International media silent as Turkey teeters on the brink of civil war

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GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu resigned on May 5, in a move initiated by President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan in order to circumvent the lack of parliamentary numbers which could change the constitution to create an executive presidency.

The increasing consolidation of power in the president’s hands, however, has only served to polarize the Turkish political situation further, fueling an already flourishing civil war.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaks in front of a banner featuring President Erdogan.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu speaks in front of a banner featuring President Erdogan.

The move, coming on the heels of the European Union’s opening of much of its area to Turkish entry without visas, was likely to have an impact on the forthcoming June 23, United Kingdom referendum as to whether the UK should remain within the EU.

In Turkey, a lower-profile prime minister was to be appointed on May 22, but the reality of the move was that the president would rule increasingly directly through his cabinet in the interim, and the incoming premier would be even more of a cipher than Davutoğlu.

The first clues of the prime minister’s impending removal came with the appearance, on a new and anonymous blog entitled Pelican Brief, of a long diatribe against him.

The writer identified himself as “one of those who would sacrifice his soul for the CHIEF”, meaning the president, and this reference, always in capital letters, was used 73 times in total in the blog. The author was later identified as a journalist who was very close to President Erdoğan, and would only have acted on instructions from the president.

One of Davutoğlu’s last accomplishments as prime minister was to negotiate (by the beginning of May 2016) the visa-free entry deal for Turks into the European Union’s Schengen zone states, but only if Turkey made progress this year on its remaining EU entry chapters and on helping stem the flow of illegal migrants coming through Turkey into the EU.

However, President Erdoğan has seen the task as being accomplished, and that Davutoğlu was no longer needed.

The president has, in the past, seen how EU leaders, and particularly German Chencellor Angela Merkel, have capitulated to Turkish pressure, and he clearly feels that Turkish entry to the EU could now not be stopped, despite the fundamental violation of EU entry regulations by Turkey that its forces were militarily occupying an EU member state’s territory.

Some 40,000 Turkish troops still occupy 37 percent of Cyprus.

Turkey, with the U.S. and Germany, has been putting forward the idea of having Cyprus join the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) so that the presence of Turkish troops (part of NATO) on Cyprus would then be translated into a NATO deployment, rather than having their presence there portrayed as a military occupation.

Events moving toward the break-up of Turkey, however, may have moved the situation beyond such maneuvering.

Turkey has now moved into deep crisis mode, and is hardly the stable and progressing country which Davutoğlu claimed it to be as a result of his involvement in government.

He had come into the premiership knowing that President Erdoğan was determined to reduce the power of the prime minister and transfer real executive authority to the presidency, but had clearly grown comfortable with the belief that the EU preferred dealing with him rather than the president.

Key AKP officials had confirmed on May 4, as the prime minister and president met for 90 minutes, that the party would convene a congress in the coming weeks to select a new prime minister.

Possible candidates included government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, the president’s son-in-law. In the week leading up to the meeting, the authority to appoint provincial AKP officials was taken away from the prime minister, reducing Davutoğlu’s hold over the party grassroots and consolidating the president’s influence.

President Erdoğan has made it clear that he would continue to consolidate power, even at the expense of international support. This has meant that the only way his hold could be weakened, given his already clear violation of his constitutional mandate under which the presidency does not have the right to govern directly, was either through a military coup d’etat, or by civil war overthrowing the present governing structure.

Significantly, in order to amass power, Erdoğan undertook a series of extra-judicial procedures to imprison the key military leaders, and also to imprison journalists and take control of major media outlets. At the same time, he has moved — particularly in April 2016 — to seize Christian churches around the country, a move which has also not been covered by the international media.

The Turkish economy is — again without international attention — now highly volatile, despite reporting that the GDP grew by 4.5 percent in 2015.

Civil war is now escalating in the main Kurdish areas of the country, and the South of Turkey is now entirely a military zone, and not just because of the war which Turkey initiated to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Despite the ostensible ceasefire in Syria, Turkish-backed jihadist groups have continued their military assaults on Kurdish towns, again without international media scrutiny. The towns of Afrin (Kurdish: Efrin), in north-western Syria, just south of the Turkish border, was heavily hit on April 26, 2016. Turkish-backed groups also continued their attacks on the Kurdish town of Qamishlo, further to the east in Syria.

The Turkish parliament is now not functioning: major disturbances occurred within the Parliamentary chamber, escalating particularly on April 27, when a Kurdish MP from HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi: Peoples’ Democratic Party), Ferhat Encü, accused the Turks of being the outsiders in Turkey, noting: “When Kurds lived in Kurdistan, Turks were in Mongolia.” [Actually, the Turks originated in what is now Kyrgyzstan, and under the Kyrgyz Turkic leader Manas, fought the Mongols.] But Encü accused the Turks of conducting unrestricted warfare and genocide against the Kurds. His speech was constantly interrupted by calls from Turkish MPs from the governing AKP for Encü to be killed before he could leave the chamber, and from the Speaker of Parliament, who tried to silence Encü and said he would imprison Encü for 10 years.

HDP MPs Ferhat Encü, Ayhan Bilgen and Çağlar Demirel were slightly injured in the brawl which followed. HDP MPs Hüda Kaya and Burcu Özkan Çelik were also assaulted.

The speech was unprecedented and highly inflammatory, but received no attention from the world media. It was to be followed on May 2, by a riot within a parliamentary chamber between Kurdish and Armenian MPs on the one hand, and Turkish MPs on the other.

Both the April 29 and May 2, events were captured on film. Again, there was no international media coverage. All mainstream media outlets in the U.S. and Europe ignored the event, and repeated outgoing Prime Minister Davutoğlu’s claim that he had presided over growth and stability in Turkey.

What has been significant over recent months has been that all the national minorities in Turkey — Armenians, Alevis, Pontus (Greek), and religious minorities — have joined the pro-Kurdish/pro-minorities party HDP, which has 59 seats in the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly).

The government-controlled newspaper Hürriyet Daily News on May 4, reported an allegation that a May 2, security operation near the Kurdish Turkish city of Diyarbakir killed a top commander from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Ekrem Guney, a longtime PKK member who had a government bounty of 4-million Turkish lira ($1.4-million) on his head.

Hürriyet claimed that Guney was responsible for the militant organization’s central field command. The Diyarbakir Governor’s office alleged Guney was part of a group supporting the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. PKK sources told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs, however, that the claim of the killing of Guney was propaganda from the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (NIO) (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı: MİT). The sources said that Guney was not a commander in Diyarbakir, in any event. They did confirm that there was a PKK leader called Ekrem Guney, but not inside Turkey.

But the sources did confirm that there had been many PKK losses in many areas recently, but said — as reported earlier by this Service — that the PKK would open new fronts “with land battles in major cities in Turkey” from June 2016 onwards.

This would include operations in areas which the Turkish Government had hitherto not openly acknowledged as being Kurdish, including territory on the Black Sea.