When asked about his alliance with the then Syrian dictator Hafez Assad, late Jalal Talabani remarked* once that “one cannot go merrily around in the Mid-East as if in a supermarket to choose allies but one has to make do with whichever ally one can find.” Hence, it does not appear, say, lame to me that Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) President Nechirvan Barzani paid a courtesy visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara while at the same time the Turkish Armed Forces spread and deepen their foothold in Haftanin.
Yet, some other aspects of the visits are still worth pondering upon, in my humble opinion. Spoiler alert: Yes, I had served as Turkey’s first consul general in Erbil from March 2010 till June 2013 when I resigned from government service altogether. It was quite a convoluted ride, least to say. Scandals (!) galore almost all the time: Display of the IKR flag, uttering the word “Kurdistan” by your humble servant,
But also landmark events as the first visit of any Turkish Prime Minister to Erbil, by none other than by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself, Erbil being decorated by Turkish flags, marketing of the Kurdish oil from Ceyhan to global markets. It is also perhaps worthy of notice that Kak Nechirvan is a member of the secluded club of “the three tall men” together with Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaidjan and Sheikh Tameem of Qatar who managed well to establish good chemistry with “the” tall man himself. That was not given, and you have to hand it to Kak Nechirvan.
This time around with this particular visit, few so-called “diplomatic” details jump to the keen observer’s attention. As we are not and we will not be privy to the content of any exchange between the two leaders during their not among delegations but tête-a-tête meeting we will have to make do with those. Although we have to also keep in mind that the beef, if there is any, is definitely elsewhere, unbeknownst to us, lay people. Let’s try and have a look then.
First, Kak Nechirvan employed different sets of officials to accompany him in his almost back-to-back meetings with French President Macron in Baghdad and the Turkish President Erdoğan in Ankara. His PUK deputy was ominously absent in Ankara. Furthermore, PUK co-chair Lahur Talabani met with Macron, alongside with President Barham Saleh. In Ankara, as Chief of Staff I believe, we had Kareem Sinjari, while in Baghdad in the same seat we had Fawzi Hariri. Sinjari is still seen as the wise man in charge of the “security” and “counter-terrorism” files (read PKK) and is known commodity in Ankara.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Çavuşoğlu again used the acronym “IKR”, the “K” in which can be conveniently There was no IKR flag around: Meeting with the MFA being a familial “unofficial” breakfast in the garden and presidency protocol allowing only the Turkish flag to be in display –at that level. So the emphasis was on “hey, this is business as usual, now everything is as unofficial as they can get” on the Turkish side. On the Kurdish side it was “look, I and only I still have privileged direct access to Erdoğan.”
If I am not mistaken, one more person to take note of by not his presence, but his absence, was Berat Albayrak. Does that mean money and oil are no longer priorities at all? Or that the IKR side found it more efficient to go directly to the fountain’s dead to better make use of their short and valuable time in Ankara. We do not know. Other details may turn out in the coming days, so let’s not over-read the tea leaves.
Timing wise, this also was a very belated first visit to Ankara by the IKR President. Why did he wait for so long or rather why Ankara kept him waiting for so long? That is probably due to internal political tensions and the pretended balance between the military and the diplomatic tools. Based on the meagre IKR statement with not much flesh on its bones, we are led to believe that neither counterterrorism nor the ongoing abovementioned TAF military operation within the IKR were among the main topics touched upon.
Henceforth, this is a tad disappointing to watch from a distance this almost “non-visit”. Almost no media coverage, no official statement by neither the Turkish presidency or the Turkish foreign ministry. Unlike the IKR statement, a single line at the MFA website informs us that “PKK was the foremost topic that has been discussed.” It feels like it’s altogether back to 1990’s. An internally divided IKR and transactional personal relations with IKR leaders based on the fight against PKK.
Even still, perhaps there is cause for rejoice that this visit per se happened. It is always preferable to keep direct, face-to-face communication lines open. And I also do hope that there are enough number of officials on both side with a modicum of common sense to look forward towards a better future for all our children. Still, normalisation is not the same with voiding of content and diplomacy is not play acting.
*If my memory serves me right, this yarn would have been related by none other than Cengiz Çandar in his gem of a book “Mezopotamya Ekspresi”, however I am unable to reference it properly as the book is not returned to me by the person who retrieved from my library years ago.
Whichever foreign leader tries his or her hand in dealing with and instilling sense in Ankara feels, they are given short shrift sooner rather than later. The present foreign policy surfs on top of all these contradictions and an oriental sort of variable geometry. All business is transactional: leave it or take it.
Let's try to fly over the most recent conflictual developments and keep in mind the question whether these set, now and finally, the definitive ropes for Ankara’s endless foreign policy endeavours.
Like France, Turkey too is a secular republic. Secularism is one of constitutional principles that even to propose changing is banned. Yet, judging the paths taken by the two presidents Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Macron they are going at almost diametrically opposite directions.
The Turkish Republic is founded on the rejection of “capitulations” in plural. Yet, before the politically unthinkable becomes inevitable, the toxic nature of Turkey’s politics needs a thorough clean-up and not a mere facelift. The West can ill afford to cover it up with concrete and walk away from it.
The way out for for both Greece and Turkey as well as for both EU and Turkey is to put back on the table Turkey’s EU full membership vocation fair and square. If Mr. Macron’s France wishes to take the lead, he will be most welcome. Bold is better than ambitious when it comes to political leadership.
Macron says “the EU is me” and Erdoğan says “Turkey is me”. Both are not totally false and yet neither is fully correct. At the same time, as Erdoğan dropped the full EU membership target a long time ago, he prefers something in between the Russian and the new British relationships with the EU.
Ankara appears to be in desperate need to have a mini armed conflict of sorts. It will be better for everyone in Brussels, Paris and Athens in my humble opinion not to play into Erdoğan’s hands.
The “good news” do not fly far much. An eminent expert with 26 years of experience Mr. Necdet Pamir reminds us that global giant Schlumberger operates the government owned drillships and that, with merely one well being drilled one cannot pretend to know the quality and the volume of a gas reserve.
With today’s and foreseeable prices, let alone potential deep sea drilling, even if you hit a gas reserve right down in your water-closet, you won’t be able to market it for the simple reason that there is no buyer. So, what’s the hustle is all about?
A state which very reluctantly offers its visa only after receiving allegiance to the centralism of Turkey and to the leadership of the Turk following a thorough body search to the ideas that arrive to its custom gates, demands the exact opposite when it turns toward the Kurd: A rootless and nationless global muslim brotherhood.” This […]
According to Turkey's presidential spokesperson Kalın “We were told other people’s tales under the guise of modernization. Now, it’s time to write of our own tale.” Just to avoid any sensationalism, let’s put it on the record that Mr. Kalın is no lunatic. That’s why his expression of his teenage dreams of accomplishing a full back-somersault must be taken for what it’s worth.
Not practically, but theoretically the recent scene at Hagia Sophia was not un-reminiscent of Al Baghdadi’s Mosul Friday sermon. This is not who we are. We must be better than this and we are better than this. The year is 2020.
In recent years and increasingly so, Turkey’s near abroad policy can be described assertive and defiant at best, foolhardy and hazardous at worst. For some, it is just looking for trouble almost all the time, everywhere. The latest addition to the list is the Azerbaijan-Armenia border skirmishes.
International relations look more and more like a marketing and sales activity. And yes, diplomacy, by default, looks at least to me, more and more like stand-up comedy.
The recent explosion of interest in Turkey for the likes of Sebastian Haffner’s and Ernst Fraenkel books is telling on its own. These German exiles of pre-WW2 period relate the story of lockstep marching of their societies to outright fascism. And we relate to them. And we look at Russia and China and we relate to them as well.
A good start is not often times sign of a good finish. “Start as a Turk, finish as a German” the saying goes around here. One outcome may well be a de facto or Sudanese style de jure partitioning of Libya –what with Turkey finding itself left with the dry end.
Today in Turkey, thanks to Erdoğan’s shrewd politics and survival instinct, nationalism and Islamism are blended together. No nationalistic opposition will find the tiniest bit of space anymore against the rampart of the new Islamism 2.0 on steroids unless it gathers the guts to adopt pluralistic and geared towards de-centralization policies.
True, Turkey’s neither Syria nor Libya military adventures can in real terms be compared to the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. neither in scope nor in content. Nevertheless, reasoning-wise it makes sense –to me at least. Why, because I would simply like to know how much is being spent out of taxpayer’s pocket?
Perhaps, it is time for the opposition to start re-thinking the republic and switch priority from rights and freedoms to administration and social contract. In this month of June it will not be way off-the-mark to claim that Junes as in 2013 or in 2015 were not one-off singular events.
Our official and public/individual reactions to Mr. George Floyd’s killing is a perfect looking glass mirror. We are exempt of all sins. There were no enslaved Circassian women’s blood running in our veins. No property “confiscated” from our Armenian neighbours who decided to take an unexpected walk.
Turks and Kurds are not exotic fruits that grow in faraway lands. As citizens of this country, namely the Republic of Turkey, they yearn for equality, justice for all, state of law, plurality, agency, effective administration through decentralization, secularism, better education and economy for their children, security.
Perhaps at glacier speed yet things appear to have started to move between Turkey and the U.S. Stars are almost getting aligned what with Turkey in dire need of fresh monies to fill its fast emptying forex coffers and the U.S. shifting its military focus for the umpteenth time from the MidEast to global rivalry with first China and then Russia.
If the truth is circumvented or sterilized, finding a solution to a problem that is being carried along since almost a century will be harder if not impossible to reach. Politics is one thing, law is something else, political science is another and history is yet another.
Lefter Küçükandonyadis (1925-2012) was Fenerbahçe football club’s and Turkish national team’s star player during the many long years when he played football. Last week, my good friend and distinguished sportswriter Bağış Erten named his new born son “Lefter” and announced the happy news through social media.
The capacity and the capability of the Turkish Armed Forces is overwhelming compared to its regional peers. The resolve of the leader and the public support are formidable. The pandemic keeps the global powers at bay. The worm in the apple is the economic engine.
President Erdoğan in his last “address to the nation” which was duly broadcast via all available means defiantly stated that “our country will eradicate all (its’) media and politics viruses.”
At the very end of the day (literally), just two hours before midnight the interior minister declared a curfew for the weekend. And, all hell broke loose (again literally).
An appointed official, in this case the interior minister, defies and elbows the elected mayor of a city, for example Istanbul with its 16 million inhabitants because he represents the state also known as the office of the presidency and also because he has a hunch that if these pernicious activities are allowed, then God forbid, HDP municipalities may follow suit and raise money for PKK!
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.
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.”
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