Turkey Abandons the European Integration Project in Favor of Extreme Power Consolidation
Turkish media, Kurds and Kurdish supporters, and Gulanists, anyone who gets in the way of this consolidation of power will endure severe state repression says Baris Karaagac
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Monday in Turkey, the editor in chief and senior staff of Cumhuriyet, a newspaper, were arrested on charges of terrorism in the latest crackdown since the failed coup in July of this year. Cumhuriyet is one of the last newspapers left which is critical of President Erdoğan. The Turkish paper, Hürriyet Daily News, quoted the state-run news agency as saying these journalist of the paper are suspected of attempting to precipitate a coup through subliminal messages in their columns and the senior staff from this newspaper have been charged with committing crimes on behalf the Fethullah terrorist organization and the PKK. These arrests follow the shutdown of 15 other media outlets last Sunday including one of the world’s only women’s news agencies.
Joining us now to discuss the situation about Turkey is Baris Karaagac. Baris is 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. Thanks so much for joining us Baris.
BARIS KARAAGAC: Hello Sharmini, thanks for having me.
PERIES: So Baris, the German Chanceller weighed in on the shutdown and the crackdown on these newspapers and journalists. Let’s look at what she had to say:
ANGELA MERKEL: As to Turkey. It is extremely alarming to me and the federal government that the freedom of the press is being curtailed time and again. The latest example of these, already very unfortunate developments is what is happening to the editors and journalists of the newspaper ‘Cumhuriyet’. We have serious doubts that this is allowed under the principles of a constitutional state.
As we did with Mister Duendar, we will follow the trials of all of the arrested journalists very closely. The journalists can be sure of our solidarity, as can those in Turkey who are fighting for freedom of the press and freedom of opinion under very difficult circumstance. The German ambassador, yesterday, visited the editorial department of ‘Cumhuriyet’ to underline our support and to show how vitally we see the freedom of the press and freedom of opinion. We will continue to use our contacts on all levels to make this clear and of course this subject will play a central role in the negotiations for EU entry. The situation is alarming.
PERIES: The Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, was quite dismissive of criticism that Turkey has gotten from Chancellor Merkel as well as other EU representatives. He was rather direct in his response. Let’s have a look at what he had to say:
BINALI YILDIRIM: Today, somebody from the European Parliament says the detention of journalists from that newspaper is a ‘red line’. Brother, we don’t care about your red line. It’s the people who draw the red line. What importance does your line have?
Turkey is not a country you can bring into line with threats. Turkey is empowered by its people and it gives account only to its people.
PERIES: So Baris EU is holding entry to the EU over Erdoğan’s head. But if you take seriously what the Prime Minister is saying here, it looks like it doesn’t really matter what the EU or Angela Merkel thinks or has to say.
KARAAGAC: Well becoming part of the European integration project has been one of the killers of Turkish foreign policy since the early 1960s when Turkey applied for accession. But recently that goal doesn’t seem to be one of the new regime’s priorities. The regime’s priority at this moment is to consolidate it’s power. After a coup attempt that took place on July 15. So, some of it might be posturing. It’s not feasible for Turkey to cut off it’s ties with Europe and I’m sure the government is listening to what people like Merkel have to say. But EU membership has not been one of the government’s priorities recently.
PERIES: So Baris, give us a sense of what these later crackdowns on the media is about and certainly give us also a sense of this is not the first time that Erdoğan and his government has tried to shut down various media sources that are critical of him.
KARAAGAC: Well this is another attempt by Erdoğan and the government to silence social and political opposition in Turkey. Since the failed coup attempt that took place again on the 15th of July, 2 targets have been media outlets and also bureaucrats, businessmen, etc. who have ties to the [inaud.] movements which is led by the cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and the Kurdish movements. In this last stage what we see is that the state has a closed down many media outlets that are related, that have links with the Kurdish movement. So, and [inaud.] which is known as the leading. Which is the leading secular termanist newspaper in Turkey. So, what we are seeing in Turkey is a gradual but decisive change in the regime. The [inaud.] regime that was established in the early 1920’s. So, we are witnessing a regime change as well as a change transformation in the political and military elites in Turkey which are replaced by new ones.
PERIES: Baris, many things have been changing in Turkey since the attempted coup. Give us a sense of what we know about that coup and what shifts have taken place geopolitically and nationally as a result of that coup attempt.
KARAAGAC: Well we still do not have a clear picture as to who was behind the coup and what exactly happened on that day. There’s a time period of 5-6 hours which we have no idea or very little information as to what happened in that time period. But recently there have been a lot of columns and some ex-military people writing on the issue. These people have been arguing that in that time period, there were negotiations between Erdoğan and a faction within the military that has been referred to as the Eurasianists.
According to the official discourse, the people who were behind this coup attempt were Güdents. Supporters of Gülen. But we know that the real picture is a little bit more complex and that more than one group must have participated in the coup attempt. So in order to secure the failure of this coup attempt, Erdoğan negotiated with 1 group within the military and that was the nationalists in the military. Only after securing their support, it was possible to prevent the coup from happening.
Who are these people? The interesting thing is that right after this coup attempt, some of these Eurasianist officers who have been persecuted before were promoted. So, these people are quite critical of Turkey’s alliance with the United States and NATO. They want Turkey to adopt more independence, autonomous foreign policy or foreign policy that is aligned with that of Russia, China and Iran. Some of these people are playing key role in Turkish military today. But at the same time, they are staunch secularists, therefore that’s a shaky coalition or alliance between Erdoğan and these people right now. That conflict or that attention that will be centered on the issue of secularism might lead to important consequences in the future.
PERIES: So Baris, what implications is this having on the local situation. We know that since the coup attempt, the country has been in a state of emergency. This has allowed Erdoğan to get rid of many, many thousands of people from the civil service. In fact, the latest sacking numbers are 10,000 and approximately I think the total number now sacked is about 10,000. So, people who have been sacked and suspended and so on must be rising up. Not to mention the number of people that have been arrested and formally detained in some sort of way. I don’t know what is happening to them. What is your assessment of what is happening nationally at this time?
KARAAGAC: Well of course there is some opposition, particularly from the left and the Kurdish movement. But the significant fortune of the Turkish society is that either intimidated by the new regime or it’s giving its support to this new regime. Erdoğan has done something very interesting and maybe quite smart recently. He was able to rally the nationalist boarders of support behind him. Now what we see in the parliament is that unofficial and informal coalition between the AKP, the ruling party which has about 50% support in Turkish society and the MHP, an ultra nationalist or if you will neofascist party.
The thing that brought them together is chauvinist nationalism. So the new regime is beign constituted on a platform the pillars of which are conservative Islam and chauvinistic nationalism. This is a very very dangerous mix. In a country like Trukey. Particularly given that country’s or that region’s history.
We see this new nationalistic rhetoric also in Turkish approach to Syria and Iraq. Recently both Prime Minister Yıldırım and President Erdoğan have referred to a document that was prepared in 1920 called a National Pact in a debate on Mosul. Turkey wants to be a part of the forces that are organizing the offensive on Mosul to liberate it from ISIS but there’s been a significant resistance both from the Iraqi government and the United States. So Erdoğan and Yıldırım, have argued that Mosul historically belongs to Turkey, referring to that document that I just mentioned called the National Pact.
Erdoğan has also criticized the Lausanne treaty of 1923 which in a way constituted a new Turkish republic and determined its boarders. He said the Lausanne treaty and he actually implied that the people who signed this treaty were traitors because he thinks that Turkey ended up with less territory than it should have. He has a hard claim that the Greek islands should also belong to Turkey. Of course, this created some alarm among the Greek officials on the other side of the Aegean Sea. So, that’s rhetoric, the discourse which is reflective of new chauvinistic and religious ideology is quite concerning.
PERIES: And this further complications now of course because of US harboring Gülen, in the US, Turkey and Erdoğan in particular has turned away from it’s alliance with the US. But it’s a complication here. Turkey’s also a member of NATO. Of course membership at NATO is also important to Turkey. So where is that at with it’s turn towards Russia just recently after the coup?
KARAAGAC: Well, even if there’s this alliance or [inaud.] in between the Eurasian officers and Erdoğan, it is difficult for Turkey to leave the western alliance in the near future. We don’t know what’s going to happen. It depends on a number of factors. It depends on first of all, whether or not that shaky alliance between Erdoğan and the Eurasian officers will survive in the near future or in the meantime. But what we can say with a certainty is that there’s a significant tension between the US administration in Turkey with regard to what role Turkey should be playing, both in Syria and Northern Iraq. Turkey has a very assertive attitude. Turkish officials have been saying that Turkey needs to play an active role in clearing or cleansing the border of terrorist groups. These terrorist groups include both ISIS and the Kurds. The PYD and its armed forces.
But Americans have been resistant as well as of course both the Kurds and the Iraqi government. Actually a couple of days ago, Turkey again restated its desire to participate in the Mosul offensive and actually a couple of days ago it sent its tanks to the Iraqi border. But then the Iraqi Prime Minister responded by saying if Turkey enters Iraqi territory, it will be a declaration of war. So, Turkey is playing with fire in the region that’s a very dangerous process for both Syria and Iraq but also for Turkey. Turkey’s further involvement in both of these countries will have some domestic consequences.
PERIES: And this is because of Turkey’s interests in Mosul and they feel they have historical rights to Mosul.
KARAAGAC: According to Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yıldırım, as well as the media that is close to the new regime, Mosul is and should be part of Turkey. So, we recently have seen all these new maps with Mosul part of greater Turkey. This is a very dangerous process. Very very dangerous process and people should be concerned about that.
PERIES: Alright. Baris I thank you so much for joining us. You’ve clarified a lot of very important issues. We’re looking forward to having you back very soon because I think the situation in Turkey is intensifying and we at the Real News have not stayed on top of it so we’re looking forward to having you back next week.
KARAAGAC: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
PERIES: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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