Can Turkey do anything good?

I’m translating for your information an article I came across in our Turkish daily this morning

No one knows we are looking after 3.5 million refugees

On Wednesday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Şimşek, participated in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The session, chaired by well-known New York Times writer, Thomas Friedman, was titled “Finding a new equilibrium in the Middle East”

davos refugees

Wilful ignorance? Or just plain ordinary ignorance?

[Others on the panel were Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Adel bin Ahmed Al Jubeir, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, and Ursula von der Leyen, Federal Minister of Defence of Germany; Member of Board of Trustees of the World Economic Forum.]

When Mr Şimşek mentioned that Turkey was currently hosting 3.5 million refugees from Syria, and if you included those from Iraq, the total reached 3.7 million, Friedman expressed surprise.

“Did you say 3.5 million?” he asked Şimşek.

Isn’t it rather strange that Friedman, who knows the Middle East very well, and has been writing about the region for years, wouldn’t know this figure?

Clearly, we have been unable to sufficiently publicise how many refugees we have in our country, and what we are doing for them.

Certainly, there is no excuse for Friedman’s not knowing the actual extent of the refugee crisis caused by the ongoing war in Syria. Spokespersons for the United Nations Refugee Agency have been speaking out on the issue for years and calling on First World nations to provide more assistance.

On the other hand, “experts” in the west seem to know some things about Turkey with absolute certainty:

  • They “know”, for example, that Turkey is responsible for the genocide of one-and-a-half million Armenians in 1915.
  • They “know” that Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in 1974, divided it in two, and refuses to leave.
  • They “know “that Turkey has been buying oil from ISIS terrorists and supplying them with weapons.
  • They “know” that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world.

Pretty much anything bad about Turkey, Western media are happy to circulate uncritically – but when it comes to giving credit for positive actions and achievements . . . ZILCH!

So, is Turkey at fault for not getting its message across? Or is it that Western interests don’t want to know? Draw your own conclusions.

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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].

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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.

Refugees – How many has your country taken?

In case you missed it – International Migrants’ Day:

On International Migrants Day, Turkey hosts 4.5 million migrants

Refugees in Turkey

Semi-permanent refugee camp in Turkey

Turkey marked International Migrants Day on Dec. 18 as being the country that hosts the highest number of migrants, nearly 4.5 million, majority of whom are Syrians who have taken refuge in the country after escaping from the war in their homeland, according to the most recent statistics.

“As Turkey, we walk tall when it comes to the issue of migrants,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Dec. 18 at a meeting to mark the day. “Unfortunately, those states who define themselves as developed, modern, contemporary keep their heads down,” he added.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu released a message to mark the day, saying “we must protect and uphold the rights of all migrants and refugees. Our world has been on the move throughout history. And today is no different, as millions of people seek new homes away from their birth places.”

refugees in parks

Others live in parks – ok in summer

According to statistics released by the Turkish Interior Ministry’s Directorate General of Migration Management, there are over 3.3 million Syrians registered with biometric IDs in Turkey, of whom 227,332 are living in 21 camps in 10 provinces, while the rest are living across all 81 provinces of Turkey. Because migrants have been using Turkey as a passage route to the United States and Europe, Turkish authorities have been struggling with human smuggling near its borders. A total of 2,407 human smugglers and its organizers have been detained over the past 11 months in operations carried out to prevent illegal migrants from illegally reaching European Union countries.

According to the United Nations, the biggest human migration since the Second World War is taking place today. Some 65 million have been forced to leave their countries over gun violence, while 230 million others have had to migrate for other reasons.

refugees heading for europe

Some head for Europe – does Europe want them?

UN: Cooperation needed

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres released a message to mark the day, saying that effective international cooperation in managing migration is necessary.

“On International Migrants Day, we recognize the contributions and celebrate the vitality of the world’s 258 million migrants. Evidence overwhelmingly shows that migrants generate economic, social and cultural benefits for societies everywhere. Yet hostility towards migrants is unfortunately growing around the world,” Guterres said, adding that “solidarity with migrants has never been more urgent.”

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration Louise Arbour also released a statement.

Libyan migrants 450

450 refugees rescued by Turkish ship off the coast of Libya in June this year

“Discrimination, persecution, degradation and death are the interlinked by-products both of prejudice and the failure to effectively manage the phenomenon of migration for the optimal benefit of both the migrant and their communities of origin and destination,” she said.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope a little of it trickles down to those 258 million “migrants”.

Trump thanks Turkey for hosting Syrian refugees

nuke-em-til-they-glow-1

If they don’t do as they’re told . . .

My beloved NZ Herald reported it under this headline: “Never heard a more courageous speech”. It was referring to US President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The report went on to TRUMPET: “Trump vows to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea over weapons threats”.

The New York Times picked up on the President’s threats to other sovereign states his government is currently not happy with:

“In his speech, Mr. Trump vowed to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea if it threatened the United States or its allies. ‘If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,’ he said.

He also called Iran a ‘rogue nation’ and said the United States was ‘prepared to take further action’ on Venezuela.”

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Local governments in Istanbul and elsewhere provided free evening meals during the month of Ramadan – made some refugees happy for a time.

Our local English language newspaper in Turkey chose instead to focus on a brief mention Mr Trump gave to neighbouring countries that have been quietly getting on with the mammoth task of catering for millions of impoverished refugees from the six-year civil war in Syria.

“U.S. President Donald Trump has thanked Turkey for hosting Syrians who escaped from their war-torn country, while grilling North Korea and Iran during his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19. 

‘We appreciate the efforts of the United Nations agencies that are providing vital humanitarian assistance in areas liberated from ISIS, and we especially thank Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees from the Syrian conflict,’ Trump said.”

“Canım benim”, as Turks might say. Thanks for those crumbs of appreciation from the rich man’s table!

I’m not sure who is qualified to award the title of “The Righteous” to any human being on Earth – but I’m suspicious of anyone who applies the label to him or herself, and I’m 100% sure that precious few US Presidents would qualify.

 

Turkish NGO provides education for refugee children in makeshift tents

n_113386_1I’m passing this on from Turkey’s English language Hürriyet Daily News:

The Imece Initiative, a non-governmental organization working mostly with Syrian refugees in the western province of İzmir, has started to provide education for refugee children who do not have access to school, by setting up makeshift tents.

As part of the “Makeshift Tent” project, the NGO has been visiting various regions and villages where Syrian agricultural workers mostly live five days of the week, setting up tents in these places. Thanks to the organization’s workshops the children are learning how to read and write in Turkish and Arabic.

The NGO has been active for the last three months in the Çamanönü village in İzmir’s Menderes district. About 180 Syrian families live in the village, where greenhouse cultivation has also been initiated intensively. 

The refugee children wait anxiously every Saturday morning for a bus of the NGO people to come to their village. 

While some of the NGO workers set up the tents, others dress themselves up as clowns to play with the kids. 

CAIMA501-Mideast-Out-Of-SchAbout 30 children aged between seven and 12 sit around a table set up in a field of olive trees, where two NGO volunteers give Turkish and Arabic language classes. 

The children have been receiving education in this tent for the last three months and have almost mastered the two languages. Apart from language education, the children are also given mathematics lessons. They have also improved their motor skills thanks to workshops on handcrafts and painting.

“Since the kids know that we come every Saturday, they wake up early in the morning and ask their mothers to dress them up in their nicest clothes. When they see us arriving in the village, they come running to us. We have been coming for the last three months and holding workshops for the kids. Every time we come, we see more kids,” Imece Initiative workers said.

n_92704_1“Since most of them were born in Turkey, they have never seen a school. First, we conduct painting workshops for the younger children. Later, we give Turkish and mathematics lessons to children aged between seven and 12,” said Ali Güray Yalvaçlı, head of the Imece Initiative Foundation.

“To ensure continuity, we are always in contact with the families. For example, a family who is in Menderes this week can be lreocated to the Torbalı district next week. Wherever the kids go, we go there,” he said.

Read the article

Solving the world’s problems – Different strokes for different folks

Tomahawk-míssil-disparado+de+destróier

Another creative response from the United States.

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Meanwhile, Turkey gets on with the job of dealing with 3 million refugees,

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and the European Union lends a helping hand.

According to the US Department of Defence’s annual budget, a single Tomahawk missile costs $1.59 million.

Combine that by the 59 missiles the US ordered to be fired off two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, and you’re looking at a bill of around $94 million. (Source)

And that’s not counting the cost of keeping a fleet of warships in the Mediterranean Sea. Why don’t they do something about poverty, health, education and equal opportunities in their own country?

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While the Tomahawk isn’t as devastating as some of the missiles carried on board manned aircraft, it is typically used when Western nations [especially the USA] want a long-range weapon that can be fired from safe territory.

But it seems the US Government is actually proud of what they’ve done:

“The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles Friday afternoon in fiery retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians.

President Donald Trump cast the US assault as vital to deter future use of poison gas and called on other nations to join in seeking “to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”

A Homs governor has told the Associated Press that the missile attack at the Syrian base has resulted in deaths. Reuters reports six Syrian soldiers were killed and seven wounded at the air base.

Russia responded, saying the US strike on Syria is “aggression against a sovereign state” and violates international law,” reported AP.

Probably the only thing that will stop Russia from supporting Syria militarily is the likelihood that the US government will nuke them if they do.

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PS – 100 tonnes of bombs and they only killed 6 people. Now there’s a precision strike for you!

Turkey and the Syrian refugee crisis: An example for humanity

This is part of an article published yesterday in Turkey’s English language Hürriyet Daily News. It was written by Turkey’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu

“Turkey opened its doors to Syrians and started granting them entry in April 2011. Since then, Turkey continues to allow Syrians to enter the country by strictly adhering to international law, particularly to the principle of non-refoulement.

n_107964_1“As the country which has assumed the greatest burden with the largest refugee population in the world, we are also proud to find and show ways to alleviate responsibility through coordinated action. In this context, the Turkey-EU Agreement of March 18, 2016, can serve as an example to other parts of the world coping with irregular migration. There is no doubt that the most important achievement of the agreement has been the ending of loss of lives at sea. In 2015, the Aegean Sea claimed around 1,000 lives due to dangerous journeys toward the EU. The trend was even more brutal at the beginning of 2016 with around 400 lives lost in the first three months of the year. Since March18, eight irregular migrants lost their lives in the Turkish waters of the Aegean. We will continue to do our utmost to prevent deaths in our seas.  As a result, we have transformed the Aegean Sea into an area of stability and solidarity. We owe this accomplishment to our human-oriented approach which seeks a better future and destiny for those we host.

“Turkey’s aim is not only to save lives and provide a safe harbor for the Syrians, but also to improve their living conditions and ensure their self-reliance. Their safety and dignity remain our priority. Consequently, we are creating favorable conditions for Syrians to actively participate in social and economic life.

“Fundamental harmonization policies in Turkey are regulated by the Law on Foreigners and International Protection. In this regard, language courses, education, vocational training, labor market access, access to social and health services, social acceptance, anti-discrimination measures, xenophobia and racism are major components of Turkey’s integration policy.”

“Turkey has so far assumed an unfair share of the humanitarian burden of the Syrian conflict. They should not be left alone in coping with this humanitarian crisis, which requires a genuine partnership among all members of the international community. Concerted global action is urgently needed.

“Refugees should not be considered a security threat. Doing so only results in more securitization of migration and restrictive policies. Closing borders and building fences are temporary measures that ignore the core of the problem and do not change the fundamental reasons for mass migration.

“Last but not least, in order to find a durable solution to the migration crisis, we have to address the “root causes” of massive waves of forced displacement and support peace processes and promote peaceful settlement of disputes in conflict-ridden areas. But even more importantly, in responding to the refugee crisis, we should never forget that we are not dealing with statistics but human beings who need protection. It is humanity’s joint responsibility to find sustainable solutions by putting our human values first.”