Erdoğan, Kurds, Syria and Turkish military

Erdoğan, Kurds, Syria and Turkish military

July 30th was a turning point in Turkey’s history of relations between politics and military with a lot of ups and downs.

On that day, President Abdullah Gül approved and put into effect a law amending the 35th article of the Armed Forces Inter Services Law, which had been showed as a justification for the military to intervene in politics and overthrow elected governments. The law used to give the military the duty of “protecting” and sort of “keeping an eye” on the “Republic,” a political status, besides protecting the Turkish territory. Now, it is only responsible for protecting the borders, according to the political orders of the government like in other NATO countries. So from now, if the Turkish military or any junta within the military would plan to intervene in the politics on the basis of a threat against the regime, they would have no legal base. A democratic achievement in itself.

On the same day, there was a statement by the Turkish military regarding the protection of the borders.

The military statement said that a group of some 2,000 “smugglers,” some 350 of them on horseback, were held at the Syrian border by using tear gas and there was some exchange of fire as well. The day before, there was another statement saying that some 1,000 “smugglers” had been stopped by the Syrian border with the Turkish army.

Knowing that smuggling is a covert activity, usually carried out secretively by small groups and most of the time in darkness, Turkish social media users made a lot of sarcastic remarks about this statement. Of course they also knew that the Syrian Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is in line with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, is inching towards autonomy in north of the country bordering Turkey.

They also knew that the PYD is fighting against the Islamist radical groups who are fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus. The Islamic radicals in the Syrian civil war are divided into two as well; the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra and the Muslim Brotherhood-linked main body whom Ankara tends to consider as “good boys.” And following the coup in Egypt in which the military lead by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted elected President Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood backing him from power, the support from Turkey to the Syrian opposition became more vital, but the tension along the border, intermingled with the Kurdish problem makes it even more difficult for Ankara.

And Ankara is at a critical stage in its dialogue with the PKK in pursuit of a peaceful settlement for the Kurdish problem, which already turned into a “sans frontier” one. Nachirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq was in Ankara on July 31 to have a meeting with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey.

Erdoğan had chaired a high level security meeting on July 30, as a follow up to the one on July 24, in which the latest situation in the Middle East (The Israeli-Palestinian talks, Egypt) but mostly Syria and Kurds were discussed. No statement after the meeting has been made.

But from a statement by Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, it is understood that the reopening of the Halki seminary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul could be added into a “democratization” package which would be announced soon in response to PKK demands amid threats by the PKK, too.

That means there will be such bitter pills in the recipe that the government is planning to sweeten them up with some really important issues for the U.S.-EU governments, like Halki. This is a positive development; yet it may also mean that the government needs some sugar coating for the bitter pills in the recipe so that the response to U.S.-EU governments will be more positive.

There was another meeting that Erdoğan chaired on July 31; the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) where new appointments (and also putting to retirements) in the military was discussed. The government asks for some more names from Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Özel to be removed from the system, with Özel’s mind partly occupied with his former commander İlker Başbuğ, who has been arrested for the last 18 months and to appear before the court on Aug. 5 being accused of conspiring against Erdoğan’s government. Quite a complicated overview, isn’t it?