I’m safely back from Mauritania, where I had no access to the news at all. It was just me, my family, and five Moors. My life was like this:
I was so much happier that way.
Next week I’ll tell you all about it, but for now, I want to reprint a letter I received from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous. The news from Idlib and Turkey, which is cataclysmic, is scarcely being covered in the US amid the Coronavirus panic and the American election. It should be, and since my correspondent does such a good job of it, I thought I’d pass it on.
1. Both Turkey’s and Russia’s security councils have met. The Turkish security council did not issue a statement, though spokesmen have continued to refer to an attack on Turkish troops by Syrian rather forces rather than by anyone else and President Erdoğan has uttered the traditional revenge formula, “Their blood will not stay on the ground.” But there have been no clear details about what happened, where, or when.
2. The Russian Security Council met later and did issue a statement, in which it essentially blamed the Turks for the deaths that had taken place, saying that no Turkish soldiers had been killed in the agreed observation posts in Idlib. Those who had died did so because they were involved in or close to terrorist attacks on Syrian forces
3. 33 deaths of Turkish soldiers in Idlib have been officially acknowledged. Soldiers sending home messages have, from the moment the news broke, been claiming much higher figures, originally 86 (the figure circulating inside the Turkish civil service) and 150 (from soldiers on the front.)
There is no way of telling whether or not these figures are correct. Families have also revealed that they were getting farewell calls from their sons serving at the front over the last few days saying that they were being bombarded and would soon die.
4. Turkey has not blamed the Russians or declared hostilities against them. Its accusations are confined to the Syrian forces, against whom it says it is retaliating. Instead the AKP proposes to hold a secret session of the Grand National Assembly. This is traditionally done to protect information of impending military or security initiatives, but in this case the motive appears to be to conceal the facts of this catastrophe from Turkish public opinion. (Two years ago when two Turkish soldiers were burnt alive by ISIS, the government similarly successfully concealed news of the event by threatening in public to send anyone mentioning it to prison, even though a video of the murders was available on the Internet.) Metin Gurcan, the strategic studies commentator, has boldly issued a personal condemnation of the secret session. Elsewhere, the government has warned that messages on the social media are being followed and may lead to prosecution. (A specialist department of the police was recently created to do this.)
5. Yesterday evening around midnight its time, Turkey opened its borders to Syrian refugees(those already in the country and not those still in Idlib) and provided free transport by local municipalities for them to cross into the EU via Greece. Response from the EU to this seems so far to have been muted. There is absolutely no rational or moral explanation for a policy move of this kind. Greece is inevitably repelling the would-be immigrants with tear gas. Despite it, a number of Western commentators have called for international support for Turkey and its president against Syria and Russia.
6. Turkey has appealed to both the EU and NATO for assistance and has had expressions of sympathy. It is hard to see how NATO could possibly go to the assistance of an invading country who troops are involved in a conflict with the legitimate government of that country—though of course other NATO members have also long broken international law by stationing their troops there and assisting in attempts to partition it, opening the way for a steady succession of international problems, including of course the displacement of millions of people. Turkey’s motive for appealing to NATO may be largely cosmetic—to give it the opportunity to proclaim to its population that the EU and NATO are its opponents.
7. Turkey seems to be planning to resolve the issue with a summit meeting between Presidents Putin and Erdoğan. President Putin will presumably only agree to this when he is sure that there will be a full Turkish climbdown. Those looking for a historical parallel might recall the Battle of Sadowa/Königratz in 1866 when Bismarck fought and cowed Austria-Hungary into permanent acceptance of Prussian, later German, dominance.
8. The Turkish public is mostly well aware that a catastrophe has happened and that this is the result of policies by one or more specific individuals. This is not good news. It implies that as life returns to normal there will have to be another emergency crackdown on opposition activists and media—those that remain, and it will probably be harsher than that which followed the Gülen-led attempted coup of July 2015.
9. British and American news coverage will continue to focus on transgender rights, Harvey Weinstein, and Prince Andrew and other overwhelmingly important issues. Governments will continue to try and placate Ankara while keeping a safe distance.
More from me soon as I ease back into Western life. Mauritania was extraordinary, and I have a lot to say about it. But unfortunately, I came back to a gravely ill cat—the Smudge has suffered a massive stroke. In the coming days I’ll be nursing her, either back to health, which growingly seems unlikely, or toward the most peaceful end I can give her.
As anyone who has loved an animal knows, it is unspeakably sad. We must endure our going hence, even as our coming hither: Ripeness is all.
If a reader wishes to contribute to the veterinary bills, or other bills, I’d be very grateful. I hadn’t budgeted for them. This is the link, and thank you.
I will have fascinating tales from Mauritania to tell you soon.