Why the campaign against Qatar is doomed

Now here’s an interesting take on the Qatar situation, from Middle East Eye:

Saudi Arabia and UAE bit off more than they can chew once they took on Qatar, a country with vast wealth and powerful allies

David Hearst, 7 June 2017

It has been apparent for some time that the war against the Islamic State (IS) group and its forebear al-Qaeda is by no means the only show in town in the Middle East. In fact, for most of the time, the war on terror has been a sideshow. The attempt to bring Qatar to heel by closing its borders and effectively laying siege to it has shed light on the real forces competing for dominance of the region in the post-Western world in which we live today.

Three regional blocks are vying for control:

  • “The first is led by Iran – its state actors including Iraq and Syria, and non-state ones the Shia militias in Iraq, Hezbollah and the Houthis.
  • The second is the ancien regimes of absolute Gulf monarchs: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, while also including Jordan and Egypt.
  • The third block is led by Turkey, Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and the forces instrumental in the Arab Spring.

In this three-way fight, America’s allies are just as destabilising to regional order as America’s foes, and the campaign launched against Qatar is a prime example of this.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Ankara

The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif was in Ankara on Wednesday (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia has made a strategic miscalculation by attempting to impose its will on little Qatar. Because in so doing, it has upset a regional order on which it relied to confront Iran’s dominance in countries all around the kingdom. Put another way, if the Iranian-backed civil war in Syria brought Saudi and Turkey together, the Qatari conflict has done the opposite. In fact, it could lead to the construction of a common cause among Iran, Turkey and forces of Sunni political Islam – as bizarre as this may seem. The two powers would not fall into each other’s arms naturally, but they could come together amid the reckless and shortsighted policies of Saudi Arabia. The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif was in Ankara on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have now bitten off more than they can chew.

  • Their first miscalculation was to buy the Trump narrative. When you purchase a Trump product, you buy a lot more with it. There are side effects, not least the sheer amount of resentment, hostility and resistance Trump himself has created at home.
  • Their second miscalculation was to assume that because Qatar was small, no bigger nation would come to its defence. Both Saudi and the UAE have significant investments in Turkey, one of which Abu Dhabi made after it had tried to unseat Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a coup. Both thought Turkey would be bought off.
  • Their third miscalculation was to reveal their real beef with Qatar. It has nothing to do with funding terrorism or cosying up to Iran. In fact the Emiratis do a roaring trade with Iran, and they are part of the coalition accusing Qatar of siding with Tehran.

Their real demands, which were conveyed to the Emir of Kuwait – who is acting as an intermediary – are the closure of Al Jazeera, de-funding of Al Arabi al Jadid, Al Quds al Arabi, and the Arabic edition of Huffington Post, along with the expulsion of Palestinian public intellectual Azmi Bishara.

This is the media that reveals – in Arabic – the stories that these Arab dictators most want their citizens not to read. Not content with muzzling their own media, they want to shut down all media that reveals the inconvenient truth about their despotic, venal, corrupt regimes, wherever it is in the world.

The opposite happened. Erdogan realised that if Qatar were crushed, he would be the only man of that camp standing.

Read the article

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More lies about Turkey!

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An evening out in Kadıköy

I had a meal and a drink in Kadıköy with a mate last Friday. Or was it a drink and a meal? Anyway. Kadıköy, once known as Chalcedon, has a long history of Christian settlement, and consequently a flourishing alcohol-fuelled entertainment economy. Despite loudly expressed fears that the AK Party government is dragging the country back to a medieval nightmare of Islamic fundamentalism, the labyrinthine streets of Kadıköy are packed most nights with revellers of all ages, knocking back beer, wine, rakı, or whatever beverage takes their fancy, unmolested by religious police. Even during the holy month of Ramadan.

Anyway. Gunther and I don’t see each other that often these days. We used to work together at one of Istanbul’s plethora of private universities (forty-one is the most recent figure I could find – FORTY-ONE!!). Our meetings inevitably descend into political argument, although I do try to steer towards other topics. My mate is an outspoken critic of Turkey’s AK Party government. Well, I can handle that. I’ve heard a thousand times all the arguments churned out ad nauseam proving that RTE* is the worst thing that’s happened to Turkey since Thanksgiving (sorry, that was a stupid joke – I could have said Winston Churchill).

hitler_bushIt also happens that Gunther, as you might guess, comes from German stock – and is intensely proud of the fact. To hear him tell it, Germany is indisputably the greatest country in the world, its economy driven by superior German brains and hard work, its industries second-to-none. Well, leaving aside the question of why he has chosen to make his home in Turkey rather than the Teutonic paradise of his birth, I found myself gagging over some of the outrageous claims he made to substantiate his thesis. Admittedly I have no formal background in the study of German history – which Gunther claims to have. Nevertheless I read, and take an interest, as one does. After our latest heated debate, I came home and checked the facts that I thought I knew, and which Gunther had vehemently contradicted:

  • Germany’s economy was in tatters after the First World War as a result of the huge punitive reparations demanded by the victorious allies, France and Britain.
  • The Weimar government was saved from imminent disaster by funding from the United States, enabling them to meet their obligations to those creditors.
  • When Wall Street crashed in 1929, the USA called in its foreign loans, throwing the German economy again into severe recession.
  • Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was funded by German and American bankers and industrialists to keep out the Communists who had become enormously popular with the working classes as a result of the Weimar government’s misguided austerity measures.
  • The Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements was founded in Basel in 1930, and, among other dodgy activities, laundered ill-gotten Nazi money during the Second World War.
  • In 1953 a conference in London agreed to cancel most of Germany’s debt and “reschedule” the rest. The United States, under the Marshall Plan, gave $1.3 billion in aid to assist in the rebuilding of Germany after the destruction of WW2.

Why am I telling you this? This is a blog about Turkey, isn’t it? The thing is, some people vociferously assert misinformation and even outright lies from behind a façade of superior authority (academic or otherwise), relying on the ignorance of their listeners or their own loud voices to carry their arguments.

I was reminded of this when reading an article about Turkey the other day. The piece, Why Turkey Chose Qatar, appeared on a website, The National Interest. For a start, the byline attributed it to two people with Turkish names, Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu , which you might immediately think gave them credibility. Moreover, Mr Erdemir was a member of Turkey’s National Assembly from 2011-2015, is a respected academic, and is now on the staff of the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). End of argument, you might think. Clearly this guy must know what he’s talking about. And in case he needed to check his facts, he had a helpful research assistant, Ms Tahiroğlu, backed by the no doubt exhaustive resources of the FDD.

Nothing daunted, I read the article, made a few notes, did a little research of my own, and here’s what I found.

First up, Aykan Erdemir was a representative of the CHP (Republican People’s Party), sworn enemies of Mr Erdoğan’s AK Party government, and frustrated losers of so many elections everyone’s lost count. Why did he leave political life after four short years in parliament? Who knows? Maybe he thought he could achieve his purpose better with American backing from abroad.

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What have the Yemenis done to Saudi Arabia or the USA?

Anyway. What were these two authoritative Turks writing about? Of course you are aware that the freedom-loving, democratic governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have imposed an embargo on Qatar on the grounds that their wealthy oil-rich neighbour is supporting terrorism. The “terrorists” in question are the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Iran – and the concerted Arab action was announced immediately after their governments had been visited by US President, Donald Trump. The Big DT didn’t actually mention that he had suggested the embargo, but he was proud to announce he had sign a deal with the Saudi royals for the supply of $110 billion worth of US military equipment, most of which is being used to terrorise the impoverished, starving people of Yemen.

Now some might argue, and indeed do, that the Muslim Brotherhood has been doing its best to work peacefully through the democratic process to bring change in Middle East countries. They actually won Egypt’s first truly democratic election in 2012, before being ousted by a military coup a year later. Turkey’s Prime Minister at the time, Mr Erdoğan, made no secret of his objections – which no doubt upset powerful interests in the USA and Israel. Some might also argue that someone needs to represent the interests of Palestinians suffering under the expansionist aggression of the Zionist Israeli government – and Hamas tries to do this. They might go further and suggest that US hawkishness towards Iran is driven by oil needs and their support for Israel, right or wrong.

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Mohammed Morsi – first democratically elected president of Egypt

But Aykan and Merve are not among those people. The main thrust of their argument is that Mr Erdoğan and the government of Turkey are acting purely from venal financial motives, largely aimed at increasing the personal fortunes of the Erdoğan family. I’m not going to dignify the argument by repeating it here. You can read the article for yourself if you’re interested.

More pertinent, I believe, is the way the writers seek to portray the Saudi coalition as the “good guys” in the current stand-off, and Turkey, Iran and Qatar as “cast[ing] their lot with Islamists”. Mr Aydemir’s paymasters, whoever is funding the FDD Defenders of Democracy, seem to have decided that the slave-based economies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the oppressive military dictatorship of Egypt, are worthy of defending. The government of Israel is staying on the sideline, but if I were a betting man I’d put safe money on their being involved in the whole shady business.

Turkey is depicted as being in “a downward spiral of isolation due to its reckless foreign policy”, “estrang[ing itself] from the region’s Sunni camp, led by Saudi Arabia”. Well, Turkey’s people may be mostly Sunni Muslims, but their moderate brand of Islam bears no resemblance to the extremist Wahhabi hypocritical Shariah violence of the Sauds. Erdoğan is accused of nurturing some kind of “game plan” for Washington, trying to curry favour with President Trump after “ruining his relationship with Barack Obama”. Well he certainly seemed to hold his own in the macho hand-shaking competition, which you can still view on Youtube despite the fact that their administrators keep removing the clips.

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Well worth a look

Incidentally, I checked out “The National Interest” website. As you might expect, with a name like that, they unabashedly admit that their business “is not . . . about world affairs. It is about American interests . . . guided by the belief that nothing will enhance those interests as effectively as the approach to foreign affairs commonly known as realism—a school of thought traditionally associated with such thinkers and statesmen as Disraeli, Bismarck, and Henry Kissinger.” THINKERS! Not war-mongers, you’ll notice. And according to the FDD website, their “distinguished advisors include Sen. Joe Lieberman, former National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, former State Department Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, Gen. P.X. Kelley (ret.), Francis “Bing” West, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, former CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Richard W. Carlson,  and Forbes CEO Steve Forbes.” Interesting company for our two Turkish academics to be keeping.

tellalieonceBut I’m saving the best till last. That article about Turkey and Qatar was chock full of links to other sites, suggesting that the material had been exhaustively researched, and was therefore beyond reproach. Just on a hunch, I decided to check one out at random. The final paragraph sums up the writer’s case and includes this statement: “For all these reasons, Turkey chose Qatar in the recent Gulf crisis. Indeed, it would have had little choice to discard such a lucrative partnership at a time of brewing economic crisis at home.” That link will take you an archived OECD report written in 2001, a year or so before the AK Party came to power, when Turkey had been plagued for decades with incompetent coalition governments, embedded hyper-inflation and regular military coups. The leaders it refers to are the Prime Minister and President at the time, Bülent Ecevit and Ahmet Necdet Sezer. OUT-RAGE-OUS! Check the other links if you have time. They are probably equally dishonest. Disinterested academics? Phooey!

I read a sad article in our local Hürriyet Daily News the other day, informing me that Over 8.5 million Turks received psychological treatment in 2016”. Statistics released by the health Ministry also showed that the use of antidepressants increased by 25.6 percent between 2011 and 2016” and “one out of every eight people . . . has applied to a hospital for mental and neurological disorders”. 

9aa63d24f038b03f13bdffdc7582c30dFor some reason, the newspaper chose to seek comment from Independent Member of Parliament, Aylin Nazlıaka, who expressed the opinion that “The solution is to remove the common perception and belief that the justice system is not objective and fair. The solution is getting rid of the pressure on people who have opposing views and thoughts. The solution is creating a Turkey whose people are hopeful about today and tomorrow, that produces [opportunity] and that has equality of opportunity. The solution is the normalization of Turkey by removing problems such as terror and unemployment.”

Well, Ms Nazlıaka could be right – and it may help if the CHP leader, Mr Kılıçdaroğlu finds the “justice” he is seeking on his current protest march from Ankara to Istanbul. On the other hand, some of those depressed citizens might try looking around to see the good things happening in their beautiful country instead of paying heed to the self-seeking and biased criticisms of foreign leaders and dishonest “academics”.

 

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  • Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

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.”

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.”

Joe Biden’s Turkey tightrope

The vice-president has the difficult task of reassuring Ankara that Washington is committed to its NATO ally.

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JB: Sorry I’m late. Wish I could have come sooner 🙂 RTE: What’s six weeks between friends?

Septuagenarian US vice-president is currently in Turkey, smiling for the cameras and his home audience, and talking down to Turkey’s leaders while delivering veiled threats about “friendship”. This article on politico.com has some interesting insights into the relationship:

ISTANBUL — Smoke rose over the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Jarabulus Wednesday morning as Turkish tanks rolled across the border in a major operation that could pit two U.S. allies against each other.

The campaign began just hours before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Ankara to discuss the fallout of last month’s failed coup. But while Turkey was moving against the Islamic State with Washington’s support, its operation was aimed not only the jihadists, but also the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria.

Speaking in Ankara, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the attack on Jarabulus — the last stretch of northern border territory held by the jihadists — had begun at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, targeting “terror groups which constantly threaten our country.”

After a suicide bombing killed 54 guests at a Kurdish wedding on Saturday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu vowed to “cleanse” the country’s border region of ISIL, which had previously used Turkey’s porous frontier as a gateway to its self-declared caliphate.

Erdoğan added that the operation would also target Kurdish fighters in Syria. Turkey considers the Kurdish YPG militia an extension of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose three-decade war against the Turkish state has killed some 40,000 people.

The trouble for Turkey is that while the U.S. and the rest of NATO have listed the PKK as a terror group, they see the YPG as their most effective ally in the fight against ISIL. Earlier this month, with American support, the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) — a coalition dominated by the Kurds — retook the strategic city of Manbij in northeastern Syria.

But while Manbij’s liberation was greeted with enthusiasm in the West, it caused consternation in Ankara. It meant that the Kurds had moved West, across the Euphrates river, which Ankara had once declared a “red line.” It also meant that they were free to move north towards Jarabulus, a town just south of the Turkish border.

Had the Kurds been able to capture Jarabulus and surrounding areas, they would have connected the two Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria, creating a de facto autonomous state along Turkey’s border. This would have fulfilled a longstanding dream of the Kurds but it would have been anathema to Ankara, which fears that an autonomous Kurdish entity in Syria would pour oil on the flames of its own Kurdish conflict.

Turkey is determined for Syria to retain its territorial integrity and will take matters into its own hands if required to protect that territorial unity,” Erdoğan warned on Wednesday.

Turkey is killing two birds with one stone,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. “The military objective of this operation is ISIS, but the political objective is the Kurds.”

After bombarding Jarabulus for two days, Turkish tanks and special forces entered Syria alongside several hundred Syrian rebel fighters. By early Wednesday afternoon, the joint operation had succeeded in retaking two villages and the Syrian rebels reached the center of the town under Turkish and U.S. air cover.

Syrian Kurdish leaders responded with anger. Salih Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), wrote on Twitter that Turkey was now in the “Syrian quagmire” and would be defeated like the Islamic State. Redur Xelil, a spokesperson for the YPG militia, denounced Turkey’s intervention as an act of “blatant aggression.”

As tensions rise between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, Ankara’s foray into Syria may be yet another headache for Biden, who has the difficult task of reassuring Ankara that the U.S. is committed to its NATO ally amid surging anti-American sentiment following the July 15 coup attempt.

Turkey blames the coup on Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gülen and has demanded his extradition — a request that has so far been met with reluctance from U.S. authorities. Erdoğan has also long criticized the West’s support for Syria’s Kurds, describing it as the equivalent of holding “live grenades with the pins pulled.”

In Ankara on Wednesday, Biden launched a charm offensive, praising the bravery of the Turkish people during the coup attempt, lauding their efforts against the Islamic State and declaring that the country had “no better friend” than the United States. He also warned the Syrian Kurds that they would lose U.S. support if they did not retreat to the Euphrates’ eastern bank.

His speech was well received. But with two of their allies on a collision course, the U.S. will have to watch Turkey’s next steps closely.

Read the whole article

Give Turkey a break!

Came across this piece on ‘The Hill’ today. It was so unusually, surprisingly sympathetic to Turkey, I just had to pass it on . . .

“Turkey has become somewhat of a practicing target for criticism as of late.  For some politicians and political writers in the U.S and Europe, criticizing Turkey has become a hobby, while for others it has become more of a passion. The critics have blamed Turkey for not doing enough to fight ISIS and stop jihadi fighters from moving between the Middle East and Europe; for straying away from the path of democracy; and for putting freedom of the press under siege. Does all this criticism have merit?  Or, are the American and Europeans looking for a scapegoat for their failed policies in the areas of immigration and combatting terrorism? The reality may be more of the latter than the former.”

Read the whole article

Diplomacy and Democracy in the Western Alliance – Do as I say, not as I do!

Last Friday two high profile Turkish journalists appeared in an Istanbul court to answer charges of procuring information vital to state security, political and military espionage, publishing state secrets and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization. Serious charges indeed, which relate to an incident where trucks allegedly carrying weapons were seen crossing the border from Turkey into Syria.

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Pretty undignified for high-ranking diplomats, if you ask me

What was particularly surprising about the court hearing was that Consuls-General from ten European countries accompanied by their colleagues from Canada and the USA, plus the German Ambassador from Ankara, turned up to observe proceedings. Not content with quiet observation, the diplomatic ladies and gentlemen snapped a selfie of their group which the French Consul-General apparently uploaded to his Facebook page.

Needless to say, Turkey’s President, Tayyip Erdoğan, was not pleased. ‘Who do you think you are?’ he is reported to have demanded, apostrophizing the group in characteristic fashion. ‘This is Turkey. You can do what you like in your consular buildings and compounds, but elsewhere you need permission!’

Well, whatever the rights and wrongs of the charges against Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, Mr Erdoğan is absolutely right here. Foreign ambassadors and consular staff have diplomatic immunity to go about the business of representing their countries’ interests wherever they are posted; and that even includes the right to be whisked out of harm’s way in the event of being caught out doing something they shouldn’t. A blind eye is generally turned to what may or may not be going on behind the walls of embassies and consulates.

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Champions of press freedom in the West – and where are they now?

It is, however, generally agreed, I believe, that diplomatic rights stop short of allowing privileged foreign personnel to participate in direct political activity, especially when the issue involves national security. If the governments of Western nations believe Turkey (or any other country) is using its courts to stifle dissent, and imprisoning its citizens without due process of law, there are acceptable channels through which to express their disapproval.

Obviously foreign politicians can and do say what they like in the safety of their own countries. Diplomats can seek an audience with the host country’s leadership to make their official views clear. But do they have the right to congregate with others of their species at a high profile trial in an attempt to intimidate, or influence proceedings by their presence? I don’t think so.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years, knowing that, as soon as he sets foot outside the premises, he will be arrested by the local police and extradited to Sweden to face what he claims are trumped-up charges of rape; and he believes he will thence be shipped to the United States to face more serious charges that could see him imprisoned for life.

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London bobbies standing guard outside the Ecuadorean Embassy, London

Now there are quite a few people who believe that Assange and Wikileaks did us all a great service by bringing out into the open, amongst other things, shocking documents and videos showing how the United States military had been conducting its occupation of Iraq. How would it be, I wonder, if the Turkish Ambassador rounded up a dozen or so like-minded embassy staff from, say, Middle Eastern and South American countries, and hung around outside in a demonstration of solidarity with Assange and his Ecuadorean protectors, while conducting photo ops, and publishing selfies etc on social media? Or if governments of the same nations instructed their diplomats in Washington DC to stage a similar event in support of Chelsea/Bradley Manning, currently serving a 35-year jail sentence for supplying the actual leaks to Assange?

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Freedom of speech American-style

Maybe the US government would laugh. Maybe they wouldn’t – but the fact is, whatever they may think about the state of democracy and freedom of speech in the USA, foreign governments would know better than to interfere in that country’s internal politics. So why do those Western countries think Turkey does not deserve the same respect? Unfortunately, ‘respect’ is the key word here. Those countries are so used to criticizing and belittling Turkey, they seem to feel they are absolved from normal standards of diplomatic behavior.

Moreover, whatever Western governments think about the state of democracy in Turkey, these foreign diplomats were permitted to sit in on a highly sensitive trial. They were not prevented from gathering in a group demonstration clearly intended to express support for the defendants and, by implication, criticism of the legal system and the government of Turkey. I suspect there are not many countries in the world, including some that claim the democratic moral high ground, that would permit such obvious and public meddling in their internal affairs.

And then there is the question of whether these two defendants are merely professional journalists doing their job of keeping the public informed – or whether they had some ulterior motive. Well, surely that is a matter for Turkey’s courts to decide. The story behind the criminal charges does beg some questions that foreign media and governments seem to be avoiding.

A couple of trucks were apparently stopped by police on Turkey’s southeast border, and alleged to have been carrying weapons. The government denied this, claiming the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid. The opposition CHP Party suggested that the government was supplying weapons to forces of ISIS/Daesh and Al Qaeda, and accused them of high treason. Can Dündar, a well-known opponent of Turkey’s AK Party government, and recipient of an award from Reporters Without Borders, published a piece referring to video evidence supporting the claim that the trucks had been carrying arms and munitions.

My questions are: If those were military vehicles crossing the border on official government business, who authorized the search? And who carried it out? And who filmed the trucks’ cargo? And how did the film get into the hands of a journalist in Istanbul? Given that anti-government militants in Syria have been waging a civil war for five years, who has been supplying them with weapons for the fight?

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Who’s really supplying the military hardware?

And of course I have some opinions of my own. First of all, assuming the government of Turkey had in fact dispatched those truckloads of weapons to Syria, who would be the most likely recipients? It is outrageous to suggest that Turkey’s government is actively supporting ISIS or Al Qaeda. It is far more likely that, given Ankara’s clearly stated desire for Bashar Al Assad to step down as President of Syria, military support would be directed to the anti-Assad rebels. Second, even if they have been providing some assistance, it is not possible that Turkey alone could have supplied sufficient weaponry to keep this war going for five years. It is well known that military hardware has been channeled through Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and America has made no secret of its desire to see the back of Assad. Finally, it must be true that a person or persons high up within Turkey’s military leaked information about those vehicles to news media, and organized the border search, with the aim of embarrassing Turkey’s government. What’s your definition of high treason?

I would be interested to hear from those Western diplomats what action they think their own governments would take in a similar situation? It has come to light that Turkish police had detained and extradited a Belgian national who went on to carry out one of the recent bombings in Brussels. It seems that Belgian security forces failed to act on the warning received, and they are placing the blame on their Ambassador in Ankara. If their communication channels are really so dysfunctional, and their envoys in foreign countries are acting on their own initiative, it seems to me Western governments need to get their diplomatic personnel under control.