“Nobody ever knew what really happened. How many fighters or civilians killed to what effect…nobody knew any facts. In other words, it all seemed like theater for public consumption.”
[Is the quotation above about Turkish airstrikes or American drone strikes? How do we know that any “legitimate media” war report is true?]
I cover conflicts, frontiers and upheavals mired in history.
In Turkey, an ISIS suicide bomb kills 30 and wounds many more in the Kurdish area town of Suruc. The Kurdish insurgent terrorists, the PKK, then start killing Turkish policemen and soldiers while ISIS attacks a Turkish military border post. Peace demonstrations ensue in some cities which police put down with the, by now, familiar methods of severity against civilians. Ankara and Washington reach an agreement allowing the US to use its bases inside Turkey against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Erdogan’s spokesmen announce that Turkey’s air force has conducted raids against both PKK and ISIS targets across the border. Turkish authorities arrest some 900 people nationwide, mostly Kurds, for allegedly belonging to terror networks. Turkish tanks shell Kurdish villages in Syrian borderlands near Kobani. Meanwhile, news leaks that the US has solid evidence of Turkish collusion with ISIS in months past. Let us pause here and dispel some of the fog.
First, let us remember that Turkey conducted a national election on June 7 and still hasn’t formed a government. All these decisions in a time of crisis are being taken by somebody. Someone’s running the country. We’ll get to the full implications later but initiatives are being taken, orders given. The air raids for instance. Worth a little scrutiny. For example, you have to wonder, since the Turkish air force knew of PKK targets in Iraq, so quickly and easily neutralized, why didn’t it act before? And why attack Syrian Kurds near Kobani who, after all, are busy fighting off ISIS? Especially if you’ve declared ISIS the enemy because it has killed 30 people in a suicide bomb inside Turkey.
On the ISIS front, it’s worth viewing the video put out by Ankara of the air strikes against several sites by F-16s using laser-guided munitions. All the targets seem to have one thing in common: they’re each at a safe distance from residential complexes in ISIS territory. They’re set apart in open fields. They betray no marks of military activity. Now, humanitarian though this might seem – which itself begs the question – you still have to wonder. Does ISIS keep strategic targets clear of population centers? And, if so, why were such targets still so manifestly available. The US has waged its air war against ISIS since last September. They left a few for the Turks? The skeptic might ask if these were meaningful targets at all.
I remember during the Iraq war that Ankara would announce with fanfare various bombing sorties to hit PKK camps nestled in the Zagros mountains in retaliation against one or other PKK atrocity inside Turkey. Nobody ever knew what really happened. How many fighters or civilians killed to what effect? The PKK never slowed down. Barzani grumbled about territorial integrity. The White House mumbled about Turkey’s right to self-defense. I queried Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan, from both Suleymaniah and Erbil, during those years about any publicly mooted information about those recurrent air strikes. While they expressed outrage at territorial violation by Turks, nobody knew any facts. In other words, it all seemed like theater for public consumption in Turkey.
Let’s keep firmly in mind the overarching attribute of Turkey’s AKP leaders throughout the last decade: they’re invariably long on demagogy and short on solutions. The goal always is to stay in power, mute criticism, corrupt all necessary institutions, suppress dissent, play the populist card. And play it so unscrupulously that the country polarizes step by step. Protestors are terrorists. Critical journalists are atheists. Gulenists serve a foreign power. Kurdish politicians are fronting for the PKK. The mayor of Ankara, a top Erdoganista, sued a journalist for accusing him of – wait for it – being Armenian!
Much of the time nobody knows what’s really going on after any eruption of internal conflict first gets reported – they only get exposed to propaganda and polemics. The media gets muzzled and social media suspended. It happened after two gas cylinder bombs exploded at a HDP Kurdish party rally ahead of the elections killing two and wounding over 100.
It has happened after the Suruc horror by ISIS. Erdogan’s main objective, to befog with theater when he can’t hide the reality, hasn’t wavered. Hence the display of signing the Incirlik Airbase deal with the White House. Hence the bombing runs against ISIS. These add up to a manifest U-turn as he and his party have publicly abetted ISIS in myriad snide ways, even giving cover to its foremost vociferous advocate in Turkey, the noisy and sinister Halis Bayancuk whom they’ve just re-arrested. Previously arrested in 2014, he was released by the authorities while the prosecutor and judge who had moved against him were demoted. The government then defended him publicly as a victim of the ‘deep state’ conspiracy, one of Erdogan’s favorite polemical bogeys.
Meanwhile, as many domestic commentators now say, Turkey is hovering on the brink. Similarly, others are pointing out that the country now faces total crisis not accidentally but in line with Erdogan’s plan to monopolize power, become the indispensible figure amid chaos. In the old days, when fractured elections led to paralysis and conflict, the military would step in and tidy up the mess, acting as last-chance custodians of the Republic. These days their role resides, democratically, with the President. Alas, the ‘honest-broker’ is also a dishonest protagonist in the fray, namely Erdogan himself. The office of the Presidency requires him to stand above politics. He hasn’t – even though the country voted away his party’s parliamentary majority for that reason, as a rebuttal of his ambition to make the Presidency paramount. He planned to re-enact the Putin/Medvedev tango, Turkish-style, moving between the position of PM and President to avoid term limits.
As I wrote here after the election produced no winner six weeks ago, Turkey has never fared well with coalitions. In this case, the coalition didn’t even materialize. While the various parties continue to negotiate on forming a government, they’ve left Erdogan in charge by default. What I warned then, is coming to pass (even quicker than expected) when I said, “and here’s the most scary part: as things deteriorate it will be up to the President to impose order by one means or another” and “a fundamental player in the equation (Erdogan) has no interest but to let things get very bad indeed”.
And so here we are. For Erdogan it’s even better that there’s no government. He rules by diktat. To do so, he needs crises. He’s busy creating them. Stoking the Kurdish conflict simply polarizes the country further, catalyzes civil war Assad-style. He will call a sudden election when things are bad enough. There’s some chance he might have miscued though. After all, he has no coalition to blame. Instead of seeing him as the indispensable strongman, the country might hold him responsible for all the chaos. If there is still a country by then.