Special Springtime N & P

Friday, April 25, 2014
Well folks, it's been a long time since I've done an N & P. Now that the semester is ending and spring is finally coming to the northern Rockies, I think it's time to reflect and think about the news and propaganda that's been on our plate most recently. 

A big question that people have been asking lately is whether the 'little green men' in eastern Ukraine are tied to Russia. It seems like there's a pretty good chance that there is, even if some of the photographic evidence connecting Russia to the developments has been challenged.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were some Russian agents in Ukraine. However, it also seems clear that there are a lot of locals involved. This means that the longer all of this goes on, the greater the possibility that the craziness of this month could develop roots in eastern Ukraine. If it really does become a genuine ethnic conflict, as opposed to one that is still largely stage-managed at this point, then Putin will have committed a serious tactical error through his massing troops on the Ukrainian border and deliberate destabilization of the country--at the very least. 

I still think, however, that the potential for eastern Ukraine spinning out of Putin's control is quite high. As I wrote six weeks ago, back when the crisis was still limited largely to Crimea:

While things in the Crimea are bad, it could always get worse. Conflict between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine would make the events taking place in the Crimea look relatively simple by comparison.
Now, eastern Ukraine has already become the bloodier of the conflicts. While Putin might think it's in his interests to destabilize eastern Ukraine, I could see this blowing up in his face. Unfortunately, such an event would also end up blowing up in the faces of millions of people in Ukraine--and perhaps inside Russia itself.

It can be easy to create chaos, but only an idiot does so unnecessarily, and right on his own country's southern border. Don't forget what I said about Crimea quite possibly being Putin's 'mission accomplished moment.'

There just might be a bit more of the W in Putin than people think.

People fomenting violence in eastern Ukraine, wherever they are, should pay attention to another item in the news this week: the re-opening of Sarajevo's library.

Two million books, articles and magazines were lost for ever in the fire caused by rockets fired by Bosnian Serb forces besieging the city at the end of August 1992.

The Vijecnica was built when Bosnia was a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and opened in April 1896. It served both as a city hall and as a library.
The distinctive building, with its playful neo-Ottoman motifs, was originally given to the City Council, which used it until 1949, when it was turned into a library.
As someone who fancies himself something of a playful neo-Ottoman, I'm definitely down with that!
I remember back in Turkey in the early to mid-1990s there were a lot of refugees from ex-Yugoslavia, and especially Bosnia-Hercegovina, the country of which Sarajevo is now the capital.
In 1984, Sarajevo hosted the Olympics. 

In my early years in Istanbul I had to wait in line every year at the foreigners' police station in order to receive my ikamet tezkeresi, which was essentially my work and residence visa rolled into one. In the early 90s, the hall was filled with people from Yugoslavia.

After the library was destroyed, the Sarajevo Philharmonic occasionally staged concerts there with famous international conductors as a means of drawing attention to the plight of people in Bosnia and ex-Yugoslavia more generally.

Here's a video of Zubin Mehta conducting the philharmonic in 1994:

No matter how bad things look right now, they can either get better or worse. How important is it to us that we avoid a repeat of Yugoslavia in Ukraine? My guess is that unless people in Ukraine can somehow manage to solve this themselves--which is hard, as they have a powerful neighbor meddling in their affairs--no one from Europe or Washington is going to try very hard to prevent things from getting worse.
I was also intrigued this week to see that Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin had held a telephone conversation recently, during which they reportedly discussed the Crimean Tatars.
While the situation in Crimea has been much more peaceful than in eastern Ukraine, we also need to be paying attention to the Crimean Tatars. As I've discussed elsewhere, this population has been through so much over the centuries. In particular, the theme of emigration and return is one that is very pronounced over the past 250 years of Crimean Tatar history. I wonder if this latest change in direction will lead to yet another Tatar wave of emigration from the Crimean peninsula, possibly to Turkey.
I was frankly surprised to see how little a reaction there was in Turkey about the Crimean annexation. Other than a few small demonstrations that were attended, it seems, mainly by Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians, there appeared to have been little response to Crimea in Turkey. This, despite the fact that many Turks trace their roots to Crimea, and that Crimea used to be part of the Ottoman Empire.
Nicholas and Abdülhamid: II N & P's in a Pod?

The working relationship between Erdoğan and Putin reminds me a little of that between Tsar Nicholas II and Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II. Relations are never great, but neither is there a particularly high level of tension. They share, I think, common views of the world.

Apparently Vladimir Putin was also the first world leader to call Erdoğan and congratulate him on the March 30 municipal election results.
Anyway, a few days after another call, taking place in the second half of April (the article timestamp in April 18), the situation for Crimean Tatars suddenly began to look more ominous.  Authorities in Crimea banned Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev from returning to Crimea for five years. Only days earlier, Jemilev had been awarded Turkey's Order of State by President Abdullah Gül.
Gül and Jemilev: Take your award and go away

A few possibilities immediately come to mind regarding this. The first is that the local authorities in Crimea were just being idiots. Let's hope that this is the case--apparently Jemilev was banned while he was leaving Crimea to head into Ukraine proper. This would be the best case scenario.

A second possibility is that Erdoğan made clear that Turkey supports full rights for Crimean Tatars, but Putin simply doesn't care. In fact, he cares so little about Erdogan's views on the Tatars that Putin responds by immediately harrassing Jemilev, so recently honored in Turkey.

Thirdly, Erdoğan perhaps just said to Putin: 'I don't really care about the Tatars. Do what you need to do,' or something along those lines.  
Erdoğan's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu used to be the darling of the English-language media and Turkey-related blogosphere because he talked about his country's 'zero problems' approach to relations with its neighbors.

Well, that hasn't worked out very well, has it? And things are getting worse, especially with Seymour Hersh's recent charges that Turkish intelligence staged the gas attack outside Damascus last August. Hersh's story makes me wonder about the report from last June in which people were arrested in Adana, not far from the Syrian border, in possession of Sarin gas. At the time, it seemed like maybe Syrian agents were trying to attack Turkey, or perhaps the US base in Adana. Now, I wonder if the gas was going in the other direction. 

One thing that I learned this week is that there is a little-known plot of sovereign Turkish territory located inside Syria. Look at this fascinating piece of news:
A Turkish convoy has carried “aid” into Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on April 23, responding to claims that Turkish forces have started an operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) near the tomb of Süleyman Shah, which sits 25 kilometers from the border and remains under Turkish sovereignty under a 1921 treaty.

“Right now, the issue is not about ISIL. The job of our convoy there is to transfer aid to the Süleyman Shah tomb. Our friends in charge are continuing the effort,” Erdoğan told journalists after hosting primary school students in Ankara for national Children’s Day.

Social media accounts regarded as close to ISIL had reported earlier on April 23 that six Turkish tanks, 12 armored vehicles and 300 Turkish soldiers had been deployed 200 meters from ISIL positions in northern Syria, quoting eyewitnesses. Same sources claimed the ISIL also reinforced its own forces.

I frankly don't know what to make of Hersh's story, or of all of this 'aid,' other than that it certainly seems like a lot of material to protect a tomb.
One thing that seems certain is that Turkey is still in deep in Syria--in more ways than one. 
And speaking of Turkey....whoooaah!!!
So much has happened since I've written seriously about Turkish politics. Like everyone else, I'm trying to make sense of things. As I discussed a bit in a recent post, it had been evident for a while that all was not well between Erdoğan and the Gülenists. Nevertheless, I was astonished by the enthusiasm that Kemalists felt for the hits that Erdogan was receiving. They seemed to hate Erdogan so much they'd welcome even a Gülen-approved replacement if it meant getting rid of the Prime Minister.
Erdoğan, by the way, is back on track to becoming President. This prospect had appeared derailed by the Gezi protests and the kerfuffle with the Gülenists, but the electorate keeps bailing him out.
A big part of the problem is the opposition. The CHP is incompetent. In an election year when corruption charges have dogged the Prime Minister, the CHP's candidate in the highest-profile race was...Mustafa Sarigül.
The CHP doesn't know who they are anymore. All they know is they hate Erdoğan, as do the shrinking share of the electorate that votes for the party. Even in this election year, with not only Gezi but also the scandals exposed during the AKP-Gülenist row, the AKP still managed to win a big victory in the elections.  
Erdoğan is a man playing among mere boys. He obviously needs a challenge. Maybe he should move to the United States, become governor of Montana, and help develop our infrastructure? I mean, maybe we could use a high-speed underground supersonic train connecting Bozeman, Butte, and Havre?
Governor Erdoğan would transform Montana

Meanwhile, things are peaceful up at the Borderlands Lodge. The weather  is...changing. We had snow yesterday. In general there have been many blustery winds of late, and wildly ranging temperatures according to how sunny it is. There's still snow in the mountains, but that's about it. Slowly-slowly, as they like to say in Turkey, we're getting out of winter.

And that, my friends, is your Special Springtime N & P. Stay warm and remember that summer is just around the bend...

More links, commentary and other stuff can be found poolside at the Borderlands Lounge.

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