Turkey: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

This morning I watched a couple of Talking Heads on an American News TV channel once again openly criticise Turkey for not doing enough to help the Kurds or stop the march of the Islamic extremist group, which now calls itself Islamic State (IS). Of course, neither objective could be gained easily or in isolation from the other as they are essentially the same thing. This would only be achieved (according to the commentators sat in their comfortable TV Studio 8,000 miles away) after Turkey did one dramatic thing… invade Syria. However, this potentially disastrous situation did not arrive yesterday, it has been bubbling away for years, largely ignored by the rest of the world until it finally reached crisis point towards the end of this summer. So it isn’t just Turkey’s problem. It is a problem that the whole world should have been seriously addressing for at least two years now.

More than a year ago I twice highlighted the complicated position that Turks find themselves in as its neighbour Syria continued to implode. At that time the rest of the world seemed quite happy to simply stand by wringing it’s hands or criticising Turkey for not getting involved, despite the fact it had accepted countless refugees. In the months that followed, as with most modern crises, the fall-out from Syria was largely forgotten once some Governments had made themselves feel a little better by sending a few million dollars to get the desperate refugees through a cold winter. However, the ultimate consequences of the worlds inaction to deal with the true cause of the disease last year, instead of its symptoms, has now exploded spectacularly in their faces.

Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

In my post The Noisy Neighbours I described the push and pull and conflicting loyalties and expectations that existed within the regions many ethnic groups, who more often than not lived on both sides of many different international borders. I also described in The UN Veto Waltz, the total failure of the UN to do anything, mainly because of both China and Russia’s willingness to use their Veto to protect the Syrian Government and their own military or economic interests in the region, while Bashar Assad continues to murder his own people.

In the west, where News is packaged, politicised and then dumbed-down for an increasingly disinterested social media generation, governments have tried to pigeon hole everything as either black or white. Nothing was so true when it came to dealing with a resurgent Islam in the wake of 9/11. Bush’s War on Terror turned out to be little more than crude revenge and if he had his way may well have been called something like: Time to Sort These Muslims Out. So is it any surprise that Turkey, with its own Islamist leaning Government, can appear a little wary of the motives of the western powers. Or that it sometimes comes across, despite having the 2nd biggest army inside Nato, as reluctant to get more involved.

So we now read headlines like ‘Could Turkey be about to return to the bad old days of armed conflict with the Kurds?’ Some would say that with troops on the streets, curfews for the first time in 22 years, protests in almost 30 cities and state buildings attacked – that the situation is already dangerous and escalating fast. However, in a country of people raised as political as well as ethnic chameleons, nothing is ever what it seems. Yes there is fighting within the Kurdish community, between Turkey’s Islamist Hezbollah group – which backs Islamic State (IS) – and supporters of the PKK, the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is vehemently opposed to IS militants, but, the main protests and the fiercest anger is still directed at the Turkish government. Some Kurds now feel that Turkey sees them, rather than IS, as the true enemy. They are also furious at Turkish troops blocking them from crossing over into Syria to fight with the Kurdish militia there, the YPG. Many also believe that Turkey would be happy to see the fall of Kobane if it means Kurdish hopes for an autonomous entity in Syria went up in those flames.

As I said earlier, most of these tensions could have been eased a year ago if the world had dealt with Assad then. But that ship sailed a long time ago, particularly as there is now, astonishingly, a ground swell of opinion, even within the US and Europe that these issues and the stopping of IS can now only be achieved if an alliance is made with the murderous Assad. And despite this sounding about as ridiculous as the Allies siding with Hitler at the end of 1945, just to stop the spread of a new threat – Stalin’s Red Army; in many world capitals it seems to be the only show in town. Therefore it should come as no surprise that many Turks now view the situation as devil if you do, devil if you don’t. So is it any wonder that they hesitates on the border?

Photo by scrolleditorial

For now, Turkey refuses to budge and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated this week that his country would only get more involved in Syria if the US-led coalition also targeted President Assad’s regime, as well as IS. He also said a no-fly zone had to be imposed to halt regime air strikes and help cope with the refugees. The US state department reiterated that the coalition was focused for now on IS alone. So Turkish troops are unlikely to spring into action.

Turkey turned against President Assad early on in the war, betting he would fall quickly. But in so doing, Ankara was widely criticised for taking an “anyone but Assad” policy, backing armed groups, which became ever more extreme. However the Turkish government have, it appears, only just woken up themselves to the threat posed by IS – mainly after the group kidnapped 46 Turkish citizens in June, holding them for more than 100 days. But critics believe Ankara is still not serious about tackling the extremists. “For us, the PKK and IS are the same,” President Erdogan also said this week. “So it is wrong to consider them as different from each other.”

The bitter legacy of conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish minority goes a long way towards explaining Turkey’s inaction in Kobane. So Ankara fears helping the Kurdish militia in Syria, which is closely allied to the PKK, itself still labelled a terrorist organisation by the West. Some 40,000 people have been killed in the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey since the 1980s, and although a peace process with the Turkish government was launched recently, it remains fragile, particularly after Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, said if Kobane falls to IS, it will spell the end of the peace process.

So is it any wonder that Turkey refuses to listen to the rest of the world, when the worlds own in-action has not only exasperated the Syrian war and allowed IS to fill a very dangerous power vacuum, but has potentially caused even more unnecessary chaos within Turkey itself.


Another Bad Day for Vegetarians

Last night during an end of season party, I was just beginning to wonder what the subject of this week’s blog might be, when two of my guests approached me quite independently and told me how much my blog about the poor animals had struck a cord with them last year. Indeed, I was similarly prodded by some of my Twitter followers, who wondered if I would update them on the issue. As always I thank them, as I thank everyone for their comments and ‘likes’, no matter what the substance of a particular blog is. However, after deciding to reprise last year’s blog (reprise as I feel there is little I can add but a photo – video might be too distressing for many) I would now like to dedicate it to Brianna, who contacted me during the summer for permission to use my words during a debate on live animal exports in the South Australian Parliament.

Almost a year ago I published my thoughts on the annual ritualistic slaughter of millions of domestic animals during the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice. Although I called it A Bad Day for Vegetarians, the huge reaction from none vegetarians proved that it also struck a cord with many animal lovers no matter what faith, if any, they followed. Here it is again:

Most countries in the world have a dominant religion, whose values, rituals and beliefs have shaped the society and given a sense of right and wrong, belonging and kinship. In the western world it tends to be Christianity, where as in the far east there’s more of a mixture of say Buddhism, Muslim, Hinduism and smaller regional beliefs such as Shinto. In the near and middle east the dominant religion has been Muslim for quite some time. The one exception to this perhaps is China, where Chairman Mao squeezed the life out of most faiths and beliefs during his revolution. And while I respect anyone’s right to follow any religion they want to and would never ally myself to anything Mao said or did, I must admit that I also carry a slight mistrust of any strong religion, essentially because of the countless deaths and persecutions committed over the centuries in the name of interfaith, ethnic or other sectarian rivalries.

Having lived in a Muslim country for some years, I have witnessed the rituals and festivals of that faith such as the holy month of Ramadan, followed by the Seker Bayram – Sugar Festival. It’s a period of feasting, present giving and family, a time of fun and togetherness that I am occasionally invited to and always enjoy; not too unlike the Christmas holiday period in most points west of here. However, there is one Bayram, that follows on about 2 months later, which if I can I will ether plan any trips abroad for then, or at the very least stay at home all day on the first day. This is called the Kurban Bayram – the Feast of the Sacrifice, where animals are sacrificed, before the meat is given to the needy or shared out amongst ones family. An explanation of why this takes place can be found here.

Photo by Travlr

I have been a vegetarian for many years – and yet I do not regard myself as fanatical. I respect everyone’s right to either eat or not eat meat as long as the animal they devour has not suffered unduly. Indeed, I am not a complete vegetarian, and should technically label myself a Pescatorian, as I do occasionally eat fish. But I always apply the same rule about those creatures not suffering unnecessary pain. If an animal must die the act of slaughtering it should be quick, clean and as painless as possible.

As prescribed by religious precept, most of the countless millions of animals sacrificed during the Kurban Bayram will be conscious at the beginning of the process. So the act of stunning the animal first is unlikely to have taken place. This does not mean that the animal will suffer unduly if the job is done quickly and professionally. But what I do find objectionable is when it is done by people, who have no concept of what is really needed to dispatch an animal quickly, perhaps because they have never done anything like it before or never received adequate instruction: it can take a long time to kill an animal and end it’s pain, especially if it is done incorrectly. However, the sheer scale of the slaughter taking place on this day, always means that many inexperienced men end up just ‘having a go’, with often, unnecessary stress and painful consequences for the poor animals.

As I said, because of my bad memories of this period, I try to be somewhere else, but I do remember the permeating smell of blood and that occasion in Istanbul when I could not get my car into its garage because a discarded cows head had been wedged under the chassis. However, my worst memory is much more recent. I once watched a fat man, drunk on raki, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and wearing a filthy and bloody shirt, running after a terrified cow, whose throat was bleeding profusely, and stabbing it in the shoulder, while all along the crowd, which included several small children, were laughing and cheering him on. Where exactly was the religion in that terrible performance?

One thing that also leaves me feeling quite sick as an animal lover, is the TV coverage. Most stations show a selection of scenes filmed earlier in the day during their Evening News programs. Often introduced by anchor women, who are often grinning as if about to share a joke. These scenes essentially show similar mishaps to the horror I related above, of traffic stopped by wild eyed bleeding goats and injured sheep chased by cars full of knife wielding amateurs, or some poor cow trying to escape through a river and on one occasion a camel with a large spear dangling from its breast running down the hard shoulder of a motorway. This year most channels also showed us how part of the European banks of the Bosphorus, through Istanbul ran out red for tens of meters from the shore because of the sheer quantity of blood coming from storm drains.

Photo by Charles Fred

Sometimes these scenes are accompanied by music and the laughter of the person filming or those around. Then there is usually a few minutes showing many of the most inept slaughter-men arriving at some hospital casualty ward or other, mostly with cuts from the knives they used incorrectly or suffering from crush or kick injuries from the animals they were incompetently trying to kill. However, the worst thing I ever saw, was when one particular channel decided to relay their round-up of injured people and terrified or wounded animals, to a soundtrack of wacky music and canned laughter, the kind used to boost the sagging popularity of lame comedy shows.

So now I just stay in and hideaway – I rarely see anyone and keep well away from every park, car park or other piece of wasteland, just in case it has been legally, or illegally designated as an abattoir for the day.