BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
INSIDE, Turkey is a mess. Corruption is, though I suspect un(der)reported, once again fully present. Ended is the honeymoon of this century’s first decade when Turkish citizens thought they had brought to power a political party, Erdogan’s AKP, that was free of the corruption tainting the country’s political elites. All the leaks about the fishy doings of Erdoğan’s family and inner circle can only be the tip of the iceberg we hear about outside the country: think about the cabinet members who had to resign a few years ago, or the Italian connection from a little over a year ago, or the biggie – Daesh/ISIS oil smuggled from Iraq and Syria through Turkey (though this particular item straddles the INSIDE/OUTSIDE LINE). But perhaps the most impishly fun one is Sevan Nisanyan’s escape from unjust imprisonment thanks to Turkey’s long established (dating back to Ottoman times) traditions of being able to bribe your way out of jail.
Whenever governments start scapegoating sectors of their polity, you can be certain that rot has set INSIDE the country. Gulen and his supporters are the biggest scapegoat for Erdoğan and his coterie. By using their alleged responsibility for last summer’s coup attempt, Erdoğan has tried to further consolidate his power by firing tens of thousands of public employees. Of course another scapegoat is provided by the country’s minorities. Armenians have long been the longest-horned devils for Turkey. But being numerically insignificant, that minority is not as practical. Meanwhile the Kurds are. It seems reigniting a civil war with the PKK was worthwhile for Sultan, er, excuse me, President Erdoğan. This way he could have yet another scapegoat/excuse to grab more power. But, that has led to incidents such as the one from a few days ago where three Turkish soldiers are ambushed and killed, the video for which was released by the Kurds. How embarrassing is that?
But the scapegoating isn’t all that is being justified by the coup. The crackdown and accompanying de-democratization INSIDE Turkey are of immense proportions. Any semblance of independent media is almost gone, even online sources such as YouTube, etc. have been subject to periodic blackouts at Ankara’s behest. In just the last few weeks we’ve witnessed the arrest of ten human rights activists, including Peter Steudtner, a German who was in Turkey for a digital security conference. And here’s a dead give-away as to the ridiculous state of fear and harassment being created in Turkey. Erdoğan, while attending last month’s G20 summit in Hamburg, claimed that conference had “the character of a continuation” of last year’s coup! This is designed to create hysteria and distraction among Turkey’s citizens so they won’t see how bad their current government has become.
All this provides excellent cover for the state’s ongoing property grabs. Just two weeks ago I wrote about the 50 Syriac properties usurped. For the past two years, various Kurdish dominated municipalities have lost control of their own governance and land. Even some Armenian churches have been subjected to re-expropriation, landing those matters in Turkey’s courts.
But the best clue to the decay besetting Turkey and its ruling AKP is the shedding of leadership within the party. Abdullah Gul and Ahmet Davutoglu, respectively former president and prime minister, are nowhere to be seen. In his quest for ultimate power and control, Erdoğan is sidelining some of the most competent people in the party. As the circle of leadership shrinks and leaves fewer independent poles of power with which he must contend, Erdoğan will become ever more paranoid, tyrannical, and possibly unhinged in his actions. This bodes ill for Turkey, its citizens, and neighboring countries.
Which, transitions us to the INSIDE/OUTSIDE cusp. The oil smuggling and German’s arrest have already been mentioned. But there’s also Turkey’s questionable base just inside Iraq, supposedly used to fight Daesh/ISI, but really, a form of leverage against the Kurds. More recently, the movement into Syria of Turkish troops (stationed between the two zones controlled by Kurds) and the attacks by those forces along with Turkey’s puppet “Syrian rebels” against the Kurds are a profoundly problematic development. It’s almost redundant to remind of Turkey’s arming and supporting various groups in Syria as part of its efforts to overthrow Assad, in cooperation with some of the Gulf States.
Turkey is also messing around on the Nakhichevan front. Some sort of “free trade” arrangement seems to be brewing. Even more destabilizing, though is the possible construction of Turkish military bases there and in Georgia. That could have a VERY significant impact on the balance of power calculation between Yerevan and Baku. Plus, Moscow could react since it sees these locations as its sphere of influence. In the case of Nakhichevan, Tehran, too could react.
But the most jaw-dropping news on the INSIDE/OUTSIDE CUSP of the last few days is the exposing, by Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu news agency, of the location of ten U.S. bases in the Kurdish zone, along with troop counts. I did read one assertion that this was news gathered on the ground by the agency, but I do not believe it. As a D.C. think tank’s representative already said, “It’s hard not to see this as a f— you” to the U.S.
Moving OUTSIDE of Turkey, we have an endless series of gaffs, arrogant actions, and utterly unacceptable behaviors. The easiest example to cite is the shooting-down of a Russian plane by Turkey a year and a half ago. But that has, for now, been set aside by both countries after some groveling by Erdoğan/Turkey. But given both’s interests, these two countries will never trust each other. I suspect that but for the Ukraine situation, Russia might have started a mini-war with Turkey over the plane incident.
OUTSIDE, in Europe, we have witnessed the cessation of Turkey’s acceptance process into the European Union. A few months ago, Erdoğan was barred from holding public rallies in Germany and Holland. After the German parliament’s Armenian Genocide recognition, a series of responses between the two countries has now escalated to the point that Germany is withdrawing its troops from Turkey’s Eenjeerlik (Incirlik) NATO base. All along, some fairly harsh (on the diplomatic scale) words have been exchanged. Remember, Germany and Turkey (Ottoman) were ALLIES in WWI. In WWII, Turkey was quietly supporting Germany. Hundreds of thousands of Turks live in Turkey. Yet we have this impressive level of discord between the two. Let’s also not forget the manipulation of Syrian (and other) refugee flows by Turkey for use as leverage against Europe – noting that one of the main causes of the Syrian refugee crisis is Turkey itself.
OUTSIDE of Turkey, there are lots of suspicious or untoward activities. Why does Turkey need military bases in Sudan and Qatar? Why does Turkey transgress into Greek airspace and waters dozens and dozens of times a year? What about the thuggery of Erdoğan’s bodyguards in various countries (thankfully, the U.S. Congress has acted to bar some arms sales as a result of the recent beating of peaceful demonstrators by those goons)? I can’t help but wonder if Turkey didn’t have a hand in the shipping of arms to terrorists on Azerbaijani diplomatic flights (recently exposed by a Bulgarian reporter and brought to the Armenian world’s attention by Harut Sassounian), particularly those emanating from Bulgaria.
Cleary, not only is Turkey living in an UPSIDE DOWN “universe” of its own government’s making, but that same government is trying to turn the neighboring states topsy-turvy with dangerous, destabilizing, actions and provocations. The sheer terror Ankara experiences whenever Kurds make any gains is also a dangerous factor that can lead to foolhardy moves on Turkey’s part. Plus, the grandiose aspirations of restoring Turkish influence in formerly Ottoman held lands can lead to very dangerous situations, fraught with the likelihood of much bloodshed and injustice.
We must develop a plan to diplomatically isolate Turkey and do justice to all its residents by developing a “version 2” of the Sykes-Picot agreement that Ankara lives in dread of. We must make the world see how risky are Turkey’s continued existence in its current form and the resultant behaviors on the international scene. Armenia, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Iraq, and Syria (in alphabetical order) are all currently targets of Turkish mischief. One could even add Israel to the list. Only Bulgaria and Georgia are not currently negatively impacted by Turkey among its immediate or very (geographically) very proximate neighbors.
We have to cleverly, quietly, achieve or ends, and, as a fringe benefit, assist our neighbors who live at the foot of the Armenian Plateau.