Turkey is alone. First, we’ll take a look at the racist reasons for this. If 39 men and women had been slaughtered in Paris or Brussels or Berlin on New Year’s Eve, the headlines would ripple on for three or four days. Two or three days if the victims had been western European. But of course, this being Turkey, which is a Muslim country – whose people are not always as white as those from “Christendom” – the headlines drifted off far more quickly. Not our lot, we Westerners said.
Thus few readers of this article will know that, proportionately, Arabs were among the largest number of casualties of this mass murder: from tiny Lebanon alone, three dead and four wounded, both Muslims and Christians. We are quite unaware of the outrage in Lebanon at the domestic television coverage of the massacre victims – morbid, sensational, deeply intrusive interviews with collapsing family members, so gruesome that even the Lebanese prime minister had to plead with journalists to leave relatives alone.
Then there are the military reasons. Hasn’t Turkey been playing fast and loose in the Syrian war? Hasn’t it allowed weapons and money to be funnelled across its border to Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra (aka al-Qaeda, the murderers of 9/11 and the heroes of eastern Aleppo) and to various US and British-backed “moderates”, who can kill without apparently being “jihadis”? Hasn’t Turkey gone back to war with its own Kurds and the Syrian Kurds, too? Hasn’t the Turkish army – the largest in Nato, although for some reason we don’t mention this these days – been a bit disloyal recently?
For last July’s attempted coup – despite all the claptrap about “Gulenists” – was essentially a military plot to overthrow President Recep Tayip Erdogan. If a democratically-elected dictator (of which there are a growing number around the world) wants to act as a conduit in a neighbour’s civil war – as Pakistan did in Afghanistan, channelling weapons, funds and fighters to combat the Russians with American and Saudi help and encouragement – what does it expect but massacres in its own major cities? Touch Afghanistan, and the Pakistanis found the Taliban marching on Islamabad. Touch Syria, and the fireworks explode in your back yard.
Then there are the political reasons. The Turks used to want to join the EU; they’re not so keen now, and who can blame them? So their present policy is to take the EU’s massive bribes (courtesy of Angela Merkel) for closing the seas to Muslim refugees trying to reach Europe and demand the promised visa-free trips to Europe for its 79 million citizens, while at the same time making up with Russia, Iran, China and any other non-Arab nations that might be friends.
Oddly for a man who is nostalgic for the old Turkish empire – hence, I suppose, his newly-gilded palace in Istanbul — Erdogan has turned anti-Ottoman in his foreign policy, virtually ignoring the Arabs whom he courted after the 2011 revolutions in favour of larger powers.
Erdogan, who demanded that Trump’s name be taken off his towers in Istanbul after the then presidential candidate called for restrictions on Muslim immigrants, now thinks he may get a critic-free ride from the new guy in the White House. I wouldn’t be so sure.
And that’s part of the problem. For Erdogan is now so fickle in his alliances, shooting down a Russian jet and then cosying up to Russia’s president, loving Assad at the start of the Syrian revolution and hating him later, flirting with Europe and then jeering at the EU, that no-one in their right mind would want to get too close to the Caliph himself.
Anyone who can bomb Kurds while claiming to bomb Isis, who can demand that no power dare interfere in his country’s “domestic affairs” while positioning Turkish troops in both Syria and Iraq (where Turkey’s involvement outside Mosul is enraging the Baghdad government) is clearly walking a very dangerous path.
So what’s next? More massacres? Of course. From Isis, Kurds, Marxists, you name it. More attempted coups? Now there’s the more important political and military question.
More than 7,000 Turkish soldiers, including 164 generals, had been detained by last October. Not, surely, just to punish them. Any sane army knows that when you throw that many soldiers into the clink, it’s not to hand them over to the judiciary, many of whose members have anyway been savaged by detentions.
No, the mass arrests among Nato’s largest army is to prevent the military staging a more successful coup attempt – in which the Caliph himself would end up in prison. Or worse.
Robert Fisk is the multi-award winning Middle East correspondent of The Independent, based in Beirut. He has lived in the Arab world for more than 40 years, covering Lebanon, five Israeli invasions, the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Algerian civil war, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the Bosnian and Kosovo wars, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq and the 2011 Arab revolutions. Occasionally describing himself as an ‘Ottoman correspondent’ because of the huge area he covers, Fisk joined The Independent in 1989. He has written best-selling books on the Middle East, including Pity the Nation and The Great War for Civilisation. He was born in Kent in 1946 and gained his BA in English and Classics at Lancaster University. He holds a PhD in politics from Trinity College, Dublin.