Untrustworthy Conduct of Our ‘Trusted’ Ally

By Edmond Y. Azadian

How long can the United States tolerate the shameful conduct of its “trusted” ally, Turkey? The answer may be complex, since Turkey is involved in many roles in the Middle East, Caucasus and Europe, and Ankara pretends to advance NATO policies in all those complex — and sometimes contradictory — issues while pursuing its own narrow interests to the detriment of the policies of its partners and patrons.

Since the beginning of the Cold War, the US and Europe have helped build Turkey’s armed forces and economy, only to realize that all that build-up would end up in the self-serving goals of the Turkish government.

A case in point is the meteoric rise of ISIS, which Turkey nurtured and developed, only for it to direct its wrath against the West and neighboring countries.

Turkey’s rise as a regional power has also emboldened its leaders to challenge its patrons in Washington by defying America’s closest ally, Israel. And amazingly, Washington’s policy with regards to Ankara has been to kowtow to its leaders and beg them to behave, a policy which has fueled Turkey’s arrogance and undermined US objectives in the region.

Secretary of State John Kerry has engaged in shuttle diplomacy to build a coalition to fight ISIS, the scourge of human civilization. While President Obama proudly announced that 40 nations have joined the coalition against this group, Turkey has publicly refused to be part of that coalition. Ankara has even had the temerity to signal to the butchers of ISIS that US airstrikes do not originate from the US airbase in Incirlik, on Turkish territory.

The US airstrikes  strategy is a contradiction in itself. While understandably President Obama reassures the war-weary public that there will be no US boots on the ground and he has to find a substitute to complement the airstrikes. The Iraqi ground forces were devastated by ISIS hordes, which took possession of large quantities of armaments left behind. That defeat was blamed on former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s non-inclusive government. After the nomination of the new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, the situation does not seem any more promising.

While the US forces can rout the ISIS army regardless of how ferocious it may be, in a very short period, President Obama has allowed the US and its allies three years to achieve that goal, because horse trading is going on in the region.

All of a sudden, Hezbollah, which has long been considered a terrorist organization by the US, and Iran, have found out that they are on the same side of the political equation. They both have an interest in the destruction of the ISIS forces which have occupied large swaths of territories in Syria and Iraq. Any cooperation or even contacts between the US and those forces is anathema to Israel, which has the proprietary position in formulating and shaping the US’s Middle East policy. Strategically, they could provide the boots on the ground to complement US airstrikes to wipe out the Islamist forces.

The US State Department and Israel have encouraged Tehran to engage single-handedly the ISIS forces, to be drained and weakened while performing a necessary task for them. But Iran’s diplomacy is not as naive as some in the West may assume. Therefore, Iran has refrained from full-fledged engagement in the war against ISIS forces, which are expanding the territories under their control.

Turkey and Qatar have been benefiting from the stalemate to supply and encourage ISIS.

Another thorny issue in this organized chaos is the airstrikes on targets in Syria. Although the US Congress has authorized funding and arming the “moderate” forces in the Syrian opposition, no one has yet been able to determine who the “moderates” are and to distinguish them from their “extremist” brethren. Ironically, the thugs which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hugged for a photo op in Syria, turned up amongst the more deadly enemies of the US.

Incidentally, those “moderates” are supposed to assume dual roles: to fight the ISIS forces and to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government. These goals are well beyond the capacity of those forces and also are opposed by Russia, which considers air strikes in Syria as a ruse to use the US forces against the Syrian regime while Turkey is continuing its strategy in Syria unabated. Turkey is solving several issues at a time. It is continuing to arm and train ISIS forces on its territory and allowing them to cross freely into Syria and Iraq. Although ISIS’s declared goal is to establish a caliphate, most of its actions are benefitting Turkey.

Turkey is pursuing the following goals:

A) To demonstrate its independence from the US and its NATO partners

B) To keep war raging in Syria, even if the Assad regime does not collapse, because it will be discounted as a force influencing the Middle East for a long time. One of the indirect results is the weakening of Russia’s foothold on the Mediterranean.

C) As a main policy goal, to destroy the emergence of a Kurdish enclave on Syrian territory, which eventually may become an autonomous or independent state to fan the aspirations of the Kurds in Turkey. Thus far, the Kurds in Syria have found an accommodation with the rebel forces as well as the government forces. ISIS’s recent onslaught has dislocated 100,000 Kurds who have found refuge in Turkey, which conveniently will disarm them and keep them under tight control. On the other hand, there are reports now that Ankara has banned the support of Kurds in Turkey to rescue their kin from Islamic forces in Syria`.

D) Another objective is to teach a lesson the Armenians. Although Ankara received a black eye as a result of the Kessab campaign and its destruction by the Islamist forces, it still pursues the same goal, this time sending the barbarians  to Deir Zor to destroy the Martyrs’ Memorial. By destroying the Martyrs Memorial, they have massacred the martyrs yet another time.

The monument is an eyesore for Turkey and it could have been used as a powerful symbol during the Genocide centennial commemorations.

One may discount it as a coincidence that the destruction of the Deir Zor church and memorial coincided with Aram Catholicos’ announcement at the fifth Armenia-Diaspora Conference on September 19 that the Catholicosate of Cilicia will sue the government of Turkey at the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, but it cannot be denied that if one of Turkey’s initiatives to blunt the centennial thrust, this is a good way to attain it.

The attack was deplored by Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian as “barbaric.” Also, President Serge Sargisian’s Chief of Staff Vigen Sargisian wrote, “If Turkey has nothing to do with the terrorist attack at St. Mary’s Church, it should come up with a corresponding statement of condemnation.”

Further down, he continued, “This is yet another proof that the crime of Genocide continues as long as it is not fully recognized and punished.”

While Turkey is taking concrete steps to deny the Genocide and strangulate Armenia through its blockade, on the other hand, it is undertaking superficial public gestures to dupe the quarters ready to look for excuses to see good intentions.

Turkologist Rouben Melkonyan, deputy dean of the Oriental Studies Faculty at Yerevan State University, said he thinks that Turkey will not revise its policy on Genocide denial. He thinks that President Recep Erdogan’s expressed intention to meet with Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) should be considered in this context.

Melkonyan believes that Turkey may return some buildings and land plots in Sis to the Armenian Church. “However, Sis lacks both an Armenian community and Armenian churches, i.e., the cost-effectiveness of that decision may be too low for us while diplomatic effect for Turkey may be much more significant,” he said.

This brings us to the long-term prospects of Turkish-Armenian relations. Knee-jerk reaction to the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is also unhealthy, because that rapprochement is a political necessity. While Turkey continues its adversarial policy, cosmetic gestures must not substitute for genuine rapprochement. During his election campaign, Mr. Erdogan insulted the Armenians a few days after he had offered his condolences to the descendants of the “relocated” Armenians in 1915. Former foreign minister and current prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has vowed to eclipse the centennial commemoration, on the other hand inviting Armenians to “build” on Erdogan’s condolence.

The duo was in Baku recently, where it offered military assistance to Azerbaijan and in a joint press conference with President Aliyev, they stated that together they will set the agenda in the Caucasus and establish peace on their own terms. Mr. Davutoglu added that before the last inch of Karabagh territory is returned to Azerbaijan, there would be no improvement in Armenian-Turkish relations. And he means it.

This statement behooves us not to jump on the symbolic gestures, which will provide Turkey disproportionate political dividends at the expense of our naiveté. Had our Primate refused to meet Erdogan as a protest against the destruction of Deir Zor monument, it would have greater impact in the media for Armenians, denting in the meantime Erdogan’s ploy.

Recently, Republic Sen. Ted Cruz was trying to lecture the heads of Christian Churches in the Middle East that their salvation can only come from Israel and he was booed. The church leaders knew the terrain better than a senator with his eye on the White House. It was a courageous stance by the religious leaders.

As we can see, Armenian history, genocide recognition, Armenia’s future are all intricately associated with world politics, over which we have no control but vigilance can help us avoid some traps.

At this point, Armenian interests coincide with those of the West, in its drive to destroy the growing “evil empire” of ISIS.

The battle against that scourge can be won if the US can tame Turkey, the supplier and the mentor of that terror group. The term “trusted ally” has long outlived its usefulness. It is time to call Turkey the “self-serving ally,” and treat it accordingly.