Not Minding Erdogan the Gambler, By Owei Lakemfa
Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has two boiling pots on the same fire. It is fighting a war against Syria, having invaded that country since October 9, 2019. Like a parasitic virus, it was an opportunistic invasion; moving in to replace the departing American forces.
It assumed that after fighting repeated American and Israeli attacks, years of ISIS and al-Nusra jihadist wars and battling a plethora of terrorists groups, the Syrian army had become so weakened that it can easily be overrun by Turkish military might. Turkey also hoped to annex Syrian lands running long their 822-kilometre border.
To overawe Syria, it sent in some 15,000 troops backed by an ethnic militia. Turkey had also hoped to pressure Syria into joining its genocidal wars against the Kurds with whom Syria holds no grudge. But what confronted Turkey was a battle-harden Syrian army led by a focused President Bashar al-Assad who is not prepared to cede any part of the motherland.
In the last five weeks, fighting has escalated with at least 54 Turkish soldiers fightingal ongside Syrian rebels, killed in the Idlib province. Thirty four of them were killed on February 27 alone. Also, a dozen Turkish observatory posts have come under bombardment. Turkey responded with “Operation Spring Shield.” But with the body bags increasing, Erdogan this Thursday, sought audience with Russian President Vladimir Putin a strong ally of the Syrians.
Erdogan in trying to mobilise Turks to support his invasion said: “Those asking the question ‘What business does Turkey have in Syria?’ are actually recommending we surrender to terrorist groups and to an enemy regime.” But Turkey has no business invading and occupying Syria. It is an unwinnable war for Erdogan. The greatest danger Turkey faces is to be pushed out of Syria; it will then be left with millions of refuges in its laps who the Europeans will not take in; these would constitute a danger and dilemma to Turkey itself.
Last week, about 140 intellectual workers signed a petition against Turkey’s continued invasion of Syria and the increasing body bags saying: “We the signatories see our country pulled into a deadlock, our kids dying in a battle they are being made to fight in another country, our reputation damaged in front of the global community and our nation used as an imperialist pawn and a sponsor of religious terrorism.” This Wednesday, fighting reportedly broke out in the Turkish parliament after Engin Ozkoc of the opposition Republican People’s Party called Erdogan a “dishonorable, ignoble, low and treacherous.” person who is sending the children of Turkey’s people to fight while his own off-springs are dogging long-term military service.
Turkey while wanting to be seen placating Russia, is also reaching out to the North Atlantic Treaty Orgnisation (NATO) to join in the renewed invasion of Turkey. As a NATO member, it wants the activation of NATO Article 4, which states: “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” This itself, dovetails into Article 5 which provides that: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” But in this case, this seems a joke as Turkey is not under attack. Rather, it is Turkey that has invaded another country. Besides, NATO would not for the stake of unstable and duplicitous Erdogan, want to take on Russia in the battle fields of Syria where Turkey is also killing the Kurds, a people NATO consider as allies in the war against terrorism.
The other boiling pot on Turkey’s fire is another Erdogan gamble; to force Europe pay more money for his brutal services of keeping Syrian refugees under the heel and stopping them from migrating to Europe. He also hoped to get the European Union queue behind him in his attempts to pulverise the Kurds and fight the Syrian army. To put pressure on the Europeans, last week, he opened the Turkish borders with Greece to over ten thousand hapless and desperate Syrian and Afghan refugees with a sprinkling of Iranians, Bangladeshis, Moroccans, Pakistanis, Palestinians and Africans. To mobilise the refugees across Turkey, so called “hope convoys’ which were mainly buses, were organised to move them to the Greek border. The gathering refugees in waves, have tried to breech the Greek borders. So Erdogan has deliberately created a humanitarian crisis in which he hopes to reap financial and political benefits.
In response, Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Sunday said his country would stop entertaining new asylum requests for one month, adding: “no illegal entries into Greece will be tolerated”. The United Nations next day responded that Greece, under international law cannot do so. As the Europeans scrambled to find a solution to the unfolding human tragedy, Erdogan taunted them: “The period of single-sided sacrifice has come to an end… The number of people who are headed toward Europe since the moment we opened our borders has reached hundreds of thousands. This figure will soon reach millions.”
Turkey had in 2016, in exchange for promises that its path to the EU membership would be smoothened, and for a 6 billion euro fee, had reached an agreement with the EU to take back some migrants from Europe and stop new migrations through Turkey to Europe. Expectations have not been met, Erdogan is demanding an additional $3.5 billion from the EU, and with an invasion going badly, desperate Erdogan has sought to put pressure on Europe by opening its water and land borders to Europe. Meanwhile, the Turkish invasion of Syria has in the last five months displaced over one million people thereby vastly increasing the potential number of refugees. Turkey under Erdogan is unpredictable, impulsive and unprincipled. It dangles like a pendulum between reasonability and irrationality. The Erdogan Presidency is not just a danger to world peace and development, but also to the wellbeing of the Turkish people.
Erdogan is facing a dilemma as the Syrians are pressing hard to liberate their entire country from terrorists and push out Turkish troops; Putin is irritated by him; the Americans seem fed up with his pranks and the Europeans are exasperated by his antics.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.