Turkey 2018 – 2019

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Syria 2019

Turkey’s Victory Over Donald Trump
The Turkish president got what he wanted — as did Russia and Iran.
(NYT Editorial) President Trump’s decision to withdraw 1,000 American troops from Syria without consulting any aides, experts or allies, and without any warning to America’s Kurdish comrades in arms, whom he placed in mortal danger, has provided chilling evidence of the danger posed by his chronic inability to appreciate a president’s responsibilities.
Mr. Trump, as he always does, claimed a huge victory — “an amazing outcome” that saved “millions and millions of lives.” That scores of Kurdish lives have already been lost, that thousands of people have fled their homes, that a swarm of Islamic State followers escaped from internment camps, that the Kurds themselves turned for help to the mass murderer Bashar al-Assad, that America’s dwindling credibility in the world was further undermined, meant nothing to the president. “It’s not our border,” he said on Wednesday.
The acute shame of the moment was captured in two reports this week. The first was a video of a Russian-speaking reporter wandering through a hurriedly abandoned American base in northern Syria, rummaging among the Coca-Cola cans and footballs. The second arrived with news that two United States Air Force F-15 jets had destroyed an American munitions bunker in Syria to prevent munitions and other equipment from falling into the hands of other armed groups.
The betrayal was agonizing. The Kurds are the world’s lost nation, their lands divided among five Middle Eastern countries that treat them as dangerous interlopers. They thought they had found a protector in the United States — Kurds in Iraq had been America’s allies, and those in Syria carried the brunt of the fight against the Islamic State. But then, casually in an Oct. 6 call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Mr. Trump abruptly sold them out, while also making an unexpected and unwarranted gift not only to Mr. Erdogan, who regards the Syrian Kurds as mortal enemies, but also to Mr. Assad and his patrons, the Russians and Iranians.
It was left to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence to do urgent damage control in Ankara, Turkey, and, after close to five hours of talks on Thursday, Mr. Pence solemnly announced that Mr. Erdogan had agreed to a five-day cease-fire in his offensive in northern Syria. But Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, immediately said that the deal was not a cease-fire at all, but merely a “pause for our operation.” He added, “we got what we wanted.” As did Russia and Iran.

10 October
Kurds, Turkey and the U.S.: 5 Years of Tension, Alliances and Conflict
Turkey’s attack on Kurdish strongholds along the Syrian border has been years in the making.
By Russell Goldman
Turkey’s military strike on Wednesday against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria — a group long regarded as the United States’ most reliable Syrian partner in its fight against the Islamic State — has been years in the making.
To Turkey, an important American ally and NATO member, those fighters are terrorists bent on undermining the Turkish government. But for the United States, they have been dependable allies who have died fighting alongside American soldiers.
Since 2014, with the start of military action against ISIS, Kurdish fighters have done the critical work of clearing and holding territory conquered by the militants. In recent years, they have taken care of refugees and detained terrorism suspects.

9 September
Turkey: The Empire Strikes Back
By Gwynne Dyer
The Ottoman Empire, like many of its Middle Eastern predecessors, had the bad habit of moving entire peoples around if they were causing trouble. And sometimes, as happened to the Armenians during the First World War, what started as deportation ended up as genocide.
The empire collapsed a century ago, but old habits die hard. Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdoǧan (whose admirers often call him ‘the Sultan’) has a new plan: he’s going to move a million Kurds away from Turkey’s southern frontier with Syria, and replace them with a million Arabs.
And if his Western allies don’t like that, he’ll dump another million or so Arabs in Europe. “Either this happens (in Syria),” he said last week, “or we will have to open the gates (to Europe).” This is a blackmail threat with teeth: it was the sudden arrival of a million Syrian refugees in Europe in 2016 that energised extreme right-wing populists from England to Hungary.
All this is happening because Erdoǧan is obsessed about the Kurds – or at least he knows that a lot of other Turks are obsessed about the Kurds, and he’s in political trouble at home so he needs to feed their fantasies. You can never tell with the ‘Sultan’, who has a Trump-like ability to genuinely believe whatever he happens to be saying at the moment.
To be fair, the Kurds are a real problem for the Turks. They are about a fifth of the country’s population, concentrated mostly in the south-east, and they have been mistreated and their very identity denied by the Turkish state for so long that many of them would rather be independent.
Now he’s in trouble again: his party lost control of all Turkey’s big cities in the last election. Time to whack the Kurds again, and this time it’s going to be the Syrian Kurds, another fragment of the Kurdish people that lives in northern Syria, just across the border from Turkey’s Kurds. But not for much longer, if Erdogan has his way.
The Turkish strongman says that the Syrian Kurds are really “terrorists” allied to the PKK, although there have been absolutely no attacks on Turkey from Syria during the entire eight-year Syrian civil war.

6 September
Voters chose me as their mayor. President Erdogan had other ideas.
(WaPo) On March 31, I was reelected as the mayor of Mardin, Turkey. For me, as for so many of my colleagues in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), this was no ordinary vote — we were running to retake positions from which we had been arbitrarily expelled.
On Aug. 19, history repeated itself. I learned from the television news that I, along with the HDP mayors of Diyarbakir and Van, had once again been removed from office by an order from the Interior Ministry. Since then, our supporters have been in the streets, facing water cannons and beatings simply for demanding that their votes should count.
We all stand accused of supporting terrorism. In reality, like the tens of thousands of people hit with this catchall charge under Erdogan, all we had done was oppose the government’s tyrannical policies. The three of us represent the third-largest political party in Turkey. The relevant authorities approved all of our mayoral candidacies before we ran. We won easy majorities, increasing the HDP’s vote shares in areas where it was already strong.

26 July
Turkey will ‘obliterate’ Kurdish forces east of Euphrates – Erdoğan
Turkey is determined to launch an operation against Kurdish militants in northeast Syria regardless of the outcome of ongoing talks with the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday.
“Whatever the outcome of safe zone talks with the United States, we will obliterate the east of the River Euphrates”, Erdoğan said, referring to the area controlled by Kurdish-dominated autonomous administrations and militias.

8 July
Turkey’s Long, Painful Economic Crisis Grinds On
(NYT) More than a year after the onset of an economic calamity that has shaken the once-indomitable hold of Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this nation of 80 million people remains stuck in uncomfortable proximity to crisis. The latest indication came on Monday, as the Turkish currency, the lira, surrendered more than 3 percent of its value against the dollar in early trading in Asia before slightly recovering. The drop followed Mr. Erdogan’s abrupt dismissal of the nation’s central bank governor on Saturday. Global investors absorbed the sacking as a signal that Mr. Erdogan is intent on recklessly lowering interest rates to accelerate economic growth, like a debt-saturated homeowner who resorts to a second mortgage rather than accepting a budget.
Turkey’s currency remains battered, while its foreign debts remain vast. Inflation and joblessness are alarmingly high. Economic growth is minimal, and anxiety considerable amid the sense that more trouble lies ahead.
This is playing out as Turkey contends with political uncertainty after the shocking rebuke of Mr. Erdogan’s ruling party in the recent Istanbul mayoral election. A president with a reputation for ignoring unpalatable facts, or thrashing those who wield them, now appears at the mercy of forces he cannot command: international markets.

23 June
Turkey’s President Suffers Stinging Defeat in Istanbul Election Redo
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey suffered the biggest defeat of his political career on Sunday as his candidate for Istanbul mayor conceded defeat in a repeat election.
The result in the do-over — held after Mr. Erdogan’s party lost and contested the first vote — wrests control over Turkey’s largest city from Mr. Erdogan and ends his party’s 25-year dominance there. Opponents say such a loss cracks the president’s aura of invincibility, showing that his grip on power after 16 years is weakening.
The defeat also puts Mr. Erdogan in a diminished position at a time of tense relations with the United States and other countries as he heads to the Group of 20 summit meeting next week, where he is planning to have talks on the sidelines with President Trump to address various disagreements.

7 May
Istanbul election being rerun to save grants, say Erdoğan opponents
CHP members say ruling party fears losing billions in grants to charities tied to government
(The Guardian) Members of Turkey’s main opposition party have claimed that a decision to rerun the vote for Istanbul mayor, which the ruling party lost in March for the first time in a generation, is linked to a government bid to safeguard billions of dollars in grants to foundations that form a key part of its political apparatus. The highly contentious decision, announced on Monday night, has drawn claims of an emerging “dictatorship” in Turkey and an electoral process increasingly subverted by the country’s political elite under the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The candidate for the Republican Peoples’ party (CHP), Ekrem İmamoğlu, who won the original vote, on Tuesday walked back earlier threats to boycott the new poll, which a high election body has slated for 23 June, claiming he would stand again as a candidate.

24 April
Turkey’s democracy wakes up
By Ömer Taşpınar
(Brookings) The most fundamental question in Turkish politics – since the country entered an unprecedented phase of civilian autocracy after the Gezi Park protests in 2013 – is an existential one about democracy: Do elections matter? More precisely, would President Recep Tayyip Erdogan surrender power because of election results?
The fact that Erdogan’s party lost the capital city Ankara is in and of itself a very significant development. But what matters much more is that Istanbul – the microcosm of Turkey and Erdogan’s bastion since 1994 – has fallen to the opposition as well, albeit by a very narrow margin. The state-owned Anatolian News Agency and the Electoral Board tried hard to conceal the opposition’s apparent victory in Istanbul the night of the election. A razor-thin opposition victory in Istanbul amounts to a political earthquake that is bound to produce aftershocks for voters who had lost hope in elections.
All this proves that the ballot box still matters in Turkey. Erdogan had turned these local elections into a national referendum on national security and survival, with his alarmist and bellicose discourse of anti-Western and anti-Kurdish nationalism. He went as far as labeling his opponents “sympathizers of terrorism.”
Such tactics badly misfired.

1 April
Humbling election results for Turkey’s strongman
Voters in Turkey’s largest cities have dealt President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a sharp rebuke.
(Axios) Why it matters: A sputtering economy and an uncharacteristically united opposition unleashed a tide of opposition victories in municipal elections across the country Sunday that were widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan.
Catch up quick: Erdogan wasn’t on the ballot, but he campaigned vigorously for weeks. He railed against enemies foreign and domestic and suggested only he was strong enough to defend Turkey against them.
Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist allies did manage 52% of the national vote. But they lost control of Ankara, the capital, and are set to lose in Istanbul — Turkey’s economic and cultural center and the city that made Erdogan a national figure when it elected him mayor in 1994.
The big picture: Soner Cagaptay, a fellow at the Washington Institute and author of “The New Sultan,” tells me that if Erdogan is forced to concede Istanbul, “the idea that he’s the omnipotent president who controls everything will be challenged.”
The Economist: Turkey’s local elections
In recent years Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, and his government have throttled dissent, taken control of the judiciary and defanged the press, confining what remains of the country’s democracy to the ballot box. In municipal elections yesterday the ballot box struck back. Despite taking a plurality of the national vote, Mr Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party suffered defeats in five of Turkey’s six biggest cities, including Istanbul, the country’s economic engine, and Ankara, the capital
Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan in big cities
(BBC) The party of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lost control of the capital, Ankara, in local elections, in a blow to his 16-year rule.
The main opposition is also slightly ahead in the contest for mayor of Istanbul, figures published by the state-run Anadolu news agency suggest.
But the president’s AKP party is challenging the result in both cities.
More than 57 million people in the country were registered to vote for mayors and councillors. Turnout was high at just under 85%.
The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavas won in Ankara, officials said. With almost all votes counted, he was on nearly 51% and the AKP’s Mehmet Ozhaseki had won the support of just over 47%.

2018

The United States Can’t Rely on Turkey to Defeat ISIS
Erdogan wants to confront the Kurds, not the Islamic State. Outsourcing the battle to Ankara will endanger America.
(Foreign Policy) President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria means that the United States is relying on Turkey to shoulder the burden of countering the Islamic State. This move will provide the terrorist group with an opportunity to revive itself at a critical stage in the fight.
Trump claims exiting Syria has been his plan all along. Still, many U.S. policymakers, including those in Congress, were caught by surprise—especially given the September assertion by Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, that U.S. troops would remain in Syria until the Iranians left.
When Trump announced his surprising about-face on what had been the closest thing Washington had to a Syria policy—the presence of 2,000 or so U.S. troops and support for Kurdish militia forces—he did so after a conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Shortly after the phone call, Trump tweeted, “Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains.” He went on to add that the Turkish leader “has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria.”
Apart from taking Turkish talking points at face value, there is a fundamental problem with this calculation. Ankara has often demonstrated a reluctance to take on the Islamic State directly, preferring instead to focus its energy and resources on countering the Kurds and Erdogan’s opposition.
For years, Turkey has been playing a double game. Erdogan’s main objective is to prevent Syrian Kurds from consolidating more territory and establishing a corridor parallel to the southern Turkish border. Eradicating the Islamic State’s presence in Syria—and its networks within Turkey—is a secondary priority that has often been ignored entirely.
Yet, because the Islamic State has already established a nascent infrastructure in Turkey, the recent policy decision to withdraw from Syria could breathe new life into the group, endangering Turkish soldiers and civilians at home and allowing the group to make a comeback in Syria.

16 August
Erdoğan, Trump, and the Strongman Politics Devastating Turkey’s Economy
(The New Yorker) In the past decade, Turkey’s growing economy attracted a flood of foreign investment. But recent diplomatic rifts between Turkey and the West, declining tourism, and Erdoğan’s authoritarian consolidation of power—which was cemented in June elections that granted him sultan-like powers—caused many investors to pull out and sell off their Turkish debt, slowing the economy’s pace and accelerating inflation. Debt in foreign currencies, most of it in dollars, now represents around seventy per cent of the Turkish economy. American investors now own more than fifty per cent of publicly traded Turkish stocks, according to the Institute of International Finance. “The government’s policies have caused the problems,” Yüksel Gönül, an employee at a dairy store, told me. “But we are the victims.”
Erdoğan and Trump have been exchanging public taunts—and economic sanctions—over Turkey’s two-year imprisonment of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical American missionary accused of espionage, links to terrorist groups, and involvement in the failed Turkish coup in 2016. Brunson, who faces up to thirty-five years in prison, has denied the charges. …
Turkish officials have expressed surprised at how important Brunson is to the Trump Administration, considering that several other Americans, including the NASA engineer Serkan Gölge, are also jailed in Turkey. Turkish officials suspect that Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, who have strong political support from evangelical Christians in the U.S., believe that Brunson’s release could increase Republican voter turnout in the midterm elections in November.

14 August
(The Economist) As Turkey’s currency, the lira, began to recover today from a disastrous week, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, its president, announced a boycott of American electronic products, escalating the row between the two countries. Turkish officials have been trying to reassure markets. To do so, the country would need to end the diplomatic crisis, enact substantial economic reforms and sharply raise interest rates. None of these appears to be on the agenda

11 August
Turkey Financial Crisis Erupts, Stoking Concerns of Contagion
(Bloomberg) Turkey entered a full-blown financial meltdown on Friday, sending tremors through global markets, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his refusal to bow to U.S. political demands and market pressures.
The unraveling was swift, highlighting the fragility of Turkey’s economy after years of a growth-at-all-costs policy bias that left its companies saddled with hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign debt.
Trump puts Turkey alliance on the line with standoff over pastor
Tensions could threaten U.S. military base in Incirlik
Turkish economy reels after U.S. ratchets up tariffs on metals
(Bloomberg) President Donald Trump’s latest move against Turkey has made an already bad relationship worse, raising the risk the U.S. may have to do without a longtime ally in the Middle East.
Trump’s decision Friday to double tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum could sink the nation’s struggling economy and drive President Recep Tayyip Erdogan into Russia’s arms. It could also threaten U.S. strategic interests including the military base in Incirlik, an important staging area in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

8 August
Why Can’t Turkey Stop Its Economic Nose-Dive?
(Bloomberg) Turkey’s currency and economic outlook have deteriorated so much that bankers and traders are starting to talk about the need for an International Monetary Fund rescue — a taboo topic until recently. Some even worry that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is taking a defiant stand against the U.S. and his country’s creditors, will adopt capital controls as a last-ditch effort to avoid raising interest rates to stop a currency plunge. He has so far failed to reassure investors, who worry Erdogan will impose his less-orthodox economic views to try and stimulate an already overheating economy. … Inflation is above 15 percent, more than triple the central bank’s target. Yields on some government-issued debt are at record highs, and the Turkish lira is melting down. All that not only hurts consumer sentiment and wallets, it pushes corporate balance sheets closer to the abyss. Companies that borrowed heavily in foreign currencies now face a growing burden due to the tanking lira and rising borrowing costs.

25-26 June
What the world’s nationalists can learn from Turkey and Erdogan
(WaPost) Erdogan hailed the result, which saw close to 90 percent of Turkey’s 55 million voters go to the polls, as “a lesson to the entire world on democracy.” Muharrem Ince, Erdogan’s nearest challenger, lamented the “unjust” nature of the election, yet conceded defeat. A galvanized opposition had shown significant unity and momentum ahead of the vote, but was still unable to loosen Erdogan’s majoritarian grip.
Erdogan wins sweeping new powers after Turkish election victory
(Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan won sweeping new executive powers on Monday after his victory in elections that also saw his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist allies secure a majority in parliament.
Erdogan’s main rival, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), conceded defeat but branded the elections unjust and said the presidential system that now takes effect was “very dangerous” because it would lead to one-man rule.
A European rights watchdog also said the opposition had faced “unequal conditions”, adding that restrictions on media freedom to cover the elections were accentuated by a continuing state of emergency imposed in Turkey after a failed 2016 coup.
Now, Erdogan Faces Turkey’s Troubled Economy. And He’s Part of the Trouble.
(NYT) With his victory in Sunday’s elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken his place among the world’s emerging class of strongman rulers, nailing down the sweeping powers he has insisted he needs to address Turkey’s numerous challenges, at home and abroad.
Now, all he needs to do is deliver.
“He won on a knife-edge,” said Ugur Gurses, a former banker who writes for the daily newspaper Hurriyet. “But now he has in his lap all the problems.”
Mr. Erdogan is contending with an array of economic troubles, an increasingly disgruntled populace and deteriorating relations with Turkey’s Western allies. Among the many problems Mr. Erdogan faces is one fundamental roadblock: His foreign policy is fighting with his economic needs.
His increasingly authoritarian, nationalist and anti-Western bent is alienating foreign investors, which is hurting the Turkish lira. As the currency plunges, domestic capital flees. And he is newly reliant on a nationalist party that enabled him to maintain his majority in Parliament but promises to reinforce all those tendencies, as well as his hard line against the Kurdish minority.

22 June
(The Economist) On Sunday Turks will head to the polls to elect parliament and president. No one has ever made money by betting against Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president, who has won 12 elections and referendums. But he faces a disciplined and increasingly galvanised opposition. Most likely are wins for Mr Erdogan in the presidential contest and for the opposition in the parliamentary vote. Such an outcome would probably provoke political gridlock

25 April
Erdogan’s Motley Opponents Have United to Take Him Down
Turkey’s strongman might not be strong enough to survive the early elections he wanted.
(Foreign Policy) President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the dominant figure of Turkish political life for the last 15 years, stunned his country last week by moving up crucial presidential and parliamentary elections from November 2019 to June 24. Erdogan hopes to complete his transformation of the government from a parliamentary to a presidential system, and he succeeded at catching the opposition off guard.
But Erdogan’s opponents have quickly rallied, showing fresh energy and unanticipated strategic thinking. Erdogan now faces the very real possibility of being democratically unseated. … Erdogan’s opponents have responded by forming an unlikely alliance against him centered on two potential candidates: Meral Aksener, the charismatic leader of the newly formed Iyi Party, and former President Abdullah Gul. It remains unclear which presidential candidate the combined opposition will rally around.

18 March
Erdogan’s Unrequited Arab Love
by Burak Bekdil
There is more than enough evidence that Erdogan should take into consideration if he intends to enjoy his fake love affairs with his Arab neighbors. But his ambitions to make Turkey leader of the ummah seem to have blinded him. Unfortunately, there is little evidence he will adopt reason instead of regional bullying.
(Gatestone Institute) Erdogan’s Islamist militarism, in a nation that lost an empire a century ago, still finds millions of followers. …  Turkey is running a military show in Arab Syria: targeting Muslim Kurds who it claims are terrorists. Erdogan has vowed that after Syria, the military campaign will target northern Iraq. In the meantime, Erdogan’s “Arab friends” are showing signs of hostility, one after the other. Amid growing tensions between Turkey and Egypt, Egyptian authorities are revising street names in Cairo in view of calls to change historical Ottoman-era street names. …  In recent weeks, public and social media initiatives in Egypt began calling on consumers to stop buying Turkish products. At the beginning of March, the Dubai-based, Saudi-owned MBC, the largest private media network in the Middle East, decided to ban popular Arabic-dubbed Turkish television series’ from all channels. …  Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, created a new “axis of evil” identifying his country’s top three enemies: Iran, Turkey and Islamic militant groups including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, both of which Erdogan embraces.

28 February
Why Turkey Wants to Invade the Greek Islands
By Uzay Bulut
(Gatestone Institute) There is one issue on which Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), are in complete agreement: The conviction that the Greek islands are occupied Turkish territory and must be reconquered. So strong is this determination that the leaders of both parties have openly threatened to invade the Aegean.
To realize his ultimate goal of leaving behind a legacy that surpasses that of all other Turkish leaders, Erdoğan has set certain objectives for the year 2023, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic, and 2071, the 1,000th anniversary of the 1071 Battle of Manzikert, during which Muslim Turkic jihadists from Central Asia defeated Christian Greek Byzantine forces in the Armenian highland of the Byzantine Empire.

26 February
(NYT) President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is facing a backlash for bringing a weeping, saluting 6-year-old girl on stage and telling her of the honors if she were to be killed fighting Kurdish militias in Syria.
“Her Turkish flag is in her pocket,” Mr. Erdogan proclaimed after calling Amine onstage. “If she becomes a martyr, God willing, she will be wrapped with it,” he said. “She is ready for everything, aren’t you?”
Mr. Erdogan recently made an alliance with the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party to bolster his chances for coming elections and has used the military campaign to improve his stance with nationalists.
He makes public speeches every day and sometimes several times a day, peppering his speeches with nationalist and anti-Western jibes as well as poetry and religious sayings, conjuring glories of Turkish history. He vows to protect Turkey’s borders and to fight terrorism, and rallies popular support for the war, listing the number of enemies killed and commending the nation’s martyrs.

25 January
Allies or Terrorists: Who Are the Kurdish Fighters in Syria?
(NYT) The Kurdish fighters who are battling the Islamic State jihadists in Syria are regarded by the United States as its most reliable partners there. But to Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, these Kurds are terrorists.
The Kurdish group, known as the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., is now facing an escalating battle with Turkish forces in northwestern Syria, complicating American policy.
The group has deep ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known as the P.K.K. Both Turkey and the United States consider the P.K.K. to be a terrorist organization for its violent separatist movement inside Turkey.

24 January
Turkey wants to crush US allies in Syria. That shouldn’t surprise anybody.
(Brookings) On Jan. 20, Turkey launched what it calls Operation Olive Branch, a military campaign against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, in northwestern Syria. The operation is part of Ankara’s long-standing effort to prevent the YPG, which has benefited from American backing in its fight against the Islamic State since the fall of 2014, from developing an autonomous region in Syria along the entirety of the countries’ shared border. Turkish objections stem from the YPG’s links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union and has waged an ongoing battle against Turkey that has resulted in tens of thousands of people dead.
According to Turkey’s Office of Public Diplomacy, the objectives of the intervention include ensuring Turkey’s border security, countering U.S. support for a terrorist organization, blocking the YPG from reaching the eastern Mediterranean and cutting off Turkey’s geographical contact with the Arab world, and ensuring that the Turkish-supported Syrian opposition controls a 3,861-square-mile area.
Although State Department officials claim the U.S. relationship with the YPG is “temporary, transactional, and tactical,” it has never been clear if the Defense Department shares this view. The Pentagon has played an outsized role in managing counter-Islamic State policy, particularly in the current administration with a leadership dominated by generals.
Turkey’s military actions should not have surprised anyone. Despite his fiery rhetoric, Erdoğan has largely gritted his teeth as American-backed YPG forces cleared the Islamic State from significant swaths of Syria. However, he has consistently proved his readiness to take military action in defense of a clear red line: any moves by the YPG to connect three cantons in northern Syria along the Turkish border into a unified Kurdish region. There is concern such territory could be used as a staging ground for attacks on southern Turkey, as well as encourage similar moves toward autonomy by Turkey’s Kurdish population.

Trump Sharply Warns Turkey Against Military Strikes in Syria
(NYT) In a speech on Wednesday, Mr. Erdogan said there was no difference between the Islamic State and Kurdish militias, and questioned “the humanity of those who accuse Turkey of being an invader and support an organization that has the blood of tens of thousands of innocent children, women, elderly people and innocents on its hands.”
The shift in tone at the White House grew out of what officials described on Wednesday as frustration over months of failed efforts to mollify Mr. Erdogan, including changes in military strategy and reassurances about Kurdish intentions on the battlefield. And it marked the end of a year of wooing of Mr. Erdogan, whom Mr. Trump has repeatedly praised despite the Turkish leader’s authoritarian crackdown at home.

23 January
David Ignatius: The U.S. alliance with Turkey just lunged toward the breaking point
(WaPost) Syria’s plight actually got a bit worse this week, as Turkey invaded the border region known as Afrin. Turkey says it’s protecting itself against the Syrian Kurdish organization known as the PKK, which dominates Afrin and which Turkey regards as a terrorist group. The problem is that related Syrian Kurdish forces (under a different name) have been the United States’ most important ally in defeating the Islamic State.
The flashpoint is a town in northern Syria called Manbij, occupied by the Syrian Kurds and their U.S. military advisers. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened last week to attack Manbij. A senior Trump administration official told me bluntly Tuesday: “Threats to our forces are not something we can accept.” That’s what the unraveling U.S. relationship with “NATO partner” Turkey has come to: military brinkmanship.
What’s happening now in Syria is that history is resuming, after the bloody distraction of the Islamic State. Long-standing grievances that were postponed while a U.S.-led coalition defeated the caliphate have returned with a vengeance. Turkey, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Russia and the United States are all pursuing their self-interests. The space separating these forces has collapsed — putting U.S. troops perilously close to collision with Russia, Turkey and Iran.

2017

12 October
David Ignatius: The man at the crux of the U.S.-Turkey dispute is about to go on trial
At the center of the increasingly bitter dispute between the United States and Turkey is a demand by an irate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that American prosecutors free a Turkish-Iranian gold dealer who is about to go on trial on money-laundering and fraud charges.
The confrontation sharpened Thursday, as Erdogan protested in Ankara that the businessman, Reza Zarrab, was being squeezed as a “false witness” about corruption. Turkey alarmed Washington by arresting a U.S. consular official last week, in what some U.S. officials feared was an attempt to gain leverage for Zarrab’s release before the scheduled Nov. 27 start of his trial in New York. Turkish and American officials plan to meet next week for talks to ease tensions.
What dirt could Zarrab dish in court? A possible preview comes in a May 2016 court filing by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Citing a December 2013 Turkish prosecutor’s report, Bharara’s memo said the Turkish evidence “describes a massive bribery scheme executed by Zarrab and others, paying cabinet-level governmental officials and high-level bank officers tens of millions of Euro and U.S. dollars to facilitate Zarrab’s network’s transactions for the benefit of Iran” to evade U.S. sanctions against that country.

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