Turkey needles NATO by buying Russian weapons

Turkey appears to be building a military infrastructure independent of NATO – much to the annoyance of Washington. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might need that new S-400 missile defense system at home.

Russian S-400 at parade in Moscow

Turkey has risked the anger of the United States and its fellow NATO members by signing a contract with Russia to buy a missile defense system.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish media on Tuesday that Ankara had put down a deposit on the Russian-made S-400 missile batteries, a system that can – according to the manufacturers – shoot down up to 80 targets at the same time, and has a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles).

Washington had long been warning Ankara against this purchase, and made increasingly disgruntled diplomatic noises about it. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, suggested that the purchase could violate US sanctions against Russia.

Read more: Özdemir: Erdogan wants to establish Turkey in Germany

For its part, Moscow remained sanguine in response. Vladimir Kozhin, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the Russian state news agency TASS, “I can assure you that all the decisions made for this contract strictly comply with our strategic interests. In this regard, the reaction of some Western countries that are trying to put pressure on Turkey is completely understandable to us.”

Russians at the top

For NATO, the trouble with the S-400 weapons system is that it is not technologically compatible with the systems it has in place in Turkey – in other words, Erdogan seems to have decided to build a military capacity independent of NATO. “It makes sense [for the Turkish government],” explained Guney Yildiz, Turkey specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), “because if everything is integrated with NATO, NATO commanders have full control over Turkish military systems.”

G20 Erdogan and Putin (Reuters/K.Ozer)Erdogan and Putin appear to have found much in common

On the other hand, a Russian missile system also means Russian control.

“It is a very significant development,” said Marc Pierini, former EU diplomat and analyst at Carnegie Europe. “This is a missile defense system that is going to be hosted by the Turkish air force, and the Turkish air force has no experience of anti-missile systems, therefore it is going to come with a significant number of Russian advisors, trainers, and operators and so on. So at the top of the Turkish air force defense architecture, you’re going to have Russians.”

Yildiz believes that a nationally controlled defense system has become a strategic priority for the upper echelons of the Turkish government in recent years.

Watch video00:30

Merkel: ‘We have changed our stance on Turkey’

“They feel they might need a non-NATO air defense system in case they come under attack by some factions in their own military,” he said. “Turkey was the scene of an attempted coup last year, when Turkish fighter jets were bombing Turkish institutions.”

Yildiz pointed out that there have been signs of US jealousy about Turkey’s arms deals before. He remembered that a similar narrative played out over Ankara’s attempts to buy a Chinese missile system a few years ago, when US diplomats managed to successfully dissuade the Turks. “But since then several things have changed,” said Yildiz.

“The US left a vacuum in the Middle East and Turkey tried to fill it in Syria and elsewhere by trying to directly confront Russia and Iran, and it failed really badly.”

Tit-for-tat weapons deals

The low-point of this attempt at regional self-assertion came when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that had encroached on its territory in late 2015 – which makes the new rapprochement more surprising.

Read more: Russia, Turkey agree to reinvigorate relations after diplomatic row

“If you’d asked me six months ago I would’ve said that it was unthinkable that Turkey chooses to purchase S-400 batteries – so this does mark a significant change in Turkey’s approach,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund’s office in Ankara.

Since then, Ankara has changed tack, “pivoted away” from the West, as the jargon goes, and is now seeking regional allies anywhere it can – i.e. Russia. Not only that, Turkey is not exactly pleased by the way the US has been arming and training Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

Sigmar Gabriel (imago/foto2press/M. Täger)Sigmar Gabriel’s new tough line has not gone down well in Ankara

Meanwhile, as if to give Turkey even more reason to shop elsewhere, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confirmed this week that Germany would put all arms exports to Turkey “on hold,” because of the tensions between the two countries.

Read more: Sigmar Gabriel: ‘Turkey will never join EU under Erdogan’

The response from Ankara was prickly: “Germany should keep its security concerns out of political discussions,” said Europe Minister Omer Celik, arguing that the decision would weaken Turkey’s fight against terrorism – or against Erdogan’s enemies at home, some might say. In any case, the move has added spice to Germany’s strange, paradoxical new relationship with Turkey – a major trading partner and biggest political adversary.

This all helps Russia’s cause, according to Unluhisarcikli. “Russia has discovered that it can influence Turkish foreign policy through supporting Turkey’s military industry,” he said. “And if the United States and European Union are unwilling to do the same thing, then actually Turkey might feel compelled to move away from the western orbit and closer to Russia. Russia has a very clear strategy of driving a wedge between Turkey and the United States, and particularly between Turkey and Germany.”



Courtesy, DW

Germany’s Islamic organization DITIB under fire for skipping ‘March Against Terror’

On Saturday, thousands of Muslims in Cologne will take to the streets in a “March Against Terror.” But Germany’s largest Islamic organization, DITIB, will not be taking part. This decision has drawn strong criticism.

Duisburg Moschee DITIB (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Weihrauch)

Aydan Özoguz, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the German commissioner for immigration, refugees and integration, cannot hide her dismay. She has no sympathy for DITIB’s decision not to take part in a Muslim anti-terror demonstration.

“To be frank, it is no longer understandable. I also believe that DITIB is hurting itself the most, especially its own members who, in part, find this call for action good,” she said, adding that these members regard the board’s decision as an affront.

Muslims plan to hold a demonstration under the motto “Not with us” in the German city of Cologne on Saturday to promote peace and show that they are against Islamic terror. Organizers who are associated with the liberal Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor are expecting tens of thousands of participants. The event was heavily advertised on social media.

DIBIT, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, Germany’s largest Islamic organization with a network of around 900 mosques and 800,000 members, regards the demonstration as an affront. In a press release, the group has accused organizers of engaging in sensationalism and expressed concerns that Muslim anti-terror demonstrations would stigmatize Muslims themselves.

Like Aydan Özoguz, Cemile Giousouf also cannot understand DITIB’s argument. She is the integration commissioner for the joint parliamentary group of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Giousouf does not see an “objective reason to refuse to participate in the planned demonstration against Islamic terror.”

Deutschland Zentralmoschee in Köln (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Becker)The DITIB mosque in Cologne was inaugurated in early June

Accusations of espionage and infighting

DITIB is going through hard times. Imams from the organization allegedly spied on community members in Germany who were suspected of being followers of Fetullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric accused by the Turkish government of being behind the country’s failed coup last July. The federal prosecutor’s office has begun investigations into the imams. Trouble is also brewing within the organization itself. The entire federal executive committee of DITIB’s youth organization quit in mid-May because liberal attitudes were not tolerated.

Turkey expert Christoph Ramm from the University of Bern says the recent disputes have arisen at an inopportune moment.

“In the past, DITIB was sort of regarded as ‘everybody’s darling,’ for example, at the Islam Conference,” he said. “It was predictable and based on a secular understanding of Turkey and the people there were familiar. Contrary to other smaller, opaque Islamic associations, it was a welcome dialogue partner for politicians.”

In the course of the failed coup in Turkey in the summer of last year, DITIB became one of the “bad guys,” according to Ramm. He says that most of all, allegations of espionage and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies that were pursued in Germany through DITIB – like the controversial referendum campaign – cast  a bad light on the association.

Aydan Özoguz Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Migration (picture alliance/dpa/M. Becker)Özuguz says she doesn’t understand DITIB’s position

Public funding

In Berlin, there is a cross-party consensus on DITIB’s refusal to take part in the demonstration. Cem Özdemir, co-chairman of the Green Party, agrees with Özoguz and Giousouf. He described the excuse for DITIB’s refusal as “more than flimsy,” adding: “It is beyond me why DITIB does not use the opportunity to send a clear signal of solidarity.”

To integration commissioner Özoguz the problem lies in the fact that decision-makers in associations like DITIB have never really settled in Germany, “although the members for have, for the most part.”

“By that I mean that many were born and raised here,” she said. “But the association, especially the board of directors, is still linked to Ankara in many respects and it attempts to somehow also exert its influence abroad.”

However, DITIB does not seem capable of surviving only off Ankara’s support and without help from Germany. After payments to the association were temporarily suspended because of the espionage affair, the money has been flowing into its accounts again. According to the German Ministry of Family Affairs, “It was decided that funding for projects that have already been approved would resume under consideration of all relevant aspects.” DITIB has received around 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in funding from the German government since 2012.


Turkey’s Erdogan calls Qatar embargo ‘un-Islamic’

Turkey’s president has likened several Arab states’ efforts to isolate Qatar to imposing the death penalty. Qatar is one of Ankara’s main regional allies and is seeking a diplomatic route out of the Gulf crisis.

Türkei Präsident Erdogan Rede Parteitag AKP (Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan)Erdogan speaks to party members as he flashes the four finger “Rabia” sign used by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He has said the sign stands for “one nation, one flag, one people, one state” in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday slammed several Arab countries for economically and politically isolating Qatar, branding their actions as inhumane and un-Islamic.

“It is neither humane nor Islamic to totally isolate a country’s people,” Erdogan told a gathering of lawmakers from his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last week, accusing it of supporting “terrorism,” destabilizing the region and having close ties with Iran.

An embargo has also cut off food, transport and other links between the four countries and Qatar, which typically imports around 80 percent of its food from its neighbors.

Qatar denies allegations it supports terrorism and has vowed to not give up its independent foreign policy.

Erdogan dubbed the Saudi-led actions as tantamount to a “death penalty” imposed on Qatar, which he said was the target of a defamation campaign.

Watch video02:01

Qatar denounces ‘illegal’ sanctions

Read: Why Turkey is standing behind Qatar in the Gulf crisis

The crisis has put Turkey in a difficult position as it views Qatar as one of its chief allies in the region, but Ankara also seeks to avoid damaging relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

Erdogan called on Saudi Arabia’s king as the leader of the region to resolve the impasse.

“Resolving this crisis as soon as possible is in the interest of all nations and people,” Erdogan said.

Underpinning Turkey’s stance on Qatar are strong investment ties, cooperation in Syria’s civil war and the sharing of similar views on political Islam, most notably on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Gulf monarchies and Egypt oppose.

Turkey has been a sharp critic of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since the former general (now retired from the military and elected to his office) ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a 2013 coup.

Watch video01:18

Fears over liquefied natural gas shortage

Qatar and Turkey also seek to engage Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran despite differences with Tehran’s policies in the broader region.

Erdogan said Qatar had fostered stability and was a key actor in fighting the “Islamic State” (IS).

“Without the support of Turkey and Qatar it would not be possible for Syria to push back Daesh (IS),” Erdogan said, referring to Ankara and Doha’s backing of some of the same Syrian rebel groups.

Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of US Central Command, which leads US military action against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Seeking to show its backing of Doha, Turkey has fast-tracked a previously planned deployment of soldiers and trainers to Qatar and has begun delivering food and other supplies by air.

Erdogan is scheduled to talk with US President Donald Trump in the coming days about Qatar situation, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.

Separately, Erdogan sharply criticized US support for the YPG Kurdish militia fighting IS in Syria. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization, because of its links to Kurdish militants fighting in Turkey.

cw/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)




Erdogan left with a divided Turkey after referendum

By expanding his powers through a slim, contested victory in Sunday’s referendum, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consolidated his rule – but over a nation bound for social turmoil. Diego Cupolo reports from Ankara.

Türkei Referendum Präsident Erdogan (Reuters/M. Sezer)

For many voters in Turkey’s referendum, the choice was between an empowered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the unknown. After leading the country for 15 years, Erdogan has become central to the embattled nation’s economic success, while at the same time diminishing political opponents to the point where viable, mainstream alternatives have been absent for years.

But this doesn’t mean the call for another vision has been subdued. On Sunday, Turkish voters decided to consolidate governing powers under the presidency by the narrow margin of 51.2 to 48.8 percent of the electorate, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Erdogan’s supporters celebrated through the night, while his opponents stayed home in front of television sets, reflecting on the future of a nation that seems to be moving steadily away from its secular, democratic ideals of the past.

Watch video00:58

Erdogan dismisses reports of voting irregularities

Following the historic vote, the question Turks now face is how to mend a society composed of two disparate halves. Erdogan has so far made few efforts to unite the nation, and has aggravated divisions through campaign rhetoric that vilified opponents as terrorist sympathizers.

‘Victory for all’

In his post-referendum speech, Erdogan said the victory was for “all ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ supporters.” But while the results may lead to more political stability in the country, there are few guarantees for social cohesion.

Türkei Regierung erklärt Sieg bei Referendum (picture alliance/AA/ E. Menguarslan )Erdogan supporters celebrated the “Yes” victory

With purges still ongoing in the wake of the failed coup of 2016, and government continuing with its widespread demonization of political opponents, Turkey will remain in a state of crisis for years to come, said Soner Cagaptay, senior fellow at the US-based Washington Institute and author of the upcoming book, “The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern.”

He’ll become president of only half of the country,” Cagaptay said in a phone interview before the referendum. “The other 50 percent will never fall under his rule and, to me, that’s a recipe for long-term disaster.”

“It’s a country that’s stuck in a permanent state of crisis, so it won’t be able to unleash its energies for growth and be a regional actor,” Cagaptay continued. “It’s going to be consumed by never-ending domestic political tensions,” and ongoing regional conflicts with “Islamic State” and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

What to expect next

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, just two of the 18 constitutional amendments voted upon will take effect. The rest will be enacted following the 2019 presidential election.

Key changes to the constitution will include the concentration of legislative, judicial and executive powers under the presidency. The office of the prime minister will be abolished, while the role of parliament will be diminished, as the president is endowed with authority to make key judicial and ministerial appointments, without the need for secondary approval.

Türkei Referendum Auszählung (Getty Images/AFP/I. Akengin)Ballot papers were kept simple at the referendum

The president will also be able to issue decrees, as is the case under the current state of emergency, and presidential limits will be extended to two five-year terms, unless early elections are called in a leader’s second term, which would allow for a third presidential term.

In the coming months, Erdogan hinted at holding a second referendum on the EU accession process, in which Turkish voters would decide whether to end long-stalled negotiations. Turkey-EU relations plummeted to new lows during referendum campaigning after ministers with the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) were barred from holding rallies in several EU cities. Erdogan responded to the incidents by accusing German and Dutch officials of using “Nazi methods.”

Turkish lawmakers have also proposed reinstating the death penalty. This has raised international concerns, particularly following mass arrests and allegations of torture that resulted from the country’s post-coup crackdown. Reintroducing capital punishment would further distance Turkey from European nations, and could effectively end accession prospects while possibly also rattling trade relations.

Some analysts have also suggested the possibility of reduced military conflicts in and around Turkey’s borders, but such notions remain open to interpretation, as Prime Minister Binali Yildirim struck a truculent tone in his post-referendum address.

Türkei Yildirim verkündet den Sieg der Ja-Sager (picture alliance/AA/A. Balikci)Yildirim stressed Turkey’s strength

“This nation once again demonstrated that it will not bow down to any [military] domination, external intervention or threat,” Yildirim said.

“Our struggle with internal and external enemies will be intensified,” he added.

Weakness and points of concern

Still, for all the strength Erdogan has amassed, cracks in yesterday’s voting patterns brought out apparent weaknesses in what was supposed to be a solid conservative voting base.

The leadership of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had backed Erdogan’s presidential system, but its voters, about 10 percent of the electorate, failed to follow through. With the AKP holding about half the voting block, the support of MHP supporters, in theory, should have resulted in at least a 60 percent vote for “Yes.”

For the first time in Erdogan’s tenure, he also lost Istanbul to the “No” vote, which is particularly striking, because this was where he rose to prominence in Turkish politics as the city’s former mayor. Turkey’s other two major cities, Ankara and Izmir, also voted “No.”

Nein zu Erdogan Istanbul (Reuters/H.Aldemir)Voters in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir tended to heed calls for “No” (Hayir)

Yet looking past political divisions, Cagaptay said the most concerning aspect in post-referendum Turkey was the reduced strength of the military. Many leading officials have been purged or jailed since last year’s coup, essentially hollowing out Turkey’s security apparatus at a time of high instability.

“[Turkey survived past] crises, because it had a strong national security institution, the military, that ultimately stepped in and prevented the implosion of the country,” Cagaptay said. “[The coup] effectively neutered, if not destroyed, the military as a national security institution that can come to the rescue… that’s why I’m worried.”

Watch video02:34

What next for Turkey?



WikiLeaks, Donald Tusk, European Central Bank: Your Friday Briefing

Good morning.

Here’s what you need to know:


CreditChung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

A South Korean court ousted President Park Geun-hye from office, a first in the nation’s history that could reshape the strategic landscape in Asia.

Hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the streets in recent months to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that reached the presidency.

Her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition on the left, whose leaders want more engagement with the North.



CreditStefan Wermuth/Reuters

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain is resisting pressure to call an early general election to solidify her Conservative majority in the House of Commons while the opposition is in disarray.

A larger majority would take pressure off Mrs. May in the negotiations to leave the E.U., the result of which Parliament must approve, and allow her to claim her own personal mandate as prime minister. But she has vowed not to hold an election before the next scheduled vote, in May 2020.



CreditLefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

• A bitter dispute between Germany and Turkey escalated as leaders in both countries accused the other of acting in bad faith.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has accused Germany of using “Nazi practices” to block him from campaigning among Turks living there for a constitutional referendum at home that would expand his powers. In remarks to Parliament, Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Nazi comparison “sad and incredibly misplaced.”

In Ankara, the prime minister also accused Germany of pushing for the referendum’s defeat, which he said would backfire.

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CreditWikiLeaks, via Associated Press

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, moved to seize the moment after his organization released a new trove of classified information about the C.I.A.’s cyberweaponry.

Speaking from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has sought refuge since 2012, Mr. Assange presented himself as a defender of some of the biggest American technology companies against their own government.

The C.I.A. described Mr. Assange as “not exactly a bastion of truth and integrity.”



CreditArab 24 network, via Associated Press

The U.S. is sending an additional 400 troops to Syria, nearly doubling the American forces deployed there.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led command said the move was intended to support preparations for an assault on Raqqa, which the Islamic State claims as its capital.




CreditDaniel Roland/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

• The European Central Bank held monetary policy steady but faces growing pressure to begin the politically charged task of drawing years of stimulus to a close.

Facebook reported the BBC to the British police after a reporter provided the company with examples of sexualized images of children that had been posted on the social network.

Oil fell below $50 a barrel for the first time since December. Here’s what to make of the volatility.

Chloé, the French fashion label owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont, has named Natacha Ramsay-Levi as creative director.

With Donald J. Trump in the White House, other American executives are asking, why not me?

Here’s a snapshot of global markets.

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In the News


CreditEric Vidal/Reuters

Donald Tusk, above, was appointed to a second term as president of the European Council, despite objections from his own country, Poland. [The New York Times]

The German police arrested a man in an ax attack that injured seven people at the main train station in Düsseldorf. [The New York Times]

Swiss lawmakers in the upper house voted against a proposal that would ban the niqab and the burqa in public places. [Politico]

The U.S. Justice Department declined to confirm a White House statement that Mr. Trump was not the target of a counterintelligence investigation. [The New York Times]

Jon M. Huntsman Jr. is said to have agreed to be U.S. ambassador to Russia. [The New York Times]

An antiques specialist visiting Blenheim Palace in England discovered an ancient Roman sarcophagus that was being used as a flower pot. [The New York Times]

New research by the British Library suggests that Jane Austen may have died from arsenic poisoning. [The New York Times]

Smarter Living


CreditCraig Lee for The New York Times

• Prefer cold-brew coffee? Here’s how to do it right.

• Recipe of the day: Treat yourself to the comfort of Swedish meatloaf and caramelized cabbage.



CreditChristopher Furlong/Getty Images

In memoriam: Howard Hodgkin, above, a British painter who was one of the most admired artists of the postwar period, has died at 84. And Kurt Moll, a German basso who was his generation’s pre-eminent Baron Ochs in “Der Rosenkavalier,” has died at 78.

• The actor Samuel L. Jackson questioned the casting of the black British actor Daniel Kaluuya over a black American in the comedy-horror film “Get Out.” Here’s what some British minority actors who have worked in the U.S. have to say about the issue.

• Want to get in tune with today’s music? Here’s a curated 25-song playlist featuring Future, Adele, Mitski and more, with essays by some of our best culture writers.

“Countryfile,” a British television show that focuses on rural issues, is wildly popular in a nation where people have a “proprietorial attitude” to the countryside.

Back Story


CreditElias Williams for The New York Times

In this age of e-readers and Amazon, it might be surprising that an American mail-order book business started nine decades ago is still supplying readers with literary selections.

Before best-seller lists and well-stocked bookstores, the Book of the Month Club tried to steer a growing middle class to the “right” books. Having such titles in the home became a sign of status.

In March 1926, “Lolly Willowes” by the British author Sylvia Townsend Warner was gaining acclaim, and a month later, it became the club’s inaugural pick.

Famously, a panel of literary experts made the choices over lunch and sherry around an oak table. Their credibility built the fledgling club’s membership.

They had hits like “Gone With the Wind” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” One miss was “The Grapes of Wrath.”

While critics viewed the club as middlebrow, it became a powerful literary institution in the U.S. Its influence diminished with the spread of bookstore chains in the 1980s and further declined with online bookselling.

But some of us still want to be guided by their judges. As an early club brochure said, “What a deprivation it is to miss reading an important new book at a time when everyone else is reading and discussing it.”

Adeel Hassan contributed reporting.


Your Morning Briefing is published weekday mornings and updated online.

Read the latest edition of the U.S. briefing here and the latest for Asia and Australia here.

What would you like to see here? Contact us at europebriefing@nytimes.com.

Istanbul: Terror attack in an increasingly toxic atmosphere

The attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul occurred amid deep ideological discord. Turks disagree on their country’s cultural identity. And Ankara’s turnaround on Syria has confused an already muddled situation.

Istanbul Reina nightclub nach Anschlag (Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose)

Enjoying a New Year’s breakfast on January 1 is a tradition that is beloved in some parts of Turkey and despised in others. Muslims traditionally celebrate according to the Islamic calendar, which this year put the turn of the year on September 21. But people in the country’s big cities, especially secular Turks in Istanbul, celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar. Their conservative compatriots tend to accept that fact. Others are much less tolerant and see the celebration as an attack on Muslim culture.

The Turkish state has also voiced increasingly strong criticism of the tradition over the years. The Washington, DC-based online magazine “Al-Monitor” reports that Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Diyanet, looked favorably upon New Year’s celebrations as late as 2003. “Al-Monitor” quoted the agency’s official declaration at the time, which stated that such celebrations were “part of a universal culture, like Mother’s or Father’s Day,” and thus markedly different from Christian festivals such as Christmas. Yet, this well-meaning – or at least indifferent – attitude has disappeared. “Over the last few years,” writes “Al-Monitor,” “Diyanet statements have taken on a much less positive tone. Now, the office points out that such celebrations ‘alienate’ Muslims from their own culture.”

Masked revellers in IstanbulNot everyone in Turkey wants to see New Year’s celebrations like these in Istanbul

‘No friendship with non-believers’

That message is being taken to heart by a portion of Turkish society. “Al-Monitor” also reported that shortly before Christmas, members of a conservative religious youth organization protested against the increasing popularity of Christian Christmas symbols among secular Turks. Their displeasure was not only directed at the festival itself; the protesters accused secular Turks of “leaving the faithful and befriending non-believers. Are they seeking honor and dignity at their side? All greatness and honor is with Allah.”

The terror attack in Istanbul was not carried out just at a time of cultural tension. The crime was committed before the backdrop of a sharp change of foreign-policy course. From the very start of the rebellion in Syria, Turkey’s conservative government, under then-prime minister and now-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has strongly supported his resignation. Turkey’s government has also been repeatedly accused of giving logistical support to Sunni extremists as well as offering them safe haven in Turkey. Journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül of the Turkish newspaper “Cumhuriyet” reported on such activities. As a result, both men were given long – though not yet legally final – prison sentences.

Armed police standing outside the Reina nightclub (Getty Images/AFP/Y. Akgul)Turkish police currently face huge challenges

Political reversal of Syria policy

Many observers were therefore very surprised by Turkey’s complete reversal of policy on Syria. Last week Ankara announced it would work in cooperation with Russia and Iran, both of whom have been fighting to keep Assad in power. Shortly before Christmas, the Turkish foreign minister, along with his counterparts from Moscow and Tehran, signed the so-called “Moscow Declaration.” In it, all three top diplomats announced their “full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.” That is no less than an indirect call for Assad to remain in power.

In the London-based newspaper “Rai al-youm,” political analyst Abdel Bari Atwan recently wrote that this political about-face would not fail to attract the notice of “Islamic State” (IS) supporters. “One must suspect that this change has caused Turkey to drift into the bloody earthquake of terrorism. The country’s policies and positions are confused, and its political leadership has lost its orientation. This has created a number of enemies for it.”

Scant condemnation of ‘IS’

The terrorists that struck on New Year’s Eve did so against a politically ambiguous backdrop, wrote Bülent Mumay – formerly a journalist at the Turkish newspaper “Hürriyet” – in the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.” Following an IS terror attack that killed 100 people in Ankara in October 2015, Mumay says, then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the terror organization as a “collection of people brought together by anger.” According to Mumay, Davutoglu’s deputy Emrullah Isler even went a step further, saying, “IS kills but it doesn’t torture.”

Mumay went on to write that IS had yet to be pursued as it should be in Turkey. “But what can one expect from a country in which people were allowed to drive through the streets honking after the terror attacks in Paris, their cars adorned with IS flags? And booing and whistling by Turkish soccer fans during a moment of silence for victims of the IS attacks also received broad support,” says Mumay.

Türkei Recep Tayyip Erdogan Ankara (picture-alliance/dpa/Y.Bulbul)Erdogan speaks of mysterious “powers” behind terrorism – but does not say who they are

The president’s word games

Statements by President Erdogan have also done little to calm the situation. Kristian Brakel, who heads the German Green party-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Istanbul office, told DW that the president has repeatedly unsettled the country’s citizens with unclear allusions.

“Erdogan is always talking about the existence of invisible hands, invisible enemies, that attempt to hinder Turkey’s rise. Depending on how one reads it, that could mean the Americans, the Jews, the Europeans or the Germans.” Erdogan used his New Year’s address to repeat such suggestions once again. “Terror organizations are simply the visible face, the tool in this fight,” he explained. “We are primarily engaged in a fight against the powers behind these organizations.” He did not elucidate exactly who those powers were.

The crimes committed on New Year’s Eve have obviously failed to unite Turks in common defense. Many observers have noted that the president, who normally comments on such attacks verbally and publicly, chose to comment on the deaths of mainly secular Turks in a nightclub with a written statement instead.