Turkey: “Do as I say, not as I do”

Turkey has joined the U.S., Britain, and France in calling for military intervention in neighboring Syria, following the reported deployment of a chemical nerve agent against Syrian civilians. The perpetrator of the attack remains unknown; however, American and British intelligence agencies are claiming to have proof linking the Syrian government to the attack.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Syria’s use of chemical warfare a “crime against humanity.” Turkey’s condemnation of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, which is still yet to be proven, is so hypocritical it borders on Machiavellian. Perhaps Minister Davutoglu should turn his attention to atrocities being committed within his own borders.

Beginning in late May, protests erupted across Turkey to challenge the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Support for the protests spanned the entire political spectrum, involving activists on the right and the left. The protests became international news when videos of the brutal tactics used by police on peaceful demonstrators went viral.  However, Turkey’s most egregious act occurred when police employed chemical agents in their water cannons against civilian protestors.

The civil unrest in Turkey began as an environmental protest against the removal of Gezi Park, in Istanbul.  On May 27, local protestors created an encampment in Gezi Park in order to halt bulldozing efforts. Local outrage over police brutality began to manifest itself after the police raided the Gezi encampment.  Protests erupted in parks across Turkey and eventually culminated in demonstrations of solidarity with the environmentalists of Gezi Park. The response of Prime Minister Erdogan was a predictable one, to condemn and shame the protestors. In a speech on June 13, Erdogan called the demonstrations the work of “internal traitors and external collaborators” and vowed to strengthen police presence.

To quell the demonstrators the Turkish police turned to the perennial weapons of oppressive regimes, tear gas, riot batons, and water cannons. Turkish police escalated their riot control methods as the protests and demonstrations grew in size.  As early as June 15 reports of police adding chemicals to the water in their riot vehicles emerged.

Pictures of police adding a chemical called Janix to the tanks of the water cannons appeared on the Internet. The effects of the chemical caused severe burns on the skin of protestors and irritation in their eyes.  This resulted in contusions on protestors’ necks, backs, and torsos. It has been reported that the effects of the water can last up to two days or more.

The use of chemicals against unarmed civilians in any situation is unjustifiable.  

United Nations inspectors have yet to offer substantial evidence that links the Assad government to the chemical attacks in Syria. Yet the drums of intervention are being beaten and the groundwork for Syrian intervention is being laid. The Turkish government has ardently criticized the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons, despite only having circumstantial evidence. Turkey’s duplicity is displayed by its condemnation of the Assad regime while simultaneously showering its own citizens with toxic water.

Thus the old adage holds fast: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Photo: A water cannon sprays protesters in Gezi Park at Taksim Square, Istanbul, June 1, 2013. Protesters charged that toxic chemicals were added to the water, causing skin burns and eye irritation that lasted for days. Wikimedia Commons