News | War / Peace - Turkey Beyond the West’s Double Standards

While the Russian war on Ukraine is all over German media, Turkey’s war against the Kurds is relegated to the shadows



Dastan Jasim,

Turkish drone Bayraktar TB2 CC BY-SA 4.0, Photo: Wikimedia Commons | Bayhaluk

In its current issue, The New Yorker magazine ran the following headline: “The Turkish Drone That Changed the Nature of Warfare”. The article is one among a series of pieces about the Turkish drone Bayraktar TB2, presently used by Ukrainian armed forces against Russian invaders. A low-cost technical marvel produced by NATO partner Turkey in the hands of the Ukrainian government fighting the aggressor—it sounds like a good story to be sold in the West.

Dastan Jasim is a political scientist and Doctoral Fellow at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies at the University of Hamburg. 

Translated by Joshua Rahtz.

Other populations affected by the same type of drones — such as in Azerbaijani-occupied Artsakh, quadruple-occupied Kurdistan, or Ethiopia — are left out of such media portraits. The notorious drone has been mercilessly deployed since 2020 when Azerbaijan resumed its war on the Armenian population in Artsakh. In one of the worst drone attacks by the Ethiopian government in the ongoing civil war now more than a year old, 58 civilians were killed as they took shelter in a school. In Kurdistan, the same device is being used in attacks on Kurdish areas in the Turkish government’s Operation Claw Lock, launched in April. Dozens of villages have been destroyed and thousands have fled.

How is it possible that the low-cost Turkish drone of President Erdoğan’s court engineer and son-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar — consisting of a multitude of German, American, British, Austrian, Canadian, and Dutch parts and which has inflicted civilian carnage in so many places — can be transfigured into a tech miracle and an icon of the Ukrainian struggle for freedom? How can a drone that has been used in wars of destruction for years be portrayed so positively in the media? As political scientist Rosa Burc recently noted, a Western double standard regarding the wars in Ukraine, Kurdistan, and Artsakh is quite evident — especially now that they are all occurring simultaneously. One person’s murder weapon becomes another’s liberation weapon.

There does not seem to be any particular sense of shame regarding this double standard when it comes to Turkey. For example, former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel recently declared, when he was criticized for his tweet “dare more Turkey” amidst renewed Turkish attacks on Kurdistan, that it was “wonderful to see how one can provoke the aggression of the know-it-alls with a tweet about #Turkey.” It hardly occurred to him here that the aggression of the “know-it-alls” might have something to do with the fact that a country that is quite openly committing an ethnic cleansing of Kurds and Armenians could be depicted so warmly.

When Annalena Baerbock was recently pelted with eggs in protest of her Turkey policy and her inaction in the case of Marlene Förster and Matej Kavčič, two journalists detained by the Iraqi government, the green-liberal public was not above suppressing the basis of the protest by claiming that the entire incident was concocted by Querdenker, i.e. opponents of the government’s COVID policy. Moreover, while German civil society acts as guardian of the fleeing Ukrainian population, Kurds continue to be deported to Turkey — lately at a higher rate than usual, as Der Spiegel notes without attracting much attention.

The consistent and systematic German ignorance of or hostility to the Kurdish cause, whether here or in Kurdistan itself, is today especially and impressively evident. One is reminded of the 1990s when, during the highway occupations, a deeply traumatized and desperate Kurdish population which had just survived a genocidal episode by the Turkish state faced tight-lipped, glowering and jeering Germans who criminalized any form of Kurdish political organizing beyond the bourgeois mainstream. Germany still shows itself to be an active accomplice in the Turkish genocide of the Kurds and Armenians. If there is any doubt about this, consider that disliked memorial statues can be removed if fellow citizens in the Turkish community demand it.

It is obviously a double standard when the bourgeoisie believes it has discovered its great struggle against fascism in Ukraine, while it shrugs at the suffering in Kurdistan, Ethiopia, or Artsakh. But it would be an understatement to refer to this only as a double standard. For this ignorance, this condescending and self-righteous manner towards all who are affected by German backing of pan-Turkism is more than a double standard. It likewise exceeds the phenomenon of “white privilege” that humanizes some victims while declaring others collateral damage.

The fact that there is more morality for some than there is for others is — as in many other cases, but especially in this one — deliberate: it amounts to a political programme enabling Turkish genocide, and it promotes a view in German society in which Turkey is seen as the guest workers’ country of origin, a modern and innovative drone manufacturer, or a vacation destination, but never as a fascist regime with the blood of innumerable innocents on its hands. To put it another way: there are decades-old political ties which create a social climate designed to prop up German government policy and reconcile the population to a 100-billion euro arms program, while the subject of Kurdistan is understood only as one of terrorism.

Public opinion is always a product of the prevailing circumstances, and these can change. I always like to recall an anecdote from my father, who came to Germany as a political refugee in 1985 to escape Saddam Hussein's regime. He was met with doubt by many Germans: “What do you want Saddam to do? He’s really building up a lot, he's bringing something to the Kurds, he’s moving the country forward!” Of course, this was a deluded statement, but there was a lot of political (and thus media) interest at the time in concealing the extent of Saddam Hussein’s crimes.

Silence was also long maintained about the fact that shortly thereafter the dictator had carried out the largest poison-gas attack since World War II — this was because Hussein was an ally of the West up until the Second Gulf War in 1990–1991. Only after that, and especially once the drums of war could be heard in Washington in 2003, did the perception here change permanently — it was only then that the biographies of my father and millions of other victims of the regime were more widely recognized in civil society, in the media, the public, and in politics. Is that a double standard? Undoubtedly, inasmuch as one understands morality as the morality of the rulers.

Unfortunately, by implication, this means that it is not honest solidarity that guides the ruling classes in their dealing with Ukraine. An honest discourse that cared about the right of self-defence and the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people would not transfigure a killer drone from Turkey — one causing misery and ruin in so many places — into a miracle weapon. The assumption that this is merely ignorance misses the point. The New Yorker and many other media outlets are quite simply doing what is generally observable in geopolitics: namely, they cast Turkey as mediator in the region, support the booming drone business, and roll out the dual-use market for Western exporters and other countries profiting from Turkey’s drone war. Genuine morality in this regard has not existed for a long while now.