Aug. 10. 2019
“Does everyone have enmity towards us?” This was the question posed in his regular column by the late journalist Mehmet Ali Birand. Birand’s column in the daily Hurriyet was regularly translated in The Turkish Daily News (February 8, 2001):
[W]hen we look at this scene [of Turkey’s neighbourhood] a question is invariably formed in the mind of a person: Countries might have problems with their far and close neighbours, even with their allies. However, nobody has as many disputes with its associates as we do. Something is wrong. Either everyone feels enmity towards us(!) or we do something wrong. What do you say, which is correct?”
When the occasion warranted Birand would repose the same question or a variation of it in his articles: are Turks always right and is every one else wrong?
Birand (1941-2013), was one of the most credible and influential Turkish journalist, credited with breaking and original stories, including excellent books on the role of the Turkish Army in politics and foreign policy issues, generally. In 2006 it was revealed that the Turkish Deep State (Derin Devlet) ordered one of its most famous assassins that went with the pseudonym “Yesil”(Green) to target him for assassination.
Half a century back, the Israeli envoy to Turkey Maurice Fisher wrote, inter alia, the following to Tel Aviv on 16 August 1953:
“Our relations with Turkey have been extremely good of late…[but] these good relations could deteriorate overnight, and we should learn from the bitter experience of others. The Turks have yet to achieve a standard by which, in the event of disagreement with another state, they can weigh up the positions of both sides. For them, there exists one sole principle: in any conflict with a foreigner, whether a private individual, a company or a state, the Turk is always right.».
[Source: Amikam Nachmani , Israel, Turkey and Greece: Uneasy Relations in the East Mediterranean. London: Frank Cass, 1987, p. 43.]
And of immediate relevance today, on account on the brewing crisis in Turkish- American relations, is yet another view articulated by a former Pentagon official, with extensive field service in Turkey. He was Justin Galen (a pseudonym) whose article, “Turkey as a Self-Inflicted Wound: The Narrowing Options of US Defence Policy”, was published in the “Armed Forces Journal International” (Vol. 117 No. 10, 1980). Significantly the article appeared in June 1980, a few months before the Kenan Evren coup. Birand quotes from it in his superb book, “The 12 September Coup”(1973). In his well documented analysis, Galen takes issue with the power ambitions of Ankara, regional and global. Additionally he raises questions about the role and the balkiness of the Turkish Army, all exemplified by the unrealistic demands of its Generals for advance American weaponry and technology transfers, at a time when the economy of the country had already collapsed (1979-80). Galen concluded thus: “Unfortunately, if the US ever has to ask the question ‘Who lost Turkey?’ the answer will be the same as for Iran: it will be the Turks who lost Turkey”.
Incidentally the “Who lost Turkey?” hullabaloo had been the favourite cliche of Turcophiles in Washington for decades. Whatever the crisis between the US and Turkey, of which there had been many in the post WWII period, the difference in Washington had always been between those that argued that the US is not doing enough for Turkey and the rest who argued that the US should be doing more. The common denominator for both schools has been that Turkey was, is and will always be no matter what, an “indispensable ally”, but one that unfortunately is persistently “neglected” and, worse, “unfairly” treated by its Western allies and the US in particular. Hence the “Turks are always right” and, justifiably, throw regular tantrums, behave and act the way they do, because they receive nothing but ingratitude from from their Allies in spite of the sacrifices and expenses they incur for the sake of and the security of the West.
This is precisely the position adopted by President Trump in the most recent serial between Washington and Ankara, centring on the Russian S-400 antimissile system. The Turks are not to blame for purchasing the Russian system, Tramp claimed. It was Obama’s fault. He treated them “unfairly” by refusing to sell them the Patriot system and thus forced them to turn to Moscow. Yet everyone in Washington knows that the reason the Patriot deal fell through was because the Turks demanded the Patriots system, plus “lock stock and barrel” its high tech and key software. They also know that the years before the Turks had tried and failed to blackmail the US by going through the motions of negotiating with the Chinese for the purchase of an antimissile system from Peking.
Yet in his pro-Turk position Trump was merely imitating Obama. Once assuming power in 2009 Obama chose Turkey as his first foreign visit, praising Erdogan’s leadership and Turkey as a model and a moderate Islamic republic. He did so to make up for his predecessor’s “unfair” treat of them. Until then and since 2003, the Bush Administration had unofficially downgraded relations with Ankara by limiting exchanges, visits and contacts especially with Turkish officials in the American capital, on account of the 2003 Iraq war. In 2003 the Turks engaged in their favourite oriental blackmail game by demanding up to 90 billion dollars (by Prime Minister Gul in a visit to Colin Powell in his home in DC) and concessions against Cyprus and the Kurds, in order to allow American forces to open a second front against Hussein through Turkey. Bush offered them 30 billion, concessions on Cyprus and the Kurds, but did not meet their demand to launch a “parallel” and independent from the American command attack, against the Kurds of Iraq. Offended, the Turks refused access, a decision that cost lives, billions of dollars and immense frustration to Bush and Pentagon planners. Unperturbed, the incoming Obama Administration blamed Bush for failing to understand Turkey’s “security” needs and for treating them “unfairly”. Ironically Obama wised up to the con games of Turkey and Erdogan- his erstwhile “best friend”- in the Middle East, but only towards the end of his term.
What the world persistently hears from Erdogan, the Turkish military, from Islamists , kemalists, journalists of all sorts, and from the rest, is that Turkey- who they never fail to remind has the second largest army in the Atlantic west- is under daily threats by forces that either want to partition her or prevent her from achieving former glories as heir to empire. All Turkey wants, the world is told over and over again, is what “fairly” belongs to her and which was “unfairly” taken from her. She wants what international law and justice entitle her to have – she wants her “place under the sun”, nothing more. Ahmet Davutoglu, its erstwhile Foreign Minister and Prime Minister actually used the word “lebensraum” to describe Turkish policies. Turkey must therefore arm herself to the teeth, establish Turkish peace in her neighbourhood, and thus obtain peacefully what rightfully belongs to her.
But who threatens Turkey, really? Certainly not the Russians, the only ones with real capabilities to do so. Otherwise why buy the S-400 and knowingly put a Trojan Horse within the walls? Could it then be the Iranians? There had not been a war between Turks and Persians for almost three centuries and their border has historically been the most stable in the region. They may be competitors but they are not enemies. In fact Ankara and Tehran have been cooperating intensely, especially against Washington. The recently released from jail in the US Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla did time for mastermining with Iranians – on order from their regimes- one of the biggest recent gold smuggling operations with the expressed purpose of undermining sanctions against Iran. Erdogan was aware of the oil for gold scheme to bypass US sanctions by Attila, who run Turkish state bank Halkbank. He welcomed him profusely back to Turkey and offered him a new job.
Could the threat against Turkey come from her neighbours, Iraq and Syria? Both countries have been laying prostrate and bleeding for years. They cannot defend themselves against repeated Turkish attacks. Iraqi and Syrian territory has been under Turkish occupation. In fact Iraqi territory has been under attack by Turkey since 1978. Do Iraq and Syria really threaten NATO member Turkey?
May be it is Saudi Arabia, then. Seriously now. We are talking about a country that cannot handle Yemen, its poor-devastated and civil- war torn neighbour.
Surely Lebanon and Jordan do not threaten Turkey. May be it is Israel and Egypt, then. Neither have ever threatened Turkey. But they both deter her from acting like a bully against them. And this frustrates Ankara. She has been used to bullying Cyprus and self-deludes herself that she can get away with it all over the Mediterranean. The same holds for Greece. With her NATO army she also deters Turkey and the dominance fetih of her ruling cast. There is a difference between deterring and threatening that Turkey’s warmongering elite can not fathom.
I have left Cyprus last. She is the third country in the region whose territory -almost 40 per cent of it- is under Turkish military operation, in her case since 1974. In fact the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus has been turned into a Turkish colony with ethnic cleansing now complete and with parts of Turkish-occupied Syria and Iraq now looking like those in Cyprus.
Erdogan has actually named Cyprus- with a population of less than a million and no navy or airforce- as presenting an “existential threat” to Turkey! And he is constantly bullying and threatening her, currently by surrounding her with frigates and submarines and arbitrarily drilling in her Exclusive Economic Zone, claiming that Cyprus, an island, has no continental shelf and no EEZ because they both belong to Turkey, a much, much, bigger country. By merely being the Republic of Cyprus creates “injustice” against Turkey that must be remedied. It is as if one is a “sinner” by not been “faithful” and therefore something has to be done about it.
There is really no counter argument to the Turkish logic about Cyprus. The only way for Erdogan and his cohorts to counter the threat from Cyprus and celebrate the centennial of a Turkey in 2023 with peace of mind, is to place from now a down payment for the Russian S-700, which rumour has it is already in a planning stage.
In fact Turkey either of the Islamists or of the Kemalists, is a threat to itself. This is the reality in Turkey today. After systematically eliminating its non-Muslim minorities, the Kemalist believed they could handle its non-Turkish population, the Kurds and the Alevis, by subsuming them under “turkism”, but with them on horseback. The Islamist tried the same under “sunnism”. When a state tries to, at best, ignore half of its population- the Kurds and the Alevis- and at worse attack them violently, that state is a threat to itself. No outsider threatens her. Birand knew what he was talking about by posing the question the way he did.
Kemalist Turkey failed because in the name of supposed secularism, it built a racialist state with kemalists at the helm. The Islamists are attempting to do the same in reverse. For both, internal coups- either military or otherwise- serve as a domestic safety valve. And the “enmity” of their neighbours ensures that the derin devlet perpetuates itself and, with it, Turkish racialism, salafism, and elite corruption through day to day governance
* Μarios Evriviades is professor of international relations at Neapolis University Pafos [Cyprus]