Turkey tries to exploit US protests for political gain – analysis

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Turkey’s pro-government media has taken a cue from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera to try to play both sides of the US political aisle, seeking to be both far-right and far-left.

Turkey’s ruling party has sought to exploit the US protests by both supporting them and trying to portray themselves as close to US President Donald Trump by condemning “Antifa.” They have mobilized all of Turkey’s media, which is pro-government because opposition journalists are jailed in Turkey, to push Ankara’s propaganda message. As part of the messaging they reach out to friendly US journalists to try to portray Turkey as “on the same side” of the US against “Antifa” while also virtue-signaling support for the protests to try to gain sympathy on both the left and the right.

The racist and fascist approach that led to the death of George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis as a result of torture has not only deeply saddened all of us, but it has also become one of the most painful manifestations of the unjust order we stand against across the world.

— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) May 28, 2020

Turkey’s pro-government media has taken a cue from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera to try to play both sides of the US political aisle, seeking to be both far-right and far-left, usually far-right at home when it comes to supporting authoritarian and Islamist religious policies, while posing as progressive abroad. In the latest Ankara fusillade Turkey’s President tweets one thing in English and another in Turkish. In Turkish the Ankara regime tweets about Islamic historic conquests and its nationalist agenda. In English Turkey’s President tweeted on may 29 about the “racist and fascist” approach of the United States which “led to the death of George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis as a result of torture.” He claimed that Turkey was against this “unjust order” and that it would stand against it across the world. In short he was eluding to the US being “racist and fascist” and that turkey would stand against the US “order.” Iran used the same terminology.

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While Erdogan tweets out opposition to the US on his presidential account for million of followers, the official communications office of turkey tweets out claims that “Antifa” is “held responsible by a portion of the US public for the violence during the protests.” Then it claims that “Antifa” has “ties to the terrorist organization PKK/YPG.” The YPG in Syria were the main element fighting ISIS while Turkey was the country through which the largest number of ISIS fighters travelled to Syria and where many ISIS fighters later fled back to. Turkey claims the “YPG” are terrorists without any evidence. The US has partnered with the Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria to defeat ISIS and the YPG played a key role with the SDF. Turkey has accused the US of training a “terrorist army” in Syria. It also accuses the US of hosting a dissident cleric who it says is a “terrorist.”

In short, Turkey accuses the US of supporting terrorists and of being a racist and fascist country, while it also claims to support US efforts against “Antifa” as a way to link Antifa to the YPG to try to get the US to stop its work in eastern Syria against ISIS so that Turkey can continue its operations against the Kurdish minority in eastern Syria. Under the guise of “fighting terrorism” Turkey has ethnically cleansed parts of northern Syria of Kurds, including hunting down women activists like Hevrin Khalaf and murdering them. Turkey’s pro-government media claimed the killing of Khalaf, an unarmed woman who was beaten and bashed to death by Turkish-backed mercenaries in October 2019, was part of a “neutralization” effort against “terrorists.” In this bizarre spin Ankara portrays Khalaf, an unarmed woman, as a “terrorist” but feigns sympathy with Floyd. Turkish-backed extremists in Syria have killed and kidnapped hundreds of Kurds and Yazidis, treating the Kurdish minority not dissimilarly then the way George Floyd was treated.

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Ankara’s regime has attempted to gain favor with the Trump administration since its earliest days, trying to portray itself as similar to the administration, while Turkey uses its media to then oppose the Trump administration by pretending to adopt progressive US causes. For instance, Turkey’s TRT reporter in the US claimed to have been a roughed up during the protests and Turkey’s Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun then slammed the US and claimed that “press freedom is he backbone of democracy.” Turkey is considered the world’s largest jailor of journalists by Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

US Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield  then when on Turkey’s government propaganda channel TRT to express solidarity with Turkey’s hypocritical statement about “press freedom” being the backbone of Democracy. While Turkey slams the US treatment of minorities and calls the US racist and fascist the US never critiques Turkey and the US Ambassador appeared to stand in solidarity with Turkey’s jailing journalists since he didn’t mention press freedom in Turkey. Since Ankara does not mind critiquing the US treatment of protesters and journalists it was unclear why US diplomats cannot also critique Turkey. It appears Ankara has played the US like a violin in the recent protests, trying to be on the side of the protests and also on the side of the US administration, as part of a carefully crafted policy to try to get the US president to believe that Antifa is active in Syria. Turkey has believed since the fall of 2016 when Trump was elected that the best way to get what it wants is through personal diplomacy between Erdogan and Trump, viewing Trump as a like-minded authoritarian it can “do business with.”

In May 2017 during a visit to Washington by Turkey’s president, Turkey even made the unprecedented decision to attack US protesters on American soil, assaulting US police and protesters near the Turkish ambassador’s resident. The attack was meant to show the US that not only can Turkey suppress dissent at home, it will also suppress dissent in the US. Today Turkey’s attempt to praise the US for singling out Antifa  as a “terrorist” group is meant to portray Turkey and the US as on the same side regarding using the military and police to break protesters by labelling them “terrorists.” Turkey has jailed thousands of dissidents as “terrorists” by changing the definition of “terrorism” from terrorist acts to expressing criticism of the government. The concept Ankara is pushing is for the US to label opposition protests in the US as “domestic terror,” similar to Turkey. Oddly, Turkey also has its media supporting the protests and arguing the US is “fascist” and “racist” which is a way to play both sides.

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Some foreign media have picked up on Turkey’s attempt to link the YPG and “Antifa” posting photos of Kurdish leftist fighters who fought ISIS next to anti-fascist flags and arguing that this shows “proof” of the link. Since Antifa’s ideology is borrowed from anti-fascism and since the YPG viewed the battle against ISIS as a battle against fascism, much as those who fought Nazism were “anti-fascist,” the tenuous link is made even though there is no real link between the rioters in the US and US-trained fighters in eastern Syria who defeated ISIS.

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