Turkey and Its Kurds: At War Again: Burak Bekdil, Gatestone Institute, Aug. 6, 2015 — Even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's critics, including this author, praised him when, after 40,000 lives lost in a bloody conflict, he (as then prime minister) bravely launched a difficult process that would finally bring peace to a country that suffered much from ethnic strife.
Turkish Democracy Is Being Quietly Stolen: Marc Champion, Bloomberg, Aug. 4, 2015— Remember how, two months ago, hopes for Turkish democracy were buoyed by the success of a Kurdish party that managed to appeal across ethnic divides and make it into parliament?
Obama Strikes Again: Caroline B. Glick, Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2015 — While Israel and much of official Washington remain focused on the deal President Barack Obama just cut with the ayatollahs that gives them $150 billion and a guaranteed nuclear arsenal within a decade, Obama has already moved on – to Syria.
Thank God for the Atom Bomb: Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 3, 2015 — The headline of this column is lifted from a 1981 essay by the late Paul Fussell, the cultural critic and war memoirist.
Jon Stewart, War Criminals & The True Story of the Atomic Bombs (Video): Bill Whittle, PJTV, 2013
In Turkey’s New Conflict, Erdogan’s Powers at Stake: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2015
Erdogan’s Bait and Switch: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2015
Jihad on Non-Muslim Places of Worship in Turkey: Uzay Bulut, Gatestone Institute, Aug. 2, 2015
Turkey's Nuclear Aspirations: Ami Rojkes Dombe, Israel Defense, Aug. 8, 2015
Gatestone Institute, Aug. 6, 2015
Even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's critics, including this author, praised him when, after 40,000 lives lost in a bloody conflict, he (as then prime minister) bravely launched a difficult process that would finally bring peace to a country that suffered much from ethnic strife. His government would negotiate peace with the Kurds; grant them broad cultural and political rights, which his predecessors did not; and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Kurds' armed group, would finally say farewell to arms. Erdogan (and the Kurdish leaders) would then be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
But now Turkey is in flames again; the country smells of death. Dozens of members of the security forces, as well as civilians, have been killed in clashes in just the two weeks after an Islamic State suicide bomber murdered 32 pro-Kurdish activists in a small Turkish town on the Syrian border on July 20. Several hundred people were injured and more than a thousand were detained by the police.
Turkish cities have once again become a battleground in an almost century-old Turkish-Kurdish dispute: Kurdish militants attack security forces on a daily basis, while the Turkish military buries its fallen soldiers and strikes Kurdish guerrilla camps in northern Iraq. What happened to the Turkish-Kurdish ceasefire and the prospect of sustainable peace? There are three main reasons why all the effort of the last few years has gone into the political wasteland:
1) Erdogan's obsession with Islam(ism): Speaking at a conference in Jakarta on July 31, Erdogan unsurprisingly said: "We have only one concern. It is Islam, Islam and Islam. It is impossible for us to accept the overshadowing of Islam." In the same vein, Erdogan's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said in a 2014 interview: "In Turkey's periphery you cannot explain anything without the religion factor."
Erdogan (mis)calculated that he could successfully use Islam as a glue keeping Muslim Turks and Muslim Kurds in unity. Why should they be fighting? After all, they are both Sunni Muslims. He thought he could convince the Kurds to surrender their arms and live happily ever after with their Turkish Muslim brothers. For a historic end to the conflict, Islam had to take a central role. Erdogan would therefore restructure Turkey along multi-ethnic lines but a greater role for Islam would be the cement keeping the nation united. Once again, Erdogan, an Islamist, relied too much on religion in resolving what is essentially an ethnic (not religious) conflict.
2) A dishonest negotiator: Erdogan was not an honest negotiator from the beginning. His counterparts, the PKK leadership, were smart enough not to trust him. They agreed to a ceasefire in 2013, but have never really buried their arms since then, thinking that they would one day need them. Erdogan's real intention was to keep the PKK "inactive," away from bombings and other acts of terror, and therefore minimize the risk of losing votes as the masses turn angry at his government in the face of the tragic loss of human life. Prolonged negotiations with the Kurds would give him enough peaceful time to win one local election (March 2014), one presidential election (August 2014) and one parliamentary election (June 2015). If, afterward, there is peace, that would be fine. If not, the Kurds could go to hell, with the next election scheduled for 2019. In other words, he pretended to negotiate in order to buy time and delay any renewed wave of violence.
3) An unbridgeable gap: It is true that Erdogan's governments granted Turkey's Kurds far more than any other Turkish government did in the past. In 2009, the state broadcaster launched the country's first TV channel in Kurdish. A new electoral law allowed, for the first time, campaigning in Kurdish. Universities and private courses could now teach the Kurdish language. The use of letters like q, w, x, which are necessary for Kurdish Romanization, would no longer be prohibited. Kurdish also would be allowed in courtrooms and at prisons when families visited inmates (previously the language was forbidden).
All of that was nice, but not enough to win Kurdish sympathies for peace. The Kurds simply wanted autonomy in Turkey's southeast, where they are in predominant majority. They wanted to have their own police force, elected governors and budgetary control. They wanted two more things: Official (constitutional) recognition of their ethnicity as co-founders of the Turkish Republic; and the introduction of Kurdish language in school curricula. Erdogan accurately calculated that granting the Kurds relatively minor rights would keep them his loyal voters, and away from arms. He knew that the Kurds would want more. But he also knew that granting the Kurds what they actually want would be political suicide in a notoriously nationalist country. Even to this day, the Kurdish demands remain a taboo for most Turks. Speaking of Kurdish education in schools or Kurdish ethnic identity as part of the constitution could earn anyone a nasty label: Traitor!
But Kurds have more self-confidence today than a decade or two ago. Their next of kin in Iraq have a functioning autonomous administration that is waiting for the right time officially to split from the central government in Baghdad. Syrian Kurds are trying to unite a Kurdish strip of cantons along the Turkish border. The PKK has proven that it did not lose its firepower during the ceasefire…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Bloomberg, Aug. 4, 2015
Remember how, two months ago, hopes for Turkish democracy were buoyed by the success of a Kurdish party that managed to appeal across ethnic divides and make it into parliament? How that seemed to thwart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plans to create a Russian-style presidency? His ruling party seemed poised, for the first time since gaining power in 2002, to govern in a coalition. None of that happened.
The election took place as described on June 7, but Erdogan ignored the result: He never authorized the winners (his own Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP) to form a new coalition government. And while he may eventually ask Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to create a minority cabinet with some nationalists, the goal will probably be only to hold new elections in the fall. This is worse than it looks because, in order to reverse the election result, Erdogan will need to break the alliance between Turkish liberals and Kurds that allowed the Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, to make it into parliament. And the best way to do that is to revive the ethnic hatreds that mired Turkey in a 30-year war starting in the mid-1980s, costing an estimated 40,000 lives and untold economic opportunity.
To outsiders, it may not be obvious that this is already happening. Erdogan's decision to finally let the U.S. fly airstrikes against Islamic State from its base at Incirlik has diverted people's attention. But at the same time, Turkey renewed airstrikes against Kurdish insurgents (not part of the HDP), who quickly ended a cease-fire they declared in 2013. The U.S. air-base rights are helpful, though unlikely to prove decisive in changing the prospects for defeating Islamic State. The renewed war between Turkey and Kurdish militants, on the other hand, is very likely to destroy Turkish democracy.
Erdogan has by now proved he's no democrat. He is, however, a brilliant politician. In 2009, he began a so-called Kurdish Opening to secure Kurdish votes for himself and his party. Turkey's ethnic Kurds were a natural constituency for Erdogan's conservative AKP, because taken as a whole they are among the country's most religiously conservative people. Yet Kurds had to be persuaded to vote for any ruling Turkish party in greater numbers. So he needed to defuse the conflict without alienating his own Turkish-nationalist base.
The path was tortuous, but this year Erdogan had reason to hope that those Kurds who didn't vote for his party would win only their customary 6 percent as independents, and — at least tacitly — back Erdogan's new constitution in return for certain concessions. Instead, HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas categorically ruled out supporting a presidential constitution, decided that Kurdish candidates would run as a party, and appealed for ethnic Turks to back him in order to defeat Erdogan's plans for an elected autocracy. And Demirtas succeeded. His party crossed Turkey's 10 percent threshold to enter parliament, robbing the president of the strong parliamentary majority he needed to approve a new constitution that would have given him the kind of absolute control that President Vladimir Putin enjoys in Russia. Rather than accept this defeat and allow a coalition government to be formed, Erdogan has ignored the vote. His preference seems to be to force a new election so that he can try to drive the HDP back below the threshold.
Luckily for Erdogan, the Kurdish peace process was always fragile. The PKK, a military insurgency that uses terrorist tactics and has a bizarre Marxist-style ideology, had always been reluctant to lay down its weapons and has been quick to return to violence. Now Demirtas is in the invidious position of having to either back the government's war against fellow Kurds, or throw in his lot with terrorists. Either course would cost him support. If Erdogan succeeds in using a rekindled Kurdish conflict to secure his presidential powers, it will be difficult for Turkish democracy to survive in any meaningful sense. Meanwhile, adding a hot Turkish-Kurdish conflict to the morass of Iraq and Syria will make it that much harder to piece the region's sectarian and ethnic puzzle back together.
The only way to thwart Erdogan's plans now would be for the HDP to go on condemning Kurdish violence and for liberal Turks to stick by the party in a future vote, banding with Kurds such as Demirtas to defend the democratic process. That, however, would take an extraordinary level of restraint and political maturity from both sides.
Caroline B. Glick
Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2015
While Israel and much of official Washington remain focused on the deal President Barack Obama just cut with the ayatollahs that gives them $150 billion and a guaranteed nuclear arsenal within a decade, Obama has already moved on – to Syria. Obama’s first hope was to reach a deal with his Iranian friends that would leave the Assad regime in place. But the Iranians blew him off. They know they don’t need a deal with Obama to secure their interests. Obama will continue to help them to maintain their power base in Syria though Hezbollah and the remains of the Assad regime without a deal.
Iran’s cold shoulder didn’t stop Obama. He moved on to his Sunni friend Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Like the Iranians, since the war broke out, Erdogan has played a central role in transforming what started out as a local uprising into a regional conflict between Sunni and Shiite jihadists. With Obama’s full support, by late 2012 Erdogan had built an opposition dominated by his totalitarian allies in the Muslim Brotherhood. By mid-2013, Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood- led coalition was eclipsed by al-Qaida spinoffs. They also enjoyed Turkish support.
And when last summer ISIS supplanted al-Qaida as the dominant Sunni jihadist force in Syria, it did so with Erdogan’s full backing. For the past 18 months, Turkey has been ISIS’s logistical, political and economic base. According to Brett McGurk, the State Department’s point man on ISIS, about 25,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. All of them transited through Turkey. Most of the antiquities that ISIS plunders in Iraq and Syria make their way to the world market through Turkey. So, too, most of the oil that ISIS produces in Syria and Iraq is smuggled out through Turkey. According to the US Treasury, ISIS has made $1 million-$4m. a day from oil revenue.
In May, US commandos in Syria assassinated Abu Sayyaf, ISIS’s chief money manager, and arrested his wife and seized numerous computers and flash drives from his home. According to a report in The Guardian published last week, the drives provided hard evidence of official Turkish economic collusion with ISIS. Due to Turkish support, ISIS has become a self-financing terrorist group. With its revenue stream it is able to maintain a welfare state regime, attracting recruits from abroad and securing the loyalty of local Sunni militias and former Ba’athist forces. Some Western officials believed that after finding hard evidence of Turkish regime support for ISIS, NATO would finally change its relationship with Turkey. To a degree they were correct.
Last week, Obama cut a deal with Erdogan that changes the West’s relationship with Erdogan. Instead of maintaining its current practice of balancing its support for Turkey with its support for the Kurds, under the agreement, the West ditches its support for the Kurds and transfers its support to Turkey exclusively. The Kurdish peshmerga militias operating today in Iraq and Syria are the only military outfits making sustained progress in the war against ISIS. Since last October, the Kurds in Syria have liberated ISIS-controlled and -threatened areas along the Turkish border.
The YPG, the peshmerga militia in Syria, won its first major victory in January, when after a protracted, bloody battle, with US air support, it freed the Kurdish border town of Kobani from ISIS’s assault. In June, the YPG scored a strategic victory against ISIS by taking control of Tal Abyad. Tal Abyad controls the road connecting ISIS’s capital of Raqqa with Turkey. By capturing Tal Abyad, the Kurds cut Raqqa’s supply lines. Last month, Time magazine reported that the Turks reacted with hysteria to Tal Abyad’s capture. Not only did the operation endanger Raqqa, it gave the Kurds territorial contiguity in Syria.
The YPG’s victories enhanced the Kurds’ standing among Western nations. Indeed, some British and American officials were quoted openly discussing the possibility of removing the PKK, the YPG’s Iraqi counterpart, from their official lists of terrorist organizations. The YPG’s victories similarly enhanced the Kurds’ standing inside Turkey itself. In the June elections to the Turkish parliament, the Kurdish HDP party won 12 percent of the vote nationally, and so blocked Erdogan’s AKP party from winning a parliamentary majority. Without that majority Erdogan’s plan of reforming the constitution to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and secure his dictatorship for the long run has been jeopardized. As far as Erdogan was concerned, by the middle of July the Kurdish threat to his power had reached unacceptable levels.
Then two weeks ago the deck was miraculously reshuffled. On July 20, young Kurdish activists convened in Suduc, a Kurdish town on the Turkish side of the border, 6 kilometers from Kobani. A suicide bomber walked up to them, and detonated, massacring 32 people. Turkish officials claim that the bomber was a Turkish Kurd, and a member of ISIS. But the Kurds didn’t buy that line. Last week, HDP lawmakers accused the regime of complicity with the bomber. And two days after the attack, militants from the PKK killed two Turkish policemen in a neighboring village, claiming that they collaborated with ISIS.
At that point, Erdogan sprang into action. After refusing for months to work with NATO forces in their anti-ISIS operations, Erdogan announced he was entering the fray. He would begin targeting “terrorists” and allow the US air force to use two Turkish air bases for its anti-ISIS operations. In exchange, the US agreed to set up a “safe zone” in Syria along the Turkish border. Turkish officials were quick to explain that in targeting “terrorists,” the Turks would not distinguish between Kurdish terrorists and ISIS terrorists just because the former are fighting ISIS. Both, they insisted, are legitimate targets.
Erdogan closed his deal in a telephone call with Obama. And he immediately went into action. Turkish forces began bombing terrorist targets and rounding up terrorist suspects. Although a few of the Turkish bombing runs have been directly against ISIS, the vast majority have targeted Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, for every suspected ISIS terrorist arrested by Turkish security forces, at least eight Kurds have been taken into custody…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Wall Street Journal, Aug. 3, 2015
The headline of this column is lifted from a 1981 essay by the late Paul Fussell, the cultural critic and war memoirist. In 1945 Fussell was a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the U.S. Army who had fought his way through Europe only to learn that he would soon be shipped to the Pacific to take part in Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese home islands scheduled to begin in November 1945. Then the atom bomb intervened. Japan would not surrender after Hiroshima, but it did after Nagasaki.
I brought Fussell’s essay with me on my flight to Hiroshima and was stopped by this: “When we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live.”
In all the cant that will pour forth this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs—that the U.S. owes the victims of the bombings an apology; that nuclear weapons ought to be abolished; that Hiroshima is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man; that Japan could have been defeated in a slightly nicer way—I doubt much will be made of Fussell’s fundamental point: Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t just terrible war-ending events. They were also lifesaving. The bomb turned the empire of the sun into a nation of peace activists.
I spent the better part of Monday afternoon with one such activist, Keiko Ogura, who runs a group called Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace. Mrs. Ogura had just turned eight when the bomb fell on Hiroshima, the epicenter less than 2 miles from her family home. She remembers wind “like a tornado”; thousands of pieces of shattered glass blasted by wind into the walls and beams of her house, looking oddly “shining and beautiful”; an oily black rain. And then came the refugees from the city center, appallingly burned and mutilated, “like a line of ghosts,” begging for water and then dying the moment they drank it…
Because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were real events, because they happened, there can be no gainsaying their horror. Operation Downfall did not happen, so there’s a lot of gainsaying. Would the Japanese have been awed into capitulation by an offshore A-bomb test? Did the Soviet Union’s invasion of Manchuria, starting the day of the Nagasaki bombing, have the more decisive effect in pushing Japan to give up? Would casualties from an invasion really have exceeded the overall toll—by some estimates approaching 250,000—of the two bombs?
We’ll never know. We only know that the U.S. lost 14,000 men merely to take Okinawa in 82 days of fighting. We only know that, because Japan surrendered, the order to execute thousands of POWs in the event of an invasion of the home islands was never implemented. We only know that, in the last weeks of a war Japan had supposedly already lost, the Allies were sustaining casualties at a rate of 7,000 a week. We also know that the Japanese army fought nearly to the last man to defend Okinawa, and hundreds of civilians chose suicide over capture. Do we know for a certainty that the Japanese would have fought less ferociously to defend the main islands? We can never know for a certainty.
“Understanding the past,” Fussell wrote, “requires pretending that you don’t know the present. It requires feeling its own pressure on your pulses without any ex post facto illumination.” Historical judgments must be made in light not only of outcomes but also of options. Would we judge Harry Truman better today if he had eschewed his nuclear option in favor of 7,000 casualties a week; that is, if he had been more considerate of the lives of the enemy than of the lives of his men?
And so the bombs were dropped, and Japan was defeated. Totally defeated. Modern Japan is a testament to the benefits of total defeat, to stripping a culture prone to violence of its martial pretenses. Modern Hiroshima is a testament to human resilience in the face of catastrophe. It is a testament, too, to an America that understood moral certainty and even a thirst for revenge were not obstacles to magnanimity. In some ways they are the precondition for it.
For too long Hiroshima has been associated with a certain brand of leftist politics, a kind of insipid pacifism salted with an implied anti-Americanism. That’s a shame. There are lessons in this city’s history that could serve us today, when the U.S. military forbids the word victory, the U.S. president doesn’t believe in the exercise of American power, and the U.S. public is consumed with guilt for sins they did not commit. Watch the lights come on at night in Hiroshima. Note the gentleness of its culture. And thank God for the atom bomb.
Jon Stewart, War Criminals & The True Story of the Atomic Bombs (Video): Bill Whittle, PJTV, 2013
In Turkey’s New Conflict, Erdogan’s Powers at Stake: Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2015—Turkey’s government—which lost its parliamentary majority last month— bills its new two-front war against Kurdish militants and Islamic State as a much-overdue reaction to terrorism. But, on the third front of domestic politics, this violence could also help President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party regain control.
Erdogan’s Bait and Switch: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2015 —Turkey’s recent intervention aims to prevent the emergence of a de facto Kurdish sovereignty stretching along its southeastern border The latest events in northern Syria constitute a bold move by the Turkish leadership to deal with a most pressing problem, from their point of view.
Jihad on Non-Muslim Places of Worship in Turkey: Uzay Bulut, Gatestone Institute, Aug. 2, 2015—Once upon a time, Asia Minor, now called Turkey, as well as the rest of the Middle East, was for centuries a real cradle of civilization, where many different religions and cultures flourished. But today these tiny, dwindling communities are not able to enjoy any freedom of religion or conscience.
Turkey's Nuclear Aspirations: Ami Rojkes Dombe, Israel Defense, Aug. 8, 2015 —Does Turkey's civilian nuclear program constitute a cover for the development of a military program – as was the case in Iran? A review of Turkey's investment in its defense industry, space industry, civilian nuclear projects and missile technology, along with its aspirations for regional hegemony, raises some tough questions.