Political Observation - The Visa Crisis Between Ankara and Washington Reflects the Deepening Rift Especially over the Kurdish Issue
Political Observation - The Visa Crisis Between Ankara and Washington Reflects the Deepening Rift Especially over the Kurdish Issue
On Sunday 8 October 2017 the US embassy in Ankara announced the suspension of all visa applications in Ankara and all US consulates in Turkey, except for immigrants. The Turkish embassy in Washington was swift in reacting by suspending all visa applications made by US citizens through all its consulates in the US, based on the principle of reciprocity in diplomatic conventions.
The American decision came days after a Turkish court had sentenced the staffer at the US general consulate in Istanbul Metin Topuz to jail for espionage, membership to Fathullah Gülen's organisation and involvement in the coup attempt of 15 July 2017. On 19 October 2017, the Anadolu news agency reported that the Turkish general prosecution bureau had summoned another staffer of the same consulate for questioning based on confessions made by his workmate Metin Topuz. The visa crisis between America and Turkey came few weeks after a meeting in New York held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly summit between Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. After the meeting, Trump announced that the relations between the two countries had never been better: "I think now we’re as close as we’ve ever been". Hence, what has caused the diplomatic relationship between America and Turkey to deteriorate to the worst level in decades?
The answer lies in the reasons that have led to the crisis that Turkey had apparently attempted to blame on the US ambassador to Ankara John Bass. In fact, the Kurdish issue tops the real reasons behind the crisis between the Erdoğan government and the US administration. America has been working assiduously to establish an entity for the Kurds in northern Syria and along the border belt between Syria and Turkey. Turkey deems the rise of such an entity a threat to her national security. In other words, any Turkish government accepting this narrative would be accepting the undermining of national security of which the protection of Turkey against division is a vital component. And with America insisting on forging ahead with her plans to achieve her interests without taking into account the interests of her so-called allies, the Erdoğan government had no choice but to either submit to the volition of the White House and wait for the finger to be pointed at it for forsaking the security of the homeland, or disobey the US administration and stand up to it, thus incurring the wrath of the White House and asking for trouble domestically and abroad. This is why the Kurdish issue was at the top of the rift between Erdoğan and the US administration.
It was no coincidence for the visa crisis to be instigated by America on the same day Turkish troops entered the city of Idlib where the Erdoğan government aimed to threaten Afrin, prevent the Kurds from entrenching their dominance over northwest Syria bordering Turkey and deprive them from reaching the Mediterranean coastline. Ever since she intervened militarily in Syria in 2014 under the guise of fighting Daesh, America has been handing several areas over to various Kurdish forces; the Kurdish People's Protection Units have taken control of Ain al-Arab, Ras al-Ain, al-Hasakah, al-Qamishli, Tal Abyadh and Manbij thanks to America who is currently working towards handing over sizable chunks of Raqqa to them. In addition to supplying the Syrian Kurds with 1400 military vehicles and sophisticated weapons for a 50,000-strong army, America has also built several military bases in Kurdish areas and inspired the Kurdish leaders, now protected by the US weapons and military bases, to declare a unilateral self-rule.
In order to avoid being accused of working towards dividing Syria, Washington ordered the Kurdish leader to declare that their province was autonomous within a federal Syria. In the face of this major threat, and having perceived the extent of the major conspiracy concocted by America against her, Turkey had to react swiftly by initiating the seven-month Euphrates Shield operation; and had it not been for the American intervention in Manbij and Afrin, the operation would have ended the presence of the Kurdish forces in those areas among others in the northern countryside of Aleppo after the Turkish forces had succeeded in controlling the towns of Jarabulus, al-Raai', Dabiq and al-Bab. America then set about replaying the scenario of Kurdish expansion in northern Syria and in Raqqa under the guise of fighting Daesh; thus she began talking about the presence of Daesh i.e. al-Nusrah Front or the Levant Liberations Committee (HTS) in Idlib with the aim of preparing for military operations to help the Kurdish forces in Afrin to make incursions into Idlib, dominate it and reach the Mediterranean coastline. As she prepared for war in Idlib America was pushing Masoud Barzani to proceed with the referendum regardless of the regional objections and the domestic disagreement over the timing. America was obviously aiming through the war on Idlib and the referendum to besiege Turkey and place her between the hammer and nail and generate the military and political conditions enabling the PKK from opening a domestic warfront in southeast Turkey.
Subsequently, Turkey found herself compelled to coordinate with Russia and Iran via the Astana platform and at the same time, she started exerting pressure on the HTS to twist its arm into dissolving itself, or change its leaders or merge itself into the military and political groups affiliated to her. Hence, Turkey aims to weaken the HTS and chase it away from Idlib or if necessary, destroy it altogether. And in order to thwart any attempt by the Kurdish forces to advance southwards and extend their areas of influence, and even to besiege them and prevent them from settling in western Euphrates, the Turkish army is attempting to deploy its troops along the borders between the governorate of Idlib and the positions of the Democratic Union forces in Afrin by establishing 14 Turkish checkpoints on the outskirts of Idlib including 4 to 5 checkpoints in the area of Afrin.
Hence, the situation is very precarious for Turkey since it involves her national security and the unity of her soil. The real threat to the unity of her soil lies in the passage stretching from the area dominated by the PKK and the People's Protection Units in Western Syria, up to the areas of Iraqi Kurdistan's province where Barzani is endeavouring to effectuate his secession plan. Thus, the Idlib operation came to prevent this passage which America and Europe have been sponsoring. Erdoğan openly expressed his aversion to this American plan on 8 October 2017 by confirming the "presence of serious attempts to establish a state along the northern Syrian borders; and if Turkey kept silent over this, those attempts would be realised." He added: "We are compelled to thwart this terrorist belt they want to establish from the extreme east of Syria to the Mediterranean; we cannot allow the execution of this project for if it were to happen, we would be facing similar events to those of Kobani." Erdoğan then concluded: "We will never allow the besieging of Turkey as we face the threats emanating from Iraq and Syria."
As for the Pentagon's announcement on supporting the incursions of Turkish forces into Idlib to protect the ceasefire as per the agreement on "de-escalation zones" concluded in Astana, it conforms on the one hand to America's plans to turn Syria into a federal state, thus heralding her fragmentation, and on the other hand, it warns Turkey against staging any incursions and fighting the Kurds, stressing that the Turkish army entry into Syria should be confined to fighting al-Nusrah Front in Idlib and protecting the Turkish borders. Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said: “We support our NATO ally Turkey’s efforts to secure its borders, fight terrorism, and prevent safe havens for terrorist organizations.”
Hence, America chose the day the Turkish military delegation entered Idlib in the company of HTS operatives to explore the areas where the Turkish army would be positioned, to announce the suspending of visa applications at the US consulate, with the aim of upstaging and disrupting the Idlib operation which America realises that Turkey deems it decisive for her national security. In order to exert further pressure on Turkey and cause further disruption to her armed forces to prevent them from achieving what they had entered Idlib for, the regime of Bashar Assad demanded the withdrawal of the Turkish army from Syrian territory without any preconditions. This was preceded by the statement of Turkish defence minister Nurettin Canikli in which he said: "Turkey must remain in Syria until we end the threats directed at us."
As the omens of the American plan to establish Greater Kurdistan by attempting to turn Iraqi Kurdistan into an independent entity and effectuating the self-rule administration in Northern Syria started to emerge, the priorities of Turkish foreign policy started to change. For instance, toppling the regime of Bashar Assad or even partaking in his replacing is no longer Turkey's priority; her main concern is preventing the rise of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria and Iraq. Based on these facts, Turkey has strengthened her cooperation with Iran, the ally of the Iraqi government, and Russia, the ally of Bashar Assad's regime, in order to thwart America's plans to fragment the region. This is why the Kurdish issue represents the most important components that have recently brought Turkey and Iran closer. It is true that unlike the Iranian position, the Russian position vis-à-vis the Kurdish file is unclear but what is certain is that Russia is not as keen as America on establishing a Kurdish entity in the region; and this is one of the most important difference between Russia and America in respect of the region's files.
As for the motive inducing Russia to covertly back Turkey and Iran in the Kurdish file, it is her apprehensions towards America’s success, in the long run, to divide Turkey and Iran thus destabilising Russia's equilibrium against America in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Black Sea. It has recently become clear to all observers that America is working towards strengthening the influence of Daesh in Afghanistan, thus undermining Russia's security. Observers of Donald Trump's recent plan for Afghanistan would perceive America's aims from increasing the number of the boots on the ground and the mercenaries affiliated with her and ending the mission of the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, then launching a media and political onslaught on Pakistan and holding her responsible for "terrorism" in Afghanistan after she had succeeded in the judicial coup against Nawaz Sharif. In the context of the major threats Turkey and Iran face, Erdoğan visited Teheran in a bid to coordinate the two countries' efforts in resisting the Western plan to establish Greater Kurdistan.
The starting point in this coordination was to back the government of Abadi in regaining control of Kirkuk and the "disputed areas" and putting into effect the measures aimed at blockading the Iraqi Kurdistan province in order to twist its arm into negotiating with central government over the proposal of federation but not on the proposal of scheduling independence as America wants. Then came the recent Idlib operation to reveal the extent of the Turkish-Iranian coordination with the backing of Russia in order to prevent America from making incursions into Idlib via the Kurdish forces under the guise of fighting al-Qaeda. In response to these nascent relationships between Turkey and Iran which have started to take root to prevent the fragmentation America reacted with a series of threats and warnings against Iran, the first of which Trump's threat to place the Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist organisations; this was followed by placing two Hezbollah operatives on the wanted list and then by Trump's refusal to ratify the international agreement on Iran's nuclear file while he continued to threaten to pull out of the agreement.
Finally, the visa crisis could not possibly be perceived properly if it were isolated from the context of America's persistence to execute her plans irrespective of the interests and considerations of those she refers to as her close allies and from Turkey's efforts to pursue a policy independent of America in issues dominated by the Kurdish file in Syria and Iraq and by the armament and defence industry of the Turkish army. On the issue of arming the Turkish army, the statement of Erdoğan was remarkable after America and NATO had turned down Ankara's request to purchase the S400 air defence system from Russia, especially after NATO's decision to withdraw the Patriot batteries from Turkish soil. Erdoğan said: "Having agreed with Russia on the S400 deal, the US administration immediately started to scream. Do we need to wait for the answer from the US to purchase our weapons? We are free and sovereign and we are not dependent on anyone."
As the rift deepens between America and Turkey, especially in respect of the Kurdish issue, and after the decision to suspend visa applications between the two countries , America will probably move to unofficially ban arms sales to Turkey and launch a psychological and media war on Turkey under the theme of sponsoring "terrorism" in order to isolate her internationally and regionally, as a prelude to embroil her in major domestic and international crises related to security, political and economic issues. The only sound way before the government of Erdoğan to break free from the shackles of the old masters for good is to continue moving towards gaining independence in its decision-making. This entails getting rid of America's influence in Turkey, which is reflected in the presence of the military bases, the tools and the surrogates such as the military and political organisations, and ending completely Turkey's role in executing the American plans, including the Greater Middle East Initiative. Turkey should also end her NATO membership. An independent decision-making entails boldness, decisiveness and assiduous work to fortify the domestic front of the country and hasten to achieve self-sufficiency in all sectors lest she should become hostage to her enemies and in order for the government of Erdoğan to succeed in gaining independence in the decision-making, it is imperative to make the Ummah her real support, and not the Westerner, irrespective of its temptations and threats. This is the Ummah never lets down those who respond to her convictions and aspirations to break free from the fetters of the colonialist Kuffar and regain her glory and might. This can only be achieved by embracing the Islamic Aqeedah as the cornerstone of the state and the bond between its citizens.
1 Safar 1439h
21 October 2017