Guest blog – Andy Vermaut

In the 1920s the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna. At that time, the Muslim Brotherhood was a somewhat secular community based on Islamic values. Then, they were not only represented in politics, but also in cultural life. For example, many schools and orphanages were managed or financed by the campaigns of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The party is now active in 82 countries and the reality can no longer be compared to the noble intentions of its former founder. Now they have the exclusive franchise of terror. Al-Qaeda, Isis and Hamas, among others, originate from the same philosophy as the Muslim Brotherhood. Much of its funding comes from authoritarian regimes in Turkey and Qatar. . The group also plays an important role in countries like Tunisia, where the representatives are in alliance with the secular party. Furthermore, there are now strong divisions of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan. The Muslim Brothers are also part of the UN-backed government of Libya.

Meanwhile, Erdogan enlarges his power base by presenting himself as a great Muslim within the Muslim Brotherhood as the protector of Islamic values and standing up against Islamophobia in Europe, while the biggest victims of his actions are Muslims.

Erdogan operates in Syria next to Russia, but Erdogan also helps Ukraine and thereby he fights against Russia. Talk about duplicity.  Erdogan managed to secure drone technology from the UK, Austria, Italy, the United States and Canada, and Turkey has hence become the number three worldwide deployer in terms of drone warfare. As a result of this drone war, numerous battles have been won. Actually these countries are helping with the big-Ottoman day dream of Erdogan.

Erdogan turned Syrian Afrin, Rojava into hell on earth, with now ten rapes reportedly committed each day, plus numerous kidnappings, extrajudicial executions, and the rewriting of history by destroying historical sites. Erdogan also undermined the local olive trade by moving these important trees to Turkey. He also culturally crushed Ras al-Ayn, a Kurdish city on the border between Turkey and Syria, which is now under the protection of Erdogan's Free Syrian Army, the Erdogan jihadists.

Seven regions in Nagorno-Karabakh have been handed over to Azerbaijan, although in reality it is mostly Armenians who live there. These Armenians will eventually have to move to Armenia, because the Armenians feel enormously vulnerable there, especially with the arrival of the jihadists. We especially saw in the news that an Armenian set fire to his house, but we very often do not see the many human rights violations of the Azeris on our screens.

Turkey is gaining more and more influence with the regime in Azerbaijan. The jihadis who fled northern Syria are still there, perhaps more than 2500. We are ashamed of this in Europe. In reality, the European Union has done little and has therefore achieved little. They have to find a better option for the people of Armenia who live there. After all, they are now going to have to live the same life as the citizens of Afrrin and the people of Ras al-Ayn who have to endure the same horror.

On the one hand Erdogan is negotiating with the US, on the other hand Erdogan is now helping Iran, because we saw that with the kidnapping of Swedish Ahwazi leader Habib Aysoud who was kidnapped in Turkey and transferred to Iran where he is facing the death penalty. Erdogan's hand and span services are numerous, but mainly intended to strengthen his strategic power base in the Middle East. And as far as Europe is concerned, we are the champions in silently supporting Erdogan. After all, Erdogan uses the fears surrounding the refugees as a weapon to keep forcing Europe on its knees and above all not to prevent Europe taking any action.

Many people who fight for human rights do not really want us to worry about the political reality or the real political truth in Iraqi Kurdistan. But that is essential if we really want to take human rights seriously. Certainly, the moral authority of human rights organisations must be challenged if they do not act , and if we really want to champion human rights. There are thousands of so teachers and journalists and Erdogan critics in Kurdish prisons: we also have to stand up for these people if we want to defend human rights and justice.

In Erdogan’s Turkey, you can't criticise any political figure as a writer or journalist without ending up in prison. As an activist, you can't just take steps for a social cause, because all that can put you in jail. If the Kurdish struggle for freedom eventually becomes an oppression, the whole Kurdish struggle will have been in vain, because we see that precisely under pressure from Erdogan, Turkish authorities are targeting Kurds and deliberately causing divisions amongst them.

Erdogan is a real and present threat to peace and stability in Turkey, in MENA and the Caucasus, and in Europe. The EU must take action to stop him.

Andy Vermaut - Member of the International Alliance for the Defence of Rights and Liberties (AIDL)

On 11th February  the first meeting of the ‘Philia Forum’ (meaning ‘Friendship Forum’ in Greek) took place in Athens. The platform brought together six countries, represented by their Foreign Ministers and included Greece, Cyprus, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian participated in the meeting through video conferencing as an observer.

During the forum, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias commented, “What unites us all today is the condemnation of illegal acts and the condemnation of irrational acts that undermine peace and security... Our goal is to create a bulwark against threats, violence, extremism, intolerance and distortion of religion.”

Who else could he mean but Erdogan?

UAE Minister Reem Al-Hashimy said, “the intensification of challenges and crises in the region demands cooperation and coordination to wisely establish a basis for development, security and peace.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan made the most powerful comment and stated that the focus of the forum was “on the national sovereignty of states and their independence according to international laws and treaties denouncing intervention in other countries’ affairs.”

Who else could they mean but Erdogan?

In a joint statement released after the meeting, the participating Ministers said that they exchanged views on issues of common interest and concern, with the aim of further strengthening cooperation and actively contributing to the consolidation of peace, stability and security in the wider region.

Referring to international law, UN Security Council Resolutions and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the forum members also urged the UN Security Council members to ensure strict implementation of all relevant UN principles to guarantee peaceful solutions in settling conflicts and ensuring peace in the region.

"We stressed our strong commitment to fundamental principles enshrined therein, such as the respect of the sovereignty, sovereign rights, independence and territorial integrity of states, the peaceful resolution of differences and rejection of threat or use of force, the non-interference in other countries' internal affairs and the freedom of navigation," they added.

What other threats could they be referring to but Erdogan?

Erdogan’s Turkey is already going through a massive economic crisis. It has been overburdened by the expenses incurring on implementation of Erdogan’s Caliphate programme in Turkey as well as across the world, spent mostly on funding mercenaries and sponsoring covert operations. The creation of such a forum would be detrimental to the ambition of Turkey to generate revenue from high seas by resorting to an aggressive posture.

Erdogan’s sphere of influence and circle of friends is diminishing. He must be alarmed at how quickly his Caliphate ambitions are evaporating in the bright and disinfecting sunlight of international collaboration.

Any country can apply to become a member of the Phila Forum. So why not Armenia? Why not Austria? Why not Israel?

Why not Turkey? The Turkish Foreign Ministry responded to the Philia Forum by claiming “this threatens peace and stability in our region”. So there we have it. Anything that Erdogan cannot control, intimidate, coerce he sees as a threat.

But the real threat is not friendship between countries, but an authoritarian state with imperialist ambitions that silences critics, imprisons political opponents and controls a fundamentalist mercenary horde.

Long live the Philia Forum.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell surprised many by issuing an extensive blog about the EU’s relations with Turkey. Unsurprisingly, it was sneaked out late on Friday afternoon, the traditional time-slot for avoiding immediate press scrutiny.

Borrell titled his piece ‘The Way Ahead for EU-Turkey relations’. His role as the EU’s chief agent for foreign affairs and security is to promote and defend the interests of European states. By contrast, he appears to see his role as that of mediator between EU and non-EU states rather than the chief representative:

“I wanted to explore with the main protagonists the possibilities of launching a real dialogue that would help address the outstanding issue.”

In his apologia, Borrell talks time and again of dialogue. It is as if he wants to be seen as neutral, an honest broker, an objective third party, desperate not to be accused of standing behind Greece and Cyprus against a serial aggressor and pusher of boundaries. Even in his summing up he pushes the substantive issues regarding Turkey’s threats to Greece and Cyprus back onto those EU states:

“we need to find a way to get back to honest and effective dialogues and efforts, and strong engagement and commitment from all sides, including from the most-affected EU member states.”

The subtext in that sentence is that somehow EU member states share the responsibility for putting Mr Borrell in such an awkward situation. Aggressor and the aggressed are treated the same, perpetrator and victim considered to be different “sides” in a dispute where there has been “reciprocal misunderstanding”.

This is desperately weak stuff. There can be no misunderstanding over Erdogan’s inflammatory statement made in occupied Cyprus that there should be a ‘two-state solution’. No-one can misunderstand Erdogan’s expansionist pretensions when breaks international maritime laws. Erdogan’s threats against European citizens still resonate and leave no room for misunderstanding” European citizens will not be able to walk in safety on their streets”. The problem is not misunderstanding, it is that Erdogan’s agenda is understandable only to well, by those with ears to hear.

And this is the issue: Borrell only refers to Erdogan twice. The opportunist elephant in the room is therefore almost completely ignored. The threats to European peace and security posed by Turkey are down to its leader, and it to this leader that Borrell should be addressing much stronger words than these. Again, there can be no misunderstanding over Erdogan’s understanding of dialogue: he imprisons political opponents, journalists, teachers, academics who would love to engage in dialogue but whose inconvenient and contradictory voices are brutally silenced.

There is no reference to this in Borrell’s self-justifying blog. No reference to Erdogan’s support for terror groups like Hamas. No reference to his Grey Wolves or Muslim Brotherhood operatives stationed throughout Europe. No reference to Erdogan’s chilling words concerning war between “the cross and the crescent”. No reference to Erdogan’s private mercenary army flown by Turkish airlines to cause havoc in Nagorno-Karabakh and perpetrate war crimes against Armenians. No reference to his extermination of Kurds.

Erdogan is the problem whom Borrell ignores. All Borrell asks of Turkey is for a “change in its negative actions and rhetoric of the last months”. The EU is begging Erdogan to throw it a few bones of compromise so that at its next meeting in March Borrell can report that progress has been made and there is no need to exercise the will of the European Parliament to sanction Erdogan and his regime. The European parliament has a clear sense of the values of the European Union: respect for human dignity and human rights, democracy, equality and the rule if law. Irrespective of the meagre “changes to its negative actions” that Erdogan might offer, particularly in the context of a new US president, those values demand that measures be taken against Erdogan’s authoritarian regime now. Action is required, not appeasement.

On Thursday December 10 the European Council failed to impose any meaningful sanctions on Erdogan’s Turkish regime. Those of us who stayed up until the early hours of Friday 11 hoping for some form of words that would be congruent with the strong call of the European parliament to impose “tough sanctions” were as disappointed as we were unsurprised.

Reports leaking out from the meeting suggest that it was, as expected, the persuasiveness of Angela Merkel and the German presidency that prevailed, despite the “heated discussions” which apparently took place. Chancellor Merkel’s line was that it is better to wait and see what president-elect Biden’s incoming administration will do. There was strong backing for this, it seems, from Spain and Italy which, coincidentally, like Germany have heavy investments in Turkey.

One explanation of the reluctance of EU leaders, despite Erdogan's continuous provocations, to impose tough sanctions is that Europe's financial institutions fear a possible collapse of the Turkish economy. German newspaper Die Welt wrote that Spanish financial institutions' exposure to a Turkish collapse was $62 billion. That exposure is $11 billion for German banks and $8.7 billion for Italian banks. That means lenders from these three EU countries are vulnerable to a combined $80 billion loss

Those investments do not just include those from financial institutions, which of course would be exposed if Erdogan were to take reprisals following any proper sanctions from the EU bloc. These three countries supply arms to Turkey.  The United States, Italy and Spain were the top exporters of arms to Turkey from 2015-2019, according the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a leading conflict and armaments think tank. No wonder that the latter two were so keen to jump in behind Germany defer the issue of sanctions to the next meeting in March (in politics, an age away).

Germany is building no fewer than six submarines for the Turkish navy. However much Merkel tries to defend the imminent delivery as an honouring of contractual obligations, some German federal politicians are now calling for at least a postponement. It is eminently clear that submarines will increase Turkey’s capabilities to harass and intimidate NATO allies Greece and Cyprus, and for that reason alone delivery should be cancelled. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit that EU leaders planned to discuss weapons exports to Turkey with allies in the NATO military alliance following a Greek push for an arms embargo on Ankara. Turkey is a member of NATO.

As Erdogan looks at ‘Europe’ in the guise of the European Council he will see a disparate, divided, duplicitous group motivated ultimately by self-interest, despite all the talk of unity. He knows he will have little to fear from a college that cannot even rally behind Greece and Cyprus, heed the counsel of president Macron, or reflect the wishes of its own parliament. Erdogan’s policy of playing cat and mouse with the European Union, and of employing the Machiavellian principle of divide and rule, is likely to continue – with Europe as the mouse.

Far more damaging to Erdogan’s interests is the announcement made yesterday by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo that sanctions will be imposed upon individuals linked to Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries for the purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system. Congress took this action under CAATSA, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which has also been applied against China and Russia. The United States has acted where the European Union prevaricated and  fudged.

Erdogan has threatened to retaliate. Perhaps he will mobilise part of his army of Islamist supporters operating throughout Europe. The capabilities of the Turkish nationalist ‘Grey Wolves’ is of particular concern to EU members such as Austria, who banned them last year. Of equal concern could be the growing infiltration of an anti-western Islamist worldview into mainstream institutions. It was reported recently that 200 teachers were sent from Turkey to teach primary school children in France about culture. Inspectors found evidence of covert inculcation of Islamist teachings. Erdogan has the second largest military in NATO, and he has thousands of willing proxies throughout Europe.

The EU is adopting an approach of talk first, sanctions later whereas the US had acted the other way round. President elect Biden’s arrival in the oval office will bring change. Whether that change leads to the EU and US working more closely together to exert sufficient pressure on Erdogan, or to more cat and mouse, will be seen soon. Biden has talked tough about Turkey, but even if there are two mice, the advantage is still overwhelmingly with the cat.

Thursday December 10 certainly presents the European Council with a challenge. But it is also an opportunity.

The jury is divided on whether the European Council will show the leadership required to respond to Erdogan’s aggressions and provocations. Some suggest that it will, since there are so many other issues upon which the disparate member states of the EU are divided, such as the economic and fiscal response to Covid19, Brexit, and ‘law and order’. Others opine that real politik will result in irresistible German pressure to continue ‘dialogue’, citing just about anything other than the fact that there are 4 million Turks in Germany, which has heavy investments in Turkey.

It has been said that the purpose of NATO is “to keep Russia out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. There is a sense in which the EU has a similar aim, namely to limit Germany’s power and influence, and to an extent do the same to France, so that these two huge economies don’t grate against each other.. France and Germany are, not for the first time, divided on a major geopolitical issue: what to do about Erdogan. France is pushing for sanctions, supported by Greece, Cyprus, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Latvia and Estonia. Germany opposes them, and has Italy, Spain, Hungary and Poland in tow.

This would ordinarily have compromise written all over it, but the German axis appears to be set against this. A compromise would satisfy no-one except Erdogan. Much depends, then, on the leverage that France, through its outspoken president Macron, can bring. In the mercurial world of European politics, a strong or even a very strong argument is often not enough to swing a decision in the way of principle, since national self-interests always kick in. This time, however, the strong arguments for sanctions might just succeed in pushing a reluctant Germany and her allies to accept the resolution of the European parliament that there should be “tough sanctions” first, and dialogue second.

The strong arguments are many: we outlined them in our letter addressed and sent to Chancellor Merkel (as head of the German presidency), Josep Borrell (as EU High Representative on Foreign Affairs) and Charles Michel (president of the European Council). We also sent it to the EU heads of state. The case for sanctions were ably summarised in the parliamentary debate by Antonio Lopez-Istiriz White MEP, secretary general of the EPP (the largest political party in the European Palrliament). He said

“What has happened in Varosha, the arrest of thousands of political activists, the challenge for NATO members using Russian weaponry, granting citizenship to members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, confronting all countries and getting into all the conflicts around them: with Israel, in Iraq, in Syria, in Armenia, in Egypt. How long are we going to tolerate this situation? And above all, most important of all: attacks, aggressions to two Member States of the European Union, such as Greece and Cyprus. We cannot continue to tolerate this situation and these sanctions must now be imposed.”

Tomorrow will tell the extent to which Europe will tolerate such behaviour by Erdogan.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is backing his national MP Geert Wilders who, after calling Erdogan “a tyrant, a dictator and a terrorist” in a tweet, is being now being sued by the Turkish president.

In a TV interview where he justified his statement, Wilders said “It is evident from the fact there are hundreds of publications, and investigations which show that he has supported ISIS and Al Qaeda, and that jihadists come and go in and out of Turkey to Syria, to Europe.” Considering all he is doing to support terrorists, Wilders added, he is clearly one himself.

The interviewer then stated, “It is much clearer that he has openly supported Hamas, so your assertion is correct.” Wilders continued “Yes, he supports Hamas, who are terrorists. He also supports the Azeris, Azerbaijan in the fight against Armenia. He sits with his finger in the middle wherever it leads to misery and terror. From ISIS to Azerbaijan against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabagh, to Hamas”.

“Erdogan seems to be saying: No criticism of me, no criticism of Islam. If you do that, then I will pursue you in your own country, and maybe beyond. And that goes not just for me, but for anyone, also people like you, journalists, other people who want to be critical, and we cannot accept that. So it is not just about me. It is about freedom of speech”.

Turkey’s pro-government English newspaper the Daily Sabah featured a headline yesterday that is surely a contender for the 2020 Award for Irony. It quotes its hero and protector president Erdogan criticizing “global media outlets for not acting in line with journalistic ethics”. It yet another inversion of the actualité that could have been taken straight from the KGB propaganda playbook, Erdogan plays the victim by accusing  the international media of hypocrisy by “trying to twist the realities of the country”.

So what are some of these realities in Turkey? On November 30th the International Press Institute published a report  “Turkey’s Journalists on the Ropes”  the result of the joint International Press Freedom Mission to Turkey October 6-9, revealing the extent of the crackdown on media freedom and calling for concerted action by the international community to tackle Turkey’s media freedom crisis.

The report examines: 

  • the immediate threat of extensive censorship of the internet posed by the Social Media Law that came into force on October 1;
  • the political capture of media regulatory bodies and how they are used to muzzle public debate and critical journalism;
  • the ongoing crisis of judicial independence and renewed threats to the country’s Constitutional Court.

While the situation in the courts remains critical with up to 79 journalists currently in prison, the last year has seen the battleground over freedom of expression shift from the courtroom to the regulators who have ramped up their punishments for print and broadcast media.

 

Regulators, with their extensive powers to grant and remove licenses and impose financial penalties, are able to force independent media to either comply or risk closure. This strategy is expected to ensure media self-censorship so the intervention of the courts becomes less necessary and less frequent.

The Social Media Law, if fully enacted, would also require social media companies to comply with government censorship demands or eventually face being blocked within the country.

Meanwhile, in its communique of October 2, the Council of the European Union offered improved economic ties with Turkey without reference to Turkey’s human rights record.

“The government is determined to use all available tools to suppress criticism whether on broadcasters, in print and online”, IPI Head of Europe Advocacy Oliver Money-Kyrle said. “The international community and the European Union, in particular, must be prepared to make improved relations contingent on an end to the media crackdown and improved human rights in general”.

The report has been prepared by IPI with the support of the following organizations: Association of European Journalists (AEJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT), PEN International, Reporters without Borders (RSF), South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

If anyone is guilty of hypocrisy it is Erdogan, who oppresses, intimidates and jails journalists whilst brazenly accusing the free media in the west of twisting the truth. Far from twisting the truth, the west needs to hear more, far more, from its media about the appalling abuses of human rights in Turkey. And the Council of the European Union needs to do the right thing on December 10 at it summit meeting and take strong action against Erdogan’s autocratic regime.

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