During the latter half of the 19th Century, the Ottoman Empire, a Muslim power, was called “the sick man of Europe.” But, like the 800-year Muslim occupation of Spain, the Ottoman Empire was not “of Europe” at all. It occupied European land and had its place in history, but since Charlemagne tried to evict the Muslims from Spain, they were never part of Europe.
When the Ottoman Empire fell at the end of World War I, Turkey arose from its ashes. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, its founder, understood that in order for his nation to thrive, it had to move from feudal Islam to a westernized culture. He established its military as the primary guardian of secularism.
The system of government was designed to prevent what Recip Tayyip Erdogan has done to Turkey. There is no cure for Turkey now except for a Kemalist revolution.
For decades, Turkey was America’s most underrated ally. It was a cornerstone of NATO, a host to our largest and best airbase — Incirlik — in the region. It was prone to military coups which came irregularly to install military strongmen and — in their own fashion — to maintain democracy.
Now all of that is gone, thanks to Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan.
Erdogan rose from mayor of Istanbul in 1994 to prime minister in 2003 and has been president since 2014. For more than a decade he has reduced Turkish democracy to a shred of what it once was, turned its allegiance away from NATO and, most importantly, made Turkey an Islamist state.
To cement Turkish Islamism, Erdogan has — sometimes quietly and sometimes with huge public campaigns — rid the Turkish military of pro-democracy people. Gone are the generals, colonels, and captains who saw their primary duty as defending the nation not only against foreign enemies but also against the encroachment of Islam on their freedoms.
The purge of pro-democracy officers was most public in Erdogan’s response to the July 2016 attempted coup against him. One of his first actions, within hours of the coup attempt, was to arrest more than one hundred military officers for their alleged involvement.
Since then thousands more military officers and civil officials have been arrested, most on trumped-up charges involving the coup and some for their supposed involvement with Fethullah Gulen, a former Islamic preacher based in Pennsylvania, who Erdogan blames for the coup attempt.
Gulen is undoubtedly involved in the Turkish political debate by his media activity and has many followers. Erdogan has demanded that we extradite Gulen to Turkey for trial, but his government hasn’t provided any real evidence on which extradition could be based. That’s where Pastor Andrew Brunson comes in.
Brunson, an American clergyman, has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016 on the charge that he is a threat to Turkish national security. He and his wife were about to be deported when he was seized. His wife was released.
On September 18, Erdogan demanded that we exchange Gulen for Brunson. He said, “You have another pastor in your hands. Give us that pastor [Gulen] and we will do what we can in the judiciary to give you this one.” Turkey’s judiciary is a puppet of the Erdogan government.
The demand for the exchange proves two things: first, that Brunson’s imprisonment is, like Iran’s imprisonment of at least four Americans, the act of an enemy not an ally; and second, that Erdogan believes Gulen is so dangerous to him that Erdogan will betray his former alliance with America to get him.
Erdogan has gone to great lengths — beyond the false imprisonment of Brunson — to prove Turkey is no longer an American ally. In that he has succeeded without any American response.
Erdogan’s foreign minister signed an agreement with Russia and Iran earlier this year under which they undertook to defend the terrorist regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. Pursuant to that agreement, Russian and Turkish troops are deployed together in northern Syria.
Erdogan’s alliance with Russia and Iran has a multitude of results. One is that Turkey is trying to block the formation of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq and southern Syria which has been a Turkish goal for decades.
Kurdish forces have been our most reliable ally in that area since the 1991 Iraq war which spurred them to rebel against the Saddam Hussein government. They have been fighting hard against ISIS with U.S. support, suffering “accidental” bombings by Russian aircraft.
Were any further proof of Erdogan’s realignment with Iran and Russia needed, Erdogan has purchased Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles from Putin’s government for a reported $2.5 billion. No NATO nation operates this top-line Russian system, which the Russians claim can be effective against US stealth aircraft. That claim is false, but that matters less to Erdogan than his determination to divorce his nation from the U.S. and NATO.
And then there’s the direct challenge to Americans’ freedoms by Erdogan’s bodyguards.
In mid-May, after meeting with President Trump, Erdogan went to the Turkish ambassador’s residence in northwest Washington. A group of demonstrators loudly protested his presence. At some point, a group of men, some of them visibly armed under their suit coats, rushed the demonstrators and severely beat several of them. D.C. police identified about fifteen of them as members of Erdogan’s security detail.
According to a Washington Post report, Erdogan personally observed the fighting from an upstairs window. It’s easy to conclude that the thugs who assaulted the protesters were acting under his direct orders.
In August, a grand jury indicted nineteen people for the fighting, fifteen of them members of Erdogan’s security detail. Two of the Erdogan bodyguards were briefly detained and then released. All have apparently returned to Turkey.
Erdogan’s assault on protesters exercising their First Amendment rights within U.S. borders is an outrage against our freedoms, our Constitution, and our government. The only response to it has been unsourced quotes bewailing the “strain” on our relations with Turkey.
Erdogan thinks he has us captive to the presence of Incirlik Air Force base within his nation. On at least one occasion he cut off electricity flowing to the base.
Why President Trump is unwilling to criticize Erdogan severely is a mystery. Yes, Incirlik gives us a tremendous advantage in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, but is that advantage so great as to immunize Erdogan from his other anti-American actions? Apparently so.
The Islamist takeover of Turkey, organized and managed by Erdogan, has no cure except, as I mentioned earlier, a Kemalist revolution to overthrow him. That will not happen as long as Erdogan is alive and probably not for decades after his death, if ever, because Erdogan has purged secularists from the Turkish military.
Erdogan has molded Turkey’s future carefully. Its allies are Russia and Iran, not the U.S. and NATO. They will control its destiny, making it an increasingly radical Islamist state.