Denying the Truth on Turkey

Will the Obama administration stand by as Erdogan draws closer to our enemies?

The Obama administration thinks Israel and Turkey can make friends again. Earlier this month, at the administration’s urging, Israel agreed to participate, with Turkey, in a United Nations Review Panel on the flotilla incident that occurred last May. In that incident, nine Turkish members of an Islamist mob were killed when the group attacked Israeli soldiers aboard a Turkish ship. The ship itself was trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Since then, Turkish officials, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan setting the tone, have consistently referred to the incident as Israel “killing innocent civilians,” “state terrorism,” and the like. U.S. envoy to the UN Susan Rice, however, expressed hope that the panel “can serve as a vehicle to enable Israel and Turkey to move beyond the recent strains in their relationship and repair their strong historic ties.”

The news so far is not encouraging, with Turkey having excluded Israel’s ambassador to Turkey from attending the annual Eid al-Fitr dinner (marking the end of Ramadan) last week. An official of Erdogan’s AK Party explained that “anyone who is unjust or inequitable cannot pass the threshold of the Justice and Development party’s headquarters.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry responded that “once again it appears that Erdogan is initiating an escalation…we will behave responsibly and not be pulled into the Turkish sword dance.”

The United States, however, is also having trouble getting along with Turkey these days. Ynet reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has “convened a special meeting of State Department and National Security Council officials to discuss the United States’ relations with Turkey.” Senior U.S. officials are described as “infuriated with Turkey over its [support for] Iran…, a sentiment demonstrated by Republican senators’ refusal to approve the appointment of designated U.S. ambassador to Ankara, Frank Ricciardone.” The Financial Times also claims President Obama has “personally warned” Erdogan to take a more constructive line on both Israel and Iran.

Turkey not only voted against the UN Security Council’s imposition of tougher sanctions on Iran last month. The Los Angeles Times also described Turkey as one of the four countries—the others are Russia, China, and India—that are doing the most to prevent them from working by “rushing to boost their economies by seizing investment opportunities” that the sanctions leave open.

Another story last week casts doubt on whether Israel, the U.S., or any country that lays claim to being civilized should be trying to get along with Turkey. Der Spiegel reported that

German experts have confirmed the authenticity of photographs that purport to show PKK fighters killed by chemical weapons. The evidence puts increasing pressure on the Turkish government, which has long been suspected of using such weapons against Kurdish rebels….

The report continued:

It would be difficult to exceed the horror shown in the photos, which feature burned, maimed and scorched body parts. The victims are scarcely even recognizable as human beings. Turkish-Kurdish human rights activists believe the people in the photos are eight members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) underground movement, who are thought to have been killed in September 2009.

The article goes on to note that “Hans Baumann, a German expert on photo forgeries has confirmed the authenticity of the photos,” and that “a forensics report…by the Hamburg University Hospital has backed the…suspicion, saying that it is highly probable that the eight Kurds died ‘due to the use of chemical substances.’”

The issue appears to transcend politics: a co-chair of the far-left Green Party says there have been repeated “mysterious incidents of this type that are crying out for an independent investigation,” while a parliamentarian of the conservative Christian Democratic Union says, “Turkey needs to look urgently into these accusations.” A Turkey expert with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War says, “Turkey has been suspected of using chemical weapons for years.”

Do the atrocities, if they’re real, go back to the advent of Erdogan’s Islamist AK Party in 2002, or back further to the days of Turkey’s supposed moderation? Will the same world that goes into overdrive investigating the flotilla incident get interested enough in these horrific allegations to even investigate them? It’s hardly a safe bet.

It was in Ankara in April 2009, in his first overseas trip as president and some weeks before his famous Cairo speech, that Barack Obama told the Turkish parliament that: “Turkey and the United States must stand together—and work together—to overcome the challenges of our time…. I know there are those who like to debate Turkey’s future…. They wonder whether you will be pulled in one direction or another.”

The administration’s mounting concern over Turkey’s backing of Iran suggests some recognition that—at least under Erdogan—Turkey has been “pulled” in some quite bad directions.

To the extent, though, that the administration keeps treating Turkey and Israel as morally equivalent parties in the flotilla dispute, it will indicate ongoing denial about Turkey’s geopolitical stance and the nature of the evil it has embraced.