Monday, 18 July 2016

Western media on Turkey

Like watching Pravda in the old days we need to keep an eye on official American media for the signs of what Washington is thinking.

From ignoring Erdogan's human rights abuses and genocide against the Kurds the tide is turning. We will have to watch carefully to see where this is going.


The Counter-Coup in Turkey

17 July, 2016

It was ironic that, as members of the military launched a coup against him on Friday night, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey resorted to guerrilla media tactics — broadcasting via the FaceTime app on his cellphone — to urge Turks to oppose the plotters. Mr. Erdogan has been no friend to free expression, ruthlessly asserting control over the media and restricting human rights and free speech. Yet thousands responded to his appeal, turning back the rebels and demonstrating that they still value democracy even if Mr. Erdogan has eroded its meaning.

That erosion now seems likely to accelerate, exacting a terrible price from Turkey’s citizens and posing new challenges to international efforts to confront the Islamic State and halt the killing in Turkey’s neighbor, Syria.

Given the chaotic and bloody events of the last two days, there is little doubt that Mr. Erdogan will become more vengeful and obsessed with control than ever, exploiting the crisis not just to punish mutinous soldiers but to further quash whatever dissent is left in Turkey. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he said, chillingly. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

Since coming to power as prime minister in 2003, Mr. Erdogan has become an increasingly authoritarian leader who has steered his country far from the vision of a model Muslim democracy that many, in Turkey and around the world, had longed for. The volatile Middle East cannot afford to have another state unravel, especially one that is also the essential bulwark of NATO’s eastern flank and has the largest army in the region. In a statement late Friday, the United States emphasized its “absolute support for Turkey’s democratically-elected, civilian government and democratic institutions.”

Turkey’s military has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism, although the army has not seized power directly since 1980. There have long been tensions between Mr. Erdogan, whose AKP party has its roots in Islamism, and the military, and he has worked methodically to weaken the army as an institution. More recently, however, the army was seen as regaining some of its clout because it was steering clear of politics and managing a brutal war against Kurdish separatists.

Mr. Erdogan moved rapidly on Saturday to round up his adversaries, real or imagined. Authorities reportedly had detained nearly 3,000 members of the armed forces, including a brigadier general, and purged the judiciary of 2,745 judges. Mr. Erdogan blamed the coup attempt on the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, who was his ally until a bitter falling out three years ago. Mr. Gulen’s followers were known to have a strong presence in Turkey’s police and judiciary, but less so in the military. Moreover, Mr. Gulen condemned the coup on the website of his group, Alliance for Shared Values.

An estimated 265 people, including “coup plotters” and civilians, were reported killed during the insurrection, which began Friday night when a faction of the army seized two bridges in Istanbul. The uprising involved tanks, jet fighters and attack helicopters; some forces strafed the headquarters of the Turkish intelligence and parliament in Ankara, according to news reports.

In a strategic sense, the fallout from the mutiny is already being felt. Turkish authorities on Saturday halted American-led strike missions against Islamic State that have been flying from Incirlik air base, a vital operations center. Given the apparent split over Mr. Erdogan within the Turkish military, ties between the American military and Turkish military, a critical link in the Turkey-American relationship, will be trickier to manage. That could impede cooperation on Syria and other matters besides Islamic State, American officials say.

As the response to the coup demonstrates, Mr. Erdogan retains significant support in his country of 80 million people, even as he has become increasingly polarizing. One might hope that this desperate uprising might prompt him to reach out to his opponents, but Mr. Erdogan’s pattern points in the opposite direction. The weekend’s upheaval and lingering political tensions are likely to compromise Turkey’s democracy and its ability to be a stabilizing influence in NATO and the region.

Turkey may no longer be a viable partner in fight against Isis following coup, says French foreign minister
'There are questions that are being asked and we will ask them. [Turkey] is partly viable but there are suspicions as well. Let’s be honest about this'

17 July, 2016

France’s foreign minister has said Turkey may no longer be a viable partner in the fight against Isis in Syria, while Syrian state media has claimed the failed coup in the country was fabricated by President Erdogan to tarnish the military's reputation.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault raised concerns over Turkey's ability to fight Isis amid growing political instability in the country following the attempted coup against Mr Erdogan’s regime.

He said: “There are questions that are being asked and we will ask them. [Turkey] is partly viable but there are suspicions as well. Let’s be honest about this.”

He said he would raise the issue at a meeting in Washington next week convened to discuss action against Isis.

Following his comments, a French diplomatic official said Mr Ayrault did not mean to question Turkey’s viability in the fight against Isis and said that they would remain a crucial coalition partner in the fight against the terror group.

A Syrian government newspaper has said the coup was fabricated by President Erdogan in an attempt to "avenge the military and strip it of its remaining support."

Mr Erdogan supports insurgents in Syria who are trying to force President Bashar Assad from power.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has denied the US played any part in Turkey's attempted coup, calling such claims 'utterly false and harmful'

Robert Fisk

Recep Tayyip Erdogan had it coming. The Turkish army was never going to remain compliant while the man who would recreate the Ottoman Empire turned his neighbours into enemies and his country into a mockery of itself. But it would be a grave mistake to assume two things: that the putting down of a military coup is a momentary matter after which the Turkish army will remain obedient to its sultan; and to regard at least 161 deaths and more than 2,839 detained in isolation from the collapse of the nation-states of the Middle East.

For the weekend’s events in Istanbul and Ankara are intimately related to the breakdown of frontiers and state-belief – the assumption that Middle East nations have permanent institutions and borders – that has inflicted such wounds across Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the Arab world. Instability is now as contagious as corruption in the region, especially among its potentates and dictators, a class of autocrat of which Erdogan has been a member ever since he changed the constitution for his own benefit and restarted his wicked conflict with the Kurds.

Needless to say, Washington’s first reaction was instructive. Turks must support their “democratically elected government”. The “democracy” bit was rather hard to swallow; even more painful to recall, however, was the very same government’s reaction to the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s “democratically elected” government in Egypt in 2013 – when Washington very definitely did not ask Egypt’s people to support Morsi and quickly gave its support to a military coup far more bloody than the attempted putsch in Turkey. Had the Turkish army been successful, be sure Erdogan would have been treated as dismissively as the unfortunate Morsi.

But what do you expect when Western nations prefer stability to freedom and dignity? That’s why they are prepared to accept Iran’s troops and loyal Iraqi militiaman joining in the battle against Isis – as well as the poor 700 missing Sunnis who “disappeared” after the recapture of Fallujah – and that’s why the “Assad must go” routine has been quietly dropped. Now that Bashar al-Assad has outlived David Cameron’s premiership – and will almost certainly outlast Obama’s presidency – the regime in Damascus will look with wondering eyes at the events in Turkey this weekend.

The victorious powers in the First World War destroyed the Ottoman Empire – which was one of the purposes of the 1914-18 conflict after the Sublime Porte made the fatal mistake of siding with Germany – and the ruins of that empire were then chopped into bits by the Allies and handed over to brutal kings, vicious colonels and dictators galore. Erdogan and the bulk of the army which has decided to maintain him in power – for now – fit into this same matrix of broken states.

The warning signs were there for Erdogan – and the West – to see, if only they had recalled the experience of Pakistan. Shamelessly used by the Americans to funnel missiles, guns and cash to the “mujahedin” who were fighting the Russians, Pakistan – another “bit” chopped off an empire (the Indian one) turned into a failed state, its cities torn apart with massive bombs, its own corrupt army and intelligence service cooperating with Russia’s enemies – including the Taliban – and then infiltrated by Islamists who would eventually threaten the state itself.

When Turkey began playing the same role for the US in Syria – sending weapons to the insurgents, its corrupt intelligence service cooperating with the Islamists, fighting the state power in Syria – it, too, took the path of a failed state, its cities torn apart by massive bombs, its countryside infiltrated by the Islamists. The only difference is that Turkey also relaunched a war on its Kurds in the south-east of the country where parts of Diyabakir are now as devastated as large areas of Homs or Aleppo. Too late did Erdogan realise the cost of the role he had chosen for his country. It’s one thing to say sorry to Putin and patch up relations with Benjamin Netanyahu; but when you can no longer trust your army, there are more serious matters to concentrate on.

Two thousand or so arrests are quite a coup for Erdogan – rather larger, in fact, than the coup the army planned for him. But they must be just a few of the thousands of men in the Turkish officer corps who believe the Sultan of Istanbul is destroying his country. It’s not just a case of reckoning the degree of horror which Nato and the EU will have felt at these events. The real question will be the degree to which his (momentary) success will embolden Erdogan to undertake more trials, imprison more journalists, close down more newspapers, kill more Kurds and, for that matter, go on denying the 1915 Armenian genocide.

For outsiders, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the degree of fear and almost racist disgust with which Turkey regards any form of Kurdish militancy; America, Russia, Europe – the West in general – has so desomaticised the word “terrorist” that we fail to comprehend the extent to which Turks call the Kurds “terrorists” and see them as a danger to the very existence of the Turkish state; which is just how they saw the Armenians in the First World War. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk may have been a good old secular autocrat admired even by Adolf Hitler, but his struggle to unify Turkey was caused by the very factions which have always haunted the Turkish heartland – along with dark (and rational) suspicions about the plotting of Western powers against the state.

All in all, then, a far more dramatic series of events have taken place in Turkey this weekend than may at first appear. From the frontier of the EU, through Turkey and Syria and Iraq and large parts of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and on to Libya and – dare one mention this after Nice? – Tunisia, there is now a trail of anarchy and failed states. Sir Mark Sykes and Fran├žois Georges-Picot began the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment – with help from Arthur Balfour -- but it continues to this day.

In this grim historical framework must we view the coup-that-wasn’t in Ankara. Stand by for another one in the months or years to come

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