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Review Category : Turkey

6 Challenges for US-Turkish Relations

Russia

It is clear that since Turkish forces shot down a Russian jet in 2015 which flew over Turkish airspace for just under 12 seconds, Vladimir Putin has acted strategically to gradually pull Turkey under his sphere of influence, and Erdogan has taken the bait. Putin has fed Erdogan bits of Syria, like the once stable Kurdish enclave, Afrin. Putin has sold Erdogan the S-400 surface to air missiles, a weapons system incompatible with the NATO security bloc systems. The S-400 is set to be delivered July 2019. Erdogan is also interested in jointly producing the S-500 missile with Russia, “besides [the S-400s], I have made a proposal to Russia for the joint production of the S-500s.” This move will further force Turkey to dependent on Russia, a move Putin is hoping for only to establish a permanent rift between NATO partners.

Iran

Turkish president, Erdogan helped Iran evade US sanctions for violating the Nuclear Deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) from 2010 to 2015, allowing the regime in Tehran access to international markets. The witness, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian Gold trader told jurors in New York that Erdogan had personally authorized a transaction on behalf of Iran. The banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, responsible for taking part in the trading scheme between Turkey and Iran was sentenced to 32 months in prison in Manhattan. Erdogan stated that “if Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be almost equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal.” The Atilla v US case continues to prove that Turkey is damaging US strategy against the Iranian regime and is constantly aiding our enemies.

Incirlik Base

Incirlik Air Base in Turkey has been a strategic point of access for the United States into the Middle East. However, the base has been a thorn on our back, Turkey has constantly attempted to use it against the United States to get its way. Most recently, a group of Turkish lawyers, close to Erdogan’s circle has filed an arrest warrant of US officers based at Incirlik. Reported by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported that lawyers filed a 60 page complaint of names which include top US officials asking for their detention. Included in the names is the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Joseph Votel. Clearly US men and women in uniform are not safe in Turkey, anti-American sentiments continue to surge thanks to Erdogan. The United states should look for alternatives and end our dependency on the airbase, in 2017 Germany made the decision to do so, redeploying its troops to a Jordanian airbase. A heavy US presence in Iraqi Kurdistan would be welcomed by Kurds, and would thwart Iranian influence in the region, disrupting their land bridge to the Mediterranean.

US Hostages

Since the failed coup of 2016, Erdogan has purged Turkish dissidents and foreigners inside the country. As Dr. Aykan Erdemir, former Turkish parliamentarian and current scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) brilliantly characterized it, Erdogan is using “hostage diplomacy” to gain leverage over the United States. Most famously imprisoned and now on house arrest is American Pastor, Andrew Brunson, who has worked in Turkey for over 20 years, and is accused of having ties to the Kurdish armed group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Islamic scholar, Fetullah Gulen, which Erdogan blames for the coup. Vice President Mike Pence avowed, “to president Erdogan and the Turkish government, on behalf of the president of the United States of America, release pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences. If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.” The Trump administration did sanction two top Turkish officials in addition to doubling tariffs on steel and aluminum against Turkey, but Erdogan seems determined to ignore US pressure. Turkey responded by imposing its own sanctions on two US officials. Another hostage is Turkish-American, Serkan Golge, a physicist who worked for NASA’s Mars Program.

Hamas

Hamas has been on the foreign terror list by the United States since 1997, yet Turkey’s Erdogan openly embraces the violent organization. In 2017, Erdogan reiterated his support saying “Hamas is not a terrorist organization.” Erdogan’s hypocrisy of fighting terrorists while aiding and abetting a recognized terrorist organization reflects the path of his neo Ottoman Islamic ideology. Hamas is clearly a threat not only to Israel but as well as the Palestinian people, and Erdogan is banking on the tension in Gaza. His desire to be the custodian of Jerusalem and to become the savior of the Palestinians through the creation of an “army of Islam” to destroy Israel is something the US must wake up to before it is too late.

Islamic State (IS)

Countless reports have been published on linking Turkey to either directly assisting the Islamic State or turning a blind eye. Turkey’s main goal, as it is today, is to weaken the Kurds in Syria at all costs even if it means allowing the brutal terrorist organization to roam free within Turkey and across its borders. In 2014, Turkish forces watched on top of a hill as Kurds were besieged in a small Syrian border town, in Kobane. In addition, Turkey has profited from illicit oil deals with the Islamic State, the deals were not limited to Turkey and IS but Erdogan’s family and the terror organization as well. In 2014, former Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “ISIS is not a terrorist organization. It’s a group of people bound together with discontent and anger.” In a report titled ISIS in Turkey published in May 2018,  it stated that “had Turkey not been so tolerant of ISIS activities within its borders, including recruitment of thousands of foreign fighters, ISIS would not be as powerful as it is today.” Moreover, Turkey continues to undermine US operations in Syria against IS as it targets the Kurds organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF.

Originally published: https://securitystudies.org/6-challenges-for-us-turkish-relations/

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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6 Challenges for US-Turkish Relations

Russia

It is clear that since Turkish forces shot down a Russian jet in 2015 which flew over Turkish airspace for just under 12 seconds, Vladimir Putin has acted strategically to gradually pull Turkey under his sphere of influence, and Erdogan has taken the bait. Putin has fed Erdogan bits of Syria, like the once stable Kurdish enclave, Afrin. Putin has sold Erdogan the S-400 surface to air missiles, a weapons system incompatible with the NATO security bloc systems. The S-400 is set to be delivered July 2019. Erdogan is also interested in jointly producing the S-500 missile with Russia, “besides [the S-400s], I have made a proposal to Russia for the joint production of the S-500s.” This move will further force Turkey to dependent on Russia, a move Putin is hoping for only to establish a permanent rift between NATO partners.

Iran

Turkish president, Erdogan helped Iran evade US sanctions for violating the Nuclear Deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) from 2010 to 2015, allowing the regime in Tehran access to international markets. The witness, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian Gold trader told jurors in New York that Erdogan had personally authorized a transaction on behalf of Iran. The banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, responsible for taking part in the trading scheme between Turkey and Iran was sentenced to 32 months in prison in Manhattan. Erdogan stated that “if Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be almost equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal.” The Atilla v US case continues to prove that Turkey is damaging US strategy against the Iranian regime and is constantly aiding our enemies.

Incirlik Base

Incirlik Air Base in Turkey has been a strategic point of access for the United States into the Middle East. However, the base has been a thorn on our back, Turkey has constantly attempted to use it against the United States to get its way. Most recently, a group of Turkish lawyers, close to Erdogan’s circle has filed an arrest warrant of US officers based at Incirlik. Reported by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported that lawyers filed a 60 page complaint of names which include top US officials asking for their detention. Included in the names is the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Gen. Joseph Votel. Clearly US men and women in uniform are not safe in Turkey, anti-American sentiments continue to surge thanks to Erdogan. The United states should look for alternatives and end our dependency on the airbase, in 2017 Germany made the decision to do so, redeploying its troops to a Jordanian airbase. A heavy US presence in Iraqi Kurdistan would be welcomed by Kurds, and would thwart Iranian influence in the region, disrupting their land bridge to the Mediterranean.

US Hostages

Since the failed coup of 2016, Erdogan has purged Turkish dissidents and foreigners inside the country. As Dr. Aykan Erdemir, former Turkish parliamentarian and current scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) brilliantly characterized it, Erdogan is using “hostage diplomacy” to gain leverage over the United States. Most famously imprisoned and now on house arrest is American Pastor, Andrew Brunson, who has worked in Turkey for over 20 years, and is accused of having ties to the Kurdish armed group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Islamic scholar, Fetullah Gulen, which Erdogan blames for the coup. Vice President Mike Pence avowed, “to president Erdogan and the Turkish government, on behalf of the president of the United States of America, release pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences. If Turkey does not take immediate action to free this innocent man of faith and send him home to America, the United States will impose significant sanctions on Turkey until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free.” The Trump administration did sanction two top Turkish officials in addition to doubling tariffs on steel and aluminum against Turkey, but Erdogan seems determined to ignore US pressure. Turkey responded by imposing its own sanctions on two US officials. Another hostage is Turkish-American, Serkan Golge, a physicist who worked for NASA’s Mars Program.

Hamas

Hamas has been on the foreign terror list by the United States since 1997, yet Turkey’s Erdogan openly embraces the violent organization. In 2017, Erdogan reiterated his support saying “Hamas is not a terrorist organization.” Erdogan’s hypocrisy of fighting terrorists while aiding and abetting a recognized terrorist organization reflects the path of his neo Ottoman Islamic ideology. Hamas is clearly a threat not only to Israel but as well as the Palestinian people, and Erdogan is banking on the tension in Gaza. His desire to be the custodian of Jerusalem and to become the savior of the Palestinians through the creation of an “army of Islam” to destroy Israel is something the US must wake up to before it is too late.

Islamic State (IS)

Countless reports have been published on linking Turkey to either directly assisting the Islamic State or turning a blind eye. Turkey’s main goal, as it is today, is to weaken the Kurds in Syria at all costs even if it means allowing the brutal terrorist organization to roam free within Turkey and across its borders. In 2014, Turkish forces watched on top of a hill as Kurds were besieged in a small Syrian border town, in Kobane. In addition, Turkey has profited from illicit oil deals with the Islamic State, the deals were not limited to Turkey and IS but Erdogan’s family and the terror organization as well. In 2014, former Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu stated that “ISIS is not a terrorist organization. It’s a group of people bound together with discontent and anger.” In a report titled ISIS in Turkey published in May 2018,  it stated that “had Turkey not been so tolerant of ISIS activities within its borders, including recruitment of thousands of foreign fighters, ISIS would not be as powerful as it is today.” Moreover, Turkey continues to undermine US operations in Syria against IS as it targets the Kurds organized under the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF.

Originally published: https://securitystudies.org/6-challenges-for-us-turkish-relations/

Photo: Twitter

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Israel, Turkey and the Kurdish Question

“I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran get around international sanctions,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments on the US relocating its embassy to Jerusalem.

Are these genuine comments from the Israeli side? Many Kurds feel bitter at Israel, rightly so despite many common interests. The Kurdish sentiment is legitimate. They feel the Israeli government only speaks out when it benefits its own national interests and does not really care about the Kurdish cause. Whatever the motive may be for the Israeli government to speak up, it is certainly time to alter its policy toward Turkey, as Ankara is gradually adjusting its policy toward the Jewish state.

Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric against Israel went as far as comparing the Jewish State’s response to recent Gaza protests to that of Nazi Germany.

“There is no difference at all between the persecution inflicted on the Jews in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality faced by our brothers in Gaza.”

He further added, “the children of people who were tortured in concentration camps in every way during World War II unfortunately today resort to methods against innocent Palestinians that are in no way inferior to those of the Nazis.”

But do these words mean anything to the governments on both sides? Economic ties say otherwise.

Turkey was in fact the first Muslim country to recognize Israel as an independent state in 1948. What followed was a series of gradual economic agreements, which still dominate the relationship between the two states today. Economist Hatice Karahan said Turkish exports to Israel have continued to grow over the last several years. They were at about $2.5 billion in 2016, and in the first 10 months of 2017, Turkish exports to Israel went up another 14%. Turkey’s state air carrier, Turkish Airlines, is also the second most popular airline out of Tel Aviv after El Al, Joseph Dana reported in an opinion piece written for The National.

Due to the lack of hydrocarbon resources in Turkey, the Turkish government has heavily relied on Iraqi Kurdistan for its supplies, and of course is working with Israel to build a pipeline through Cypriot waters. From 1995 to 2015, Turkey’s exports to Israel was on average 4.26 times of its share in the world export, as described in the International Journal of Commerce and Management. Furthermore, chairman of the Turkish Exporters Assembly Mehmet Buyukeksi called for a tripling of trade volume between the two countries in the next five years. This is after in 2017, Turkish exports to Israel increased by 20% and Israeli exports to Turkey rose by 45%, and trade volume was set to grow to $10b. from $3.9b., wrote Sharon Udasin.

Israel was the only country to recognize the Kurdish independence referendum held in September 2017, which failed miserably due to the lack of strategy on the Kurdish side and the absence of hard support from the international community.

It seems Israeli support for the Kurds does not have teeth similar to Turkish support for Palestinians. The Palestinians are surrounded by 22 Arab states that all call for an independent Palestinian state in addition to Turkey and Iran. The Kurds on the other hand are left to find partners anywhere they can to push ahead with their aspirations for self-determination, even if it means resorting to Israel’s tiptoeing statements.

If the Israeli government is firm about supporting the Kurds, and truly envisions the Kurdish people as a common ally with common interests in a Middle East rapidly shifting toward Islamist authoritarian governments, it must act quickly.

This can be done by supporting the Kurds in Iraq, dominated by Iranian influence, and in Syria, a fractured state that continues to be dictated by President Bashar Assad and his brutal allies, which include Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and holds over 3 million Kurds who have been the only successful force fighting Islamic State while facing a military campaign from Erdogan’s army.

The more than 20 million Kurds living under the Islamist Erdogan regime in Turkey, and the 12 million Kurds being governed by the dangerous Iranian regime for nearly four decades, are key to Israel’s security in the region. But if Israel continues to accommodate Erdogan’s regime through trade ties, then it may risk losing Kurdish support too.

Originally published at: https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Israel-Turkey-and-the-Kurdish-question-559446

Photo: Al Jazeera

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What Will US Do About Turkey’s Bad Behavior?

Recently, Turkey released imprisoned U.S. citizen Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor of a small church in Turkey with about 25 congregants, to house arrest.

Brunson however, is still on trial on charges of aiding terror groups and engaging in espionage. Brunson was grabbed by the Turkish authorities about two years ago, right after an attempted coup against the Turkish President and quasi-dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has spent the past two years in a Turkish prison. Turkey claimed that Brunson has illegal links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, both of which are bitter enemies of Erdogan. If he is convicted of his “crimes,” Brunson may be imprisoned for a term of 35 years.

Brunson is clearly being railroaded by the Turks.

An expose of the charges against the pastor revealed that among them are that:

  • Brunson received a picture of a dish that is the signature dish of a terrorist organization in Turkey;
  • Brunson appeared in a photo with a man with a yellow, red, and green scarf, which are the PKK colors;
  • Brunson published Bibles in the Kurdish language.

In other words, this is nothing more than a kangaroo court trial. Which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that in Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison, and even school children have been prosecuted.

Then again, the Turkish President has made it clear that Brunson is not really an accused criminal at all; he is a political hostage. Erdogan has offered to trade Brunson for Fethullah Gulen, who currently lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan has accused Gulen, Erdogan’s former ally, of being the instigator of the attempted Turkish coup. But he has produced no convincing evidence for the U.S. to mandate an extradition of Gulen.

Needless to say, allied nations don’t take as hostage citizens of their allies. For that matter, civilized nations don’t take hostages, period.

President Erdogan is not really a U.S. ally, however. He has been in power since 2003, and in those fifteen years, he has aided the Shia Islamist regime of Iran in evading international sanctions; facilitated ISIS’ expansion through oil smuggling and being a conduit for new ISIS recruits and supplies; and threatened U.S. troops with violence for their assistance to the Kurds. Under his leadership, as noted by the former U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Turkey has taken on a “new role” as a main sponsor of funding for radical Islamist ideology. Included in this is that Turkey has developed good relationships with federally designated terror organizations such as Hamas, and the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

Erdogan has also demonstrated his lack of trustworthiness as an ally by purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia, which is a violation of Turkey’s duties as a NATO member. The missile system cannot be made interoperable with NATO and U.S. assets deployed in Turkish territory. It also conflicts with Turkey’s purchase of 100 F-35 fighter jets. These jets, which are the latest in NATO technology, would have to be connected to the S-400 system. But this would compromise the jet’s security, as any data collected by the S-400 system and obtained by Russia could help expose the joint strike fighter’s vulnerabilities. To make things even worse, Erdogan has proposed that Turkey and Russia work together on the S-500 missile system.

President Trump and other U.S. officials lobbied Turkish officials for months to release Brunson, and Trump himself tweeted about it, saying that the situation was a “total disgrace,” and threatened sanctions if Brunson was not released. Congress, in a provision in the final National Defense Authorization Act, also called on Turkey “to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizens including Andrew Brunson and Serkan Golge.”

Finally, a deal was made at the NATO summit, which would pair the release of Brunson (from all legal jeopardy) with the release of a Turkish terrorist in Israel. But then Erdogan reneged on that deal. (Although Erdogan claims there was no deal).

So, the question is, what is the U.S. planning to do about Turkey’s hostage taking and other bad behavior?

There needs to be real consequences to Turkey’s persecution of Andrew Brunson, and any other American unfairly held in a Turkish prison. Both the Trump administration and Congress are considering sanctioning Turkey if Brunson is not released. They should do so, immediately.

At some point, however, the U.S. is going to have to address the elephant in the room — Turkey’s continued membership in NATO. Unfortunately, the NATO Treaty has no way to remove any members, unless the nation in question is willing to leave (as France once did).

But NATO allies don’t behave like Turkey has, under Erdogan.

Just ask Andrew Brunson.

Originally published at: https://www.newsmax.com/adamturner/turkey-erdogan-nato/2018/08/01/id/874925/

Photo: Mike Hutchings/AFP/Getty Images

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Capitol Hill

EMET on Capitol Hill hosted Congressman Gus Bilirakis, FDD scholar and former Turkish parliament member Dr. Aykan Erdemir, the pro-Kurdish opposition US representative of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Giran Ozcan, and EMET’s Director of the Kurdistan Project, Diliman Abdulkader. The panel was moderated by EMET founder and president Sarah Stern. Our panel analyzed the implications of the June 24th Turkish elections called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Leading Turkey since 2002 with the Justice and Development Party (AKP), internally Erdogan has tilted state institutions to further solidify his position, he has targeted political opposition groups, academics, journalists, and the Kurdish minority all while labeling those speaking against his rule as “terrorists.” Erdogan has distanced himself from his short-lived “zero problem with neighbors” policy as he has made more foes than friends in the region. He has threatened Greece with military action while continuing to have a foothold in Northern Cyprus. His incursions into Syria targeting US-backed Kurdish forces has created a diminishing of relations with the United States. Under Erdogan, Turkey has pivoted towards Russia by purchasing Russian missiles incompatible with NATO defense systems. The panel examined the outcome of the elections, what Turkey’s future holds under Erdogan and how this will affect US-Turkish relations.

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Time to Wake Up to Erdogan’s Turkey

On June 25, we awoke to the somber news that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had secured a victory in Turkey’s presidential elections. The reason this news is so grim is because he is a very dangerous man who wants to establish a Turkish Islamist caliphate, as he has simultaneously been eroding human rights inside Turkey and grabbing more power for himself.

On April 17, 2017, Erdoğan held a referendum that greatly expanded and consolidated the powers of the presidency, eliminating the office of prime minister, meaning foreign policy is now part of his portfolio.

In the meantime, he has arbitrarily arrested approximately 50,000 people, including dissidents, intellectuals, professors, journalists and anyone that he might possibly conceive of as being in the opposition. The prisons in Turkey are so full of dissidents that they have released common criminals and convicted felons onto the streets.

A dear friend and colleague, Aykan Erdemir of the Foundations of Defense of Democracies, who had been a member of the opposition in the Turkish Parliament, told me that every Saturday night his friends gets together over Turkish coffee and read the newspaper to see who, among their friends, will be arrested—and whether or not they can make bail.

Among those arrested is Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American who has is in his second year of a seven-year sentence. The Turkish government contends that his evidence is based on the testimony of a “secret witness.” There is absolutely no habious corpus in Turkey, and no attorney working on Brunson’s behalf that can see the “evidence” and defend his client.

Turkey has one of the lowest rankings in the world in terms of freedom of press. The regime continues to trample on the right of its citizens, including freedom of speech, of association, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Turkey is also now the world’s No. 1 jailer of journalists.

In particular, the Christians of Turkey, who are a tiny minority, have been under increasing assault. Anyone who cannot trace his roots back to Sunni Islam is under suspicion, which has resulted in a flurry of violent attacks against Christian churches throughout this newly xenophobic country.

In foreign policy, we have seen Erdoğan’s forces enter into Syria and massacre what had been an autonomous Kurdish canton of Afrin. Throughout Europe, we are seeing the emergence of cash-rich Turkish, Islamist parties. Erdoğan is emerging on the continent as a defender of a sense of victimization of Muslims against Islamophobia.

And in Jerusalem, in an attempt to win influence among the Palestinians, the Turkish autocrat has been showering the natives of eastern Jerusalem with funds. In an article in last week’s Haaretz, officials from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority expressed concern that Turkey is trying to establish itself as “the guardian of Jerusalem in the eyes of the Muslim world.”

He has also called for an “Islamic army to invade Palestine.”

What emerges is a picture of a totalitarian brute with imperialistic designs. What is equally disturbing is that Turkey under Erdoğan has already purchased the all-powerful S-400 long range, anti-aircraft defense system. He has been cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has worked to prevent the Russian-Iranian constellation from leaving Southern Syria.

All of this does not fit the usual description of an “ally.”

Yet Lockheed Martin plans to sell Turkey 100 F-35 Lighting II fighter jets—one of the most sophisticated stealth fighter jets yet to be developed.

Congress has weighed in, in both chambers. On the House side, the National Defense Authorization Act specified that before the transfer of F-35s is made to Ankara, both the U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense must write a report that Turkey is behaving as an ally. The Senate side seeks to hold up Turkey’s possession of the F-35s unless it revokes its purchase of the S-400s, so it does not threaten NATOs defense capabilities and put an end to detaining American citizens.

The bill has yet to go to Conference Committee to be law.

Because Turkey is a member of NATO, many people would still like to regard it as an “ally.” Yes, it is formally in NATO. However, NATO (which has no mechanism to expel a member), had originally been established during the Cold War for smaller countries to defend one another against the Soviet threat.

From the way things appear now, Turkey appears to be far closer to Russia than to its other NATO partners. And America certainly does not want our most sophisticated stealth jet fighter ending up in Russian hands.

Yet despite the congressional action, on June 21, Lockheed Martin held a roll-out ceremony presenting the Turks with two F 35s. The jets will be remaining on American soil for at least a year while Turkish pilots are trained to use it.

That gives us a bit of time for folks to wake up to sample Erdoğan’s particular brew of Turkish coffee.

Originally published on: https://www.jns.org/opinion/time-to-wake-up-to-erdogans-turkey/

Photo: Twitter

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Erdogan is the Winner, Now What?

As expected, Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the Turkish presidency and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained a majority in the parliament by aligning with the ultra-nationalist, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the path Erdogan has taken his country since the failed coup of 2016. Turkish society is very much polarized among Turks themselves and between Turks and the Kurdish minority. In his victory speech, Erdogan cried “one state, one country, one flag, one nation” while holding up four fingers echoing his words. This is a direct message to the 20 million-strong Kurdish population inside Turkey, who have been historically oppressed. Erdogan’s rhetoric is clear, Turkey is a state for Turks and no other nation, anyone else thinking otherwise will be dealt with in the harshest terms and will be labeled a terrorist.

Turkey’s shift from being a model state for the rest of the Middle East has slowly pivoted first towards Islamism, then fascism, and now a full-fledged dictatorship. This proves Erdogan’s commitment to his claim that democracy to him is really “like a train, you get off once you have reached your destination.”

It is unlikely that Erdogan will change for the better. He will now hold full executive powersuntil 2023 and likely after until the 100th anniversary of the founding of modern Turkey. The balancing prime minister’s position will be abolished. Erdogan will have control over the country’s banking and judicial system. No institution is beyond his reach including the media. Turkey under Erdogan is now the world’s number one jailer of journalists, surpassing China.

Erdogan’s win is a blow to democracy, one that the western world had an opportunity to prevent but failed to prevent. Erdogan was emboldened to call for early elections by his multiple military campaigns against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq, by his invasion of Afrin against the US-allied Kurdish Peoples Protection Unit (YPG), and by getting away with his recent threat to attack Manbij, where US forces are positioned.

Why has Erdogan been able to get away with so much with such little consequence?

European Union states no longer have leverage against Erdogan. Before, the EU had the weight to shove Turkey in the right direction and if it failed to do so, then EU accession talks were suspended. Today, Erdogan would still like to join the EU, however it is not a priority. In other words, if it happens it happens. Erdogan has something better than EU accession, a leverage that can swing any state within the economic bloc to its favor, namely 3.5 million Syrian refugees. During the height of the refugee crisis in 2016, Erdogan threatened “You [EU] started asking what you would do if Turkey would open the gates. Look at me — if you go further, those border gates will be open. You should know that.” This week he repeated his threat, “in the past we have stopped people at the gates to Europe, in Edirne we stopped their buses. This happens once or twice and then we’ll open the gates and wish them a safe journey.” In response, the EU offered Erdogan 3 billion euros to prevent the “flooding” of refugees. EU’s response to Erdogan’s threat is preposterous and only encourages Erdogan’s aggressive tactics.

Unfortunately, many US politicians still have a naive understanding of Turkey, treating it as if it is the same country from the 90s when relations were at its peak. US foreign policy has failed to adapt to Erdogan’s gradual shift away from genuine democracy. Erdogan has strong relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and together they have signed a deal to contradict NATO defense systems and have gone ahead with the S-400 missile transaction set to be delivered July 2019. Erdogan is even open to the idea of jointly producing the S-500 with Russia, another missile system incompatible with NATO technology. Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal is to create a rift between NATO partners and Erdogan has taken the bait.

Meanwhile the US Defense Department is keen on selling Turkey US technology such as the F-35 striker jets, a dangerous move that Russia will surely take advantage of. Not to mention Erdogan’s constant threat to NATO ally Greece and its neighbor Cyprus, which still occupies since 1974. The US is tied to Turkey through NATO, but until there is a mechanism of phasing out partners in the security bloc, the US must overlook this barrier and protect its partners like the Kurds, allies in the region and national security interests in Syria, which Erdogan is moving against.

If the United States continues to accommodate Erdogan and his aggressive behavior, then we shouldn’t be surprised where Turkey will end up within the next 5-years. Erdogan managed to invade a neighboring country, force out indigenous populations in Syria, attack his own dissidents all with somewhat limited powers. The US must adapt quickly to Erdogan’s election win, his dream of reviving the old expansionist Ottoman map no longer seems so impossible if he thinks he has the greenlight from major powers.

Originally published at: https://securitystudies.org/guest-opinion-erdogan-winner-now/

Photo: Reuters

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Can Erdogan be Thrown from the Democracy Train?

On June 24, the voters of Turkey will presumably have their last and best chance to oust their Islamist and sometimes unhinged leader President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Two things seem to have endangered Erdogan’s campaign to extend his sixteen-year tenure as leader. Turkey isfacing a full-blown currency run, jeopardizing its economic prosperity, and the normally fractured opposition parties have finally begun to coordinate their hostility to Erdogan. The opposition coalition, however, excludes the Kurdish leftist party,People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose candidate for presidency is behind bars on false charges.

There should be no doubt that it is in the United States national interest to see the Turkish opposition succeed.  Over the past two decades, Erdogan has transformed Turkey from a good and faithful ally of the U.S. and the West to a loud and consistent opponent.

Turkey, under Erdogan, has become increasingly hostile to the U.S.  For example, Turkey isholding two Americans on dubious charges, one of which is a pastor. Turkey may be trying to trade to the U.S. for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamist whose Gulen Movement was originally allied with Erdogan.  Erdogan had a falling out with Gülen after the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, which Erdogan blamed on Gülen.  Erdogan also blamed two American critics of his, whom Turkish prosecutorshave issued arrest warrants for, and placed bounties on.  Turkey hasthreatened to attack U.S. forces in Syria for their willingness to work with the Kurds.  During multiple Erdogan visits to the U.S., Turkish security forces have attacked Americans who were peacefully protesting him.

Turkey has also become an increasingly unreliable NATO ally. For example, Turkey has routinely threatened its fellow NATO allies in Europe with Middle East migrants.  It continues to specifically foment trouble with fellow NATO member Greece.  In 2017 alone, there was a record3,317 airspace and 1,998 territorial water violations by Turkey in the Aegean Sea, where Turkey claims additional islands, and Erdogan has publicly called for a revision of the treaty that defines the borders of the modern Turkish state. Turkey also continues to occupy a portion of Cyprus andhas threatenedGreece over that as well. Turkeyeven purchaseda S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, even though the system cannot be integrated into NATO’s military architecture as is required, which are set to be delivered July 2019.

Turkey has also played games over the U.S. air base at Incirlik in Southern Turkey, where NATO has nuclear weapons.  In 2003, the Turks refused to allow the U.S. to attack Iraq from the base.  In 2015, after initial hesitancy, Turkeygave their support to the U.S. against the Islamic State (ISIS), although that may have been a way to “forestallfurther Kurdish gains in the eastern border region.”  Post-2016 coup, topressure the U.S., power to the base was cut off for 6 days, and later, Turkish troopssurrounded it.  Meanwhile, in 2016, Turkeypreemptively offeredRussia the go-ahead to use Incirlik for its operations in Syria, even though Russia had no need for it.

As noted by the former U.S. National Security Advisor, Turkeyhas taken on a “new role” as a main sponsor of funding for Islamist ideology that targets western interests.  Turkeyassisted Iran in fraudulentlyevadingWestern sanctions.  Turkey aided ISIS, byallowing men and supplies to move across its borders, and also played  a key role in facilitating its’ expansion through black market oil sales – over $1 billion worth.  Further, Turkey is aleading financer of Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, providing $250 million a year, and has allowed leaders of Hamas to operate in the country.

Most recently, under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey invaded Afrin, Syria, perhaps the only area in Syria that was relatively peaceful (until the invasion).  Afrin was targeted by Erdogan because it was controlled by the only real U.S. allies in Syria, the Syrian Kurds; Erdogan is known to be suffering from a harsh case ofKurdophobia, largely because of his fear of the expanding Turkish Kurdish minority.  The Syrian Kurds make up the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who, working with about 2000 U.S. troops, have been the main drivers behind the successful campaign against ISIS in Syria, and they have established a generally moderate and democratic form of government in their portion of Syria.  This unfortunately successful Turkish invasion hasresulted in the deaths of hundreds of Kurdish fighters and civilians, theforced resettlement/ethnic cleansing of over a hundred thousand people, the expansion of the Turkish controlled zone in Syria, whichis governed by that nation and its jihadist allies under sharia law, and adelay in the fight against ISIS.  Now the Turks are threatening Manbij, an SDF controlled Arab city where U.S. troops are actually stationed, leaving open the possibility that there could be American casualties.

By the way, Turkey also is “friendly” with other jihadists in the Syrian province of Idlib, including groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.

In the early years of his political career, Recep Tayyip Erdogan famously said that “democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination.”  His final destination could be coming up on June 24th. This may be his last opportunity to be thrown off the train before he reaches it.

Originally published at: https://web.archive.org/web/20180612233147/http://thenationaldiscourse.com/can-erdogan-be-thrown-from-democracy-train-2891/

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EMET Conference Call – “Turkish Elections and Repercussions for U.S. -Turkish Relations”

Yesterday, June 26, 2018, EMET held a conference call featuring Dr. Aykan Erdemir and examined what repercussions the reelection of President Erdogan will have on U.S. -Turkish relations. A recording of the call can be heard here:

https://www.freeconferencing.com/login.html?autoLogin=dHJ1ZQ==&email=amRla2VsQGVtZXRvbmxpbmUub3Jn&pass=SXNyYWVsMTk0OA==&uname=

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