Erdogan opposes Finland, Sweden joining NATO

Just as the commentariat was hailing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Westward pivot, he announced today that Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO was not such a great idea.

Besides, both countries served as “guest houses for terrorists,” he opined. He was presumably referring to the large number of Kurdish asylum seekers in both countries. The timing of his comments left many scratching their heads. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is scheduled to meet his NATO counterparts in Berlin tomorrow and with US Secretary of State Tony Blinken in New York thereafter.

Was Erdogan wielding the veto card in the hope of extracting concessions from Washington, i.e. an easing of military sanctions? If so, it was a poorly calculated move. The one thing the United States is averse to is blackmail. This was true even for President Donald Trump, who seemed to get on rather well with Erdogan. Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey when Erdogan refused to free an American pastor he was holding as a bargaining chip.

Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu took an uncharacteristically bold step. He showed up outside the offices of the private defense contractor SADAT, which is led by a former general with very close ties to Erdogan (think Wagner/Putin). Kilicdaroglu said SADAT trained “terrorists.” If the integrity of the forthcoming elections were compromised in any way, SADAT would be held to account, Kilicdaroglu warned.

The move came after an appeals court on Thursday upheld a four year and eleven-month jail sentence for Canan Kaftancioglu, the Istanbul chair of the pro-secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) over various tweets she posted nine years ago.

Kaftancioglu is seen as the architect of the opposition alliance forged with the Kurds which helped oust ruling Justice and Development Party mayors from Ankara and Istanbul.

The verdict is a further sign that Erdogan is determined to remove all obstacles to his path to victory in nationwide presidential and parliamentary elections that are scheduled to be held by mid 2023.

Istanbul’s CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu is also being prosecuted over claims that he insulted election officials who cancelled his initial win in 2019 under pressure from Erdogan. The moves against Turkey’s oldest party, established by Ataturk, carries Erdogan’s autocratic turn to a new and scarier level.

The continued deterioration of the economy will likely spell greater repression as Erdogan clings to power in the face of mounting public disgruntlement over skyrocketing inflation and the ever wilting lira, which lost five percent against the dollar just this past week alone.

As I predicted, both Erdogan and Cavusoglu lashed out at the United States’ decision to ease sanctions on Kurdish controlled northern Syria today, saying it was an “attempt to legitimize the PKK.” The fact that several areas occupied by Turkey were also included in the authorization for investors didn’t cut it for Ankara. Why was Idlib, the northwestern province controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda offshoot and home to over a million displaced Syrians, not included Cavusoglu asked. He need not fret too much. Turkey’s continued attacks against the Kurdish controlled region is likely to keep most potential investors away.

Meanwhile, there is mounting speculation that Ankara’s current offensive against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan is partly linked to its hopes to carry Iraqi Kurdish gas via Turkey to European markets. Neutralizing the PKK should create a more secure climate for investors, the thinking goes.

The plans started taking shape as energy sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine triggered a search for alternative supplies. Kurdistan Regional Government President Nechirvan Barzani is in talks with Erdogan about the gas and my sources say another meeting is due soon. But they need to tread carefully, as Iran doesn’t like the idea and has lobbed a few cruise missiles at Erbil to make its displeasure known. So much for a secure environment. I shall be digging into this story, so stay tuned.

The news isn’t all dark from Turkey. A magnificent Armenian church in Diyarbakir that was destroyed during the PKK’s “trench war” against the Turkish army in 2015 has been fully restored and re-opened for service to the public. Too bad there’s only one Armenian left in Diyarbakir to enjoy it. Diyarbakir used to have a thriving Christian population prior to their ethnic cleansing by Ottoman forces and their Kurdish allies in 1915.

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