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The Turkish Dilemma

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The failures, deceits and temporising of Erdogan and the AKP have been exposed to the world with the recent explosions in Ankara. There are few people in Turkey in any doubt as to what were the precipitating circumstances behind the bombing of a "peace demonstration" when people began gathering in front of the Ankara Train Station for a "Labour, Peace, Democracy" anti-war rally. The organisers of the rally, the Confederation of Progressive Labour Unions (DISK), the Public Workers Labour Unions Confederation (KESK), the Chamber of Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), were attempting use the peaceful march to stop the attacks on the Kurds in Turkey and Syria by the Turkish army and air force which had shattered the fragile peace between the AKP and the various Kurdish groups.

Despite putting forward the notion that the bomb was the work of ISIL, most people believe that the AKP either allowed the attack to take place or even had a direct hand in it. The TTB President Bayazit said, "We know who the murderers are, they're the ones whose dreams of dictatorship fell through in the June 7 general election. They're the ones who have plunged Turkey into a war because they couldn't get their 400 MPs." Kani Beko, president of DISK, said, "We are not unfamiliar with these massacres: on May Day 1977, in the towns of Maraş and Sivas; and recently with the killings in Diyarbakır and Suruç; we have seen similar attacks. We have lost our friends here, in a meeting that was authorized 20 days ago. We will continue struggling until this fascist AK Party government and its tradition of murders are held accountable." Selahattin Demirtas, of the opposition HDP, said "The AKP's hands are red with blood and they support this terror".

The public reaction was not only because of the AKP track record in recent months of conducting attacks on Kurds in eastern Turkey and in Kurdish-occupied Syria but also because the Turkish Government, especially the MIT (intelligence agency) has been an open partner with ISIL in its attacks on Syrian and Iraqi Kurds.

While the US-led coalition continues to drop bombs on IS positions across Iraq and Syria in an attempt to stop the jihadist advance, Turkey, as one of the West's key partners in the region and home to NATO's second-largest army, has thus far failed to take a firm stance in the conflict, other than to attack the Syrian Kurds and prevent them from forming a unified command in the north of Syria. Moreover, judging by some accounts, it has actively supported the terrorist forces of ISIL in allowing volunteers to freely cross the border into Syria, treating their wounded commanders in Turkish hospitals, supplying the ISIL with ammonium nitrate to produce bombs and allowing the jihadists to use Turkish sovereign territory as a base to launch attacks on Kurdish positions across the border. Turkish hospitals are used to treat wounded ISIL commanders. According an article of May 4,2015 in the NY Times [i], daily shipments of ammonium nitrate (the same stuff used by Timothy McVeigh to blow up a building in Oklahoma) cross from Turkey to ISIL in Syria.

Most striking are the confessions by a defected IS communication technician who claimed that he had put his superiors in contact with Turkish officials on numerous occasions, and that at one point he and his fellow fighters were transported in buses across Turkey to attack Sere Kaniye (a Kurdish town) from the Ceylanpinar border crossing after which he surrendered to the Defence Forces. Besides this confession, cases have been documented of Turkish soldiers allowing aspiring jihadists to freely cross the border, of shipments of construction material passing to IS-controlled areas, of Turkey facilitating the smuggling of oil from the occupied territories, and even that it has provided the jihadists with intelligence in the form of satellite images and other data. [ii]

In January 2015 secret official documents about the searching of three trucks belonging to Turkey's national intelligence service (MIT) were leaked online, once again corroborating suspicions that Ankara has not been playing a clean game in Syria. According to the authenticated documents, the trucks were found to be transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition. The Gendarmerie General Command, which authored the reports, alleged, "The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization." But Turkish readers could not see the documents in the news bulletins and newspapers that shared them, because the government immediately obtained a court injunction banning all reporting about the affair. [iii] There have been many additional reports of MIT officers acting as paymasters of both ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

The Turkish Government is apparently more afraid of the Kurds than the Syrian terrorists. It fears the creation of Rojava, a united Kurdish state on its border. In recent months the Kurdish Syrian YPD fighters allied to the Syrian Democratic Unity Party (the party of the Syrian Kurds) have made many strides forward in battling ISIL despite the fact that the Turkish Army stood by and did nothing when ISIL attacked the YPD in the battle for the control of Kobane. Despite the Turks the YPD fighters drove back the ISIL forces and captured a lot of territory in Northern Syria along the Turkish border; in three separate areas.

The Turks are determined that these three areas will not be able to join together into a single contiguous large area which would be a self-contained Kurdish area in Syria on its border. Across the northern border are found many of the Turkish Kurds who might be willing to join up in an effort to promote Kurdish autonomy.

This area is known as Rojava or Western Kurdistan. It is a de facto autonomous region which gained its autonomy in November 2013 as part of the Rojava campaign. Rojava consists of the three non-contiguous cantons of (from east to west) Jazira, Kobani and Afrin. Rojava is not officially recognized as autonomous by the governments of Syria or Turkey and is at war with ISIL. Kurds generally consider Rojava to be one of the four parts of a greater Kurdistan, which also includes parts of south eastern Turkey (Northern Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Southern Kurdistan) and western Iran (Eastern Kurdistan. In July 2015 two of the three cantons have joined together after fierce battles with ISIL.

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With the Jazeera and Kobani cantons now united, the Kurds control a long contiguous stretch of the Syria-Turkey border. The Turks fear that the Kurds could seek to unite the canton of Kobani/Jazeera with the third autonomous zone, further west, around the city of Afrin. This would be an important step in creating a Greater Kurdistan.

The inception of the Russian bombing campaign in Syria in defence of the Al-Assad Government has added a complicating factor to Turkey's dilemma. The Russian planes are bombing primarily in the rebel-held areas from Idlip to Aleppo but also near to Raqqa, the ISIL headquarters. Turkey realises that a 'no-fly' zone is impossible to achieve as long as the Russians (and soon the Chinese) conduct a bombing campaign in the region. The Turks continue their support of Al-Nusra and have not broken off relations with ISIL whom they rely on to keep the Kurds in check. However, the U.S. has dropped its efforts to supply and train rebel troops and have turned their support to the Kurdish Syrian YPD fighters who have a good track record against ISIL. The US has just delivered 50 tons of weaponry to them. This puts the US in conflict with Turkey who are trying to win an election in November where the pro-Kurdish HDP seem likely to deny the AKP an overall majority in parliament and an ability to remain in total control of the government. The Turks recognise they rely on the Article 5 protection as a NATO state for its security, especially when Russian jets lock on to radar contact with Turkish planes in Turkish airspace. So Turkey has to try to walk a line between narrow AKP interests and Turkish national interests. In Turkish this is known as "Iki ucu boklu deynek" (grasping a stick with both sides covered in sh*t). As AKP, the re-creation of attacks on the Kurds (calling them all PKK) is designed to promote the AKP's electoral fortunes. However, it also needs to allow the Kurds to be free of military harassment, especially as the Kurds are now so closely allied with the US strategy in Syria.

This particularly difficult for Erdogan because a large part of the Turkish military does not support him or the AKP. The AKP rose to power on the basis of a plan to keep the military from ever taking power again in Turkey. At a trial in 2012 a Turkish court convicted 326 military officers, including the former air force and navy chiefs, of plotting to overthrow the nation's Islamic-based government in 2003, in a case that has helped curtail the military's hold on politics. (known as 'Sledgehammer' or 'Bolyuz'). A panel of three judges sentenced former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina, former navy chief Ozden Ornek and former army commander Cetin Dogan to life imprisonment but later reduced the sentence to a 20-year jail term because the plot had been unsuccessful. The court also convicted 323 other active or retired officers, including a former general elected to Parliament of involvement in the conspiracy, sentencing some to as much as 18 years in prison. Thirty-six were acquitted, while the case against three other defendants was postponed.

Prosecutors accused the 365 defendants in the trial of plotting to depose Erdogan by triggering turmoil in the country that would have paved the way for a military takeover. They claimed the plotters, taking part in an army seminar in 2003, drew up plans for a coup which included bombings of mosques, the downing of a Turkish fighter plane and other acts of violence that would have allowed the military to intervene on the pretext of restoring order.

It wasn't only the military which was repressed by the AKP. More than 400 other people -- including journalists, academics, politicians, trades unionists and soldiers faced trial on charges of involvement in a conspiracy by an alleged gang of secular nationalists called "Ergenekon." Begun in 2007, the Ergenekon proceeding ended in 2013 with the former head of the Turkish military, General Ilker Basbug, ordered to serve life in prison. Basbug, who had served as Chief of General Staff under Erdogan, was arrested in 2012, accused of heading the Ergenekon plot against the AKP leader. Similar punishments were decreed for 18 more of the accused.Several of Basbug's former subordinates or colleagues additionally received life terms. Hursit Tolon, former First Army commander, was sentenced to life in prison on the same charge as Basbug. Former General Staff Second Chief, General Hasan Igsiz, was also consigned to a life sentence. Retired General Nusret Tasdeler and Retired Colonel Fuat Selvi were similarly sentenced to life in prison. Former Gendarmerie Forces (National Police) Commander Sener Eruygur received an "aggravated life sentence" -- a punishment reserved for terrorism cases, in solitary confinement, with limited exercise time and contact with other prisoners or by telephone with family, and no opportunity for parole. Retired general Veli Kucuk saw a double-aggravated life sentence imposed on him, plus 99 years and a month.

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Kucuk and retired colonel Arif Dogan were accused of creating and directing a terrorist effort to subvert the current authorities. Dogan was purportedly the mentor of a Gendarmerie Intelligence Anti-Terrorism Unit, as a covert, seditious organization, the existence of which has been questioned by such Turkish media as the daily Hurriyet [Freedom]. In the Ergenekon affair, he was sentenced to 47 years in jail.

Other former Erdogan supporters jailed for life in the Ergenekon trial include Kemal Kerincsiz, a fanatical nationalist attorney. Kerencsiz had persecuted the Armenian Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who edited Agos [The Furrow], a weekly Armenian-language newspaper with sections in Turkish and English. Dink, whom Kerincsiz claimed "insulted Turkishness" -- currently redefined as "denigration of the Turkish nation," and a serious offense -- was murdered early in 2007 while awaiting indictment. The law that criminalizes "insulting Turkishness" was introduced under Erdogan and pursued with zeal by Kerincsiz.

Among the political and media victims of Ergenekon "justice," Mustafa Balbay, a writer for the daily Cumhuriyet [The Republic] and a parliamentary deputy of the long-established secularist Republican People's Party [CHP], was also sentenced to life in jail, as was his co-defendant, Tuncay Ozkan, another secularist journalist. [iv]

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Dr. Gary K. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting (more...)
 

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