‘Turkey’s bark is worse than its bite’

‘Turkey’s bark is worse than its bite’

The assessment in the title line does not belong to this columnist, but has been cherished in this column since a Turkey specialist realistically put it in a Reuters analysis a couple of years earlier. The barking goes on as loudly as before, but the jihadists in Iraq (and Syria), once Turkey’s comrades in arms, just like the common enemy, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, seem to have ignored the doggy threat.

About half a year ago, this column warned in its capacity that “Turks are one of the most precious currencies in (Lebanon’s) hostage exchange market.” (“’Turkey’s Kissinger’ or ‘exceptionally dangerous,’” this column, Dec. 6, 2013). It looks like none of the former Ottoman territories is safe for the nationals of the country that is obsessed with reviving the Ottoman rule.

The Islamic Army of Iraq and the Levant (greater Syria), or ISIL, emerged partly due to Turkey’s efforts to destabilize the Levant and to depose of its ruler, Mr. Assad. ISIL are Turkey’s former allies, just like Mr. Assad himself – and all three are enemies today. As I write now, the al-Qaeda offspring was holding more than 100 Turks, including the consul general in Mosul and around 40 consular staff, in captivity. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister of Turkey (and the self-declared interior minister of the Levant) said: “Nobody should test Turkey.” ISIL are not testing Turkey, they just also know that Turkey’s bark is worse than its bite.

As it often happens in Turkish affairs, there is a lot of irony surrounding the hostage crisis. Only a day before the attack on the Turkish consulate, an opposition parliamentarian, speaking in Parliament, warned the consulate was exposed to the risk of an attack from ISIL, to which the government benches replied loudly: “Stop telling lies!”

Barely a day later, Mr. Davutoğlu had to knock on the doors of the Iraqi government – which he only selectively (when in need) recognizes, the United Nations and NATO. Article V? Ridiculous. NATO’s chances of rescuing the Turkish hostages are just as high as its chances of retrieving Crimea are. Similarly, Turkey’s official appeal to the Iraqi government for the safe return of hostages looks as good as appealing to the Syrian government for the protection of Turkish nationals in northern Syria.

And only 20 hours before the Turkish consulate was attacked, Davutoğlu tweeted “We have taken all precautions at the Mosul consulate general.” Good job. If they had not, God forbid, ISIL could have attacked the consulate and kidnapped our consul general. In reality, Davutoğlu’s further assurances about the safety of kidnapped Turks could just mean worse news.

In a more bitter irony, the attack took place as Davutoğlu was in New York for a review meeting of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force. His speech’s topic was: Interactive dialogue concerning the conditions helping terrorism spread.” Now it is high time Davutoğlu engages in interactive dialogue with his onetime allies ISIL.

But Davutoğlu’s ministry’s statement after the kidnapping was more fun-read than either Mr. Davutoğlu’s whereabouts during the attack, or his speech topic. The statement from the Foreign Ministry said, “[ISIL] has removed our personnel from the consulate campus and transported them to another area.”

Reading the statement, one might think ISIL were a travel agency, or a logistics company hired by the ministry to provide transportation services to the consulate in Mosul. Hats off to the ministry for the linguistic creativity. Other government departments should be inspired. For instance, the Turkish General Staff statement after a young militant Kurd removed a Turkish flag from the mast at an Air Force base could have read: “The Turkish flag in question was successfully hauled from its mast to another place.”

In the Jan. 20, 2011 edition of the New York Times, James Traub wrote: “One of Davutoğlu’s greatest achievements was the creation of a visa-free zone linking Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, thus reconstituting part of the Ottoman space.” Looking backwards from current affairs in the “Ottoman space,” one would think that The Onion could have been a better slot to publish that.