‘Islam is now front & center of Turkey’s foreign policy’

A Turkish flag is seen next to the dome of a mosque in Istanbul, Turkey © Alkis Konstantinidis
During the Cold War Turkey joined the Western alliance, and now that there is no Soviet Union, Turkey feels that the whole of the West is against it, Kani Xulam, director of the American-Kurdish Information Network, told RT.

In Turkey, an anti-US rally has been held at the NATO airbase in Incirlik. People waved Turkish flags and chanted anti-US slogans. The base is a crucial US facility, home to 2,000 American troops as well as 250 German soldiers, and most importantly, the base houses nuclear warheads.

RT: Why does the US military presence irritate so many Turks?

Kani Xulam: Because so many Turks have become Islamists because Erdogan has become their president, because Islam has become the front and center of their foreign policy. And in times of crisis people don’t think logically. They think culturally, if you will. For 500 years, Ottomans and Europeans were at odds with one another. For 50 years there was no war. During NATO times, Turkey joined the Western alliance. And now that there is no Soviet Union, Turkey feels that the whole West is against it.  

RT: It's not the first protest of its kind and surely not the last. Do you think public discontent could eventually impact on US-Turkish relations?

KX: I think it could because when the government-controlled newspaper… says that America was behind this coup, when America itself says we have nothing to do with this coup, it shows that when it comes to Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan says America has to follow me instead of the rule of law. Yes, it is a troubled relationship. It doesn’t look good.

Incirlik airbase in the southern city of Adana, Turkey © Umit Bektas

RT: Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook suggested the Incirlik airbase was not essential to Washington’s purposes. How important is the Incirlik base to Washington?  

KX: It is only a hundred miles from Syria, it is not that far. It definitely helps to have that base against ISIS. But America conducted its war in 2014 and Turkey was not on board. Turkey only came on board in July 2015. Till that time America was doing well. It has to do more with the Islamist orientation of the government of Turkey. As far as Gulen is concerned, Erdogan cooperated with him from 2007 until 2013. They were each other’s best buddies. They purged the military; they sent the army back to the barracks. But in 2015, Erdogan decided to wage a war against the Kurds. He had to enable the army to wage that war. And when the army was enabled, the army felt like it had the power to challenge him as well. And this led to a coup that almost succeeded. 

RT: What about Gulen, do you think the US will extradite him eventually?

KX: I don’t think so. I think the institutions of this country are very strong. I don’t think Turkey is a banana republic. Yes, they want to throw their weight around. The US cooperated with Turkey in apprehending Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader in Nairobi, Kenya. But this fellow [Gulen] has a green card. Unless Turkey provides solid evidence, I don’t think the US can extradite him. And because there is torture in Turkey, if there is solid evidence that he was behind this coup, the US may tell him to leave for another country, but not Turkey.

'Muslim blood has been spilled through Incirlik military base'

RT: Who are these people protesting and what are they demanding?

Alaattin Kilic, Istanbul-based journalist: The protesters are a community of Islamist origin who gathered in front of the gates of the NATO military base in Incirlik to protest the US presence in Turkey. These people are accusing the US and Israel of orchestrating the coup. They are also accusing the US and Israel of carrying out the attacks in the Middle East, especially in the Muslim countries through this military base in Turkey. They are protesting for the shutdown of this base.

RT: Why is the protest taking place at Incirlic?  Why is this facility important?

AK: The significance of this military base is that it is the largest NATO military base in the Middle East, and the base is hosting nuclear weapons. The other significance of this military base is the Islamic community which is protesting... are saying that the US attacks in Iraq and Syria and previously in other countries are all carried out from this military base. So what they are saying is the Muslim blood has been spilled through this military base, which is also hosted in a Muslim land. So, this is kind of an ideological and religious protest against the military base.

RT: Relations between Washington and Ankara have worsened during the weeks after the failed coup in Turkey.  What are the reasons for that?

AK: The protesters are also protesting at Incirlik because they accuse the United States of being behind the coup. US officials stepped forward in the first place to give their support to the democratically elected parliament of Turkey. However, this Islamic group is still accusing the United States and their attitude about extraditing the Islamic cleric who has been living in the United States.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.