Weekly round-up: Highlights from the Turkish press

The latest developments on the Northern Syrian front and the continuing tension between President Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP government on the one hand and various European countries on the other was main focal point in the Turkish press last week.

Journalist Fehim Tastekin, writing for the online news site Duvar, argued that the latest step in the collaboration between the YPG and Russia – the entry of Russian troops into Afrin – is a direct result of Turkey’s policy in the region. Tastekin analyses the possible implications of Russian military presence in Afrin, especially when Assad’s army is taking on the jihadists in their stronghold of Idlib.

The daily Evrensel’s correspondent in Germany, Yucel Ozdemir, dwelled on how President Erdogan upped the ante in the row with Europe by threatening the safety of Europeans and what this might mean for migrants originating from Turkey living in Germany.

Finally, Evrensel’s General Editor Fatih Polat writes that political repression in Turkey is starting to create an “intellectual diaspora” abroad. Polat compares the flow of intellectuals from Turkey to Germany today, with the flow of intellectuals from Nazi Germany to Turkey prior to WWII.

The Kurds’ “Exit Strategy”

by Fehim Taştekin, Duvar, 22 March 2017*

Murat Yetkin from Hurriyet Daily News reported that [Russian] General Gerasimov half jokingly said to [Turkish] General Hulusi Akar, “It’s about time Turkey leaves Syrian territory” when the American, Russian and Turkish army chiefs of staff met in Antalya on 7-8 March. In fact, this is far from being a joke. The alternative propositions aiming to push the Kurds out of play brought to the table by Turkey in the Antalya meeting never left that table. This has only one meaning: “As far as the Euphrates Shield is concerned the mission is complete.”

This is not a message coming from the Russians only. As soon as the Euphrates Shield operation turned towards Manbij, the United States sent the same message by raising its flag in north-eastern Manbij, just as the Russians raised their flag in the southeast of the city.

The Turkish concerns about the Kurds did not find an adequate response during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 10 March either. This is where we must talk about how the Afrin factor comes into the equation to understand what kind of response Turkey’s game plan is generating. While the USA has dispatched heavy weaponry such as cannons and helicopters to the area after its decision to walk with the Kurds on the road to Raqqa, the YPG extended its cooperation with the Russians to include Afrin.

That an actor that is dependent on support in the field can establish partnerships with two powers globally opposed to each other is no ordinary thing. What makes this possible is not just the partnership that the Kurds offer in this war theatre; Turkey’s determined stance about not allowing any Kurdish gains play an equally important role.

Is it possible to interpret the Russian soldiers’ entry into Afrin as only part of an observation mission about the ceasefire agreed in Astana? Certainly not.

The Syrian army, nowadays occupied with Islamist groups who have once again started attacks in the outskirts of Damascus, will start an offensive to capture Idlib once it secures the countryside of Aleppo, Homs and Hama. This war will be far from over as long as jihadist groups nourished by Turkey heap together in Idlib. According to local Kurdish sources with whom I am in contact Turkey is continuing to provide every kind of support to the groups in Idlib despite its recent rapprochement with Russia. This is the source of the widely shared concern that Turkey is playing a double game. This is why Russia is looking for opportunities that would force Turkey to change its policy in the region.

The Russians are hoping that the Kurds establish a front line in the north while they advance towards Idlib with the Syrian army from the south. Although Kurds are saying that their priority is “to protect Afrin,” they haven’t turned down this proposition yet.

When the war in Idlib starts, the stress it will create will be felt in Afrin as well and not just on the Turkish border. Once the Idlib fire starts, Turkey who has constantly kept Afrin under threat by shelling its villages ceaselessly might suddenly send its troops into the canton. Or, the groups in Idlib might expand the fighting to include the north. When confronted with one of these two possible scenarios the Kurds might choose to engage in a joint operation with Russia in Idlib or open Afrin’s doors to the Syrian army. These are scenarios that the Kurds are currently discussing among themselves as possible exit strategies.

Is the pressure created by the Euphrates Shield operation making it easier for the Syrian army to return to areas currently controlled by the YPG? Could Turkish and Russian plans be converging when it comes to Afrin’s destiny? This is an important issue that is well worth dwelling on. On the other hand, we all know that Russia’s strategy is not set on a single equation.

The Threat towards Europe and the Referendum for the ‘Führership’

by Yucel Ozdemir, Evrensel 24 March 2017*

When we look at what has been happening in the traffic between Ankara-Berlin during the last weeks, we can clearly see that President Erdogan is working hard to turn the tension into political gains. Erdogan who has been increasing the dosage every day to keep the tension alive did not stop after the comparison to Nazis and crossed a threshold by directly threatening European countries

By accusing a country like Germany which hosts more than 15 million migrants and close to 3 million people coming from Turkey, Erdogan is instigating hostile feelings towards Germans among Turkish citizens living in Turkey and Germany. To compare Germany’s prohibition of AKP’s referendum campaign meetings with Nazi practices from the past means, first and foremost, to undervalue and deny what really happened in the Nazi era…

Ironically while Erdogan is accusing Germany with “Nazism,” German historians are comparing the steps taken towards an authoritarian regime in today’s Turkey with what was happening in the National Socialism period in their own country.

The fact that Erdogan keeps accusing Germany of “fascism” and “Nazism” despite the widespread opinion that the “one leader-one party” government calculations in Turkey strongly resembles what happened in Germany in 1933-34, not just in terms of content but in its form as well, is engrossing.

To explain Erdogan’s insistence on portraying Germany as a target despite his knowledge of the proximity between the two countries on an economic, political and human level, as just a strategy to increase the ‘yes’ votes in the referendum is superficial.

Even Erdogan’s staunchest supporters who happen to be living in Germany for years are saying that a red line has been crossed by accusing Germany with Nazism and that the comparison is an unfair one. Today, the worst thing one could do for those who came from Turkey to live in Germany is to disrupt their relationship with their German friends, neighbours and colleagues. For a migrant who came from Turkey, a Germany where he/she can’t get along with his/her German neighbour, colleague or shopkeeper would cease to be a “second homeland”; it would become none other than hell on earth.

For this reason, it is those who came from Turkey to Germany that should react to and answer the comparisons with Nazis, rather than Germans themselves. This answer should start with a ‘No’ vote in the ballot boxes that will open up [in Germany] next Monday.

The Intellectual Diaspora 

by Fatih Polat, Evrensel, 22 March 2017*

To go abroad or go to prison? Turkey has lately become a country where more and more journalists, academicians, intellectuals, artists and politicians opposed to the government are finding themselves in this dilemma with each passing day.

The choice that will be made in circumstances where one is feeling a threat of criminal prosecution is ultimately a personal one and any comment about this type of situation would remain relative depending on each case. What I am interested in here is not the answer to this question but the political conditions that make people find themselves in this severe dilemma in the country where they were born.

Many academicians who have been expelled in the last two years not only lost their salary but also the chance to find another job in their own field of work and had to look for solutions in another country; this is a direct result of the repressive policies of those who hold the political power in this country. As far as I can see, European countries come first as a destination.

Many scientists had come to Turkey from Germany in the Hitler era. Today many from Turkey are choosing to go the European countries accused by President Erdogan and his party’s administrators with ‘Nazism’.

I must add that my colleagues or the academicians – some have been personal friends for long years, some of them I’ve recently met abroad – that I’ve been meeting lately in Europe have not retired from political struggle at all. They are continuing the struggle there in various ways and developing methods for solidarity with their colleagues in Turkey who are trying to do their job under very difficult circumstances.

It would not be an exaggeration to define this situation as the birth of an intellectual diaspora. Some are continuing to regularly come to Turkey. Those who see a risk, such as the danger of having their passport cancelled are postponing any future trip to Turkey until the political climate in the country becomes better suited for such a trip.

Those who declared that academicians asking for peace are traitors or those who have declared that a journalist who felt it necessary to leave his own country after surviving an armed attack is a “spy” are primarily responsible for the creation of this atmosphere.

Let us not forget that while those scientists who ran away from Hitler’s fascism to Turkey earned the world’s respect with the work they produced abroad, history witnessed the end of Hitler soon after.

That we might witness something similar albeit with a reversed traffic is not a prospect we can discard so easily.

*The selected articles were shortened by Kom News editors.