisation was picked up by the US, given a good dusting off and a huge increase in budget. NATO has always been a mechanism for the US military to feature strongly in Europe, and the war in Yugoslavia served as a useful vehicle to seriously increase its foothold. Many former members of the Warsaw Pact moved away from the crumbling Soviet system and within a decade were allied into NATO’s embrace. But since the disappearance of the Soviet counterweight, NATO’s existence has added to the world’s disharmony and conflict, more than it has kept the peace.
Since its formation in 1949, the persistent public justification for NATO’s existence had been to deal with the Soviet military and ideological threat. Despite the decisive battles of Moscow and Stalingrad occurring less than a decade before (both pivotal moments in the defeat of the Nazis), Western governments had lost none of their repulsion by the word ‘communism’. To make matters even more perplexing, West Germany, half of the nation who’s twisting towards fascism and unwarranted aggression led to the war in the first place, was controversially allowed to join NATO in 1955, only a decade after the final defeat of the Nazis. Turkey had become a NATO member three years earlier, along with Greece. The pair would create major internal tension when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, under the code name Operation Attila, and forced the ‘Green Line’ that still divides the island to this day.
As a member state of NATO, an organisation which describes itself as ‘promoting democratic values’ and being ‘committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes’, Erdogan’s Turkey appears to be on a totally different trajectory, yet continues to milk every last drop of privilege and protection that being a member brings. The president has made his regional aspirations clear, and remember, Turkey’s gains are NATO’s gains. But these are risky tactics, never more so than right now, with neighbouring Syria on fire and much of the world’s nations, including Syria’s government, seemingly fanning the flames.
In the last 5 years Turkey’s name has appeared in the headlines for increasinly sinister reasons. The forced closure of news media houses, and the arrest of many journalists has led to international criticism. Some of the journalists are facing years of imprisonment for producing ‘terrorist propaganda’ or the far more despotic sounding charge of ‘insulting the president’. One of these media professionals is Can Dundar, the editor of Cumhuriyet, a Turkish daily that opposes the present government. He is currently under arrest for publishing a video on the Cumhuriyet website, showing Turkish government vehicles crossing the Syrian border, the trucks ladened with weapons concealed below a thin layer of aid, heading for the so called Syrian ‘rebels’.
The New York Times published several articles in 2012, confirming that the CIA were moving arms through an obliging Turkey and into Syria to support the many ‘rebel’ groups fighting Basher Assad’s Syrian army. The video only confirmed it. But despite the denials in the White House and Downing Street, these ‘rebels’ have never been the moderates David Cameron used to lever opinion about the UK’s bombing of ISIS in Syria. In reality (and some early research is starting to show this) the majority of these fighters are Islamic extremists, many of them members of al Nusra, the Syrian arm of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Yes, those that were responsible for 9/11, are now – unintentionally or otherwise – being supported by the US.
Turkey’s support of Islamic extremists fighting in Syria appears to be far-reaching. Uighur extremists from the Xinjiang region of China are allegedly being assisted by Turkish authorities to make the journey to Syria to support the other extremists already fighting Assad. The Chinese Intelligence are getting very annoyed with Erdogan’s meddling in China’s own terrorist issues in Xinjiang, which may lead to future deterioration between the two nation’s relationship. And of course, whilst these imports have featured highly on Erdogan’s list of priorities, another kind of export has been proving to be both controversial and lucrative to the President and his immediate family.
According to reports, Turkey has been using its ports and land borders to off-load oil pumped from ISIS controlled fields in Iraq and Syria, then sold on to disappear within the market. Complex networks that include MIT (Turkish Intelligence), the Turkish Army and even the shipping company of which Erdogan’s son-in-law owns a third, have been reported to be intrinsically involved in the duplicitous smuggling and selling of Islamic State oil.
Turkey’s shooting down of the Russian jet in November last year, because it had entered into Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, sent reverberations much further than Hatay. Under Article 5 of the Nato Treaty, an attack on one of the member states will be considered an attack on all the member states. In other words, had Russia retaliated to the strike, all Hell would have broken loose.
How much is Turkey’s strategic value worth? World War III? Or could it be what really needs to be reconsidered is a 67 year old treaty, whose principles can dangerously backfire when the majority of its members don’t apply them themselves.
Under Ergodan’s leadership the tension between the government and the Turkish Kurds has intensified to the point where yet another civil war seems extremely likely. The official number of Kurds living in Turkey is vague, as the Turkish administration has not allowed a consensus to record accurate figures, but there are estimates ranging from 15% – 30% of the population. The bombing that took place in Suruç last July became the catalyst for a step up in violence, with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) taking responsibility for the later killing of two Turkish policemen in a ‘revenge’ attack for the bombing. This handed Erdogan the license he needed to go after the PKK in Turkey, but it seems this has transformed into an out-and-out offensive, where all Kurdish people are seen as PKK militants, whether living within Turkey, or without. Once more, the White House and the UK government seem quite content to watch these events occur, without comment.
“You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug,” Erdogan said…
He was talking about the Kurdish militants to a crowd of his supporters at a rally last month. Some towns like Cizre and Silopi at the border of Iraq have had curfew orders placed on them, which have intensified into blockades around some Kurdish neighbourhoods. The Kurdish reaction has been to increase the intensity of its resistance. Some media have reported that around 10,000 regime police and troops are involved in the fighting, along with the persistent heavy shelling from government tanks.
In the shadow of the attrocities happening each day in Syria, there is genuine concern that crimes taking place in Turkey will go unnoticed. Erdogan’s Turkey has transformed itself, with frightening speed, from a country that was seen as making great social strides forward less than a decade ago, to something far more resembling the Turkey of the Cold War period; when it had the permission of the West to behave however it liked.