Posts Tagged ‘Kurds’

Four Turkish soldiers killed, five wounded in Kurdish militant attack

October 4, 2018

Four Turkish soldiers were killed and five others were wounded after a roadside bomb in the southeastern province of Batman was detonated by Kurdish militants, the local governor’s office said on Thursday.

In a statement, the governor’s office said Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants detonated an improvised explosive during the passage of a military convoy in the Gercus region of the province. It said an operation was launched to capture the perpetrators.

Four Turkish soldiers were killed and five others were wounded after a roadside bomb in the southeastern province of Batman was detonated by Kurdish militants. (AFP)

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union, has waged an insurgency against the state since the 1980s. Violence in the largely Kurdish southeast has escalated since the collapse of a cease-fire in 2015.

Separately, the Turkish military said 13 PKK militants were killed in air strikes in northern Iraq’s Avasin-Basyan and Zap regions and in Turkey’s southeastern province of Siirt in air strikes over the past two days.

Turkey has in recent months carried out strikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq, especially its stronghold in the Qandil mountains, where Ankara has also threatened to carry out a ground offensive.



Erdoğan, Merkel agree to hold a meeting on Syria’s Idlib with Macron and Putin

September 29, 2018

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and text

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, take part in a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (AP Photo)

An international conference will be held between the leaders of Germany, Turkey, Russia and France in October over the conflict in Syria, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday in a joint press conference with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Berlin.

Merkel said she talked about the situation in Syria’s Idlib with Erdoğan during their meeting.

“We favor there being a four-way meeting, because the situation is still fragile, between the Turkish president, the Russian president, the French president and me. We aim to do this in October,” she said.

The idea has previously been floated by Turkey.

Russia – an ally of Bashar Assad – and Turkey recently struck a deal for a buffer zone in Idlib that eased fears of an all-out offensive by the Syrian regime and its allies.

On the topic of the fight against terror, Erdoğan said Turkey expects closer cooperation from Germany against all terror groups, including the PKK and suspected members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) — the group behind the failed 2016 coup in Turkey.

Speaking during the conference, Erdoğan said thousands of PKK terrorists and hundreds of people with links to U.S.-based leader of FETÖ, Fetullah Gülen,​ are living in Germany.

“With mutual trust, we must catch (suspects) and hand them over,” he said. “This is important from a security point of view for the peace and welfare of our countries.”

Erdoğan also called on Germany to show respect to Turkey’s judicial system, in reference to German criticism of arrests in Turkey of German citizens on terror-related charges.

He recalled an extradition agreement between Turkey and Germany and called fugitive Can Dündar “a convict, spy.”

“Currently, this individual [Dündar] is convicted by Turkish courts of being a spy and disclosing state secrets,” s he said, underlining that it was Turkey’s natural right to seek his extradition in line with extradition agreement with Germany. Dündar has been sentenced to prison for five years and 10 months on espionage charges.

In May, 2016, the 14th High Criminal Court in Istanbul had convicted Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, and Erdem Gül following the publication of images purporting to show arms being transported to Syria in trucks belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, also known as the MIT.

The two defendants were arrested late November 2015 and held in prison until Feb. 26, 2016 when Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that their rights had been violated and ordered their release.

On bilateral relations with Germany, Erdoğan noted that the two countries reached a consensus on reviving cooperation mechanisms.

“Turkey and Germany have taken responsibility during the acute period of the migrant crisis, and eased the process by devoting serious sacrifice,” he added.

Regarding visa liberalization process, Erdoğan said Turkey plans to fulfill the remaining six criteria “as soon as possible.”

“Turkey is taking on serious responsibilities on regional issues, particularly Syria crisis,” he said.

He further stressed that Turkey “is ready and has the power” to eliminate all threats including economic threats.



See also:

Turkey-Germany: Erdogan urges Merkel to extradite Gulen ‘terrorists’


German city of Cologne braces for protests as Erdogan opens mega mosque

September 29, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to open one of Europe’s largest mosques in Cologne on Saturday as he wraps up a controversial visit to Germany, with police deploying in force amid planned protests.

The inauguration will be the closing event of his three-day state visit, aimed at repairing frayed ties with Berlin after two years of tensions.

Cars passing the new central mosque in Cologne, Germany, Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. (AP)

After talks with Angela Merkel on Friday, both leaders signalled their interest in a cautious rapprochement, but the German chancellor stressed that “deep differences” remained on civil rights and other issues.

Some 10,000 Erdogan critics are expected to take to the streets in Cologne, protesting everything from Turkey’s record on human rights and press freedom to its treatment of minority Kurds.

About 300 people had gathered on the bank of the Rhine early Saturday. They held banners proclaiming “Erdogan not welcome” and shouted slogans such as “International solidarity” and “Away with fascism.”
Cansu, a 30-year-old student of Turkish origin came from Switzerland for the rally.

“I want to be the voice of people who can’t take to the streets in Turkey. Because they have been arrested, killed or otherwise suppressed. Erdogan thinks anything that differs from his opinion is terrorism. I am here to show solidarity.”

Image may contain: 2 people

Credit Getty Images

And Tomas, a German student turned up in a suit spotted with fake blood. He held a giant banner with several other people that read “Dictator. Mass murderer.”

“I can understand that he was invited to Berlin. But that he is coming to Cologne is a provocation. We are here to show: Cologne does not want you,” the 22-year-old said.

Erdogan supporters meanwhile will gather at the Cologne Central Mosque, an imposing dome-shaped building next to the shadowy, Turkish-controlled Ditib organization.

Cologne police said they were bracing for one of their biggest ever deployments, and that a maximum of 5,000 people would be allowed to attend the opening ceremony for safety reasons.

Both Cologne mayor Henriette Reker and the state’s premier Armin Laschet pulled out of attending the opening as criticism of Erdogan’s visit grew.

The snubs echo the lukewarm welcome the Turkish leader received the previous evening at a state dinner hosted by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, which several opposition politicians boycotted. Merkel also skipped the banquet.

Erdogan’s visit on Saturday takes him to North Rhine-Westphalia state, which is home to significant numbers of ethnic Turks, many who moved to Germany as so-called “guest workers” from the 1960s.

The giant Cologne Central Mosque opened its doors in 2017 after eight years of construction and budget overruns. It can house more than a thousand worshippers.

The size of the building, designed to resemble a flower bud opening, and its two towering minarets has disgruntled some locals, triggering occasional protests.

The Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib) that commissioned the glass and cement structure is itself not without controversy.

The group runs hundreds of mosques across Germany with imams paid by the Turkish state.

Known for its close ties to Ankara, it has increasingly come under scrutiny with some of members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany.


See also:

Turkey-Germany: Erdogan urges Merkel to extradite Gulen ‘terrorists’


Turkey’s Erdogan lands in Berlin for contentious state visit

September 27, 2018

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Germany for a three-day state visit. Several demos are planned around the capital Berlin as the Turkish president prepares for a state banquet and a mosque opening in Cologne.

A billboard prepared by Reporters Without Borders

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed in Berlin’s Tegel airport around midday on Thursday to begin a controversial visit, decorated with full state honors, while thousands of demonstrators got ready to express their anger at the leader’s authoritarian rule.

Large parts of central Berlin were shut down for the trip, partly to provide a security cordon around the chancellery, the president’s Bellevue palace, and the historic Adlon hotel, where Erdogan and his entourage are staying, and partly to make space for several major demos.The nature of the demos reflect the many human rights issues that Erdogan’s long-term rule in Turkey have produced.

Organizations representing journalists and various minorities in Turkey, including Kurds and Alevites, have called protests, while an alliance of left-wing organizations is staging a protest march through the city entitled “Erdogan Not Welcome,” at which 10,000 people are expected.

Read more: How Erdogan fills a political gap for German-Turks

During the course of the three-day trip, Erdogan will have two meetings and a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He is also set to receive military honors at Berlin’s Bellevue Palace, where he will be German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s guest of honor at a state banquet on Friday evening.

Erdogan is being accompanied by four senior cabinet ministers as well as secret service chief Hakan Fidan.

Several opposition politicians have announced they will be boycotting the state banquet.

On Saturday, Erdogan is  due to open a new mosque in Cologne built by the  Turkish-Islamic organization DITIB.

Turkey’s Erdogan hopes to ‘turn over new page’ with Germany in state visit

September 27, 2018

After years of strained ties, Erdogan has said he wants to reset relations with Berlin during a pomp and circumstance-filled visit to Germany. But German and Turkish politicians aren’t convinced it will lead to a change.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (picture-alliance/AA/M. Cetinmuhurdar)

When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to Berlin on Thursday for the start of his three-day state visit to Germany, he will have one goal in mind above all else — de-escalating tensions with his “German friends.”

In a guest op-ed in Thursday’s edition of the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Erdogan urged for Germany and Turkey to “turn over a new page” in their ties.

“It is our responsibility to rationally move our relations forward on the basis of our shared interests, quite apart from irrational fears,” Erdogan wrote.

He also outlined what he believed the German government should do in order to improve ties, including designating the Gulen movement as a terrorist organization, which Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup. The op-ed also warned against the rise of Islamophobia and right-wing extremism in Germany.

Relations between the two countries have been strained for years, with Berlin concerned about the increasingly autocratic tendencies of Erdogan’s government and the arrests of German citizens in Turkey. According to the German Foreign Office, five Germans are currently political prisoners in Turkey.

But with Ankara now facing off with the United States over Syria and economic sanctions, Turkey has turned to Germany and the European Union in hopes of getting support to stabilize the country.

Boycotting the banquet

During his state visit, which was prompted by an invitation by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Erdogan will be received with military honors on Friday in Berlin followed by a state banquet. Two meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel are also planned. He is also scheduled to meet with Turkish groups in Germany on Thursday.

The banquet has become a political sticking point in recent days, with a number of high-ranking German politicians announcing they will boycott the dinner — though one of Erdogan’s biggest critics, Green party lawmaker Cem Özdemir, has said he will attend so that the Turkish leader will be forced to face his opposition.

Among those not attending is Sevim Dagdelen of the Left party.

“For someone who conducts mafia politics in foreign policy, who pursues opposition politicians and invades neighboring countries, the red carpet with military honors and a state banquet is totally unacceptable,” she told DW.

The chancellor’s office confirmed on Monday that Merkel would not be at the banquet — however, she rarely attends such events.

Turkey ‘too big to fail?’

For Erdogan’s government, the economy is a top priority. Although the president insists Turkey is strong enough to solve its financial problems, rising inflation, unemployment and the weak Turkish Lira suggest otherwise.

“To a certain extent, Turkey is too big to fail in the eyes of German government — which is something that President Erdogan is banking on,” said Kristian Brakel, Turkey expert at the Green-party-associated Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told DW that in order to have better economic relations, Ankara will need to address problems with rule of law and human rights.

“If Turkey hopes for an economic recovery, and if it has any expectations from Germany, the discussion should be about rule of law, not just the economy,” the CDU politician said.

Turkish opposition critical of visit

Erdogan’s critics within the opposition back home see little hope that Germany is interested in focusing on human rights in Turkey. Berlin is also concerned about maintaining a 2016 refugee deal with Turkey to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into European countries.

“Erdogan is going to Germany while crushing human rights, and under these circumstances he is being officially accepted in Germany,” Garo Paylan of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) told DW.

“This normalizes everything he is doing, and Turkey is being accepted as a country that violates human rights. The only goal of this visit is to prevent a buffer country from collapsing,” he added.

Speech at Cologne mosque

Protests against Erdogan’s visit have already started in major German cities, with some 10,000 people expected to take part in a rally in Berlin on Friday. More than 3 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany and Erdogan’s policies have polarized them too, which remains a concern for the German government.

The controversial visit will end in Cologne, where Erdogan is to officially open a mosque belonging to Turkey’s state-funded religious organization DITIB. This time, however, Erdogan won’t be speaking at an arena filled with thousands of people as he did when he visited Germany in 2014.

He may be speaking in a smaller venue, but the media attention Erdogan will receive will be significant — something the Turkish leader will seek to use to his advantage.

“He will exploit this propaganda appearance domestically to show that he is a great celebrated statesman,” Dagdelen said. “The German government has made this possible for him.”

DW’s Hilal Köylü contributed reporting from Ankara.

Clashes Between Kurds and Syrian Troops Leave 18 Dead

September 8, 2018

Kurdish forces said seven of its fighters and 11 Syrian military were killed in the clashes.

 SEPTEMBER 8, 2018 16:53

 Report: Iran moves missiles to Iraq in warning to enemies

 Iranian artillery targets Kurdish group in Iraq

Turkish Kurds

Turkish Kurds look towards the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani from the top of a hill close to the border line between Turkey and Syria near Mursitpinar bordergate. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Clashes erupted on Saturday between US-backed Kurdish fighters and Syrian troops in the center of the city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria that left at least 18 people killed, Kurdish forces said.

The fighting took place after a Syrian military convoy entered areas in the city which the Kurdish YPG militia‘s internal security forces said were under their control.

“They entered our areas of control and arrested civilians and members of the patrol targeted our forces,” the internal security forces, known as the Asayish, said in a statement.

Kurdish forces said seven of its fighters and 11 Syrian military were killed in the clashes.

Pro-government sources told state media an army patrol was attacked by Kurdish forces while on its way to the airport. It said several troops were killed.

The Kurdish YPG militia, which spearheads the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), controls most of the city and pro-government forces holding the airport and part of its center.

Fighting in Qamishli, near the Turkish border, which erupts occasionally, disturbs a peaceful co-existence where the Syrian state has slowly expanded its influence, residents say.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has turned a blind eye to YPG control of Kurdish-populated cities since the 2011 uprising in which his army has focused on fighting mainly Sunni rebel factions seeking to topple his rule.

But the government has not ruptured ties with salaries of many state employees in these areas still paid and authorities still getting a share of proceeds from oilfields now under Kurd control.

The SDF has expanded beyond mainly Kurdish parts of the north, where the forces have carved out autonomous cantons since the onset of Syria’s conflict.

The region they control spreads across much of northern and eastern Syria, which is rich in farmland, oil and water.

Senior members of the YPG have recently held talks with Syrian officials seeking a political deal which would retain their autonomy in Syria.


Iraqi parliament fails to choose speaker as federal court to decide winning coalition

September 4, 2018

Iraq’s parliament held its first session on Monday since May elections but failed to elect a speaker as the two main rival blocs both insisted they had the largest number of seats to form a coalition government.

Muqtada Al-Sadr, one of the most influential Iraqi clerics, whose Sairoon Alliance came first in the elections, said on Sunday he had secured 188 members for his coalition.

A few hours later, Al-Sadr’s arch rival, the former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, and the head of an alliance of pro-Iranian parties, Hadi Al-Amiri, claimed they had managed to pull together a 145-seat coalition.

Muqtada Al-Sadr and Hadi Al-Amiri have both declared that they have formed the largest blocs in parliament. (AFP)

Representatives from either side both requested to register their coalitions as the triumphant alliance.

The biggest bloc has the exclusive right to form a government.

The race to form the biggest alliance has been ongoing since the preliminary results of the election.

The first session of parliament was attended by the 297 newly-elected MPs, who swore the constitutional oath.

Shortly after, MPs loyal to Al-Amiri and Al-Maliki, as well as Kurdish MPs, pulled out of the session to block the quorum required to register the largest bloc.

Jamal Al-Assadi, a government legal expert, told Arab News that the two sides were disputing the technicalities of how they managed to secure their coalitions.



After months of negotiations, Muqtada Al-Sadr forms largest parliamentary bloc in Iraq

‘Devil is in the detail’ of Al-Sadr’s alliances

Iraq election recount complete but doubts remain 


“Al-Sadr’s team said that the signature of the heads of parties are enough to make the alliance and form the biggest bloc while Al-Maliki and Al-Amiri’s team insist on having the signature of each member,” he said.

“The law says clearly that the signature of the heads of blocs are required to form the biggest bloc, but our guys have already ignored this in 2010 and 2014 and adopted the signatures of each of the deputies.”

MP Mohammed Zainni, who presided over the session, was forced to ask for the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq to decide which of the two blocs will be declared the biggest. The session was suspended until the Federal Court responds.

The negotiations over the past three months have been framed by tensions between Iran and the US. Iraq has been one of the main battle grounds for the two countries since the US invasion in 2003.

The two rival attempts to build a coalition are divided along these lines.

On the one side, Al-Fattah and State of law are entirely backed by Iran. Al-Fattah became the political umbrella for several prominent Shiite armed factions including Badr organization and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq.

On the other side is Sairoon and Al-Nassir, which are supported by the United States. Al-Nassir is led by outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who is jostling for a second term. Sairoon is the political party of the Battalion of Peace, Al-Sadr’s armed wing.

“The problem is that both coalitions incude armed factions, which are capable of destabilizing the situation in minutes,” a prominent Shiite leader told Arab News.

“These factions do not believe in peaceful or democratic rivalry and only know the language of arms to resolve their differences.

“We suggest to impose a curfew in Baghdad until this issue is resolved but the Minister of Interior said that everything is under control.”

Arab news

Donald Trump warns Syria against imminent Idlib siege

September 4, 2018

US President Donald Trump has cautioned Syria not to attack the Idlib province. Damascus is preparing an assault on the northwestern province, which is the last rebel stronghold in the country.

Syria's Idlib province (Getty Images/AFP/O. H. Kadour)

US President Donald Trump on Monday warned his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad to not “recklessly attack” the rebel-held Idlib province, saying the offense could cause “human tragedy.”

Donald J. Trump


President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!

Damascus is preparing a phased offensive to regain governmental control in Idlib, a province in northwestern Syria which is controlled by insurgents fighting Assad’s regime. Thousands of government troops and allied fighters have been grouping in areas surrounding the province.

Trump’s remarks came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “terrorists must be purged” from the region after meeting with Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Monday.

“Syria’s territorial integrity should be safeguarded and all tribes and groups, as one society, should start the reconstruction process, and the refugees should return to their homes,” Zarif said.

Assad and Zarif also discussed what they referred to as “western pressure” on their respective countries, an apparent reference to re-imposed US sanctions on Iran.

Infographic, Idlib province

Leaders from Iran, Turkey and Russia are set to meet in Iran to discuss the situation in Idlib in the coming days. Russia and Iran have insisted that militant groups in the province must be defeated and both are expected to support any assault by Assad’s forces.

Iran has long been a backer of Assad’s regime, lending crucial military and economic support throughout Syria’s seven-year civil war. Iran’s defense minister traveled to Damascus to meet with his Syrian counterpart and sign an agreement for defensive cooperation between the two countries.

Chemical threat

On Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington views an assault on Idlib as an escalation of the conflict in Syria. The State Department said the US would respond to any chemical weapons attack by Assad’s forces.

Last month, the US, UK and France vowed to “respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.” All three, as well as others, have accused the Assad regime of using weaponized chlorine against his own people.

On Monday, Assad and Zarif said that resorting to “threats and pressure reflect the failure of those countries to realize their plans for the region after Syria and Iran confronted them.”

Idlib is home to some 3 million people. Tens of thousands fled to the region after surrendering in government offenses elsewhere.

UN officials warned last week that civilians are at risk and a Syrian offensive could trigger a wave of displacement that could uproot an estimated 800,000 people and discourage refugees from returning home.

dv/aw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Iraq: Moqtada al-Sadr and PM Haider al-Abadi Move To Form Government

September 3, 2018

Rival Iraqi political factions said on Sunday they had each formed alliances capable of forming a government in the new parliament after months of political uncertainty following a May election.

Lawmakers led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said they created an alliance that would give them a majority bloc in parliament.

A rival grouping led by militia commander Hadi al-Ameri and former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki responded by saying it had formed its own alliance that would be the largest bloc in parliament after it got some lawmakers to defect from the other group. Ameri and Maliki are Iran’s two most prominent allies in Iraq.

Abadi is seen as the preferred candidate of the United States, while Sadr portrays himself as a nationalist who rejects both American and Iranian influence.

© Haidar Hamdani / AFP | Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (L) meets with Iraqi Shiite cleric and leader Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf on June 23, 2018.

Iraq‘s parliament contains 329 seats and is set to convene on Monday, when it will elect a speaker and launch the government formation process.

Iraqis voted in May in their first parliamentary election since the defeat of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, but a contentious recount process delayed the announcement of final results until last month.

The new government will be tasked with rebuilding the country after a three-year war with Islamic State militants and balancing relations between Iraq’s two biggest allies: arch-rivals Iran and the United States.

Uncertainty over the composition of the new government has raised tensions at a time when public impatience is growing over poor basic services, high unemployment and the slow pace of rebuilding after the war with Islamic State.

The recount delayed the process by three months but showed little had changed from the initial results, with Sadr, a populist Shi’ite cleric, retaining his lead of 54 seats.

Ameri’s bloc, made up of Shi’ite paramilitary groups, remained second with 48 seats. Abadi’s bloc remained third with 42. Maliki’s bloc came in fifth with 25 seats.

The alliance led by Sadr and Abadi that was announced on Sunday included 20 electoral lists that collectively won 187 seats, a document published by the state news agency showed. It is now in the lead position to form a government. It includes the blocs of Vice President Ayad Allawi and Shi’ite Muslim cleric Ammar al-Hakim, as well as several Sunni Muslim lawmakers and ones representing Turkmen, Yazidi, Mandaean and Christian minorities.

Ameri and Maliki held a news conference late on Sunday to say they in fact had the largest parliamentary bloc, with 145 seats.

Neither alliance included the two main Kurdish parties, positioning them to reprise the kingmaker role they have historically played, as their combined 43 seats would give whichever alliance they join a sizable numerical advantage.

Since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 U.S. invasion, power has been shared among Iraq’s three largest ethnic-sectarian components. The prime minister is a Shi’ite Arab, the speaker of parliament a Sunni Arab and the president a Kurd.



The Myth of Erdogan’s Power

August 30, 2018

Far from a sultan, the Turkish president is hemmed in by the nationalists who back him—and they don’t want him to get too close to Russia.

A supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves a flag against an electronic billboard during a rally in Ankara on July 18, 2016.(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

A supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves a flag against an electronic billboard during a rally in Ankara on July 18, 2016.(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

This month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intimated that his country might consider leaving NATO. Meanwhile, on a visit to Moscow last week, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu referred to Russia as a “strategic partner”—a first. This talk is empty. Erdogan may well be angry at Washington, but ultimately, Ankara is going to have to do whatever it takes to restore its ties with the West. Doing so might not be enough to pull the country out of its economic crisis, but Erdogan has few other options if he wants to avoid a potentially worse political meltdown: He depends too deeply on forces in the Turkish state that will have difficulty stomaching a permanent shift away from the United States and toward Russia.

In mid-August, U.S. President Donald Trump said that Turkey has been a “problem for a long time.” And that is true. But, at least in part, that’s because the United States has also been a problem for Turkey. Washington’s current list of grievances against Ankara include its detention of the American pastor Andrew Brunson, its opposition to U.S. attempts to empower the Kurds in Syria, and its deepening relationship with Russia, from which Turkey has agreed to purchase four batteries of S-400 air defense missiles by 2019. Yet from Turkey’s perspective, all of these actions seem reasonable.

Consider the case of Brunson, who was arrested in December 2016 after an attempted coup against Erdogan. Brunson was accused of having ties to the religious and political movement led by the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen that is thought to have been behind the coup. He’s also been linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Whatever the validity of those charges, Brunson is a valuable political bargaining chip; Ankara hopes to exchange him for Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former deputy general manager of the Turkish state-owned Halkbank who has been sentenced to prison in the United States for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Turkey may eventually return the pastor, but it believes that it would be unwise to do so without getting something in return.

When it comes to the Kurds in Syria, meanwhile, U.S. and Turkish strategic priorities in the Middle East have been drifting for a long time.

When it comes to the Kurds in Syria, meanwhile, U.S. and Turkish strategic priorities in the Middle East have been drifting for a long time.

Ankara was first rattled by U.S. support for the Kurds in northern Iraq during the 1990s. Today, it fears what will follow the de facto establishment in Syria of an autonomous Kurdish region, Rojava, controlled by affiliates of the PKK, which has been waging an insurgency against Ankara since 1984. The United States, meanwhile, has opted to back the Kurds over Turkish objections, because the Kurdish militia was an ally against the Islamic State and remains a loyal U.S. asset in Syria after the defeat of that group.Despite the two countries’ diverging interests, as late as 2012, then-U.S. President Barack Obama still named Erdogan as one of his most trusted friends among the world leaders, and there’s no reason to doubt that Erdogan hoped to enjoy a privileged relationship with future U.S. presidents as well. Like other right-wing Turkish leaders before him, Erdogan often deferred to American power. For instance, he knew that Turkey could only achieve its ambitions in Syria—including helping the Muslim Brotherhood come to power—through cooperation with the United States, which is why the two countries at first worked together to try to oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

The third sore spot in the relationship between Ankara and Washington—Turkey’s recent turn to Russia—can thus be understood as act of desperation. The United States’ pro-Kurdish policies in Syria are felt as such an existential threat to Turkey that the country sees no alternative but to seek the cooperation of Russia and Iran (and their protege, the Syrian regime) to thwart Kurdish ambitions. To understand how awkward this alliance is, remember that in 2015, Turkey actually shot down a Russian aircraft that crossed into Turkish airspace while presumably on a mission to target rebel forces. More fundamentally, though, aligning with Russia simply goes against the grain of the Turkish state.

Key figures among Ankara’s elite, on whom Erdogan depends to exercise power, represent a political tradition that is deeply hostile to Moscow. These right-wing Turkish nationalists see Russia as the archenemy of the Ottoman Empire and the enslaver of the Turkic peoples. Historically, they have been firmly pro-American. They would have remained so had it not been for the United States’ support for the Kurds. Their ranks include Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which for several years has been allied with Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.

Bahceli’s support has been crucial for Erdogan. For one, the president would have lost his re-election campaign in June had Bahceli not instructed his supporters to vote for Erdogan. But just as crucial is the fact that the MHP supporters are deeply entrenched in the Turkish state. Indeed, the MHP has chosen not to enter the government openly, but it wields vast power indirectly, occupying thousands of positions in the bureaucracy.

Indeed, the MHP has chosen not to enter the government openly, but it wields vast power indirectly, occupying thousands of positions in the bureaucracy.

With the Gulenists having been purged from the bureaucracy after the failed coup two years ago, the MHP and its sympathizers are now on top. And Erdogan is not a new sultan lording over these people; he is in fact beholden to Bahceli and MHP loyalists.Consider, for example, the appointment of Hulusi Akar, a former chief of the general staff, who is known to be a Turkish nationalist in the MHP mold. Nationalist circles buzzed with talk that it was at Bahceli’s request that Erdogan named Akar as minister of defense after the June elections. Akar does not trust the United States, nor does he like Russia. In his first statement as defense minister, he stressed the importance of mobilizing “national resources” to ensure the independence and security of Turkey.

This isn’t the first time MHP has wielded power behind the scenes in its self-appointed mission to protect the Turkish state. During the 1970s, MHP cadres were mobilized to crush the democratic left that was then on the rise. With the support of the bureaucracy and military, MHP militants laid siege on the social democratic government, killed thousands of leftists, and paved the way for a right-wing military coup in 1980.

Now, the MHP has assumed the mission of restoring the authority of the state and of consolidating power in order to ensure that factions within it—be they Gulenists or some other as yet unknown formation—will not usurp power in the future. To that end, it was Bahceli who, in the wake of the failed coup in 2016, called for the introduction of the presidential system that is now in place. His motive was not to cater to Erdogan’s personal hunger for power. Rather, from the vantage point of the MHP, the presidential system has the benefit of limiting the space in which factions can thrive and grow, because power is so concentrated.

However, the institutional redesign notwithstanding, a sense of security still eludes the Turkish state. And that will continue as long as Washington continues to side with the Kurdish militants in Syria and appears unsympathetic to Ankara’s concerns about the Gulenists. Washington’s refusal to extradite Gulen—combined with the fact that the Obama administration issued no statements of solidarity or condemnation of the coup as it unfolded—amounts in Turkey’s eyes to complicity. The coup attempt left the state scrambling for security wherever it could be found, including through buying Russian air defense missiles, which will be used to protect key government installations, including the presidential palace, if necessary.

At the same time, close ties with Russia can’t last forever, given the right-wing nationalists’ distaste for such an alliance. Further, faced with a prospect of a deep economic crisis—something with which Russia, itself in economic trouble, is ill-suited to help—the Turkish state elite have realized that tensions with the United States cannot be allowed to linger.

To be sure, Erdogan and Bahceli will not try too hard to get back on the good side of the United States as long as the threat of a U.S.-backed Kurdish state in northern Syria remains. And at that price, Washington may conclude that the alliance with Turkey is not worth saving. But that would amount to saying that it does not matter for the United States if Turkey, a NATO ally, remains friendly toward Russia or collapses all together. Ultimately, the United States is going to have to make a choice: between Rojava and Turkey, between a socialist-radical experiment and a right-wing authoritarian state.


See also:

How Turkey Dumbed Itself Down