The Turkish dictator goes to New York

This year’s United Nations General Assembly is exceptional thanks to Secretary General António Guterres’ climate initiative. First billed as the Climate Summit in 2014, five years later the initiative has been renamed the Climate Change Summit to duly recognise the state of emergency.

The whole year will be devoted to awareness building among people across the world as well as the nations that too often backpedal on climate action. The UN’s International Day of Peace Day on Saturday was this year even given the theme Climate Action for Peace. It goes without saying that threats to the climate and threats to peace are intimately correlated.

So, Turkey was among the state actors to prepare this year’s summit as decided previously in New York.  

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was to deliver a three-minute address announcing, “concrete actions transition to a decarbonised built environment, sustainable mobility systems, and specifically-tailored financial and technical support for urban transitions” as part of the Climate Change Summit.

No previous information was available on Turkey’s endeavours on the issue, neither in the website of the Turkish mission to the UN, nor for the matter on that of the Environment Ministry.

Indeed, the speaker did not surprise anyone and parroted Turkey’s irrelevant achievements, for instance proudly announcing the shift from one fossil fuel (coal) to another (gas) and presenting it as an appropriate example to follow.

In any case, whatever Erdoğan says in New York, Turkey’s environmental record is at odds with the content and the objective of the UN’s climate change initiatives; the country is one of the worst polluters and top deniers of climate change. Turkey has not even ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change.

It is telling that comments on general assembly by a Turkish retired ambassador touch on all the key issues pertaining to Turkey, except the very theme of the gathering; climate change!

The purpose of Erdoğan’s visit to New York is about everything but climate change. He will have several bilaterals with other leaders, but first and foremost, he will project his aggressive foreign policy to the world.

Indeed, at the plenary of Tuesday, he shamelessly proposed a new deal for Syrian refugees.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pushing a radical solution - resettling refugees in a swathe of Syrian territory controlled by the United States and its Kurdish allies. If that does not happen, he is threatening to send a flood of Syrian migrants to Europe,” journalist Carlotta Gall wrote in the New York Times.

Erdoğan openly advocated the forced relocation of Syrian refugees in Turkey, but also those in Lebanon and Jordan, to Turkish-occupied northern Syrian territory. Turkey plans to extend the land under its control to the east of the River Euphrates, despite the opposition of all the other actors involved in Syria.

Syrian refugees are not to be asked whether they agree to be resettled there and the Kurds living in those areas are not to be consulted either - international humanitarian law that forbids forced relocation was openly overlooked in the very forum where it was agreed. With an arrogance that even a rogue state would not dare, Erdoğan explained his grand designs not for peace but war, and asked the blessing of his peers. 

On the eastern Mediterranean “front”, just days ahead of the general assembly and amid efforts to restart talks to reunite the divided island of Cyprus, Erdoğan’s vice president, Fuat Oktay, reiterated plans to open up the fenced-off district of Varosha, part of the Turkish-occupied city of Famagusta. That means a de facto expansion of occupation into an area that is the responsibility of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus.

This is how Turkey in 2019 is positioning itself before the world. Cornered domestically, the regime is looking dangerously to revive its legitimacy by coercive action abroad; like the Greek colonels in 1974, and Argentinian generals in 1982.  

Last but not least, in one of his last visits to the United States, in May 2017, the dictator’s security detail openly waged a street war against peaceful protesters. Let’s see how will they behave this time, with many announced protests.

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