by Ari Leiberman
The time has come to part ways with the unhinged Erdoğan.
Turkey’s acceptance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in October 1951 was a boon for the organization. Though its human rights record was far from stellar, it was staunchly anti-Communist, maintained a formidable army, was amenable to the placement of NATO assets in the country, including nuclear-tipped Jupiter ballistic missiles and was strategically located, flanking the Soviet Union on the south and acting as a bridge between Europe and Asia.
Though Turkey was technically a Muslim country, it leaders, following the doctrines espoused by Kamal Ataturk, zealously guarded the secular nature of the state. Religious influence was kept to a minimum and this was especially true for government officials and parliamentarians. Indeed, there was a significant Jewish population in Turkey and Turkey was the first Muslim majority nation to recognize Israel, extending recognition in March 1949.
During the Korean War, Turkey sent a sizable contingent to fight alongside the United States-led United Nations coalition, and its troops acquitted themselves well in combat. Turkey’s strained relations with its neighbor Greece and its human rights record proved to be problematic issues for NATO but were overlooked in light of the benefits conveyed to NATO by Turkish membership.
With the ascension of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as prime minister in 2003, the equation began to change. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, began systematically changing the character of secular Turkey, incrementally at first so as not to upset the Turkish Army, but at an accelerated pace in recent years. Now president, Erdoğan has consolidated his power and has neutered his foes in the press, the judiciary, the political opposition, and the army.
- Human rights abuses: On April 20, the U.S. State Department released a report detailing significant human right abuses in Turkey. These included arbitrary detentions and mass arrests, torture, press censorship, curtailment of free speech and forced disappearances of political opponents. Authoritarian Erdoğan has transformed Turkey into a near-dictatorship where one can be arrested for dubious crimes like “insulting the president.” Political opponents and members of the press are routinely arrested on contrived “terrorism” charges based on the flimsiest evidence. The once independent judiciary has been thoroughly corrupted and is now staffed by Erdoğan cronies and party hacks.
- Use of foreign nationals as bargaining chips: In October 2016 Turkish authorities arrested and detained an American pastor named Andrew Brunson on contrived terrorism charges. The identities of the witnesses who testified against Brunson were obscured. In February 2017, Turkish police arrested German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, accusing him of engaging in terrorist propaganda. Turkish police also detained two Czech nationals it accused of aiding Kurdish guerillas, and in March 2018 the Turks seized two Greek soldiers, who due to inclement weather, mistakenly strayed across the border at Evros River. In the former case, the Turks are demanding that the Czechs extradite a Kurdish leader currently in Prague in exchange for the two Czech nationals and in the latter case, the Turks are demanding that Greek authorities hand over Turkish soldiers who fled Turkey following the failed 2016 coup attempt. In this regard, Turkish behavior is no different than the behavior of Iran and North Korea both of which routinely snatch foreigners for potential use as bargaining chips. The only difference is that Turkey is a member of NATO and is seizing the nationals of allied partners.
- Support for ISIS: It seems absurd to suggest that Turkey supported ISIS in light of the terror attacks perpetrated by ISIS on Turkish soil but this was in fact the case. The Erdogan government initially believed that it shared common interests with the terrorist group. Both were Sunni, and shared hatred for the Kurds, the Shia and Assad. As such, Erdogan was instrumental in propping up ISIS during its formative years. Turkish intelligence officials assisted ISIS terrorists with arms and logistics and the Turkish government purchased ISIS oil thus providing the terror group with a steady stream of funding to support its activities. The Turks also permitted known ISIS operatives to freely cross their borders and hindered U.S. efforts to support the Kurds against ISIS during the battle of Kobani. Of course, the Turks soon bitterly learned that they could not control the beast they helped create. Nevertheless, Erdogan and his henchmen were partly responsible for the group’s ascendancy.
- Support for Hamas: Hamas is a terrorist organization fully recognized as such by the U.S., Israel the European Union, Canada, Japan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia without the fraudulent distinction between its military and “political” wings. Yet Turkey has fostered excellent relations with the blood-thirsty group. This is due to the fact that both the AKP and Hamas are closely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and profess similar ideologies. Turkey has permitted Hamas terrorists to freely operate, recruit and fundraise within its borders. The murder-kidnapping of three Jewish youths from the Gush Etzion junction in the summer of 2014 was the product of a plan hatched and funded by Hamas operatives in Turkey. Hamas continues funnel money to its operatives in the West bank and Gaza via its offices in Turkey as evidenced by the recent arrest by Israeli undercover commandos of Omar al-Kiswani, a Hamas terrorist who received €150,000 from his Hamas handlers in Turkey.
- Deceptive and untrustworthy: Turkish-Israeli ties, never good under Erdogan, experienced a marked decline following the 2010 seizure of the blockade-running Mavi Marmara vessel and the killing of 10 Turkish IHH terrorists who attempted to attack Israeli naval commandos during the operation. Political ties were all but severed. Nevertheless, there was limited cooperation between Israeli and Turkish intelligence services. But in what can only be described as an act of egregious perfidy, Turkey’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, betrayed the names of 10 Israeli agents, all Iranian nationals, who were working undercover in Iran, condemning them all to death and wrecking the secret spy ring. Fidan obtained Erdogan’s approval before committing this monstrous act. It was an unprecedented act considering that Israeli and Turkish intelligence had previously enjoyed a mutually beneficial, 50-year relationship. If Turkish intelligence is capable of engaging in such treachery, it’s a sure bet that Turkey is handing over closely-guarded NATO secrets to its close allies, Russia and Iran.
- Incompatible weapons procurement: In times of war, NATO members are expected to act in a cohesive, unified manner to meet common challenges. To that end, alliance members are expected to procure weapon systems and sub-systems that are compatible. In layman’s terms, these platforms need to recognize and communicate with each other for things to run smoothly. Until recently, this was the case until Turkey decided to unilaterally purchase Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in a deal worth $2.5 billion. The platform is not compatible with alliance platforms. Protests by the U.S. and other NATO members have been largely ignored. In addition, Russia is still viewed as the greatest conventional threat to peace on the European continent but Turkey’s S-400 procurement gave the Russian defense industry a significant boost, which of course, is not good for NATO.
- Migrant extortion: On multiple occasions, Erdogan has threatened to flood Europe with Syrian and Iraqi migrants camped in Turkey if his extortionist demands were not met. He has demanded visa-free access for Turkish nationals to EU nations, demanded Turkish admittance to the EU, and demanded billions of euros in extortion money from EU nations. Considering Turkey’s abysmal human rights record, Islamist bent and close affiliation with Islamist terrorist groups, these demands are beyond absurd.
- Divergence on Syria: As noted, Turkey has assisted ISIS militarily, logistically and economically and in 2014, frustrated U.S. efforts to help Kurdish forces fend off ISIS attacks on the Kurdish city of Kobani. In January 2018, Turkish forces invaded Syria’s northwest region of Afrin to do battle with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group closely allied with the U.S. and largely responsible for defeating ISIS in Syria. Turkish aggression was motivated by imperialistic and irredentist ambitions. Before invading, the Turks consulted with the Russians but paid scant attention to American and German protests. Turkey’s invasion, obscenely called “Operation Olive Branch,” was a violation of international law and nearly caused direct confrontation with U.S. forces stationed in nearby Manbij. By its words and actions, Turkey has made clear that its geo-political interests lie with Russia and Iran, not with NATO.
- Sanctions busting: On Erdogan’s orders Turkey helped Iran circumvent internationally imposed sanctions aimed at forcing the rogue regime to quit its nuclear proliferation activities. In a plan hatched by Erdogan, Turkish state banks were employed in a complicated scheme involving gold for Iranian oil to the tune of billions of dollars. Erdogan’s cronies were paid hefty bribes along the way. An attempt by Turkish police to expose the illegalities was quashed by Erdogan.
- Anti-Semitic and anti-Western rhetoric: Erdogan frequently lashes out at Israel and alliance members. His fiery speeches are often laced with anti-Semitic overtones, wild conspiracy theories and bellicosity. Erdogan has compared Israel to Nazi Germany, claimed that Israel has committed genocide against the Palestinians, alleged that Israel engineered the coup that saw the overthrow of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Morsi and accused the international “interest rate lobby,” a euphemism for rich Jews, of fomenting the 2013 Gezi Park riots. Alliance members have not been spared his conspiracy-laden wrath either. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Greece and the United States have all been subjected to his unhinged vitriol. Following a spate of racist attacks by Muslims directed against French Christians and Jews, an effort was made by the by prominent French officials to remove Quranic verses that made reference to violence against non-Muslims. Rather than acknowledging the problem and seeking a solution, Erdogan responded by referring to the West as “vile” and lashed out against Judeo-Christian writings. His utter disdain for the West was clearly demonstrated last year when he made the following statement; “Our concern is not what George or Hans or Helga says. Our concern is what Hatice, Ayse, Fatma, Ahmet, Mehmet, Hasan, Huseyin says, what Allah says…”
- Aggression towards Greece: Turkey continues to initiate aggression against fellow alliance member, Greece. In March, it seized two Greek soldiers who mistakenly crossed the border due to inclement weather. Turkish aircraft routinely violate Greek airspace and its ships have rammed Greek vessels near disputed areas of the Aegean. There were at least two such hostile ramming incidents this year. Add to this Erdogan’s express coveting of Greek territory, expansionist agenda and unhinged temperament and we have a recipe for an all-out war between Greece and Turkey, which ultimately harms the cohesiveness of the NATO alliance.
- Occupation of Northern Cyprus: In 1974, Turkish forces invaded Cyprus and occupied the northern part of the Mediterranean island nation. The Turks dubbed their belligerent military invasion the “Peace Operation,” a misnomer if ever there was one. During the course of its aggression, Turkey displaced some 200,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes. In addition, the Turks implanted Turkish colonists from mainland Turkey in an effort to create a further ethnic imbalance. Turkey’s actions in Cyprus are no different than those of the Iranians in Syria, who are ethnically cleansing large swaths of Syria and replacing vacated Sunni areas with Shia. Turkey was found to be in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which addresses displacement of populations. Turkey may also be in violation of Article 49, Clause 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that, “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” After 44 years, Turkey still continues to flagrantly violate international law through its illegal occupation of one-third of an EU member state.
Ari Leiberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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