Turkey walks political tightrope

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to supporters during a rally in Istanbul on April 14, 2018. (Yasin Bulbul/Pool Photo via AP)
Updated 15 April 2018

Turkey walks political tightrope

  • Erdogan welcomeS coalition air strikes in response to Assad’s “inhumane attacks”
  • Turkey also wants to push ahead with Astana talks on Syria

ANKARA: The coalition strike against Syrian targets has made Turkey’s policy of balancing Russia and the Western powers more challenging. 

Having welcomed the airstrikes, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that Ankara considers the operation by the US, Britain and France to be an appropriate response. 

“We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime,” the statement said, adding that crimes involving the use of chemical weapons should not go unpunished. 

Turkish Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar spoke to his US counterpart Jim Mattis before the strikes. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also welcomed the coalition’s air strikes in response to Assad’s “inhumane attacks.”

Galip Dalay, research director at Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, described Turkey’s response as “more of a moral reaction ... than a political reaction with practical consequences.” 

“Under normal circumstances, Turkey would have supported any anti-Assad action wholeheartedly and would have sought to take part in it. Yet it isn’t sure of the US commitment as regards the regime change agenda,” he told Arab News. 

Nevertheless, experts believe the airstrikes will not disrupt the Astana de-escalation process in Syria that was brokered last year between Ankara, Moscow and Tehran. 

Dalay said Turkey seems reluctant to part ways with its Astana agreement partners over any action that would not have a dramatic impact on the regime’s hold of Syria.

Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at Orsam, an Ankara-based think-tank, agreed. “Turkey will manage the situation diplomatically as long as the scope of the operation remains limited. If the conflict turns into one between the US on the one hand and Iran and Russia on the other, then it will become more difficult for Turkey to maintain this position. In such a case, Turkey will need to take a more clear stance,” he told Arab News. 

According to Orhan, the current level of the operations is in Turkey’s interest by sending a message to Assad and Iran, creating pressure on them for a political settlement and counter-balancing Tehran. 

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, announced on Saturday that the Incirlik air base, which also holds US nuclear weapons, was not used in the airstrikes on Syria. 

Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019

Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.