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.

What’s Going on in Turkey (Update)

There’s rarely a dull moment in this part of the world. Boarding a public minibus, taking your car on to the streets of Istanbul, or just crossing the road to pick up a newspaper or a loaf of bread – life is full of surprises, and you can never be 100% sure you’ll see the sun come up tomorrow. So it’s not totally surprising that foreign journos have difficulty working out what’s going on. Even those of us who’ve lived here for years still find plenty to puzzle over.

Five injured as minibus hits tree in Istanbul

If you can survive an Istanbul minibus ride . . .

Still, if you’re a professional analyst, you have responsibilities, right? Once you start putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard in the public domain, you should be making every effort to get it right, right?

So I have to tell you, I’ve been a bit disappointed by the low-level commentary I’ve been reading in the foreign press recently. For example:

‘Turkey’s increasingly desperate predicament poses real dangers’, says The Washington Post, who enumerate the fall-out with Russia, a couple of suicide bombings, renewed fighting with the Kurdish PKK, and a dip in tourist revenue as signs that Turkey is experiencing a ‘strategic nightmare’. The article quotes two Turkish academics in support of its doomsday predictions. Well, we should be grateful that those two gentlemen are free to express their anti-government opinions without being locked up. At least the writer admits that Turkey’s current problems are only ‘partly of its own making’ and ‘not entirely self-inflicted’. He (or she) acknowledges that the US State Dept continues to support the Kurdish YPG in Syria, in spite of pleas from Turkey’s Government.

In The Economist, someone hiding behind the pseudonym of Charlemagne belabours the European Union for its failure to rein in the ‘authoritarian habits of (President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’, and Turkey’s government for discarding the accession process. What? Is it any wonder Turkey’s interest in joining Europe waned after being played for fools for fifty years? ‘Charlemagne’ refers sketchily to Turkey’s battle with Kurdish separatists in the southeast, and the flood of Syrian refugees seeking safety in Turkey over the past five years as though the Turkish government is somehow to blame for all this. Brief mention is made of Bashar al-Assad’s ‘Russian enablers’, America’s use of Syrian Kurds who are ‘useful in fighting Islamic State (IS)’, Nicholas Sarkozy’s arrogant rejection of Turkey’s EU aspirations, constant vetoing by Greek Cyprus, and Germany’s worrying about ‘migrants reaching rich Europe’ as though these are merely incidental side issues – but the thrust of the article is that Turkey is the bad guy, and Mr Erdoğan is the evil villain.

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Turkish democracy in the good old days

And another one from The Economist: Mr Erdogan’s commitment to democracy seems to be fading’, as if the United States government has any interest in seeing democracy flourish in its vassal states. The damning evidence, apparently, is that Turkey’s AK Party government has ‘spread its tentacles’ into the courts, the police, the intelligence services, the mosques, the public education services, health systems and the media. Well, if they have, they couldn’t have had better teachers than successive US administrations.

One of several ironies in this piece is its reference to the time Mr Erdoğan spent in jail when he was Mayor of Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, as one of the milder perversions of justice that prevailed before the AK party’s rise.’ Perversions of justice had, in fact, been two-a-penny before AK Party became the government – and that was probably the main reason for their coming to power out of nowhere. The anonymous writer goes on to sympathise with Turkey’s ‘increasingly beleaguered liberals’ in the same paragraph as he recalls their support for an attempt by the country’s generals in 2007 to prevent the AK Party from appointing the ceremonial president of the republic – something it had a perfect right to do under the constitution written by the military government in 1982. I have no doubt those same ‘liberals’ would have been only too happy to see Mr Erdoğan’s elected government overthrown by a military coup, and its leader tossed back into prison.

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Syrians in Aleppo flee Russian bomb strikes

On to Benny Avni in The New York Post. Well, at least he has the courage to front up and put his name to the article. We’re about to see the end of NATO, apparently, because Turkey is set to get into a war with Russia. America won’t get involved because, according to Mr Avni, ‘We don’t do wars anymore.’ Run that by me again! America doesn’t do wars anymore? Well, if he means they just bomb and take out citizens of other countries without actually declaring war, I guess he has a kind of legalistic point. Syrian and Russian planes,’ he goes on to say, ‘have increased their ferocious bombing of militants and civilians in Aleppo’s vicinity, where two hospitals were bombed this week’. He quotes Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s accusation that Russia is ‘behaving like a terrorist organization’ – yet again, it seems, Turks are the evil empire.

A slightly more balanced article appeared on Friday in Time Magazine. Ian Bremmer lists five facts that ‘Explain Why Turkey Is in Deep Trouble’. First is that 2.6 million civilians fleeing Syria’s civil war have now taken refuge in Turkey, costing that country’s government an estimated $8.5 billion. This is one reason why Turkey got involved in the Syrian conflict. The other reason is the rise in Kurdish separatist activity in Iraq and Syria, encouraged by the United States, who have been cynically using them against first, Saddam Hussein, and more recently, against the new bogey, ISIS/Daesh. Turkey’s big fear is that members of its Kurdish population will take advantage of the situation to pursue their own separatist aims, hence the third fact which is increased terrorist activity within Turkey’s own borders. Bremmer’s fourth fact, the apparent rise in President Erdoğan’s popularity can be seen as a pro or a con, depending on your point-of-view; but undoubtedly his last, that Turkey is experiencing disturbing diplomatic problems on the international stage, is true.

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Invisible tentacles control US government

Shooting down that Russian warplane seriously upset Vladimir Putin, even though his pilot was in the wrong; and the USA can’t come out and say they gave Turkey the ok to do it, even though they probably did. As noted above, Turkey’s worries in Syria are three-fold: Bashar al-Assad’s refusal to go is creating a massive refugee problem; America wants Turkey to join in the fight against ISIS/Daesh; and Kurdish militants, supported by the United States, are creating instability in Turkey itself. It may be ok for Americans to support their country, right or wrong – but other sovereign states must have the right to make decisions for their own good.

Still, if we can believe the results of a recent poll, an ‘Overwhelming Majority of Americans Believe that Both Parties Are Too Corrupt to Change Anything’. Apparently 84% of all Americans believe their political leaders are more interested in protecting their power and privilege than doing what is right. 70% agree that the federal government today no longer has the consent of the people, and a majority of voters would join a third party if it had a chance of success.

So what are America’s allies to think? While most news media are focusing on events in Syria, it was quietly reported over the weekend that US aircraft had carried out strikes against ISIS in Libya, resulting in at least forty deaths – the second such strike in three months. I’m not a big fan of Fox News either, but an opinion piece on their website noted, with some justification, that Libya devolved into a failed state when NATO assisted Qaddafi’s radical jihadist opponents in killing him and then promptly abandoned the country. Left in the wake were two rival governments competing for power, which created space for Islamists to turn Libya into a cesspool of extremism’ and asked ‘Have Western leaders learned anything?’

In the mean time, giving the lie to accusations that dissenters speaking out against Turkey’s government and President Erdoğan are silenced or imprisoned, the Nobel organisation’s current darling, writer Orhan Pamuk, has criticised the European Union for failing to take action against his democratically elected government. Comparing Turkey’s leaders to the regime in Saudi Arabia, Pamuk implied that Europe’s leaders had done some kind of unholy deal with Mr Erdoğan and the AK Party to stem the flow of refugees across the Aegean.

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And still we hope . . .

Laughably, Pamuk is reported as saying “I am a person who says ‘Let’s talk about literature only’ but it is no longer possible” – apparently forgetting that his outspokenness on the Kurdish issue and the Armenian ‘genocide’ were significant factors in winning him that Nobel Prize for ‘literature’. And despite repeated claims that he was victimized for his words, as far as I am aware, he has never actually spent time in prison, unlike President Erdoğan; and he seems free to live a comfortable, high-profile life in Istanbul, giving self-publicising interviews to local news media.

So who can you believe? It’s starting to look as though multi-billionaire tycoon Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States. And if not him, then Mrs Bill Clinton is looking next most likely – and if you think you can believe anything either of those two tell you, Allah korusun, as Turks say.

Homeland, Heartland and Cuckoo-land

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Brody, Carrie and Saul from ‘Homeland’

Our latest TV drama series fix is the American political thriller ‘Homeland’. Now I have to tell you my first impression wasn’t positive. My Turkish Muslim stepson gave us the first series as a gift, and I took a look while Dilek was visiting family in the USA.

Eh! I thought. Just another gung-ho American production glorifying their military/intelligence prowess and demonising Muslims – but I was wrong, and now we’re hooked. We’re way behind current on-screen activity – still working our way through the second series – so have no fear of spoilers.

The two main actors, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, and the show itself, have won numerous awards. Interestingly, according to the Wikipedia entry, much of the negative criticism comes from Muslim sources, who seem to consider ‘Homeland’ Islamophobic. Well, that’s not how it strikes me – and I’m watching it sitting alongside my Muslim wife.

US Marine sergeant Nicholas Brody (Lewis) was held captive for eight years and tortured by Al Qaeda in Iraq, before somehow finding his way back to homeland America. How did he survive so long? How did he get away? Was he ‘turned’? Is he now a traitorous terrorist seeking to slaughter his own people? What about Carrie (Danes)? Do you have to be insane to work for the CIA? Is she in love with Brody, or just using feminine wiles to get at the truth?

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There are at least two sides to every story

I’m not here to answer any of those questions – merely to register my appreciation for a US-made TV drama series that manages to address some of the real issues in the current ‘clash of civilisations’, and to explore some of the complexities involved in reaching a true understanding of what the hell’s going on in the world these days.

Sergeant Brody is given respite from ill-treatment while a prisoner in Iraq in return for teaching English to the son of Al Qaeda head honcho, Abu Nazir. After becoming attached to the little guy, Brody discovers his mangled corpse amongst the rubble of an American drone strike. US government response to reports claiming civilian casualties is that they are merely ‘propaganda’. US Vice-President Walden is the official spokesman on the matter. Brody knows he is ‘a liar and a murderer’ and says so, loud and clear.

Acting on a tip-off, the CIA mount an operation to take out Abu Nazir on a public street in Beirut. Clearly they take it for granted that they have every right to do so – assassinate a foreign national in a foreign country without consulting the local government. A top CIA man leaves the country with stolen property in a diplomatic bag – acting indignant, and threatening an international incident when searched by Lebanese authorities at the airport on departure. It all rings pretty true, and does seem to present the situation in a fairly balanced way.

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Turkish F-16: evidently a fairly effective item of military hardware

Somewhat less balanced was an online rant I came across the other day, courtesy of Huffington Post. A gentleman (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here) by the name of Doug Bandow had penned a piece entitled Dump New Ottomans from NATO: Shoot Down of Russian Plane Shows Turkey to be Dangerous Ally’. I guess pretty much everyone in the world is aware that on Tuesday 24 November a Turkish air force F-16 downed a Russian Su-24 bomber ignoring repeated warnings that it was violating Turkey’s airspace.

According to Bandow, No one believes the Putin government had the slightest hostile intent against Ankara. Downing the plane was gratuitously provocative and not necessary for Turkey’s defense. . . Ankara,’ he insists, ‘demonstrated where it stands. With the Islamic State and against the West.’

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A reliable friend of the West

Interesting that this guy is including Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the group he’s calling the ‘West,’ suggesting that ‘Moscow is a better and more reliable partner than Turkey in the Middle East.’ Putin himself, it seems, is not so sure, naming the United States as ‘one of the threats to Russia’s national security.’ But leave that aside. The official US report confirms Turkey’s claim that the Russian pilot was warned repeatedly before his plane was shot down. The absence of a direct threat to Ankara is a red herring. The Russian plane was using Turkish airspace to get a better line for a bombing attack on ground targets in Syria. Syria is a war zone, and Turkey is understandably sensitive about foreign military aircraft straying into its territory. Who was being provocative there?

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Greece’s military government at the time of the Cyprus crisis

The Huffington article goes on to make a number of outrageous statements about Turkey’s relationship with the West. Ankara never has been a true friend of the West,’ Bandow says, citing the Cyprus issue as his main argument. He mocks Turkey’s revered founder, Kemal Atatürk, comparing him to North Korea’s Kim dynasty. His point that Turkey was only vaguely democratic in those days may be true, but ignores the fact that it was an attempt at the time by the military regime in Athens to annex the island of Cyprus that provoked Ankara’s response. In fact, Turkey was on the front line of NATO’s defenses against Soviet expansion through the Cold War. The existence of several nuclear-armed missile bases within its borders must have put Turkey high on the USSR’s list of targets to hit in the event of hostilities. That’s a big thing to ask of a friend, never mind a mere ally.

Coming nearer to the present, Bandow concedes that the AK Party swept away ‘a coalition of feckless, corrupt and discredited parties’ when it was elected to power in 2002. He acknowledges that such coalitions were ‘hyper-nationalist’ and punished anyone with ‘liberal sentimentalities’. However, like most of the AK Party government’s opponents, his follow-up arguments are riddled with contradictions, meaningless assertions and logical non-sequiturs. One example: ‘President Erdoğan also is moving Turkey in a more Islamist direction. Although no one expects him to turn his nation into another Iran or Saudi Arabia, he has done more than end strict Kemalist secularism.’ What does this nonsense actually mean? If you were looking for further elucidation in the following sentences, you would search in vain.

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Me and you, Bash – Looking out for America’s interests

‘Ankara,’ Bardow says, ‘has attempted to manipulate the U.S. into ousting Syrian president Assad, who controls the important ground forces containing ISIL’. On the contrary, US President Obama, as long ago as August 2011, was calling for Bashar al-Assad to resign.

Another ludicrous claim in the article is that ‘Turkey is the latest example of alliance members seeking to drag the U.S. into conflicts of no interest to America’. What conflict? Is this guy actually suggesting that Turkey wants to fight a war with Russia? I would say the likelihood of Ankara having authorized its air force to shoot down a Russian plane without getting the ok from Washington is on the negative side of zero. So what conflict is he talking about? There are times while reading this article when I wondered if Bandow’s brain is actually connected to his typing finger.

Far from being a reluctant participant in conflicts, the Huffington article goes on to say, ‘American policy in the Mideast has failed catastrophically: persistent intervention has triggered sectarian war in Iraq, turned religious minorities into refugees, spawned the Islamic State, empowered Iran, turned Libya into another failed state filled with conflict and terrorists, discouraged a negotiated settlement in Syria, backed the least effective Syrian insurgents, inadvertently armed the most dangerous insurgents, and conducted a largely ineffectual campaign against ISIL without apparent end.’

In spite of which, Turkey is the bad ally! In fact, Turkey’s most serious internal problem, how to deal with its Kurdish citizens, had quietened down considerably by the turn of the millennium. It was George W Bush’s lying, murdering invasion of Iraq in 2003 that stirred things up again. The US administration enlisted the help of Iraqi Kurds in their ousting of Saddam Hussein – and what did they promise in return? An independent Kurdistan that would gratefully share its oil oil-riches with its big Western benefactor?

So who is this guy Bandow? Well, certainly a rabid Republican, and no friend of the Obama administration. According to his Huffington bio, he is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute – a kind of Libertarian ‘think tank’ founded by major Republican Party sponsor Charles Koch, one of the world’s ten richest human beings as a result of his oil and chemicals empire.

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Charles Koch – champion of freedom, democracy and true religion in the world today. We’re lucky to have him.

According to Wikipedia, Bandow was out of the club for a spell, having resigned from Cato in 2005 after he was found to have been involved in a bribery and corruption scandal involving American ‘lobbyist’ Jack Abramoff. Evidently such qualities are not totally at odds with the principles of the Cato Institute, however, and Bandow was accepted back not long after. Another of Doug’s interests is an organization calling itself the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. Interestingly, there is a link to this group on his Wikipedia page, but it goes nowhere, and the other page seems to have been removed.

Well, I have to confess, I don’t know what this guy Douglas Bandow is up to, but it seems to me he is a mouthpiece for some shadowy organisations that make liberal use of words like freedom, democracy and religion while using their immense money power to implement a hidden agenda of their own. I read a news item today claiming that ISIS/Daesh are using quotes from Donald Trump’s speeches in their current recruitment campaign.

So maybe there’s nothing very complicated at all about what these jerks are doing. They just want us all fighting each other so we’ll buy more weapons from them. What do you think?