Until joined by the Islamic government in 1979 and then by Hizbullah in the 1980s, Syria was Israel’s most visceral enemy. This enemy is now being destroyed but not by Israel. So-called Muslims backed by so-called Muslim governments – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – are doing the job for it, in alliance with the traditional western enemies of the Arabs. Syria’s cities and towns have been devastated. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed. Millions more have been displaced, scattered across Syria or seeking refuge beyond its borders. Reconstruction will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Recovery will take decades. Without spending a penny or losing a life, Israel has been handed one of the greatest strategic victories in its existence.
Michael Oren let the scarcely concealed cat out of the bag the other day when he said Israel would prefer a Syria without Bashar al Assad to a Syria in the hands of the jihadists. The outgoing Israeli ambassador in Washington, Oren was only bringing something to the surface that could be seen underneath it despite the vociferous denials of Israel’s lobbyists. Israel wants the government in Damascus destroyed. Netanyahu has been trying to hide its interest behind a mask of indifference but as the likelihood of a US military ‘strike’ – for a war that would engulf the region – slipped away, the lobbyists in Washington broke cover. They buttonholed every congressman and women, only for the vote on war to be postponed indefinitely, much to the chagrin of the gulf and Turkish governments, their armed and political protégés and the Israeli government.
While the Syrian army continues to grind the armed groups down, there seems no end to the volume of money, armaments and men outside governments are still prepared to pour into this conflict. Obama is still trying hard to get Russian agreement on a UNSC resolution that would allow the US to begin another war in the Middle East by attacking Syria. In the meantime the armed groups are continuing with the war they are waging. In his recent interview with former US congressman Dennis Kucinich and Fox news correspondent Greg Palkot, Bashar al Assad estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the armed men are Al Qaida-type takfiri jihadists. The ‘defence’ consultancy HIS- Janes puts the figure at about 50 per cent but whether it is 50 per cent or 90 cent, whether they are foreign or Syrian, the jihadists are dominating the fighting. Talk of moderates is deception. Only in the last few days the main fighting groups – all takfiri – have again rejected the authority of the exile Syrian National Coalition and the so-called Free Syrian Army. This is presented as something new when at least a year ago the very same groups issued the same kind of declaration saying the same things. The so-called FSA is the western standard bearer for ‘moderation’ in this struggle even though its brigades are every bit as fanatical as Jabhat al Nusra or any of the other takfiri groups.
If the Syrian government does fall – and at the moment it is not only holding its ground but steadily driving the takfiris back – chaos would prevail in Syria on a far greater scale than Libya at present or Algeria in the 1980s. The country would implode. This is so self-evident that the US and its allies must know it and if they know it, one has to presume that this is what they want. Saudi Arabia is out to destroy the Syrian government regardless of the consequences. Britain and France are following the US and US policy on any issue in the Middle East is largely fashioned according to the interests of Israel. Turkey is the odd man out. Whatever Recep Tayyip Erdogan thought he was going to get out of confronting Syria his own country has been very adversely affected by his decisions. The breakdown of Arab states into sectarian enclaves permanently at war with each other has been an Israeli strategic objective for decades. It has happened in Iraq and now the specter of the collapse of another unitary Arab state hovers over Syria.
While the takfiris do their best to destroy Syria, Israel is getting on with the colonization of Palestinian territories as fast as it can. The current wave of settlement expansion is the greatest since 1967. In the past year edicts have been pouring out of the Housing Ministry authorizing the construction of thousands of housing ‘units’ in East Jerusalem and across the West Bank. The strategic focus is on settlement expansion in and around East Jerusalem and the construction of highways and roads that will simultaneously integrate the settlements into the greater Jerusalem municipality (enlarged immediately after the 1967 war) and, along with the Separation Wall, further cut the Palestinians off from the city. In the first quarter of 2013 alone there was a 176 per cent increase in settlement expansion over the same quarter for 2012.
In August this year, just as the ‘peace talks’ were resuming, Israel announced the construction of thousands more housing ‘units’ in East Jerusalem settlements. The mainstream media tells us that settlement expansion is ‘impeding’ peace, ‘threatening’ the peace talks and the ‘two state’ solution. The plain fact is that there are no ‘peace talks’. They are the camouflage for the war Israel has been waging against the Palestinians for seven decades. To their discredit and dishonor Mahmud Abbas and Saib Urayqat are giving these ‘talks’ a Palestinian face. By announcing settlement construction in the same breath as announcing the resumption of ‘peace talks’ Israel shows its absolute contempt for both of them.
Land expropriation and development for agricultural purposes continues unabated. So does the theft of water. The Council for European Palestinian Relations estimated recently that the settlers consume an average of 280 liters of water a day compared to 86 liters for the Palestinians, below the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of 100 liters. Only 60 per cent of the water allocated to the Palestinians is potable. While taking their land Israel simultaneously uses it as a rubbish dump, with solid waste from West Jerusalem being dumped at Abu Dis, once set up by Israel as the Palestinian ‘capital’ of East Jerusalem even though it was not even inside the municipality until Israel put it there. The settlers do the same, dumping their rubbish and household waste water on Palestinian land in the valleys below their settlements on the hilltops.
In a statement handed to the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to Palestine in February this year, Al Haq (Law in the Service of Man) presented some statistics. In 2012, 202 ‘incidents’ of settler violence along with dispossession, home demolitions, forcible evictions and intimidation; more than 200 settlements established since 1967, including 14 in East Jerusalem, and more than 500,000 settlers now living in them; and more than 42 per cent of the land of the West Bank as well as most of its resources allocated to Jewish settlements. Al Haq notes that the Israeli High Court ‘has rendered the question of the settlements non-justiciable’.
The Council for European Palestinian Relations estimates that the population in the West Bank settlements is growing at an average of five per cent a year compared to 1.8 per cent for the rest of occupied Palestine. It puts the total number of settlers at 467,000, of which number 385,000 are living in between the Separation Wall and the 1967 ‘green line.’
Every brick laid by Israel on the West Bank, every liter of water pumped out for settlements swimming pools and lawns and the presence of every settler represents a violation of international law. Yet, says Naftali Bennett, the Religious Services Minister and leader of the Jewish Home Party: ‘We will continue building and you will see this soon.’ He was speaking before the August announcement that more housing ‘units’ would be added to Jewish colonies in East Jerusalem. ‘I am sending the message from here to all the parties in the negotiations: the land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel’. He has pledged to do ‘everything in my power to make sure they never get a state.’
In a leaked exchange with another cabinet minister Bennett said that ‘I’ve killed many Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.’ He complained that the conversation had been taken out of context, because what he meant was that he had ‘only’ killed them in the context of operations. There was one such ‘operation’ on the West Bank last week. Heavily armed soldiers stormed into the Jenin refugee camp, broke into the house of the Tubaisi family, shot Islam al Tubaisi, 19, in the leg, dragged him downstairs, his head banging on every step and shot him dead before an ambulance took him to hospital. Perhaps in time the members of this unit will be bragging in time about how they also have killed many ‘Arabs’.
Dig deep enough into the crises in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and the confrontation with Iran and eventually you will find Palestine. It remains the central issue, the pivot on which US policies, dominated by Israeli interests and demands, has turned for more than six decades, yet for the takfiris affiliated with Al Qaida, killing other Muslims (and Christians) in a variety of countries takes precedence. It is striking that the same heads of government inveighing against terrorism and expressing their outrage at the slaughter of innocents in Nairobi have not once expressed outrage at the slaughter of innocents in Syria unless they thought they could blame the Syrian government.
The call of unity sounds through modern Arab history like the cry of a lost bird. United the Arabs will stand and divided they will continue to fall. As long as they are not able to put common interests first they are going to be ripe for the plucking. What is at stake in Syria is not the political system but Syria itself and for the past three years it has been systematically and deliberately destroyed by an unholy coalition of outside governments and the gangs of armed men doing their dirty work in the name of Islam.
The dominant Arab actors in this deliberately induced catastrophe are the regimes in Riyadh and Doha. They engage with Israel behind the scenes even as it colonizes Palestinian land and sends uniformed gangsters into the Haram al Sharif to beat Muslim worshipers trying to protect one of the holiest sites in Islam. While consorting with the enemy and abandoning the Palestinians these two regimes – infinitely less representative of the will of the people than the government in Damascus – take the lead in the destruction of an Arab state. The greatest beneficiary of their actions on one hand and their inaction and neglect on the other is Israel. This is surely as great a disgrace as any in Arab and Islamic history.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
Turkey’s policy is being smashed apart. It has no depth, no vision, no principle and no morality. It is not just a case of muddle or a failure of cynical opportunism. Rather, it is something which is completely inexplicable without there having been some sort of big bribe (probably of the “We will make you the regional big-wig” variety) for Erdogan, the Prime Minister.
Turkey had a clear, simple policy – be friends with all neighbors. It was a very sensible policy and, as a result, Turkey was able to build its economic and political strength and was increasingly being recognized as a regional leader. (Remember the deal arranged between Turkey, Brazil and Iran over 20% uranium enrichment which made Obama look like a fool, as he is?)
Importantly, Turkey was also seen as a successful example of how Islam and politics can integrate in a modern way.
But now look what has happened! History has many examples of countries, led by incompetent prime ministers, shooting themselves in the foot. However, in the case of Turkey, it’s an instance of shooting itself in both feet.
In Syria, no doubt dreaming of a huge territorial expansion under his benign rule, Erdogan went from friend to not just enemy but to being the worst thing of all – a vicious sectarian out to put the whole of the Middle East at each other’s throats. What a disgraceful turnabout for a man who was being held up as an example to the world!
And look at the consequences! Can anybody guess how many hundreds of thousands, even millions, of refugees will soon be living within Turkey’s borders? What is that going to do for Turkey’s economy?
Can anybody guess what will be the consequences for the unity of Turkey itself (which has a large Kurdish minority) given that the Kurds of Syria have to fight against the Takfiri throat-slitters supported by Turkey?
Will the Kurds in Turkey remain silent? And what about those throat-slitters in Syria (who also like a bit of head-chopping and gas-choking on the side)? Are they going to leave Turkey alone (since they have no intent of leaving anybody else alone)? Turkey is arming them and establishing secret routes for them, in fact, doing everything to ensure that Turkey itself is one day going to be attacked by them. How idiotic can you get?
Moreover, goodness me! What about Turkey’s middle class? They are enraged with Erodogan’s Syria policy and, as history teaches, politicians who upset the middle classes do so at their peril….
Erdogan has been doing some slimy creepy-crawling to the Israelis and Americans (after all, they were the ones promising that he would become the Big Caliph big-wig if he only did a bit of their bidding). But now, Erdogan is being given a nasty dose of reality – the last thing the USA and Israel want is a Big Caliph: rather, all they want is a Greater Israel (from the Mediterranean across to the River Euphrates and down to the Nile).
So, Erdogan is now accusing Israel of being behind Morsi’s ouster in Egypt which is a very reasonable accusation given that Israel (together with the USA and Saudi Arabia) is a member of the Axis of Evil which interferes everywhere in the Middle East. Of course, the USA is angry that anybody should even hint that Israel is behind anything but, then, the USA is another country regularly shooting itself in the foot and, in its case, the feet are very big, clumsy ones.
Thus, Turkey is finding out the hard way that it cannot rely on the USA or Israel as allies (and who, in their right mind, would think otherwise?)
Behind all this, of course, are some big geo-political realities one of which is that China, Russia and Iran are holding firm in backing Assad of Syria. Therefore, the USA is unlikely to intervene in Syria even though it wants to.
So, Turkey’s Syria policy is now down the drain and it’s beginning to look as if Turkey itself is going down the drain (although the country will probably push Erdogan down the drain before it gets near to going down itself….)
Where will Erdogan turn now? He is promoting sectarianism and, by doing so, has betrayed Islam.
The obvious thing to do would be to turn away from the West and Israel and look more to stronger relationships with Muslim countries. But to whom? Saudi Arabia? That would be another strategic mistake (and it is disgraceful that Erdogan has allowed a disgusting Saudi Arabia to become more influential.) Egypt? Unlikely. Iraq? Very unlikely …
Erdogan’s made a ripe mess, hasn’t he? He’s alone. Why should anybody trust him when he has betrayed everybody else? We can expect the Turkish people to be taking action soon.
A Turkish court has blocked a redevelopment project for Istanbul’s Taksim Square after the country was rocked by four weeks of anti-government protests.
The court ruling is seen as a big blow to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had strongly backed the project, but is also seen as a victory for the opposition that has been staging nationwide rallies against it.
Istanbul has been the epicenter of anti-government demonstrations since May 31, when the police broke up a sit-in staged at Taksim Square to protest against the redevelopment plan which involved the demolition of Gezi Park.
The Turkish protesters said Gezi Park, which is a traditional gathering point for rallies and demonstrations as well as a popular tourist destination, is one of Istanbul’s last public green spaces.
The protests soon spread to other cities across the country and turned into calls for the resignation of the Turkish prime minister.
Several people have been killed in the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, who Erdogan has described as foreign-backed extremists and terrorists.
Last week, Turkish artists, journalists, and authors placed full-page advertisements in several newspapers, asking Erdogan to stop using divisive language.
On June 24, Erdogan praised the “legendary heroism” of police forces in quelling anti-government protests.
The Turkish prime minister has faced international condemnation for his handling of the crisis. Turkish police have been also strongly criticized for using excessive force against the peaceful protests.
- Turkey will consider protesters staying at Taksim terrorists, official says (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Since the start of the protests and ensuing unrest in Turkey, a peculiar tradition has emerged in Istanbul. As the soon as the clock strikes 9 pm, a chorus of percussion – banging pots and pans – emanates from open windows in “pro-opposition” buildings. The cacophony lasts for about half an hour, sometimes more, depending on the day’s events. Its purpose: to show solidarity with the protesters in Taksim Square.
Istanbul – Aznur returned from the dentist disappointed and worried. She had an appointment, but the clinic was closed. She was not sure if this had something to do with the general strike called by Turkey’s trade unions.
The young woman, in her twenties, stood bemused, her face still swollen from yesterday’s tear gas. She then mumbled, “Maybe he is still detained. He was protesting with us last night.”
Though Aznur’s English is broken, this is nonetheless a “great achievement” in Turkey, where few people go on to master any foreign languages. In truth, the language barrier has made on-location coverage difficult for those who want to understand events beyond the news agencies.
Five Turkish trade unions declared the strike following the brutal police crackdown on protesters, which has claimed the lives of four activists and injured thousands since the protests began. Yesterday alone, 600 protesters were detained throughout Turkey, according to a source in the Turkish Bar Association who declined to be named.
The trade unions’ move also signals their rejection of the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Such policies have started to infringe alarmingly on individual freedoms, as many young men and women have told us.
Serttaş, a 30-year-old physical therapist, said, “Does Erdogan think Turkey is Gaza? The municipality of Ankara prohibited men and women from holding hands in public places and public transportation! Who does he think he is? All that is left for him to do is come with me to the bathroom! And why would he ban the sale of alcohol after 10 pm? I don’t understand.”
“We are here defending our way of life,” he added.
Yesterday was a momentous day. The repression of unarmed, peaceful protesters was unparalleled for a country not at war. Perhaps the explanation for Erdogan’s ham-fisted approach lies in his fear of catching the “Arab Spring” bug.
In its crackdown on the protesters, the government used a new type of tear gas, which could be a misnomer since the gas is blinding, as we were told by medical sources who said that 17 people have lost their sight because of the gas. The government has also shut down all communications, Internet access, and public transport like the subway and taxis. On top of it all, he has cut off power from Taksim Square to deter protesters from coming to the site.
These measures paralyzed the touristic capital. Thousands of tourists were stranded. We were able to spot some lost in the streets, unable to find their way back to their hotels.
We saw a Japanese tourist standing in front of a clerk at the bus station in Findikli Station on the Bosphorus. “I have a question,” she tried to tell the clerk. He looked at her said, “Yok yok” – Turkish for “there isn’t,” as in there isn’t anything operating. The tourist asked again, “Bus? Tram?”
“Bus yok, metro yok,” the clerk replied, making hand gestures to mimic someone walking. The girl, not quite sure what to do, followed his advice.
I, too, was stranded after witnessing the dispersal of a protest near Taksim using tear gas, water cannons, and batons. I ran away from the terrible smell in the direction of the waterfront along with some protesters. There, I encountered staggering traffic along the Bosphorus.
I learned afterwards that the legendary traffic was caused by Erdogan’s supporters, who came in from the Turkish provinces to meet his call to rally in the neighborhood of Zeytinburnu, where Erdogan delivered his speech.
“Most people left before Erdogan finished half of his speech,” a man in his fifties told us from where was he standing, in front of his café. I glanced at the Turkish television inside that was broadcasting Erdogan’s speech, and I saw the flag of the Syrian opposition.
During my long wait at the waterfront, I saw many large buses packed with women wearing the headscarf, and crammed taxis. Traffic was at a standstill. We asked one taxi after another, “Osmanbey?” to which the unanimous answer was “Kapali, kapali,” meaning “it’s closed.” The police reinforcements had closed it down.
Nearly an hour later, when Erdogan’s speech was over, traffic suddenly started rolling. In a matter of minutes, the street was completely empty, as though someone had blocked it at a faraway spot. I heard chants in the distance, and soon thereafter, a few-hundred-strong protest arrived in the area. Clearly, they came to protest against what Erdogan said during his speech.
Most of the protesters are young and middle class. There even are claims that most of the protesters are taking to the streets for the first time. Almost everyone was wearing a gas mask or goggles.
They looked at the choppers flying overhead and waved their fists at them in a challenging gesture. Passing boats in the Bosphorus sounded their horns, and people banged pots on balconies or applauded.
Şenol, a 40-year-old man who took part in the protests, said, “I do not blame the poor for backing Erdogan. They do not know their rights. They think that the handouts of the Justice and Development Party are something good. They don’t understand that his economic policies impoverish them.”
He continued, “Erdogan fools them with religious slogans while he sells public property, and expands the circle of cronies of businessmen and the nouveau riche. One day, they will understand. We too voted for him thinking he would rid us of the military, but he is worse than them.”
The time is nearly 8 pm. The sky is overcast. I tried to contact friends, but the phone lines are broken. Smartphones weren’t so smart either, because the Internet had been shut down.
Istanbul was nearly choking because of the fires and toxic gases that poisoned the air. Scores of hotel reservations and trips have been cancelled, much to the chagrin of workers who depend on tourism to make a living.
The clashes in Taksim and neighboring quarters continued throughout Saturday and Sunday. Street battles near the Osmanbey metro station led to a major confrontation on Sunday shortly after 4 pm.
It rained heavily, flash-flooding Istanbul’s streets. The rain washed away the toxic air, and forced some police officers to retreat. The protesters also took advantage of the rain to flee to their homes and wait for the next round of protests tomorrow.
- Turkey will consider protesters staying at Taksim terrorists, official says (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Turkish Unions Protest Erdogan Crackdown, Announce Strike (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Turkish police detained dozens of people at their homes and raided two media offices on Tuesday in a coordinated operation across the country to clamp down on nearly three weeks of mass anti-government unrest, AFP reported.
Officers raided the homes of around 90 members of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), a small leftist group that has been active in Istanbul’s Gezi Park protest at the centre of the nationwide protest movement, the Istanbul bar association said.
Police also searched the offices of the Atilim daily and the Etkin news agency, local media outlets linked to the ESP group, the NTV and CNN-Turk television stations reported.
NTV said 30 people were arrested in the capital Ankara and another 13 in the northwestern city of Eskisehir in a police swoop targeting 21 provinces overall.
Two of Turkey’s main trade unions started a nationwide strike on Monday after police cleared protests from Istanbul protest park.
The KESK and DISK trade unions, who together represent hundreds of thousands of workers, called a one-day stoppage to object to the police violence against anti-government protesters, and said they planned to hold demos in the late afternoon.
“Our demand is for police violence to end immediately,” KESK spokesman Baki Cinar told AFP, adding that the unions would be joined by striking engineers, dentists and doctors.
Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler condemned the stoppage as “illegal” and warned strikers not to take to the streets, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended his crackdown on Gezi Park, the epicenter of the protest movement.
Riot police were still firing volleys of tear gas and water at pockets of demonstrators in Istanbul and the capital Ankara early on Monday, after a weekend of clashes sparked by the eviction of protesters occupying Gezi Park.
Nearly 600 people were arrested in the scuffles on Sunday alone, according to the Ankara and Istanbul bar associations.
The weekend violence has intensified a crisis that poses the biggest challenge yet to Erdogan’s decade-long rule.
At a rally of more than 100,000 supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Sunday, the premier insisted it was his “duty” to order police to storm Gezi Park after protesters defied his warnings to clear out.
“I said we were at an end. That it was unbearable. Yesterday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up,” a combative Erdogan told a sea of flag-waving loyalists. “It was my duty as prime minister.”
Erdogan’s words were met with roaring approval from the audience, the largest crowd to assemble since the crisis began. Many chanted: “The people are here, where are the looters?”, using Erdogan’s description of the demonstrators.
At the same time, riot police were fighting running battles with thousands of protesters determined to regroup after being ousted from Gezi Park and the adjoining Taksim Square, a mere 10 kilometers (six miles) away from the AKP rally.
Turkey’s political turmoil first began when a peaceful sit-in to save Gezi Park’s 600 trees from being razed prompted a brutal police response on May 31, spiralling into countrywide demonstrations against Erdogan.
The crisis has claimed four lives and injured nearly 7,500 people so far, according to the Turkish Medical Association.
Turkey’s European Union minister has warned that Turkish police will consider protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square as members or supporters of terrorist groups.
“I request our citizens who supported the protests until today kindly to return to their homes,” Egemen Bagis said in a late Saturday interview with Turkish channel A Haber.
“From now on the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there a supporter or member of a terror organization,” Bagis stated.
He went on to say that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has already assured [activists] about their aim with the protests. The protests from now on will play into the hands of some separatist organizations that want to break the peace and prioritize vandalism and terrorism.”
The unrest in Turkey erupted after police broke up a sit-in staged at Taksim Square on May 31 to protest against a government plan for the redevelopment of Gezi Park.
On Saturday night, Turkish police attacked anti-government protesters at Taksim, shortly after Erdogan ordered the demonstrators to evacuate the area.
Police also stormed the protest camp in Gezi Park, firing tear gas and using water cannons to disperse thousands of protesters defying the prime minister’s order to leave.
Several protesters have also been detained or wounded – some of them allegedly by rubber bullets.
Also on Saturday, Erdogan told the protesters that they would face the police if they did not leave Gezi Park.
“I say this very clearly: either Taksim Square is cleared, or if it isn’t cleared, then the security forces of this country will know how to clear it,” the Turkish prime minister said in a speech to his supporters in the Ankara suburb of Sincan.
The embattled premier said the demonstrations – which have been the largest street protests during his 10 years in power – were part of an organized plot against him.
However, the protesters have vowed to continue their campaign until their demands are met and the detained people are released.
The Turkish prime minister has faced international condemnation for his handling of the crisis. Turkish police have also been strongly criticized for using excessive force against the peaceful protests.
Five people, including a police officer, have reportedly died in the clashes and more than 5,000 protesters and 600 police officers have been wounded.
Overnight, what was once a consensus on the stability of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government turned into a schism. The barrier of fear collapsed and demonstrations spread throughout the country, leading to clashes that left many injured. However, the “Sultan” remains, at least for now.
Istanbul – The bloody wave of clashes in Turkey over the past two days has raised many questions, from comprehending the Turkish government’s disproportionate reaction, to debating the possibility of a wider “Turkish Spring.”
The information is conflicting, but there is one constant: The barrier of fear that has protected Turkish PM Erdogan, who has exerted his authority over the entire country, has come tumbling down. Though the view prevails that Erdogan is still firmly in control, there is no denying that the events took everyone by surprise.
It is clear there is more to the issue. The transformation of a public square into a mall does not warrant hundreds of injuries and arrests, or people from 47 districts taking to the streets.
Erdogan blamed the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its president Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Yet there is no denying that the control and hegemony practiced by Erdogan, which by and large turned the private media into an official spokesperson for the government, is a large factor in the turnout.
The reason might also be Erdogan and his party’s interference in the private affairs of individuals, such as the recent decision to ban alcohol. Or it could be popular discontent with the Syrian issue, with some polls indicating that up to 80 percent are not happy with the situation.
Kılıçdaroğlu expressed it boldly. The government’s policy toward Syria is a threat to Turkey national and homeland security. Erdogan’s reply, as usual, was violent and provocative, accusing him of “supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because they are both Alawis.”
Some believe that Erdogan’s attack on Hezbollah and Iran is another reason behind the popular discontent with the prime minister. There are about 20 million Alawi Turks, albeit known to be the most ardent defenders of secularism in the country.
No matter what, Erdogan’s strength lies in the political, economic, and moral support of the US. Istanbul’s stock market has 66 percent foreign investment. What does that mean? It means that Erdogan, who has sold off almost all of the public sector, is now a hostage to this money and investment. If foreign investment declines, it will lead to an economic collapse, taking with it Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AKP) party.
The AKP came to power following an economic collapse. They remain in power due to economic “achievements.” It was interesting that in all this confusion, several Turkish, US, and British newspapers rooted their analyses in this framework. However, they differed about the outcomes.
Those who believed it was a Turkish Spring cited its causes in economic and cultural reasons, as well as fear of the Islamization of the state.
The Turkish press say that talk of a Turkish Spring is “exaggerated.” However, some Turkish pundits admitted that the current events are “a turning point in the sanctity of the image of Erdogan and his party.”
Nevertheless, the Turkish press agreed that the demonstrations “reveal the gap in the opinions of citizens and the view of the ruling AKP.”
TEHRAN – The Iranian foreign ministry underlined the domestic nature of the current unrest in Turkey, and expressed the hope that the problems in the neighboring country will be solved by the Turkish officials’ tact and wide domestic diplomacy.
“The conflicts in Turkey are an internal issue and we hope that this problem will be solved calmly and peacefully by the Turkish leaders’ insight,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Araqchi told FNA on Sunday.
The protests in Turkey began earlier this week as a sit-in over plans to redevelop Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, but escalated after police used tear gas.
In Ankara, protesters tried to march on the parliament.
Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon for a second day on Saturday to prevent hundreds of protesters reaching the central Taksim Square, scene of violent protests in which hundreds were wounded.
Anti-government demonstrators wearing handkerchiefs and surgical masks chanted “unite against fascism” and “government resign” as they tried to walk down the street to Taksim, a witness said.
Protesters also clashed with police in the Besiktas neighborhood, on the shores of the Bosphorus, after crossing a bridge in another apparent attempt to reach Taksim.
After nearly a week of increasing public protests in Turkey, ostensibly over government plans to turn a last bit of green space in Istanbul into another shopping mall, matters became far more serious on Friday. Riot police descended on the protestors with various forms of tear gas (and possibly worse chemical and biological agents — raw sewage?) and water cannon, blasting everyone and everything in sight including non-participants. When they caught protestors, they beat them violently and brutally, as can be seen in this video. Photographs show that police fired tear gas into crowded underground metro stations, leading to panic and worse. Istanbul looks like a war zone.
Today indications are that protests have only increased in number and fury in response to the violence with which they were met yesterday.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come under increased criticism at home over his enthusiastic support for those fighting to overthrow the government in neighboring Syria. Turkish government support for the rebels came early and has included providing safe havens for the Islamist insurgents and safe passage into Syria from Libya, Yemen, and other countries of the insurgents’ origin.
Erdogan’s stated policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has been turned on its head by his support for the rebels fighting next door. Public dissatisfaction with the Turkish government’s policy of encouraging an Islamist insurgency next door has steadily increased.
The insurgents fighting the Syrian government were still unsatisfied by the level of support they received from their Turkish hosts and they took to false flag attacks in places like Reyhanli and a planned false-flag sarin gas attack on southern Turkey in Adana in attempt to provoke a Turkish (and NATO) military response against Syria.
Suddenly the tables are turned at home.
Faced with a nascent but growing protest movement of his own, Erdogan expresses a very different view toward the people in the street. The Prime Minister strongly supported the “Arab Spring” overthrow in Egypt and supports the overthrow of Assad next door because he said the leaders of these countries did not listen to their people. Just last week he met with President Obama and agreed that “Assad must go.” Now with protesters in Turkey chanting “Erdogan must go” he is singing a different tune. Now “the people” he claimed to speak for — on the streets in Egypt and Syria, at least — were, in Turkey, “with terror, have dark ties,” in his words.
Suddenly “the people” are not so noble when they are calling for his ouster. With the tables turned on Erdogan, he can only demand order! “I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately,” he thundered yesterday.
Erdogan caught the tiger by the tail and thought he would become a new Ottoman Sultan. Reality bites back hard on the streets of Istanbul and elsewhere. This is far from over.
- Democracy in Turkey: Peaceful Protest Turns Violent as Police Fire Teargas (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannon on Friday at demonstrators in central Istanbul, wounding scores of people and prompting rallies in other cities in the fiercest anti-government protests in years.
Thousands of demonstrators massed on streets surrounding Istanbul’s central Taksim Square while protests erupted in the capital, Ankara, and the Aegean coastal city of Izmir.
Broken glass and rocks were strewn across a main shopping street near Taksim. Primary school children ran crying from the clouds of tear gas, while tourists caught by surprise scurried to get back to hotels lining the square.
The unrest reflects growing disquiet at the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Riot police clashed with tens of thousands of May Day protesters in Istanbul this past month. There have also been protests against the government’s stance on the conflict in neighboring Syria.
“We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan. … Even AK Party supporters are saying they have lost their mind, they are not listening to us,” said Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University, who attended the protest.
The protest at Taksim’s Gezi Park started late on Monday after trees were torn up under a government redevelopment plan, but has widened into a broader demonstration against Erdogan’s administration. Friday’s violence erupted after a dawn police raid on demonstrators who had been camped out for days.
“This isn’t just about trees anymore, it’s about all of the pressure we’re under from this government. We’re fed up, we don’t like the direction the country is headed in,” said 18-year-old student Mert Burge, who came to support the protesters after reading on Twitter about the police use of tear gas.
Thousands chanting for the government to resign gathered at a park in the center of Ankara, where police earlier fired tear gas to disperse several dozen opposition supporters trying to reach the AKP headquarters. Protesters also rallied at two locations in Izmir, according to pictures on social media.
A woman was in critical condition last night after being hit by a police gas canister and underwent an operation after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
A total of 12 people, including a pro-Kurdish MP and a Reuters photographer, suffered trauma injuries and hundreds suffered respiratory problems due to tear gas, doctors said.
Some people were injured when a wall they were climbing collapsed as they tried to flee clouds of tear gas.
Amnesty International said it was concerned by “the use of excessive force” by the police against what had started out as a peaceful protest. Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the European parliament rapporteur on Turkey, also voiced concern.
In Washington, the State Department said it was concerned with the number of injuries and was gathering its own information on the incident.
“We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
Interior Minister Muammer Guler promised that allegations that police had used disproportionate force would be investigated.
Hundreds of military officers have been jailed for plotting a coup against Erdogan in recent years. Academics, journalists, politicians and others face trial on similar charges.
He has made no secret of his ambition to run for the presidency in elections next year when his term as prime minister ends, increasing opposition dismay.
“These people will not bow down to you” read one banner at the Gezi Park protest, alongside a cartoon of Erdogan wearing an Ottoman emperor’s turban.
Postings on social media including Twitter, where “Occupy Gezi” – a reference to protests in New York and London last year – was a top-trending hashtag, and Facebook said similar demonstrations were planned for the next few days in other Turkish cities including Ankara, Izmir, Adana and Bursa.
Ankara – While all options are said to be still on the table, Barack Obama is clearly backing away from any deeper involvement in Syria now that it is clear that nothing but direct intervention is going to bring down the government in Damascus. In the past few months alone the armed groups have lost thousands of men. Although the conflict will grind on for some time yet, the Syrian military is steadily closing down the insurgency.
The sponsors of this adventure are in complete disarray. Like the Syrian National Council before it, the Syrian National Coalition has imploded. Muadh al Khatib is now a voice from the margins. Ghassan Hittu is the only person in the world who is the prime minister of a committee. These people are a completely lost cause.
In the real world and not the world of delusions there is horror at the video showing a ‘rebel’ commander cutting the heart out of the body of a dead soldier and biting into it. Perhaps it was the lungs or the liver. The media seems to be uncertain but somehow getting the organ right seems to be important. Far from denying this gory act, its perpetrator owned up to it before boasting of how he had sawed the bodies of captured shabiha into pieces.
Cannibalism appears to be a first but otherwise there is not much that the psychopaths inside the armed groups have not done in Syria. Or are people who can do such things not to be called psychopaths? They are the best people, after all, to fight such a vicious conflict. The self-styled Free Syrian Army says it will hunt down the man who cut out the soldier’s heart. Good. It can also hunt down the throat-cutters and the ‘rebels’ who have cut people’s heads off. It can hunt down the men who killed public servants before flinging their bodies from the top of the post office building in Al Bab. It can hunt down their comrades in arms who deliberately target civilians with car bombs. It can hunt down the murderers of the imam and 50 worshipers in the Damascus mosque and it can hunt down all the rapists and kidnappers, including the Chechens who abducted the two bishops still being held in Aleppo while the Christian leaders of western governments look the other way. In its hunting for all the individuals who have tainted its glorious reputation, the FSA won’t have to look far because many come from its own ranks. There is no shortage of evidence. The media is awash with gory mobile phone and video footage of the handiwork of these men because they take pride in their bravery and want the world to see. These are the people Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been arming and funding to take over Syria.
This is the reality behind the false narrative spun by the media for the past two years. It has regurgitated every lie and exaggeration of ‘activists’ and the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, according to which the Syrian ‘regime’ was about to fall any minute and every atrocity was actually the work of the Syrian military. With the exception of a few reports filed recently by Robert Fisk, virtually no one in the media mainstream has reported the fighting from the perspective of the Syrian government and army. Reporters were moved across borders by the armed groups and reported only their version of events. This is like relying on reporters embedded with the US army for an accurate account of what was happening in Iraq. And, again like Iraq, the same propaganda is being repeated about chemical weapons.
Finally, reality has had to take hold. It is not the ‘regime’ or the army which is on the point of collapse but the insurgency. Only direct armed intervention is going to save it and against the successes of the Syrian army and solid Russian support for the Syrian government this is extremely unlikely. Obama is being pushed to ‘do more’ but is showing no inclination to be sucked any deeper into this mess. The others will do nothing without the US taking the lead. Germany is against involvement and Austria has said that supplying arms to the ‘rebels’, which Britain has wanted to do, when the EU embargo ends on May 31 would be a violation of international law.
This week the spotlight has been on Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his trip to Washington to discuss Syria with Barack Obama. Turkey’s role in the unfolding of the Syrian conflict has been central. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya supplied the money and arms but it was Turkey whose territory was opened up to the mobilization of armed men crossing the border to bring down the ‘regime.’ Erdogan has not stepped back an inch from the position he took against Bashar al Assad more than two years ago. The only clear case of a chemical weapons attack has been the chlorine-based compound packed into a warhead and fired at a Syrian army checkpoint at Khan al Assal, killing a number of soldiers and civilians. Erdogan, however, is maintaining that it is the Syrian army that has used chemical weapons and by doing so has crossed Obama’s ‘red line. ’ Asked shortly before he left for Washington whether he would support a no-fly zone he replied: ‘Right from the beginning we would say yes.’
Last week cars packed with more than one ton of C4 and TNT were exploded in the Hatay province border town of Reyhanli. At least 51 people were killed. The destruction was massive. The municipality building and dozens of shops were obliterated. In the aftermath, cars with Syrian number plates were smashed and Syrian refugees attacked by enraged local people. As they milled around the destruction they cursed Erdogan. The atrocity followed a pattern that is familiar to Syrians: one bomb going off and then others exploding after people had gathered around the site of the first one, maximizing the death toll.
Notwithstanding the accusations of the Turkish government that this was the work of a terrorist group collaborating with the Syrian mukhabarat (intelligence), only the armed groups or one of the governments backing them would have a clear reason for setting up this outrage. The Syrian army is rolling up the insurgency, the ‘traitors’ council’ based in Doha has imploded and the Americans and Russians are sitting down to talk. The attack was very clearly designed to pull Turkey directly into the conflict across the border.
The attack on Reyhanli came a week after Israel launched a series of savage air attacks on Syria. This was not a one-off missile strike. Two attacks in three days, lasting for hours and with massive ordinance being dropped around Damascus, suggest that the aim was to provoke a Syrian response, opening the door to a general war in which Iran could be attacked. Israel claimed that the target was a shipment of missiles bound for Hizbullah but while a research station and a military food production plant were hit there was no evidence of any missiles being destroyed. The attacks appear to have been a strategic and political failure. In the aftermath Putin gave Netanyahu a dressing down and punished him either by supplying or threatening to supply Syria with advanced S300 anti-aircraft missiles. It is a measure of Israel’s arrogance that it insisted that it would launch further attacks if necessary and would destroy the Syrian government if it dared to retaliate.
Obama is now under pressure at home to ‘do more’. In Washington the same people who called for war on Iraq are now calling for widening the conflict in Syria. Senator Bob Menendez, a strong supporter of Israel, like virtually all congressmen and women, has introduced a bill calling on the administration to supply the ‘rebels’ with arms (as if it were not already doing that covertly or through support for arms being supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar). Former New York Times editor Bill Keller supported the war on Iraq and also wants the US to arm the ‘rebels’ and ‘defend the civilians being slaughtered in their homes’ in Syria. He is not talking about the civilians who have been slaughtered by the armed groups, of course.
The Washington Post has been forced to admit that the Syrian army is winning this conflict but is still nonplussed at the unfavorable turns of events. ‘What if the US doesn’t intervene in Syria?’ it asks, before providing the answers. Syria will fracture along sectarian lines, with Jabhat al Nusra taking over the north and ‘remnants of the regime’ taking strips of the west. Sectarian warfare will spread to Iraq – as if it has not already as a consequence of US intervention – and Lebanon. Chemical weapons would be up for grabs, ‘probably forcing further interventions by Israel in order to prevent their acquisition by Hizbullah or Al Qaida’. If the US does not intervene to prevent all of this Turkey and Saudi Arabia ‘could conclude that the United States is no longer a reliable ally.’
There are other more likely answers to ‘what will happen’. This is that the Syrian army will eventually drive the surviving ‘rebels’ out of the country and Bashar will come out of this more popular than ever because he saw off the greatest challenge to the Syrian state in its history. Elections will be held in 2014 and he will be elected president with 75 per cent of the vote. This at least is what the CIA is predicting.
Erdogan came to Washington also wanting Obama to ‘do more’, but clearly the US president does not want to do much if anything more. The Turkish media reported that Obama said Assad ‘must’ go but this was not what he said. He chose his words carefully. In his press conference with Erdogan he did not say that said Assad ‘must’ go but that he ‘needs’ to go and ‘needs’ to transfer power to a transitional body. The difference is all-important. Personally, Obama will not want to end his presidency stuck in an unwinnable and unpopular war, one, furthermore, that could quickly shift from regional to global crisis. A recent Pew poll shows that the American people have had enough of wars in the Middle East and the talks between Kerry and Lavrov indicate that this time, having allowed the Geneva agreement of July, 2012, to fall flat, the US is serious about reaching a negotiated end to this crisis even if others aren’t. If there is any danger of the US position being derailed, it will mostly likely arise within the ranks of its friends and allies.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.