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SEMİH İDİZ > Playing with fire, Turkey will get burned

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Turkey’s new ambassador to Chad appears to have stepped on a political banana peel, angering the French and casting a shadow over Ankara’s drive to muster international support against terrorism.

Our own Barçın Yinanç and prominent columnist Cengiz Aktar of daily Taraf have highlighted tweets by “Ambassador” Ahmet Kavas that not only reflect an undiplomatic antipathy toward France in particular, and the West in general, but also suggest that we may have an “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” who actually sympathizes with al-Qaeda.

In his tweets dated Jan. 25, Kavas vents his anger over France’s intervention in Mali, saying, among other things, “The word terrorism is a French invention. It cannot be the work of Muslims,” and adding “Al-Qaeda is different from terror.” One can only imagine the righteous indignation that would flow from Ankara if the French ambassador in Turkey, or any Western envoy for that matter, tweeted, “The PKK is different from terror.” We can only conclude, on the basis of his own remarks, that our “ambassador” in N’Djamena sees al-Qaeda not as a terrorist organization, but as a group waging a legitimate jihad against nefarious infidels.

There are scores of genuine Islamic scholars in Turkey and abroad who would dispute this claim vehemently, of course. If, on the other hand, Kavas feels his remarks were distorted by the media, he is free to send us a message proving us wrong. This column will be left open for him. We nevertheless expect the rebuttal to be clear and unambiguous on the question of al-Qaeda terrorism, and not beat around the bush with remarks about “anti-Muslim colonialists.”

Kavas, however, represents only one expression of the difficult position the Islamist Erdoğan government increasingly finds itself in this respect. It is clearly caught between burning hatreds – based on its religious ideology and seen most visibly in the case of Israel and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime – and the need to appear to be what it is not. For example it finds it difficult to accept as “terrorist” some groups that have been designated by the West as such, and this applies to Syria also where “Jabhat al-Nusra,” a jihadist group fighting the al-Assad regime, is reportedly receiving considerable support from Ankara. Reports and commentary in the Turkish and Kurdish media have suggested that the Erdoğan government is not only using this group against al-Assad, but also against Syrian Kurds.

Today’s Zaman reported in January that Ankara expressed its discontent to Washington over its listing of Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, by arguing that the announcement “was ill-timed.” This message was reportedly conveyed during the talks Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu had in Washington last month.If there is any truth to any of these reports, it indicates that the Erdoğan government is playing with fire in order to force outcomes that suit its own ideological expectations, rather than considering the consequences for Turkey’s long-term security interests. The recent car bombing at the Cilvegözü border crossing between Turkey and Syria may be a premonition of things to come, as Ankara gets embroiled with jihadists in Syria and elsewhere.

If we return to our “ambassador” in Chad, though, sending 25 tweets full of innuendo and insinuation against countries Ankara is trying to improve ties with at the moment, while appearing to sympathize with radical Islamic causes can hardly pass for “diplomatic finesse.” It also begs questions about the government’s selection criteria for such “outside appointments,” when there are sufficiently competent professional diplomats in the Foreign Ministry who understand the real world we live in and are equally capable of understanding Africa.

February/21/2013

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