September 8, 2016 by Sheri Laizer – ekurd net – “The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks, and the faithful our soldiers…We will put a final end to ethnic segregation. No one can ever intimidate us. If the skies and the ground were to open against us, if floods and volcanoes were to burst, we will not turn from our mission. My reference is Islam…” 1
Everywhere apparent in Turkey is the impact of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (and his so-called ‘Justice and Development’ Party’s (AKP) stealthy ‘coup’ that has de-Kemalised the face of the nation: from the huge new mosques in city centres, Erdoğan ’s boastful 1,100 room palace costing £500 million 2; the sweeping aside of Istanbul’s secular culture when Mayor, toppling of the educated aristocracy and a new generation of women covered in varying degrees by Islamic dress – Turkey is no longer a secular democracy and Erdoğan no democrat. The Boston Globe commented recently, “Little remains of democratic liberty, the rule of law, or political checks and balances in Turkey. Even before the uprising, the country was well on its way to becoming an Islamist autocracy…”
Short of bringing back the fez and reverting to the Arabic alphabet, Turkish President, Recep Tayyib Erdoğan has steadily dismantled Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk)’s model for a modern secular republic and replaced it with his own – both through stealth and lethal force.
In the second round of elections held last November (2015), the AKP scored just short of 50% of the ballot cast by his main constituency deriving from the working classes and provincials leaving another 50% that do not support Erdoğan ’s policies.
After the AKP’s poor ballot in the first round held in June, the ensuing lack of a clear majority and failure to form a coalition led to an interim period characterised by violence: among Erdoğan ’s first casualties were the pro-democracy Kurds 3.
Following the ‘failed’ 15 July 2016 military coup Erdoğan latest casualties are encompassed within a witch-hunt ostensibly pursued against the Gülen movement but sweeping under all those that can be considered ‘plotters’ and opponents. Fethullah Gülen and his supporters deny all involvement but when you aren’t with the President you are likely to be held as being against him and thus become a ready target. 4 Neither judges, prosecutors, lawyers, journalists or middle ranking civil servants are being spared. Recep ‘Pasha’ has spoken and the sword has fallen on more than 60,000 necks as people are removed from their positions and institutions and companies closed down, including inside the press.5 Amnesty International referred to a mounting atmosphere of fear owing to the crackdown on the media:
“Rounding up journalists and shutting down media houses is the latest assault on a media already weakened by years of government repression. The passing of this second emergency decree leaves little room for doubt that the authorities are intent on silencing criticism without regard to international law,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director, Fotis Filippou.
“Even under a state of emergency, restrictions must be necessary, proportionate and for a legitimate purpose. The provisions of the two emergency decrees passed this week fail all three of these tests and fly in the face of the government’s claim that they are upholding rights and the rule of law.”
“The second decree follows the first, passed on the July 23, which increased the pre-charge detention period to 30 days. Amnesty International revealed credible reports of widespread ill-treatment and torture of detainees. Lawyers have been denied access to detainees in violation of law. 6
Brief background: the felon turned dictator
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began his journey modestly enough, born in 1954 in a working class, district of Istanbul and going on to graduate from Marmara University’s Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences in 1981. By 1976, he had been elected head of the Istanbul Youth Branch of the pro-Islamist National Salvation Party under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan, later to be shut down in the course of the 1980 military coup. The group re-emerged anew as the Virtue Party (Refah Partisi). Erdoğan progressed within the Refah party triumphing in 1994 as Istanbul’s first Islamist mayor. In March 1999, he suffered a temporary political set-back convicted on charges of “inciting religious hatred based on religious differences.” 7
The charges had been brought after Erdogan publicly recited a poem (in the predominantly Kurdish town of Siirt) 18 months earlier composed by Turkish nationalist, Ziya Gökalp, including the now famous quatrain: “The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks, and the faithful our soldiers… We will put a final end to ethnic segregation. No one can ever intimidate us. If the skies and the ground were to open against us, if floods and volcanoes were to burst, we will not turn from our mission. My reference is Islam. If I am not able to speak of this, what is the use of living?” 8
Erdoğan was required to serve just 120 days of his ten-month prison sentence but in comfortable conditions at a distance from regular inmates in a room specially decorated by the party, where he was served with halal food brought in by his wife.
The Gökalp poem today still underscores the spirit of Erdoğan’s Islamist vision –a vision that informs his political and military decisions. Before he was taken to prison in 1999 Erdoğan had regaled the press promising, “This is not a farewell. As I have always said, I hope it is just a pause in a series of songs to be finished… We will continue to work on the projects we have worked on together in the past. The notes that will follow will bring Turkey peace, love, brotherhood and will continue to unite your love.”
Time has told differently. Although the writing was on the wall, those who first watched what Erdoğan was doing as Istanbul’s mayor foresaw the direction in which his policies would likely lead, the life-long ban against him returning to politics was overturned allowing him to become Prime Minister in 2003. (Just two years earlier he had co-founded the Justice and Development Party that swept to power in 2002). Erdoğan would remain Prime Minister in successive terms for the next eleven years but plainly had his sights set on the presidency. In August 2014, Erdoğan realised that ambition and transformed the role of Turkey’s president from a largely symbolic one into a highly influential role carrying enormous executive power. Determined to extend his stay in office, he seeks further legislative changes9. Presidents have a seven-year term in office but Erdogan intends to stay longer. 10 11
In March, this year, the Parliamentary speaker, an AKP member, sparked controversy calling for a religious constitution: Erdogan formally played this down reassuring his audience that Turkey would remain secular. 12
Since the July ‘coup’ he has become more determined to bring the army and intelligence services under presidential control. He informed Reuters reporters that “the military… needed “fresh blood” and “dishonorable discharges included around 40 percent of Turkey’s admirals and generals”. 13 The former adversary of state has transformed the state: despots have their day but that day did not dawn adversely for Erdoğan on 15 July.
The Islamic Republic of Turkey erodes Atatürk’s goals
In his seminal, if now dated, biography of Mustafa Kemal, in a chapter headed ‘Experiment in democracy’ Lord Kinross detailed how the Gazi (Atatürk) had “made speeches in which he endeavoured to explain to the people the meaning of the incomprehensible word, democracy, and the responsibilities attached to it… Another moral was pointed six weeks after the dissolution of the Free Party by an ugly religious disturbance at Menemen in the region of Izmir…It was staged, as the Kurdish revolt had been, by the fanatical Naqshbandi sect…their leaders preached open sedition demanding the return of Holy Law, the veil, the fez, the Arabic script, prophesying the overthrow of the godless republic by the militant forces of Islam, calling for an army of the faithful to march upon Ankara and thereafter to conquer the world.”14
That prophesy has come to pass in Turkey as also with the chilling actions on the world stage of the adherents of the Islamic State (Daesh).
Atatürk’s goals for Turkey have been subverted: Erdoğan heads an increasingly Islamic fundamentalist republic, pursuing all those who oppose him. 15 16 Although there is clearly no basis for comparison whether in the scale or manner of its terrorist character and human horror, Erdogan seeks nonetheless to shore up criticism by presenting all attempts against him as ‘Turkey’s 9/11.’ He declared the same of the rebellions by those later convicted in the Ergenekon-Sledgehammer (coup) plots dating back to 2003 resulting in the subsequent show trials of high profile generals and other political figures. 17
In the case of the most recent ‘putsch’, various independent sources maintain that even before it went into action a list had already been drawn up of some 60,000 opponents (and rising) to be removed from their positions. It is widely believed that Erdoğan was ‘informed’ in advance of the putsch conveniently timed to coincide with his vacation in the popular Mediterranean resort of Marmaris. The key actors in the rebellion – if such they actually were – inexpertly ‘mistook’ the location of the private villa where Erdoğan was staying, permitting his escape and immediate public statements online. 18
Stealth operations and the Syrian quagmire
Strengthened by the ‘failure’ of the putsch, Erdoğan swiftly went on to embark upon a ground invasion of northern Syria deploying tanks to attack the PKK-linked YPG forces. He had earlier met with US Vice President, Joe Biden, on Biden’s visit to Turkey on 23 August, after Turkish tanks had rolled across the border into a neighbouring sovereign state. Of this military offensive the ‘off-Guardian’ reported ‘The invasion is carefully coordinated with the US which provided extensive air force protection. There is no rift between Ankara and Washington, quite the opposite:
“It [is] difficult to believe that Turkey truly suspected the US of an attempted decapitation of the nation’s senior leadership in a violent, abortive coup just last month, only to be conducting joint operations with the US inside Syria with US military forces still based within Turkish territory.
What is much more likely is that the coup was staged to feign a US-Turkish fallout, draw in Russia and allow Turkey to make sweeping purges of any elements within the Turkish armed forces that might oppose a cross-border foray into Syria, a foray that is now unfolding… The failed coup was indeed supported by the CIA, but the failure was coordinated with President Erdogan. It was an intelligence op which was meant to fail and mislead public opinion.” 19
The semi-covert backing by the United States of Erdoğan’s aggression in Syria means that the Syrian quagmire is certain to engulf ever more victims. More than 220,000 people have so far been killed in Syria, another 4 million have fled for their lives; 2 million refugees are children, and 11.6 million people remain displaced..20 The scale of Syrian mortality, displacement, and migration owing to the conflict is virtually equivalent to the entire population of the Netherlands (population record 16,979,729) being displaced from their country or slaughtered. 21
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) calculated as of July this year that some 2.7 million refugees are currently struggling for their lives in Turkey under ‘temporary protection’ status22: The West generally doesn’t want them but attempts to exhibit its social conscience while utilising existing asylum and immigration policies on a selective risks basis.
The vast number of Syrians ‘sheltering’ in Turkey can only provide further pressing cause for Erdoğan to pursue an intervention policy, aiming to accomplish a decisive rout of the YPG (Kurdish) forces through effective deployment of a freshly purged and (tested) ‘loyal’ military.‘Both the General Staff and MIT currently report to the prime minister’s office. Putting them under the president’s overall direction would be in line with Erdogan’s push for a new constitution centered on a strong executive presidency. 23
For Erdoğan to secure the army and intelligence services under presidential control would ensure his complete power – akin, one might observe, to the power the late President Saddam Hussein exerted over Iraq for three decades.
Kurds divided over Erdoğan
For many years now, Erdoğan has pursued close diplomatic ties with the KRG ‘as part of his broader strategy for solving Turkey’s domestic Kurdish problem. In exchange for greater leeway in striking against Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan, Erdoğan has promoted Turkish investment and construction by Turkish companies as also permitting Kurdish oil to cross through Turkey. 24
President of the Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI), Massoud Barzani, and KDP officials expressed their support for Erdoğan after the ‘coup’, whereas the PUK and Gorran appear to have wished to see the ‘coup’ succeed. 25
For its part, the PKK commented: “Portraying Tayyip Erdoğan and the fascist AKP dictator as if they were democratic after this coup attempt is an approach even more dangerous than the coup attempt itself…”26
Kurdish conscripts in the Turkish army will be quaking in their boots – reviled and frequently abused by Turkish nationalist officers and their fellow Turkish soldiers, they are effectively treated as the enemy within. Those that express pro-Kurdish feeling may likely wind up dead, their deaths dressed up as suicides.
Erdogan is likely to increase operations against Kurdish targets inside Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and north eastern Syria – a predominantly ethnic Kurdish region that the victorious Kurdish forces claim as their Kurdish Rojava (western Kurdistan).
As of 28 August, Turkish warplanes began striking deeper into the area backed by artillery and, according to pro-YPG sources, killing several of their fighters as well as local Kurdish civilians. These same fighters are those that have been backed by the US in order to defeat IS in the region. As they correctly argue, “The question then arises how the US will continue its military operation in Rojava without the Kurdish YPG fighters.” 28
The matter, nonetheless appears settled with Erdogan again emerging the winner despite Western concerns over the state of Turkish ‘democracy’.
1 Ziya Gökalp composed the poem that saw Erdogan imprisoned in 1999 citing Gökalp’s motto of Turkish nationalism in religion – Dini Türkcülük. See more at https://remmm.revues.org/6025
2 http://metro.co.uk/2016/07/19/inside-Erdoğan s-palace-the-500-million-mansion-turkeys-president-calls-home-6015161/
4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/hes-frail-77-and-lives-in-pennsylvania-turkey-says-hes-a-coup-mastermind/2016/08/03/6b1b2226-526f-11e6-bbf5-957ad17b4385_story.html and http://www.newsjs.com/url.php?p=http://www.philly.com/philly/news/nation_world/Hes_frail_77_and_lives_in_Pennsylvania_Turkey_says_hes_a_coup_mastermind.html
14 Atatürk The Rebirth of a Nation, Patrick Kinross, Weidenfeld, London First edition 1964, Weidenfel Paperback edition, Weidenfeld & Nicholson Publishing, a division of the Orion Publishing Group, 1993, pg. 455
15 Satirical recast of a speech filmed of the President at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUlA7LVnfr8
18 Erdogan’s state of emergency purges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwgCYU3mOl4
19 https://off-guardian.org/2016/08/31/did-the-failed-turkish-coup-lay-the-groundwork-for-a-nato-invasion-of-syria/ The New Atlas, Global Research, August 24, 2016Presidential Tigeritical and military action the president on the street.pposed Kuridsh forces.e has done in Iraqi Kurdistan, pg
22 Migrant Presence Monitoring, Situation Report, July, 2016, IOM (International Organisation for Migration). Actual figure 2,730485 individuals: TEMPORARY PROTECTION Turkey implements a Temporary Protection regime for 2,730,485 refugees from Syria which grants beneficiaries right to legal stay as well as some level of access to basic rights and services. A vast majority of them 2,474,790 million, live outside the camps and are spread across the Turkish border provinces while nearly 255,695 live in 26 camps also close to the border with Syria. *Data source DGMM as of 21.07.2016
Sheri Laizer, a Middle East and North African expert specialist and well known commentator on the Kurdish issue. She is a contributing writer for Ekurd.net. More about Sheri Laizer see below.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.