In the Spring of 2015, Turkish police intercepted what they said were weapons about to be smuggled across the border into Syria and provided to Islamist terrorists. As you might expect, the Big Bust got a lot of coverage from some elements of the Turkish media, especially as the Police said, the people delivering the weapons were members of the Turkish military or security services.
This gave the story global legs since it seemed to confirm other reports that the Turkish Government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was secretly enabling the arch-enemies of his supposed ally, the United States.
For Erdogan, this was several different kinds of bad news, and it got a powerful response. Several of the cops who made the bust and told about it have lost their jobs, some have been prosecuted. The Turkish journalists who spread the embarrassing news have also been threatened, or punished.
The official story, offered by both the allied Turkish and American governments, is that the border is now better controlled. But every week fresh and terrible evidence of how porous the Turkish-Syrian border really is shows up on both sides…Islamic State terrorists entering Turkey to murder their opponents, especially Syrian journalists…fresh weapons and recruits continuing to make their way to IS fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Both sides have tired of pretending to like one another…and in Turkey, anger at America, which has been kept on a low but steady flame for close to a decade, is at blow-torch levels ever since an AFP news-photographer posted pictures of American Special Forces in Syria, not just working with fighters from the Kurdish YPG, but wearing their insignia patches on their battle suits.
The YPG started as a youth wing of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, a terrorist group which is regarded as Public Enemy #1 by President Erdogan. It is now the prime Kurdish paramilitary force in northern Syria, and is regarded as Effective Ally #1 in the American-led war against the Islamic State.
This contradiction has been publicly known in Turkey for some time now, and many people have been asking, “can the friend of our enemy be our friend?” After the publication of the pictures of the US soldiers wearing the YPG patches, a lot of Turks have stopped wondering about the question, and concluded the answer is No. The US is not Turkey’s friend, nor should it be treated as Turkey’s ally.
If this conclusion is sufficiently accepted by the Turkish people and by the ever-more-dictatorial Turkish President, the consequence could be many and serious.
Our guest today, Turkish journalist and scholar Pinar Tremblay, a columnist for the Turkish online news-site T24 and the global online news magazine Al-Monitor, has been writing about the explosive photograph, and the several signs that Turkish society may be coming apart, not just about the war with the Islamic State, not just about the war with the PKK, but about open and vicious civil conflicts that shake everything from the highest institutions of government to the public streets and squares and Turkey’s very active social media.
Pinar Tremblay is a visiting scholar of political science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She is a columnist for Turkish news outlet T24. Her articles have appeared in Time, New America, Hurriyet Daily News, Todays Zaman, Star and Salon.