Helping the Syrian Rebels
* Is the Turkish-U.S. deal to train and equip Syrian rebels a serious agreement?
No, both sides are only pretending to cooperate.
* Does Washington trust Ankara?
On the Syria issue, no.
* Are you more sympathetic to the Turkish or American position about helping the opposition?
Perhaps surprisingly, I agree more with Ankara than Washington on this one. External aid should go to fight not just ISIS but also the regime in Damascus, its Hizbullah ally, and its Iranian patron.
* Is the U.S. government ready to put American "boots on the ground" in Iraq and Syria?
Definitely not. The Afghan and Iraqi experiences are still fresh and their memories with the American public unpleasant. Plus, Barack Obama rose to prominence through opposition to the U.S. military presence in Iraq. I too am against inserting ground troops, because the Syrian civil war is not our war. As I put it, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires us to get involved in every foreign conflict.
* How do you evaluate the resignation of intelligence chief Hakan Fidan to run for parliament?
I have seen contradictory assessments: that Fidan took this step because he is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's preferred candidate to be Turkey's next prime minister; or that Prime Minister Davutoğlu "stole" him from the president to help him in his next cabinet. The latter makes more sense to me.
Hakan Fidan, former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT.
* Do you see Davutoğlu rebelling against Erdoğan's domination of the government?
It clearly must be a temptation for him, if only because the prime minister, not the president, is supposed to head the Republic of Turkey. But I don't see Davutoğlu having the nerve to defy Erdoğan. In the end, he will obey his master's wishes.
* Do you see Erdoğan getting enough votes in the June election to build the presidential system he wants?
Yes. In part, because he knows how to inspire his constituency. And in part, because the AKP knows how to manipulate elections.
* Do you think the main opposition party, the leftist CHP, perhaps in alliance with the Kurdish HDP, could win those elections?
I do not. The opposition parties have failed every chance so far and I do not see their making the essential changes needed to win the next elections.
* How do assess Erdoğan's future?
Troubled, because he embodies a contradiction: His mastery of Turkish politics inspires him to think he can behave in the same assertive manner abroad – but he cannot. He may win every election in Turkey but his aggression has created problems in the entire region. I predict this will be his undoing.
* How do you assess the Internal Security Law now under consideration by parliament?
It is the most important single step in Erdoğan's effort to build a police state. Should it become law, many years will pass before Turkey returns to freedom.
Members of the Turkish parliament scuffle over the proposed Internal Security Law.
* Your overall assessment of Erdoğan's move to autocracy?
I agree with the Financial Times that his drive for power means that Turkey's "international role is diminishing, its economic prospects are becoming clouded and its vibrant population is falling under his shadow."
The "Shah-Euphrates" Operation
* What was the reason for the Turkish army's entry into Syria on Feb. 21-22, in what Turks call the "Şah-Firat" operation?
Turkish forces spent several hours deep within Syrian territory to reach the Süleyman Shah Tomb (find it on an online map at 36°38'22.0"N 38°12'27.0"E), purported to belong to the grandfather of the ancestral founder of the Ottoman Empire. They rescued 38 Turkish soldiers protecting the tomb, removed the contents of the tomb, and destroyed the buildings. They did so because the Islamic State (ISIS) could have captured the tomb, taken the soldiers hostage, and thereby created a public relations disaster for the AKP government in advance of the June 7 elections.
The Suleyman Shah Tomb, 1973 to February 2015.
* How do you assess the fact that Turkish forces did not save but destroyed the tomb?
Just as the soldiers had to be removed, so the structure had to be destroyed – to eliminate any opportunity for ISIS to claim a victory. It's a short-term humiliation, of course, but one well worth the price for the AKP to avoid electoral problems.
* Did the Turkish Army conduct this operation with the Syrian Kurds of the Democratic Union Party (PYD)?
Yes. Ironically, the best way to reach the old tomb is through territory controlled by the PYD. Cooperating with the PYD was another humiliation the AKP government accepted, again to avoid electoral problems.
* The Turkish army placed the tomb's contents in a new location; has it strategic importance?
The tomb's new location (at 36°52′45″N 38°6′20″E), has no importance in itself. It has two noteworthy features, however: It is still located within Syria, meaning that Ankara retains its sovereign claim to a tiny part of Syrian territory; plus, it is just 200 meters from the border, and thus easily defended by the Turkish military.
* How will "Şah-Firat" affect Turkish-Syrian relations?
By doing long-term damage. Article 9 of the 1921 Treaty of Ankara that regulates the Süleyman Shah Tomb states that it "shall remain, with its appurtenances, the property of Turkey, who may appoint guardians for it and may hoist the Turkish flag there." Note that property of Turkey is not the same as sovereign territory of Turkey, which is what the AKP government claims. One day, when Damascus recovers, it will have strong opinions about Ankara's unilateral removal of the tomb from one part of Syria to another.
Where the tomb used to be:
Where the Suleyman Shah Tomb was since 1973.
Where the tomb now is:
Where the Suleyman Shah Tomb is since Feb. 22, 2015.
Mar. 11, 2015 update: Writing in the Turkey Analyst, M.K. Kaya agrees with my interpretation above of the Fidan affair, which ended with him returning to the intelligence position he had left a month earlier:
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu suffered a serious setback when he was forced to let Hakan Fidan return to MIT. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan needed not only to have his confidante back at the helm of the critically important MIT, but also to ensure that the circle around Davutoğlu did not succeed in its bid to become a power centre on its own right. Erdoğan correctly saw the emerging Davutoğlu-Fidan alliance as an alliance that had the potential to reconfigure the power status quo within the AKP.