Sunday, April 24, 2016

Turkey's War Against the Kurds (Part 1): The Strange and Tragic Case of Turkey in Syria

Turkey’s Crimes

As Turkey has been waging a brutal and murderous campaign against its Kurdish population in the south of the country it has also illegally shelled Kurdish factions inside Syria that are threatening the remaining supply lines used by Turkey to arm various jihadi groups.  Increasingly Erdogan has become more irrational, bent on consolidating power domestically and increasing his imperial presence over his neighbors abroad.  The actions are part of a desire to reinvigorate Turkish power in the spirit of the former Ottoman Empire, and have been used in accordance with US imperial designs for the region.

Domestically Erdogan and his ruling AK Party have been pushing for constitutional amendments that would grant President Erdogan de-facto dictatorial power over policy formation, allowing him to dictate policy and bypass most congressional roadblocks.  Yet in absence of achieving this Erdogan has consolidated his rule through a plethora of actions, including litigation against any opposition, usage of the courts to stifle dissent, unprecedented attacks against journalism, and unilateral covert operations, all of which add up to a ruthless consolidation of power into the hands of the executive, allowing Erdogan to function as a unilateral actor in absence of constitutional authority to do so.

During the beginning of the uprisings in Syria Turkey was essentially contracted to carry out the US policy of regime-change by proxy.  The plans drawn up by NATO high command envisioned Turkey acting as the conduit whereby rebel fighters from across the Middle East, recruited and trained by Western intelligence agencies, would be smuggled into Syria and where their supply lines and training camps would be protected.  In December of 2011, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reports, citing contacts within the US intelligence community, that “NATO is already clandestinely engaged in the Syrian conflict, with Turkey taking the lead as U.S. proxy… Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum [sic] on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council... French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause.”

While former Libyan rebels were funneled in, “thousands of Muslim fighters” from across the region were also to be enlisted, yet most of these turned out to be ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.  According to a US State Department 2014 report on terrorism, “the rate of foreign terrorist fighter travel to Syria [during 2014]- totaling more than 16,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 90 countries as of late December – exceeded the rate of foreign terrorist fighters who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia at any point in the last 20 years.”  State Department officials later would admit that of the foreign fighters entering Syria, “almost all” of them cross through the Turkish border.

Though a myriad of evidence exists documenting Turkey's support for al-Qaeda and ISIS, including former Turkish intelligence (MIT) officer testimony and former ISIS member testimony, a mere look on a map is enough to reveal how the ISIS and al-Qaeda supply lines that guarantee these groups existence run directly through the Turkish border.  The lid was really blown off the operation however when it was revealed that trucks belonging to Turkish intelligence were caught supplying weapons and ammunition for al-Qaeda rebels in Syria.  The findings were corroborated by official Turkish military documents, court testimonies, and photographic and video evidence.  Further, following a US special forces raid on the compound of an Islamic State leader in May of 2015, a senior western official with access to the intelligence caches confirmed that the recovered evidence proved direct dealings between Turkish officials and ranking ISIS members was now “undeniable.” 

Also undeniable is Turkey’s connections to the ISIS oil trade.  It is known that ISIS smuggles its oil through Turkey to the global market, and given Turkish intelligence’s intimate relations with the leaders of the group it would be naïve to think the authorities don’t have a hand in the operation.  According to Ali Ediboglu, a Turkish parliamentarian, $800 million worth of oil is being smuggled and sold by ISIS inside Turkey.  Yet, as pointed out by Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, “that was over a year ago.  By now, this implies that Turkey has facilitated over $1 billion worth of black market ISIS oil sales to date.” (emphasis added) 

This represents just one of a myriad of instances of high-level Turkish officials accusing Turkey of complicity in the buying and smuggling of ISIS oil, many of which also report that Erdogan’s son-in-law is heavily involved. 

Martin Chulov of the Guardian, who reported on ISIS’ “undeniable” links to Turkish officials, is quoted in the Turkish paper Birgun as saying that Turkish security forces are responsible for protecting the illicit trade.

Thus Turkish intelligence, acting as the proxy of the US and NATO, has been clandestinely supporting the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and now is even openly supporting al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.  In addition to this it has also lent its support to a myriad of other jihadis, including al-Qaeda linked “Turkmen” and Uighur terrorists.

The Telegraph would report that “Around a dozen Turkmen militias have formed, some directly supported by the Turkish government,” which have been “fighting alongside other rebel groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.”

According to a 2015 report by Christina Lin, Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University, “A new article reported that 3,500 Uyghurs are settling in a village near Jisr-al Shagour that was just taken from Assad, close to the stronghold of Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) that is in the Turkey-backed Army of Conquest. They are allegedly under the supervision of Turkish intelligence that has been accused of supplying fake passports to recruit Chinese Uyghurs to wage jihad in Syria.”

These claims were corroborated by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh. 

In a recent piece Hersh quotes Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to China, as saying in regards to the Chinese position on Syria that “Many Uighur fighters now in Syria are known to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – an often violent separatist organisation that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xinjiang. ‘The fact that they have been aided by Turkish intelligence to move from China into Syria through Turkey has caused a tremendous amount of tension between the Chinese and Turkish intelligence.’”  Hersh goes on to say that “Moustapha’s concerns were echoed by a Washington foreign affairs analyst who has closely followed the passage of jihadists through Turkey and into Syria. The analyst, whose views are routinely sought by senior government officials, told me that ‘Erdoğan has been bringing Uighurs into Syria by special transport while his government has been agitating in favour of their struggle in China.”

Erdogan Cracks Down

The Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, which broke the story of the MIT trucks smuggling arms to al-Qaeda, faced a heavy backlash.  As a result of litigation based upon accusations of “exposing state secrets” and “trying to topple the government” the paper’s editor Can Dundar and its Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul now face life-sentences for reporting on the crimes of the state.  Furthermore, any news organization in the country that holds to its journalistic duty of holding a light up to power has been targeted, suppressed, vilified, and jailed.  Press freedoms in Turkey, virtually non-existent, are some of the most abysmal in the world: the recent Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks Turkey 149th out of a total of 180 countries. 

As Noam Chomsky and Christophe Deloire report, “journalism is being murdered” in Turkey. 

“Four days before the Nov. 1 parliamentary elections, the police stormed Ipek Media Group headquarters and shut down its two opposition dailies and two opposition TV stations. After control of management had been secured and 71 journalists fired, these outlets resumed operations with a new editorial line verging on caricature. The dailies, Bugun and Millet, ran Erdogan’s photo on the front page along with the headlines “The president among the people” and “Turkey united.”” 

Yet after the ruling AK Party recovered an absolute parliamentary majority, the journalistic oppression only intensified: “Two days after the elections, two journalists were jailed on charges of “inciting an armed revolt against the state” in a story. Since then, some 30 other journalists have been placed under investigation for “terrorist propaganda” or “insulting the president” — the two most common charges.” 

Later Turkey launched a crackdown on a total of 14 TV channels and removed them from the state-owned Turksat Communications infrastructure.  One of those that was shut down was a television station broadcasting in Kurdish which regularly featured rational Kurdish voices promoting peace between Kurds and Turks.

Turkey as well is no stranger to censoring the internet, it is responsible for more than half of all government requests to Twitter to remove content, far in the lead of any other nation, and it consistently bans its citizens from accessing the entire YouTube platform.

However, one of the most important cases, one that is hardly every reported on, is that of the journalist Serena Shim, who very likely was murdered at the hands of Turkish intelligence or one of their rebel proxies. 

Serena was an American journalist of Lebanese descent working for PressTV (Iranian media) who had been extensively covering the war in Syria, and more importantly, the connections between Turkish intelligence and extremist rebel factions fighting against Assad.  Later confirmed through court proceedings and official documentation, Serena, from first-hand experience on the ground, was one of the first to report on evidence that ISIS and al-Qaeda militants were being smuggled into Syria through Turkey in trucks disguised as humanitarian aid vehicles bearing the symbols of NGO’s and the World Food Organization.  The reports had drawn attention to the notion that Turkish intelligence were involved in the smuggling operation.

On October 14th, 2014, Serena was killed in a car crash in Turkey that can only be described, in the very mildest of terms, as “suspicious.”  Days before her death, Serena had very publicly expressed deep concerns that she was being targeted by Turkish intelligence.  Turkey had branded her as a “spy” and sent agents to places she had been working, asking residents about her whereabouts and telling them to turn her in if they saw her.  Serena said “I’m very surprised at this accusation – I even thought of approaching Turkish intelligence because I have nothing to hide.”  She said that she was “a bit worried, because...Turkey has been labeled by Reporters Without Borders as the largest prison for journalists…so I am frightened about what they might use against me.”  She suspected the reason they were targeting her was because of her reports: “We were some of the first people on the ground –if not the first people – to get that story of those takfiri militants going in through the Turkish border…being sent in, I’ve got images of them in World Food Organization trucks. It was very apparent that they were takfiri militants by their beards and by the clothes they wore, and they were going in there with NGO trucks.” (emphasis added)

She also made it clear that she thought she was being targeted as a means to scare other journalists from reporting on these issues: “I’ve been stopped by them before, but not necessarily to this level, just by police basically. But for the intelligence to actually look for me, that's rather odd, so I think that they're definitely trying to get the word out to journalists to be careful so much as to what they say...”

Days later she was killed when her car collided with another vehicle. 

Turkey quickly labelled the incident as a tragic “accident”, yet Serena’s family was not as satisfied with that account.  Her sister Fatmeh expressed no doubts that Turkey had in some way been involved in her sister’s death.  “I think it was planned and plotted,” she said.  The story just didn’t add up.

Given the accuracy of her reports, later confirmed, and the extraordinarily damning evidence that they contained about crimes committed by the Turkish state, it is very likely that she struck a nerve close to the heart of Turkish power and that her sister was indeed right about the extremely suspicious circumstances in which her death occurred.

When you are involved in substantially supporting international terrorism, committing what the Nuremburg Tribunal labelled as the “supreme international crime” of aggression against another state, while as well engaging in massive human rights violations against your own population, it follows that you will seek to rule absent the annoyance of criticism and being held accountable for your crimes.  Erdogan and the AKP have shown that they seek to unilaterally rule the Turkish state, and to silence any dissent against them.

In recent months however Turkish journalists and parliamentarians have bravely continued to expose state crimes, in a climate of dissent that in spite of overwhelming government oppression continues to be one of the most intrepid and honorable throughout the world.  Turkish MP Eren Erden recently cited evidence from a court investigation that, with the help of Turkish authorities, sarin gas precursors were smuggled through Turkey into ISIS camps in Syria where the sarin agent was then compounded, building on a body of evidence that shows Syrian rebels had access to sarin, and likely carried out the 2013 attacks as a false flag in order to get the Americans to invade.

He now faces charges of treason for exposing the information.

The Cumhuriyet daily which first exposed the MIT truck smuggling operation as well has recently published intercepted communications between members of the Turkish Armed Forces and ISIS fighters, in which the interlocutors continually refer to each other as “brother” as they coordinate various operations.

Such commitment to honest journalism in the face of state repression is as honorable as the repression against it is despicable.  Yet the escalation of violence against the Kurds in Turkey and the shelling of the Kurds in northern Syria must be seen within this context; they are interwoven with Erdogan’s pursuit of power consolidation domestically and with Turkey’s project to overthrow the Syrian state through support to the most extremist factions fighting in Syria.  It is the Kurds in Syria that are threatening the Turkish project through their advances upon the border corridors through which the Turkish supply lines to their terror proxies flow.

To be continued in Part 2...

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