By Arian Mufid:
Yesterday’s terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport highlights the ultimate folly of President Erdogan’s policy of fostering ISIS and other jihadists, such as the Al Qaeda-affilliate al Nusra, mainly to counteract the righteous Kurdish movement for self rule. Now the deadly chickens he hatched in Syria are coming home to roost.
Given the murky role of Turkey’s secret state it’s often difficult to know who is really behind some atrocities. There are, for example, significant signs that the state had at least prior knowledge of last year’s ‘ISIS bombings’ in Suruc, which targeted scores of young people planning to go and help Kobane, and in Ankara, which killed more than 100 Kurds and their supporters marching for peace. This latest ISIS atrocity, however, was probably intended to undermine Erdogan.
Erdogan’s disastrous foreign policy has badly isolated Turkey. After ISIS captured Mosul in 2014, questions were asked about how Turkey managed to secure the release of its 49 captured diplomatic officials, apparently without paying any ransom money. Then the reason became clear: the Turkish state was barely concealing its support for ISIS terrorists who could freely cross the border with Syria and even send their wounded for treatment in Turkish hospitals. It became plain that Turkey was not truly supporting the Allied coalition against ISIS but was rather willing ISIS to defeat the Kurds in Kobane, that heroic city where the barbarians suffered their first real defeat.
Against this background it’s not surprising that US President Obama refused to meet Erdogan when he visited the States this spring and he was humiliated again recently when he crudely tried, but failed, to muscle in on Muhammed Ali’s funeral, where a speaker told Turkey to “stop killing Kurds”.
This week Erdogan took significant steps to try to overcome this isolation. He has made a deal with Israel (which should help him repair his US links, especially if Hillary Clinton wins the upcoming presidential election), while also meeting Hamas to try and reassure his Islamic base, and he has apologised to Putin for shooting down a Russian fighter jet which was engaged in attacking the jihadists he supports in Syria.
Erdogan can be pragmatic as well as ruthless. He is driven above all by his desire to secure executive presidential powers – by whatever means. His personal ambition is all consuming. However he has created monsters that are now significantly beyond his control and he did so mainly because of his dread of Kurdish self rule.
In Syria he has backed the jihadists to try and crush Rojava. In Turkey, although he previously made limited concessions (compared to the former military-backed regimes) to the Kurds and allowed the recent peace process to take off, Erdogan put this process sharply into reverse last year, especially after the June 2015 elections when the pro-Kurd HDP made a breakthrough while his ruling AKP party lost its parliamentary majority in a developing climate of hope and tolerance. Erdogan feeds on fear and conflict, not peace and democracy. And so he engineered a civil war atmosphere after the June polls to rekindle AKP support in the November elections. Since then he has waded through blood, had people burned alive and laid waste to Kurdish towns, creating around half a million refugees to help consolidate his rule. Erdogan is a war criminal. Understandably many Kurds are hungry for vengeance and more of them now want complete separation from Turkey.
In discussing terrorism it should be said that the bombings reportedly carried out by TAK earlier this year in Ankara and Istanbul caused innocent civilian casualties and did not advance the Kurdish cause. Instead such attacks play into the hands of the Turkish state, make it easier for Erdogan to escape justice, and the HDP was absolutely right to call on TAK to disband.
Erdogan, his sights set on total power, is imposing increasing curbs on the media, including jailing journalists who have exposed links between the state and jihadists, shown solidarity with a Kurdish newspaper or somehow “insulted the president”. He also wants to prosecute the HDP MPs, primarily as a way as to get the two-thirds parliamentary majority he needs to secure constitutional changes.
His next step would then be to hold a referendum and for that he probably wants to maintain the climate of fear while, at the same time, not let things get too far out of control. However yesterday’s horror shows that he has unleashed many furies thriving on the bitterness and division he has cultivated.
The best way forward for Turkey is along a path of justice and peace, and especially through renewed negotiations on the Kurdish issue, the release of Abdullah Ocalan and the adoption of a new democratic constitution catering for all the peoples of Turkey. There is no sign, however, that any of this will happen under Erdogan. Unless he is checked, there is danger of an increasingly authoritarian dictatorship, like in Syria, laying the conditions for still bloodier civil war and disintegration.