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Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan doubles down on genocide

By Michael Rubin
@Mrubin1971    -  Washington Examiner
Source: http://www.aei.org/publication/turkeys-recep-tayyip-erdogan-doubles-down-on-genocide/

As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tightened his stranglehold over Turkey and Turkish society, any elements of pragmatism that marked his first years in office have evaporated, supplanted by ego and ideology.

Erdogan’s ego is readily apparent. Erdogan has illegally acquired preserved forests and built palaces that dwarf Versailles, let alone the White House. From his early days as prime minister, he conflated himself with the state and considered any criticism of himself and his policies to be illegal. Turkey’s courts soon grew full of cases involving journalists, cartoonists, and public intellectuals who suggested Erdogan’s policies were misguided or wrong. When top aide Egemen Bagis was caught on tape mocking the Quran, Erdogan cared less about his sacrilege than about a man smoking in a cafe after Erdogan condemned the habit.

Such is the case of a leader who increasingly sees himself as God’s equal.

But the world has always been full of self-absorbed leaders: Saddam Hussein ordered Babylon rebuilt with bricks stamped with testaments to his greatness. Kim Jong Un imprisons those who do not adequately cry for the memory of his father. Hugo Chavez’s supporters likened him to Jesus. While an order of magnitude less megalomaniacal, Barack Obama’s critics made a sport of counting how many times the president referred to himself in his speeches and his staff famously inserted talk of Obama into the White House biographies of almost all past presidents. As for President Trump, even his supporters must acknowledge that tremendous ego is part of his brand.

What makes Erdogan particularly dangerous is ideology: He famously promised to raise a religious generation. There’s nothing wrong with religion per se, but Erdogan confuses Islam with Islamism and traditional Turkish interpretations with those more aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Erdogan’s interpretation of Islam promotes not tolerance, but its opposite. Furthermore, in a complex region where identities are shaped by a number of factors (ethnicity, education, and family, for example) Erdogan increasingly refuses to tolerate anyone who does not prioritize his own narrow interpretation of Islam over any other personal priorities.

This is where diplomats, analysts, and Erdogan apologists went wrong with regard to Erdogan’s policy toward the Kurds. True, Erdogan reached out on several occasions earlier in his political career to suggest rapprochement with the Kurds. He even resurrected Kurdistan Workers Party leader Abdullah Ocalan from political oblivion by entering into secret talks which, even if not successful, made Ocalan the indispensable Kurd and transformed him from a prisoner who embarrassed himself in his post-capture confessions into a Kurdish Nelson Mandela.

But behind the headlines, there was one commonality in Erdogan’s outreach: an implicit demand the Kurds prioritize Islam over their own ethnic identity. This is why Erdogan imprisoned Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Erdogan was willing to allow Demirtas and the HDP to operate openly so long as they supported his Islamist agenda. When it became clear they would not, he ordered Demirtas and other top HDP leaders imprisoned on dubious charges.

There is an irony to Erdogan’s pattern of punishing Kurds for being insufficiently Islamist: While Kurds often date their nationalist struggle back to the early uprisings that both challenged and marked Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s early efforts to consolidate his own dictatorial control over Turkey, the spark for many early Kurdish uprisings was Ataturk’s abolishment of the caliphate and his desire to separate mosque and state. But then again, Erdogan is the anti-Ataturk, an Islamist instead of a secularist who seeks to extricate Western liberalism from Turkish society rather than promote it.

As the Kurds have refused to subordinate their ethnic and cultural rights to Erdogan’s agenda, he has embarked on what increasingly appears to be a campaign of ethnic cleansing, if not genocide. Consider just his recent actions.

Erdogan seeks credit because Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country. But not all refugees are created equal. Turkey is implementing a broader strategy: Just as Syrian President Bashar Assad plays a demographic game to get Sunnis to flee his country to lower their proportion relative to the rest of Syrian population, Erdogan is offering many of those Sunni refugees Turkish citizenship so long as they settle in traditionally Alevi or Kurdish areas. His goal: Erase the Kurdish character in the heart of those areas, which have traditionally been the Kurdish homeland. Erdogan’s treatment of the Yezidis underlines the point: Turkish authorities refuse to even register them as refugees, thus denying them the ability to access emergency services. Simply put, he hopes Sunni Islamists stay and any and all non-Sunnis or non-Muslims go.

Sometimes, the erasure of Kurdish communities is more deliberate. While Western governments wrung their hands over the gratuitous Russian, Iranian, and Syrian decimation of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, Turkey’s destruction of Sur, Cizre, and Nusaybin was just as wanton and deliberate. And then there’s the Ilisu Dam: Not only has it submerged the millennia-old town of Hasankeyf, a Kurdish architectural and cultural treasure, but it also threatens to starve Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan of much-needed (and legally owed) water.

Finally, there is the case of Afrin, the district of Syria that was controlled and governed by Kurds until Turkish forces invaded for the stated purpose of eradicating terrorism, never mind that the Turkish government was unable to cite a single terrorist incident originating in Afrin. Erdogan’s policy in Afrin has been unapologetic ethnic cleansing and slaughter. Turkish forces and Islamist proxies in Syria have not only killed at least 10,000 Kurds and, according to counts by local organizations, drove 180,000 Kurdish residents out of their homes, but they also settled Sunni Arabs from elsewhere in Syria and Iraq to prevent any return. In short, Erdogan is doing to Kurds in Syria what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds in Kirkuk.

Genocide is a term too often misused and conflated with ethnic cleansing. But while Ataturk’s Turkey tolerated Kurds so long as they subordinated their cultural identity to the Turkish constitution, Erdogan’s hatred goes further. Both Erdogan’s rhetoric and that of Dogu Perincek, today the intellectual leader of the Turkish military, increasingly appears to fulfill the various definitions of genocide enshrined in the Genocide Convention and the Rwanda Media Case.

Erdogan benefits and always has benefited from officials who deny reality for the sake of diplomatic nicety or wishful thinking. In the last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis provide just the most recent examples. It’s time to call a spade a spade, however. As Erdogan plots his future course, it’s increasingly likely he will deserve not honors and accolades, but a place in the docket at The Hague.