Foregn Policy has published an article about the recent events in Turkey, titled: “What Happens in Turkey Doesn’t Stay in Turkey“. According to the article, Ankara’s growing authoritarianism is not just an internal problem. It’s time for the U.S. to wise up.
The detention of 11 members of parliament from an opposition political party last week marked the latest step in Turkey’s transformation into a de facto dictatorship. For years, the United States has been equivocating about the consequences of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on his political opponents. Washington calculated that the destruction of Turkey’s democracy was worth ignoring to ensure Ankara’s support in the fight against the Islamic State. But last week’s arrests are a stark demonstration that this calculated risk has failed in spectacular fashion.
The U.S. has no choice now but to take a more active stance on Turkey’s “internal” problems — precisely because they are not internal at all.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), to which the arrested legislators belonged, is the perfect vehicle for understanding why Turkey’s political problems reach far beyond its borders. The party is the latest attempt by some representatives of Turkey’s restive Kurdish minority to press for their rights through democratic politics. But the HDP is closely tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group based across the border in Iraq that has fought the Turkish state since the 1980s. The HDP’s leaders have tried to walk a careful line of condemning some PKK attacks to establish credibility with the Turkish public, but also appearing at public rallies with PKK images, and at funerals for PKK fighters, to maintain the support of their Kurdish constituents.
The U.S. has considered the PKK a terrorist organization since 1997. In 1999, it captured its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and sent him to Turkey, where he is still imprisoned. But when the Islamic State charged across Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, Washington found itself in need of friends on the ground. As it turns out, some of the forces best poised to challenge the Islamic State in northern Syria were Kurdish militias, known as the Self Protection Forces (YPG), that belonged to a Syrian PKK affiliate. Since October 2014, the U.S. has been trying to thread the needle of supporting the YPG in their fight against the Islamic State without alienating Turkey. It’s a tough balance, since this group, which is Turkey’s sworn enemy, is now the backbone of the United States’ anti-Islamic State strategy in northern Syria.
Washington has given Erdogan a pass on his anti-democratic crackdown to ensure his acquiescence.
As a result, Washington has given Erdogan a pass on his anti-democratic crackdown to ensure his acquiescence.The United States shrugged when he closed media outlets, arrested journalists, fired hundreds of judges, squelched a corruption investigation, and blocked social media. In July 2015, it looked the other way when he trashed the peace negotiations and then re-started the war with the PKK, laying waste to cities in southeastern Turkey in a blatant bid to shore up his political standing.