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Istanbul, or Constantinople as it was known, has been at the apex of many important incidents in world history. But when the Ottoman empire collapsed after WW1, a great power of centuries vanished from the world stage in the twinkling of an eye. The vastly scaled down Republic of Turkey, which took its place, began the long slide to a Third World state, lacking all the necessities of modern infrastructure, backward, isolated and weighed down by rural and urban poverty.
Contrast the contrast over the last decade. Turkish cities, and especially Istanbul, are sprouting Manhattan skylines. Foreign investors are still pouring in despite the global recession. Turkey is the Rip Van Winkle of the modern world, awoken from a long sleep and suddenly punching heavy and hard in world markets – and politics. Nearly all the dynamic has been supplied by the ‘soft’ Islamic Justice and Development (AK) party which is loved or hated according to the long shadow of Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of the nation. He was definitely an inspirational soldier and dangerous foe to avoid, but once in power as a virtual dictator, indifferent. His preoccupation with ‘modernising’ Turkey like some Tony Blair of his day, meant that his chief policy was to batten down the power of the mosque, which he dismissed as repressive and uncivilised.
Someone who makes a fiat ban on a hat, in this case the fez, may not in the end prove a trustworthy guardian of the heavy burdens of the state.
Yet the Turkish phoenix is now openly broadcast as a ‘new Ottoman wind.’ Turkey is reaching out to the areas where she once held imperial sway. She talks of her ‘near abroad’ scarcely bothering to hide that she aims to be the prominent voice and natural leader among the Turkic speaking countries across a wide swathe of Asia, stretching from the Caspian Basin to the big powers in ex-Soviet Asia including Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. She has proclaimed a Turkic Commonwealth.
But even those are narrow bounds. Turkey’s warm relations with Iran and Syria, her soaring influence in Iraq, the Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, the increasing warmth of her ties with Pakistan, presents an alarming prospect to certain minds who had not banked on the emergence of a new ‘empire’, moreover a shockingly Islamic one, at this stage in the day. Increasingly, the entire Islamic world looks to Ankara for leadership and inspiration. At a time when Islamic values have been routinely trashed by Christian propaganda, to Muslims everywhere demonised as thinking of little else but new ways to terrorise Western countries, Turkey sends a message of pride in an Islamic tradition that is firmly rooted in consent and the ballot box.
That drumming sound you can hear is knees knocking in Washington DC, where the possibility that a new Caliphate is in the process of hatching has set the alarm bells ringing from Pentagonia by the Potomac to the State Department, the Congress and the White House. The result is a progressive unwinding of the sixty years old ‘special relationship’ connecting Turkey and the United States. This is now at such a low ebb, with the Turkish PM Recep Erdogan openly accusing American forces of stirring up violence inside Pakistan’s wild northern territories, which it then blames on the Taliban, it is to think an assortment of previously unthinkables.
One of these is Turkey’s future in NATO, which is no longer an absolute given so long as the AK people hold the reins of power. Rather, continuing Turkish membership of the alliance is now a card in play. She contributes the second largest contingent after the US itself. The departure of such a major force would strike a serious blow to the unity and purpose of the alliance, which has increasingly come into question thanks to the seemingly endless imbroglio in Afghanistan.
Turkey was neutral almost to the last trump in WW2, the powerful internal pro-Nazi factions saw to that. Many right wing forces, drawing on the Francoist aspects of the Ataturk regime, openly wished for a German victory. With the Allied victory Turkey fell into America’s sphere of influence. Immediately the most extremist forces in Turkish politics transferred their allegiance to the United States and especially its powerful new intelligence apparatus, the CIA, when that was set up in 1947.
Thereafter the CIA, in alliance with the Turkish General Staff, domestic intelligence agencies and last but by no means least, the secret ‘stay behind’ armies established in all NATO countries, more or less ran the country. The story of Counter Guerrilla, the Turkish guerrilla unit that was supposed to harass Soviet invaders but turned instead to inciting domestic terror in cahoots with the Turkish Mafia and fanatical groups like the Grey Wolves, is told in detail in my forthcoming book Fighting Dirty, to be published by Progressive Press*.
But sufficient to say here that Turkey was brutally mauled by a campaign of synthetic terror manufactured to order, to forestall, principally, any slippage from the secular code established by Ataturk. What erupted was a dirty war of South American proportions and even the lynching of an elected premier, Adnan Menderes, in 1960, at the hands of the General Staff because he was thought too Islamic, the US pulling the ropes behind the scenes..
All the more wonder, then, that the soft Islamic authority now in power in Ankara has survived not only a long running Cold War with the High Command but has come to the point where the stoutly observant duo composed of the charismatic president Abdullah Gul and his long time side kick, premier Erdogan, view certain important issues through the same prism as the whisky toting generals. These include a growing disenchantment with NATO and a general accommodation over tensions with the Kurdish minority. There is, naturally, a truly Byzantine background to all of this.
Gul and Erdogan played a really smart hand by allowing the army a virtually free pass to undertake hot pursuit operations of Kurdish irredentists into their long time safe haven, Iraq’s northern province of Kurdistan. Remember, AK had come into power a decade ago on a promise of sympathetic attention to the hugely contentious Kurdish problem. In a way, this is Turkey’s Tibet. The Ataturkian inheritance means ‘no Turkey splitting’, full stop. With 120 Kurdish activists on trial, there is no doubt that quid pro quo is the order of the day.
This of course is perfectly Machiavellian. The old Florentine sage advised 400 years ago that the wise prince or head of the republic rewards those who are prepared to keep him in power. This is not to say that Gul and Erdogan have an indefinite immunity from the menace of the officer corps. But on the other hand they created the opportunities for millions of Turks to exit the ranks of the poor, start up their own companies and generally move ahead in the fields of prosperity previously restricted to the exclusive few, in a notoriously class-based society.
These are unusual weapons for politically trigger happy soldiers to face. But viewed from the perspective of the military, what is the point of levering the fractious and incompetent opposition secularists into power, if the current authorities are meeting all their chief aims? The third estate, the military, is compelled out of reality to recognise that deposing a popular force, particularly in the vast Anatolian hunk of the country, the army’s chief recruiting ground, is fraught with dangers. Equally from the political perspective, why should the ruling powers engage in a pointless struggle when they are quietly advancing their own agenda?
In this year’s autumn referendum, the authoritarian constitution imposed by the despised military dictator General Evren back in 1980 was swept away in a landslide. Shortly afterwards the government relaxed restrictions on female students wearing the headscarf in school and university exams. Turkey’s First Lady, the president’s wife, appeared in public wearing The Scarf. There may have been some harrumphing over the gin and tonics on mess night, but these events spoke of a backstairs. concordat. In the comparatively recent past there might well have been tanks groaning on the streets.
Turkey’s centre of gravity is irrevocably shifting. The modern day janissaries have been compelled to recognise the fact that the country cannot remain imprisoned forever in the structures of the past. Although it is not widely appreciated,, the military have always been uncomfortable under the NATO saddle, except when it suited their interests. The invasion and division of Cyprus in 1974, in a secret compact with the Greek fascist junta installed by NATO seven years earlier, was one of these. (I am sorry to be repetitive, but see Fighting Dirty). The spells of military rule plotted and connived by the CIA station in Ankara, fell into the same frame. On the other hand, the ball and chain alliance with Israel, forced on Turkey by Washington, has always been resented as a blatant colonial imposition
Turkey is now very much in the identical position of General Charles de Gaulle in the early Sixties, at a point when disenchantment with NATO bullying over the French decision to develop a go-it-alone nuclear striking force led, ultimately, to the expulsion of the NATO command in Europe from French soil altogether. Technically, France remained a NATO member, but removed its forces from uber command of SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe). I suspect we are now approaching the moment when the Turkish Government and the military may embark on a similar realignment, the so-called conditional response to the obligations of NATO membership.
De Gaulle’s break with NATO extended to France’s relations with the infant EU, the Common Market as it then was. The French president froze co-operation with integrationist policies which he considered over-rode French national interests, the so-called ‘empty chair period’ of the EU’s brief history to date. The point here is that the Turkish Pentagon are not enamoured of surrendering Turkish sovereignty in the political sphere to Brussels.
The racial humiliations heaped on the Turks by the Wiser Men of Europe are, in the end, beside the point. They have been accustomed to that since the fantasies of Lawrence of Arabia. What matters is that Turkey has filled the power vacuum formerly occupied by the Soviet Union in an extremely fragile region.. There are two interlinked consequences. Quietly, Turkey sees the United States as a rapidly diminishing power, breaking her back militarily and economically, overloaded with debt and ineptly led. That’s a row of Turkish generals you can see before you, nodding their heads.
Secondly, as almost no-one understands, Turkey has been in a full customs union with the EU for years. The arrangement was intended to lever up a third world economy. Turkey now performs or even out performs alongside Germany, where Mrs Merkel, ignoring the enormous contributions of Turkish gastarbeiter, presently as well as the past, in making Germany the economic super power that she now is, has been using language about Turks that Goebbels would understand. This is an echo of the same cheap call of the Nazis concerning the Jews out of very similar political motivation.
The breach with Israel which followed the cold blooded murder of seven Turkish nationals by Israeli special forces who boarded the aid flotilla heading for Gaza, was really the ignition point of an unfolding disillusion. Outrage united the country and it did not exclude the High Command. Erdogan sought and got, according to my reliable sources, agreement to despatch another convoy under the protection of Turkish naval vessels. One can but imagine the hysteria in Washington and the NATO HQ in Brussels. An attack on Turkish naval forces plying the high seas would invoke Article 5 of NATO’s constitution, the famous one for all and all for one gang bang mutual defence clause – or in this case, Doomsday Weapon.
That would place NATO at war with Israel. This was the culminating point of the Israeli folly and the demonstration of naked arrogance that whatever crimes she commits, the present Jewish state will never be held to account. I hold that Gul and Erdogan and for that matter, the Turkish General Staff, decided under immense pressure, to pursue retribution, using the terms of Carl von Clausewitz, by other means.
Ever since the Gaza Incident, the Turkish government has been searching for excuses to cull NATO’s influence over the country. Gul has embarrassed the US by calling for a consensus on so-called missile interception systems, installed under a NATO umbrella, supposed to deter Iranian attacks, when it is obvious this a Cold War redux exercise aimed at Russia. But this is but a pin prick compared to Erdogan’s erection of startlingly provocative signposts. In the now famous conversations with Turkish journalists in October this year, the prime minister employed language which unmistakeably implicated the United States in the murder of Adnan Menderes fifty years ago, and warned against any repeat intimidations.
But the dagger really struck home when he implied that American special forces – meaning of course, the usual suspects, CIA hit squads and their associated mercenaries, or put plainly, hired guns – were fomenting violence in Pakistan’s North Western Frontier provinces in order to justify the expansion of the Afghan War. This is known in the deep state trade as false flag activity. No prime minister in his position would make such a claim without reliable intelligence from Turkish intelligence, which in turn draws on its close affiliates in Pakistan, owing as they do to very close links to the Taliban.
The de Gaulle moment for the Turks is likely to arise if the United States, with or without its minor NATO vassals, attempts serious breaking and entering in Pakistan. Washington may consider the Pakistan military bought and paid for, but no Pakistani general worth his salt is going to allow his country to be invaded by a foreign power. Of course India has a hand in this game. She wants the United States to grab Pakistan’s nukes ‘in case they fall into the hands of Al Qaeda.’ If Al Qaeda, assuming it actually exists, wants a few spare nukes, they can organise middlemen to pay a call on any semi-abandoned Russian silo. They are there for the taking, or buying.
Let’s not beat about the bush. What Hindu India really intends is to castrate the Pakistani bomb.
My antennae tell me that Turkey is squaring up to ‘taking back’ her military sovereignty. This will mean, as with de Gaulle, removing Turkish forces from NATO command. Henceforth there would be a case by case approach to getting involved in any more US-sponsored NATO adventures. It has been said that no country will ever be permitted to leave the Alliance. There is only one way that can be achieved in the case of the heavily armed, disciplined forces of a huge and powerful state. That is regime change, an old speciality of NATO.
Witness, as described in Fighting Dirty, the fate of uncooperative governments in Greece, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Italy, nearly so in de Gaulle’s France thanks to endless NATO inspired plotting to have him assassinated. Little Belgium was so destabilised by endless external interference orchestrated by the United States acting through NATO that she is now finally coming apart at the seams. The Swedish prime minister Oluf Palme was shot down coming out of a cinema in a side show of the Iran-Contras affair.
With, as far as I can ascertain at any rate, practically no attention in the US media but a good deal of coverage on this side of the boating lake, Turkey has been in the grip of coup fever for almost three years. This is due entirely to the unfrocking of a mysterious organisation known as Ergenekon. The name is derived from a Turkish foundation myth similar to Moses and the Promised Land.
At a point where relations between the AK government and the military were frozen in deep permafrost, Ergenekon was suddenly dragged kicking and screaming into daylight. With amazement Turks beheld a score or so army officers – eventually, many more – supposedly in cahoots with secular journalists, politicians, academics and strange creatures from the deep state who seem to have one thing in common: an unquenchable desire for regime change. The striking similarity with the Counter Guerrilla secret army organised under NATO auspices could hardly be ignored. There was an unmistakable stamp of the identical tactics of false flag attacks, murders and bombings which characterised the Turkish ‘years of lead’ in the 60’s and 70’s and culminated in long bouts of military rule and massive loss of civil liberties.
Ergenekon naturally gets the attention it deserves in the forthcoming (plug warning) Fighting Dirty. But what can be said here is that a very complex and well oiled machine with the capability of overturning the civilian power, as in the past, was instead itself outed and de-fanged. I would like to suggest some reasons and motives.
One of these is a power shift which the United States, which has meddled in Turkish politics endlessly and undoubtedly had a clear interest in driving regime change, simply could not understand. Ergenekon’s trouble making was supposed to lead to the usual military intervention, especially with so many of its own kith and kin charged or under suspicion. Instead, the generals sat on their hands, appearing to observe the spectacle at a distance, but for the peculiar innovation of posting a very post modern early coup warning on the general staff web site. Odd, don’t you think?
What happened was almost certainly this. Ergenekon saw daylight because it was betrayed by the same forces in the deep state upon whom the United States had placed so much reliance in the past. There it is, in one short sentence. The why of it is another matter altogether.
The general staff are not idiots. For all the flooding of the streets with CIA, Gene Sharpe-inspired flag waving pro-secular costume dramas ( virtually every actor a member of the Turkish military or his wife and kids on compulsory parade) the shifting of the centre of gravity was well noted in the High Command. These days one cannot string up prime ministers and cabinet colleagues alongside him quite so easily. There is a new political force loose in the country which proved willing, shall we say, to make certain accommodations with old Turkish (a substitution for Spanish) practices, such as the massive international narco trade passing through the country, along with the huge traffic in arms and nuclear materials.
The fragrant Valerie Plame, it may be recalled, was assiduously stalking this very same trail of white pebbles on the contraband nuke trail passing through Turkey when she was untimely unfrocked in the CIA leak scandal. Co-incidence? Hardly. And what of Sibel Edmonds, who blew the whistle on Turkish nuclear smuggling linked to high officials in Washington, only to be so thoroughly gagged she could scarcely manage her breakfast?
Here is the reality. Co-ordinating and taxing these affairs has long been a prerogative of the Turkish underground state in concert with western intelligence. Then the military take their own tithe, the police and customs officials their pickings. All in all it is very Italian. What you don’t want to do is bust up a good business. So in the end, a rump of the secret state is offered up for public sacrifice and everyone gets on with the show.
There is of course another factor. Ataturk did not succeed in stamping out Islam. For millions upon millions of Turks it remains a presiding article of faith. Yet international vacation takers who pour into this holiday hot spot have no trouble getting a drink or swanning around in bikinis. Besides all that, any secularists who got into power soon had the IMF turning up as frequent flyers, everyone anxiously counting the spoons before they left. Turkey has experienced a genuine and deep economic transformation. She is no-one’s basket case any more. The roof has not fallen in because students and the president’s wife cover their heads in public. In fact there’s a new fashion streak coming out of style cities like Istanbul: its called Islam chique, fashionable young maids looking cool and trendy in modest Islamic attire beside that incredible Bosporus.
I cannot make the call that the generals will not, in the end, resort to being revolting once again, or surrender to Washington bullies. But I doubt it. Turkey is a world stage power once again and they like that. The AK people for their part understand perfectly well that the military is an irreducible force in the genetic component of the nation. The flirtation with the European Union is at an end. The insults matter much less than Turkey’s proven ability to be taken seriously alongside aspiring giants like Brazil, India, China. NATO needs Turkey more than Turkey needs NATO. She is master of her own destiny. If Ataturk is beaming down now from his astral balcony, it will be with pride, even if he is biting his lip just a smidgen.
* Fighting Dirty: Gladio: Alliance of Terror: How NATO, Neo Nazis and the Mafia fought a Secret War in Europe