Journal Entry: A New Dawn Breaks

After clashes between ‘People’s protection Units’ (YPG) and Turkish backed mercenaries of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) came to an abrupt end west of Manbij in early March, Turkey’s ‘Euphrates Shield’ operation essentially was put on hold. President Erdogan’s bid to dislodge YPG from Northern Syria, started in August of 2016, ended in stagnation. Forces from both Russia and US made sure that Ankara’s efforts to capture Manbij were nullified, and ‘Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) and FSA repelled(1, 2).

Manbij Situation map prior to March 29th. Credit for map goes to Transylvania Intelligence.

Manbij Situation map prior to March 29th. Credit for map goes to Transylvania Intelligence.

This embarrassed Ankara greatly and angered Turkish President Erdogan, as TSK and FSA could not advance any further, unless they wanted to be in direct conflict with Russia and US forces—something that Ankara was not prepared to do. With its hands tied and its forces forced to pull back, Turkey tried in vain to persuade US and Russia to reconsider their actions in Manbij (3). These meetings did not prove fruitful for Turkey and on March 29th, in a reluctant move, Ankara announced an end to its Euphrates Shield operation—one that lasted eight months(4). (August 24, 2016 to March 29th, 2017)

Military leaders meet in Atayla, Turkey March 7th. From Left to right: US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

Military leaders meet in Atayla, Turkey March 7th. From Left to right: US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

Meanwhile, focus now shifted for YPG, as external pressure that had sought to jeopardise Raqqa operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’ was reduced. ‘Syrian Democratic forces’ (SDF) resumed their push for Raqqa, heavily clashing with ISIS and edging ever closer towards the snake’s heart. Crossing the Euphrates River with the assistance of US Special forces, SDF troops set sights on a city west of Raqqa called, ‘Tabqa’ (5, 6). It stands as one of the last obstacles before Raqqa.

SDF forces airdropped behind enemy lines gear up to prepare an advance towards Tabqa dam.

SDF forces airdropped behind enemy lines gear up to prepare an advance towards Tabqa dam.

A strategically significant city known for its dam, Tabqa stood for many years under the occupation of ISIS militants, ever since August of 2014 (7). ‘Syrian Arab army’ (SAA) fought bitterly to maintain the city and its important airbase when ISIS militants were swarming around it, but were overwhelmed in the end. Majority of those captured were used for ISIS’ propaganda machine in execution videos and as a warning to those forces who dared to challenge it (8).

Years had passed since SAA’s defeat at Tabqa and ISIS now faced a new, as well as more determined foe. Coalition jets flew high above Tabqa and bombed positions around it, crippling ISIS militants defending its dam (9). Bullets ripped through the air, as SDF forces engaged with ISIS militants and edged their way closer to Tabqa’s airbase—taking it completely on March 26th  (10). In a last ditch effort, ISIS claimed that Tabqa dam was on the verge of collapse due to coalition airstrikes(11). These claims circulated widely, but had no basis in reality—disproved later by SDF engineers, who found only minor damage (12).

YPG spokesperson Cihan Sheikh Ahmed speaks from recently liberated Tabqa airbase.

YPG spokesperson Cihan Sheikh Ahmed speaks from recently liberated Tabqa airbase.

-Ankara’s eyes on Europe:

Ankara’s operation to oust YPG from Northern Syria may have been a failure, but Erdogan vowed to reignite new operations at a later date (13). ‘Justice and Development Party’ (AKP) now focused on other matters across the globe; namely, gaining support for a referendum to grant greater executive powers to Erdogan. From Germany to the Netherlands, Erdogan encouraged Turks living abroad to be sure to cast their ‘Evet’ [Yes] vote in April’s referendum (14). This call for support ignited a storm in Netherlands, as authorities turned back Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane and turned away other AKP agents from campaigning on Dutch soil (15).

Keeping in autocratic fashion, Erdogan denounced the Dutch government as Nazis—ironic given the president’s fascist tendencies (^Ibid). AKP loyalists in Rotterdam and Istanbul, meanwhile, committed mass genocide on oranges too, through the squashing of dozens of the delicious fruits in protest—a horrifying spectacle for many (16). When AKP loyalists were not butchering food products, they were protesting in the streets with Muslim Brotherhood and Grey wolves hand gestures. Some went so far as to infiltrate the Dutch consulate building in Istanbul and replace its Dutch flag with a Turkish one (17).

Evet supporters horrifically slaughter dozens of oranges in Istanbul.

Evet supporters horrifically slaughter dozens of oranges in Istanbul.

Growing autocracy in Turkey for Erdogan had been simmering for months, but it was drawing towards a singular defining moment—Turkish referendum. AKP’s domestic policy of cracking down on journalists and jailing those with a ‘whiff’ of ‘Kurdish Worker’s party’ (PKK) affiliation, such as members of the ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ (HDP), only could go so far (18). It would take more than this and anti-European rhetoric and crackdowns to win Erdogan the referendum. Economic and protection narratives became more prevalent in government spokespersons’ speeches (19).

Evet posters have Erdogan's face on them.

Evet posters have Erdogan’s face on them.

Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, did not listen to Ankara’s demands for US to end its support for YPG, when he came to Istanbul on March 28th (20). Ankara doesn’t seem to take the hint that maybe, just maybe, US does not want TSK and FSA to lead the Raqqa charge. A lack of organisation, centralisation and infighting amongst FSA does not look good to the ‘United States Central Command’ (CENTCOM). Moreover, why should the United States abandon an ally that repeatedly shows its effectiveness in combating ISIS? Besides, Trump Administration had more to deal with than just balancing its relations with Turkey and YPG.

Rex Tillerson meets with Erdogan.

Rex Tillerson meets with Erdogan.

-US’ reaction to another CW attack:

After a failed offensive by FSA and ‘Tahrir al-Sham’ (HTS) troops to capture northern Hama, bickering amongst Assad opposition forces increased, well SAA steadily pushed back against a splintered opposition (21). For many years now, the ‘Syrian Airforce’ (SyAF) and Russian Airforce had been targeting civilian centres in a long campaign to ‘eliminate terrorists’. (‘Terrorists’ referring to both jihadists and dissenters of Assad regime.) Dropping barrel bombs, using chlorine gas and other chemical weapons, pro-regime forces killed thousands of civilians in an effort to cripple what resistance remained (22).

The International community’s silence and inaction in prior years had given rise to a man who was not afraid to use whatever methods at his disposal to regain control of a broken country. In 2013, Assad showed the world what Sarin could do to thousands in Ghouta—dropping the substance and killing thousands through toxic suffocation (23). Denying responsibility and instead throwing blame on opposition forces, despite the overwhelming evidence presented by UN, Amnesty International, Doctors without borders and OPCW, even hiding behind Russia’s back, Assad displayed back then a refusal to care for the lives of civilians or take responsibility (24, 25, 26). The chemical weapon attacks in Khan Shaykhun in early April would show no different.

A mother and father weep at the sight of their dead child, who was killed in the Sarin gas attacks in East Ghousta, 2013.

A mother and father weep at the sight of their dead child, who was killed in the Sarin gas attacks in East Ghousta, 2013.

However, unlike the Obama Administration’s response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Ghouta (not doing enough), Khan Shaykhun would prompt Trump administration to take a much more ‘firmer’ stance.  In retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens, and after having his heart tugged on by the sight of dead children, Trump ordered 59 tomahawk missiles to be launched at an Assad [Shayrat] airbase—a poor move for Trump (27). A poor move, not because of the act itself, but because the administration decided to inform Russia—who informed the Assad regime—beforehand (28).

Flight path of SyAF from Shayrat airbase to Khan Shaykun. As provided by Pentagon.

Flight path of SyAF from Shayrat airbase to Khan Shaykun. As provided by Pentagon.

Russia’s ‘tip off’ to the Assad regime allowed for it to pull most of its aircraft from the airbase, in effect only allowing the missiles to destroy a few aircraft and kill a few SAA personnel (29). This ‘symbolic’ move by the Trump Administration to deter future CW attacks has yet to show its long-term effects. However, one can say that such an act only showed, what was already evident to many, that Russia’s dedication to its ally only is rhetorical. In other words, if US decided to send ground forces into Syria to overthrow Assad, then Russia would not be willing to confront it.

President Assad and President Trump. On opposite sides of the world.

President Assad and President Trump. On opposite sides of the world.

-A new phase with old problems:

Well Trump administration tried further to wedge itself between Russia and Assad regime, SDF forces continued to tighten the noose around Raqqa with continued attacks near Tabqa dam. These attacks aimed at setting the groundwork for Wrath of Euphrates’ next phase. Announced on April 13th by YPG command, as SDF and USSOF edged closer to Tabqa’s west, Raqqa operations entered a new [4th] phase—aim would be to cut supply routes to Raqqa and isolate it completely (30).

SDF commanders announce that liberation of Tabqa is next in Raqqa operations.

SDF commanders announce that liberation of Tabqa is next in Raqqa operations.

During the launch of the new phase, CENTCOM jets received poor ground intel from SDF commanders, which resulted in friendly fire that killed 18 SDF fighters—most from the ‘Raqqa Hawks Brigade’, a former FSA unit that joined SDF in 2016 (31, 32). FSA supporters, as usual, were quick to jump on this tragedy and claimed that Rojava forces were deliberately targeting Arab fighters within their own ranks. An absurd claim, given that there are a large number of Arab fighters fighting in Rojava forces and that are leading in the Raqqa offensive.

Always quick to target the YPG for any failure, the anti-YPG brigade was out in full force when these airstrikes happened. It is no surprise that such a high level of scrutiny was placed on the YPG, as many FSA supporters are quick to point out the faults of a different group and ignore their owns—usual tribalism on show. This was most evident with the apologetics surrounding the attack of busses transporting civilians, as well as SAA forces, from Madaya and Zabadani to the Idlib province.

Map shows area of attack in Idlib province.

Map shows area of attack in Idlib province.

A transfer and exchange deal, agreed to by Iranian militias and FSA, that was supposed to assure safe passage of civilians of Assad besieged cities in Damascus’ west and those of rebel besieged cities in North-west of Idlib, ended in blood shed (33, 34). A suicide bomber blew up busses filled with Shiite civilians and over a hundred died, including many children. FSA and Assad supporters blamed one another, but given the history of attacks by jihadists on Assad loyalists and civilians in the area, one is to wonder if HTS or ‘Ahrar Al-sham’ (AAS) is to blame (35).

Assad opposition had devolved over the years, from a centralised force that wanted to rid Assad and establish pluralistic democracy to a splintered opposition that now was dominated by jihadists who want an Islamic caliphate. This sad regression has been due to the longevity of the Syrian conflict, where thousands of Syrians have become desperate to end the conflict. Throwing their hopes on those who only seek to usher in a new tyranny, blinded by a mindset that has been brought up on Arab supremacy, many side with jihadist factions and any forces that depart from their mindset, such as Rojava forces. It is this mindset that Rojava forces are seeking to change.

FSA rebels of Al Sham brigade.

Jihadists of Jund al-Aqsa, prior to 2017, when their fighters joined HTS.

-Changing minds, but not allies:

Helping to establish a ‘Raqqa Civilian Council’ (RCC) to takeover after SDF have liberated the city of Raqqa, SDF are seeking to change the mindset that has long plagued Syria. Appointing Layla Mohammed—a feminist and Raqqa local—to co-head the Council, Rojava forces sought to make a statement (36). By empowering women and putting them in places of authority, Rojava forces seek to change the gender dynamics and slowly erode the religious traditionalism that had sought to subjugate women as second-class citizens—A stark contrast to the jihadists’ vision.

Layla Mohammed (L) and Hamdan al-Abad (R) are leaders of the Raqqa Civilian Council.

Layla Mohammed (L) and Hamdan al-Abad (R) are leaders of the Raqqa Civilian Council.

Around the same time of Layla Mohammed’s appointment and RCC’s formation, Turkey was holding its referendum. April 16th saw Turks flock to voting booths, guarded at all times by Turkish soldiers and often surrounded by ‘Evet’ supporters, who kept close eyes on what way locals were voting. Intimidation was not the only thing awaiting potential ‘hayir’ [no] voters, but also fraudulent votes and a clear manipulation of votes to favour Evet side. Many counters of the results were filmed accepting fraudulent Evet votes—a clear violation of the voting process, but not to be a surprise, given Erdogan’s tactics (37).

However, what was clear to the world was that in Turkey there was still a resistance to autocratic rule. A majority of Kurdish regions in Turkey voted ‘Hayir’ and many of the major cities, such as Ankara and Istanbul, voted Hayir too. This showed that, even though the Turkish referendum was a victory for Erdogan, with 51.8% Evet votes in his favour, the coming darkness would have its future cracks of light from those areas (38, 39). With new power secured, President Erdogan could now set his sights on Rojava.

Results, as presented by AA - a Turkish state media outlet - for April 16th.

Results, as presented by AA – a Turkish state media outlet – for April 16th.

Now Turkey looks to be amassing troops north of the Tell Abyad border, for what looks to be a likely point of a possible future offensive by TSK into Rojava. Erdogan did say that Turkey would launch future military operations, this time without using the pretext of fighting ISIS, as it did for Euphrates Shield. However, Ankara’s methods of doing this are varied, but what is clear is that Iraqi Kurdistan President Barzani’s ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party’ (KDP), whose party co-administrates the ‘Kurdish Regional Government’ (KRG), would play a part.

President Barzani of the KRG and head of KDP.

President Barzani of the KRG and head of KDP.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s KDP acts as a Turkish organisation that heads a ‘quasi-Turkish protectorate’, as KDP has allowed Ankara’s interests to dictate KRG’s foreign policy. This is no more evident in KDP’s actions towards the PKK in Sinjar and to the Yazidis of ‘Sinjar Resistance Units’ (YBŞ). In August of 2014, when ISIS militants were edging their way towards Sinjar, thousands of Yazidis became victim to a massacre that would see Yazidi women enslaved, children butchered and men killed (40). Many of Yazidis had been disarmed in prior days by KDP forces, which retreated when ISIS militants broke through—leaving thousands defenceless (41).

A corridor was opened just in time by the YPG with the help of the PKK and YBŞ to create a path between Sinjar Mountains and Rojava territory. This corridor served to save thousands of Yazidis from being butchered further, showing that the Rojava forces and PKK wanted to aid those battling oppression (42). However, KDP pushed Ankara’s line and cracked down harder in following years against PKK, as well as the YBŞ. Pushing Rojava Peshmerga into Sinjar in March 2017 to try oust YBS, KDP intended to push any trace of PKK from Iraq. These clashes continued between KDP forces and YBŞ near Sinjar Mountains, inevitably escalating with Turkish airstrikes on April 25th (43).

Ibrahim Huso and Newroz Guvercin are the two soldiers attempting to stop a Peshmerga vehicle.

Ibrahim Huso and Newroz Guvercin are the two soldiers attempting to stop a Peshmerga vehicle.

-Bombs over Rojava:

Turkish jets flew high across Rojava and the Sinjar mountains, dropping bombs on YPG headquarters in Cizere and YBŞ’ military bases in Sinjar. Dozens killed, including many civilians and even KDP Peshmerga as well, showed that Ankara’s eyes were still firmly set on the Kurds (44). Launching further attacks, TSK clashed with YPG in the Afrin and Cizere cantons—battling at Darbasiyah. During this time, US commanders visited the site of the bombings in Sinjar a day later, despite the anger of both Turkey and FSA supporters (45).

A US officer, from the US-led coalition, speaks with a fighter from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) at the site of Turkish airstrikes near northeastern Syrian Kurdish town of Derik, known as al-Malikiyah in Arabic, on April 25, 2017. Turkish warplanes killed more than 20 Kurdish fighters in strikes in Syria and Iraq, where the Kurds are key players in the battle against the Islamic State group. The bombardment near the city of Al-Malikiyah in northeastern Syria saw Turkish planes carry out "dozens of simultaneous air strikes" on YPG positions overnight, including a media centre, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

A US officer, from the US-led coalition, speaks with a fighter from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the site of Turkish airstrikes near northeastern Syrian Kurdish town of Derik, known as al-Malikiyah in Arabic, on April 25, 2017.
Turkish warplanes killed more than 20 Kurdish fighters in strikes in Syria and Iraq, where the Kurds are key players in the battle against the Islamic State group.
The bombardment near the city of Al-Malikiyah in northeastern Syria saw Turkish planes carry out “dozens of simultaneous air strikes” on YPG positions overnight, including a media centre, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

Rojava supporters began to campaign for a ‘no fly zone’ over Northern Syria, shortly after the airstrikes, to prevent further Turkish aggression. In the interim, US State department, Iraq and Syrian governments denounced Turkey’s airstrikes—US even going so far as to warn Turkey to not take any further action against YPG. However, Ankara ignored Pentagon’s demands and continued to mortar YPG positions, as well as attempt to push armour into Rojava (46). This defiance prompted CENTCOM to authorise US Special forces to come to the aid of YPG in Darbasiyah.

Wedging itself firmly between TSK and YPG, US armed vehicles—with raised American flags—drove with YPG to the border and set up positions to deter Turkish aggression. US flexed its muscle and Russia found itself desiring to do the same, as Russia followed soon after with troops being sent to Afrin canton to deter aggression too (47, 48). It was a Manbij situation all over again, as Turkey again found itself confronted by both US and Russia. Creating, in effect, a ‘buffer zone’ along the northern Syria border, US stands now in Ankara’s way–again.

YPG vehicles escort USSOF along Rojava border with Turkey.

YPG vehicles escort USSOF along Rojava border with Turkey.

Charles Lister and other anti-YPG analysts took this opportunity to beat Ankara’s drum at Congress and on social media, outlying desperately the need for US to reconsider its relations with the YPG. Like Roy Gutman before in February, Lister and friends spared no time in pointing out YPG’s connection to the PKK—a ‘terrorist organisation’ (49). Julian Röpcke, another ME analyst, even went so far as to decry the USSOF that attended the funeral of killed YPG fighters in Qamshilo. Highlighting yet again, how far the anti-YPG brigade will go in their hatred of Rojava forces and their affirmation of Turkey’s narrative (50).

'Jihadi Julian' is what many YPG supporters refer the analyst as.

‘Jihadi Julian’ is what many YPG supporters refer the analyst as.

-A New Dawn for Syria:

Now that Ankara is once again forced to rethink its strategy in Northern Syria, SDF forces are on the verge of liberating Tabqa from ISIS. Well I write this, most of Tabqa’s old districts have been liberated and clashes now go on in the last remaining streets of the city. ISIS is done in Tabqa that is for sure. There seems to be a determination with the SDF that has tickled the fancy of the US, as Trump administration looks to be aligning more firmly on the side of it in the fight against ISIS than Ankara (51, 52). Ankara is starting to read the warning signs and has become increasingly tenser with the US.

Map of situation in Tabqa, May 5th. SDF repelled an ISIS counterattack.

Map of situation in Tabqa, May 5th. SDF repelled an ISIS counterattack.

Turning its eyes to its rebel partners, Ankara, Damascus and Tehran did manage to come to agreement on future ‘safe zones’ for refugees and civilians in the Syrian conflict to return (53). Whether or not these safe zones will work is yet to be seen; however, I am sceptical that such agreements will last unless maintained through force. It is speculated that TSK might intervene to prevent these safe zones from regressing back into conflict zones, and to stop further escalation of tensions between rebel groups, such as HTS and Sham Legion.

Deescalation zones proposal and what it will look like if implemented correctly in Syria.

Deescalation zones proposal and what it will look like if implemented correctly in Syria.

A new dawn breaks for Syria, as the forces of totalitarianism fight for survival in an ever increasingly difficult situation. Their leader gone and their units on the back foot, under siege by those who had suffered the most at their hands, ISIS militants now fight for what is left of a broken caliphate. With the strength of thousands that have perished in the most grotesque of manner behind them and with the cries of thousands in captivity still, female and male fighters—in equilibrium—of the Syrian Democratic Forces march onward. Rojava’s eyes are on Raqqa and its people now. Liberation is on the horizon.

YPG fighter oversees an airstrike.

YPG fighter oversees an airstrike.

Written By Anthony Avice Du Buisson 


A Republic of Fear: Erdogan’s New Turkey

A dark veil is slowly rising over Turkey, as the ‘Justice and Development Party’ (aka, ‘AK Party’ or ‘AKP’ for short) has declared a state of Emergency. It comes in the wake of a coup d’état attempt by the Military against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With Soldiers blocking Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul and deploying tanks outside Atatürk airport, issuing a curfew for residents nearby, helicopters and jets flew over Ankara and declared that the Military had taken over the government. This was only to be the beginning of the long few days of struggle, violence and horror that would grip Turkey. The end of which would begin a purge upon Turkish society; one that is still ongoing and one that is helping elevate an authoritarian to the status of ‘totalitarian’.

Under the cover of night, pro-coup (‘coupists’) forces, within just the span of a few hours, bombed police headquarters, occupied AKP offices and held up broadcasting buildings of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation. A statement was then issued upon seizure, claiming that a restoration of democracy was underway:

“Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged.”— Tijen Karaş, TRT, July 15th

However, despite this pronouncement, this was quickly rejected by both Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and later by Erdogan, who both went on to state the opposite of the coupist, notably that those involved in the coup are a ‘threat’ to Turkish democracy. Erdogan, conveniently on vacation in Marmaris at the time of the coup’s inception, proclaimed via the phone app ‘FaceTime’ on Turkish state media that those loyal to the regime (loyalists) were to take to the streets and show their loyalty in form of opposition to coupists. What followed was nothing short of chaos, as loyalists clashed with coupists on the streets and blood began to spill.

Firing Bullets at oncoming loyalists at Bosporus Bridge, coup soldiers tried in desperation to hold onto control. However, despite their desperation, heavy resistance by both protesters and police soon proved to be too much, as coup soldiers surrendered. Those still loyal within the military began fighting remaining coup soldiers, distinguishing themselves from coupists with red and white sashes around their arms. Mobs of Anti-coup protesters came out in droves across the country, cheering praises to Erdogan and hissing at those who dared dissent against the government—reflecting a darker side of Erdogan’s Turkish society.

Moreover, in a ditch attempt to strike at AKP, coupists blew up parts of the parliament building and fired upon Erdogan’s hotel…after Erdogan had left it. By the morning of July 16th, it was evident that the coup had failed in its goal to oust Erdogan. Upon arrival in Istanbul, greeted by thousands of loyalists and a handful of Turkish Defence Force soldiers (TKP), Erdogan addressed the nation and declared that the AKP government was in control and that the military was to undergo a ‘cleansing’. Erdogan also went on to blame the motivation behind the coup on an old comrade and now rival, a person that leads one of the biggest interfaith movements, Fethullah Gülen—Founder of the Gülen movement.

Now had this been the end of the story, one may be led to the conclusion that order restored itself in Turkey and life went on as usual. However, no coup ends without bloodshed and nothing is ever that easy. Rounding up coupists throughout Turkey, police and loyalists of Erdogan captured and belted—some were even lynched by mobs—dozens of coup soldiers. (Many of them were mere boys, no older than twenty-five, beaten by enraged mobs with belts—fear stricken in the face of bloodlust.) With Hundreds killed already during the coup and many thousands wounded, Erdogan still goaded on loyalists to keep protesting—this affair was not to be over within a mere twenty four hours.

Plotters of the coup range in rank from the highest in Turkish command to the lowest. From Air force Commander Akın Öztürk who was blamed  for the orchestration of the coup to General Adem Huduti—a man who was, a couple months prior to the coup, praised by the AKP for killing ‘terrorist’ members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); how the mighty have fallen. However, what started to become clearer with this ‘cleansing’ of the military was ‘what’ this failed coup was serving. A darker plan was afoot, as Erdogan slowly removed high officials and replaced them with those loyal to AKP. Political rivals, those in months and years prior who had opposed Erdogan’s censorship of the media in late last year, escorting each one by one and handing them over into custody. A stench of tyranny was in the air.

A protest against the separatist military coup.-2016, July 17.

A protest against the separatist military coup.-2016, July 17. Attribution: Photo taken By Lubunya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Democracy is like a train: when you reach your destination, you get off.” — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Muslim Arab Youth Association Conference, 1996

Uttered before a crowded hall of young Islamic youth, the then Mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tight-fisted and full of zeal, denounced Democracy as a means to an end in 1996. Secular Democracy, Erdogan remarked, was merely a ‘tool’ to alter society towards an Islamic trajectory. It should have been clear back then what Erdogan’s plans were for Turkish Democracy—very different from what Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, intended. Desiring to impose Islam upon society (Islamism), Erdogan showed early signs of the authoritarian path that he was later to lead.

Before one goes on, an important distinction is to be made between ‘authoritarians’ and ‘totalitarians’. Where the former desire for centralised power, notably in the form of a reduction of liberties and an increased power in the hands of the few; the latter desires the totality of control over others. Totalitarians desire the impossible, chiefly desiring absolute power over individuals. From the physical to the mental, a totalitarian desires the elimination of liberty and the total imposition of an ideology upon an individual. Using censorship, education, secret police and so on, the totalitarian uses all means available to subjugate and impose tyranny upon others.

Moreover, where authoritarian regimes limit press freedom and limit certain individual freedoms, absent the economic and social dimensions, totalitarian regimes go further in limitations. Totalitarian regimes utilise every possible dimension and intrude in the private lives of individuals. Instead of just the public sphere controlled by a dominant power, the private sphere is also occupied by a dominant power.

Furthermore, and to emphasize this difference of regimes (because it is important in the greater context when discussing Erdogan), what makes an authoritarian state like Singapore (for example) different from a totalitarian state like Saddam’s Iraq is that in the latter case one has to live in absolute fear—constantly. Kanan Makiya’s aptly titled book ‘Republic of Fear’ depicts Saddam’s Iraq perfectly, chiefly as a state of terror with around the clock disappearances, torturing and killing of political opponents, state ‘terrorists’ and civilians. (I have heard Singapore be described as a ‘totalitarian’ state, notably by Amos Yee in an interview with Dave Rubin. However, the reason why I take issue with that is that it downplays actual totalitarian regimes. One can still visit Singapore, live a relatively good life and leave it whenever they so choose. This is not the case in most totalitarian states, which deny individuals a good life with a tyrannical living experience.) Authoritarian regimes are watered down versions of totalitarian ones; however, if the authoritarians within said regime wish to elevated themselves to the status of ‘totalitarians’, then they merely need to catch that yearning for the impossible—total power. Erdogan caught this yearning early on.

A yearning for Islamism, notably a Turkish Islamist state, became more evident during Erdogan’s time as Mayor of Istanbul. Aligning with the Islamist ‘Welfare Party’ ‘Refah Partisi’, Erdogan took part in campaigns levied against the government. Attracting attention from the Turkish Constitutional Court, Refah Partisi’s Islamist activities were quickly deemed as ‘unconstitutional’ and soon were banned in 1998. Many protests soon followed and mass support for the party’s reinstatement grew as Islamists, which included Erdogan, vehemently opposed the court’s decision.

However, despite protests and calls to action, sentiments for support deteriorated and many arrests on protesters were made. “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….” For inciting religious hatred and breaking the law, Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998. In addition to this, Erdogan also was denied ability to take part in the political process of Turkey and had to give up his position as mayor soon following the judgement’s enforcement—a mark that seethed.

Nevertheless, Erdogan’s yearning for power and political capital helped him in founding the AKP in 2001. Under an agenda of ‘conservative democracy’ (a term for a political ideology that seeks more to pretend it is not Islamist in nature when actually is), Erdogan sought to work this time with the political process than against it.  Focusing energy on pushing for social services and aiming at democratic reform policies, Erdogan’s strategy made considerable headway in the 2002 general elections—appealing to both upper and lower class voters. With a two-third majority vote in favour, AKP’s co-founder Abdullah Gül took power as Prime Minister over Turkey and helped annul Erdogan’s political ban. Almost in a chess-like move, AKP rescheduled the election in the subsequent months and made Erdogan their candidate. Swapping hands (essentially, ‘trading places’), Gül stepped down and allowed Erdogan to assume the Prime Ministership upon AKP’s victory. The chessboard was in place and the pieces set for Erdogan’s rise to power.

Manoeuvring each piece in place and taking down every obstacle in way, Erdogan slowly climbed the political ladder over the next ten years with the support of AKP. Digging its hands in the media and attempting to manufacture phantoms, AKP—after its second victory in the 2007 general elections—levied charges against political rivals, ranging from military officials to journalists, for being a part of a ‘terrorist’ organisation known as ‘Ergenekon’ (a shadowy organisation alleged to have been planning assassinations and bombings on the AKP).

In a series of trials, over 270 people were accused of ‘plotting’ against the government, many of them had—in prior years—criticised AKP government’s policies. Using Ergenekon as leverage to achieve greater power, especially by accusing and launching trials, as well as investigations into ‘members’ of it, Erdogan’s authoritarianism was showing. However, if the Ergenekon trials did not show Erdogan’s desire for control, then it would be the AKP’s reaction to the Gezi Park Protests in 2013.

Initially few in numbers, protesters grew in size in reaction to both Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism and the police backlash to an Istanbul park sit-in protest—in which police used violent means, such as tear gas and forced removal of protesters, to try quell the protest. Erdogan cracked down severely in response to the [Taksim] Gezi Park Protests, calling police to march in droves against the protesters. In addition to this, misinformation about alleged assaults by protesters on civilians was spread by TRT (state media) and attempted censorship of social media, such as sites like Facebook and Twitter, became apparent with AKP pressuring businesses to not allow coverage as the protests went on. An abuse of power would be an understatement for Erdogan’s actions in response to the Gezi Park protests; what he was engaging in was pure political manipulation and corruption.

Throughout Erdogan’s rise to prime ministership and eventual succession as President in 2014, AKP had been in power for over ten years with a trail of authoritarianism to back it. Erdogan’s manipulation, political corruption and yearning for control made him many enemies, most notably Fethullah Gülen. A once ally of Erdogan, Gülen’s ‘Hizmet’ (aka ‘Gülen movement’, whose theology preached a more liberal version of Islam) movement gave inspiration to many people within Turkey. ‘A state within a state’ was present as millions followed the movement, something that only angered Erdogan upon his fallout with Gülen in 2013. Following corruption investigations that same year, Gülen sought to challenge Erdogan’s political position, which only further split the two—leading to the eventual crackdown of movement members in the subsequent years. An authoritarian cannot have dissent; there comes a breaking point. Erdogan’s breaking point was with Gülen. Power corrupts absolutely; Erdogan is no exception.

Police action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul. Events of June 16, 2013.

Police action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul. Events of June 16, 2013. Attribution: Photo taken by Mstyslav Chernov (Self-photographed, http://mstyslav-chernov.com/) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

History repeats itself in so many ways. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown of coup soldiers and military commanders parallels the ‘New Order’ regime’s crackdown of the Indonesian Military in 1965. Using the failed coup as a pretext to rid communists and their sympathizers, the New Order swiftly got rid of almost all opposition to it—thousands were captured, tortured and killed in the purge on Indonesian society that followed. Currently, as I write, thousands of soldiers have been captured by loyalists of AKP and are currently undergoing torture in jail cells. High up military officials have been removed and replaced by Erdogan Loyalists; thousands of judges have been removed from their positions and hundreds of academics, either sympathetic to Hizmet or critical of the government, have been removed from their positions as well. Erdogan has unleashed a purge on Turkish society.

Whether or not the attempted coup to topple the government came as inspiration by Fethullah Gülen (who has denied allegations by Erdogan), by Military officials seeking to restore secularism or by Erdogan himself, the outcome has been the same: More power to Erdogan. (I believe that the coup was done by Military officials who were inspired by Gülen and wanted to try restore democracy. However, disorganisation and Erdogan catching on too quickly most likely sabotaged the coup from working.)  This coup has been used as leverage for Erdogan to propel himself as uncontested leader of Turkey’s already illiberal system of democracy. I will not be surprised if Erdogan executes all those involved in the coup against him. His denied already political prisoners the ability to see lawyers and family members, and AKP is doing its best to reinstate the death penalty, which means that bloodshed will continue.

Take note, ladies and gents, of this failed coup in Turkey. If you learn anything from it, let it be a lesson in how a totalitarian rises. Erdogan is the next Bashar al-Assad in the making. As he slowly consolidates power, Turkey will find itself more and more morphing into a Closed Society. Furthermore, given Erdogan’s sympathies towards Islamic religious zealots who seek to impose their religion upon society (aka ‘Islamists’), Erdogan will most likely follow the path of religious totalitarians and form an Islamist dictatorship. Look at how the Islamists stand behind Erdogan’s regime and occupy Secular centres, singing praises and hissing at dissenters.

Militias form in defence of Erdogan’s AKP party; even as I write, many of them are doing Erdogan’s work for him and rounding up those anti-government dissenters that have sought to undermine the AKP. A state of terror is gripping Turkey and many are currently feeling its effects, as friends, relatives and loved ones who are Turkish Citizens living abroad see a once proud democracy go down the path towards Islamist theocracy. Erdogan wants this and is doing what is ever in his power to get it. Mark my words, Erdogan is creating a Republic Of Fear that will be equivalent in the oncoming years to the totalitarian Assad’s regime in Syria currently—a regime that is characterised by censorship of media, loyalists dedicated to the leader and a state of fear for its citizens.

Totalitarianism, especially the religious kind, is truly ugly to witness. Those who seek the impossible, namely the totality of control over others, can be said to epitomize what it means to be a totalitarian. It is purely a delusional pursuit of the impossible, but yet there is always those who seek the impossible and take it upon themselves to subjugate others to do so. Totalitarianism and despotism always end the same: Destruction. No tyrant lasts forever and history has shown the course of what happens to each regime that tries to.

Make no mistake; Erdogan’s regime will crumble but only in time. For now, Erdogan will only tighten his stranglehold over Turkey and elevate himself to the status of totalitarian. The tyrant will now only continue eradicating liberties of Turkish citizens and find more ways to ensure that the regime stays afloat.  However, before it does there will be bloodshed, suffering and horror.

All totalitarians, despots and tyrants fall.

None last forever.

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (31/07/2016)

Banners with photographs of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, hang from the roof of a commercial building either side of a Turkish national flag in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, July 18, 2016.

Banners with photographs of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, hang from the roof of a commercial building either side of a Turkish national flag in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, July 18, 2016. Attribution: Photo taken by Ismail Ferdous—Bloomberg/Getty Images