Is Turkey still a valuable ally?

Is Turkey still a valuable ally?

  • The Armenians and the Kurds distrust Ankara’s political machinations
  • What a difference between the German approach and the continuing Turkish denials and flagrant human rights violations
  • In an age of half-truths, all of this adds up to a fairly grim portrait

Turkey’s glaring human rights abuses are causing outrage and criticism. Some are questioning whether Turkey is still a valuable ally. Ebrua Umar, a Dutch journalist, who expressed critical views of Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, and his government’s growing crackdown on freedom of expression, was arrested, questioned, and released by Turkish police. However, she was barred from leaving the country.

Ankara is prosecuting 2,000 people for insulting the Turkish president.

Furthermore, the Turkish government has seized the historic Armenian Surp Giragos Church, a number of other churches and large swaths of property in the heavily damaged Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey, saying it wants to restore the area but alarming residents who fear the government is secretly aiming to drive them out.

The city, in the heart of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, has been the scene of heavy fighting for nearly a year, since the Turkish military began a counterinsurgency campaign against militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which ended a two-year cease-fire in July.

Both the Armenians, for whom Surp Giragos is an important cultural touchstone, and the Kurds are accusing the government of expropriation.

“Solving ethnic and religious strife through demographic engineering is a policy of the Turkish government that goes back well over a century,” said Taner Akcam, a prominent Turkish historian. “The latest developments in Sur,” he added, referring to the historic heart of Diyarbakir, “need to be viewed through this framework.”

The Armenians and the Kurds distrust Ankara’s political machinations. Armenians have been systematically exterminated during the first genocide of the twentieth century. Around 1.5 million Armenians were murdered and driven out of their homeland. Kurds, on the other hand, are demanding autonomy and are involved in an anti-government insurgency.

To many Armenians in the area, who lost touch with their family histories after the genocide and were often raised as Muslims by Kurdish families, the church has served as an anchor as they rediscovered their identities.

These “hidden Armenians” emerged as Turkey relaxed its restrictions on minorities, but now they say they again feel threatened. The horrifying memories of the last one have yet to fade

That helps explain why the government’s seizure of the church struck a particularly raw nerve with the Armenian diaspora and rights groups, who say the expropriation of religious properties and 6,300 plots of land in Diyarbakir is a blatant violation of international law.

On another note, the German government, dealing with the other monstrous genocide of the twentieth century, is negotiating with Jewish representatives to ensure that the thousands of poorest and weakest Holocaust survivors worldwide receive the intensive care they need to live out their final years at home.

Germany has made payments worth more than $83 billion in reparations and compensation, mostly to Jewish victims of the Nazis.

What a stark difference between the German approach and the continuing Turkish denials and flagrant human rights violations.

Although the State Department expressed concerns and uneasiness about press freedom in Turkey, the cooperation between the two countries in countering ISIS’s military threat is deepening, willy-nilly.

Erdogan’s autocratic style of government, limiting freedom of expression and restricting Kurdish rights, has raised eyebrows both in Washington and Europe.

Kurdish groups, Armenian-American organizations, and human rights activists are pressuring Washington to take a more cautious stance towards Ankara. They are asking Washington to cease its cooperation with this so-called NATO ally until Turkey releases journalists and expands press freedom. They are also urging the White House to recognize the Armenian Genocide and Kurdish rights, including autonomy.

It is unlikely that Obama’s successor will be more receptive to Ankara’s demands, especially if Erdogan’s authoritarianism threatens the very foundations of what’s left of a “democratic” society.

Likewise, the next American president will, most probably, not recognize the Armenian Genocide nor promote Kurdish autonomy/independence and minority rights.

Turkey is supporting anti-Assad groups which have strong Islamist views. Washington, on the other hand, is opposed to Ankara’s military assistance to the Salafi Syrian rebels.

Kurdish militias, armed by the US. and insurgent factions, aligned with Turkey, are locked in heavy fighting that, at times, jeopardizes the fragile US-Turkish cooperation to counter ISIS.

How has Turkey garnered so much power and influence in Europe and the Middle East?

This is a wake-up call to both Europe and the US that Ankara is overtly manipulating and covertly blackmailing Western countries and its dramatic rhetoric against ISIS is a smokescreen behind which Erdogan’s pursuit of self-aggrandizement is swelling his cult of personality and other dubious Turkish interests.

Are Western powers and Turkey dancing close to the precipice?

The Armenian Genocide was premeditated and planned by the Turkish authorities in 1915. The government and its followers committed systematic violence against an ethnic minority. The then US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau said of the Armenian Genocide; “They (the Turkish authorities) were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race.” He also called it “a race murder.” The term genocide was not coined yet. Raphael Lemkin, an American lawyer of Jewish descent, after studying the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, coined the word at the end of the Second World War.

In an age of half-truths, all of this adds up to a fairly grim portrait.

It is unfortunate that Western powers are lurching from one unanticipated crisis to another (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, the refugee crisis to name a few) with reactive and improvised policies.

Western powers have lost their appetite for confronting Turkey over Ankara’s human rights violations and repeated denials and lies.

Will the Turkish regime ever be called to account for its human rights violations, both for today and the past?

The Turkish president is a manipulator, an extortionist, and a double-crosser, definitely not a reliable and valuable ally.



About the author

Vahe Tcharkhoutian is the founder and editor of Los Angeles Intelligence. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science [American Politics] and a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration. He currently teaches in Glendale, California.