The Fallout from the Trump Erdogan Summit

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International relations have their own logic. No matter how chummy heads of states may appear with each other publicly, their policies will continue along their course, based on national interests.

The meeting on November 13 between Presidents Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House was long planned. But there was strong bipartisan opposition from Congress, which had sought to rescind Mr. Erdogan’s invitation.

Erdogan himself publicly cast doubt over making the trip, after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Resolution 286, recognizing the Armenian Genocide, on October 29. But there were compelling reasons to bring the two sides together, because the erstwhile allies and fellow NATO members had been drifting apart dramatically and straining the relationship to the breaking point. What happened on the Syrian-Turkish border after the withdrawal of US forces only exacerbated the situation, whereby allies and enemies were hard to distinguish.

Despite his advisors’ opposition, President Trump was threatening to pull out US forces from Syria, where the various forces faced tremendous challenges and confusion. Each party involved would inherit a piece of the action; in the first place, Ankara would receive its proposed security zone carved out of Syrian territory, while having a free hand to slaughter the Kurdish forces which had been fighting ISIS alongside the US. Russia could achieve its long-proposed goal of seeing the US forces out of the Syrian battleground and the Syrian regime could consolidate its position in the region, contrary to Ankara’s avowed goal of regime change in that country.

President Trump’s singlemindedness prevailed; Turkey entered Syria and began slaughtering the Kurds who were abandoned by Mr. Trump overnight because they were “no angels.”

In between Mr. Trump had cold feet and relented, leaving a residual force to guard the Syrian oil wells. “I like oil,” the US president said, and it is assumed that the oil drilled in Syria will be sold through Turkey, yielding a monthly revenue of $30 million to benefit the displaced Kurds.

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This was the background as President Erdogan landed in Washington to meet with his counterpart at the White House and discuss political topics of global consequence. One of those topics was the purchase of S-400 defense missiles from Russia, which NATO considers to be incompatible with the alliance’s weapon systems. Ankara’s persistence triggered Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet program in July. That expulsion will not only deny Turkey the use of that expensive weapon, but it would also exclude Turkey from the lucrative manufacturing of the combat aircraft.

President Trump indicated that he was open to expanding the US-Turkey trade relations, increasing the current $20 billion annual volume to $100 billion, matching Turkey’s target.

Mr. Trump’s vision cannot be achieved without congressional approval and Mr. Erdogan’s credibility is at its all-time low at the US Congress, which has already introduced several bills that could sanction Turkish officials, the nation’s economy and banking sector.

If passed, the sanctions would also prohibit US arms transfers to Turkey, which have the potential to be used in Syria against the Kurds.

Some of the sanctions are directed at Erdogan’s family members; Trump and Erdogan have in common nepotism, reserving high positions in the government for family members.

On the other hand, it is believed that Mr. Trump’s eagerness to expand trade with Turkey is somewhat motivated by his personal investments in that country.

While Mr. Trump won the release of Turkish-American scientist Serkan Golge, Mr. Erdogan failed to get the US to extradite his nemesis, Fethullah Gülen, who is accused by the Turkish government of being behind the coup attempt in 2016 in Turkey. Neither was there a breakthrough in the negotiations to break the sanctions levied against the Turkish-state-controlled bank, which was indicted in the US for helping Iran evade sanctions.

Mr. Trump’s efforts to boost the Turkish economy contradict his earlier threats to destroy it. There is consistence in the legendary unpredictability and inconsistency of our mercurial president. Once he threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” only to come back and state that he “likes that gentleman,” meaning the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.

He also planned to bomb Iran, but he shied away minutes before he had to take action.

“Destruction of Turkey’s economy” may also follow the path of those previous threats.

Erdogan’s major confrontation was with the US lawmakers, particularly with members of the House of Representatives, who on October 29 adopted HR 269, a non-binding resolution recognizing officially the Armenian Genocide.

“Some historical developments and accusations are being used in order to dynamite our reciprocal bilateral relations,” said Erdogan, during the press conference, adding, “Especially in the House of Representatives, some of the resolutions that were passed on October 29 served this very purpose, which deeply hurt the Turkish nation.”

And then, he concluded with his tried and tired mantra, “The decision-makers in an incident that took place 100 years ago should not be politicians, but historians.”

Mr. Erdogan does not realize that his denialist cliché has become a subject of mockery since the majority of genocide scholars have already passed their verdict.

Whenever Erdogan delivers a speech in Turkey, his captive audience begins applauding whether or not his comments make sense. Therefore, he is under the illusion that that he will receive the same reaction overseas. Indeed, after his meeting with the US president, Erdogan delivered a speech in the Turkish Religious Center called Diyanet and allowed himself to make ludicrous statements about Armenian history. He told his audience that the Armenians were nomads in Turkey when they were deported. Unfortunately, no one has challenged him by answering that over the past century, the Turks have destroyed 2,000 churches and monasteries and 700 schools and colleges in historic Armenia. And they have not yet been able to destroy them all. Also, the Holy Cross Akhtamar Church on the island in Lake Van was built by King Gagik Arzruni in the 10th century, when Armenia had a kingdom, while the Seljuk Turkish nomads had just approached the Armenian highlands. Not exactly the history of nomads.

This is how Jen Kirby, writing for vox.com describes the joint press conference. “During a joint press conference Wednesday afternoon, Trump stood alongside Erdogan — whom Trump said he’s a ‘big fan of’ — and let the Turkish leader repeat his talking points, unchallenged. The US president proved himself to be woefully unprepared, or indifferent, to what’s actually going on in Turkey.”

The biggest joke of that press conference may be considered Mr. Trump’s statements, that “we got along with the Kurds” and that the Kurds living under the tyrant’s rule are “quite happy.”

Armenians won in the House of Representatives and lost in the Senate when Sen. Lindsay Graham blocked Senate Resolution 150, without debating the issue of genocide, just mentioning the age-old argument that “it is not the time.”

It is believed that Graham has received hefty donations  from Erdogan’s cousin, Mutlu Halil, who is a Turkish lobbyist.

It is not possible to guess how much Turkish money has played a role in Mr. Graham’s action, because sometimes he can be a harsh critic of Turkey.

Some pundits in Armenia believe that the US used the Genocide issue to intimidate Turkey for its own gains. But that is the name of the political game. Unless a small country’s interest coincides with those of a major one, the latter will not act out of charity.

A case in point is the creation of the artificial country of Kosovo; Serbia was considered the vanguard of the Slavic (Russian) presence in the heart of Europe and was amputated to give birth to a new state, still protected by the NATO forces.

Erdogan’s visit to the US may or may not have yielded major results, but it has alarmed Russia enough that President Putin at this time is flying to Turkey to assess the damage. He had successfully driven a wedge between Turkey and NATO; now it is time to find out if the wedge has led to any changes.

Also, the resolution at the US Congress and recent US projects to help Armenia have both had positive impacts on Armenia and Armenians.

Indeed, a month ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry was criticizing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s statement about Artsakh. Also, Russia had been indifferent and insensitive with regards to the Turkish blockade of Armenia. Apparently, as a counterbalance to US moves, Russia seems to have reconsidered its policy; the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow has been negotiating with the Armenian ambassador to mediate a rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Armenia last week and made statements that reflect a change in Russian policy. He proposed to mediate between Ankara and Yerevan to improve relations but most interestingly, he found Pashinyan’s policy in solving the Artsakh issue to be the most logical approach.

Coupled with the above developments, Russia’s Minister of Defense Gen. Sergey Shoygu visited Armenia and announced that Russia has decided to double the size of the force at its military base in Armenia.

Russia and Turkey are partners in Syria. They also share many interests countering the West in the Middle East. But they have been perennial adversaries and competitors in the Caucasus. Therefore, Russia has to be very cautious with Turkey’s interference in the region. Turkey has already introduced an occupation force in Nakhichevan, contravening the Kars Treaty of 1923.

All these developments cannot be discounted as coincidental. They seem to be interrelated and their interaction will impact Armenia’s future.

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