Turkey unrest ‘payback’ for fueling Syria insurgency?

By Aaron Klein

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TEL AVIV – Are instigators of the uprising in Turkey being coordinated by foreign powers, as the country has claimed?

Are the violent anti-Turkish government protests being used in any way as “payback” for the country’s central role in fueling, arming and funding the insurgency against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria?

The protests began Friday purportedly in response to a government plan to convert an inner city Istanbul park into an Ottoman-style shopping center. The unrest has quickly fomented into the largest and most violent anti-government protests that Turkey has seen in years.

Calling the protesters an “extremist fringe,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has blamed the secular opposition Republican People’s Party for provoking the unrest.

Speaking during a visit to Morocco Monday, Erdogan announced Turkish intelligence is looking into possible links between the protests and what he called “foreign powers.”

Yesterday, he expanded his theory on who is behind the protests to opponents using social media, including Twitter.

“We think that the main opposition party, which is making resistance calls on every street, is provoking these protests,” Erdogan said on Turkish television.

“There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

Although he did not name the “foreign powers” supposedly being investigated by Turkish intelligence, the most obvious state actors that would stand to gain from the unrest are Syria, Iran and Russia.

The Republican People’s Party, the main opposition party in Turkey, has longstanding ideological ties to Russia, although there is no known evidence the two are working together.

Turkey is the primary country aiding the insurgency against Assad in Syria. Turkey has been used as a forward base for the thousands of jihadists streaming into neighboring Syria to attack regime targets. Turkey has reportedly been arming the Syria opposition and recruiting fighters to join the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.

Additionally, Erdogan has been leading a campaign calling for an international, NATO-led no-fly-zone to be imposed in Syria.

Iran and Russia, on the other hand, have been the main state actors aiding Assad. Russia has been supplying advanced weaponry to the Assad regime.

The Republican People’s Party is a Kemalist, social-liberal and social democratic political party in Turkey.

The party was founded on Kemalist principals, the political ideology of Mustafa Kemal, who founded Turkey in 1923.

Kemal worked closely with the Soviet Union, signing a “Friendship and Brotherhood” treaty that allowed the Soviets to arm his military adventures.

The current platform of the Republican People’s Party leading the protests is the same “six arrows,” or six principles, of Kemal’s ideology: republicanism, nationalism, statism, populism, secularism and revolutionism.

While Kemal did not see Soviet-style communism as best for Turkey in the 1920s, his ideology was steeped in communist influence.

The principle of Kemalist Statism, for example, put the state as the regulator of economic activities. Like Soviet communism, Kemal’s statism in practice saw the state emerge as the major owner of industries.

Writing in the International Review of Turkish Studies, author Vahram Ter-Matevosyan addressed the Soviet influence on Kemalism.

“Observation of the Soviet historiography reveals some important aspects of the Soviet treatment of political and social transformations that took place in Turkey in the 1920-30s,” wrote Matevosyan.

“Soviet diplomats, ideologues and intellectuals dealing with Turkey at the time treated the deeds of Mustafa Kemal with visible admiration and were among the first to identify and emphasize the inherent ideological components existent in his massive undertakings.”

The modern Republican People’s Party, which sees itself as the ideological heir to Kemal, is a member of the Socialists International, the world’s largest socialist umbrella group. It is also an associate member of the Party of European Socialists.

Since the protests in Turkey began, Iran has signaled a newfound willingness to bring Turkey to a settlement with Damascus.

On Friday, Iran’s Ambassador to Turkey, Alireza Bigdeli, said the restoration of ties and interaction between Ankara and Damascus can help resolve the conflict in Syria.

“If need be, Iran can mediate in that regard,” Bigdeli said.

On Sunday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, described the protests rocking Turkey as an “internal affair” he hoped “would be resolved in a peaceful manner with the prudence of Turkish leaders.”

With additional research by Joshua Klein.

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