Islamist Turkey is Imploding
In the past two weeks a number of events have taken place in Turkey that, taken together, indicate that this erstwhile U.S. ally is spinning dangerously out of control with neither Ankara nor Washington and its European allies having the slightest clue of what to do. It started several days ago with the Turkish artillery targeting the Kurdish YPG military units n Syria, a key U.S. ally against ISIS, as they made progress in taking over formerly terrorist-occupied terrain north of Aleppo. This was followed by Turkey enabling thousands of jihadists entering Turkish territory from Syria with all of their weapons and exiting back into Syria from a different border crossing to join the battle against the anti-Assad forces. As if to show on whose side Ankara really is, a local news agency provided pictures of trucks loaded with Turkish ammunition delivered to these very people. It may be recalled that for publishing similar pictures of supplies to Syrian jihadists by the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MIT), in January 2014, two prominent journalists were accused of “treason and espionage” and are facing the prospect of life in prison. In yet another proof of Turkish collusion with ISIS terrorists, wiretaps of phone conversations between Turkish military and ISIS commanders have just been made public that show close cooperation.
The problem that Turkey and its Islamist leadership are now facing is something that has been known for a long time, but is no longer credibly deniable. Under Erdogan, Turkey has never been interested in fighting ISIS, Al-Nusra, and other Sunni terrorists. On the contrary, it has assisted them in every way possible for at least the last three years. Washington under Obama preferred to look the other way, but the latest events have faced it with a stark choice -- either defeat ISIS and limit growing Russian influence in alliance with the Syrian Kurds, or continue to put up with Erdogan’s duplicitous Islamist agenda and lose the last shreds of credibility it has left in the region. With the leader of the Turkish parliamentary opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, now openly calling for the leaders of the AKP to be tried for “aiding and abetting terrorist organizations,” it is high time for Washington to reconsider its failing policies.
There is yet another compelling reason to stand up to what more closely resembles an Islamist dictatorship in Turkey. After suffering a major electoral defeat with the rise of the Kurdish HDP party in parliamentary elections last June, Erdogan opted for new elections that many experts both in and outside of Turkey believe were rigged, along with massive repression of the Kurds. In a number of Kurdish cities in southeastern Turkey, military suppression of the youth wing of the PKK and de facto martial law imposed have been so heavy-handed that civil war is a more accurate description of what’s happening. In the town of Cisre, for instance, after two months of curfew and heavy fighting, the Turkish General Staff announced on Feb. 12 that it had successfully rid the town of terrorists, though it did not lift the curfew. It gave the following figures for terrorists killed and weapons confiscated: 600 terrorists killed, 2 machine guns, 27 AK-47s and 2 RPGs plus ammunition. This, of course, means that all but 31 of the ‘terrorists’ killed were unarmed. No wonder that Selahattin Demirtash, co-chairman of the HDP, has accused the government of ‘mass murder.’ His charges were seconded by the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Turkey, Kati Piri, who on Feb. 22 from Diyarbakir described the operations of the Turkish Security Forces as ‘civil war’ and accused the military of “ opening fire on civilians.”
It is, of course, true that the PKK was a terrorist organization, but times and circumstances have changed and for the AKP to risk a full-fledged civil war with the Kurds now is suicidal. First, the peace process with the PKK, which had progressed well until Erdogan unilaterally cancelled it last June, demonstrated that the Kurds would be satisfied with autonomy within Turkey. Secondly, the previous war with the PKK in the 1980s and 1990s, which claimed 40,000 victims, was fought primarily in rural areas which could be controlled by depopulation. Today, the Kurds make a large percentage of the population in all large towns outside the southeast where it dominates. The HDP also enjoys considerable support among non-Kurds, who appreciate its secular stands against the oppressive and intolerant Islamist dogmatism of the AKP. Finally, the Kurds now have 2 million co-ethnics on the other side of the 565-mile-long Syrian border, who are well-armed and already enjoy wide-ranging autonomy. If Erdogan continues to insist on brutally suppressing the Kurds, Turkey will descend into chaos. As Abdullah Gὒl, former president of Turkey and founding member of AKP, put it succinctly, “Turkey is going through one of the most difficult days in its history.”
Finally, there is a third and hugely important reason for the United States and its allies to confront Turkey’s Islamist government. Since AKP’s coming to power, virtually unnoticed in the West, Turkey has become a major exporter of radical Sunni extremism in the West. Erdogan’s main instrument for Islamization in Turkey and abroad, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, better known as Diyanet, has had its budget increased sevenfold since 2003 and now has an army of 150,000 religious functionaries doing its bidding. It is active in promoting radical Islam in virtually every European state and dominates the Islamic establishment in countries like Germany, Austria, Belgium, and in the Balkans. In many of these countries it works in close cooperation with radical Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Milli Gὄrὒs. It has also begun a program of funding and building mega-mosques worth hundreds of millions of dollars, often in places where there are but few Muslims like Bucharest, Budapest, and Lanham, Maryland.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that President Obama will do much along these lines for the rest of his term, because he was the one who in 2009 advertised Erdogan’s regime as a model of democratic Islam worth following. Nor are we likely to hear much from the presumptive democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who did the same as U.S. Secretary of State. But it is more than curious than we have not heard a single Republican presidential contender mention Turkey’s nefarious role in the disastrous Middle Eastern conflict. Especially because it is certain that one of the first questions the next president of the United States will have to deal will be “Who lost Turkey?”
Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (cbbss.org). He tweets on national security at twitter.com/alexieff and could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.