The West Must End Its Toxic Relationship with Turkey
By DMITRI SHUFUTINSKYUpdated: AUGUST 4, 2016 09:30
At the end of World War One, the "sick man of Europe" seemed as if it was on the road to joining Western norms and becoming a serious power in the Middle East. Although the Ottoman Empire collapsed and yielded much of its territory to foreign powers (France & Britain) or to Arabs lusting for independence, Mustafa Kemal reformed a once strong Islamic empire. Ataturk, as he was more commonly known, made women equal to men by law, banned polygamy (a first for the Middle East at that point), and reformed the education system by allowing girls to study in the same schools and classrooms as boys. Ataturk aimed to make Turkey more Western and secular as he started cracking down on the role of religion in the state. Even courts of sharia law were abolished in 1924. Ataturk is surely rolling over in his grave. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once a relatively secular man who enjoyed close ties to Israel & the West while trying to maintain peace with the Kurds through negotiations, is now doing to Turkey in 2016 what Ruhollah Khomeini did to Iran in 1979. Turkey has now arrested more journalists than the likes of China or Russia. Erdogan regularly denies the 1915 Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, but falsely accuses Israel of a genocide in the Gaza Strip. He allows jihadists to cross through Turkey into Syria and is accused by Russia of buying oil from ISIS. His anti-Semitic remarks about Israel have led to increased racism against Jews within Turkey, and his comments about Kurdistan have done the same for the Kurdish community as well. Erdogan also plays both sides in the war against ISIS and other extremists. He commits to the Western goals of eliminating the extremists, yet is more focused on bombing Kurdish fighters in Iraq & Syria (which are the best fighting forces against ISIS) than on slaughtering the jihadists themselves. Could this perhaps be because Erdogan is an Islamist himself? After all, who could forget Turkey's role in financing and backing Muslim Brotherhood elements of the 2011 Arab Spring? Or, for that matter, the hosting of Hamas leaders in Turkey? The Turkish president went on to call Israel "the main threat to regional peace"; likened Zionism (which he once referred to as a crime against humanity) to Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and fascism; declared that it was behind "state terrorism"; said it was "more barbaric than Hitler"; and then had the gall to--quite hypocritically--declare Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt's president, an "illegitimate tyrant" after his toppling of the terrorist-sympathizing Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Erdogan has intimidated the press and the Constitutional Court, cracked down on protests, and nearly brought NATO to the brink of war with Russia after downing a Russian jet over Syria last fall. This irresponsible behavior is more akin to an Ottoman sultan than a secular leader trying to bring Turkey into the EU. For years, the West has made excuses for Turkey's behavior and continued having normal relations with Ankara, even while condemning its behavior at times. Some of this has to do with political correctness and not wanting to offend Muslims. But much of it is also because the West allows itself to be blackmailed by Ankara. The EU is dependent on Turkey taking in refugees that have overflowed in Europe and created tension between the Political Right and the Political Left, while also sometimes causing violence. As for the United States, it is reliant on Turkey for strategic air bases, especially in light of what's going on in Iraq & Syria and an increasingly aggressive Putin. But it's time to face reality. Turkey is not a reliable ally, probably not an ally at all. The values demonstrated by Erdogan and an increasingly anti-American, anti-Western Turkish public are opposed to liberal Western values. It makes no sense that the West criticizes Putin while overlooking or embracing the exact same behavior exhibited by Erdogan. This hypocrisy only gives autocrats in Russia, Turkey, and elsewhere more reason to criticize or attack the West, and it makes Western society and countries look feeble and immoral to allies, potential allies, and enemies alike. The recent coup attempt's failure was a tragedy. It had the chance to possibly remove Erdogan and replace him with the liberal Muslim activist Fethullah Gulen, currently residing in Pennsylvania. Gulen, perhaps the political archenemy of Erdogan, is a fierce critic of terrorism and even sharply condemned the May 2010 Mavi Marmara for trying to break Israel's blockade on Gaza. Gulen also has progressive views on women's roles in society. The failure of the coup has led Erdogan to reignite ultra-nationalist, anti-American and anti-Western fervor within Turkish society as a rallying cry, and has also resulted in thousands of Turkish academics, journalists, and military members being purged, arrested, fired, banned from travel, or otherwise being punished for involvement or supposed involvement with the coup attempt. Western leaders, including President Obama, made a mistake in condemning the coup attempt. For a progressive society that so desperately wants to be on the "right side of history"--even to the point of supporting the Arab Spring's less-than-savory characters against "the devils we knew"--this hostile move towards anti-Erdogan, freedom-seeking Turks was a step in the wrong direction for the West. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising, though, given that Obama once declared Erdogan to be one of the leaders he most admires, supported Erdogan-puppet Mohammed Morsi, and condemned Egypt's 2013 coup that removed the Islamist Morsi and resulted in al-Sisi, an Egyptian Ataturk, taking power in Cairo.The argument that we need Turkey for its strategic position is one that should be examined thoroughly and debated intensely. It would be relatively easy to replace any air bases in Turkey with a few in Greece, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and maybe even Israel and Kurdistan (which might very well be a nation-state if their independence referendum passes in the fall). These positions would still make it easy for the American-led coalition to "contain" Putin while also striking at ISIS and other terrorists in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East. And given that China and Russia are both seeking to expand their influence in Central Asia, it would be especially important for America to seize this opportunity to place bases--and Western influence--in Armenia and Azerbaijan to counteract Moscow and Beijing. The argument of Turkey being a NATO member and taking the EU's refugees should also be examined and debated. Turkey may have the second-largest army in NATO after America, but what good is this "alliance" if Turkey backstabs our interests by allowing jihadists through their borders and bombing the strongest ground forces in our fight against ISIS? And why should Europe reward Turkey's bad behavior with money and EU-travel concessions when it could possibly more easily pressure the Arab World (by limiting oil purchases or arms sales) to take in more refugees, especially since they're supposedly the "brethren"? Only by taking a serious stand against extremism can it be ended and freedom-loving people be liberated. By being silent or neutral in this, the West is taking the side of Erdogan the oppressor.