President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, after having declared war against the political, judiciary and civic structures of his own country, employs the same belligerent tactics in the domain of foreign policy. He now threatens to send to Europe 3 million refugees and immigrants who are stationed in Turkey. True, more than three million people, mostly Syrians, are currently installed in refugee camps or have found other type of shelter on Turkish soil, in the provinces near the borders of Syria.
The Turkish government has been issuing work permits for the Syrian refugees in the provinces of Gaziantep, Hatay, Kilis, Sanliurfa, Mersin, Adana, Kahramanmaras, Osmaniye and elsewhere. Understandably, this measure had little effect towards offering anything close to a regular living for the millions of expatriate Syrians. The Erdogan government offered this break with a twofold target: on the one hand to suppress wages in these vast areas and, secondly, in order to be seen as benevolent to those people who have lost everything.
Opposing US goals
Coming back to Erdogan’s course of action on foreign affairs, he didn’t only attack Europe. He now aims at nothing less than neutralizing the US strategy in both Syria and Iraq. In reality, he undermines the US efforts in Syria and Iraq to uproot ISIS from Mosul and Raqqa. To this effect, last week Turkey openly supported the jihadists in their efforts to maintain their positions in Jarabulus in Syria.
This town is situated just some hundred meters away from Turkey’s border and has served for years as a gate providing supplies and forwarding foreign fighters to ISIS. Since the beginning of the Syrian war, Turkey had been secretly facilitating, if not organizing, this arrangement. Now, however, Erdogan made it plain by declaring the Jarabulus area a ‘safe zone’ under the protection of Ankara’s armed forces. In Jarabulus ISIS has been publicly beheading people.
Reprimanding the Europeans
Coming back to Europe, last week the European Parliament voted with a large majority that Brussels should suspend EU accession talks with Ankara. The Parliament says that “The European Commission and member states should temporarily freeze EU accession talks with Turkey, but not abandon them completely”. According to a Press release issued after the plenary of the Parliament, “During the debate on Tuesday MEPs referred to the disproportionate repressesive measures that followed the failed coup on 15 July, but stressed that the door should remain open for further dialogue, unless Turkey reintroduced capital punishment”.
The resolution adopted is not binding, but as Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said “it will produce effects in the capitals of European Union states that decide on membership”. In this way, the Parliament is also blocking Erdogan’s plan to reintroduce the death penalty, because in such a case the EU is to definitively freeze Turkey’s accession prospects. Erdogan’s reaction was violent. He declared that if the freeze continues Turkey will open its borders for the millions of migrants to cross into Europe. He added that, “Neither me nor my people will be affected by these dry threats. It wouldn’t matter if all of you (European politicians) approved the resolution.”
Cleansing all critical voices
Until last June hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants left Turkey, crossed the Aegean Sea straights and flooded the Greek islands. The flow was arrested only after Brussels promised to pay Ankara €3 billion, speed up accession talks and drop visa requirements for Turks traveling to Europe. However, after the last July coup, Erdogan’s regime found the opportunity to cleanse the country from every critical voice and establish an autocratic rule, with all powers stemming directly from the President.
Erdogan has imprisoned, molested and dismissed tens of thousands of civil servants, judges and armed forces officers. Three quarters of all generals have been dismissed. The government has also closed down, requisitioned or directly controlled all important media and has imprisoned tens of journalists. In the latest development, President Erdogan dismissed more than one thousand academics and ruled that from now on he alone has the power to appoint all the University rectors and deans.
As a result, the academic community will not anymore be able to elect its leaders. Understandably, under such conditions Brussels, Berlin and Paris couldn’t continue communicating with Ankara. In short, Erdogan has totally cut off Turkey from Europe. It’s quite difficult to figure out how this chasm can be bridged in the visible future.
Can Trump change that?
The fact that Erdogan was probably the second or third foreign leader President elect Donald Trump communicated with after 8 November, cannot change the gloom reality that the US -Turkey relations are rather in a worse state than the EU-Turkish affairs. As mentioned above, Ankara is de facto confronting and threatening to neutralize the US main strategic steps and targets in the Middle East, primarily meant to uproot the ISIS ‘Caliphate’ from Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Of course, Washington being under the spell of the power transition from the Obama to Trump administration and without clear political directions, it’s impossible to decisively deal with Turkey right away. However, at the field level there are already indications that the US is reacting. It’s unthinkable for Washington to let Ankara create irreversible conditions on the ground.
Erdogan’s unsafe play
If Erdogan’s new plan for this ‘safe zone’ under the Turkish army watch holds well for some weeks, ISIS may be substantially strengthened, most likely also by Turkey itself. For Erdogan’s religious and political principles, the cooperation with ISIS is not out of question. In reality, there are strong indications for a long time partnership. The prestigious newspaper Cumhuriyet is persecuted by Erdogan’s regime for having exposed the ties between Turkey’s secret services and ISIS. Not to say anything about the Russian accusations, that the wider Erdogan family’s business units have been buying crude oil from ISIS, thus making huge profits and at the same time financing the murderers. It’s out of question then, that Trump can tolerate Erdogan’s aggression and threats against the strategic US interests in the wider region of Middle East.
In conclusion, it’s very difficult for Erdogan and Turkey to emerge unhurt from the new and dangerous disputes the Sultan started with the EU and the US.