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Don’t Believe in Ankara’s Hoax about its Romance with NATO Allies

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Turkey must understand that Brussels, unlike Washington, is not a headquarter of diplomatic blunders and it cannot easily game-play Brussels.

This month NATO Summit was held in London and it marked its 70th Anniversary. Turkey, now a days,is busy persuading the people and all the international observers to believe in its fantasies and what it calls ‘the co-operation’ with its NATO counterparts simultaneously justifying its use of force in the Northern Syria over Kurds but the reality is altogether different.

The recent strain

After recent developments in Northern border of Syria by Turkey after US pulled its soldiers – which had allied with Kurdish Army and were fighting against ISIS from the border has seen sceptical reactions from many countries as well as various international organisations. Let us all remember the wise statement by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan – “No government has the rightto hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights”. I would suggest that the scope of national sovereignty in this context extends to “National Security” as well. Earlier UN humanitarian assistance had pointed in Security Council that the operation has exacerbated the safety and well‑being of the area’s 3 million residents and nearly 180,000 people have fled that border region in just two weeks after it began. Turkey describes northern Syria as a “security threat” for itself, but the offensive military operation which have had the severe effects on the people in the region surely suggests otherwise.

NATO and its members on Turkey Offensive

On the other hand, NATO chief not only had soon urged ‘restraint’ on its policies in Northern Syria but also emphasised on the “coordination with other allies” on the issue of Islamic State. Furthermore, NATO maintained a stand that ‘actions may further destabilise the region, escalate tensions, and cause more human suffering’. This is clear indication of tussle between Ankara and Brussels. Moreover, the disagreement by France and Belgium on the NATO’s “soft stand” on Ankara and accusing that the “soft stand” has been taken under US pressure is further indication that Ankara and its NATO counterparts are facing internal conflict. Surely this doesn’t suggest any like-mindedness between NATO and Turkey.

Turkey must always have one peculiar thing on tip of the finger that – Brussels, unlike Washington, is not a headquarter of diplomatic blunders and it cannot easily game-play Brussels.

The realitycheck of the vague arguments by Ankara

Turkey argues that commitment to destroy terrorism must be ‘thorough’, I would be surprised and would truly appreciate if Ankara could provide a “thorough” evidence that while going for operation, they had “thoroughly” considered civilian casualties that it could cause and had “thoroughly” considered NATO’s stand on the concerned issue. This is not to say that PKK has never done anything wrong. Cross border attacks have always been part of middle east, Northern Syria being no exception. Here, the question is solely of civilian casualties – of those who mayn’t be involved in any offense and have suffered unnecessarily. Any terrorist organisation should meet its fate, anyone who spreads terror shouldn’t be spared at all but while doing operations there should be maximum efforts to reduce civil casualties, human rights abuses, and destruction of innocent lives which in this case, Ankara seems to have neglected.
Also, indeed it is true that PKK present in Southern Turkey is an international terrorist organisation, but YPG – constituting SDF in Northern Syria, is not an internationally considered an offshoot of PKK as Ankara has argued in attempt to play cleverly with views of the people.

There are many Bone of Contentions between Brussels and Ankara

For anyone like me who is involved in diplomacy and international relations, it seems a humour when Ankara and Mr Erdogan boasts about the “co-operation” between NATO and Turkey. To begin with, on 29th November, Mr Erdogan called President Emmanuel Macron “brain dead” in the response to Mr Macron’s recent statement on NATO. This is not only unethical and unacceptable but also marks a “lack of communication” between highest leadership of both the countries. A wiser leader should be more cautious about the message he/she gives to his counterparts and international community – unlike many who now a days have a great reputation of committing diplomatic blunders – as it directly affects all the dialogues and at highest level political and diplomatic level. This is bound to escalate the tensions between Paris, one of the very prominent in NATO and Ankara.

Another recent example of this ‘lack of co-operation’ was seen on November 27 and December 10 when Turkey refused to back NATO’s defense plans. Ankara rejected the idea of backing NATO’s plans for Baltics and Poland. Ankara wants NATO to officially recognise YPG militia as a terrorist group and to gain political support for the same, Ankara has taken the step. This is a good example of how Turkey is pursuing quid pro quo with NATO. Recently, Polish official said “There is no going back from the decision made at NATO [last week during NATO summit]”. This is enough to prove the bone of contention between Turkey and its NATO counterpart. 

There have been many other incidences where there’s has been a ‘lack of co-operation’, for say – Ankara bought S-400 Air Missile Defense System from Moscow side-lining NATO’s view only to get suspension from US on F-35 program. The recent clash on migration issue is also to be seen in regard to lack of trust between Hungary, a member of NATO and Turkey. All these are enough to prove that there has been a lack of co-ordination between Ankara and various its NATO counterparts.

Democracy

Turkey has tried to make a “safer zone” for itself in its southern part which shares the border with norther part of Syria. This has to do with Erdogan’s domestic politics. He has been losing in recent elections in all major cities and it is an alarm for him to save his office. Moreover it’s an open secret that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) which promised to reinforce the democracy and worked up on the same in the initial years have ended up now making Turkey a democratic state for name’s sake. The present authoritarian and totalitarian regime which used to get the success in election by polarisation of conservative-religious forces and liberal-progressive ones have not had a gala time since 2016 and the recent local election losses might just be a first baby-step of eradication of the polarisation, although it is highly likely that it is not going to get over sooner. Furthermore, the economic dwelling in the country possess a serious question among domestic observers and voters in the country about Erdogan’s present leadership.  

Erdogan has constantly talked about Turkey’s attempts to get a democratic Syria. The attempts by Ankara which is claims to be for ‘a democratic Syria’ seems no more than a cruel joke.

“Turkey should make itself a proper and healthy democracy first and then talk about having attempts to get a democratic Syria at its doorstep. International observers are wise enough to understand Ankara’s hypocrisy.”

Turkey ranks 110th out of 167 countries in Global Democracy Index 2018 Report. Its score declined for 6th time in a row indicating decline of democratic ideas and civil liberties in the country. There have been many incidents where journalists have been jailed, properties of political opponents have been seized and media has acted as a political puppet of current regime. These are surely not signs of a proper democratic country.

Alas! let the people not be fooled by Turkey on its relations with NATO.

Jaimin Parikh is a diplomatic researcher currently engaged with European Institute of Policy Research and Human Rights. He is also serving as an Expert Reviewer with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

Dr.Alon Ben-Meir

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Middle East

Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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