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Turkey and Syria After The Failed Attempted Turkish Coup: Interview with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU, Boulder. “Hemispheres Program.” Tues, July, 28, 2016. Part One

August 14, 2016
U.S F-16 jet fighters at Incirlik Military Base, Southeast, Turkey

U.S F-16 jet fighters at Incirlik Military Base, Southeast, Turkey

(This, and the entry that follows, are Parts One and Two of an hour-long interview done on KGNU radio/Boulder Colorado by Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. It is a part of a series that KGNU has run with them for five years. The entire program runs close to an hour. Part One is below; here is Part Two.)

This evening on Hemispheres the Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Tonight Ibrahim and Rob will discuss the failed coup in Turkey. Ibrahim and Rob will look at what is behind the internal repression going on in Turkey. Also, will Turkey’s relationship with Syria and with the Kurds change post-coup? Will relations with the west and the United States in particular change post-coup? All that and more along with listener phone calls will be welcome.

Jim Nelson (Host): Let’s move on to the failed coup in Turkey and there have been a number of articles about the current coup in Turkey, including yours, Rob. There are a lot of rumors about what his happening there. What’s the story?

Rob Prince: Once again we find ourselves in the situation where just prior to the program (Hemispheres) airs, there is some major new development and it happened again this time of course with this failed coup attempt in Turkey. Our general discussions about how to proceed tonight, were to talk about the coup somewhat, then the regional consequences of the coup as we understand them and then transition to the events in Syria. Without any doubt, the crisis in Turkey is related to the Syrian conflict.

For starters, a week ago, there was a coup attempt from a certain element of the Turkish military to overthrow the present government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Over the past few days, different dribs and drabs of information came out. I want to emphasize that in our studying what is going on there we do not intend to focus on the factors behind the coup because the situation is not clear, the coup’s causes remain murky.

We’re dealing in a region where every time there is a new event conspiracy theories are suggested. True enough, some conspiracies are real, unquestionably, and some are not. Figuring out which is which takes a bit of time. So in the case of this coup, it is a bit too early to identify who launched this coup attempt and for what reasons.

On the other hand, the consequences of the coup are unfolding with great speed.

So this is what we know at this point:

• We know that the coup itself was planned at a very important U.S. military base. It’s called Incirlik. Those of you that have followed Middle East policy would know that this base has been one of the most important foreign American military bases in the world for the last half century. It sits in the southeast corner of Turkey very close to the Syrian border. It’s a base that is jointly used by US and NATO forces on the one hand, and Turkish forces on the other. It is also a base that contains from 60-80 hydrogen bombs, the biggest concentration of nuclear weapons outside of the United States, all this in an areas of regional instability. It’s clear that it’s a major U.S. communications center, along with the U.S base in Baghdad and staging center for – whatever – counterinsurgency, military operations in Southwest Russia and throughout the Middle East. It was used to bomb Iraq for many years and now it’s being used to bomb Syria.

Jim Nelson: But this was base that wasn’t used in the initial attack of the Gulf War (2003)? The Turks wouldn’t let the U.S. use the air space and initiate bombing missions from there?

Rob Prince: That is correct – in the beginning of the war.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Until they (the Turks) received $7 billion and then everything changed.

Rob Prince: In any case there are a number of hypotheses out there

• One was that the coup was organized by Fetallhah Gulen, leader of a religious movement of that same name. He’s the leader of an Islamic sect. Those pointing the finger at Gulen are suggesting complicity with the United States in the coup in which the C.I.A. played an initiating role as a result of growing tensions between the United States and Turkey
• The second hypothesis is that the coup was a “false flag operation” as it is called, executed by Erdogan himself to provide the pretext for the massive purge of his domestic opponents which his government has unleashed
• There are also accusations floating around that Erdogan was tipped off by Russian intelligence just prior to the coup

We could waste a lot of time at this point speculating what are the valid reasons for the coup, what is behind it, but experience suggests, that in time, with investigators out there like Seymour Hersh and who knows whom else, we’ll find out.

Having said that, what can be said more definitively about this coup?

The first thing – striking to both of us (Kazerooni and Prince) – is how poorly it was planned. Coups generally take place when the opposition is weak and in crisis and the opposition is on the move, is getting stronger. If you know anything about the political situation in Turkey, Erdogan’s position in Turkey is very strong. From the outset it was the coup leaders who were isolated – and not Erdogan – from the outset. The coup was unable to pick up the momentum and support that would have swept it to power. The indications are that Erdogan has strengthened his position that much more in the post coup-attempt period.

Unquestionably what is shaping up is a purge of dramatic, unprecedented proportions and the results are going to be very ugly – and are already

Jim Nelson: I have a question – Rob I don’t know about your sources, and Ibrahim, this is for you as well – we’re talking thousands of civil servants, many professors at many universities and colleges that are being purged as well. It seems like a big vacuum to fill and I’m just wondering how long it will take to replace all these people.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: To get an answer to that questions you really need to go back to the point that Rob just made regarding this conflict between Gulen and Erdogan. Gulen is a shifty character to say the least, very quiet but at the same time extremely nationalistic in support of Turkish nationalism, extremely vocal in support of Sunni Islam against Shi’as. There are a number of recordings of him using foul language, very degrading language against the Shi’as in which he comments that if he had the chance he’d destroy them; he doesn’t even want to associate with them.

But this is neither here nor there – more important is how Gulen’s movement managed to get inside the educational system in Turkey during the first eight years of Erdogan’s power. They managed very quietly to control the system, in the universities, to establish schools and get into the main upper echelon of Turkish power. This is why Erdogan is really going after them and cleansing the whole system, shutting down Gulen schools, businesses, shutting down the universities or any other educational establishment that one way or another is related to Gulen’s movement.

To understand Gulen, the nearest simile that we can draw is the Moonie Movement of South Korea. It compares to the early part of the Moonie rise to power and influence and how they worked for an alliance of extremists and nationalists, in tandem with the United State, C.I.A. and other secret services, etc. They even had influence within the military, the junta that took over in South Korea.

This is how Gulen works and gradually he has worked himself into the different levels of Turkish society and I believe that Erdogan doesn’t want to take any chances.

Rob Prince: You know along these lines, what’s interesting is how off base the media here in the United States has been concerning the coup attempt. What they have been suggesting is that this was some kind of conflict between the more secular elements in the military on the one hand, and Islamic elements in Turkey on the other.

That’s quite an inaccurate assessment.

This is more to the point a struggle within two factions of Turkish Islam. More over, from what I can tell, the ideological differences between Erdogan and Gulen are minor: it’s a power struggle essentially. It reminds me of the early days of the Soviet Union when Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev are struggle for power within the same ideological framework.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: You see that the power base between the two individuals are totally different. Gulen’s so-called power base is primarily the urban, conservative middle class, while Erdogan’s is primarily among rural conservative and nationalist elements. They are two different classes – and this is why Gulen has been able to amass such a huge amount of financial resources because of his meddling within middle class business circles.

And ultimately it is not far off to use the term “state within a state” in Turkish society in reference to Gulen’s movement. And he sits in Pennsylvania – or wherever he sits – and ultimately directs the whole “shebang.” It should not be forgotten that these people – Erdogan and Gulen – worked together for a long period of time. They were allies against the more secular Turkish system.

I believe the first time I noticed that there was some kind of a rift between the two was when the Gulen Movement produced an exposé regarding a fixe soccer match in 2011. Gulen’s group spilled the beans against Erdogan’s. They wanted to undermine Erdogan’s position by implicating his role in the affair. Erdogan made sure that this issue never got to court and totally shut down the controversy. Ever since these two have not seen things eye to eye.

By the way the false flag operation which, Rob, to which you allude, Gulen was the first one who came up with the idea.

Jim Nelson: I just had a quick question. So if there are these two factions ..Turkey likes to present itself as being more western, being secular at times – I mean it has been trying to get into the European Union. But then I know that Erdogan has been definitely more religiously focused, but it seems that Turkey itself there are more Turkish citizens that are into the secular part of life rather than being in a religious dogmatic posture?

Rob Prince: Jim, you have to understand something here and that is that from the time of its creation in the early 1920s, the Turkish political system was based on what I would describe as a forced secular model. In fact many of the countries of the Middle East based their national movements on such a model. For example, for years, Tunisia was proud of the fact that early in its independence from France that it followed a model based on what Ataturk did in Turkey.

But to a certain degree that is history.

The model might have produced some development, but it did not produce democracy; it gave people “a half loaf” of the modernist promise (democracy and development). Over the last fifteen or twenty years what we’ve seen throughout the region – if you like – is the discrediting or shrinking of the more secular movements and the rise of these Islamic movements. We could see this before this coup in the purge of the military which really took place, prior. So we’re not talking about a secular military that is trying to overthrow the religious Erdogan. That’s not it. It’s which Islamic Sunni faction is going to rule and it’s pretty clear what the result is.

Ibrahim do want to add anything to that?

Turkish Peace Activist, academic, Esra Mungan

Turkish Peace Activist, academic, Esra Mungan, arrested in March (prior to the present coup-attempt.) She was one of 1128 Turkish academics who signed a statement “We Will Not Be A Party To This Crime” – against civilian violence in the ongoing conflict between the Turkish state, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and various other factions


Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, by the way if you back and see the different power bases for both Erdogan and Gulen. Because Gulen focuses on middle class urban society, this is why his influence in the military is strong while Erdogan’s influence in the police is strong because they come from a rural environment. And by the way it was the police who stopped the coup.

I believe there are overlaps between the two when it comes to nationalism, and so on. It’s more a question of how much (or how little) is Erdogan willing to share power with Gulen, and likewise, with Gulen, it is how much Gulen is prepared to share power with Erdogan. I believe both of them are absolutist in their position visavis absolute power. I don’t believe Erdogan is willing to get into some kind of marriage of convenience with Gulen.

Rob Prince: Now this question about Europe, we’ll come back to it in a second, it’s part of what we want to talk about, but I wanted to just add one thing in terms of the direction of this coup. What we see happening in Turkey is a kind of narrow, religious based, or ethnic based nationalism that’s coming to the fore as a way for Turkey to prepare for its role in this coming period. But if you think about that, remembering the shows that we’ve had over the last year, we see a very similar tendency in Saudi Arabia, a hardening – if that was even possible – of the Wahhabist regime, the attack on Yemen, the attack on Bahrein,

Then there is Israel where the religious right has continually greater influence that is also emerging, – emerging? – it has emerged – the continued blockade of Gaza with human consequences that are difficult to put into words – war crimes as far as I am concerned, tightening their control over the West Bank. Quietly, in the midst of all this turbulence, Israel has expanded its control over parts of the Golan Heights that are a part of Syria, near Kuneitra.

So we these tendencies towards narrow ethnic nationalism in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. Interestingly, these are three of the four major U.S. allies in the Middle East.

So Ibrahim, how do we explain the concurrent expansionist policies of all these U.S. Middle East Allies at this moment in time?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: I believe, as you indicated, we spoke about this in 2011 when we were trying to access and dissect what would be the U.S. reaction to the Arab Spring and we came up with some kind of a broad macro kind of understanding that the United States would give lateral freedom to its regional allies as long as they function within the ultimate goal of protecting U.S. interests in the region. Whether it’s Egypt, Israel, Turkey. Saudi Arabia – it really doesn’t matter – the overall plan is the protection of U.S. interests in the region and being subservient to those interests.

Where they differ – and I remember this conversation surfaced – when the book by Mearshimer came up about the Zionists controlling American foreign policy and I believe at that time, Chomsky was right in commenting: you shouldn’t look at the points of convergence, you should look at the points of divergence. Where the interests of the United States come into question, who is the boss and who takes the orders?

If we were to apply this here we see that all three, whether it’s Saudi Arabia with its Wahhabi mindset, or the Israeli right or Turkish military or anybody else, ultimately they are regional allies which means they must function within certain parameters of the U.S. interests. It becomes when it comes to applying this interest and becoming useful in the plan for the region, Syria becomes the classic case. If you remember again – we have discussed this many times within the rubric of the Doha Protocol – in which 2012 at that time the emir of Qatar, under the auspices of the United States and others influenced by the fanciful idea that Bechir Al Assad would not last a couple of weeks, they took all these mercenary groups under the umbrella of so-called opposition to Doha and imposed on them a kind of protocol, that once they come to power, they would apply Doha’s 13 points. Part of was to dismantle the army, etc. etc.

But the heart of the Doha Protocol was to break up Syria into small enclaves.

Recently there was a report out – and I have it in front of me. It came out on July 11, in which one of the Syria opposition members, which US called the moderate opposition, one Michel Kilau, – Christian Syria and he literally spilled the beans, that “we have been deceived by the United States all along thinking that once the opposition is going to win that the United States would permit us to control Syria in its totality as one country and we would establish democracy and everything else.

The new proposal which was submitted by Kerry to Lavrov and Lavrov responded with a scathing attack concerning any proposition that calls for any proposition that would result in the breaking up of Syria into enclaves. It has four major parts which if you compare the two together with the Doha Protocol of 2012 that these four parts are the core of the Doha Protocol you see once you dispense with the secondary issues.

No. 1 – We dispense with Geneva and the Geneva talks once and for all and we are not going to talk about anything concerning U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118. So there is no transitional government, there is no agreement between parties, there is no democratic movement, etc, etc.

No. 2 – Both the United States and Russia would work together on establishing a status quo, which means getting a cease-fire and as a consequence to the cease-fire Syria will be divided into three enclaves – first, the central government will control Damascus to the Mediterranean and a few other bits and pieces, including a little bit of land on the north at the moment controlled by the Kurds. Now when you hear this you are reminded of what the Israelis have done in the West Bank.

Rob Prince: and what they did in Iraq and what they did in Libya

Ibrahim Kazerooni: yes. Jabhat Al Nusra and Daesh or in other words these violent terrorist organizations that are fighting to the northwest will control the land and link to – not directly – but at least they will be under the influence of Turkey. The southern part, which is again under the control of Jabhat Al Nusra, with a few other ones that control the southern part of Syria, they would remain where they are and they would be influenced by exactly what you said, by Jordanians and Israelis directly and the United States indirectly.

The reason why the Israelis moved into Golan is in preparation for such an agreement. Once they control the southern part of Syria there is no need to give up the Golan Heights; it will automatically be swallowed.

What remains is a little bit of land under the control of ISIS and the other terrorist organizations on the eastern regions of Syria that borders Iraq. We will send international peace observers to literally control these areas and until some kind of agreement is reached between the United States and Russia regarding what to do with them, in de facto recognition, all this becomes three different states where these international observers with control of “major boundaries.” They are not saying “a new state” but “major boundaries.”

This was the “betrayal’ that Michel Kilau was talking about – that at the end of the day its final solution for Syria no longer staying in the old kind of shape that it used to be.

What is pushing the United States and (Secretary of State) John Kerry to come up with this kind of plan, hoping that Russia would agree with it is the fact that on the ground the mercenaries and the terrorist organizations that the United States supports under the pretext that they are moderate, they are losing ground literally on a day-by-day basis. To avoid the Syrian government winning control of the whole country – at the moment Halab is fully controlled, encircled by the Syrian government – it’s only a matter of time before it falls and Halab is eliminated from the equation.

Rob Prince: I’ve got a question for you Ibrahim on all this: What I get out of your discussion is that the United States is putting forth an old demand, not a new one. That Washington is trying to cut its loses to the degree possible and come up with the same political solution that it wanted in the past.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, the only difference here is that the United States wanted a military solution which it failed to gain.

Rob Prince: So what it failed to attain militarily, it is still trying to achieve politically. Another follow-up question: How have the Russians responded to Washington’s recent political initiative?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yesterday (July 28, 2016) – or the day prior, (Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei) Lavrov made a scathing attack on such a proposition and called it childish and unworkable. He added that Russia is not going to support any proposition that would divide or breakdown Syria.

End, Part One; Begin Part Two

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