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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 Two

August 14, 2016


(This, and the entry that precedes it, 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 Two is below.)

Interview continued…

Rob Prince: Now let’s return to Turkey. I want to put its current position within a regional perspective but briefly so that we can concentrate on Turkey’s role in Syria.

First of all what we are seeing in terms of the aftermath of the failed Turkish coup is a certain distancing, it seems, of Turkey from NATO and the United States, although how far is not clear and there are those “red lines” referred to earlier. Turkey is no long begging “please let us into the European Union instead it is looking both east and more towards its own region, the Middle East and the Turkish speaking zones of Central Asia. That seems clear.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: That’s one school of thought.

Rob Prince: Yes, it seems complicated for Turkey to simply walk away from NATO and the United States, as if they could walk away from the military base at Incirlik after more than half a century. That seems to be one of the red lines that certainly would be difficult for Turkey to cross.

Jim Nelson: with its eighty or so hydrogen bombs. But I do have a question. In Kerry’s case, as he sees Syria being divided up with Turkey controlling the northern areas that would included ISIS and other rebel groups, would Turkey – at least in the eyes of the United States – not putting its full weight in going after ISIS, but going after the Kurds instead, I’m just wondering if the United States would be using that northern area as a way to help Turkey.

Rob Prince: No – that’s where the tension lies. So let’s get to this right now. Basically the tension is over Syria and it’s over the failure of the United States and its allies to overthrow the Assad government. Turkey’s concern is that the United States is trying to set up an independent Kurdish nation which the peoples of the Middle East speak of as “a second Tel Aviv,” a second Israel, a strategic asset. The Turks are concerned because they see this as destabilizing their country. So there is great tension between the United States and Turkey over that.

Ibrahim, can you elaborate on this broader question of Turkey’s role in Syria.

Jim Nelson: ISIS is also destabilizing

Ibrahim Kazerooni: I wouldn’t agree; it depends on which premise we put forward.

If you go back to the beginning of the Syrian crisis and see mercenary groups like Jabhat Al Nusra and other similar violent groups, these people have been supported right from the beginning by one regional ally or the other. American weapons going from Libya to them, going from Libya, from Saudi Arabia, their being trained in Jordan, trained in Turkey, trained in Qatar – and so on. So I don’t believe this so-called “constructed narrative” that the United States considers these people as violent, and so on. Under one definition or another they have always been supported by the United States, it might not be directly, but definitely indirectly.

One point I want to add to Rob’s earlier comments…

The (Incirlik) base in Turkey was the second most important U.S. base in the Middle East after the base in Northern Iran that was literally littered with listening devices, etc, in controlling the Soviet Union at the time. For nearly one thousand kilometers (650 miles) there were hundreds, if not thousands, of listening stations that monitored Soviet moments.

The (1979) Islamic Revolution of Iran and the fall of the Shah literally transformed the balance of power in the region and suddenly stopped that base. This gave the Incirlek base in Turkey its huge and critical importance that it has today, in the absence of the Iranian base.

That’s Number one.

But with regard to this point here, with regards to Jabhat Al Nusra and others, I go back to the point that I raised with regard to Gulen and Erdogan.

The Turkish army comes from the urban community and it needs stability to flourish, economically and in every other ways. It sees Turkey’s “open door policy” towards this terrorist organization as destabilizing not only to an economic stability of Turkish society but it has strengthen the position of the Kurdish movement which for many years, if not many decades, the Turkish army tried to subdue. So that is the basis of the army’s discontent. On the other hand, the Turkish nationalists that support Erdogan support a policy of expansion. They want to control more land and hence they controlled a part of Syria until 1923 when they were forced to give it up; they want to re-annex that section (along Syria’s Mediterranean coast) as well as other sections of near the Syrian border. They have talked about this openly. They are pressing for yet another portion of Syrian to be under Turkish influence.

This is similar to Israel’s policy of expansion in the West Bank with settlers moving in; there are Turkish settlers moving into northwestern Syria and before you know it, it’s simply swallowed.

Jim Nelson: Ibrahim, we have a caller. We have Christy-Ann from Ft. Collins calling.

Caller (Christy-Ann from Ft. Collins): Hello, I’m really enjoying the program and I’m hoping that there is more discussion about this in the future because I feel like this (Middle East wars) can go on and on. I’m hoping that my question doesn’t derail the conversation because I know that you are trying to focus on the failed coup in Turkey however, Ibrahim, you said something earlier about various groups that the U.S. is supporting monetarily and perhaps militarily that we’re not calling terrorist organizations but they are. I was wondering if you could just briefly map that out for me where we are doing this in the world and who are these groups?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Well there are thousands of them; that’s the problem. I’m grateful for the opportunity to elaborate on this. If you go back to 2011 when (Robert) Ford, then U.S. Ambassador to Syria, made his position clear that the United States had trained 5000 so-called “sleeper cells” in Syria waiting for an opportune moment. They morph over the many years; as one loses ground, another one appears. But there are two major ones. There is Jabhat Al Nusra, which has fighters in the south as well as in the north of Syria. There they are close to the Turkish border and in the south they are close to the Jordanian border and the Israeli Occupied Territories.

Every time that they get injured, in the southern area they are being treated in Israeli hospitals; in the north they are taken to Turkey to be treated. So these the same people, who, if you go back and read about the uprising in Syria were there at the beginning. If you send me an email I can make a list of how the uprising started and how these groups morphed from one group into another. But at the moment Daesh and ISIS – Al Qaeda is no longer a name that we can use; it is just outdated – Daesh and ISIS, sometimes they become synonymous and Jabhat Al Nusra, which is the main, major groups. There are minor ones, each of which occupies one village or two – but these (Jabhat Al Nusra and Daesh) are the major ones. The United States has supported Jabhat Al Nusra on a number of occasions with huge amounts of money and weapons.

Rob Prince: Can I add something here to give you some historical perspective, Christy-Ann?

I’m using a quote from Balzac and the approximate quote is that there are two kinds of history, the history we learn in school which is not particularly accurate, and then there is the hidden history, which is shameful. In U.S. foreign policy there is an awful lot of stuff that transpires beneath the surface.

Secondly, if you look historically it’s not it’s not something that just started in 2000, but over the past century whether it was the British or the United States or the French that they would use different religious groups to try to neutralize nationalism in the region and basically that is still what we are seeing taking place in Syria.

A part of the problem of understanding the Syrian crisis is that when you hear that, oh, the United States is funding this or that group, the groups that Ibrahim mentioned, that it strains one’s credibility in a certain way. August 12, 2016. But this is an integral part of American foreign policy.

We talk about a term which refer to as plausible deniability meaning that the United States can say that “well, we’re not part of this; we’re not responsible.” But when we follow the money, and over time one can do it, one makes these connections and that they are quite real. Certainly the Syrian case is an absolutely classic example of groups that are funded either by the United States or by its allies, in this case to try to bring down the Syrian government.

I hope that helps.

Caller (Christy-Ann from Ft. Collins): It does, but that leads me to more questions. Is this funded with U.S. tax dollars?

Rob Prince: Absolutely.

Chanting "Death to America" thousands of Turks demonstrated outside the U.S-NATO Incirlik Air Base calling for it closing. Not likely to happen, but it becomes a way for Turkish President Erdogan to leverage pressure on the Obama Administration visavis the Syrian Kurds

Chanting “Death to America” thousands of Turks demonstrated outside the U.S-NATO Incirlik Air Base calling for it closing. Not likely to happen, but it becomes a way for Turkish President Erdogan to leverage pressure on the Obama Administration visavis the Syrian Kurds

Caller (Christy-Ann from Ft. Collins): And is this a bipartisan policy, Republican and Democrats both?

Rob Prince: Yes it is. It’s a bipartisan policy. There is not much difference between the two.

Caller (Christy-Ann from Ft. Collins): Then it seems to me that would be enough to anger every American that our tax dollars are going to fuel these destabilizing movements.

Rob Prince: You’re right! This is an appropriate way to raise these issues and by the way, if you look at the classic position of the peace movement it’s been: Don’t use this tax dollars for war or these secret awful operations, use them to help rebuild our country, for jobs, education, healthcare here at home. So you are “right on;” this is the way to raise the peace issue in a way to touch the American people and trying to turn them around on what is today a dangerous and destructive foreign policy. You hit the nail on the head, quite frankly.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: I just want to add to what Rob just said. Christy-Ann can go to Google and simply type in “regimes that the United States has attacked or changed since World War II and you’ll see a list of over one hundred of them. So Syria is not an exception. It is a part of the pattern.

Rob Prince: Think of the way that the Obama Administration played with the Libyan invasion. What did Obama say…”Oh, we didn’t do it; it was the French and the Italians, whomever. Yet later, what does he admit? That the invasion of Libya was what he called the worst mistake of his presidency. And who pushed him into that, but Hillary (Clinton)? Leaving the question of Hillary Clinton aside for the moment what comes out of the fog is that, to the contrary, the United States was behind the overthrow of Khadaffi but it was carried out in such a way that at the time Obama could distance himself from the decision to go to that war and ultimately, the management of the whole affair. Plausible deniability.

These wars in the Middle East do not take place without a green light from Washington – and not just a green light by the way, but the ultimate management of the wars, directing, managing, stage managing the policies.

Jim Nelson: And so to bring it all this back to Turkey how do we see the Turkish-Syrian dynamic there. How do we see Turkey playing a role in dealing with Syria considering the recent coup attempt and clamp down on Erdogan’s opposition?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Well as far as the Syrian issue is concerned, I believe the so-called opposition has lost so much ground over the past few years that really this desperate attempt by the United States is to salvage something, the sooner the better otherwise they will not get anything. The Syrian government along with the help of Russia as well as its own allies are moving as fast as they can to recapture areas.

There was an article a few days ago in one of the major Middle East newspapers comparing the size the territories controlled by the so-called rebels and those controlled by the Syrian government. Within the last few years the rebels have lost more than 65% of the territories in both Iraq and Syria. It’s only a matter of time before they (the rebels) will lose everything. And since the warmongers – like John Kerry and others – tried to force the government into attacking Syria – but it didn’t work – if the United States doesn’t move fast to salvage something out of it, there will be nothing left for them to salvage. This is why we see these peculiar ideas coming up.

Syria is moving in a direction that the United States did not envisage, a direction towards which the Russians wanted to move. Ultimately, it is the central government (the Assad government) that will be in full control; it is the one that ultimately will make a deal with the opposition based on some sort of power sharing arrangement but the centrality, the unity of the Syrian state would remain preserved. This is not what the United States wants.

Rob Prince: Ibrahim, one more question. Why are these developments on the ground in Syria, the advances on the ground of the Assad government, why is this a threat to Turkey? What do the Syrian events have to do with provoking the Turkish coup attempt?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: As I said earlier, the military comes mainly from the Turkish middle class. The middle class wants stability for business. Turkey has benefitted hugely when it was stable for investment (and so on) and they consider this ultra-nationalistic and religious fervor; they consider this religious fervor of this ultra-nationalistic rural supporters, where they want to go in to Syria and annex a part of it, – it is going to be detrimental to middle class interests and destabilize the situation. Particularly, Gulen’s ultra-nationalism has let the genie out of the box which was pent-up for a long time, the military was trying to keep under control, and that is the Kurds.

Jim Nelson: Ibrahim, there is another caller; go ahead Shareef.

Caller (Shareef from Denver): Greetings my dear friends, Rob and Ibrahim Kazerooni. This is a great topic tonight, but my question is that there have been a lot of reports that there has been a great deal of repression, reprisals from the Turkish government because of the coup and some reports are saying thousands of people are dying over there. Can you confirm or deny that?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Well I’m delighted to hear your voice Shareef. It’s been a long, long time since we got together. Yes, my latest search in the papers suggests that there have been a minimum of 5000 judges and other administrators removed from their positions and that supports my earlier argument concerning the differences between Erdogan’s and Gulen’s power base. Over 400 to 600 deans of various university departments have been dismissed: a number of private schools and private institutions that Gulen controls have been shut down as well as businesses that supported Gulen.

But worst of all is the repression against elements of the Turkish military. There are cruel pictures of this rural attack against these soldiers literally being killed on the street. This is extremely troubling and destabilizing but I believe that the U.S. media is under-reporting what is happening in Turkey, The Middle East papers are the ones that are reporting the repression on a more regular basis suggesting that the repression far exceeds the numbers that we are getting here in the United States.

Caller (Shareef from Denver): Is it fair to say that the United States wasn’t in support of this coup?

Rob Prince: At this point, Shareef, my sense of this is that the American role is not clear. What does appear to be taking place is that the United States is showing no serious opposition to what happened. It’s not condemning the repression, or if it is, very softly at most. And what we’re looking at – of course, it has a somewhat different political chemistry – we’re looking at one of the most extensive repressions since Allende was overthrown in Chile in 1973. It’s absolutely legitimate to bring this up; it’s horrible what is going on there.

And in terms of what exactly is the connection between the United States and Turkey in relationship to this coup attempt, …the main concern of the United States at this point is to preserve its alliance with Turkey: I’m convinced that is the most important thing. There are tensions over that Incirlek military base; Erdogan has made a bit deal over the U.S. sheltering Gulen. So on a number of grounds, the U.S. relationship with Turkey could fly apart. The most salient point I could make at this point is to underline the general silence of the Obama Administration in the light of the human rights violations taking place in Turkey and which need to be firmly condemned.

Caller (Shareef from Denver): Alright, thank you brothers, great show tonight.

Jim Nelson: We only have a few minutes left in the program, so maybe we should start wrapping up a bit?

Rob Prince: Well I’m just going to build on what I just said to Shareef. The points that I note are:

1. the lack of condemnation on the part of the Obama Administration for the repression which has followed the coup. This was also the case of the presidential candidates whose comments were very soft. Think if this had happened in many other places: they’d be screaming. That’s already telling us something
2. that U.S.- Turkish relations are in a flux; it’s difficult to determine where they are going at the moment. They could be headed in somewhat different directions

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Well I agree with Rob.

3. I think that U.S. regional interests are the defining factor but at the same time if we were to believe Michel Kilau’s recent expose and the United States seems to be prepared to give a chunk of Syrian land to Turkey, this really indicates that despite everything that Turkey is still functioning within the desired U.S. parameters and this is why Turkey has a bit of flexibility “lateral movement” to pursue its current national interests
4. It remains to be seen if there has been – or there is – any tension between Washington and Ankara, how much Turkey is going to play its Russia-China-Iran card which was typical of bipolar system of the Cold War

Rob Prince: And also the Great Game of the nineteenth century.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. SK Levin permalink
    August 16, 2016 6:16 am

    Interesting. Thanks. Hungry for more.


    • August 16, 2016 6:50 am

      “More” will be posted later today, actually in a few minutes…Cheers to you and “Le Baron”


  1. 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 |

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