Turks Dislike America
This is not new
In early 2018, the editor of the ultra-nationalist pro-government Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak unequivocally called the United States an enemy of Turkey. America, Ibrahim Karagül wrote, is “a serious threat to our country’s existence, its unity, integrity, present and the future. It is carrying out an open attack, and an undeclared war against Turkey.”
Karagül and his ilk have been writing such things for years now — and are upping the ante as the relationship between the United States and Turkey enters a new historic low-point. Washington slapped sanctions on Turkish officials in August 2018 over Ankara’s continued detention of the American pastor Andrew Brunson.
There are other disagreements between Ankara and Washington, including the former’s choice to buy Russian S-400 missiles and the latter’s support of Syrian Kurdish fighters against Islamic State.
The tabloid’s editor went on to insist that United States must withdraw all of its forces from Incirlik air base, resurrecting the unsubstantiated allegation that U.S. military personnel there supported the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
In August 2018, a group of Turkish lawyers also called for a raid against the American section of the base, once again raising questions over why the United States continues to use the facility and keep a stockpile of nuclear bombs there.
“If this is not done, cannot be done,” Karagül warned, “there will come a time when thousands of people surround and siege the Incirlik base. When that time comes, nobody can stop this nation from intervening in foreign military units, because that anger cannot be stopped or controlled.”
Such a proclamation is quite remarkable considering that what Karagül is essentially describing sounds uncannily like what happened in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, when Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy. That led to the complete breakdown in Tehran-Washington relations and incited a rivalry that has lasted to the present day
Also in August 2018, Abdurrahman Dilipak — writing in Yeni Akit, another pro-government ultra-nationalist Turkish newspaper — warned U.S. president Donald Trump against “creating more tensions in relations with Turkey” since it “will lead to more problems for the U.S. and E.U countries.”
“It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility,” Dilipak wrote.
Anti-Americanism of this kind, invariably fueled by grand conspiracy theories and hysteric paranoia, is not a new phenomenon in Turkey. In 2003, Washington wanted to use Incirlik as a launchpad for a northern front in the invasion of neighboring Iraq. The Turkish parliament voted against it and the United States had to instead invade largely from the south, while establishing a smaller front against Baghdad with the Kurds in the north.
After this Turkish refusal Paul Wolfowitz, then deputy secretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration, went on Turkish television and suggested that the Turkish military could have intervened and “say it was in Turkey’s interest to support the United States.”
Such a comment, given Turkey’s history of military coups, caused a stir.
At top — a U.S. Air Force F-16 takes off from Incirlik air base. Air Force photo. Above — Valley of the Wolves: Iraq capture
During the invasion of Iraq, some U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles went off course and crashed in southeastern Turkey, as well as in Saudi Arabia and even Iran. Turks, however, expressed disbelief that it could really have just been a mistake. “Bush wants to hit all the Muslim areas,” one man said. “They will start here and then go to Istanbul.”
The controversial and unpopular Iraq war heightened anti-American sentiment in Turkey. On July 4, 2003, U.S. troops captured and detained Turkish troops in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turks allegedly were plotting to destabilize the region in order to give Ankara a pretext to subdue nascent Kurdish autonomy.
American troops placing of hoods over the heads of the Turkish soldiers quickly sparked outrage across Turkey, with many Turks perceiving it as an affront to their country and national pride. Despite subsequent expressions of regret and sorrow from Washington, Turks were not quick to forget, much less forgive.
In 2006 the movie Valley of Wolves: Iraq, the most expensive Turkish-made movie up to that point, portrayed American soldiers in Iraq as trigger-happy butchers of innocent Iraqis. The plot revolves around Turkish commandos infiltrating Iraqi Kurdistan to avenge American troops who carried out a fictitious version of the “hood event.”
“If I see an American when I get out of here I feel like taking a hood and putting it over their head,” one old Turkish man said upon viewing the movie.
Shortly after the movie’s debut, a Turkish novel called Metal Storm described a fictional U.S. invasion of Turkey. It became a national bestseller.
In the story Ankara wins the support of China, Germany and Russia, who help foil the American invasion. A Turkish agent even destroys Washington, D.C. with a stolen nuclear bomb. Turkey then manages to repel the American invasion after its aforementioned allies threaten the United States with nuclear attack.
“The book is clearly sold as fiction, but its premise has entered Turkey’s public discourse in a way that sometimes seems to blur the line between fantasy and reality,” Christian Science Monitor reported. The book also gained popularity in the Turkish military. One of the novel’s authors described it as “a philosophical and scientific calculation” and “more than a novel.”
U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq by the end of 2011 and the early years of the Obama administration resulted in somewhat of a thaw in U.S.-Turkish relations. This gradually came to an end over the Syria crisis.
Ankara sought American help in supporting the Syrian opposition to oust Bashar Al Assad. This never happened. Much to Ankara’s consternation, Washington instead directed all its efforts toward arming and supporting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, also known as YPG.
The YPG essentially is the Syrian branch of Turkey’s decades-old Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which the Turkish government considers a terror group.
Early in the U.S. war against Islamic State, Ankara barred the Americans from using Incirlik for operations, meaning American warplanes had to fly from bases in the Persian Gulf or aircraft carriers. Turkey did finally allow the Americans to launch air strikes from the strategic base in July 2015 as it focused its own military’s efforts on subduing the PKK.
A year later, a coup attempt against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faltered. Ankara blamed the cleric Fethullah Gulen for masterminding the attempted takeover from his exile in the United States. Washington has since denied Ankara’s request for Gulen’s extradition, citing a lack of substantial evidence on Turkey’s part.
Continued U.S. support for the YPG, coupled with widespread belief among Erdogan’s supporters that Washington had a hand in that coup attempt, has led to renewed, and increasingly bellicose, accusations in the Turkish press that the United States is actively engaging in a conspiracy to dismantle Turkey.