Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in recent years been arrogating to himself more and more power in Turkey. His neo-Ottomanism is not just about spreading Turkish power to former Ottoman territories, but also about enlarging his own power inside Turkey, transforming him into a new Sultan or Padishah on the Ottoman model. He brooks no criticism. Those who express the slightest disagreement with him may find themselves imprisoned. This happened recently to ten retired admirals; their story is here: “Turkey arrests admirals, student for criticism,” by Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, April 6, 2021:
Turkey has increased its crackdown on critics of the ruling party with a new round of arrests. This time it targeted former navy admirals who expressed criticism about the country potentially building a new canal.
While the issue might seem banal, in Turkey there is no critique permitted of anything the ruling party of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The country increasingly jails people for tweets and calls individuals “terrorists” for protests at universities.
Although he had been accumulating power for decades, it was the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 that led to a swift expansion of that power. His government arrested 150,000 Turks – high school teachers, university professors, rectors, military men, judges, lawyers, businessmen, and journalists, most of them secularists opposed to his re-islamizing project, though some were the followers of his rival Fethulleh Gulen, who supposedly directed the abortive coup (it was Erdogan’s most preposterous claim) — from his exile in Pennsylvania. All these people were discharged from their jobs; some had to take up new professions; many went into forced exile. Turkey currently has more journalists in prison than any other country.
Turkey on Monday detained ten retired admirals after they openly criticized a canal project, France 24 reported. The project is “dear to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a country where the hint of military insubordination raises the specter of past coups.” The actual criticism is quite mild and the actual issue appears banal.
Note that these were retired admirals. They thus had no officers or men under their command. They posed no threat of a military coup to the government. Their expression of disagreement was apparently “quite mild,” yet it was enough, in Erdogan’s despotism, to get them arrested.
The official approval last month of plans to develop a 45-kilometer (28-mile) shipping lane in Istanbul comparable to the Panama or Suez canals has opened up debate about Turkey’s commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention,” the report reads.
The admirals prefer a Turkey that is part of international agreements and follows them. Turkey has increasingly been threatening its neighbors in Greece and causing controversy with the US and NATO by acquiring Russian weapon systems.
Turkey has illegally sent its own ships to search for gas deposits in Greek and Cypriot territorial waters, even while threatening and forcing other vessels, that had a right to be there, to leave. These have included both Greek and Israeli ships (the Greek and Cypriot governments having given Israel permission to search for gas in their waters) that were legally present.
Erdogan has insisted that Turkey buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which led the Americans to revoke their promise to sell Turkey the top-of-the-line F-35 Stealth fighter jets. The Pentagon feared that the Russians would be able to study how the S-400 system did against the F-35 fighter jets, and tweak the S-400 accordingly. There is also the problem of interoperability of NATO defense systems with the Russian S-400.
It has also fueled conflict in Libya, Syria and Azerbaijan and has used Syrian refugees as mercenaries. Any critique of Ankara’s drift toward authoritarianism, religious extremism and extremist rhetoric is increasingly being treated as “terrorism” and people are arrested in Turkey even for tweets that are many years old.
Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism has led him to send troops, both hundreds of Turks, and 5,000 Syrian mercenaries, to support the Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, against the forces of General Haftar based in Tobruk. In return, Turkey has been allowed to establish a permanent military presence in the country. Ankara is already building a naval base as part of Misrata’s port (Misrata is a city where 1.4 million “Libyan Turks,” the descendants of Turks who arrived during the last two centuries, live), and a base at the al-Waitya air base in the desert southwest of Tripoli.
Turkish troops have also moved into Syria, to push the Syrian Kurds back from the Turkish border, lest they join up with the forces of the Kurdish PKK inside Turkey. Those troops have taken over a wide swathe of northern Syria, an 8,835-square-kilometre area which encompasses over 1000 settlements, including towns such as Afrin, al-Bab, Azaz, Jarabulus, Jindires, Rajo, Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. And though the Kurds have now been pushed southward, the Turkish troops are apparently intending to stay.
In Azerbaijan, the Turks supported the government’s decision to move against the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised Azerbaijan’s “great operation both to defend its own territories and to liberate the occupied Karabakh. Turkey stands with and will continue to stand with friendly and brotherly Azerbaijan with all our means and all our heart.”
As part of his expansionist foreign policy, Erdogan has also sent troops to Somalia, to establish a presence on the Horn of Africa. The Turks have even been “Turkifying” Somali troops, teaching them the Turkish language along with military skills. They hope to raise a generation of “Turkish” Somalis who will remain loyal to, and obey orders from, Ankara.
Ankara’s ruling AK Party controls most of the media in the country and the government uses the media as AK party mouthpieces, from TRT to Anadolu and other major media. This makes it difficult for any discussion in Turkey to include any critique of government policy. Turkey’s retired admirals had merely expressed concern about the country’s obligations to a convention; for that, they may be imprisoned.
Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in the world. The government has total control of the Turkish media – newspapers, radio, television, Internet news sites. Criticism, however slight, can lead to loss of one’s job, expulsion from the country, or imprisonment.
But harsh punishments are also inflicted on those who have done absolutely nothing except be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was the case with many dozens of trainee pilots in the Turkish Air Force. They were recently sentenced to life in prison for a 2016 coup attempt they had no role in. The young men happened to be at a military base that was used by coup plotters, but did not take any part; they were merely trainees who had been assigned to the base where some of the officers who took part in the coup also were stationed. For being in the same base as the plotters, the young men will be in prison for the rest of their lives.
These were the most promising pilots in Turkey’s air force. It took ten years, and huge investments in training, tp prepare them to fly F-16s. Apparently, two entire classes of trainees were imprisoned. How many F-16 pilots does Turkey still have, after such a widespread purge, both of the seasoned F-16 pilots who took part in the coup, and of two classes of trainee pilots who were entirely innocent but given life sentences nonetheless?
In another case, Turkey detained a student from Canada’s Carleton University. He has been kept in prison for six months for a tweet he wrote seven years ago. Most Western democracies are afraid to critique Ankara’s crackdowns and do not stand by Turkish students who attend Western universities.
The Turkish government is relentless in unearthing, and punishing, those it regards as “enemies.” Just think: the authorities sentenced a Turkish-Canadian to six months in prison because, seven years ago, he happened to post a tweet critical of the government. Who would even have remembered the tweet from that long ago? But the Turkish security forces are relentless, and spread their net far and wide.
Turkey is just as despotic a state as China, Russia or Iran, in the government’s intolerance of the slightest dissent. Turkey is aggressive, busily establishing military bases abroad in Libya, Syria, and Somalia. Ankara has chosen a Russian missile defense system despite Washington’s imploring it not to do so. Erdogan sits sultan-like in his 1,100 room White Palace (Ak Saray) that cost 700 million dollars, a modern sultan handing down his decrees . He has given Turkish citizenship, and provided Turkish passports, to at least a dozen members of the terror group Hamas. Erdogan has recently pulled Turkey out of the Council of Europe’s treaty on violence against women. Turkey was the only one of the Council’s 47 members to do so. Erdogan has had published his plan for the formation of a pan-Islamic army that would be capable of destroying Israel, no doubt for him a pleasing prospect. He has declared that there might be a future conflict “between the Crescent and the Cross,” leaving no doubt as to which side Turkey would be on. Given all this, the question that abides, and still remains a puzzlement, is this: why is Turkey still in NATO?