Erdoğan’s Turkey a liability

The Turkish military and its jihadist allies launched a military assault on the Kurdish populated areas of northern Syria last week. The jihadists, re-baptised as the Syrian National Army, are paid by Turkey and wear uniforms provided by Turkish authorities. They worship Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and consider him a sort of religious guide.

In a matter of just a few days, these irregulars have already committed documented war crimes against unarmed civilians and prisoners of war.

For the aggressors, the rules of war do not apply because as far as Turkey is concerned, it is implementing an anti-terrorism operation. Many more summary executions of unarmed civilians and prisoners of war are likely to be carried out if the assault is not halted. Erdoğan declared on Sunday: “I am not interested in whether they are Kurds, or this or that. They are not human in the first place. Terrorists. We see terrorists and humans differently.”

In Turkey the authorities, the official media and the vast majority of the public joyfully cheer on these deeds as they support the oxymoronic “Operation Peace Spring”.

The warmongering newspaper Yeni Şafak initially celebrated the murder of a Kurdish politician before it deleted the post, probably having been told to do so so as not to jeopardise the official line that everything is fine. Alas, what counts as “good news” for the official Turkish media is often proof of a war crime! 

Meanwhile, some opposition newspapers close to the Kemalists have ceased all criticism of the assault and fallen in with the official line. A handful of media outlets, less than 10, are reporting under severe conditions with much restraint, if not self-censorship. That leaves social media, which may well be banned soon as Twitter users are under tight surveillance. 

Indeed, there is an official blackout on news that does not conform to the official line decided by the presidency. All those who cross the line, criticise the assault or talk about an invasion are liable to legal proceedings.

Erdoğan proudly announced on Sunday that 129 people had been taken into the custody for “propaganda against our country” and proceedings initiated on another 589 people. Needless to say, many of them are for social media posts.

The Turkish coverage of the war follows the rules. For example, official media announced an attack carried out by Kurdish forces on the town of Nusaybin and that had left eight civilians dead. Firstly, members of parliament for the opposition pro-Kurdish party were prevented from going to the city to investigate. Secondly Kurdish residents refused in front of the official media cameras to hold Kurdish forces responsible, thereby strengthening the suspicion that the attack on Turkish people was carried out by Turkish forces in order to blame the Kurds.

Finally, Turkey’s ultimate objective is to impose total control over the news and ban all reporting from the area of military operations just as it did in the previously occupied towns of al-Bab, Afrin and Azzaz from where there has not been any independent reporting since.    

The opposition has enthusiastically backed the war of conquest. Hardly any opposition politician has spoken out against the line sold to the Turkish public; most have joined the atmosphere of nationalist delirium. This has extinguished all hope of a political alternative and consolidated the position of Erdoğan and his totalitarian order. 

Hardly anyone from the otherwise hardline anti-Erdoğan secularist opposition blinked when authorities ordered the country’s 90,000 mosques to recite the Conquest Surah from the Quran. Neither did they when Erdoğan tweeted in Arabic hailing the Army of Prophet Mohamed invading, on his behalf, northeastern Syria to fight Kurdish forces.

Turkey bears the scars of century-old genocides and pogroms against non-Muslims, non-Sunnis and non-Turks. The public memory has been erased by the official narrative and through a sort of omerta. The Turkish nation was built on top all these human ruins, 100 years ago, hence, on very fragile foundations. Turks unconsciously feel this vulnerability and are always predisposed to respond to any call that revives their survival instinct. The deep disease re-emerges today against the Syrian Kurds and their Western allies.     

This is the Turkey that the West is appeasing. What are the chances of such appeasement working?

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.