In 2005, as I was flying into Istanbul, a dear friend, Joe Serio, was leaving after attending an international security conference. I remember his comment at the time: “I think things might change here.” How perceptive of today’s Turkey, as we are sitting in the viewing stands witnessing the slide into moral cowardice by a United States’ administration on two security fronts– internationally and at home. Both affect our national security. I will address the first.
This blog and its commentaries are concerned with our national security. Not to promote the idea of isolation as a means of self-protection from the violence surrounding us, but as part of our interaction with the rest of the world — from North Korea to ISIS to Afghanistan and onto any unrest that might have an impact on our lives. Today, Turkey is on the opposite end of a very long national strategic fence of international partners. The history of Turkey has turned increasingly and dramatically ugly within the last decade.
In 2005, when I arrived in Istanbul, this was a beautiful city of charm, great food, exciting architecture and artifices with a different sight and smell at every turn, and notwithstanding my friend’s comment, one felt no sensation of what was to become of this country. Today a geographic anomaly, Turkey is a mass of land that has one-half of this nation sitting in Asia and the other in Europe. The Bosporus, with its amazing bridge spanning both worlds, cuts the nation in half but does not affect its culture or intensity of daily life. Every day brought a different sense of this country from the phony rug salesmen to the kids running thru the streets delivering tiny cups of coffee to the stunning mosques. We slept in a monastery turned hotel, walked the spice markets, and could easily have extended our stay beyond that week but for a boat we had to catch on our way, eventually, to Athens.
Politically, Turkey was a secular country in the midst of a Muslim world. In 2001, the country’s Constitutional Court had the power to ban and to declare that a pro-Islamic political party was far too anti-secular. A stunning move, when we think of our own democratic process. Parenthetically, the following year Turkish men were no longer to be regarded, under the law, as head of the family. But at year’s end, the population went to the polls and gave the PK (Justice and Development Party) — an Islamic based political group — a sweeping victory. A stunning political change. Only to be followed by the newly elected pro-Islamic government ramming through a constitutional amendment that allowed the now infamous president, Eayyip Erdogan, to become its prime minister– although he had been barred from any public positon due to having a previous criminal record. We must remember that all through this period there is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighting for an autonomous, self-governing Kurdish state within Turkey, and at the same moment the country was seeking future EU membership. The seeking of EU membership is to be a long rocky road with EU concerns regarding Turkey’s human rights stance that have only worsened.
Between 2006 and 2007, Parliament rushes through anti-terror legislation that raises the EU’s concerns regarding civil rights issues, and EU then freezes Turkey’s membership application. At the same moment, toward the end of 2007, Turkey launches a number of air strikes against the Kurdish PKK movement, not in Turkey but inside Iraq. The political issues spiral down. By 2010 there is a poorly organized and executed coup, with hundreds of army officers arrested by Erdogan, that severely cripples the army’s internal power. By June of the following year Erdogan moves into his third year in office and takes control of the army. By 2013, mass anti-government protests are felt around the country because of the nature of the government’s non-democratic rigid and dictatorial methods of governance. The police respond to the protests with violence, and the Prime Minister, Erdogan, responds with dismissive distain. And protestors die. By the end of the year, the future can almost be predicted: The pro-Islamic Erdogan government fires police officials who seek to protect the population from government corruption. This, was followed by Erdogan being elected President of Turkey. The election is declared valid. The Islamic population has turned its back on secularism and in turn democracy.
Then, slowly, one can see the movement toward what can now be truly described as a dictatorship, with democracy to be hurriedly buried. Last year, the government placed Turkey’s largest opposition newspaper under state control, the prime minister was forced out by Erdogan in his continued grab of dictatorial power, thousands of soldiers (!) and judges (!) are imprisoned on mere suspicion of their possible involvement in the failed coup, and the government in order to prevent the dissemination of hard news, closed dozens of media channels and 16 TV channels. In July 2016, the President of Turkey accused two United States military commanders of siding with the coup plotter or being the masterminds behind the coup. In April of this year Erdogan has extended his powers.
Where the United States is today: A survey was conducted between mid-February and early May of this year and found that 72 percent of the Turkish citizens who participated in the survey see us –the United States– as a threat to their security, greater than that of Russia and China. That conclusion is obvious and reasonable because of the total eclipse and suppression of an open and free press in Turkey. The population is only permitted to read what the government selects. Our Secretary of State, under the moral leadership of our President, see tensions “in tone” between the two countries being reduced. How can we accept the notion that the negative tone between these two nations has been ratchetted down, and not upward, notwithstanding the arrest of thousands upon thousands of civilians on the pretext of their alleged involvement or support of the failed coup?
Turkey is a member of NATO—its military bases and air space of operation are utilized by US-Allied forces. Our alliance with them in NATO requires the United States to come to their aid if they are attacked. In addition, and this is a crucial point: Turkey is an “autocratic” government, and its recent passage of a constitutional referendum all but destroyed the remaining vestiges of their civil rights. This has made it mandatory for the EU to stop—and stop they did of all further considerations of Turkey’s admittance to EU.
Let’s be clear with regard to the EU; we are talking of “civil rights”, and an “autocratic” is despotic and tyrannical. Yet we look to Turkey as an NATO “ally”. The prevailing excuse for this relationship can only be the “expediency of war”. Why are we committed to the protection of a nation that violates the civil rights of its citizens and operates a repulsive, tyrannical administration?
Our nation can conduct whatever warfare necessary in the mid-East without the help or assistance of Turkey. We are large enough, strong enough and imaginative enough to undertake whatever is necessary to protect our national security interests anywhere in the world. Will it be more difficult without a Turkey in the equation: yes, but neither will it be impossible nor improbable.
Where are our commitments to international morality?
Shame on us.