Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a loose cannon. Any time he fires or misfires, it is better to take cover. He fancies himself a warrior from the Ottoman Empire days galloping everywhere in imaginary battles to conquer the world or overcome his adversaries who he imagines are the enemies of his country and humanity. In almost all cases, he labels his political opponents either as terrorists of coup plotters.
Usually dressed in well-tailored suits, which gives the impression of a perfect gentleman, that is, until he erupts in outbursts like molten from an active volcano. His latest eruption, which again, questions his state of mind, was his theatrical decision on October 23 to expel envoys of ten Western countries: the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland and New Zealand.
Their alleged crime was calling for the trial of Turkish philanthropist, Osman Kavala, who has been in detention without trial for four years. The European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, had ruled in December 2019 that there was no substantial case against the detainee and that Erdogan’s actions were an attempt to silence him.
Erdogan had erupted last week: “The Turkish judiciary doesn’t take orders from anyone, and is not under anyone’s command. Our intention is absolutely not to create a crisis but to protect our law, honour, interests and our sovereign rights.”
Turkish authorities were in a quandary; if Erdogan’s threats are carried out, the affected countries were bound to retaliate and other Western countries especially in the European Union, EU were certain to stand in solidarity with those countries. Also, Turkey has not given up hope to join the EU.
So the Turkish bureaucracy worked out a face-saving way for Erdogan; get the affected embassies to issue an identical Tweet that they would not interfere in the host country’s domestic affairs.
A joyous Erdogan then announced that the envoys new statement: “shows they have taken a step back from the slander against our country. They will be more careful now.” On that basis, he rescinded his order declaring the envoys persona non grata.
The West while not admitting Turkey into its EU fold, exercises a lot of restrain in dealing with Erdogan because each time there is an altercation, he threatens to open the borders with Greece and allow the over four million refugees in Turkey, including 3.6 million Syrians, to flow into Europe.
With Erdogan, you don’t know what to expect as his words and actions can be confounding. For example, he came out to Africa a fortnight ago visiting Angola, Nigeria and Togo to sign bilateral agreements in areas like energy, mining, defence and hydrocarbon.
In meeting President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Erdogan made the unsubstantiated claim that there is an international Turkish terrorist group, called the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation, FETO, operating in Nigeria and running 17 schools. He wants Nigeria to fish out the owners whom he claims are terrorists, and hand over the schools to the Turkish Maarif Foundation, a rival foundation the Erdogan gang established on June 17, 2016 with a Professor Birol Akgun as head.
If Erdogan has any respect for Nigeria or its President, would he have asked us to involve our country and security services in the internal politics of his country? In assuming Nigeria is not well informed, Erdogan told President Buhari: “Turkey has been fighting against terrorist organisations for many decades, such as the PKK, PYD, FETO, DASH and other terrorist organisations.
The perpetrator of the heinous failed coup of July 15, FETO, is still illegally active in Nigeria, and we are continuously sharing our intelligence with the Nigerian interlocutors and authorities. I hope and pray that our Nigerian brothers will forge a closer solidarity in this field with us, the Republic of Turkey.”
Let us examine his claims on the four ‘terrorist’ organisations. First is that Erdogan was a well-known Islamic fundamentalist who employed violence especially in dealing with secular Turks, to this extent, he was or is, a terrorist.
As candidate of the Islamist Welfare Party, Erdogan was in 1994, elected Mayor of Istanbul, but was later removed, imprisoned for four months and banned from political office, for inciting religious hatred.
He founded the Justice and Development Party, AKP in 2001 and became Turkish Prime Minister two years later. He then teamed up with Fethullah Gulen and his Gullen Movement. Yes, the same Fetullah Organisation, FETO he today calls “terrorists.” They carried out a reign of terror in the Turkish public life.
With Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen as leaders, they purged the public service and the military of all those who refused to accept Islamic fundamentalism. Later, both men had disagreements, and the latter went into exile. Erdogan then declared his former partner, Fetullah as a “terrorist” organisation and accused it of organising a 2016 attempted coup.
It is his former partners, Erdogan wants Buhari to fish out and seize their schools in Nigeria. The vengeful Erdogan told Buhari: “We continue to share necessary information with the Nigerian authorities about FETÖ’s illegal activities in Nigeria.” The truth is that there is no shred of evidence that FETO is carrying out illegal activities in Nigeria, if there is, the Turks should produce them. It is an insult for Erdogan to assume that his enemies must be Nigeria’s enemies.
The second group Erdogan mentioned is the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, which is fighting for the recognition of Kurds in Turkey as citizens with equal rights like the majority Turks. The PKK is a liberation, not terrorist organisation. If anything, it is the Erdogan government which aborted peace talks, that is terrorising the Kurds.
The third group he mentioned was the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, PYD, which is a Syrian party struggling to control Northern Syria. Although, I do not support the PYD because I believe that neither Turkey nor the West has a right to dismember Syria, but the PYD is not a terrorist organisation. Why Erdogan claims it terrorist, is because this party with the Syrian military, has stopped Turkey from annexing Northern Syria.
The fourth group Erdogan mentioned to Buhari is the DASH or Daesh which is the derogatory word for the Islamic State, ISIS. Yes, ISIS, the parent body of the ISWAP terrorist group in Nigeria, is a terrorist organisation. But the Buhari government must be quite careful entering into any relationship with Turkey on the ISIS or terrorism.
This is because when Islamic terrorists in Europe poured into Syria and Iraq in 2014 to help establish ISIS, it was Turkey, under this same Erdogan that granted them free passage through its airports and borders. Any wise country, will keep Erdogan and his government at arm’s length.
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.
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