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Turkey in Flux: Burning Qurans, NATO Expansion, War in Ukraine and Devastating Earthquakes


Dr Can Erimtan

21st Century Wire

Over the past decades, the burning of copies of the Quran has become the ultimate expression of an ‘Islamophobic’ reaction to the perception of a ‘creeping’ encroachment of Islam in western Europe and across the wider world. In April 2011, for instance, the U.S. pastor Terry Jones ‘oversaw the burning of a copy of the Qur’an in his Florida church.’ This deliberate act of desecration and blasphemy incited outrage among Muslims the world over. In the northern Afghan city of Mazhar-i-Sharif, three angry mullahs urged their followers – turning into thousands of protesters, to avenge such acts and defend their Holy Book. This angry mob subsequently overran the compound of the United Nations, killing at least 12 people in the process.

Suffice to say, these incidents remain among the most volatile political and cultural conflagrations seen today. 

Burning the Quran

Such a deliberate act of provocation has recent occurred in Sweden’s capital Stockholm, right in front of the Turkish Embassy . . . of all places. Arguably, this is a wanton act of book burning that clearly goes beyond mere hatred of Islam or fear of Muslim domination.

The news agency Reuters reported that “[p]rotests in Stockholm on [21 January 2023] against Turkey, including the burning of a copy of the [Quran], sharply heightened tensions with Turkey.” Funny that somebody would burn a copy of Islam’s holy book while standing in front of the Turkish Embassy. Quite naturally, Reuters added that this provocative act came “at a time when the Nordic country needs Ankara’s backing to gain entry to the military alliance.” The man who did the burning is a dual Danish-Swedish citizen called Rasmus Paludan, not coincidentally a lawyer who happens to be the founder and leader of a far-right political party named Stram Kurs (or ‘Hard Line,’ founded 2017). In fact, last year Paludan embarked on a “Quran burning tour across Sweden.” During one of these events, a Quran burning in Malmö (16 April 2022), a “Danish photograph [was] attacked. Details unclear . . . [and subsequently,] riots have broken out in Norrköping and Linköping. Warning shots being fired. Several cars are on fire, powerful bangs heard and heavy smoke seen. Police are being attacked with stones, ‘It’s a complete nightmare,’ police say,” as relayed on Twitter by a certain “Faytuks Δ” (@Faaytuks).

In contrast, last month’s Stockholm event seems to have gone down somewhat differently, according to the Anadolu Ajansı: Paludan “burned a copy of the holy Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, under police protection and with permission from the authorities.” And, the Anadolu Ajansı continues, the very “next day [22 January 2023], Edwin Wagensveld, a far-right Dutch politician and leader of the Islamophobic group Pegida, tore out pages from a copy of the holy Quran in The Hague and then burned the pages, and then posted video of the provocation online.” The AKP propaganda machinery proved itself worthy of its task by immediately portraying the New Turkey as the victim of an EU-wide campaign of provocation, thereby underlining that the now decade-long AKP policy of Sunnification has reached its logical conclusion – the words Turk and Muslim have become synonymous again, just like in pre-modern and early modern times (as discussed by Dr Daniel Vitkus in 1997). For good measure, Paludan persevered in his mission and “burned [another] copy of the Muslim holy book of Quran in front of a mosque in Denmark” after the Friday Prayer on 27 January 2023.

NATO Expansion: Sweden and Finland

Back in Sweden next door, the Stockholm incident managed to upset NATO’s best-laid plans with regard to its proxy-war in the Ukraine and its re-found vigour in advocating blatant Russophobia. Quite a few months ago now, the ongoing war on Europe’s far-eastern flank led eager beaver Stoltenberg to envisage further NATO expansion:

The NATO Secretary General visited Sweden on 13 June 2022, and there Jens Stoltenberg] welcomed the decisions by Sweden and Finland to apply for NATO membership, describing this as “a historic step at a critical time for our security”. He said that Sweden and Finland’s membership of the Alliance would facilitate closer Nordic and Baltic defence cooperation, strengthen NATO’s presence in the High North, and boost transatlantic security overall.

Adding the two Scandinavian countries to the alliance would constitute yet a further betrayal of 1990’s assurance that “there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” as worded by then-Secretary of State, James Baker (1989-92). The New Turkey, (or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aka the Prez) as a friend and trading partner of Russia (or Vladimir Putin aka the Czar)’s, did its best to thwart this latest extension. At the end of June last year, however, The Guardian reported that “Ankara had previously blocked the Nordic countries from joining the alliance over concerns about arms exports and terrorism.” As a result, Stoltenberg felt good about himself and NATO extension seemed to proceed smoothly again. Until January, 21st at least.

In view of this blatant provocation, the New Turkey’s powers that be took a stand straightaway: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vile attack on our holy book . . . Permitting this anti-Islam act, which targets Muslims and insults our sacred values, under the guise of freedom of expression is completely unacceptable,” read the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s press release. The Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom immediately tried to save his country’s chances of fighting the Russians once more, tweeting that “Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish Government, or myself, support the opinions expressed” (5:41 pm 21 Jan 2023).

With regard to NATO accession, Sweden is linked to Finland as both seem to regard Russia’s attempts to re-establish Novorossiya (explained in some detail here) as somehow posing a threat to their borders and national integrity. The BBC (arguably no longer the voice of reason, but more of a mouthpiece for NATO) puts it like this: “Vladimir Putin’s actions have shattered a long-standing sense of stability in northern Europe, leaving Sweden and Finland feeling vulnerable.” Unanimity and consensus are at the basis of each and every NATO decision, alas, the Agence FrancePresse reported at the end of January that “Ankara has refused to ratify the two countries’ Nato membership bids, primarily because of Sweden’s refusal to extradite dozens of suspect.” And now that a copy of a book supposedly containing the words written by the god Allah, AKP-led Ankara simply “suspended the two countries’ Nato accession talks.” Initially, the Prez indicated that he would have no problems with the Finnish desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, apparently being fully cognizant of the fact that such a joining act would never take place.

Additionally, “Finland doesn’t plan to directly transfer tanks to [the] Ukraine until it becomes a full NATO member, an unnamed senior alliance official told The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 09.” The German Chancellor’s recent U-turn on the delivery of LEOPARD tanks to the Ukrainians, has now energized other Europeans to do the same . . . but the Finns clearly want to utilize the tank issue as leverage for a speedy resolution of their hoped-for membership of the West’s military bloc.

Berlin, Budapest & Ankara

Speaking about the recent German U-turn, the Berlin-based journalist Jan-Philipp Heinz talked about Olaf “Scholz’s inscrutable political manoeuvring;” which goes to show that Merkel’s successor is clearly no keen dancer, quite unlike Tayyip Erdoğan, whose amazing ability to perform political pirouettes and other equally breath-taking twists and turns on the international stage has now once again thrown a serious spanner in the works. Some time ago, Soraya Ebrahimi, the Homepage editor of the United Arab Emirates state-affiliated media outlet The National, put forward quite resolutely that “Turkey and Hungary remain the only countries in 30-nation Nato to have failed to ratify [Sweden and Finland membership] requests.” Though Orbán Viktor is generally not known for his dancing skills, in this instance he seems to be tagging along easily with Erdoğan as the latter effortlessly performs his pirouettes linking Ankara, Moscow and Kiev, while steering clear from Brussels and Washington.

When the AKP FM Çavusoğlu visited Hungary in the aftermath of the Swedish stunt, he met with his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto. The Turkish minister attended a panel held in cooperation with Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF) at the Hungarian Foreign Relations and Foreign Trade Institute (IFAT) in Budapest. Turning to the issue at hand, Szijjarto, for his part, remarked: “If a country wants to join Nato and is endeavouring to win over Turkish support, then perhaps it should behave a little more carefully.” Going further, the Hungarian used the term “stupidity” in connection with the Swedish NATO bid and the recent Quran burning. This goes to show that the New Turkey clearly has one foot firmly planted in Europe (or the EU, if you will, although Hungary appears rather lonely within the European family), which is all but offset by Hungary and particularly, Orbán’s efforts to enter the family of Turkic nations: ‘In mid-November 2022, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan convened in Samarkand for a summit of the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS), previously known as the Turkic Council.’ And Orbán was there too. In fact, Hungary had already received ‘observer status’ at the OTS’s 6th Summit in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyz Republic in September 2018.

In this way, the Prez’s NATO dance appeared to continue well into the night and beyond . . . until disaster struck suddenly and severely: “The #NewTurkey was hit by two major earthquakes in the space of just 9 hours,” I tweeted on 6 February 2023.

The Earthquake to End All Earthquakes

The initial timeline of this sudden and devastating natural disaster that struck earthquake-prone Turkey about a week ago reads as follows:

4.17am local time (5.17am UAE time): The 7.8-magnitude earthquake strikes near the city of Gaziantep in southern Turkey, but strong tremors are felt in Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus and Iraq and provinces around Kahramanmaras, where the earthquake occurs, suffer severe damage. In Syria, there are reports of poorly constructed or conflict-damaged buildings collapsing. Initial reports from Gaziantep say 70 people have died.

4.28am local time: First aftershocks felt with a 6.7-magnitude quake.

8am: The scale of the disaster emerges as the governor of nearby Malatya
province says at least 140 buildings have collapsed. The US says it is deeply concerned by reports of the quake. President Biden directs USAid “and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected”.

In the immediate wake of the calamity, the Turkish internet became abuzz with rumours and conspiracy theories. Three days prior to the earthquake, a researcher called Frank Hoogerbeets affiliated with the SSGEOS (Solar System Geometry Survey) had namely tweeted the following: “Sooner or later there will be a ~M 7.5 #earthquake in this region (South-Central Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon). #deprem,” with a map showing the area affected by the double-quake and its aftershocks. This then led many in Turkey to start talking and theorizing about a pre-planned event choreographed by the United States, which then quite naturally led to the mention of HAARP or the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. In order to throw some on this supposedly murky subject, I would like to turn to a certain Nick Begich, Jr – a man who has been twice elected as the president of both the Alaska Federation of Teachers and the Anchorage Council of Education. As a noted conspiracy ‘theorist’ researcher, he wrote the book Angels Don’t Play this H.A.A.R.P. (1995):

Put simply, the apparatus for HAARP is a reversal of a radio telescope; antenna send out signals instead of receiving. HAARP is the test run for a super-powerful radiowave-beaming technology that lifts areas of the ionosphere by focusing a beam and heating those areas. Electromagnetic waves then bounce back onto earth and penetrate everything — living and dead. HAARP publicity gives the impression that the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program is mainly an academic project with the goal of changing the ionosphere to improve communications for our own good. However, other U.S. military documents put it more clearly — HAARP aims to learn how to ‘exploit the ionosphere for Department of Defense purposes’.

As a result, some people in Turkey – not necessarily AKP supporters, mind you – are now actively theorizing that the U.S., or rather the Biden administration, has now utilized this high-tech array to create a natural disaster in the Middle East to thwart Turkish progress and/or force Ankara to acquiesce to Stockholm and Helsinki’s NATO’s membership in order to keep Moscow down.

In fact, The Global Times (a daily tabloid newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily) published the following in the wake of the quake:

The earthquakes in Turkey are likely to have geopolitical and economic spillover effects including those on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and Europe’s energy security . . . Turkey’s geopolitical status has come to the fore since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the earthquake relief work may distract Erdogan from his role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China.

This opinion piece even carries the significant headline “Earthquakes in Turkey likely to have spillover effects on solving Russia-Ukraine conflict” (09 February 2023). From burning the Quran to seismic movements necessitating disaster and misery (the latest estimates suggest more than 30,000 casualties in south-eastern Turkey and north-western Syria), the ongoing War in the Ukraine or Russia’s “special military operation” seem to occupy the attention of the wider world these days.

It has to be said that the wider population of the world, or particularly the Western world, seems to have collectively succumbed to a manic form of Ukrainophilia. Europeans have opened their arms like never before. Ukrainian refugees are welcomed, invited even, like no other victims of military conflict in recent memory. The mere fact that the Chinese Communist Party has now publicised its feelings regarding possible NATO expansion in the context of the earthquakes that have shaken Turkey and Syria is testament to the fact that not just regular folks but primarily people’s rulers and leaders have Ukraine on the mind.

What will happen now is anyone’s guess . . . will Tayyip Erdoğan toe the line that has been set by Joe Biden, as has recently been the case with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholtz who has now made a momentous U-turn. Or rather against Putin, as the Russian President has now apparently emerged as the world’s single bogeyman, the super-villain able to do the most dastardly things single-handedly.

Will the Prez be able to keep on performing pirouettes that perchance protect the Czar against direct NATO aggression or will he have to submit and give in to the Biden diktat and accept Sweden and Finland into the military block that keeps the New Cold War alive and rampant Russophobia kicking?!?

***
21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans, the greater Middle East, and the world beyond. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in the English language Turkish press, culminating in him becoming the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @TheErimtanAngle. Read Can’s archive here.

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