Britain’s £100m fighter jet deal is helping Erdogan build a self-reliant dictatorship, writes SARA WOODS
ONE of the three biggest arms companies in the world is helping a genocidal dictator to autonomously develop his own weapons for generations to come. That company is British-owned BAE Systems.
In January 2016, it was widely reported that Theresa May agreed on a £100 million defence deal to help develop fighter jets for the Turkish air force.
The deal was for not only the first 250 TFX next-generation fighter planes to be built, but also for the knowledge and expertise of defence giant BAE Systems (formerly British Aerospace) to be transferred to Turkey via Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).
There was competition for this contract, and Turkey has used that to its advantage, insisting on full technology transfer, access to all source codes, software and communications systems, with Turkish engineers working directly on the project, on Turkish soil.
This is one giant step in Turkey’s mission to become self-reliant in weapons technology, to save billions on military imports and become resilient to arms embargoes.
The timing of the deal is pertinent. Germany — historically a great ally of Turkey, with a relationship dating back to the first world war — has increasingly blocked arms exports to them in recent years, and in a bold move has just frozen all weapons shipments to Turkey.
This follows a similar move by Austria at the tail end of 2016.
In 1975, the United States imposed an embargo on arms exports to Turkey after its invasion of North Cyprus. This embargo was lifted after three years, but severely hindered Turkish expansionism at the time. Since then, the Turkish state has been intent on manufacturing its own arms.
The list of the Turkish state’s current crimes is getting too long to fit into a single article. At the current rate you would need a four-volume encyclopaedia for a year of misdeeds alone.
Since the attempted military coup on July 15 2016, a brutal crackdown has been ongoing, with hundreds of thousands sacked, detained and arrested.
A hundred and forty-nine media outlets have been shut down—a figure that will doubtless be much higher by the time this goes to print—and over 2,000 educational institutions closed.
It is clear that the coup attempt was the perfect excuse for an epic power grab by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has since made countless reforms, changed the constitution and concentrated his own power.
Even before the botched coup, Turkish state forces imposed blanket, round-the-clock military curfews on no less than 22 cities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish south-east, massacring thousands of civilians, displacing hundreds of thousands, and razing swathes of cities.
Turkey’s bloodiest massacre and displacement of Kurds since the 1990s—as Corporate Watch called it in their 2015 report—began as peace negotiations between the government and the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) crumbled.
This occurred — not at all coincidentally — just after the June 2015 parliamentary election, when the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) broke through the 10 per cent election threshold set up to stop such parties gaining even one seat in Parliament, and for the first time, a pro-Kurdish, pro-democracy, pro-women and LGBT rights party won 13 per cent of the vote, gaining a whopping 80 seats in parliament.
Now, two years on, some 5,000 HDP party officials are jailed on “terrorism” charges, including its male and female co-leaders.
Turkey is silencing opposition media by closing down every news agency that refuses to become a mouthpiece for the state and jailing the highest number of journalists in the world.
There is a massive crackdown on social media, and much of the internet is blocked.
“Trustees” imposed by the state to replace elected representatives have been closing down civil society projects and renewing the ban on the Kurdish language. Women’s centres, businesses and organisations have been shut. Even theatre troupes aren’t safe.
Let’s not forget the strong evidence of support for Islamist groups inside Syria, including the Islamic State itself. Turkish journalists and lawmakers who leaked some of that evidence have subsequently been tried for “leaking state secrets.”
And of course there is the ongoing Turkish invasion of Syria, with a military build-up currently happening around the predominantly Kurdish Afrin Canton.
Big new arms deals are being made with Turkey just as the last traces of democracy are stripped from the country, and the British government, more now than ever before, is complicit in war crimes carried out by the Turkish state.
This £100m was a “gateway deal.” Theresa May wants Britain to become Turkey’s new key military partner, at a time when even its most long-standing allies are pulling away in disgust, and Swedish politicians accuse Erdogan of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Turkey wants to become autonomous in weapons production by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Republic.
The general director of Turkey’s biggest arms company Aselsan Faik Eken says: “We’re making products better than most in the West.
We’re cheaper … We’re ready to share technology. The Turkish defence industry can be a valid alternative to the West.”
If Turkey achieves its aim and is given the technology and skills to survive any future arms embargo, it will be very difficult to stop Erdogan from whatever expansionist and genocidal plots he may be cooking up.
A delegation from Turkey will attend the DSEI arms fair in London this September. We know that Turkey has made big successful deals at DSEI in previous years. During the event in 2015, Turkish state-owned company Roketsan signed a F-35 fighter jet missile contract with US-owned Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world.
This year, Turkey has asked for its space at DSEI to be expanded by an extra 200 square metres, keen to display its growing portfolio of weaponry and military technology, strike deals with fellow dictators, and ensure the longevity of Turkey’s war economy.
Is there anything we can do to stop it? Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) thinks there is. CAAT is a non-hierarchical grass-roots campaigning organisation that was founded in the 1970s to research, monitor and take action against the arms trade.
It monitors the British government and British arms companies and organises with groups and individuals here and abroad to take action against the arms trade using a variety of campaign tactics. It is currently organising against the DSEI arms fair.
A CAAT spokesperson said: “As it steps up its new attacks on the Kurdish population, Turkey is also importing more weapons. UK military equipment is being used by the Turkish military in attacks against the Kurdish people and UK arms companies are seeking to profit from these attacks.
“The UK has licensed £355m worth of arms to Turkey since Erdogan became President in 2014, and the UK government lists Turkey as a ‘priority market’ for arms sales. A Turkish military delegation, Turkish arms companies and international companies supplying Turkey’s military will all be at DSEI 2017.
“If we can take action to stop DSEI, we can actively disrupt the sale and supply of weaponry to Turkey.” CAAT is one of many groups coming together in a coalition to stop the arms fair. Protests will be focused on preventing the setting up of DSEI, with a week of action from September 4 to 11. Details of the actions can be found at stopthearmsfair.org.uk
Sara Woods is a writer for the Shoal Collective, a newly-formed co-operative of independent writers and researchers, writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism.You can follow Shoal Collective on Twitter at @ShoalCollective.