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Our Man in Ankara: Why Does Washington Support Yet Another Vicious Dictator?

Voutenay sur Cure, France.

On June 8 Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan approved a new law that  will help destroy the last vestiges of parliamentary democracy in his country.  His Justice and Development Party (AKP) brought in the law to end immunity from prosecution of members of parliament, and this might appear reasonable — because, after all, why should such people have immunity that is denied to the citizens who elected them?   But, as in all emerging dictatorships, the devil lies in the detail and the consequences.

The law is aimed against members of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who are vocal in criticizing  Erdoğan and his march to the throne.  They consider that the Kurdish people in Turkey deserve a voice, but Erdogan considers that nobody in Turkey deserves a voice, apart from him and his political followers.  According to the CIA World Factbook the Kurds are 18 per cent of Turkey’s population.  Other sources give a figure of 30 per cent, but whatever it is, there are many millions of Kurds in Turkey and for many decades they have been victims of massive official discrimination and persecution.

People who speak out in support of the Kurdish cause can be charged with treason and terrorism — and this now includes members of the Democratic Party who will be jailed under the all-embracing “law” and thereby reduce opposition in parliament to Erdogan’s scheme for vast extension of presidential power.

As Human Rights Watch observes “Turkey’s trajectory is toward authoritarianism and the dismantling of all checks on the power of its leaders. The combination of the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process and crackdown on media and political opponents over the past year spell dark times ahead . . .”

On May 6 a court in Istanbul, acting on Erdogan’s orders, sentenced the editor of the Cumhuriyet newspaper to five years and ten months in prison for publishing a report revealing illegal provision of weapons to Islamist terrorists in Syria by Turkey’s secret service.  His bureau chief got five years.

Two weeks later Istanbul was host to the World Humanitarian Summit, which was held “to stand up for our common humanity and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering.”  Attendance included 65 heads of state.  It was the usual total waste of time (Oxfam called it “an expensive talking shop” and those who refused to be there included President Putin and the global medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières), but the point is that a humanitarian conference should never have been held in Turkey, which is being transformed into a dictatorship by a president who is well-described by Professor Alan Sked of the London School of Economics as  “a volatile, unstable, highly authoritarian personality.”

The professor went on to observe that Erdogan “has pursued a civil war in his own country and has clamped down on the opposition and social media at will. Thousands have been imprisoned for merely criticizing him . . .”

Erdogan is a bigoted thug, yet the international community rushed to his country to hold a humanitarian conference, and foreign heads of state flock to press his hand in friendship.  The plight of the Kurds is ignored.

In January over 1,100 Turkish academics signed a letter asking Erdogan to cease his merciless blitz on Kurdish centers in the south east of the country. Thousands of Kurds had been (and continue to be) killed and crippled by ground and air assaults of merciless savagery.  Erdogan’s response to the petition was to declare that these compassionate scholars “spit out hatred of our nation’s values and history on every occasion. The petition has made this clearer . . .  In a state of law like Turkey, so-called academics who target the unity of our nation have no right to commit crimes. They don’t have immunity for this.”

Some thirty of the humanitarian signatories were arrested and fifteen were dismissed from their university posts. They live under constant threat, as do all who attempt to disagree with the imperial president.

Yet Erdogan’s Turkey is strongly supported by the United States and by the European Union, albeit for very different reasons.

The US backs him because he supports its efforts to destroy President Assad of Syria and is a strident and aggressive opponent of Russia, while the EU is behind him because if he chose he could control the influx of Syrian refugees to Europe.  So Erdogan can persecute and jail as many journalists and academics as he likes, while continuing to slaughter Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and although there may be a few murmurs of disapproval in Brussels and Washington there will be no action whatever taken by either the US or the EU to stop the President of Turkey wielding absolute power over his people.

In March, while Erdogan was attending the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington (yet another total waste of time and money, except for the travel industry) he met separately with the US president and vice-president, neither of whom had the moral courage to take him to task for his blatant oppression of those of his citizens who dare to express opinions contrary to his own.  As the Voice of America reported on March 31, “President Barack Obama assured his Turkish counterpart of American commitment to the security of Turkey, a critical ally in the fight against the Islamic State group,” while the White House readout of the Erdogan-Biden meeting recorded that “the Vice President  reiterated the United States’ unwavering commitment to Turkey’s national security as a NATO Ally.”  They discussed “ways to further deepen our military cooperation” which was no doubt heartening to a bellicose thug whose aim is to persecute and preferably kill Kurds wherever they may be.

In spite of all the evidence, the United States refuses to acknowledge that Erdogan’s Turkey has provided massive quantities of weaponry to Islamic terrorist groups who are prepared to kill Kurds. It does not appear to matter to Washington that “Not only has Erdoğan done almost everything he can to cripple the forces actually fighting Isis; there is considerable evidence that his government has been at least tacitly aiding Isis itself.”

The countries of the European Union, in similar blinkered mode, ignore Erdogan’s transformation of Turkey from democracy to dictatorship because they are prepared to make almost any sacrifice to reduce the flood of refugees now threatening their countries, and imagine that Erdogan will assist their efforts.

Little wonder that Erdogan is on the crest of a wave and can persecute dissenters and slaughter Kurds with hardly a word of international criticism.  In March, when he took over Turkey’s largest newspaper, the independent Zaman, and replaced the entire staff with his supporters, US State Department spokesman John Kirby called the seizure “troubling.”

Unless the US and the EU bring pressure to bear on Erdogan to restore democracy in his country, he will continue to persecute his critics and continue his killing spree.  But he is too valuable to them for that to happen.  All they will do is hold more humanitarian conferences.

More articles by:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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