Robert Fisk: The Syrian War has occupied Turkey

Senior Middle East correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk (Source: Agos)
Senior Middle East correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk (Source: Agos)

Senior Middle East correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk (Source: Agos)


From Agos

ISTANBUL (Agos)—In a recent article, Robert Fisk, senior Middle East correspondent for the Independent, compared Turkey to Pakistan in the 1980s, and said that the recent air bombardment was no surprising given that all powers in the region have betrayed the Kurds. We spoke to Fisk both about the details of the matters he touches on in his article, and whether power balances have changed in the Middle East. Fisk says that Turkey has become a market place and when seen from this perspective there are more important issues at stake besides whether or not Turkey will enter the war in Syria. “I believe that Syria has started penetrating Turkey. Suruç is an example of this. From this view, the Syrian War but not the Syrians have occupied Turkey. It is not the reverse.”

What is the goal of the de facto safe zone on which Turkey and the U.S. are said to have agreed? It has been stated that it will be created to eliminate the presence of ISIL along the Turkish border. What does this zone mean for Turkey, the U.S., the Assad regime, and Kurdish armed forces?

There is talk about a safe zone, but I am not sure whether we know its purpose. It is obvious that Turkey’s defense strategy is against the PKK, and not ISIL. Is this something the U.S. expects? Or does the Turkish government really see the PKK as a greater threat than ISIL? There are many unanswered questions regarding the relation between Turkey and ISIL. The Foreign Ministry of Turkey names them as terrorists. But they have not found as answer to how it is that ISIL members are able to travel to Northern Syria through Turkey. We are talking about thousands of people. How did they travel there? Yes borders can be long, but you can still protect them. Israel protects its borders. Syria protects its borders. Jordan protects its borders regardless of ISIL. But for some reason Turkey, despite its huge army force, is unable to prevent thousands of Islamist militants from entering Syria. Let’s take the example of the area along the Syrian border where the Shah İsmail shrine is located. After ISIL had taken over this area, for a long period the Turkish army became present there to protect the shrine. Then they left the region without any problem. One soldier died, but I believe it was because of an accident. How was such an agreement reached? Hence the real question is not whether there will be a safe zone or not, but about what kind of a relation there really is between Turkey and ISIL.

The trucks filled with weapons that were stopped at the border last year made it most evident that the Turkish government is supporting ISIL militants. Following news of this event, the UN stated: “We do not support sending weapons to groups fighting in Syria.” The international media also covered the subject. What do you think, is it still seen as an issue? 

In many ways, Turkey is playing the role of poor and corrupt Pakistan in the 1980s. Pakistan was used in the war against Afghanistan. Similarly, Turkey is being used in the war against Syria. This is the real threat for Turkey. The real threat for Turkey is not about ISIL or the Kurds, but about being used. Whether or not related to national interests, when a state permits its use by other states that is when the real threat begins. I am not saying that Turkey is under threat. Turkey is a strong and large country. But I think that Turkey has become involved in matters that it may not be able to control in the future. You can create the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and then suddenly the mujahedeen turn into Al Qaida and you will say, “What? Was this my fault?” Yes, this was your fault. The U.S. created Bin Laden. I had visited Bin Laden in the camp where he lived. The CIA had built these camps. And then guided missiles shot these “secret camps.” Yet they weren’t at all a secret. The CIA built them. Who builds the camps in the area controlled by ISIL? Who built the camps for Al Nusra? Who built the control centers of the Revolutionary Army?

On the other hand, what can be said about that famous story of the “moderate resistance” (which was going to be part of the train and equip program)? A Syrian government representative had told me, “Have you ever seen a moderate carrying a gun?” Good point! I am not a supporter of the Syrian government; but the problem is that I don’t believe there is a moderate resistance either, I never did. Already we are hearing how Al Nusra is kidnapping the moderate members of the Free Syrian Army. CIA agents got involved. Of course they will be kidnapped. It was probably expected. I wonder how much was paid?

And about the media aspect of the problem, reporters believe in much that is said by officials, ministers and police. Rather than saying, “Wait a minute, is this real?” they just believe it. Amira Hass, who is a great journalist working for the Haaretz and a close friend, she always says, “The job [of] a foreign correspondent is the observance of centers of power.” And what she means by observation is watching with an eagle eye. But we are not able to do this. Normally what us journalists do is to say the Foreign Minister stated this, ISIL issued this video, John Kerry said this. This sounds like an opera where different parts are sang in different tones. The audience may like this or not. But real journalism entails saying “Wait a minute, I don’t believe this.”

According to the statement issued by the U.S. Defense Ministry, the unmanned combat aerial vehicles belonging to the U.S. were sent into air from the Incirlik Air Base following last weekend. What do you think about the agreement made between Turkey and the U.S. regarding Incirlik?


You can fly an aerial vehicle from any place. Technically you do not need Incirlik.

But this Incirlik agreement is an odd situation. I can’t really see any logic. Turkey’s military action until now shows more motivation to fight the PKK as opposed to ISIL. And it seems that the PKK is shooting its own leg by killing innocent police and soldiers. But Turkey knew what it was doing when it was bombing PKK bases in Northern Iraq. What needs to be remembered about Turkey that it is a state with an independent spirit. This is not a coincidence. All forces of the United Nations, when Western Forces were fighting in Korea, the only military force whose brain had not been washed by North Korea and China belonged to the Turks.  In 2003, when the U.S. thought that Turkey would allow their occupation of Iraq and even the marine troops had arrived in Izmir, the Turkish parliament said “No.” This was no coincidence. The reality is that Turkey said “no” to George W. Bush. The matter that I politically suspect here is that Turkey was using the U.S. They can collaborate; they can act a step ahead and get what they want. This might be ok in the short run, but in the long run it is not.

What needs to be taken into consideration is that Turkey now is taking the role of a canal. When you take that role, you become a market place. Like being a market place for weapons. You will purchase a weapon, you will pass the Syrian border and then you will have a check, you will sell it to the person who pays the highest price. Because you have a family to feed, you will not care from which country the weapon is sold. We keep talking about Turkey’s power over Syria, and its relation to Syria. I believe that Syria has started penetrating Turkey. Suruç is an example of this. From this view, the Syrian War but not the Syrians have occupied Turkey. It is not the reverse.

In one of your pieces for the Independent, you wrote the Kurds in the Middle East, “were born to be betrayed.” And you wrote that the recent aerial attacks by Turkey were no surprise.

One of the goals of the First World War was to destroy the Ottoman State. This has been forgotten in Western historiography. We believe that the Turks joined the Central Powers as if wanting to commit suicide. And because they were enemies they had to be defeated. However, one of the goals of the war was to destroy the Ottoman State. And this is reflected in the “sick man of Europe” discourse. Hence we forget that we actually did not want the presence of the Turkish State. We wanted an Armenian State, a Kurdish State, a Palestinian State. But we did nothing to protect the Turks, because they were enemies.

We forget how in the final years of the Ottoman State the Suez Canal was built, that people in Istanbul played piano and made paintings. They wanted to be like us. But we ruined them. I guess we did not want these people. We did not want them to be members of Western Civilization. After the First World War, we had the chance to instate a real European Civilization through just states and just borders. We had borders. There were British and French borders between Jordan, Palestine, Iran, Syria and Lebanon. But the Kurds, Armenians, and Palestinians, or those people who demanded a state and were mistreated did not get borders. And this is why we have the Kurdish issue. It is because of the great injustice that took place at a time when the world was seeking justice. We did this, because at the end of the day the world did not really care what happened to the people. There is use in reading again the Wilson Principles, they are closely associated with today.


What changed in Iran’s Middle East policy following the nuclear agreement?

I believe that the nuclear agreement is a sign that U.S. policy has changed. After giving support to Sunni groups for years, the U.S. has now reached an agreement with Iran. In some ways, it has changed its direction away from Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt. What I have suspected for a long time is that the U.S. is looking for a police amidst the Gulf States. They found this in Iran during the period of Shah Reza Pehlevi’s ruling and called it a “peaceful government.” At that time when the Shah wanted nuclear weapons, no one said, “Oh my God Iran wants nuclear.” The first nuclear plant was built in this period. There was no reason to believe that Iran wanted to become a major nuclear power. There is only one nuclear power in the Middle East and that is Israel. We know that technologically everyone can make a bomb. You can put it in a bag and carry it with you. Of course no state will want another to have nuclear power.  We know that India has nuclear power, so does the radical Islamic state of Pakistan. But everyone is focused on Iran. Why? I think the U.S. has realized that the Iranian leadership is politically more logical compared to that of the other Arab states. Iran has a distinctive and peculiar governing system; but I guess the U.S. thought that there is room for negotiation.

How important is the role of ISIL in Middle Eastern oil trade?

If you want to run a state you need money. But not that much. In order to manage the kind of military operations carried out by the Taliban, Al Qaida, and now ISIL, I don’t think you need that much money. Yes you need thousands of dollars, but not millions. The people living in ISIL controlled areas are not richer than those where they are not in control. I don’t think ISIL has significant financial resources.


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