WASHINGTON – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s continued pressure on the European Union to allow Turkish citizens to enter Europe visa-free and his demand for more than $3 billion to hold back a further flood of Syrian refugees may have an ulterior motive, regional experts tell Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
Erdogan appears to be holding Europe hostage in threatening to unleash hundreds of thousands more unvetted Syrian refugees into Europe if the European Union doesn’t grant Turkey the visa-free arrangement that EU members share called the Schengen Agreement.
For more than two decades, Turkey, a longstanding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has sought to join the EU, but now Erdogan appears to have the leverage to at least extract elements of EU membership, including allowing Turkish citizens to travel to Europe without a visa.
As G2 Bulletin recently reported, however, a visa-free deal with Europe could allow ISIS fighters to travel not only into Europe but also enter the United States after establishing residence in an EU country.
A Middle East analyst told G2 Bulletin that Erdogan, who is waging a major internal conflict with the Kurdish ethnic minority, may see the visa-free effort as a way to get the Kurds to leave Turkey altogether.
‘Erdogan wants the Kurds out’
The Kurds comprise some 20 percent of Turkey’s almost 80 million people, principally in the southeast portion of the country bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Kurds in those countries seek an autonomous state called Kurdistan.
Kurds in northern Syria and northern Iraq already have declared autonomy from their governments, although they envision a federalist approach at this point rather than outright independence.
“Erdogan wants the Kurds out so that he can modify the constitution to change the government in Turkey from a parliamentarian to a presidential system,” the analyst told G2 Bulletin.
In effect, he said, Erdogan has become an autocrat, seeking to consolidate all power under him.
Such power resides at the moment with the prime minister, whom Erdogan fired two weeks ago.
To achieve his goal, Erdogan needs a super majority, or two-thirds, of the 550-member Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Currently, his Justice and Development Party, the AKP, forms a majority but not enough to modify the constitution.
He’s already gotten the Turkish parliament to remove immunity from Kurdish parliamentarians so he can accuse them of being “terrorists” and have them replaced with AKP members.
He also has undertaken a bombing campaign on Kurdish cities, many of which look like bombed-out Syrian cities, in an all-out war against the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK.
After a two-year hiatus, the war between Erdogan and the PKK resumed a few months ago when he rejected an agreement between the government and the Kurds.
Erdogan also is at odds with the U.S., since Washington is providing military assistance to the Syrian Kurds, or YPG fighting units, which Erdogan regards as terrorists and linked to the PKK in Turkey.
The Syrian Kurdish fighting units, which also are comprised of Arabs in northern Syria, constitute the ground troops against ISIS. The Kurds are backed up by U.S. fighter jets which are bombing ISIS and the Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian offshoot of al-Qaida.
Middle East expert Robert Fisk, who writes for the London Independent from Beirut, Lebanon, said the “Sultan of Turkey,” Erdogan, has threatened to kill the Arab refugee deal if the Europeans don’t allow Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the EU.