The War in Turkey that Doesn’t Make Headlines

 

Leman Magazine's New Year coverI know the neighborhood of today’s bombing in Istanbul, Sultanhamet, as well as my own face. Not far from the photos you saw in Tom’s post, I found my cat, the Smudge, as a tiny kitten — orphaned, starving, and dying of flea anemia. When I sat beside her, and she weakly crawled into my lap and began to purr.

I took her home, and here she is now beside me, a living connection to the many days, over so many years, that I walked through Sultanhamet — to show the famous sites to visiting friends, to stroll and talk for hours with the Turkish friends I’ve left behind and so badly miss, to shop in the covered market and the spice bazaar, to go, occasionally, for a morning run on the grounds of the Topkapı palace.

There were many terrorist attacks in Turkey when I lived there. This wasn’t the first. It won’t be the last. But I don’t think I could bear it, my heart would break, if Turkey were to suffer what Syria has. When an attack takes place on a site frequented by tourists, it makes international news. But the recrudescence of the civil war in the Southeast is the story that has the potential to tear Turkey apart, and this barely makes the news in the West at all.

Turkish government forces have launched a massive operation to dislodge the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK,  from cities across the Southeast. The PKK in turn has established checkpoints and no-go areas in cities, executed young policemen, and ambushed military vehicles. The military says hundreds of PKK militants have been killed. An unknown but surely large number of civilians have been killed. It is no longer unimaginable to envision carnage in Turkey on the scale of the Syrian war.

When that war began, I warned that it wouldn’t be confined: 

It’s not a secret that Syria is imploding. But the key thing to grasp is that it won’t stop there: There is a real possibility that this regime will take its neighbors down with it. I’m not sure that the West — which from what I can tell is now completely preoccupied with itself and its economic problems — is sufficiently grasping this.

If you’ve been stunned by the Syrian war’s power of centrifugal devastation and destabilization, you ain’t seen nothing yet. If the chaos spreads further into to Turkey, there will be no buffer between Europe and the war zone. Were it not for the Syrian crisis and the growing prospect of all-out Sunni-Shia regional conflict, the war in Southeast Turkey would be on the front page of every newspaper. But no one has the emotional or intellectual ability to cope with yet another geopolitical emergency. Few in the US are even aware it’s happening.

Silopi was shelled last Saturday afternoon, but there was no sign of a government breakthrough. The authorities claim that 261 terrorists have been “rendered ineffective” in Cizre, Silopi, and Sur. We don’t know their names. Nor do we know the names of the 3,100 PKK terrorists Erdoğan claims to have killed since last summer.

Casualties among soldiers and police average two or three a day.

The main towns of southeastern Turkey have reportedly been turned into battlefields. I’ve been to Sur. When last I was there, it was peaceful and the residents optimistic. Reports of devastation to its cultural heritage — to Armenian churches recently and lovingly restored with donations from Armenian-Americans, to ancient mosques — are devastating. Sur is a treasure that belongs to all the world. The photos that have emerged of the destruction to its architectural heritage are sickening.

The government seems to have triggered a popular insurgency of the kind that the US faced in Fallujah. Fighters hide in crowded, concrete apartment buildings, posing a terrible risk to Turkey’s conscript military and its police. It seems no measures have been taken to protect civilians and children.

A friend sent me the picture above. It’s a Turkish satirical magazine’s depiction of the New Year in the Southeast. It reports 44 children killed.

There have been clashes between Kurds and Turkish ultra-nationalists in Turkish universities. In Malatya, 61 students were arrested. The fighting began with protests to mark the fourth anniversary of the still-unsolved Roboski Massacre, which killed 34 Kurdish villagers on the Turkish-Iraqi border. These clashes suggest that tensions between Kurds and other communities are spreading rapidly beyond the southeast. The Mediterranean port of Mersin has seen continual disturbances.

A local politician from the statist-leftist Republican People’s Party burst into tears in Ankara when recounting what he’d seen in Silopi. The party leadership has warned that these operations may lead to a irremediable breach between Turks and Kurds.

Only the Left in Europe has spoken out. The right seems to have promised to overlook everything in exchange for Erdoğan’s promise to stanch the flow of refugees. It is a policy as short-sighted as it is immoral.

One European Parliament representative, Gabi Zimmer, has explicitly blamed Erdoğan:

In the wake of the dirty deals agreed with the Turkish government on refugee policy, the European Union and its member states have passively accepted Erdoğan’s war against the Kurdish people. They have deliberately turned a blind eye to the ruthless violations of basic human rights. Kurdish men, women and children are paying for Erdoğan’s tyrannical self-interest with their lives on a daily basis.

Zimmer notes, correctly, that Erdoğan has delegitimized the Kurdish-oriented HDP ever since it passed the 10 percent election threshold needed to enter Parliament in June last year. “The allegation that the demand by the Kurds for self-determination is a betrayal,” she said, “is absurd, and the investigation into the co-chairman of the HDP, Demirtaş, and his colleagues must be stopped immediately. Their rights as elected representatives must be respected.”

Good luck with that. All anyone else in Europe cares about now is keeping more refugees out.

I have no advice. I’m powerless. I’m not in a position to persuade American and European policymakers that now is the time to exert every bit of diplomatic pressure they have to pull both sides back from the brink. All I can do is say that this is terribly dangerous; that the disorder spreading from this region can’t ultimately be contained by any fence or wall. There is almost no international coverage of Turkey’s southeast, and no condemnation. Even Amnesty International is ignoring it.

Friends in Turkey are deeply depressed by the lack of international concern. Those familiar with European history note the parallels with the authoritarian regimes of the inter-war years, and shudder.

I see news daily — largely ignored by the media outside Turkey — of political murders, curfews, growing despair. The mayor of Adana, one of Turkey’s largest cities and a former zone of Armenian inward migration, has reportedly publicly warned the PKK  that “Your end will be like the Armenians.”

Here is a video, subtitled in English, of a gathering in Diyarbakır of citizens pleading for peace. Perhaps seeing and hearing these people will make them seem as real to you as they do to me.

 

 

 

 

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  1. John Hendrix Thatcher
    John Hendrix
    @JohnHendrix

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The right seems to have promised to overlook everything in exchange for Erdoğan’s promise to stanch the flow of refugees.

    I didn’t know about this deal with Erdoğan.  How can he influence the refugee flow into Europe?  Were the Syrian refugees going through Turkish waters–or passing through Turkey–en route to Greece?

    • #1
  2. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    John Hendrix:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The right seems to have promised to overlook everything in exchange for Erdoğan’s promise to stanch the flow of refugees.

    I didn’t know about this deal with Erdoğan. How can he influence the refugee flow into Europe? Were the Syrian refugees going through Turkish waters–or passing through Turkey–en route to Greece?

    Many of them are indeed doing so.

    _87341803_1_million_arrivals_in_2015_624_v2

    • #2
  3. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I guess we care only about the horrors of wars we see on our TVs. How does the press pick and choose which atrocities to cover?

    • #3
  4. Byron Horatio Member
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Claire,

    What is the Turkish government’s aim in the renewed war on the PKK? Wasn’t there basically an uneasy peace before last summer?

    Even for the Turkish public, presuming they have no love for the Kurds, how well do daily casualties and hundreds of dead Turkish soldiers and police sit?

    The conspiracy theory goes that the PKK and its affiliates have been “too successful” in Syria against Erdogan’s friends in Al-Nusra and ISIS. And so the crackdown is Turkey’s way of putting pressure on the Kurds from two sides to redirect their attentions from Syria.

    Is there some number of Turkish casualties where the larger public would recoil from Erdogan’s recklessness?

    • #4
  5. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Claire I hate having to say this but it seems that even in a country such as Turkey that has one foot in Europe and the other in the Middle East, that like other countries in the Middle East they only know how to rule. They do not know how to govern.

    We saw some of this in Central Europe. They may hate the U.S. but that is an abstract hate. They hate the people in the next village far more than they hate us.

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    RightAngles:I guess we care only about the horrors of wars we see on our TVs. How does the press pick and choose which atrocities to cover?

    They guess.  If they guess wrong, Valerie Jarrett will have somebody let them know through the grapevine that their choice was not pleasing.

    • #6
  7. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Not our problem.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Fake John/Jane Galt:Not our problem.

    Famous last words.

    • #8
  9. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    In my humble opinion, the Kurds deserve their own country. They would be our friends and ally.

    • #9
  10. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    What three things could the US do to avert a Turkish catastrophe? (I’m assuming this is in the US’ national interest.)

    • #10
  11. Manfred Arcane Member
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Wonderful video, thanks.  Great reporting as always.

    We in the US wonder, like Zafar, what is the “solution”?  Is there really a way for peaceful resolution?  Does Turkey ultimately have to concede some kind of autonomy to the Kurds?  Is this even possible for Turks to accept politically?  Is repression and low-level civil war predestined given the irreconcilable differences?

    • #11
  12. Manfred Arcane Member
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    PS. your graphic illustration is devastating.

    • #12
  13. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Zafar:What three things could the US do to avert a Turkish catastrophe? (I’m assuming this is in the US’ national interest.)

    The problem is that this is a catastrophe that’s been in the making for a long time and has a lot of moving parts. At this point, it may genuinely be too late. From about 2002 until this election last summer, both the EU and the US could have very meaningfully and effectively pushed to avert this just by paying attention, speaking up very forcefully about democratic norms and the way they were being violated, and above all, insisting that Turkey stop throwing journalists in jail and lower the 10 percent election barrier. The former because without a free media, there’s no internal correction mechanism: People can’t know that their government is walking them off a cliff and lying to them unless journalists are allowed to report on it. People in Western Turkey have no idea what’s going on in the Southeast except for what they hear from rumors — and although the draft is universal, wealthy people can buy their sons out of it (legally, now, under the AKP) and ensure they don’t get sent to the Southeast.

    The 10 percent threshold is what’s kept Kurds from pursuing legitimate democratic politics.

    And the point of no return, I think, was after the June 7 election. They finally crossed the threshold, but Erdoğan was so terrified by the power they had that he simply made it clear that anyone who voted for them next time was voting for chaos. But in the process he made it clear to any Kurd who was on the fence about the PKK that they should give up hope in democracy. And now the killing has reached a level that a whole new generation’s been radicalized. At the same time, the US has given hugely mixed signals about where we stand on the PKK, for obvious reasons. The only person who might be able to get the PKK to stand down now is Öcalan — although he may no longer have that control. And obviously he’s looking at the region now and thinking, “We’re going to win, either the Americans or the Russians will get behind us, now.” So whether he’d be motivated, I don’t know; whether he could, I don’t know.

    And Europe helped to sign the death warrant by basically saying, “Do whatever you like in Turkey, we won’t say a word — just make sure no more refugees get through.”

    Turkish news stations are reporting — not sure if it’s true — that the European Court of Human Rights threw out an application yesterday from a group of citizens in Cizre to rule that the curfew there violated their right to life. The court  apparently said, “The court voices its belief that the [Turkish] government will take reasonable steps to provide necessary care and enable the applicants to seek help if they demand it, considering the situation in the region.”

    So I guess they didn’t know that the town’s mayor was last heard from a month ago, tweeting that her home was being shelled and she was facing death. And that no one’s heard from her since.

    The ECHR might not be able to enforce its verdicts, but they don’t even bother to pretend.

    • #13
  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    RightAngles:I guess we care only about the horrors of wars we see on our TVs. How does the press pick and choose which atrocities to cover?

    By keeping track of what makes you click on a story — a lot of clicks mean you can sell advertising.

    • #14
  15. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    RushBabe49:In my humble opinion, the Kurds deserve their own country. They would be our friends and ally.

    You think?

    • #15
  16. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Byron Horatio: What is the Turkish government’s aim in the renewed war on the PKK? Wasn’t there basically an uneasy peace before last summer? Even for the Turkish public, presuming they have no love for the Kurds, how well do daily casualties and hundreds of dead Turkish soldiers and police sit?

    Two reasons. First was that the HDP crossed the 10 percent election barrier, so this ensued. The second is Syria. This is a pretty clear account — Jenkins is the best analyst writing in English, by far.

    • #16
  17. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    The Jenkins piece – thank you for the tip, I wasn’t familiar with his significance – includes discussion of Erdogan going after Fethullah Gülen.

    There’s an American side to the Gulen story; Gülen’s organization has a sizable US footprint which Baron Bodissey at Gates of Vienna has been watching for years.

    • #17
  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ontheleftcoast: There’s an American side to the Gulen story; Gülen’s organization has a sizable US footprint which Baron Bodissey at Gates of Vienna has been watching for years.

    Tell me about it. At some point I just got tired of screaming, “What’s going on here?”

    • #18
  19. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Tell me about it. At some point I just got tired of screaming, “What’s going on here?”

    I thought you might be on it. I don’t know if you’re still keeping an eye on the story since you got tired of screaming, but there seem to be new developments:

    The linked article (disinformation? IDK; there’s a paranoid odor to the site which doesn’t make it wrong) includes gems such as this:

    According to Brad Hoff, a former US Marine who served during the early years of the Iraq War and as a 9/11 first responder at the Marine Corps Headquarters Battalion in Quantico from 2000 to 2004, the just released Pentagon report for the first time provides stunning affirmation that: “US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset.”

    and:

    another recently released document shows how the CIA is attempting to control the flip of the Turkish government and the Middle East oil while supporting Fethullah Gulen and his Charter schools here in America.

    The CIA with full knowledge of who and what Gulen is and the purpose of those schools is in supporting their attempt to rule over Turkey while the Gulen goal is to re-instate the Ottoman Empire while indoctrinating American children to build up their numbers.

    • #19

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