Turkey Uncensored: Erdoğan’s Unbridled AggressionMonday, July 10, 2017
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent visit to Washington, D.C. was intended as a way of improving his worsening image as a tyrant. So why did he reportedly orchestrate a bloody assault by his bodyguards on peaceful demonstrators outside the residence of the Turkish ambassador – an incident that completely overshadowed his feel-good meetings?
Some perspective on this mêlée helps put it in context: The embassies of Nazi Germany and communist Russia never carried out a comparable attack on United States soil; visits to the U.S. by infamous dictators such as Fidel Castro, Leonid Brezhnev and Hugo Chávez never led to such a burst of aggression.
But the Sheridan Circle assault that injured nine last month fits a pattern of recent Turkish behavior. In January 2016, when Erdoğan visited Ecuador for a trade agreement, his security detail attacked pro-Kurdish protestors, leading to a broken nose for lawmaker Diego Vintimilla. In March 2016, when Erdoğan visited Washington’s Brookings Institution, his security guards violently attacked protesters, journalists and even the think tank’s own staff.
Why is Erdoğan so nakedly repressive on foreign soil? How does this fit his agenda?
Here are six motivations that explain this aggression:
An irreplaceable ally: Erdoğan and his henchmen believe that Turkey is an irreplaceable and indispensable U.S. ally due to Turkey’s location, its NATO membership, and the Incirlik airbase. Turkish authorities think they can misbehave at will because Americans have no choice but to seek their help.
Will Turkish impunity continue, even after an attack on American soil?
Anti-Americanism and xenophobia: Americans tend to see Turkey as an ally and think well of the Turks, but the Turkish government encourages hostile views of Americans and Westerners more generally – wanting Turks to see Westerners as hiding a malicious agenda to divide or destroy Turkey. Erdoğan has accused the West of hating Muslims: “They look like friends, but they want us dead. They like seeing our children die.”
The regime calls them kafirs (“infidels”) – a derogatory Islamic term. Numan Kurtulmuş, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, announced last year that “independence means being able to stand up to kafirs by calling them kafirs.” He also explained the meaning of this word: “In our dictionary, kafir is the despot, the oppressor, the one who persecutes people, and the imperialist.”
This campaign has succeeded. Pro-Erdoğan newspaper Yeni Şafak just published a survey showing that 94 percent of Turkish citizens see NATO as a threat; 95 percent say the Incirlik airbase should be closed to the U.S. military, and 96 percent think America is the enemy. So the Washington skirmish plays well back home.
Cultural and moral superiority: According to a 2012 survey, 67 percent of respondents believe “the Turkish nation is superior to all other nations in all respects.” A 2014 survey found that 71 percent of Turks see their country as an unblemished model for the world.
This sense of superiority translates into disdain for such Western values as tolerance, diversity and pluralism so that silencing dissident voices through detention and even murder has long been the norm in Turkey. The Platform of Solidarity with Arrested Journalists reported in 2012 that 112 journalists and writers had been murdered over the course of 103 years. So, why not some alleged terrorists standing outside the ambassador’s residence in Washington?
Popular in Turkey: Most comments by Turks on the video supported and even celebrated the attack. The Turkish government-funded Anatolian Agency claimed in a report quoted by several Turkish newspapers that pro-government Turks had been attacked by “supporters of the terror organization PKK/PYD, who shouted anti-Turkey slogans at an unauthorized demonstration.” A Turk was supposedly injured and hospitalized, prompting Erdoğan’s bodyguards to intervene. The forces of good prevailed: “Supporters of the terror organization fled running after the intervention by the bodyguards.”
Hatred of minorities: The Republic of Turkey has for a century brutalized its Armenian, Greek, Kurdish, Yazidi and Assyrian native citizens. Mass murders, torture, rape, unlawful arrests and imprisonments of minority citizens – as well as destruction of their homes, villages and towns – have been commonplace practices of the government. Attacking the Washington protesters amounted to an export of this culture.
Impunity for Turkey’s current and past crimes: Erdoğan & Co. assumed that in Washington, they could get away with what they routinely do in Turkey. Ankara is almost never held accountable – from the 1915 Armenian genocide to the 1974 invasion of Cyprus and countless crimes committed against Kurds. In light of exterminating approximately 3 million Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Christians in the genocide between 1914 and 1923, what is beating up a few protesters in Washington? The regime blithely ignored the U.S. State Department’s condemnation of the attack.
This raises the question: Will Turkish impunity continue, even after an attack on American soil? John McCain suggested expelling the Turkish ambassador and Rep. David Cicilline, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is seeking to block the U.S. sales of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. So what will the Trump Administration do to show Ankara it means business? Or will it let this incident pass, thereby encouraging Erdoğan to further repression?