the story behind the story of Turkey’s internet bans

Turks greeted the news that YouTube has been blocked in the country with the grimly raised eyebrows Brits reserve for an unusually bad weather forecast. “So it’s come to this”, they say, but no one is overly shocked. Internet bans are becoming a weekly occurrence. A week ago Twitter was banned at the personal behest of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and remains so days after a court order annulled the block.

So begins an article in Friday’s Guardian, which continues:

By painting both Twitter and YouTube (and no doubt Facebook next week) as online dens of iniquity, he aims to convince his supporters that the allegations are malicious falsehoods, and that he is the victim of an international smear campaign operating on social media. Extreme tactics; but in a country rife with conspiracy theories and pre-election tension, they might well work.

Allegations? Malicious falsehoods? An international smear campaign? Conspiracy theories…? Well, not just “theories” as it transpires… Here’s a little more of the same article:

On Thursday he sounded hoarse and shrill as he poured scorn on opponents for the umpteenth time, causing much amusement among Twitter users merrily circumnavigating the ban. Hours later, YouTube was blocked, drawing immediate attention to the recording released that day of the foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization allegedly planning a Syrian provocation. The government has not denied these tapes, instead labelling their circulation as “a declaration of war against the Turkish Republic”. War machinations aside, they have a serious espionage problem on their hands.1

“Allegedly planning a Syrian provocation” – in what way? What exactly is on these tapes that the Turkish government are not denying? The article doesn’t say, but perhaps the BBC can help… (although we’ll need to go back another day – to Thursday):

Earlier, what appeared to be a leaked audio recording of Turkish officials discussing Syria appeared on YouTube.

It relates to a discussion of possible military operations in Syria, which was apparently attended by Turkey’s intelligence chief, its foreign minister and the deputy head of the armed forces.
Reuters news agency, which examined the recording, said it could not verify its authenticity but it was potentially the most damaging purported leak so far as it appeared to have originated from the bugging of a highly confidential and sensitive conversation. […]

At a rally in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir on Thursday, Mr Erdogan appeared to confirm the latest audio leak was genuine.
“They even leaked a national security meeting,” he said. “This is villainous, this is dishonesty… Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?”2

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

So not only do we learn that the Turkish government “has not denied these tapes” (as the Guardian reports) but that Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan does in fact “confirm the latest audio leak was genuine” – although once again, when it comes to specific details, the BBC seems reluctant to tell us what these “possible military operations in Syria” might have been. As with the Guardian article there is again no link to the leaked discussion on the tapes. We might reasonably wonder why they are being so tight-lipped.

Well, judge for yourself – because here is part of a transcript of the (translated) discussion involving foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan:

Ahmet Davutoğlu: “Prime Minister said that in current conjuncture, this attack (on Suleiman Shah Tomb) must be seen as an opportunity for us.”

Hakan Fidan: “I’ll send 4 men from Syria, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey; we can also prepare an attack on Suleiman Shah Tomb if necessary.”

And it is important to understand that the Tomb of Suleyman Shah is an exclave of the Republic of Turkey situated in Aleppo, Syria. Note too that back in August 2012, Prime Minister Erdoğan had publicly stated:

“The tomb of Suleyman Shah [in Syria] and the land surrounding it is our territory. We cannot ignore any unfavorable act against that monument, as it would be an attack on our territory, as well as an attack on NATO land… Everyone knows his duty, and will continue to do what is necessary”3

Click here to read a full translation of the leaked discussion at the national security meeting.

The youtube audio clip is also embedded below (but unfortunately only available with Turkish subtitles):

This recording (which has already had more than 300,000 ‘views’) supplies evidence of a NATO-member country planning to expand the war in Syria. Caught red-handed, Prime Minister Erdoğan has conceded that the recording is authentic whilst attempting to deflect attention by saying the leak was “immoral”.

However, the important story here is not the one about the “villainous” leaking of “a highly confidential and sensitive conversation” – has Erdoğan never heard of Edward Snowden…? Neither is it news that Turkey has clamped down on youtube and twitter, as troubling as these bans are. Far more important is the confirmed leak itself – that Head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, and foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, were discussing the option of launching covert attacks on the Turkish exclave of Suleiman Shah Tomb.

The Financial Times published their own report on the leak also on Friday [March 28th] and it is a little more candid. Whilst accepting Turkish foreign ministry claims that “parts of the recording were doctored” (which parts? Again there are no details) the article does go on to point out how:

“the most contentious segment is a discussion on how to justify military intervention, including a suggestion, which is not taken up, of staging an attack on the tomb…” [my bold emphasis added]4

A clear reference to the part of the leaked discussion reproduced above.

Click here to read the full Financial Times article.

And if this discussion hadn’t been leaked, and a later attack had been staged, then would Nato have followed Turkey into battle? All on the pretext of what the Guardian described as “a Syrian provocation”, but should more properly be called “a Turkish false flag”. Little wonder Erdoğan and the Turkish government have been so keen to shut down the internet. More worrying, however, is that the Guardian, BBC, Reuters and other mainstream media outlets have followed suit. The details sketched over, the links unavailable, and the discussion between foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the head of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan only paraphrased and hinted at. Is the big story just too hot to handle?

Click here to read an alternative article on the leaked tapes posted by zerohedge also on Thursday [March 27th].

*

“Why would Turkey want to start a war with Syria?” a friend asked in reply to my email that linked to the zerohedge article above. And my short answer was that Turkey are already heavily involved, having assisted both with allowing a supply of arms as well as the passage of al-Qaeda fighters across their borders into Syria.

The slightly longer answer is that Turkey has its own interests in a northern portion of Syria known as Rojava (or Syrian Kurdistan) where local YPG units (or People’s Protection Units) are engaged in regular battles to hold off a Turkish-backed invasion by Islamists in what is a more or less unreported war within the larger Syrian conflict.

In September of 2013, VICE reporter Aris Roussinos crossed the border into Rojava to document the YPG’s counteroffensive against the jihadists. There he was shown evidence of fighters coming from Libya, Chechnya and even Afghanistan to join the ranks of “the rebels” and saw how sections of the Turkish border had been deliberately opened up and left unprotected:

With unparalleled access to the Kurdish and Syrian Christian fighters on the frontlines, we found ourselves witnessing a bitter and almost unreported conflict within the Syrian war, where the Assad regime is a neutral spectator in a life or death struggle between jihadist-led rebels and Kurdish nationalists, pitting village against village and neighbor against neighbor.

As Syria’s bloody civil war enters its third year, fighting has reached the country’s Kurdish-dominated northeast, a region until recently almost untouched by the conflict. The Kurdish PYD party and its YPG militia, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in neighboring Turkey, took over control of much of Hassakeh province from the Assad regime in the summer of 2012, and with it control of Syria’s precious oilfields.

But the PYD’s hopes of staying neutral in the conflict and building an autonomous Kurdish state were dashed when clashes broke out with Syrian rebel forces in the strategic border city of Ras al-Ayn. That encounter quickly escalated into an all-out war between the Kurds and a powerful alliance of jihadist groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliates ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

The notes above are taken from the VICE.com website.

*

The documentary embedded above presents very much the Kurdish perspective. Nevertheless, it provides an alternative standpoint since the fighters, although defending themselves against “the rebels”, remain in opposition to Assad.

The Syrian war is complex, but if you’d prefer something a little simpler, then let me also draw attention to a youtube animation entitled “The war in Syria explained in five minutes” uploaded by the Guardian last September – and shame on the Guardian for producing such drivel:

 

*

1 From an article entitled “Turkey’s YouTube and Twitter bans show a government in serious trouble” written by Alev Scott, published by the Guardian on March 28, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/28/turkey-youtube-twitter-ban-government-trouble

2 From an article entitled “Turkey moves to block YouTube access after ‘audio leak’” published by BBC news on March 27, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26773702

3 From an article entitled “Ankara warns against attack on tomb” published by News from Azerbaijan on August 7, 2012. http://www.news.az/articles/turkey/65999

4 From an article entitled “Ankara hits back at Gulenists over stream of damaging web leaks” written by Daniel Dombey, published by the Financial Times on March 28, 2014. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c591d4ea-b670-11e3-b230-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2xS6eeyoL

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, internet freedom, Syria, Turkey

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