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Ankara Assassination Proves Crisis in Middle East Is Engulfing Turkey
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The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara by a 22-year-old riot policeman underlines the degree to which Turkey is being destabilised by the hatred and violence spreading from the wars in Syria. Spectacular killings and bombings are happening every few days in which the identity, affiliations or motives of the perpetrators are often in doubt because the attacks are a reflection of the multiple crises threatening to tear Turkey apart.

The circumstances surrounding the killing of ambassador Andrey Karlov by Mevlut Mert Altintas are an example of this over-supply of possible suspects. Many Turkish observers regret that he was shot dead by the security forces soon after the assassination because his connections point in different directions and the reason for his actions may never be explained.

The international media has generally focused on his shout “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” This fits in with a simple narrative that a lot of Turks are enraged by Russia’s support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and for his recapture of east Aleppo. Maybe one of them decided to do something about it.

But these cries were not the killer’s first words after he had fired the fatal shots and may not have been the most significant. These were in Arabic and spoke of those “who give Mohammed our allegiance for jihad,” suggesting that the speaker had moved in jihadi circles in Turkey. This argues against the killing being a spontaneous response to events in Aleppo, but does not tell one much about the gunman’s affiliations.

The best informed Turkish commentators are suggesting that these were with Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria or with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, which the Turkish government blames for the attempted coup on 15 July. On the other hand, they admit that he could have been a lone assassin who happened, from his point of view, to be in the right place at the right time.

Turkish and Russian leaders are almost over-assiduous in reassuring each other that the murder of a top Russian diplomat will not break their new-found bonds of friendship. President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made statements to that effect and, soon after the Turkish, Russian and Iranian foreign ministers met in Moscow for a pre-arranged discussion on Syria. After failing to protect Mr Karlov, Turkey will probably have to pay a price by being more accommodating to Russia in Syria.


What is not in doubt is that Turkey is becoming a more violent place and a weaker power. In the last 10 days alone the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) or one of its offshoots have killed 58 people, mostly soldiers and police in carefully planned bomb attacks. The political leaders of the Kurdish minority, an estimated 14 per cent of the 80 million Turkish population, are being charged with terrorist offences for expressing even the mildest form of dissent. The same may be starting to happen to the Alevi who make up a further 15 per cent of the population. The failed military coup of 15 July provoked a purge of soldiers, civil servants, universities and media suspected of Gulenist connections with more than 100,000 sacked or suspended and 37,000 arrested. There is a continuing state of emergency and the purge has extended well beyond suspected Gulenists to include anybody critical of Mr Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

It did not have to turn out this way. As the Arab Spring so-called spread across the region six years ago, Turkey might have served as a mediator to prevent violence and contain crises. Instead, it backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and elsewhere and tolerated ever more extreme jihadis. Mr Erdogan was certainly not alone in thinking that there would be regime change in Damascus, but he was the one worst affected when the project failed.

Turkey is now faced with the nightmare of Kurdish control along most of its border with Syria and Iraq. In Syria, there is a de facto Kurdish state, in military alliance with the US, ruled by the Syrian branch of the PKK. The Turkish government has established a narrow anti-Kurdish cordon sanitaire further west, but it remained largely mute while the Syrian armed forces retook east Aleppo. Turkish policy in northern Syria is now directed against the Kurds and hopes of getting rid of Mr Assad have languished.

For all Mr Erdogan’s belligerent talk about military intervention in Iraq and Syria over the last six months, his actions on the ground have been cautious. The temptation may still be there to burnish his nationalist credentials and demonstrate his control over a heavily purged Turkish army by sending it deeper into Syria and even into Iraq.

But these ventures may be beyond the capacity of a Turkish state that lacks foreign allies prepared to back its policies. There are hopes in Ankara that a Donald Trump administration would be more sympathetic to the Turkish position than President Obama, but nobody knows if the new US position is going to be much different from the old. From Turkey’s point of view, Russia and Iran may not be great allies but they could be very nasty enemies.

Governments in deep trouble sometimes play the nationalist card to get themselves out of it by military intervention abroad. The result is usually disastrous, though there is popular support among Turks for action against the PKK in its foreign enclaves. A Turkish newspaper even speaks of “draining the swamp of the Qandil”, a peculiarly ill-chose metaphor referring the PKK’s bases in the Qandil mountains, one of the greatest natural fortresses on earth.

The assassination of Mr Karlov is one more symptom showing that the general crisis in the Middle East and North Africa is affecting Turkey. The forces unleashed in Syria and Iraq are exacerbating existing divisions in Turkey. Mr Erdogan is extending his authoritarian rule but he rules a weakening state unable to cope with mounting crises at home and abroad.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Russia, Terrorism, Turkey 
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  1. “Ankara Assassination Proves Crisis in Middle East Is Engulfing Turkey”


    One realizes that at most newspapers editors compose the headlines. So perhaps one cannot blame the author for that. But then again at the end the author concludes with the equivalent:

    “The assassination of Mr Karlov is one more symptom showing that the general crisis in the Middle East and North Africa is affecting Turkey. ”


  2. dearieme says:

    Don’t worry; if the worst comes to the worst he can just attack Greece.

  3. @E. A. Costa

    Mr Costa,

    This is OT but can you name your five essential economic texts? You seem to know a lot about economics based on your comments….

  4. @E. A. Costa

    one radical doesn’t of course but the factionalization of Turkish society is very real, and the economy is weakening.

  5. Daniel H says:

    >>Many Turkish observers regret that he was shot dead by the security forces soon after the assassination because his connections point in different directions and the reason for his actions may never be explained.

    Ha, ha, that was a feature of the security forces, not a bug.

  6. What should be asked is how come – in a nation like Turkey which suffers terrorist attacks virtually every day – someone could bring a gun into the presence of a top diplomatic official, let alone shoot him. How was this allowed to happen? Total incompetence or a deliberate provocation meant to sabotage a Russian/Turkish rapprochement that would finally exterminate Obama’s pet headchoppers in Syria?

    I’d very much like to know if there’s goingto be a serious investigation into that aspect of the affair.

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Those who brought down the Russian civilian aircraft are behind the assassination of the Russian ambassador. Those who staged the coup and then accused Gulan, who cannot drink water without CIA permission, and killed many people and forced out thousands of people to gain the upper hand and complete the process of DICTATORSHIP IN TURKEY with US blessing, are behind the assassination.

    Why a Turkish policeman should kill the Russian ambassador? He was a Turk, not Arab. Erdugan who has his own agenda in Syria and has gone under Obama regime umbrella to overthrow the legitimate government of Syria, has every motive to kill Russian Ambassador to show the criminals dissatisfaction about their failure in Syria. These criminals are so mad that they are willing to kill millions of people in order to carry out their mission in the Middle East and the world. McCain is so angry that he said: US policy in Syria has set back ‘the world arrangement after the WWII’ meaning the Zionist plot “world government” is in danger.
    Erdugan has gained tremendous treasure and power by repeated staged FALSE FLAG OPERATION in Syria and Turkey with Obama regime’s blessing.

    Putin is a coward to do anything about the assassination, since he wants to improve relations with Turkey and Erdugan who is US/Israel Trojan horse in the region, to bring Turkey in the Syrian negotiation and gradually abundant Iran from the Syrian negotiation which goes well for the criminals in Washington and the new Zionist stooge coming soon, to put a knife on Iran’s back again to collect two bones as concessions from the west, like votes Russia cast along US and the war criminals against Iran, four times, to bring sanction against Iran for its peaceful nuclear program to destroy it in ‘Iran deal’, a big help to Zionist mass murderers.

    Don’t forget that RUSSIA and CHINA sold Libyan people when they did not veto UN resolution to bomb Libya and massacre Gaddafi and his family for concessions. If the world had opposed the Libyan destruction against Obama regime, then they would NOT DARE TO GO INTO SYRIA to serve the zionsit massacre for the interest of the Zionist project, the greater Israel, Obama regime would not DARE to go into Syria. We will witness Putin inaction about this assassination, like in the case of shooting down the Russia civilian airplane by Erdugan, the US Trojan horse who staged the COUP earlier with US blessing.
    Erdugan and Turkey must be barred from the Syrian negotiation. Erdugan is a war criminal and a DICTATOR.

    The assassin was a Turk not an Arab. He said only one word in Arabic and that was, ‘Allah Akbar’, where any dumb person can say it. Erdugan is a war criminal like Bush, Clinton, Cheney and Blair, where ICC must arrest him now, otherwise ICC proves itself nothing but a western tool as millions of people believe.

  8. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The bottom line is that Mevlut Mert Altintas was an unwitting CIA pawn.

    • Replies: @Daniel H
  9. Daniel H says:

    >>>The bottom line is that Mevlut Mert Altintas was an unwitting CIA pawn.

    Let’s give this CIA conspiracy mongering a rest, OK. I am sure there are plenty in the CIA who would like to pull off tricks like this but it is clear that the CIA is just too dammed incompetent to pull of acts like this.

    • Replies: @anonymous
  10. anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Daniel H

    The entire Syrian jihadist movement was created by and is still loosely directed by the CIA. No elaborately planned “tricks” are required when thousands of jihadists are scattered around and can pop at any time.

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