Turkey securing its border – USA supporting terrorists

jacinda's baby

Wanna see my baby bump?

I returned to Istanbul on Sunday after a 17-day trip to the idyllic South Sea Islands, where media attention was focused on the pregnancy of the recently elected Prime Minister, and whether she would have a boy, a girl, or some more politically correct, post-modern variation of one or the other. And what did I find back here? Turkey on the brink of war with the United States of America!

Of course, you will be aware that the Turkish military has begun conducting air and land strikes across its border into Syria, targeting Kurdish irregular forces holed up in the Afrin region. I don’t know what picture of this your local media have been presenting. What little coverage I saw downunder was portraying Turkey as the aggressor, ruthlessly bombing innocent Kurdish civilians in its ongoing suppression of those people’s righteous struggle for a national homeland.

Afrin map

Make sense of that, if you can – and put yourself in Turkey’s shoes for a moment

Well, I’m not going into a lengthy analysis of the Kurdish situation in the Middle East. Millions of Kurdish people live in Turkey, and I suspect the vast majority of them are mostly interested in working to make a better life for themselves and their children. Given the option, few of them would relocate to a mountainous landlocked state in the Middle East, however oil-rich it might be. Despite the nay-sayers, the lives of most Kurdish people have improved enormously under the present government of Turkey, in terms of recognising their ethnic identity, supporting Kurdish language TV channels and encouraging economic development in eastern Turkey.

Undoubtedly, not all Kurds are happy campers. Just as in New Zealand, where elements among the native Maori population will not be satisfied until white NZers have gone back to Scotland, or wherever our ancestors came from, there are militant nationalist Kurdish elements ready and willing to employ violent tactics to achieve – whatever it is they want to achieve.

Rose Gottermoeller, Deputy General Secretary of NATO, speaking in Ankara the other day, acknowledged that:

Turkey is among the NATO members “most affected by terror attacks” and NATO fully recognizes the threat posed to it . . .

“Turkey has really suffered from terrorism in recent years and has a very serious problem. It is among the NATO allies that suffer the most attacks in recent years and we do recognize that fully,” [she said].


Syrian children attending school in Turkey

She could have gone on to add that, since civil war broke out in Syria in March 2011, the people of Turkey have been obliged to host and care for nearly four million refugees fleeing the violence – with precious little aid from their wealthy NATO allies.

Those refugees have been flooding across an 822 km land border between the two countries – a border than runs through some pretty mountainous and inhospitable geography, near impossible to police. Needless to say, among the hopeless, helpless and harmless multitudes, there are a few malcontents taking advantage of the situation to enter Turkey with a view to causing mayhem. There are also young men passing the other way, fired up by ideology or boredom, seeking to join one side or the other in the Syrian conflict – a relatively minor aspect that Western media have chosen to focus on.

Security forces in Turkey are quite proficient at maintaining order – given the geo-political turbulence in the region, they need to be. Their task is made more difficult, however, by support provided to local terrorists by interested groups across the border in Iraq and Syria.

Turkey has long complained about American support for Syrian Kurdish militias, which it says have emboldened the Kurdish separatist movement that Ankara considers a threat to its territorial sovereignty and is prepared to go to great lengths to counteract. Turkish officials say that this has allowed weapons and support to reach the outlawed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe and has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.”

Those militias have been strengthened for many years by the United States government supplying arms, training and financial support. As far back as 1991, George Bush the Father was conducting Operation Provide Comfort, supporting Kurds in Northern Iraq. A few years later, George the Son was enlisting the aid of Iraqi Kurds in his crusading mission to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his non-existent weapons of mass destruction. What did George Dubya and his cronies promise Masoud Barzani in return? An independent Kurdistan? And why would they do that? Anything to do with having a grateful, oil rich puppet state in the middle of the Middle East, I wonder? Draw your own conclusions.

They-lied-about-Iraq-Afghan-Libya-Syria-IranAnd more recently, Big Donald, the Holy Ghost, has been succouring Kurdish militants in north-west Syria. A senior American commander, according to the New York Times, “praised the partnership with the Kurds, whose help was critical in a major American airstrike on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, over the weekend.”

“Senior Pentagon officials and American commanders,” the article continued, “say that the Syrian Kurds will most likely serve as the backbone of the allied forces on the ground in Syria for months to come.”

“Echoing earlier comments by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the commander of the United States Central Command, General Joseph L. Votel, said in an interview last month that American forces would remain in eastern Syria, alongside their Syrian Kurdish and Arab allies, as long as needed to defeat the Islamic State.”

On the other hand, the same article referred to a White House message “aimed at mollifying Turkey’s president on Tuesday, suggesting that the United States was easing off its support for the Syrian Kurds.”

“. . . the White House disavowed a plan by the American military to create a Kurdish-led force in northeastern Syria, which Turkey has vehemently opposed. Turkey, which considers the Kurdish militia a terrorist organization, fears the plan would cement a Kurdish enclave along its southern frontier.

“That plan, a senior administration official said Tuesday, originated with midlevel military planners in the field, and was never seriously debated, or even formally introduced, at senior levels in the White House or the National Security Council.

“The official, who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified, also said that the United States had no connection to the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, where the Turkish military has launched an invasion in recent days.

“And he drew a distinction between allies — a term he said had legal connotations — and partners in a combat mission, like the Kurds. America’s actions on the ground in Syria, he said, would be driven by a calculation of its interests.”

Meaning the United States’ interests, of course. And if US interests conflict with those of its loyal NATO allies, the allies can go hang. Nevertheless, countries like Turkey do have their own national interests, especially since they are somewhat closer to ground zero in Syria than most Americans. Our English language Turkish daily, Hurriyet Daily News has this to say about the US’s “combat partners”:

The YPG is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and is the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has been fighting Turkey for decades and is designated a terrorist by numerous countries, including the U.S. Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter even admitted during a congressional hearing in April 2016 that the YPG and the PKK were “organically linked.”

This is why U.S. Special Forces Commander General Raymond Thomas asked YPG personnel to rename themselves, in order to circumvent NATO ally Turkey in the anti-ISIL alliance. “With about a day’s notice they declared they were the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF],” Thomas said at the July 2017 Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

He continued mockingly, amid laughter from the audience. “I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put ‘democracy’ in there somewhere,” he said. “But it gave them a little bit of credibility. I was lucky to have a great partner like Brett McGurk with me, because they were asking for things that I couldn’t give them. They wanted a seat at the table, whether it’s Geneva, or Astana, or wherever the talks are happening about the future of Syria. But because they have been branded as the PKK they could never get to the table. So we paired them militarily and McGurk was able to keep them in the conversation.”

What’s in a name? Rename a Kurdish terrorist as a loyal US partner fighting for democracy in Syria against an evil dictator, and all will be well.

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, as he often does, is calling out the United States government for its hypocrisy.

“The U.S. is urging that [Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch] should not last too long and should be conducted within a certain time frame. I ask the U.S.: Does your operation in Afghanistan, which you launched more than 10 years ago, have a certain time frame? When will it be completed? You are also still in Iraq, aren’t you? Do these kinds of operations have a certain time frame?” Erdoğan added.

So where does that leave us, we helpless observers of the great global imperialist game?

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavuşoğlu, said the other day. “If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it.

A Turkish assault on Manbij could bring its forces into direct conflict with the Americans, with unpredictable results.

The NY Times correspondents wrote, “Robert S. Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and a former Ambassador to Syria, wrote in an analytical column that Turkey’s military operations in Syria demonstrated the difficulties of the American position. Turkey’s brushoff of American concerns made the United States look weak, Mr. Ford wrote, adding that some Kurdish observers were accusing America of being an unreliable ally.

“Over the longer term, it is hard to see how the U.S. will secure its stated political goal of stabilization in eastern Syria and genuine governance reforms in Syria,” he wrote.

syria war

Babies in Syria

Murat Yetkin, writing in Hurriyet Daily News, observed, “It is not hard to see that such a relationship [between the US and Kurdish militant groups] must end at some point, because it is not right. The partnership even evokes memories of the U.S.’s arming of Islamist tribes in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion.”

Well, of course I wish the people of New Zealand, their Prime Minister and her principal care-giving partner joy and happiness in their new First Baby. I’m pleased, however, to be back in a part of the world where issues of genuine global importance receive more attention.


United States opposes Kurdish referendum in Iraq – Yeah, sure!

I saw it first in our local newspaper, and I checked it out. Yep, it seems some low-ranking “spokeswoman” from the State department was given the job of lying to the world. Ignore the fact that the US used the Iraqi Kurds to get rid of Saddam Hussein – and what did they promise in return? Ignore the fact that the US is providing military hardware to Kurdish separatists in northern Syria, against the repeatedly expressed wishes of loyal NATO ally Turkey. What do they think will be the consequences of that?


US “coalition partners” in Syria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States “strongly opposes” the planned independence referendum by Iraqi Kurds and urges Iraqi Kurdish leaders to engage in negotiations with the Baghdad government instead, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.

In the most forceful U.S. statement so far opposing the referendum, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “The United States strongly opposes the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s referendum on independence, planned for September 25.”

US ‘concerned about quality of democracy in Turkey’

The headline was in our local English language daily, so I checked it online just to be sure. Well, as usual, there’s a context. The words were spoken at a US Dept of State press conference on Thursday. In fact the spokesman was doing his best to be diplomatic in the face of questioning clearly aimed at getting him to come out and criticise the state of democracy in Turkey. So, credit where credit’s due – he didn’t.

And well he might not! Whatever pious voices the US reporters might raise against Turkey, it’s pretty clear that they would be better advised to deal with the blows against democracy being struck by their own government at home and abroad.


Thanks to a CIA-backed coup in 1952 to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister

For example:

“An executive at the Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank on April 13 pleaded not guilty to involvement in a multi-year scheme to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran.

“Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager at Halkbank, entered his plea through his lawyer at a hearing in Manhattan federal court.

“U.S. prosecutors accused Atilla of conspiring with wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal transactions through U.S. banks on behalf of Iran’s government and other entities in Iran.”

Well, if these Turkish guys were actually trying to evade US sanctions against Iran (and I’m not saying they were), they were undoubtedly doing it for the benefit of their own country and not just Iran. Turkey had been suffering economically for more than 30 years by loyally supporting the US government’s sanctions against Iran. These sanctions were imposed after a grass-roots Islamic revolution in 1979 overthrew the US-puppet Shah who had been misgoverning the country for 27 years on behalf of his western masters. Who’s wrong here?

If you guys are really so keen on democracy, can you please tell us exactly how such interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation fits into your plan for democratising the universe? And how are things progressing in Afghanistan?


And $2 million for each bang

“The United States on Thursday dropped “the mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, on an ISIS tunnel and cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. The bomb, officially called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), was dropped from a MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said, according to the Associated Press. The target was near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.

“President Donald Trump said Thursday the bombing was a “very successful mission,” according to Reuters, and he touted the mission as evidence of a stronger foreign policy under his administration. It was not immediately clear how much damage the bomb did, how many militants were killed, or whether any civilians were killed.

“The GBU-43 is a GPS-guided weapon that weighs an enormous 21,600 pounds (9.5 tonnes), according to an article from the Eglin Air Force Base. Each one costs $16 million, according to military information website Deagel. During testing in the early 2000s, it created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 30 km away, according to the Air Force story.

“The U.S. military says it has 20 MOAB bombs and has spent about $314 million producing them, according to CNBC.

“While not all details from Thursday’s blast have been made public, the bomb is very powerful. “What it does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Air Force Times. “It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.” (Source: Time)

Another article in Time informed me that Turkey is one of five countries where ISIS gets many of its foreign recruits:


Britain and France’s secret plan for post-WWI Middle East – and where did Kurdistan fit in?

“Turkey has its own fraught relationship with an ethnic minority agitating for independence. The Kurds are an ethnic group that number between 20 million and 40 million who straddle the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. Denied their own state when the borders of modern Turkey were established following World War I, they are now the world’s largest stateless ethnic group. Kurdish fighters have spent decades fighting the Turkish government to carve out an independent state for themselves, and some have resorted to terrorism; over the past three decades, more than 40,000 people have been killed in clashes between Turks and Kurds.

“Complicating matters is that Kurds in Syria are one of the most effective forces fighting both Assad and ISIS. Their success could create an independent Kurdish state inside Syria, which might encourage a larger share of Turkish Kurds to take arms with the same goal. So one of the greatest terrorist threats against Turkey is also a threat to ISIS.

“At the same time, roughly 2,100 Turks have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Since 2015, more than 400 people have been killed in terrorist attacks throughout the country. In other words, Turkey’s terrorism problem is only becoming more complicated.”

And made a whole lot more complicated by US interference in regional affairs. For a start, it wasn’t just Turkey that stood in the way of a Kurdish state. It was the victorious allies, Britain and France who drew the borders of Iraq and Syria for their own selfish reasons at the end of World War I. And if they’d had their way, the Turks would have been an even larger stateless group! Further, there is no doubt that most of the Kurdish people in Turkey do not support PKK separatist terrorism. They are getting on with the business of making a living, and a better life for their kids in the cities of Turkey – with the assistance of the present government. And the process is not helped by the US government supporting Kurdish revolutionary separatists in Syria in the so-called fight against ISIS. Yankee go home! Just let the locals get on with sorting out their own problems!


Well, I don’t get to vote in the referendum, but if I did . . .

Dear Americans, you may think you have the best of intentions, but . . .

“Misdirected coalition strike kills 18 partner forces in Syria

“A coalition air strike accidentally killed 18 members of a U.S.-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) near a key town in northern Syria, the U.S.-led coalition said on April 13.”

Who needs enemies when you’ve got a friend like the USA?

Analysis: What is Turkey trying to achieve in Iraq?

This article appeared in Al Jazeera today. I’m abridging it a little:

“Any attempt to change Mosul’s demographic composition would be a direct threat to Turkey’s security, analysts say.

“Only weeks before Iraqi troops and their local and international partners start their push to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), the leaders of Turkey and Iraq have been caught in a war of words that could derail the Mosul liberation efforts.

730768b961374fc195b9f53e9633b8c6_6Mosul, home to up to 1.5 million people, has been the headquarters of ISIL’s self-declared caliphate in northern Iraq since 2014. The battle for the city, expected later this month, is likely to shape the post-ISIL Iraq.

Turkey’s President Erdoğan also said that Turkey is determined to participate in the operation to retake Mosul from ISIL, with or without Baghdad’s approval. Turkish media later reported that Turkey is planning to participate in the Mosul operation with an invitation from the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani.

Turkey’s parliament voted two weeks ago to extend the deployment of an estimated 2,000 troops across northern Iraq by a year to combat “terrorist organisations”. Around 500 of these troops are stationed in the Bashiqa camp in northern Iraq, training local fighters who will join the battle to recapture Mosul.

Abadi’s government requested an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the issue, and both countries summoned each other’s ambassadors in a mounting diplomatic standoff. “It is hard to take Baghdad’s threats seriously,” Ali Faik Demir, an expert on Turkish foreign policy from Istanbul’s Galatasaray University, told Al Jazeera.

“A country that cannot protect its territorial integrity and eliminate terrorist elements within itself cannot threaten a neighbour for protecting its own interests. Especially when that neighbour was invited in to the country by Mosul’s former governor to train Sunni militias who are preparing to fight ISIL.”

According to analysts the legitimacy of the government in Baghdad is slowly eroding amid sectarian tensions, foreign interventions and the ISIL occupation. Abadi, say analysts, is trying to use Turkey’s presence in Northern Iraq to fuel a new brand of Iraqi nationalism to keep at least certain parts of the country intact in the post-ISIL era.

” Turkey is concerned that once ISIL fighters are pushed out of Mosul, the government in Baghdad will make it difficult for Sunni residents of the city to live there. Erdogan previously said that Mosul, which was seized by ISIL two years ago, belongs to “its Sunni residents”.

Analysts believe that Turkey’s concerns about the future of Mosul should not be interpreted as an attempt to reshape a sovereign country’s demographic make-up. “We have to remember Iraq’s current borders were drawn in the Sykes-Picot agreement,” Demir said.

“Those borders are nothing more than arbitrary lines drawn in the sand by the British. So the situation can only be analysed realistically from a city-centric perspective. Mosul is a historically Sunni city and any attempt to change its demographic composition would be a direct threat to Turkey’s security,” he said.

Analysts emphasised that Turkey’s uneasiness about the prospect of having sectarian militias help Iraqi army in the Mosul liberation operation should not be dismissed simply as a desire to protect fellow Sunnis in the region. “If [these forces] push into Mosul, where will the Sunni residents of the city go?” asked Demir. “Of course they cannot go to Syria, so they will move north, into Turkey. ”

Turkey is already hosting 2.7 million refugees, he said.  “Turkey simply cannot absorb another wave of refugees, so the Turkish government and military need to take necessary precautions to make sure residents of Mosul can stay in Mosul after ISIL is ousted from their city.”

Ahmet Kaya, Adele and Turkey’s Kurdish Difficulties

Ahmet Adele

A case of theft – or just a coincidence?

I don’t tweet myself, so I can’t speak from first-hand knowledge – but I’m told the twittersphere and other social media in Turkey were buzzing with outrage last week over the sacrilegious desecration of a song by the late Ahmet Kaya, an icon of Turkey’s left wing revolutionaries. It is alleged that a new release by pop diva Adele, ‘Million Years Ago’ is a direct steal from Kaya’s 1985 track, ‘Acılara Tutunmak’.

I’ve listened to both songs a few times, and for sure there are similarities. You can probably sing Kaya’s lyrics to Adele’s music. A careful listener might detect echoes of Kaya’s sadness and disillusionment in Adele’s feelings of loss for a past life. Kaya ‘lived several thousand years, holding on to his pain’; the English songstress misses the days ‘when life was a party to be thrown . . a million years ago’. However, the grounds are probably too flimsy to bring a case of copyright infringement. Could the young lady have heard Kaya’s 30 year-old ballad, sung only in Turkish? It’s a long shot. I heard someone suggest she had a Turk somewhere back in her family tree – but I could find no trace of one in the several biographical sites I checked.

ahmetdkNevertheless, I’m grateful that the controversy has shone a spotlight on the music of Ahmet Kaya, at this time of escalating violence between Kurdish separatists and Turkish security forces. It’s fifteen years since he passed away, at the far-too-young age of 43 – and this seems like a good opportunity to take a look at his life and art.

Kaya was born in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya to a Kurdish father and Turkish mother. I don’t know whether his father would have liked to give his son a Kurdish name – but anyway, in those days it was illegal. That’s probably also why the family’s surname is Turkish.

Despite his Kurdish roots, Kaya sang mostly in Turkish. He released his first album in 1985, and subsequent albums recorded until his death in 2000 sold well. According to his Wikipedia entry, During his career he recorded approximately 20 albums and was known for his protest music and positions on social justice. Recurring themes in his songs are love towards one’s mother, sacrifice, and hope.’

In 1999 Kaya was about to be named Musician of the Year at an awards ceremony televised on Turkey’s Show TV. Apparently he made a speech in which he spoke of his Kurdish background and announced that he was including a song in the Kurdish language on his next album. The Turkish Wikipedia page reports that some members of the audience began to swear at the artist and throw things at him, whereupon he was escorted from the auditorium by officials. The English version claims that subsequently, ‘massive opposition from Turkish people and celebrities’ was led by prominent Turkish singer, Serdar Ortaç, who later apologized for his behaviour. The Turkish site makes no mention of Ortaç’s involvement.

Kaya's grave in Paris

Ahmet Kaya’s grave in a Paris cemetery

Whatever the truth of the matter, the opposition culminated in a criminal prosecution, and Kaya escaped to France. Shortly afterwards he was sentenced, in absentia, to three years and nine months in prison for spreading separatist propaganda. It later emerged that some of the evidence central to his conviction had been forged. Sad to say, however, Kaya died of a heart attack in Paris, in self-imposed exile, and is buried in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise. Perhaps his family is deriving some small satisfaction from the fact that Turkish people are now leaping to his defence against foreign superstars pirating his music – if indeed that’s what they are doing.

It does seem, then, that Ahmet Kaya’s reputation has been resuscitated in his homeland in the fifteen years since his death. Going a step further, it also seems to me that this resurrection, or forgiveness, or whatever you like to call it, is indicative of a shift in the majority perception of the twenty per cent of Turkey’s population said to be ethnic Kurds. Under a provision in the constitution written by Turkey’s military government after the 1980 coup, the threshold for representation in parliament was set at ten per cent. Kurdish parties had been unable to pass this barrier, until this year, when, partly as a result of support from non-Kurdish liberal opponents of the AK Party government, the HDP Party finally broke through.

Unfortunately, the shine has gone off the reconciliation process somewhat, with renewed violence in the southeast near the Syrian border, and the refusal of the HDP leadership to condemn PKK aggression.

Pro-Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Zana takes her seat as she arrives at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara

Kurdish representative Leyla Zana taking her seat in the parliament of Turkey

Further underlining the fact that there is still some way to go, an unfortunate incident took place during the swearing-in ceremony for new representatives in Turkey’s parliament (meclis) in November. Kurdish rights activist Leyla Zana became the centre of attention when, in taking the oath of allegiance, she altered the wording slightly from ‘The Turkish Republic’ to ‘The Republic of Turkey’. It may seem like a small quibble, but in the Kurdish consciousness, the latter is acceptable while the former is seen as exclusive and oppressive. Given the sensitive state of Turkish-Kurdish relations at present, it might have been wise for those administering the oath to suffer a hearing lapse – but unfortunately the provisional speaker of the house was Deniz Baykal, former leader of the opposition CHP party, outspoken critics of the government’s attempts to find a solution to the Kurdish issue. Baykal insisted on the correct wording, Zana refused to budge, and what could have been seen as a minor semantic quibble turned into another basis for conflict.

In fact, Ms Zana is an intriguing character. She was one of five siblings, born in 1961 into a very traditional Kurdish family in the east of Turkey. Her father allowed her only a year-and-a-half of schooling, and married her off, at the age of 15, to a cousin twenty years her senior. The couple had two children together, and Mehdi Zana was elected Mayor of Diyarbakır, a majority Kurdish city, in 1976. In the political repression following the 1980 military coup, the mayor was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, leaving his young wife to support herself and the two young children.

Apparently, with her husband’s encouragement, she learned Turkish, studied on her own to gain a high school diploma, and in 1991 became the first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish parliament. During the swearing-in ceremony, she said a few words in Kurdish, causing a great public uproar. Subsequently she was stripped of parliamentary immunity, charged with treason and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. She was released in 2004 after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish courts had violated her right to free expression.

In 2008 and 2009 Leyla Zana received three further prison sentences for allegedly supporting terrorist activities, though all three convictions were overturned on appeal in higher courts. She was re-elected to parliament in 2011, and is clearly a lady with the courage of her convictions. Exactly how the government of Turkey deals with her will give some indication of how the future of Turkish-Kurdish relations will go in the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the violence in Turkey’s southeast region is leading to a hardening of attitudes on both sides. At the same time, it is a well-documented characteristic of human nature that unjust oppression tends to increase the numbers of activists prepared to die in the cause – and there’s nothing like martyrdom to bring new recruits lining up to join. The United States government still hasn’t figured this out. I sincerely hope the government of Turkey is smarter.

Turkey’s Kurdish issue: From peace to low intensity-war


The clashes between the PKK and the Turkish military have spread to urban centres, making thousands flee their homes.

This article was published on Al Jazeera online yesterday. It seems to present a fairly balanced picture of the situation – something which is not readily available elsewhere, at least in English language media:

5b7e99681e944afc9c43898cb6689232_18It wasn’t long ago when optimism was the gist of the day on Turkey’s Kurdish issue. Many believed that there was about to be a substantial settlement of this century-old problem.

In the early days of 2013, the armed conflict ceased. Peace as a new normality was setting in. Reaping the spoils of the peaceful political climate, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) scored the highest electoral achievement in the history of the Kurdish political movement. Although support for the Kurdish parties in Turkey has traditionally hovered at 5-6 percent, the HDP’s young leader Selahattin Demirtas received 9.8 percent of the votes in the presidential election of August 2014, and the HDP acquired 13 percent in the June 2015 elections. That figure later dropped to 10.7 percent in November’s snap elections.

At present, this picture seems to belong to a bygone era as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkey have once again resumed armed violence.

3707d8f2be163bd14c78cf07586f13bb_L-1The PKK – inspired by the success of its sister organisation the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, is trying to replicate PYD tactics in the Kurdish southeast of Turkey. It is attempting to establish what it proclaims as “democratic autonomy” in some of the Kurdish towns – by digging trenches, building barricades and resorting to brute force.

The fallacy in this approach is that Turkey is not Syria. Despite all its shortcomings, Turkey is a functioning democracy, where the HDP very recently could mount a powerful opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK party) government. In such a context, the PKK’s strategy to turn Kurdish cities, towns and neighbourhoods into a battleground expectedly invites a forceful response from the government.

Since conditions of security and order are completely different in Turkey, a strategy inspired by the imbroglio in Syria is unlikely to work. The fact that the PKK has thus far failed to generate significant societal support and participation in its endeavour shows how ill-conceived this new approach has been. The HDP’s failure to distance itself from the PKK’s strategy cost the party more than one million votes. And the resumption of fighting after the June elections was another reason for the decreased support for the HDP at the snap elections. Read the whole article

Turkey catches Fire? Who to blame for ISIS?

The post-modern news media inhabit and project a fascinating virtual world. Friends and family abroad email or text me saying: ‘We heard there was a terrible earthquake in Turkey – are you all right?’ ‘Well, yes,’ I reply. ‘It was an awful thing for the people on the spot, but that spot is nearly 2000 km from Istanbul, so we ourselves only read about it in the newspaper. But I hear the USA is engulfed in race riots and street violence – I hope you guys are all safe.’ ‘Oh sure,’ they say. ‘Ferguson, Mississippi is a long way from our house.’

But we know it's not happening in your part of America

But we know it’s not happening in your part of America

So when you read a headline in Time proclaiming ‘Turkey Catches Fire as ISIS burns Kobani’ I’d like you to bear that in mind. Turkey covers a land area approximately three times that of Japan, New Zealand or the United Kingdom. There are fires from time to time, but I have to tell you, at this stage, the sub-editor at Time seems to have had a rush of blood to the head. One of my students comes from the city of Şanlıurfa, some 40-50 km from the Syrian border. Out of interest I asked him how things are down there. Pretty normal, he assured me.

On the other hand, the situation in parts of Iraq and Syria near Turkey’s southeastern border seems rather dire. Civil war has been ongoing in Syria for three years with no end in sight – and an estimated 1.5 million refugees have crossed into Turkey, overflowing government camps and increasingly finding their way to urban centres in the west. A mysterious new entity labeled ‘ISIS’ by Western media, seemingly unaffiliated to any particular Middle East state, yet remarkably well-trained and equipped with artillery and other modern military hardware, is raging through the region, burning towns, massacring locals and beheading visiting journalists.

A CNN poll in early September allegedly found that a majority of Americans was ‘alarmed’ by ISIS and in favour of bombing them. Incidentally, the poll also found that 83% were in favour of providing humanitarian aid to refugees, but I haven’t heard much more about that. 61% were clear that they didn’t want to see US troops on the ground in Syria or Iraq. The proportion supporting airstrikes is around 2:1 according to a more recent poll. Keith Helser, a ‘commodities trader from suburban Chicago’ is quoted as saying ‘He [President Obama]’s got to do something.’ He said most people he talks with don’t care much about the U.S. airstrikes. ‘It’s a long way away. As long as we’re not letting our own people get killed, I don’t think they care that much.’

Syrian Kurds crossing the border into Turkey

Syrian Kurds crossing the border into Turkey

Well, excuse me, but I don’t see that. Why exactly does President Obama have to do something? And if he genuinely feels he does, why does it have to be dropping bombs from a great height on countries with whom his own government is not officially at war? The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on August 22 saying that more than 191,000 people had been killed in Syria between March 2011 and April 2014, and 2.9 million had fled the country. ‘It is scandalous,’ he said, ‘that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention, despite the enormity of their suffering.’

Western news media, especially in the USA, have made much of the admittedly gruesome deaths of two or three foreign nationals at the hands of ISIS executioners. We also read and see much about Yezidis, Chaldean Christians and Kurds being massacred. Again, I’m sorry, but I don’t see the deaths of those journalists as sufficient reason for large-scale military invasion of a sovereign state with whom we are not actually at war. And I don’t believe Barack Obama does either. I also have serious doubts (along with Mr ‘Chicago commodities trader’ Helser) that most Americans care a great deal about Yezidis or Chaldean Christians, even if they knew what they were. I suspect that there has been a concerted campaign by opinion leaders in the US (political, industrial and financial) using the news media to instill fear into their fellow citizens so that they will support further military action. And the real question, in my opinion, is why?

Bringing peace to the Middle East

Bringing peace to the Middle East

Getting back to recent events in Turkey referred to in that Time article about that country catching fire, it is true that several cities have been experiencing violent street demonstrations where Kurdish citizens are allegedly demanding that the government send military aid to the residents of the Syrian town of Kobani, apparently about to be overrun by ISIS forces. A news item on Thursday in little old New Zealand announced that the US and its allies were ‘chafing at Turkish inaction on Syria.’ It seems that ‘the US and its allies’ want the Turkish government to send troops and tanks across the border into Syria to engage ISIS forces and try to save the town of Kobani – this in spite of the fact that US and its allies are pretty clear in their reluctance to commit ground forces of their own to the conflict. Sitting up there in a bomber at a safe altitude, or at an even safer distance at the controls of an unmanned drone dropping explosive ordinance is apparently ok – but putting US lives at risk . . . Uh, uh. Get those Turks to do it. They’re good at that kind of stuff.

But the Turkish government is being uncooperative, as indeed they were when George W Bush and his allies went a-hunting Saddam Hussein. The line being taken by the US-controlled news media is that Turkey is happy to see ISIS killing Kurds; that they don’t seem to be viewing the threat of ISIS with the appropriate degree of seriousness; and that they are claiming to be worried about PKK Kurdish terrorism when we want them to care more about ISIS.

In fact, in the last two weeks, 160,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS forces have been permitted to cross the border into Turkey, adding to the 1.5 million Syrians mentioned above. Who will be responsible for feeding, housing and providing gainful employment for these people? The Turkish government is understandably nervous that sending troops into Syria with aggressive intent will provoke a similar response within its own borders. President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu have also made it clear that they are unwilling to commit Turkish troops until the US and its allies clarify their long-term objectives for Syria.

Front page of 'Sözcu' - I suspect the USA is behind it

Front page of ‘Sözcu’ – I suspect the USA has some interest in stirring up protests

Banner front page headline in Turkey’s main anti-government newspaper ‘Sözcu’ this morning announced, over graphic photographs of masked protesters hurling Molotov cocktails and brandishing clubs and sawn-off shotguns: ‘İşte Tayyip’in Eseri’‘This is Tayyip’s [the Turkish president’s] handiwork.’ This in a country where there is, allegedly, no freedom of the press. I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened in the USA if a newspaper had carried a headline, in the days after 9/11, saying ‘This is the Bush family’s handiwork.’ But leave that aside. What I am interested in is, who is actually responsible for the current chaos in the Middle East.

I’m not going to say anything about Israel. I’m not going to enter into a discussion of the extent to which American and British determination to establish a Jewish state in Palestine drastically altered the dynamics in the region, and their commitment to propping it up has created a situation where peace is virtually impossible. No, I’m not.

What I am going to do is direct your attention to a pair of articles written by Alastair Crooke, according to Wikipedia, a British diplomat, a former ranking figure in British Intelligence (MI6) and European diplomacy, and now a vocal advocate for dialogue between militant Islam and the West. Crooke is apparently somewhat unpopular with the neo-conservative club, but what he says makes a lot of sense to me. The first article provides a historical survey of the rise of Wahhabi Islam and its connection with the foundation of Saudi Arabia and its ‘royal’ dynasty. The second proposes the thesis that ‘The real aim of ISIS is to replace the Saud family as the new Emirs of Arabia’.

Crooke argues that Wahhabism was a purist Islamic doctrine originating in the 18th century, strenuously opposed by the Ottomans when they controlled the region, but accepted by the British when, for reasons of their own, they saw fit to settle the Saud family on the Arabian throne after the First World War. Since then there has been an uneasy relationship between the Wahhabist clerics with their Shariah regime, and the Saudi royals pursuing a lavish lifestyle funded by a symbiotic relationship with the USA and its insatiable thirst for oil.

My good friend Abdullah. He doesn't personally flog anyone

My good friend Abdullah. He doesn’t personally flog anyone 😉

In all fairness to the George Bushes and Barack Obama, they probably weren’t/aren’t entirely comfortable with the amputating of hands, stoning of adulteresses and public flogging of women for drinking a glass of beer or driving a car. Sucking up to the Saudi royals involves a certain sleight of mind whereby you pretend you are a persuasive force for modernisation while your weapons factories supply them with state-of-the-art military hardware and you finance their purchases by buying their oil. As Alastair Crooke points out, however, there is a price to pay by King Saud and his family too: an increasing alienation of the Wahhabi believers on whom they depend for their privileged existence. Osama bin Ladin, founder of Al Qaeda, came from a wealthy Saudi family with close ties to the Saudi royals – but his religious principles led to his disillusionment and subsequent exile.

The sad fact for America is that few countries in the world, and probably none in the Middle East (apart from Israel) have much sympathy for their interest in preserving the obscenely opulent lifestyle of the Saudi royals. A Time article today reports that it is not only Turkey that sees Bashar al-Assad as a more important target than ISIS. Neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan are also having to absorb vast numbers of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria – and other Arab states have reasons of their own for wishing to see the back of Assad. The article suggests that the US government’s reluctance to confront the Syrian dictator stems from the fact that his main ally in the region is Iran. The USA is desperate to get Iran to agree to limit its nuclear development programme (so that Israel can continue to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East), and stepping in to oust Assad will very likely put an end to any hope of success in that struggle.

A symbiotic relationship

A symbiotic relationship

I will give the last word here to Alastair Crooke: ‘Here is the difficulty with evolving U.S. policy, which seems to be one of “leading from behind” again — and looking to Sunni states and communities to coalesce in the fight against ISIS.

‘It is a strategy that seems highly implausible. Who would want to insert themselves into this sensitive intra-Saudi rift? And would concerted Sunni attacks on ISIS make King Abdullah’s situation better, or might it inflame and anger domestic Saudi dissidence even further? So whom precisely does ISIS threaten? It could not be clearer. It does not directly threaten the West (though westerners should remain wary, and not tread on this particular scorpion).’