Turkey’s beleaguered government shot down a Syrian MiG-23 and blocked access to “Arab Spring” favorite Twitter ahead of the March 30 local elections.
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A downed fighter jet is the latest act of aggression along the Syrian and Turkish border. Hostilities between the neighboring countries have increased after Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad suppressed opposition demonstrations that morphed into outright civil war. The insurrection, now entering its fourth year, pitted Assad’s minority Alawite clan against mostly Sunni Muslims aided by Gulf States and Saudi Arabia.
Fearing Syrian spillover violence, Turkish military forces reported that a Syrian MiG-23 entered its airspace near the Hatay border zone and Turkey repeatedly warned the pilot to turn back. After several failed communication efforts the Turkish military authorized an F-16 to fire a missile that hit the Syrian jet, causing it to crash inside Syrian territory. The Syrian government said the pilot successfully ejected from the aircraft. This is not the first time that Turkey has challenged the Syrian military, last September, it shot down a helicopter after it too purportedly entered Turkish airspace.
Syria condemned the act calling it “blatant aggression,” and the state news agency SANA called Turkey's actions “unprecedented and unjustified.”
Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, disagreed. “Turkey shot down a Syrian fighter jet Sunday after the warplane strayed into its airspace. Our F-16's went up in the air and shot that plane down. Why? Because if you violate my airspace, then from now on, our slap will be hard.”
Turkey's act of aggression seemingly conflicts with Turkey’s status as a member of NATO. As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey is expected to act in accordance with Article One of the agreement that explicitly states:
“The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”
And Article Five: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pointed out that even though Turkey is a NATO member there are factors that put his country in a different position than other members of the Western community.
Sources suggested that Erdogan most likely gave the order to shoot down the Syrian aircraft in an effort to coalesce Turkey’s populous against the greater evil that is Syria in an effort to deflect charges of corruption.
The suspension of Twitter
In a separate matter, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan warned opponents last week on the campaign trail that the popular social media site would not hinder Turkey’s upcoming election process. According to local TV reports, “The move came just after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to root out Twitter when he pushed through new legislation last month that allowed authorities to shut down websites and track users browsing histories.”
The embattled Prime Minister is facing a long list of corruption charges that ignited last summer’s protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square generating international headlines. Twitter played a key role and was used to release wiretapped recordings that implicated Erdogan. The latest censorship move puts Turkey on a list that includes Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Meanwhile the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, suggested that complete social media bans would not stand and asked the Prime Minister to reinstate service. “I hope this implementation won’t last long.” Gul also reminded Erdogan that a heavy-handed approach was unacceptable and would only lead to more protests.
The US State Department quickly responded to Erdogan’s unilateral censorship. “The United States supports freedom of expression in Turkey and opposes any action to encroach on the right to free speech. We urge the Turkish Government to unblock its citizens’ access to Twitter and ensure free access to all social media platforms.”
Currently Erdogan is being pressured to restore Twitter but warns the opposition party he may suspend Facebook next.
The Middle East has been embroiled in ethnic unrest since the Arab Spring took hold in Tunisia in 2010. The Syrian conflict has been the Arab Spring’s longest and bloodiest battle over ethnic rule. As the civil war grinds on, refugees flood neighboring countries placing additional pressure on already fragile governments. The influx has literally created cities with millions of displaced people. The World Food Program says it provides food to 4.2 million refugees per month. The United Nations has estimated that 9 million Syrians have fled their homes in an effort to escape brutal violence from the warring government and rebels, many of whom, are known al-Qaeda terrorists.
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