No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Erdogan

The Greek Shield

The Greek-Turkish Border


“I thank Greece for being our European shield in these times.”
E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Wait! What?

The EU Commission President said that? Did she check with her old boss, Mama Merkel, first? Because that certainly does not sound like the sort of thinking we heard a few years ago when the German Chancellor defended her open-door policy that resulted in more than a million refugees settling in Germany.

Now, they’re worried about a few tens of thousands of refugees from Turkey getting across the border with Greece?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the increasingly tense and violent situation on the Turkish-Syrian border, but this story did not seem to get much attention in the Western media (or this blog for that matter – zero comments on it). As usual the West did not seem to give a damn about news of 700,000 Syrian refugees trying to get across that border into Turkey to escape the wrath of Syrian President Assad and his merry band of Iranian and Russian-backed troops. The Turks are defending that border with the Syrian Idlib province

But they’re doing the opposite a few hundred miles to the North-West, where they’ve opened their border with Greece to allow Syrian refugees to escape into Europe.

I expect that more media attention will now be paid, even though the two problems are connected. What journalist can resist photo ops like this one – and with no danger of being shelled!

The result is that the EU have hit the panic button. They already bribed Turkey several years ago with a deal that included $US 6.6 billion and enhanced EU-Turkey ties, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. In return Turkey agreed to stop the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it has, from crossing into Europe.

Ursula von der LeyenAnd now the EU is having to bribe Greece, with von der Leyen announcing a support package of $800 million in funding for Greece to use in maintaining infrastructure on the borders. For “infrastructure” read riot police. The photo above is from last Friday when refugees clashed with Greek riot-control police, who fired tear gas and water cannons at them and made thousands of arrests. And of course Greece is still in a financial and political crisis of its own, as it has been for almost a decade now. It can’t handle the influx.

But how long can the EU spend like this, given their own financial problems with the departure of Britain? Sooner or later they’re going to run out of other people’s money.

Erdogan of course is more than happy about all this. His border police and troops actually stopped the refugees from returning across the border from Greece after their clashes with the Greek border patrols.

While he may not have been able to get NATO to help him out militarily with Syria he knows he’s got the EU over a barrel. They either pay him more billions to keep the Syrian refugees in-country – or he simply allows them to start walking into the EU. The spirit of 2015 has long vanished in the EU: their leaders know there will be a social explosion if they allow that to happen again.

Still, the reference to a “Greek shield” took me by surprise. Perhaps Ms von der Leyen is less a Eurocrat and more of a populist than I thought? She has seven children, which already marks her out as very unusual in the Euro elite. And perhaps she knows ancient European history.

Certainly Greece’s nearer European neighbours such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland appear to. They were acting to help Greece even before the EU announcement, and they’re not just sending money but physical support such as logistics.

Can their troops be far behind?

Written by Tom Hunter

March 8, 2020 at 8:22 pm

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Other things to worry about?

Not NZ specifically since we’re so far away, but it seems the whole Turkey-Syria fight has flared up a little more than before:

Airstrikes and artillery attacks by Syria killed 33 Turkish troops on Thursday as Ankara edged closer to all-out war with the Syrian regime. Turkey hit back, targeting Syrian positions up and down the line, bringing the two sides closer to a major escalation that’s bound to involve Russia.

Worse is that there is some motion afoot in the Turkish parliament to make an actual declaration of war against Syria, which would be novel in our modern world where wars are fought without such traditions, but which would not be a smart move, given that Russia is backing Syria and has troops in-country. Iran is now reportedly also threatening Turkey, saying its troops must leave Syria or face a missile barrage.

And of course Turkey is still part of NATO.

Barely, it’s true, given the increased tensions between Europe and Turkey over the last twenty years as Erdogan has strengthened his control of Turkey. Similarly with the USA being part of NATO: after several years when Bush and Obama tried being friendly with Erdogan the Trump administration finally saw the light and has stopped the sale of the F-35 fighters to Turkey after it purchased advanced S-400 AA missile systems from Russia. Still, that’s has not stopped Erdogan from trying it on:

“We call on NATO to (start) consultations. This is not (an attack) on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” one of Erdogan’s spokesmen told media outlets.

It’s hard to see the rest of NATO being willing to exercise their commitments to come to the defence of a member when that member has effectively declared war of Russia as well as Syria. Erdogan is not so stupid as to think the request will be honoured, but it has to be made formally, and then some stick added by giving his fellow NATO nations a heads-up as to what may happen if he doesn’t feel their love:

A Turkish official declared that the borders would be opened, allowing tens of thousands of refugees access to central Europe. While not official, Greece and Bulgaria are reinforcing their borders, determined to keep the newcomers out.

Turkey is home to about 3.6 million Syrian refugees already! The thought of even a good portion of them heading for Europe must be keeping the EU leaders awake at night. Germany would probably keep its borders open, but others would likely follow the path of Greece.

And there are likely more on the way into Turkey itself. Between 700-800,000 are on the move in the Syrian province of Idlib on Turkey’s border. It’s this area where most of the fighting is now as Iranian, Russian and Assad’s Syrian forces try to take back control. They’re doing it via the tactic that has proved successful elsewhere: bomb the crap out of the area until all the civilians have left and the rebel and terrorist groups are the only ones remaining or leave with the civilians.

The new Turkish offensive in Syria and the aggressive moves by the pro-Assad coalition which is trying to re-conquer the last major rebel hub in Idlib have created an unprecedented humanitarian disaster even by Syrian standards.

Basically a scorched earth campaign straight out the pages of history books. Erdogan could not give a damn about the Syrian lives lost, but he does not want any more refugees:

Erdogan’s nationalist ally, Devlet Bahceli, on February 11, said Turkey should prepare to march on Damascus to stop the Syrian offensive in Idlib that is threatening to send hundreds of thousands of refugees into Turkey,

While the Turkish concerns over massive refugee inflows is a legtimate, rational concern, the fact is that Erdogan is cut from the same cloth as Assad, Ayatollah Khamenei and Putin. While a Syria-Turkey scrap would once have been considered part of the Cold War those days are long past. Erdogan has imperial dreams and desires that Turkey to be the one with power, influence and control in the region. That contest between Russia, Iran and Turkey is really what’s at the heart of this latest increase in fighting and tensions. Syria is merely a puppet.

“The fight for freedom of the Syrian people is a fight for survival for Turkey’s 82 million people,” Erdogan said. 

Uh Huh. Here’s an example of his idea of “freedom”, as I pointed out last year:

Erdogan is not someone that the West should be eager to assist. While the burdern of responsibilty falls on Syria, Russia and Iran, Turkey has not helped itself here, and they’ve certainly got themselves off-side with their Western allies. It’s questionable whether the US, and Europe in particular even wants to help Erdogan out of this jam: they might prefer him to be weakened by it.

Even before the rise of Erdogan, NATO spent decades dealing with the internal strains of members Turkey and Greece going at eachother, sometimes with shots fired, so it might be interesting to see how Putin deals with balancing Syria, Iran and Turkey.

However, for similar reasons to that of NATO, Putin is probably content to let Syria, Iran and Turkey bleed themsleves for a while longer. He’s threatened some minor sanctions on Turkey but there are those missile sales to think about, possibly to be followed by more Russian military equipment and the prospect of prying Turkey away from NATO as part of his long-term plan to weaken the alliance and Europe further.

The question that Europe and the US must ask itself is whether they care about losing Turkey. Aside from the threat of those three million Syrian refugees I can’t think why they would.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 2, 2020 at 8:08 pm

Dear President Erdogan. Get Stuffed.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

Kemal Ataturk 

I can never read those words without feeling a surge of uplifting emotions. They’re right up there with Lincoln’s call “to bind up the nation’s wounds“, in his second Inaugural address. Having said that, an article some years ago in The Guardian demonstrated that they’re not Ataturk’s actual words, though there’s no doubt his sentiments were along those lines.

Ataturk also famously built the framework for turning Turkey into a modern nation, specifically by limiting the influence of Islam on its political and civil institutions: Kemalism – also called “Turkish socialism”, with its “six arrows” of Republicanism, Populism, Nationalism, Statism, Reformism and Secularism (laiklik in Turkish, a variation of the French concept for secularism, Laïcité).

The Turkish military continued that work for decades after Ataturk died, defending Kemalism in matters great and small, They went too far in conducting military coups that pushed out democratically elected leaders and governments: in 1960, 1971, 1980, and effectively in 1997 when they forced the removal of an Islamist PM. But it should be noted that those coups were often welcomed by large parts of Turkey’s population.

In the wake of the rise of Erdogan, one can see why.

Erdogan first came to attention twenty five years ago when he won the Istanbul mayoral election in 1994. Like most politicians he had bigger plans, but unlike most, his did not just focus on climbing the greasy pole of politics to higher positions. Erdogan did not support the secular aspect of Kemalism. While happy enough to employ four of the arrows, he wanted Islam to return to the core of Turkey’s imperial hopes and dreams. The Ottoman empire reborn. Republicanism, Secularism and Reformism – unless it was reforming back into the past – were out.

To that end he has subverted the Turkish courts of law, the civil service and especially the military by selecting like-minded cronies as judges, bureaucrats and military officers. He has also cracked down on freedom of the press, to such an extent that Turkey now has more journalists in jail for its size than any other country in the world.

And naturally there has been a constant campaign of intimidation of political opponents, who have found themselves being prosecuted or under investigation for numerous “breaches’ of law. It’s all drearily similar to the antics of Chavez, Maduro, Assad, Putin and a dozen other little wannabe dictators around the world.

The military coups were sudden, blinding events involving much the same tactics, but Erdogan has been far more successful by taking a far slower path, steadily undermining each civil insititution that provided cantilever support for the others, all to remake Turkey in a non-Kemalist image. He co-founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as the necessary voting base needed to leverage change in all other areas. In a darkly comic manner he mirrored Russia by moving from Prime Minister (2001 to 2014), to President in 2014, with his successor PM meek and quiet. Nobody doubts who runs the country and he has pushed for constitutional changes to transition the Presidency from being ceremonial and neutral to one more like that of France, the USA and Russia. Whenever a strongman President pulls such stunts it’s a bad omen for the future. Look for the five-year, one-term-only Presidential rule to be the next to change.

Along the way, Erdogan has hit a few bumps, not least with the likes of Assad and Putin. Geopolitics has proven tricky as Erdogan’s enemies slowly evolved from the EU to the USA, and then Russia, even to the extent of shooting down a Russian fighter-bomber. Turkey has been a long-time enemy of Syria and the Assad family, with countless border disputes, paramilitary and small-scale military actions carried out by each country against the other over the decades, so Erdogan is not unique in this matter. But the Syrian civil war and the involvement of long-time rivals Russia and Iran, have put Erdogan on the spot. Unlike his predecessors he has found little support from NATO and the USA, having burned more than a few bridges with them over the last twenty years.

As a result playing both sides won’t work. The decision to purchase the Russian S-400 SAM system probably has not placated Putin, and has led the USA to restrict, and possibly soon, stop all sales of the new F-35 fighter to Turkey, a damaging blow to its military and prestige as a NATO member. The fact that Turkey actually supplies some parts for the F-35 is now under the US microscope.

Then there’s the economy. While Erdogan has not been as stupid as Chavez, Maduro or Mugabe in pushing more pure Socialist policies, he certainly has tried to bend large corporations to his will. They’ve also suffered from a brain drain as the smarter set gets the hell out of the country, as well as the growing corruption; the price of doing business in a nation where the law itself is bent to political ends. The result has been more manipulations of the currency and poor quality fiscal spending to compensate – which naturally enough has made the economy steadily worsen, with rising budget deficits, debt, inflation (20%) and unemployment. A Chavez-style money printing gap-filler would be the final straw.

Yet Erdogan has prevailed. I’ve been hoping for at least a decade that he would be defeated by a combination of all these things, not least the fact that eighty years of Kemalism is not so easy to destroy when it has made its way into the hearts and minds of the population. Subverting the institutions is only a start to changing the people; it takes decades, and there’s no indication that there are mini-Erdogans waiting for him to pass from the scene and who are equally capable and single-minded as he.

There has been plenty of low-level resistance to his plans, with any number of Turks rolling their eyes at his nonsense. But perhaps I’ve been listening too much to the smart set – the Turkish equivalent of the US Coastal knobs who spit on the rubes of the hinterlands in that nation. Erdogan has got a large amount of voter support over the years, for reasons that will not go away when Erdogan does. What do they think? In what direction will they move?

Perhaps it’s too soon, but recent elections may indicate the beginning of the end for Erdogan:

Initial, albeit unconfirmed results on Monday, showed that Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu took a nailbiter in the economic center and most populous city of Istanbul, edging out the AKP opponent Binali Yildrin by just .3 percent. 

Meanwhile, CHP’s secular Mansur Yavas is so far documented to have defeated AKP’s Mehet Ozhaseki 50.9 percent to 47.2 percent in Ankara; and in Izmir, the results so far point to CHP’s nominee Mustafa Tunc Soyer at 58 percent as AKP’s contender Nihat Zeybekci lingers at 38.5 percent. 

All votes have reportedly been counted in those cities. And voter turnout was high, with more than 85 percent of the 57 million registered leaving their mark at the ballot box.

These are only municipal elections; city Mayoralties. But it should be noted that this is where Erdogan began his rise to power, and he knows it, which is why he basically treated them like a national election. He attended countless rallies and at least one, tried whipping his supporters into a frenzy by playing, on large screens, video from the Christchurch shooter’s body cam. All this while trying to join his local opponents to the hip of the New Zealand shooter, casting them as people who not only would not defend Turkey and Islam but actually join with the Western imperialists.

Only this time it didn’t work. Let’s hope this trend continues and that Erdogan fails to further warp Turkish democracy before it boots him from power. Let’s also hope that the AKP has no similarly capable autocrats in its ranks.


Written by Tom Hunter

April 4, 2019 at 12:02 am

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , ,