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Baris Karaagac says the Turkish state must give up its aggressive, Neo-Ottomanist foreign policy if it wants to contain terrorist attacks

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. One cannot really make sense of the attacks at the international terminal of Atatürk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, where at least 41 people were killed and 239 people were injured in addition to the attackers, but we will try to discuss what led to such attacks and similar attacks that’s been taking place in Turkey and the region recently. And to discuss this with me, I’m joined by Baris Karaagac. He’s a lecturer in International Development Studies in Trent University in Ontario. He’s also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises, and Struggles: Capital and Labor in Contemporary Capitalism. Baris, thank you for joining me in these very, very difficult circumstances right now. BARIS KARAAGAC: Hello Sharmini, thanks for having me. PERIES: So Baris, give us a sense of what’s going on in Turkey at this time that may have led to these attacks. KARAAGAC: It gave us a shock, of course, but this is the last of a series of terrorist attacks that have been taking place in the past year. Since the last June in Turkey, we’ve seen more than ten terrorist attacks, and hundreds of people have lost their lives in these attacks. In this one we are getting a complete report regarding how many people have lost their lives and how many injured people we have on the ground. But at least 41 people have died, and there are close to 300 people who were injured in this incident. The Prime Minister of the country, Binali Yıldırım, said many things indicate that this was done by ISIS, but we don’t know much in terms of perpetrators of the this heinous, barbaric act yet. Plus, there’s a media ban. In the past year in particular, whenever a terrorist attack has taken place in Turkey, the government immediately imposes a media ban, which has been resented by particular the critical people on the left. PERIES: Because people want to know what’s going on. KARAAGAC: Exactly, we like to have access to information and this is being consistently blocked by the Turkish state in the past year. And again we’re dealing with the same issue. Before the interview I read a report and in this report the report interviewed some employees on the ground who claimed the group included the perpetrators were at least 7 people, 3 of whom lost their lives during the attack. Some people have an argument that 2 of the suicide bombers were of Uzbek origin, but we do not have any certain information on the issue yet. PERIES: What is the significance of an Uzbek being involved in such an attack? KARAAGAC: Well again, as the government officials and a number of others have pointed out, it looks like something that was done by ISIS or a semi-autonomous group that is linked to ISIS. An interesting point to this is that it took place on the 2nd anniversary of the declaration of the encounter [inaud.] by ISIS. However, ISIS has not made any declaration yet. It has not assumed responsibility. We’ll just have to wait and see. PERIES: Now Baris, Erdogan has certainly positioned himself and Turkey as the one state that’s going to be assisting in the fight against ISIS, and in recent days there’s been an agreement made with Israel in terms of better relations and collaborations. Might ISIS if they are responsible for this, be responding to such foreign policy initiatives, particularly with Israel? KARAAGAC: It is quite possible. Last Monday, Turkish state declared that it was going to restore its good relations with Israel. As you know in the past 6 years there’s been a significant tension between the two states. In 2010, [inaud.] there was a planning to breach the embargo on Gaza was on sway and Israel and [inaud.] sent some soldiers on one of these ships in the [inaud.] which led to the killing of 10 Turkish nationalists. Since then there’s been significant tension between these two previously allies. So last Monday, the Turkish state and in the Israel state declared that they were going to restore their relations and a vote was passed today in the Israeli parliament that supported that move. Of course the attacks from yesterday might be a response to this [inaud.] between Israel and Turkey. However, the Turkish state should take responsibility for what happened yesterday and what has been happening for the last year in Turkey. Turkey has been walking around with a scorpion in its pocket, and it was a Turkish state that placed that scorpion in that pocket, which keeps biting people living in Turkey for more than a year now. Since 2011, since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, Turkey has been aiding and hosting a number of jihadist groups within its borders. Turkey has had a [inaud.] order for a long time. These groups have even run health facilities in some of the major cities along the border and today we have hundreds of cells within Turkey that are housing jihadist militants. So Turkey has to take responsibility, because Turkey’s compilation was that it could use these people for its foreign policy objectives, the foremost of which was to oust Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Turkey has failed miserably in this process. PERIES: Baris, Turkey’s dealing with crises. It’s dealing with its own leadership crises and parliament in disarray, and also it’s dealing with a refugee crisis where Turkey is housing a number of people that are fleeing conflicts in Syria and other parts of region. On top of that, now we have this series of attacks by ISIS. Besides take responsibility, what can be done by the Turkish state and its allies in order to begin to resolve some of the problems it’s facing? KARAAGAC: So I will answer your question within the context of Turkey’s foreign policy and domestic policy. As regards to its foreign policy, Turkey should give up its [neoultiminist] ambitions in the region. Its ambitions to increase its influence over the Sunni regions in the Middle East have met with significant failure. It’s significant failure and it has led to the isolation of the country in the past 5 years. Turkey has started, when former Prime Minister, he’s goal was to have zero problems with Turkey’s neighbors. But today Turkey has a problem with each and every neighbor it has. The only exceptions are Saudi Arabia and Qatar. So Turkey should give up its [neoultiministic] ambitions in foreign policy, first of all, this aggressive foreign policy. When it comes to domestic policy, of course Turkey has become very authoritarian and very conservative and quite aggressive, particularly in the context of the Kurdish issue in the past couple of years. Turkey has to change these. But as long as you [inaud.] President Erdogan is in power, as long as he intends to increase and consolidate his grip over power in Turkey, it is unlikely that there will be any significance to aggressive change. Or any kind of normalization really will take place in Turkey. PERIES: And as far as the current crises with ISIS, what other measures can it take in order to address? Now, I know a peace process has been discussed which doesn’t include ISIS, and is there a way out here? KARAAGAC: Well might’ve sailed already or a long time ago. Turkey as I said there earlier, Turkey has been helping a number of jihadists along for a long time now and they are firmly imbedded in their Turkish society right now. Particularly along the border, but also in large cities in Turkey. Turkey should have taken a much different stance about 4 or 5 years ago. It failed to do so and it is a little bit too late right now. If the [inaud.] and AKP change their position towards these groups right now, there might be a change in the future but it won’t take place in the near future. PERIES: How would it begin to change its policy towards the jihadist groups by way of trying to get rid of them? What are the policy changes that are necessary? KARAAGAC: Well, of course it can start to get rid of some of the militants, because Turkey has actually quite a strong intelligence service. According to some reports, of course, of a number of people instantly the attack of yesterday was already known or was predicted. Not known but was predicted by the intelligence service which notified the government of a likely attack in a number of places in Turkey. However, the authorities refused to take any action. Even Brennan, the head of the CIA, has recently said that ISIS plans a number of attacks in the rest of the country. If that guy knows about or he can predict such incidents, so can the Turkish state. And the Turkish state can and has the ability to take action to prevent them. But in the past year the Turkish state has done nothing and just watched. So it can start with taking the necessary precautions and actions. PERIES: And what do you think the response will be of NATO and its allies in terms of working with the state to prevent this kind of thing from happening again? KARAAGAC: Well of course to some extent Turkey’s allies, western countries, are complacent in this because not directly but indirectly because they’ve been supporting this regime for a long time now and in many cases in silence, I would like to remind our audience that Turkey is still a loyal western NATO ally. Again, we’re dealing with a nervous authoritarian regime that has been telling its own citizens as well as it has been aiding in the death and the killings of many other people outside its borders and the western world has done nothing or said too little about this. PERIES: Alright Baris, we’ll be keeping an eye on this and look forward to having you back very soon. I think this issue isn’t going away. KARAAGAC: Thank you Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.