The very courteous officer controlling my passport at the Dulles Airport a couple of days ago inquired casually about my last time being in the U.S. Taken aback, I batted my eyelids few times in quick succession. “Ten years perhaps?” I said as if I was musing aloud to myself. With a “get outta here” gesture, he stamped my passport, rolled his eyes and yelled “next!” not finding me worthy of looked at furthermore. I sheepishly walked on to retrieve my luggage with my head down, somewhat feeling embarrassed.
Could it be really possible that having served at the Turkish Embassy here in DC from the end of summer 2008 till the beginning of spring 2010, that I had never returned? Well, there you have it. How was that most cherished Larkin poem: “The view is fine from fifty experienced climbers say; so I turn to face the way that led me to this day” or something like that. Before exclaiming though in sheer horror: “The view does not exist!” But my daughter was born here. But I had myself volunteered to become General Consul in Erbil. But that all had happened just yesterday. “Where has it gone, the lifetime?” Indeed, my dear Philip, indeed…
So here I was back at heart of the blob. Or alternately, here I was knee-deep back in the swamp. Ten years ago this city was sort of abuzz. This time though, if President Macron kindly allows me to borrow the description he recently used for NATO, DC appeared to me sort of “brain-dead”. A good friend who had navigated these treachourous waters for decades had warned me that I would come to witness “the demise of an empire.” I thought he was exagerating. I still think he does. Yet, in just one business and one rather leisure oriented day that I spent in town, on which these very sharp observations of mine are solidly (!) based, I am led to believe the predominant activity is one reminiscent of a skirmish for relevance.
On the one hand, the distinguished components of so-called “blob” are fully conscious their hard labor in Trump’s world is as essential as the buzz of a fly resting on the rear end of a Texas Longhorn bull. On the other, looking from (so-to-speak) inside-out, our own Turkish Embassy’s labor too, is relegated to the back stage when it comes to directing the Turkey-US bilateral relations since a long while. These two presidents, Mr.Erdoğan and Mr.Trump look alike when it comes to their respective disdain of the establishment. For the ones working for them, they have to keep their head down and soldier on with their teeth firmly clenched. For the ones critical of them, to have their voices heard, and they can shout and gesticulate all they want, is a sisyphean task.
There also was one bright spot though. The second panel of the 10th Annual Turkey Conference organized jointly by the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and to which I was invited to participate, was enigmatically titled “Art in the time of authoritarianism”. Two thumbs way up for my good friend and our generous host Ms.Gönül Tol, the director of MEI, for coming up with that idea, such a mind opening panel that was. Esteemed panelists were Mr.Kenan Behzat Sharpe, Professor of Sociology Ms.Ayşe Öncü and, wait, the rap singer Sarp Palaur a.k.a. Şanışer of “Susamam” fame, all moderated by Ms.Lisel Hintz from SAIS. All four of them took us through a tour of, as Prof.Öncü labeled it, the “subaltern scene” of alive and kicking Turkish opposition culture.
Mr.Palaur told the story of “Susamam” and talked of about the possibilities and the limits of Turkish rap music. Mr.Sharpe, masterly visited all differents aspects of Turkish protest music such as folk, “arabesk” and the early days of rap beginning with Cartel. Prof.Öncü dwelled into other currently burgeoning forms like the private theatres and brought scientific framework to the discussion. Ms.Hintz dispensed of her vast of knowledge of Turkey’s pop culture fully. At the end of it all, my eyes were almost moist of excitement. Here we were after all, at the National Press Club, making ourselves relevant. I looked around to see whether the Embassy had opted to join in but alas, if I am not mistaken, they had not.
Elsewhere, on the more personal end, I was surprised to find out that the Whole Foods store in Glover Park was closed, and that, since two years. I also thought that either I got much poorer in between or that the prices were really up, or both at the same time. Still, I found and bought an original Redskins hat at TJMaxx on M Street on the cheap. My sincere efforts to cheer up the saleslady at the shoestore fell on deaf ears as she barked twice “what size?!” at me each time I tried to be polite. All in all, although my two days experience proved to be a tremendous opportunity for me to exchange ideas with very intelligent and knowleadgeable people, I also felt quite lucky that I was out on time, from DC and from the government service. And, the fisherman’s stew at La Chaumiere was just excellent.
The imam too is apologetically in a hurry. I try to appear comforting in reiterating over and over again that everything is in order according to Islam. I even attempt to reassure him by patting his shoulder but my hand remains hanging in the air as the wide-eyed imam is aghast of this potential physical contact.
At the end of the day, Ankara’s undisclosed three-way bet appears to the naked eye as resting first on a hybrid mitigation approach as opposed to the full throttle suppression. Second, that the storm will pass quicker than others expect. Third, that Turkey will find itself on the winning end once the skies clear.
The Moscow Protocol puts the task on Ankara’s shoulders of stopping the armed militia like the HTS and the Turkey backed SNA from endangering traffic on that road to be jointly controlled. By the same token, while effectively offering the use of the road on a plate to Damascus, it allocates the burden of preventing the SAA to take it over and make a northbound push to Russia.
Not quite. One can safely assume that Moscow dictates the, call it “new order” or the “new status quo” in Idlib. And at that, effectively getting in between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian Arab Army. No more, no less and temporarily. Compared to a potential full-blown Turco-Syrian war, encouraged first and foremost by the U.S., it is no small feat either.
The assumption of those who predicted a sudden death to Erdoğan-Putin bromance is proven to be only wishful thinking. The two leaders, as shared with the public by Kremlin’s spokesperson Peskov are slated to meet in Moscow either on the 5th or the 6th of March. How many more Syrian Air Force Soviet made attack jets will be downed by then is anybody’s guess. The tally stands at three at present time.
Title is from a song by Sheffield band Pulp’s well known 1995 debut album: “Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits / Raised on a diet of broken biscuits, oh…” With a sleight of hand replace “biscuits” with “promises” and there you have it, a concise executive summary of Erdoğan’s Syria and Libya policies.
The art of diplomacy, among other things, is to create time and space for a rationale within the possible outcomes. That would be in this case, for the recently heavily fortified TAF observation posts establish a new frontier line leaving the control of the M4 and the M5 highways together with all the towns along them to Damascus and keep a much narrower pocket including the Idleb town to host the almost a million Syrian IDPs and hence allowing them conditions not push for the Turkish border.
Bana, on her term, travelled numerous times from Istanbul to Misrata than to Genoa and so forth. Recently though, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle sailed through the disputed eight parcel declared by Greek Cyprus and, “to add insult to injury”, also topped its flag displaying mission by monitoring the same Bana being escorted by Turkish navy fregates to Libya. Before AFP had time to break the news, President Macron had already denounced Turkey as breaching the UN imposed arms embargo to Libya.
I have no single bit of sympathy at all for this ridiculous Trumpian unilateral MEPP that makes a mockery of diplomacy and the Palestinian land. But I do worry about the fact that Turkey carries no weight to dictate its will upon all the rest of the world. For that matter, no other power, be it regional or global, not even the U.S. enjoys that sort of latitude. There is no need for Ankara to constantly pick unnecessary fights while in the meantime there is no shortage of conflicts that Turkey’s national security all around it.
Today, a shaky hodge-podge opposition coalition of sorts seems to have emerged following the metropolitan municipality victories in 2019, first and foremost winning the prized duchy of Istanbul among them. Now, the secularist nationalists and muslim democrats with the Kurds and leftists suspiciously eyeing but soldiering on with them have a quite clear shot at the presidency in 2023 the latest -in ceteris paribus conditions.
The outcome of the Berlin Conference on Libya is anybody’s guess and whether it will make any difference is anybody’s guess as well. The safest bet is to claim that we are just starting a long de-escalation period with its inevitable ups and downs unless General Hafter manages to upend it militarily.
President Erdoğan’s combative foreign policy appears to let off steam and slow down on both Syrian and Libyan fronts. It is too early to tell whether finally reason had found a foothold in Ankara. For Mr. Erdoğan the hardest bit to tackle in 2020 will be the U.S. President’s repeated invitation for the NATO’s mission to be expanded to the Mid East and namely to Iraq.
Turkey, if it stops short of going all in in Libya and taps into its long forgotten diplomatic arsenal, has a unique opportunity to step forward with its home brew de-escalation efforts. President Erdoğan already had both Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Saleh on the phone. Briskly, Ankara can step forward and play on both its hundreds year long relations with Teheran and its half a century old NATO membership.
Mr.Erdoğan went to Tunisia but came back empty handed following his meeting with his counterpart Mr.Saied. The joint diplomatic, military, intelligence team that was dispatched to Moscow got no deal after three days long talks. Italy, Britain, France and Germany are seriously considering imposing a No Fly Zone which will definitely put a hold to armed drones provided by Turkey to GNA.
Vienna, no need to be a historian to reach that conclusion, is an imperial capital. Coming from Istanbul, I can’t help but think about the parallelism of these two cities being amputated of their respective empires almost simultaneously at the end of World War I.
Ankara went ahead and put the pedal to the metal in all files. No restraint, no consultation, no foresight: Just jump in head-on wherever, whenever you see trouble. Why? Simply because it almost always paid off at the ballot box. Second, there was no payback, no price tag attached to any of all these reckless foreign policy moves, manoeuvers and adventures.
Never in the history of mankind, less than ten richest persons in the world possessed more than half of the global wealth. But also, never in the history of mankind, humans lived so long and a billion people to global population was added in such a short span of time. Statesmen are in short supply in our time and at the same time all the public upheaval from Santiago to Najaf can be understood as a global rejection of being lead by anyone anyway.
It seems like Erdoğan’s Turkey not only wants to go it alone almost in all foreign policy issues but also actually expects almost all other countries, friend or foe, to, at best, applaud its acts and decisions or to understand them and to remain silent, at worst. That’s not a realistic goal.
What is the secret of the “Kılıçdaroğlu Doctrine”? That’s “winning with a disappearing act”, in a nut-shell. That is, now you see Mr.Kılıçdaroğlu and he dexterly shuffles the deck of cards lurking in the shadows, and now you don’t, the cards are open on the table with brand new names facing the voter. Ergo, CHP rises as the legendary phoenix from its ashes.
Where will Iraq go from here, I do not know. The historical process triggered by the U.S. military that toppled the most brutal dictator of its era in 2003 does not yet appear to have arrived at its final destination. It is perhaps a good enough thing to be alive for some of us, but then again, for some of us to merely survive is not enough. The brave young generation of Iraq, unlike the frequent traveler that your humble servant was, plays this game for their lives: They want to live, to be free and pursue their happiness as they see fit.
The relations between Turkey and the U.S. are beyond repair. The bilateral relations are either going to look like “operational” as in U.S.-Egypt relations for example, in which case people who consider themselves democrats will definitely go under the bus. Or, another option may appear to be, as it derives from the dominant narrative of Erdoğan, a character similar to the U.S.-Russia relations: Turkey playing the part of an equal and indispensable but difficult partner.
Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.
As the U.S. pulled out, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by Russia, moved into Manbij and Kobane to the west and to the Qamishli axis to the east of the said rectangular field of ongoing operations. Hence, there is no reason why the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should heed the U.S.-Turkish Joint Statement, and there is no reason why the congressional sanctions effort should stop—it didn’t.
Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the Ankara Train Station massacre. The pain caused by the hundreds of dead and injured subsists. The victims simply demanded peace. But they paid a high price for it.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, rather ungrammatically, that they would 'raggedy' Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu if he doesn't mind his own business. He openly and directly threatened him with these words