May 16, 2014 Leave a comment
Women and children are believed to be among the 43 people killed after a car bomb went off at the Bab al Salameh checkpoint on Syria’s border with Turkey. Deborah Gembara reports.
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May 13, 2014 Leave a comment
By Akin Unver | Foreign Affairs
The Ottoman Empire’s loss of Crimea to the Russian Empire in 1783 was a turning point in both civilizations’ histories. For the Ottomans, it was the first permanent loss of a major Muslim territory to a Christian power, in this case Catherine the Great’s Russia, which, like President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, had intervened in a Crimean civil war and eventually annexed the peninsula. For the Russians, it was the beginning of their country’s transformation into a global power; through the Black Sea, Russia could sail on the West.
From 1783 onward, Moscow used its sea presence to bedevil the Ottomans, winning more territory through considerable bloodshed and destruction. Moscow rapidly expanded its naval operations from the Black Sea into the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. As it did, European powers rushed to head off Russia at the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. The competition led to another war in Crimea, the Crimean War of 1853-56. This one was the result of British and French unwillingness to let Russia fully dominate the Black Sea at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, which also wanted influence in the area. The war was less a local skirmish than a preview of the world wars to come.
On paper, Russia lost the battle and the Ottomans won. In truth, though, it was French and British forces that had really won the war on behalf of the Ottomans. Even so, the Ottoman imperial administrators misinterpreted the victory, and feeling superiority, became lethargic. Russians, meanwhile, used the Crimean defeat as an opportunity to undertake a number of important reforms. In the end, the reforms did not prevent the demise of the Tsarist regime, but they did afford it a slower decline than the one that shook the Ottomans. Thus, by the late nineteenth century, Russia was ready to dominate the Ottoman Empire in the Caucasus, the Balkans, and the Black Sea once more.
Of course, Russian sovereignty there never stopped Turkey from feeling tied to Crimea. In those years, the region became the Paris of Muslim intellectuals. It produced the founding fathers of modern Turkish nationalism, including Yusuf Akçura and İsmail Gasprinski. For Turkey, though, Crimea held more than cultural importance. In his book Shattering Empires, the Princeton associate professor Michael Reynolds reveals that Crimea was also crucial to the Ottoman intelligence system, which believed that if Ukraine could be separated from Russia, Russia would crumble. That could pave the way for Ottoman re-ascendance in the Black Sea. According to intelligence agents, the Ottomans’ best strategy would be to stir up Muslim-Tatar discontent in Crimea.
With Sevastopol and Tartus providing Russia access to warm waters on both sides of the Anatolian peninsula, Turkey will find itself practically surrounded by a swelling Russian Navy.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that in 1914, the Ottomans entered World War I by bombing Russia’s Sevastopol naval port in Crimea, which had become a symbol of Russian expansionism. The mission was a success; it crippled Russia’s Black Sea operations throughout the Great War. Yet, once again, it was an outside power that had really enabled the Ottoman win. Lacking in naval military technology of its own, the empire had used two smuggled German warships, the Goeben and the Breslau, for the attack. When the Russian ambassador to the Ottoman Empire left Istanbul right after the bombing, he hypothesized that the Ottomans might win the battle but would lose overall: “If Germans win, Ottomans will become their colonies. If the British win, the Ottoman Empire will disintegrate.” By the time he returned to Istanbul after the war was over, he remarked, it might even be a Russian city. In the event, Russia did make more gains against the Ottomans than many Turks initially expected. But the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, which prompted the Tsar to call his army home from eastern Anatolia, unexpectedly saved the Ottoman Empire from certain Russian onslaught.
The postwar period marked a rare thaw in Russian-Turkish relations. Unable to throw its weight around in the Black Sea because of its post-revolutionary weakness, the newly proclaimed Soviet Union abandoned its former Tsarist expansion strategy and opted for cooperation instead. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Empire was undergoing changes of its own, namely, giving way to the Turkish republic under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Indeed, some say that this Lenin-Atatürk era was the only real period of collaboration between Russia and Turkey in history. In those days, popular leaders of both post-imperial states emphasized resistance against the West, and Crimea diminished as a sticking point between them.
But any cordiality between the two powers soon disappeared when Russia, now headed by Joseph Stalin, emerged from World War II as the hegemon of the greater Eurasian basin. He pushed for the restitution of the northeastern Anatolian provinces of Ardahan, Artvin, and Kars to the Soviet Union and demanded a special status for Soviet vessels passing through the Bosporus strait. Several times, Stalin challenged the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of [Turkish] Straits, which had regulated naval passage through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straits for over a decade. According to Stalin, the agreement was no longer relevant in the post–World War II world — a world in which the new Russia could not be subjected to the whims of the Turkish government. In British records of the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II, Stalin is noted as asking Winston Churchill, then British prime minister, “What would Britain do if Spain or Egypt were given this right to close the Suez Canal, or what would the United States say if some South American republic had the right to close the Panama Canal?” (Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s government would answer in 1956, when the United Kingdom, with France and Israel, tried to reassert its control over the Aswan Dam through military force after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser did just what Stalin had suggested and closed off the Suez Canal.)
In this period, Turkey, which under Atatürk’s rule had emphasized cooperative nonalignment, had to switch course. It could no longer withstand the pressures of a resurgent Russia. And so it joined NATO in 1952.
When the Soviet Union eventually collapsed, the Black Sea region became more globalized. Countries worked through multilateral organizations such as the BSEC (Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation) and created a system of regional interdependence to diffuse potential post–Cold War crises. Turkey emphasized its role as a stabilizer in the Black Sea, and Russia emphasized its ability to provide natural gas for all. Because the region seemed relatively settled, over the last 20 years Turkish academia and the public have paid relatively less attention to it, looking instead to Turkey’s role in the Middle East or to its European Union vocation. Perhaps they shouldn’t have lost focus.
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
In March, when Russia overtook Crimea and announced its intentions to “fully utilize the geostrategic potential of Crimea” and to further develop Russia’s Black Sea fleet, “an important task for the country when a number of agreements were annulled with Ukraine after the Crimean Peninsula was reunited with Russia last month,” all that changed. Suddenly, peace and stability — only the second stretch of it in Turkish-Russian history — once more gave way to Russian expansionism.
Some have argued that marching on Crimea was a last-gasp effort by Putin to save his fragile rule. But from the Turkish perspective, Russia’s invasion of Crimea fits a 340-year pattern. First, some military historians believe, Russia tends to expand when all of its neighbors are weak and unable to respond. Second, domination of the Black Sea is usually a shot across the bow; it presages further interventions. Third, Black Sea domination has inevitably required a revisionist stance on the status of the Bosporus strait, because patrolling Russian ships can only move down into the Mediterranean through that single bottleneck. Of course, Western powers see any Russian presence in the Mediterranean as a threat. Russia, therefore, doesn’t assert itself in the Black Sea without preparing for a conflict (although not necessarily military or immediate) with other major powers.
Many aspects of Russia’s moves in Ukraine do fit that historical pattern. The response from Russia’s Western balancers has been weak and divided. The Syrian war, many argue, demonstrated to Russia that the United States’ ability to project power close to the Russian zone of influence is limited. And nearly every Western military is dealing with major budget cuts. Russia might be weak as well, the thinking goes, but its immediate neighbors are even weaker — and the West isn’t ready to protect them.
Turkey, too, is dreadfully exposed in the Black Sea. In early August 2013, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) canceled the decade-long Turkish National Warship Project (MİLGEM), a naval modernization program that involved the construction of high-tech stealth corvettes. (The cancellation had less to do with the project itself than with the AKP’s feud with the project’s main financier, Koç Corporation.) In September 2013, Turkey made a fateful decision to choose a Chinese HQ-9 T-LORAMIDS missile defense system over Raytheon and Lockheed Martin’s Patriots, Russian S-300s, and Italian-French SAMP/T Aster 30. With MİLGEM shelved and with a shoddy and uncertain missile defense system barely in place, Turkey has no reassuring plan to counter Russia’s expansion of the Black Sea fleet.
Ongoing negotiations over exclusive economic zones in the region, and over Turkey’s offshore oil and gas exploration efforts, will take a hit.
Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University, contends that Russian capabilities in the Black Sea are still relatively rudimentary, and that the force would not be able to survive a larger confrontation with NATO. But Russia is likely betting that NATO won’t get involved. In fact, Russians still remember the 1853 Crimean War and are good at calculating just how far they can push before provoking a major Western backlash. But even if Moscow is careful, Russian involvement in the Black Sea will inevitably complicate things for Turkey. For one, Russia is confident that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will eventually win the civil war in Syria and, as thanks for Russian support throughout the war, will allow Moscow longer-term access to the Tartus naval base in Syria. With Sevastopol and Tartus providing Russia access to warm waters on both sides of the Anatolian peninsula, Turkey will find itself practically surrounded by a swelling Russian Navy.
Because of that, ongoing negotiations over exclusive economic zones in the region, and over Turkey’s offshore oil and gas exploration efforts, will take a hit. Russia could potentially start to quibble over the legal status of the Bosporus strait, arguing — like Stalin — that Montreux requires updating to give Russia unimpeded access to the area. The Russian Navy has already proved willing to throw its weight around on such matters, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, where Israel and Cyprus have started crisscrossing the sea, surveying for natural gas. In response, Russia has reminded Cyprus of its control over Cypriot banks even as it has treaded more carefully with Israel.
Russia has played much rougher with the United States. It sees gas exploration missions launched from Turkey’s Black Sea coast and run by Exxon-Chevron as Western imperialism. The Crimean invasion was perhaps the clearest Russian warning about those activities to date: Exxon, Chevron, and Shell’s operations in the Black Sea are now in legal limbo. The three companies had signed deals for offshore exploration and drilling along the Ukrainian coast before the Crimean annexation, and now, with a swelling Russian Navy in the Black Sea, those deals are very much in doubt.
By encircling the Anatolian peninsula, Putin is also making a statement against Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor strategy and offering a direct challenge to the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project (TANAP), which bypasses Russia to feed Azeri gas into Europe. Russia’s feelings about the matter were perhaps best summed up in a recent statement by Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian deputy premier, who said that two French Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, which Russia purchased from France before the showdown over Crimea, should be delivered to Russia “as soon as possible” or France should return 1.2 billion euros. If Russia does end up acquiring the assault ships, each able to carry 16 helicopters, 70 armored vehicles, and 450 soldiers, they will render Russia capable of launching small-scale incursions into all Black Sea littoral states, which could halt the European Southern Gas Corridor strategy in its tracks.
This all sounds like bad news — and it is. If there is one reason for hope, though, it is that Russian expansionism under Stalin pushed Turkey to become a staunch NATO ally. The Crimean invasion might just push Turkey, which under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been drifting away from the West, to remember why his country joined the alliance in the first place. Simply put, neither the Ottoman Empire nor modern Turkey has ever been able to deter or resist Russian expansionism on its own. When it plays along with Russian demands in the short term, Russia has always become more assertive. Since 1689, Turkey’s only real option for survival has been to work with allies. But getting to that point requires a solid and measurable commitment to Turkey by the West. Every time the two have joined forces, the West has made credible demonstrations of its resolve. For now, though, it is unclear whether NATO will get involved in Ukraine. The extent to which it does — to which it demonstrates a strong will to check Russia — will determine whether Turkey will join the effort of containment or simply crumble under Russian pressure.
May 2, 2014 Leave a comment
By Patrick Martin
International Workers’ Day was marked by widespread protests against austerity and attacks on workers’ rights, with major clashes with police in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, and in cities across Asia and Europe.
The biggest confrontation between workers and state forces came in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, after the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan banned marchers from entering the city’s central Taksim Square, the site of violent repression of anti-government protests last summer.
The authorities mobilized nearly 40,000 police, shut parts of the public transportation system, and set up steel barricades to divert marchers away from the square. Despite police firing tear gas and water cannon, thousands of demonstrators defied the government ban.
Nearly 100 people were injured and at least 200 arrested, according to press reports from the city. There was fighting in the Okmeydani district, a working class area, where marchers chanted the name of Berkin Elvan, who died March 11 after 269 days in a coma. The 14-year-old was hit by a police tear-gas canister fired during anti-government protests last year.
The government permitted 200 trade unionists to enter Taksim square to lay a wreath commemorating the deaths of 36 workers in 1977, when right-wing gunmen attacked a huge May Day gathering there. Workers’ protests were banned in the square from 1977 to 2010, and Erdogan reimposed the ban last year amid mounting unrest in the country.
There were widespread protests across east, southeast and south Asia, where industrial development over the past 30 years has created the largest working class in the world. Thousands marched in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore and Phnom Penh.
In Manila, the Philippine capital, workers burned an effigy of President Benigno Aquino outside the presidential palace, accusing him of corruption and attacks on democratic rights. They chanted against rising prices and the replacement of regular employees by temporary workers.
In Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, more than a thousand workers defied a government ban on protests and fought with security forces. Several dozen workers were beaten near a downtown park. The country’s fast-growing apparel industry has been hit by a wave of strikes.
Some 100,000 workers rallied in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, demanding an increase of 30 percent in the minimum wage, and concessions on housing, education and public transportation. Union leaders have sought to curb working class unrest, expressed in a wave of strikes and in growing popular hostility to all the right-wing parties contesting the country’s parliamentary election.
There were sizeable protests against austerity policies across southern Europe, with large turnouts at Syntagma Square in Athens, in major cities in Italy, including Milan, Turin and Rome, and in Barcelona, Spain.
The largest demonstration in Europe took place in Moscow, where the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin staged a May Day parade in Red Square, the first since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. More than 100,000 took part.
Similar demonstrations were held in Simferopol and Sevastopol, the two main cities in Crimea, and in regional cities across Russia, as far east as Vladivostok.
The crowds were large, including 100,000 in Simferopol, the Crimean capital, and an estimated two million across the country, according to the trade unions.
The turnout showed popular hostility to the anti-Russian campaign by American and European imperialism over Ukraine, as well as giving a glimpse of the increasing social tensions within Russia, between the working class and the wealthy oligarchs who are the political base of Putin’s rule.
There were demonstrations in the Western Hemisphere as well, with thousands marching for immigrant rights in Los Angeles, and protests in many Latin American countries.
May 1, 2014 Leave a comment
A massive police operation has cracked down on May Day protests in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Riot officers have blocked off the city’s iconic Taksim Square and have deployed tear gas and water cannon against crowds of demonstrators.
Defying a ban on May Day protests, hundreds of protesters clashed with police in the Besiktas neighborhood of Istanbul. Some activists threw Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers, who retaliated with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.
“I have already seen a few people injured,” said RT correspondent Sara Firth, who was caught in tear gas and water cannon fire whilst trying to film on the streets of Istanbul. “It shows no signs of letting up at the moment.”
The tear-gassing was so intense in the Besiktas district that some families were forced to evacuate their homes, reported Turkish news agency Hurriyet.
At least 142 protesters have been detained by police and 90 people, 19 of whom are police officers, have been injured during the protests, according to the Istanbul Governor’s Office. The Hurriyet Daily notes that the number of injured does not include those treated outside of hospitals.
Istanbul’s authorities have taken special measures to ensure protesters do not gain access to Taksim Square, which has become a symbol for the city’s anti-government protest movement. Local press reports that at least 30 special operations units have been deployed around Gezi Park – adjacent to Taksim Square – as well as armored vehicles.
In addition, the Turkish police have also deployed specially designed, portable, steel walls for the first time. The barriers are equipped with cameras and spray tear gas automatically when they are pushed against.
Elsewhere, in the Turkish capital of Ankara, police dispersed dozens of protesters with tear gas and water cannon.
Istanbul Governor’s Office warned that Taksim Square would be off limits to the public on Wednesday, citing intelligence reports that “illegal terrorist groups” had plans to attack security forces. Local media also reported that almost 40,000 police had been deployed throughout the city to prevent May Day Protests.
Prime Minister Taiyyip Erdogan, who has been the target of many anti-government protests, told citizens they should “give up hope” of gaining access to Taksim Square on May 1. However, Turkey’s main trade unions issued a statement on Wednesday calling the ban “irrational” and “illegal” and pledged to hold demonstrations on the square.
“All roads will lead to Taksim on May Day, and our struggle for labor, equality, freedom, justice and peace will continue,” the main unions said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
Many of the demonstrators took to the streets to commemorate protesters who died in last year’s unrest.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the protest movement, dismissing demonstrators as “terrorists” and “riff raff.” The Turkish leader has come under fire for what his opposition regard as heavy-handed measures prior to his reelection this March.
Following the dissemination of leaked conversations between government officials in social media, Erdogan ordered Twitter and YouTube to be blocked on March 21.
In the leaks, government officials discuss a possible plan for military intervention in Syria.
The Turkish government was obliged to lift a ban on Twitter on March 26 following a Constitutional Court ruling that called the site blockade unconstitutional. YouTube, however, remains blocked in the country.
May 1, 2014 Leave a comment
by F. Michael Maloof | World Net Daily
WASHINGTON – Turkey intends to spread its more moderate form of Sunni Islam in the wake of the Arab Spring as opposed to the more conservative Sunni Wahhabi version of Islam from Saudi Arabia.
Turkey’s approach is evolving despite turmoil throughout the Middle East that continues to see Saudi Arabia engaged in a proxy war in Syria. The Saudis’ aim is not just to overthrow the government of Shiite Alawite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but also to remove the influence of Shiite Iran in the region.
In contrast, Turkey intends to improve its relationship with Shiite Iran, despite opposition to Tehran’s backing of Assad.
But Assad likely will withstand the insurgency and remain in power, and Turkey, therefore, will need Iran’s help to repair the rupture with Syria. Assad declared he is running for re-election in June, but none of his opponents are seen as a serious challenge to 44 years of Assad family rule.
As WND recently reported, Turkey and Iran – despite their differences over Syria – see each other as helping build and in some cases rebuild their influence in the region as a substitute for what appears to be the crumbling influence of Saudi Arabia among its Arab allies.
Middle East expert Walid Shoebat sees Turkey as ready to revisit its relationship with Iran and lessen its competition with Tehran for regional dominance.
“The leaderships of both nations have come to realize that striving to secure an undisputed leadership in the Middle East was pointless,” Shoebat said. “Iran’s ambitions in the region will then succumb to Turkish dominance.”
Shoebat said Turkey-Iran cooperation helps explain Washington’s perspective on the future of the Middle East. The U.S., he said, believes the Sunni-Shiite strife in the region will eventually “acquire a content conforming to the geopolitical interests of the U.S … and is why Washington refrained from resorting to plans to total regime dismantling in Syria.”
“The U.S. needed a region equally treacherous both for Turkey and Iran,” Shoebat said.
Shoebat said the Saudi kingdom has been the catalyst for the two countries to work more closely together despite their own Sunni-Shiite divisions.
Some regional experts, including Shoebat, even believe that the increasingly Islamic Turkish government ultimately wants to recreate the Ottoman Empire and become the center of a more moderate Muslim caliphate in the Arab world.
“Soon, I estimate within a decade to a decade and a half, we will see a Sultan emerge in Turkey, a Caliph and a Mahdi,” Shoebat said. “They will argue that if Rome has a Vicar of Christ, why not for Islam a Vicar for Muhammad?”
Turkey is being seen as an emerging substitute for the conservative Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam that Saudi Arabia has exported and spawned with the creation of al-Qaida and its affiliates.
The terror groups — financed by Saudi Arabia, including by the royal family itself in recent years — have become stronger and are seeking to create their own caliphates governed under a more strict form of Islamic law, or Shariah.
While the Saudis say they are opposed to the spread of al-Qaida, the financing continues in an effort to keep the terror network out of the Saudi kingdom.
But the Saudis are seeing increasing problems beyond concerns about blowback from al-Qaida on the kingdom itself.
Riyadh also opposes the Muslim Brotherhood, which ruled Egypt for a year before the Saudis backed a military effort for its overthrow. In turn, the Brotherhood also became an issue with Turkey, which supports it.
The Saudis oppose the Brotherhood because it similarly seeks to create a caliphate in the Saudi kingdom and wants to oust the monarchy.
Until recently, all of the Gulf Arab countries ruled by Sunni monarchies looked to Saudi Arabia as their leader, until they began to split over the issue of support for the Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, for example, recently pulled their ambassadors out of Qatar, which supports the Brotherhood and maintains some semblance of a relationship with Iran, the Saudi royal family’s mortal Islamic enemy.
Despite the semblance of unity, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which was to provide the united front of Sunni Arab monarchies, has begun to split.
In addition to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, the GCC is comprised of Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
Former Saudi intelligence chief and royal family member Prince Turki al-Faisal has admitted that the rift within the GCC is serious despite a recent agreement to end a security dispute with Qatar.
“The most dangerous thing that is facing our countries today is this new rift in our relations,” said Turki, who is a brother of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Turki sees Iran and Turkey as exploiting the rift for what he sees as destabilization of the Middle East, although implied is the concern of the splintering GCC members veering more toward Turkey.
Given the renewed cooperation between Iran and Turkey and the increasingly close ties some of the GCC members have with them, Turki has every reason to be concerned about what could become a major shift of influence toward the more moderate Sunni-Shiite wings of Islam.
April 30, 2014 Leave a comment
The former East German Lutheran pastor is on a four-day visit to Turkey. He warned against the consequences of curbing freedom of expression including the two-week block on Twitter in a speech at a university. He was critical of Erdogan’s leadership style.
“I told him we can never tolerate interference in our domestic affairs.He should act the way that statesmen do. But I think he still sees himself as a pastor. Because he used to be a pastor he still has the same mentality of one. These are ugly matters,” Erdogan said at the weekly session of the Turkish parliament.
The two had engaged in what was described as “mild verbal jousting” at a joint press conference before Gauk’s university speech.
The war of words comes as security forces in Turkey geared up for possible clashes with demonstrators during May Day marches planned for Thursday.
by F. Michael Maloof | World Net Daily
WASHINGTON – Turkey and Iran have sided with opposing factions in the three-year Syrian civil war.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed forcibly while Iran supports him at almost all cost.
Yet, Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran appear to be drawing closer in their diplomatic relations, a development that could impact the entire Middle East landscape.
The two countries have had their differences, going back to the period of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and when Iran was known as Persia. In the 20th century, Turkey became a republic and oriented itself more toward the West, especially during the Cold War period.
As a secular Muslim government, Turkey opposed the 1979 Iranian revolution and was exasperated because officials believed Iran sponsored terrorist groups in Turkey with the intention of spreading its brand of Islam.
In turn, post-revolutionary Iran saw Turkey and its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a threat.
But during the Iran-Iraq war, Turkey looked on Tehran less as a threat than the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, helping both countries to smooth out relations.
After the Gulf War, relations between Ankara and Tehran began to edge upward, including cooperative efforts on the Kurdish issue, which threatened territories in both countries.
With the rise to power of the Justice and Development Party in 2002, relations improved even further as the Turkish government appeared to become more Islamic under Erdogan.
Even though Turkey maintained the vestiges of a secular government, Iran welcomed the slight change in direction.
Then the two countries increased trade, principally through purchases of oil and natural gas by Turkey.
The desire by Tehran to have a more reliable trading partnership with Turkey increased as Western sanctions were imposed due to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, which the West believes masks the production of nuclear weapons.
Leading up to 2011, Turkey and Iran then increased bilateral economic and business ties. For example, during that period, Iranian businesses based in Turkey increased from some 300 to more than 2,000.
The Syrian civil war, however, has brought about a serious strain on the relationship. Sunni Turkey has gone so far as to allow Sunni Wahabbi fighters to use its territory in an effort to topple Assad.
Because he thought Assad’s days were numbered, Erdogan saw Turkey as an ally to what he perceived would be a Sunni government, particularly the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, in Syria.
But that hasn’t happened, and now Assad appears to be staying, thanks in great measure to the help of Iran and its Shiite Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
The development had put Turkey and Iran in a faceoff over Syria’s fate, but each sees a confluence of benefits in developing a security partnership along with improving trade and business.
In so doing, Ankara sees Iran actually assisting Turkey in mitigating relations in the face of Assad’s possible survival.
Both countries already are looking for trade to increase from $20 billion to $30 billion next year. Ankara also is buoyant over the increasing prospect of Iran opening more to the West, especially in view of U.S. overtures to Tehran.
At the same time, Tehran will be looking to Ankara to assist in its overtures to the West.
Iranian Parliament Vice Speaker Mohammad Hasssan Aboutorabi-Fard recently met with Turkish Ambassador Umit Yardim and underscored that developing ties with Turkey was Iran’s “top priority.”
“The development and expansion of close friendly relations with Turkey in different arenas is among the priorities of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy, and we hope that the trend of growth in bilateral ties, especially in the parliamentary and economic fields, will be further accelerated,” the Iranian parliamentarian vice speaker said.
For his part, Yardim said, “Turkey will take very opportunity to develop and expand relations.”
In recent days, Turkey also has licensed two Iranian banks to operate in Turkey.
Iran’s Bank Pasargad and Bank Tejarat will open branches in Turkey while Bank Mellat will expand its branches there.
More cooperation is expected.
“The relationship (between Ankara and Tehran) seems to be facing a new stage full of interests,” said Middle East expert Khorshid Dali, a Syrian. “Each party has its ambitions that motivate it to look for a common axis that will change regional equations at the expense of the Arab countries, especially in the Gulf.”
Just as Ankara sees Tehran helping it out with Syria, regional analysts say it also will look to Iran to help in cultivating Turkey’s influence with the Gulf Arab countries which are at odds over which Sunni country – Saudi Arabia or Turkey – will become the major influence among them in the region.
Seeing how Saudi Arabia is waging a proxy war in Syria against Iran, it will be in Tehran’s interest to work with a more moderate Turkey to establish that influence.
By Halil Karaveli | Foreign Affairs
The Turkish republic was born a dictatorship in 1923. And there is a good chance that it would have stayed that way had it not been for the United States’ influence as the leading world power since 1945.
To see why, consider the two major democratic turning points in Turkey’s last 90 years. The first came in 1950, when the country’s first free, multiparty elections swept aside the authoritarian Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and brought to power the conservative Democratic Party (DP). Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, wanted Turkey to become Westernized, but the one-party rule that he put in place was deeply anti-liberal and inspired by Western rightist authoritarian political thought. In other words, true democracy did not necessarily figure among the principles that Atatürk wanted Turkey to follow.
The next major democratic transition took place roughly half a century later, in 2002, when the Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. The AKP dismantled the system of military oversight over civilian politics that had been in place since 1960, when the military staged the first in a string of four coups that ensured that it always kept its hands on the levers of power. The AKP forced the military to accept civilian rule (and the rule of a civilian party the military disliked) and then pushed through legal changes that limited the military’s political role. Most important, it changed the composition of the National Security Council, the body that the military had used to impose its will on elected governments, by reducing the number of generals in the body and subordinating them to civilian representatives. It also staffed the judiciary with loyal judges and prosecutors, who have subsequently taken up the cases of hundreds of senior military officers accused of having plotted to overthrow the government. Although the AKP’s creeping authoritarianism has become a worry, it is hard to overstate just how important the early reforms that expelled the military from politics were.
Turkey’s democratic revolutions — the transition to multiparty democracy in 1950 and the end of military tutelage in the early 2000s — were both rooted in internal changes that had taken place in the preceding years. In the 1940s, the CHP’s ruling elite had split over the role of the state in the economy. Some sided with the emerging bourgeoisie that demanded greater freedom. Traditional Kemalists, meanwhile, wanted to protect the rule of the bureaucrats.
In the 1990s, something similar happened. Thanks to economic liberalization in the 1980s and globalization, a new middle class rose to prominence in Anatolia, the conservative heartland of Turkey. The ascendant conservatives resented the tutelage of the military and the authoritarianism of the state. Supported by the liberals, they handed their party a victory in 2002 and then set to take over the entire state apparatus.
An outside power helped determine the outcome of these democratic revolutions. In both cases, the outgoing authoritarians — the CHP and the military – caved in because they knew that if they did not American and other Western support would evaporate. And without that support, Turkish security and welfare would take a hit.
After the opposition DP victory in 1950, the military offered to stage a coup to keep the defeated President Ismet Inönü and his CHP in power. Inönü was no democrat. Under his rule, leftist intellectuals were thrown in jail and even murdered. Jews and Christians were persecuted. He went even further than his predecessor Atatürk in his personality cult, appointing himself National Chief, in the image of his contemporaries, such as Spain’s “Caudillo” Franco. It would not have been surprising, then, if he agreed to the military’s plan. But Inönü abided by the election result and duly resigned.
In this case, U.S. influence was decisive. During the Second World War, Inönü had steered Turkey dangerously close to Nazi Germany. The Turkish regime was compromised by its pro-Nazi bent; United States and Britain pressured Inönü to come down on the Allied side, but he resisted until the war was almost over. Desperate for U.S. protection against a Soviet Union that was making territorial demands, Inönü needed to prove to the West that Turkey could be a respectable ally — and what better way than holding “free elections” in 1946. The elections were not fair; but still, Turkey was rewarded for its efforts with aid under the Marshall Plan. But both sides needed more. Turkey was a front line state in the Cold War, and both Turkey and the West wanted Turkey in NATO. But it could not be brought on board as long as it remained authoritarian. The Inönü regime understood that it had to surrender to its domestic rivals or else face losing the full protection of the Western alliance against the Soviet Union. And so it held another round of elections in 1950, and the rest is history.
History repeated itself after the election victory of the Islamic conservative AKP in 2002. Only five years before, the military had ousted an Islamist-led government, arguing that it had to protect secularism. Many in the officers’ corps wanted to do the same to the AKP, and there were several aborted coup attempts in 2003 and 2004. Ultimately, though, those attempts came to naught because the General Staff did not endorse them. What had changed since 1997 was not the mentality of the General Staff. Rather, it was the state of the Turkish economy. By 2001, after a decade of political mismanagement, it was in free fall. Turkey needed to gain the confidence of foreign investors — and a commitment to start the membership process with the European Union — at all costs. Under such circumstances, the realists in the General Staff knew that a coup was out of the question. The generals surrendered their power — and later even endured humiliation when scores of their comrades-in-arms were imprisoned — out of fear that Turkey would otherwise be deprived Western economic protection.
In both cases, of course, democratic hopes were soon frustrated. Adnan Menderes, who came to power in Turkey’s first free, multiparty elections soon proved to be an autocrat himself. He jailed critical journalists and violently repressed the opposition. The rule of the AKP’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has similarly turned autocratic, and the EU membership process has stalled. Both leaders owed their power to the fact that the authoritarians before them had decided to feign adherence to democracy and liberty to please the West. But when Menderes and later Erdogan began to demonstrate authoritarian traits, the United States waited too long to remind them of their predecessors’ commitments.
The United States has pushed Turkey toward democracy but, as a rule, it has then been prepared to overlook a lot from democratically elected Turkish governments. Eisenhower finally disowned Menderes in late 1959, refusing Turkey further financial aid. By then, Menderes’ fall from power was imminent. It never condemned the dirty war that Turkey waged against its Kurdish minority during the 1990s. And successive administrations have made sure that Congress never passes resolutions on the Armenian genocide. In an interview in 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama even listed Erdogan among the five world leaders with whom he had been able to forge “friendships and the bonds of trust.” But by then, Erdogan had already demonstrated his autocratic tendencies.
From Eisenhower to Obama, American administrations have been reluctant to ask too much from “democratic” Turkish governments, for fear that doing so would push them away, push them to be less cooperative in military and strategic matters. However, the United States has more leverage than it realizes. The prospect of being abandoned by America is something that terrifies Turkish leaders. The CHP and the military were scared enough to step down. Süleyman Demirel, a veteran conservative former prime minister and president, who grew alarmed when the United States began to open up diplomatically to China during the Nixon years, asked the question outright. “You are not going to abandon us now, are you?” he reportedly said to President Richard Nixon.
Turkey might appear to be more self-confident today; it sees itself as a rising power. Erdogan has not hesitated to publicly rebuke Obama for his reluctance to become involved in Syria. Erdogan’s predecessors would never have dared to do that. Although his rhetoric may suggest otherwise, however, Erdogan fears being abandoned by the United States as much as Demirel did. He has been desperate to enroll the United States in the civil war in Syria, in which Turkey is actively involved; he is afraid that, otherwise, Turkey is going to be left alone to deal with the consequences of the war. And U.S. pressure on the EU has been critical in keeping the potential for Turkish membership alive; if that were to disappear, the Turkish economy would be hurt. Even as a “rising power,” Turkey does not stand on its own feet. It remains as dependent as ever on the United States and the West for its security and welfare.
History teaches that, left to its own devices, Turkey does not abandon illiberal habits. But it also teaches that Turkey’s fear of being deprived of Western protection can be used to induce it to make democratic transitions. American and Western power has made a difference before, and can do so again now. Washington should treat Erdogan the way it treated Inönü: by reminding him that Turkey has to live up to Western democratic standards if it wants to continue to enjoy the benefits of being counted as a Western power.
By Philip Giraldi | Global Research
If you had been a reader of The American Conservative magazine back in December 2011, you might have learned from an article written by me that “Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons [to the Free Syrian Army] derived from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals…” Well, it seems that the rest of the media is beginning to catch up with the old news, supplemented with significant details by Sy Hersh in the latest issue of the London Review of Books in an article entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line.”
The reality is that numerous former intelligence officials, like myself, have long known most of the story surrounding the on-again off-again intervention by the United States and others in Syria, but what was needed was a Sy Hersh, with his unmatched range of contacts deep in both the Pentagon as well as at CIA and State Department, to stitch it all together with corroboration from multiple sources. In a sense it was a secret that wasn’t really very well hidden but which the mainstream media wouldn’t touch with a barge pole because it revealed that the Obama Administration, just like the Bushies who preceded it, has been actively though clandestinely conspiring to overthrow yet another government in the Middle East. One might well conclude that the White House is like the Bourbon Kings of France in that it never forgets anything but never learns anything either.
The few media outlets that are willing to pick up the Syria story even now are gingerly treating it as something new, jumping in based on their own editorial biases, sometimes emphasizing the CIA and MI6 role in cooperating with the Turks to undermine Bashar al-Assad. But Hersh’s tale is only surprising if one had not been reading between the lines over the past three years, where the clandestine role of the British and American governments was evident and frequently reported on over the internet and, most particularly, in the local media in the Middle East. Far from being either rogue or deliberately deceptive, operations by the U.S. and UK intelligence services, the so-called “ratlines” feeding weapons into Syria, were fully vetted and approved by both the White House and Number 10 Downing Street. The more recent exposure of the Benghazi CIA base’s possible involvement in obtaining Libyan arms as part of the process of equipping the Syrian insurgents almost blew the lid off of the arrangement but somehow the media attention was diverted by a partisan attack on the Obama Administration over who said what and when to explain the security breakdown and the real story sank out of sight.
So this is what happened, roughly speaking: the United States had been seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria since at least 2003, joining with Saudi Arabia, which had been funding efforts to destabilize his regime even earlier. Why? Because from the Saudi viewpoint Syria was an ally of Iran and was also a heretical state led by a secular government dominated by Alawite Muslims, viewed as being uncomfortably close to Shi’ites in their apostasy. From the U.S. viewpoint, the ties to Iran and reports of Syrian interference in Lebanon were a sufficient casus belli coupled with a geostrategic assessment shared with the Saudis that Syria served as the essential land bridge connecting Hezbollah in Lebanon to Iran. The subsequent Congressional Syria Accountability Acts of 2004 and 2010, like similar legislation directed against Iran, have resulted in little accountability and have instead stifled diplomacy. They punished Syria with sanctions for supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and for its links to Tehran, making any possible improvement in relations problematical. The 2010 Act even calls for steps to bring about regime change in Damascus.
The United States also engaged in a program eerily reminiscent of its recent moves to destabilize the government in Ukraine, i.e., sending in ambassadors and charges who deliberately provoked the Syrian government by meeting with opposition leaders and openly making demands for greater democracy. The last U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford spoke openly in support of the protesters while serving in Damascus in 2011. On one occasion he was pelted with tomatoes and was eventually removed over safety concerns.
Lost in translation is the fact that Washington’s growing support for radical insurgency in Syria would also inevitably destabilize all its neighbors, most notably including Iraq, which has indeed been the case, making a shambles of U.S. claims that it was seeking to introduce stable democracies into the region. Some also saw irony in the fact that a few years before Washington decided al-Assad was an enemy it had been sending victims of the CIA’s rendition program to Syria, suggesting that at least some short-term and long-term strategies were on a collision course from the start, if indeed the advocates of the two policies were actually communicating with each other at all.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whose country shared a long border with Syria and who had legitimate security concerns relating to Kurdish separatists operating out of the border region, became the proxy in the secret war for Washington and its principal European allies, the British and French. When the U.S.-Saudi supported insurgency began to heat up and turn violent, Turkey became the key front line state in pushing for aggressive action against Damascus. Erdogan miscalculated, thinking that al-Assad was on his last legs, needing only a push to force him out, and Ankara saw itself as ultimately benefiting from a weak Syria with a Turkish-controlled buffer zone along the border to keep the Kurds in check.
Hersh reports how President Barack Obama had to back down from attacking Syria when the Anglo-American intelligence community informed him flatly and unambiguously that Damascus was not responsible for the poison gas attack that took place in Damascus on August 21, 2013 that was being exploited as a casus belli. The information supporting that assertion was known to many like myself who move around the fringes of the intelligence community, but the real revelation from Hersh is the depth of Turkish involvement in the incident in order to have the atrocity be exploitable as a pretext for American armed intervention, which, at that point, Erdogan strongly desired. As the use of weapons of mass destruction against civilians was one of the red lines that Obama had foolishly promoted regarding Syria Erdogan was eager to deliver just that to force the U.S.’s hand. Relying on unidentified senior U.S. intelligence sources, Hersh demonstrates how Turkey’s own preferred militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is generally regarded as an al-Qaeda affiliate, apparently used Turkish-provided chemicals and instructions to stage the attack.
Is it all true? Unless one has access to the same raw information as Sy Hersh it is difficult to say with any certainty, but I believe I know who some of the sources are and they both have good access to intelligence and are reliable. Plus, the whole narrative has an undeniable plausibility, particularly if one also considers other evidence of Erdogan’s willingness to take large risks coupled with a more general Turkish underhandedness relating to Syria. On March 23rd, one week before local elections in Turkey that Erdogan feared would go badly for him, a Turkish air force F-16 shot down a Syrian Mig-23, claiming that it had strayed half a mile into Turkish airspace. The pilot who bailed out, claimed that he was attacking insurgent targets at least four miles inside the border when he was shot down, an assertion borne out by physical evidence as the plane’s remains landed inside Syria. Was Erdogan demonstrating how tough he could be just before elections? Possibly.
And then there are the YouTube recordings. Three days before the election, a discussion not unlike the Victoria Nuland leak in Ukraine surfaced. A conversation between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Hakan Fidan, the chief of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), included Davutoglu saying that the “Prime Minister said that in the current conjuncture of time, this attack [on the Tomb of Suleiman Shah] must be seen as an opportunity for us.” Davutoglu was clearly referring to an attack on the tomb serving as a pretext for a Turkish incursion into Syria. Fidan then declared that “I will send four men from inside Syria, if that is what it will take. I will make up a reason for war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey. We can also prepare a direct attack on the Tomb of Suleiman Shah if necessary.” The recording reveals that Ankara was considering staging a false flag attack on the tomb of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty. The tomb is in Syria but because of its historical importance has been regarded as sovereign Turkish territory, much like an Embassy, and is guarded by Turkish soldiers. So the suggestion is that Ankara was prepared to kill its own soldiers to create an incident that would have led to a broader war.
Critics of Hersh claim that the Turks would be incapable of carrying out such a grand subterfuge, but I would argue that putting together some technicians, chemicals, and a couple of trucks to carry the load are well within the capability of MIT, an organization that I have worked with and whose abilities I respect. And one must regard with dismay the “tangled webs we weave,” with due credit to Bobby Burns, for what has subsequently evolved in Syria. Allies like Turkey that are willing to cook the books to bring about military action are exploiting the uncertainty of a White House that continues to search for foreign policy successes while simultaneously being unable to define any genuine American interests. Syria is far from an innocent in the ensuing mayhem, but it has become the fall guy for a whole series of failed policies.
Turkey meanwhile has exploited the confusion to clamp down on dissent and to institutionalize Erdogan’s authoritarian inclinations. Ten years of American-licensed meddling combined with obliviousness to possible consequences has led to in excess of 100,000 dead Syrians and the introduction of large terrorist infrastructures into the Arab heartland, yet another foreign policy disaster in the making with no clear way out.
April 21, 2014 Leave a comment
Ankara (AFP) – Twitter blocked two accounts on Sunday that had been used to spread corruption allegations against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his government and his inner circle.
The move came after high-level meetings between the government and executives from the company last week, and after the Turkish government provoked a storm in March by trying to ban the network entirely.
The two accounts blocked on Sunday — @Haramzadeler333 and @Bascalan — leaked large amounts of secret documents and recorded phone conversations implicating Erdogan, his family and associates in a wide-ranging corruption scandal.
Between them, @Haramzadeler333 (which translates as “Sons of Thieves”) and @Bascalan (which means “Prime Thief”, a play on the Turkish for prime minister) had close to one million followers on Twitter.
Users reported that the two accounts were listed as “withheld” when they tried to access them from within the country over the weekend.
Twitter’s global policy team said it withholds content only “after due process”, such as after having received a court order, and in a tweet said it would not do so “at the mere request of a gov’t official”.
It added that it would not give details of the two accounts’ users to the government.
“Twitter has not provided and will not provide user information to Turkish authorities without valid legal process,” it said.
The government, which accuses those behind the accounts of publishing false and harmful content, is also pressing the US-based company to hand over details on the owners of a dozen other accounts.
@Haramzadeler333 and @Bascalan appeared to have privileged access to information and documents related to a 15-month police investigation into the corruption allegations.
Erdogan has accused a “parallel state” controlled by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the graft scandal against him, using a widespread network of allies in the police and judiciary.
The embattled premier has asked Twitter — which has 10 million users in Turkey — to open a liaison office in the country. He has also criticised the company for not paying taxes there.
Twitter has ruled out any such move, refusing to open an office in a state that tried to ban it, and has rejected charges of tax evasion. It said its advertising sales in Turkey are handled through a reseller that pays applicable taxes.
Erdogan’s government had to unblock Twitter on April 3 after the country’s top court ruled that the ban breached constitutional guarantees on free speech.
The video-sharing site YouTube has been blocked in Turkey since the end of March despite two separate court orders calling on the ban to be lifted, after an audio recording allegedly made during high-level security talks on Syria was posted on the site.