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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/21/16

The Turkish Crackdown On Civil Liberties And The Cypriot Question

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Message Gary Busch
There have been many problems created in Turkey with the removal of civil liberties and constitutional rights of Turkish citizens as a result of Erdogan and the AKP using this coup attempt to create an opportunity to purge the Turkish military, the civil service, the judges, the lawyers, the teachers and the universities. At least forty-five thousand of these have been arrested, suspended from their duties or fired.

Despite the fact that all the political parties decried the attempted coup and a substantial portion of the military forces did not participate in the coup Erdogan and the AKP are using the fact of the coup to purge almost anyone who is or has been critical of Erdogan as he has attempted to increase his presidential powers in the face of free elections in which the AKP did not win a clear majority or a mandate to make the changes he demanded. Equally as important, Erdogan has used the coup to oust the followers of his erstwhile political partner, Fethullah Gulen who remained in their positions in the judiciary after Gulen fled to safety in the U.S. Erdogan drove Gulen out of Turkey because Gulen and his Hizmet Party condemned Erdogan and the AKP during the vast corruption trials in 2013 and 2015 in which the AKP, Erdogan and his two sons were guilty of smuggling gold to Iran in the face of sanctions and trading in oil stolen from Syria by Daesh.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
(Image by theglobalpanorama)
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While this is clearly a problem for Turkey, where trade unionists, journalists, soldiers, civil activists and political opponents were jailed in large numbers by Erdogan long before the attempted coup it also a problem for the rest of the world as well. Turkey occupies a strategic space between Europe and Asia and is a key ally of NATO. It has played a dubious role in the war in Syria and is conducting an aerial war against the Kurds inside Turkey and the Kurds in Iraq. After a long period of recalcitrance Turkey allowed the U.S to operate its aircraft against Daesh from the military base in Incirlik. When the coup started Turkey closed down its airspace and cut the power to the base. The airspace has been re-opened but power has not been turned back on.

The Incirlik base is an important area for the U.S. fight against Daesh and a home for several thousand U.S troops. However, this can be overcome by moving some of the planes and services to one of the two new bases in Kurdish Rojava in northern Syria; the balance can be shifted to the British Akrotiri base in Cyprus. The problem lies in the fact that the U.S. has stored a number of nuclear bombs at the Incirlik base (just as it has in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium) These nuclear weapons were stored in overseas bases by the U.S. in the 1980s as part of an agreement within NATO, insisted upon by the Europeans, that the U.S. demonstrate its commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Charter; "the Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area." The Europeans demanded this as evidence of the U.S. commitment to Article 5. The U.S. agreed because co-operation was needed in the fight against the Warsaw Pact forces and also as a hedge against Germany and Turkey embarking on a nuclear weapon program of their own.

" The weapons deal, reached in the 1960s, holds that some NATO allies will allow the storage of B61 nuclear gravity bombs on their land, while other countries will commit to maintaining aircraft capable of delivering them, according to one NATO outline. The United States keeps possession of and provides security for the bombs wherever they are"[i]

The situation is now changed. Turkey has become unreliable as a place to store nuclear weapons as a result of the eccentric and perverse activities of Erdogan and his dealings with the Russians and Assad. While the good relations between the U.S. and the Turkish military largely by-passed Erdogan up to now, the purging of the upper levels of the Turkish military has left the U.S. with no fail-safe control over the nuclear weapons stored in Turkey and Secretary Ash Carter has brought forward contingency plans to get the nuclear weapons out of Turkey as soon as possible.

In addition, this deteriorating purge in Turkey has led to a calls for a suspension of Turkey from NATO because of its failure to fulfil it democratic obligations under NATO rules. This will pose serious problems for NATO in the area of the Black Sea and the Bosporus, where Turkey has special rights under the terms of the Treaty of Montreux. The question of the free access to the Black Sea was settled at the Montreux Convention Regarding the Control of the Straits when it was signed on 29 July 1936. It is a recognised international agreement; registered in the League of Nations Treaty Series on 11 December 1936 which regulates the transit of naval warships. The Convention gives Turkey full control over the Straits and guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime. However, it also restricts the passage of naval ships not belonging to Black Sea states.

Without the permission of Turkey Russian warships are not allowed to pass freely through the Straits. The Convention provided that Turkey was authorised to close the Straits to all foreign warships in wartime or when it was threatened by aggression; additionally, it was authorised to refuse transit from merchant ships belonging to countries at war with Turkey. Non-Black Sea state warships in the Straits must be less than 15,000 tons. No more than nine non-Black Sea state warships, with a total aggregate tonnage of no more than 30,000 tons, may pass at any one time, and they are permitted to stay in the Black Sea for no longer than twenty-one days.

This right of Turkey to control the access to the Black Sea has been made more important by the use of the Russian Navy of its Black Sea fleet in support of the war against Georgia and its seizure and occupation of the Crimea from the Ukraine. NATO continues to carry out naval activities in the Black Sea with the permission of Turkey. In May 2016 the Rumanians suggested that NATO create a permanent alliance fleet in the Black Sea in a "move aimed to counter Russia's strong involvement in the region."[ii] The creation of such a fleet might include ships from NATO countries bordering the Black Sea, namely Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, but also from Germany, Italy and the United States. The Bulgarians were less keen.

However there continue to be NATO military exercises in the Black Sea. On July 18, 2016 the NATO exercise Sea Breeze 2016 began in the Black Sea. Fourteen countries are participating, including Turkey. Sea Breeze 2016 includes 26 vessels, 20 planes and helicopters, as well as 50 auxiliary pieces of military equipment units and 4,000 soldiers. Nations scheduled to participate include Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Ukraine, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. U.S. participation includes approximately 400 Sailors, dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41), guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71), a P-3C Orion (antisubmarine and maritime surveillance) aircraft, members of the Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST), members of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 8, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 (Seabees), CNE-CNA/C6F Maritime Ashore Support Team (MAST), staff members from the CNE-CNA/C6F, and embarked Marines aboard USS Whidbey Island.[iii] If Turkey is suspended from NATO the situation in the Black Sea becomes less straightforward.

This confusion in Turkey and its relationship with its military has a broader perspective as well. It is ironic that the attempted coup in Turkey coincided with the anniversary of the attack by the Greek colonels "the Junta" against Cyprus in July 15,1964 in an effort to create "Enosis" or the merger of Cyprus with mainland Greece. Five days after the attack by the Greek Army, Turkey sent in troops in fear that a unified Greece and Cyprus would threaten the Turkish-Cypriot community. The result was a partitioning of the island, with the northern third a Turkish Military occupied land under military rule. This partition of Cyprus continues with a Greek part which is a member of NATO and the European Union and an unrecognised Turkish state which is occupied by 43,000 Turkish troops. Turkish Cypriots declared independence in 1983 but is only recognised by Turkey. In recent months the United Nations has brokered negotiations between Anastasiades, a Greek Cypriot, and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci about creating a federated state in Cyprus. There have been significant progress in these talks since they began in May 2015. The U.S. has tried to assist in this process and sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to Cyprus in early July to promote this.

The most important aspect of the Cyprus Question is that the discovery in late 2010 of the huge natural gas bonanza off Israel's Mediterranean shores triggered other neighbouring countries to look more closely at their own waters. The results revealed that the entire eastern Mediterranean is swimming in huge untapped oil and gas reserves. That discovery is having enormous political, geopolitical as well as economic consequences. Preliminary exploration has confirmed similarly impressive reserves of gas and oil in the waters off Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and potentially, Syria. Cyprus has found large reserves of oil and gas. On July 22.2016 the new hydrocarbon exploration licence applications will be closed in Cyprus. There is serious interest from US companies regarding this third licencing round for the offshore exploration of EEZ blocks 6, 8 and 10 in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone, the President of the Republic said that announcements will be made after the applications are submitted, but pointed out that there is great interest by multinational companies. The deadline to apply for is on July 22, 201. The Turks have been exploring in the waters offshore the Turkish-controlled area of Cyprus but have had little success in completing owing to its tenuous legal position.

Erdogan just finished making his peace with Netanyahu and has offered to act as a hub for the distribution of Israeli gas to Europe through Turkey. However, there is a parallel offer from Cyprus to serve as the European hub to which it can also market its own natural as into the European market. With the effects of the recent crackdown on civil society in Turkey and the dramatic fall of the Turkish currency Cyprus is looking a better bet.

In addition, no one knows yet what the position will be of the administration of the Turkish enclave in Cyprus. They have always been loosely supportive of the politics of the mainland Turks and were never enamoured of the AKP. No one knows what the opinion or policy will be of the 43,000 Turkish soldiers in Cyprus who now find themselves today part of a military force which has been decimated by Erdogan and treated with suspicion by his government. This is a key question to be answered and might very well lead to a quicker resolution to the reunification of the island.

This failed coup in Turkey may produce positive results for the Turkish people if Erdogan continues to act as the scourge of Turkey. There are many people, other than Turks, who would like to see him fail and be replaced.

[i] Dan Lamothe, The US stores nuclear weapons in Turkey. Is that a good idea? ", Washington Post, July 19, 2016

[ii] "Bulgaria Rejects NATO Fleet in the Black Sea", Off, Sputnik News 19/06/2016 [iii] U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. 6th Fleet Public Affairs, "Partner Nations Commence Exercise Sea Breeze 2016" July 19, 2016

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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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