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ISTANBUL — Turkish officials accused the United States of abetting a failed coup last summer. When the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated last month, the Turkish press said the United States was behind the attack.
“America Chief Suspect,” one headline blared after the attack. On Twitter, a Turkish lawmaker, referring to the name of the nightclub, wrote: “Whoever the triggerman is, Reina attack is an act of CIA. Period.”
Turkey has been confronted with a cascade of crises that seem to have only accelerated as the Syrian civil war has spilled across the border. But the events have not pushed Turkey closer to its NATO allies. Conversely, they have drifted further apart as the nation lashes out at Washington and moves closer to Moscow, working with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, to secure a cease-fire in Syria.
Ah, Islamist governments. Seasoned salesmen of the hot take. A Turkish policeman assassinates a Russian ambassador? Why can’t Uncle Sam stay out of our business/murder of foreign dignitaries! Unfortunately, the tragic killing of 39 people at the Reina last week has only led to more speculation of US tampering with Turkish affairs:
“One story in the Turkish press, based on a routine travel warning issued by the American Embassy in Turkey, was that the United States had advance knowledge of the nightclub attack, which the Islamic State later claimed responsibility for. Another suggested that stun grenades used by the gunman had come from stocks held by the American military. Still another claimed the assault was a plot by the United States to sow divisions in Turkey between the secular and the religious.”
The rampant spread of these rumors highlights the extreme levels of tension and fear present in the Anatolian “republic”. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been trying to consolidate his power and everybody knows that sex, violence, & good ol’ fashioned America-bashing always sell. Turkey is largely torn between the loyal followers of Erdoğan and supporters of the opposition who are naturally wary of his stranglehold on power. Finally, do not forget add in layers of substantial divisions along the following lines:
- ethnic (Kurds are the largest minority, constituting ~15-20% of the pop. w/ majorities in some eastern provinces)
- religion (pious vs. secular)
- class (your archetypal wealth & power gap)
You can understand why this regional power is so ripe for violence. The build-up of anti-American sentiment has been brewing for years since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 (SPOLIER ALERT: US invading a Muslim nation didn’t play well in the region). However, the explosion of the conflict in Syria has created shiny new reasons to chirp Uncle Sam. A few examples of Turkish claims:
- The United States is supporting Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS. These Kurdish units are in turn assisting Kurdish militants (the largest of which is the PKK) fight against Turkey. The Kurdish question is difficult, especially because the US is helping the Peshmerga/YPG fight against the Syrian regime and ISIS in Syria & Iraq. This is my attempt at a very top-level synopsis: The USA is actively supporting the YPG (People’s Protection Units, basically militias), Peshmerga (formal military units), and countless other Kurdish groups that are fighting ISIS. Problem: Turkish government hates the Kurds because they have been mired in an asymmetric conflict with the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) throughout Anatolia and the surrounding region for decades. It is important to note that the PKK has been a designated terrorist organization by both Washington & Ankara. Naturally, the PKK is allied with its ethnic brothers-in-arms (YPG, Peshmerga, etc.) and jumps across the Turkish border to find refuge with these groups from the Turkish forces. All Kurds are fighting for their own homeland and Turkey stands in their way. The Turkish government wants to put down the PKK’s fight for freedom, and the US is indirectly hindering their effort.
- See my previous article on the YPG for a little background about the Kurdish people & their relationship with American forces: https://tommyguffano.com/2016/12/30/post-isis-problems-too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen/
- America assisted the recent coup d’etat attempt which the Turkish government believes to have been orchestrated by exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen. Step #1 when dealing with the fallout of a widespread coup d’etat: blame someone else. Erdoğan’s claims are grounded in the fact that Gulen lives here in Pennsylvania and we will not extradite him. Furthermore, while recent leaked cables & documents suggest a rocky relationship between the US & Turkey, the Turkish government has no evidence to prove an American backing of Gulen. This shot at the US more accurately reflects Erdoğan grasping for straws after he nearly lost control of his own country. The reality is that Erdoğan’s selfish attempt to increase his power is eroding Turkey’s ability to protect its citizens.
- Uncle Sam is directly supplying ISIS with arms and resources. This is a real kicker seeing as ISIS poses a direct threat to stability, the primary US interest in the region.
- Always remember, when you see hot takes like this: https://www.rt.com/news/371965-erdogan-us-coalition-isis/, check to see who the publisher is. If you see a green RT logo on the site:Remember that this is Russia Today, a television network funded by the Russian government. Freedom of the press does not exist under Putin, making RT Russian propaganda. Now, just because information highlights US mistakes does not mean that its incorrect. I do not doubt that US-resources & funds have ended up in the wrong hands in many different places across the globe. However, “America supports terrorist groups including ISIS” is RT click-bait that provides little to no factual basis.
The divide between the United States & Tukey is undoubtedly widening. The continued development of these tensions does not bode well for anyone except Russia. Amicable relations with Turkey, a NATO member, are crucial to regional stability & America’s forward operating capability. One crucial focus for the US of A is the US Air Force Base at Incirlik. For the uninitiated, the United States military happens to house nuclear warheads there.
Furthermore, if you think that the war against ISIS has been hairy, just wait until it’s been reduced to a localized asymmetric fight. The global community will be forced to address already-ongoing conflicts that get less air-time. Just a few to help give you a preview:
- Turkish operations against Kurdish forces outside of Turkey (Kurds are fighting everyone, they are spread out across like 6 nation-states in the Middle East)
- Shia paramilitary groups massacring Sunnis in northern Iraq
- The al-Assad’s regime focusing operations against moderate Syrian opposition instead of Daesh
The list continues indefinitely. Avoid underestimating the deep-rooted tensions in this region of the world.