Chapter 1: Who Are Gog and Magog? (38:1-2)
Chapter 2: Preparation for Invasion (38:3-6)
Chapter 3: Israel’s Role in Bringing about Her Own Downfall (38:7)
Chapter 4: Prophecy Pinpoints Our Present Historical Situation (38:8-12)
Chapter 5: Role of America and Britain (38:13)
Chapter 6: How God is Honored in this Mess (38:14-16)
Chapter 7: God Fights Against Gog – Armageddon! (38:17-39:8)
Chapter 8: Clean-Up Campaign (39:9-20)
Chapter 9: Israel’s Purging Results in Final Blessing (39:21-29)
Chapter 2: Preparation for Invasion (38:3-6)
Verse 3 And say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.
“I am against you.” Perhaps because it was given to a Jewish prophet, this prophetic message starts off with the “good news” first about Gog’s defeat. As the prophecy goes on, however, the “bad news” comes to light: the Israeli nation will have brought all this trouble on herself because of her own misdeeds and unfaithfulness to God.
The following portion of the prophetic message, which comes near the end, is actually the first step in the progression of events and, strictly speaking, should have come here at the beginning. But God has to give His messages through human channels, and in this case, probably His Jewish prophet Ezekiel would have found it too difficult to receive right off the bat a message about Israel’s part in the process of bringing about her own downfall and destruction:
“The Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity; because they were unfaithful to Me, therefore I hid My face from them. I gave them into the hand of their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions I have dealt with them, and hidden My face from them. . .” “I will. . . have mercy on the whole house of Israel. . . after they have borne their shame, and all their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, when they dwelt safely in their own land and no one made them afraid.” (39:23-26)
In the light of current events, it is not difficult to understand why God will eventually have to withdraw His protection from the Israeli people who are now dwelling “safely in their own land”. Their mistreatment of the conquered communities within their borders and provocations against their neighbors outside in the greater Mideast region are two of the bigger reasons why Israel’s enemies will be allowed to invade and conquer for a time. (More on this subject coming in the next Post.)
Verse 4 I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords.
Gog the Antichrist is compared to some kind of wild, out-of-control beast. But he is not beyond God’s control and cannot cause any more harm than what God allows him to.
Regarding the description of the “great company”, if this is supposed to be referring to modern warfare, then it sounds rather antiquated. Nowadays, armies don’t ride on “horses”, nor do they use “swords” and “shields”. Perhaps we could compare this to the passage in verses 2 and 3 about Magog, Meshech, and Tubal. There are no groups of people nowadays who use these names. However, we understand that these were ancient terms for peoples who once inhabited the territory now known as Russia, whose inhabitants were descended from these ancient peoples. So it’s not difficult to accept these words as the only way for Ezekiel in ancient times to refer to this modern nation.
And likewise, even though modern weapons are far superior to ancient ones, nevertheless, they still belong in the category of killing instruments. Machine guns, bazookas, cannons, war tanks, and all the assortment of modern weapons, these are the modern day “descendants” of the “horses and horsemen, bucklers, shields, swords” of yesteryear.
The phrase “splendidly clothed” does suggest that the army was suited up in a different and superior fashion. Other Bible versions translate it as “all sorts of armour”. Certainly, it can be said of a modern army that it is “splendidly clothed” with “all sorts of armour” – especially when we compare modern weapons and vehicles with their clumsy counterparts from ancient times: armoured war horses, siege towers, catapults.
It is worth noting too that in modern armies the old terms are still in use: tank divisions are still called the cavalry; engines are still rated according to their horsepower; helmets are still helmets. Of course, there are many other terms we use nowadays – like machine gun, bazooka, grenade, etc. But the Lord had to confine Himself in this case to wordings that were grounded in the reality that existed in ancient times. Otherwise, the message might have appeared too bizarre for Ezekiel to have the faith to receive.
Anyway, this usage of outdated expressions to symbolize modern weapons is no more unusual than the use of ancient tribal names to represent modern nations. The main idea the Lord was trying to get across was that Gog would have a great army – “a great company” – and that it would be well equipped in some superior way (“splendidly clothed”).
There is another theory about this: apparently, there is a new type of weapon known as “EMP” (electromagnetic pulse) in the experimental stage that may come into use in the future. This weapon can disable other weapons that depend on electricity or electronics by shooting out some kind of high-intensity electronic beam. If such a scenario were ever to occur, much modern weaponry would be disabled, and maybe soldiers would have to revert to using swords and shields.
This is possible; however, there are still plenty of modern weapons that operate mechanically, e.g. a machine gun, and they would still be preferable to using a sword. Anyway, it’s a possibility, and who knows what the future may hold?
Verse 5-6 Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet;
Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops – many people are with you.
Here Magog’s allies are listed, those who will join forces with Russia in this invasion. The order of this list follows a circular pattern around Israel, starting with Persia (now Iran) in the east, then going south to Ethiopia, west to Libya, and north to Gomer and Togarmah. So it looks like poor Israel is going to be totally surrounded by enemies.
But why such a gathering of nations against one small country, one may wonder? The answer, of course, is that Israel will – in fact already is – tied into an alliance with the U.S. So these nations will have to confront not only Israel, but also the daunting military might of the American superpower.
Regarding Libya and Ethiopia, these nations were also mentioned in Daniel 11:43. (Daniel 11 is the companion chapter to Ezekiel 38-39; it describes, from a different angle, the invasion of Israel and the Mideast in the End Time.) “Ethiopia” in ancient times was the land south of Egypt. Today that territory is the nation of North Sudan. So these three nations – Iran (“Persia”), Libya, and North Sudan (“Ethiopia”) – who, politically, have been staunch opponents of Israel will join Gog in the invasion.
In recent news Qadhafi’s Libya has suffered defeat at the hands of the U.S., Britain, and France. Truth be told, leaders of these countries were not all that concerned about Qadhafi’s autocratic regime trampling on the rights of Libyans; what really mattered to them was the fact that they could not control Qadhafi and could not get Libya’s oil served to them on a silver platter. Qadhafi laid down his own terms and prices, which greatly annoyed these western powers. As a result, when the “Arab Spring” swept through Libya, they hypocritically hijacked the movement, using it as their excuse to further their own agenda.
As a result Libya may now join the anti-Russian camp for a time. But as the prophecy here indicates, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the politics in this region change rapidly, as often happens in this world. In fact, as the murder there (September, 2012) of the American ambassador shows, Libya could easily veer back into its former anti-Israel stance. Right now, conditions there are so chaotic that (were it not for this ancient prophecy) it would be difficult to see how things are going to pan out in that nation.
One after-effect of the British-French-American intrusion is some burning resentment, not just in Libya but in much of the Mideast, Africa, and even Russia and Germany, nations who, because of their refusal to participate in the war, fear that they will miss out on lucrative oil contracts. Inevitably, this will cause a backlash. If Russia decides to actually do something to re-balance the Mideast equation, it would lead to the scaling back of the power of America and Israel in the Mideast.
And this is really what the prophecy in Ezekiel 38-39 is telling us will happen. . eventually. In fact, we may be getting a hint of that already. Russia’s intervention in September, 2015, in the Syrian civil war has succeeded surprisingly well. Although both America and Russia are supposed to be united fighting their common enemy, ISIS, the fact that Russia is using this as an opportunity to defend her ally Syria (against American-backed forces) presents quite a challenge to America’s presence in the region.
“Gomer and all its troops.” Scholars generally agree that “Gomer”, the son of Japheth the son of Noah, settled in what is now Ukraine, just north of the Black Sea. It is hard to know right now how exactly “Gomer” fits into the picture. However, since the modern name Crimea is derived from “Gomer”, this could very well identify it as the province of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March, 2014. Because of its location, this region has strategic military value and could easily play an important role in Gog’s future wars against Israel.
Gomer’s descendants (especially Ashkenaz his son) migrated to Scandinavia and Germany, and from there into different parts of Europe. (The name Ashkenaz is the origin for words like Scandinavia or Saxon.) Some ancient Scandinavian tribes like the Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and the land of Gaul (now France) and Galicia in northwest Spain and eastern Germany are all thought to have derived their names from their even more ancient patriarch Gomer.)
Anyway, all that to say, it could mean that some European nations, or the European Union, will also join in this war effort. (And certainly Crimea, now that this militarily strategic region has been annexed into the Russian Federation.) (For more information about the ancient movements and location of Gomer and his descendants, see Appendix 1.)
A question that may come to mind: Isn’t Gomer also the origin for the name “Germany”? The names do look similar, but some new information about the pre-Roman history of Europe can shed some rather interesting light on this question about the origin of the name Germany:
[Although many of the early Gomerite tribes did settle in what is now Germany, the name itself was actually derived from certain] Semitic peoples [who] also migrated to central Europe (southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland) [at a later date]. These people were the descendants of Asshur, son of Shem, where Germans originated. Asshur is well known as the father of the Assyrians. . .
The Assyrians occupied a Mesopotamian city on the lower Tigris River called “Kir” and placed captive slaves there (also referred to in 2 Kings 16:9, Is 22:5-6, Amos 1:5, 9:7). The city was populated by the Assyrians for many years, and the inhabitants became known as “Kir-man”. The Assyrians (Kerman) were driven from their land shortly after their fall about 610 B.C. [when the Babylonians invaded]. They migrated into central Europe where they were called “German” or “Germanni”, a general name used by the Romans to represent all Assyrian tribes. . .
— from Table of Nations by Tim Osterholm
Perhaps because of having come from a more advanced civilization, these newcomers rose to prominence, and this might have been the cause for their name “Kerman” becoming the name for Germans and Germany (pronounced originally with a hard ‘g’). Interestingly, Germans also refer to themselves as the “Deutschen”, which is derived from the Saxon word for an “Assyrian”; and their nation is called “Deutschland”.
“The house of Togarmah from the far north.” In their ancient records, the Armenian people revere Togarmah, the son of Gomer, as their ancient ancestor. Strictly speaking, “Togarmah” would cover present-day Armenia and eastern Turkey only. But Togarmah is regarded also as the forefather of all the Turkic peoples. (That would include the independent nations of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan.) In relation to Israel, and to the other nations mentioned (Persia, Libya, Ethiopia which lie to the east and south), Turkey and Armenia are located in the “far north”.
So it may be that the powerful nation of Turkey is the modern “Togarmah” that the prophecy is referring to. Strangely enough over the last few years, Turkey’s political orientation has drifted steadily towards Russia.
As for tiny Armenia, the original “Togarmah”, since she is tied to the Russian federation through her membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States and is a staunch ally of Russia already (as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization with Russia and other C.I.S. states), she will almost certainly be part of the invasion force.
As for Turkey, despite her membership in NATO, there is reason to believe these days that she too may team up with the Antichrist from Russia, a nation which, historically (since the days of the Ottoman empire), has been a longtime enemy of Turkey. In very recent times Turkey’s orientation has shifted towards Russia for a few reasons:
1) The EU has been reluctant to admit Turkey into its membership, probably out of fear that Muslim extremists might find it too easy to enter Europe from Islamic Turkey. This is forcing Turkey to look elsewhere for trade deals and alliances.
2) In the meantime, Turkey’s trade ties with Russia have mushroomed in recent years. Russia’s economy, built on the Soviet model of heavy industry, could not supply the consumer goods that her population demanded after the fall of communism. Rather than trading too much with her rival China or importing expensive goods from the U.S., Russia has turned to nearby Turkey who has been more than willing to fill the void for consumer goods in that country; that also has lessened Turkey’s interest in the EU as a trading partner.
3) For decades Turkey’s government had a pro-secular orientation, but a new government, elected only in recent times, has shifted to a more pro-Islamic orientation and is less inclined to want to link up with Europe and its secular, materialistic culture. In addition, the autocratic nature of the present government has driven a wedge between Turkey and the EU, which requires its member states to follow liberal, democratic practices.
4) Over the last few years Israel’s foreign policy has greatly offended Turkey: In 2007 Israel conducted air attacks on suspected Syrian nuclear plants; these strikes were flown from Turkish territory, but Israel never bothered to inform the Turks. The next provocation came on December, 2008: Israeli troops marched into the Gaza Strip just as Turkey was trying to mediate indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria; this time Israel not only failed to inform the Turkish government, but also lied about it, saying that no offensive was planned; this breach of trust infuriated the Turkish government, which later denounced the Gaza war as “barbaric”. Finally, on 31 May, 2010, Israeli commandos boarded ships of a Turkish-sponsored flotilla trying to cross Israel’s blockade and bring much-needed supplies to the war-ravaged Palestinians in the Gaza strip. The commandos killed 10 people, 9 of them Turkish.
Note: In recent news, Israel, under pressure from President Obama, apologized for its role in killing the Turkish members of the ill-fated flotilla of May 2010. As a result the tense relations between Turkey and Israel have begun to ease up a little. Whether this is a temporary truce, or a more permanent change, is difficult to know at the moment. But certainly, as events in the Middle East continue to unfold, it will become clear.
And in other recent news, Turkey and Russia parted company for a brief time because of their different agendas in the Syrian conflict and because of Turkey shooting down a Russian plane (in November, 2015). But surprisingly, the two have renewed their relationship.
For years Turkey’s relationship with Russia and NATO seems to be see-sawing back and forth but now seems to be moving steadily towards alliance with Russia. (See Appendix 2: News Articles,) In the end (if it is correct to understand “Togarmah” as representing the modern nation of Turkey), it should not surprise us to see a complete about-face in Turkey’s Mid East alliances, as she settles firmly into the camp of the upcoming Russian superpower.
How startling to witness these events that seem to confirm the truth of Ezekiel’s prediction from ancient times. A short time ago there was little evidence that Turkey would join in an alliance with Russia and these other nations mentioned in verses 5-6. But now we can more easily predict that is the direction towards which Turkey may be heading.
One further consideration about this prophecy: it states “the house of Togarmah … and all its troops”. It is possible the prophecy has a wider scope, referring to all the Turkic peoples who stem from the “house of Togarmah”. In which case this would mean that the independent Turkic nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan in central Asia might become part of this invasion force. This is not as unlikely as it might sound: four of these nations belong to the Commonwealth of Independent States and are still somewhat dependent on Russia, and three of them are members of a military alliance with Russia known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Also, they are all Muslim and may feel obliged to contribute “troops” towards the invasion of Israel, a nation whose policies have done much to irritate the Muslim world in these modern times.
At any rate Turkey (and Armenia) would still remain as the main focus of the prophecy because, in relation to Israel, it lies in the “far north” – along with Gomer (Crimea); the other nations of Turkic-origin peoples lie to the east. But it may be that, because of Turkey’s influence, these other nations will be encouraged to join in the war effort. The phrase “many peoples with you” appears a couple times (in verses 6 and 9), which suggests the invasion force could include other nations besides those mentioned in the prophecy.
So that is quite an assortment of nations that will form this alliance against Israel, and against America. Remarkably, at no time in history have the conditions been anywhere near ready for the fulfillment of this prophecy until the modern day. There is no time in the past when Russia ever invaded and conquered Israel, much less with this strange assortment of countries. But now the political conditions have so transformed to the point where Israel is now surrounded by these nations, most of whom we know are antagonistic towards her and have developed more ties with Russia than with the West.
Russia is a rising superpower in the process nowadays of building up her military capabilities – largely in response to NATO’s belligerent stance and intrusion into territories which Russia considers her backyard. So it is conceivable that she could in the future acquire the weapons and resources needed to launch the kind of invasion into the Mid East that Ezekiel’s prophecy has foretold would happen in the Last Days.
From Table of Nations by Tim Osterholm
(1) Gomer “complete” (sons were Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah) – also Gamir, Gommer, Gomeri, Gomeria, Gomery, Goth, Guth, Gutar, Götar, Gadelas, Galic, Gallic, Galicia, Galica, Galatia, Gaulacia, Gael, Galatae, Galatoi, Gaul, Galls, Goar, Georgian, Celt, Celtae, Celticae, Kelt, Keltoi, Gimmer, Gimmerai, Gimirra, Gimirrai, Gimirraya, Kimmer, Kimmeroi, Kimirraa, Kumri, Umbri, Cimmer, Cimmeria, Cimbri, Cimbris, Crimea, Chomari, Cymric, Cymry, Cymru, Cymbry, Cumber (Cimmerians, Caledonians, Armenians, Phrygians, Turks, Picts, Milesians, Umbrians, Helvetians, Celts1, Galatians, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Goths, Vandals, Scandinavians, Jutes, Teutons, Franks, Burgundians, Alemanni, Germans2, Belgians, Dutch, Luxembourgers, Liechensteiners, Austrians, Swiss, Angles, Saxons, Britons, English, Cornish, Irish, Welsh, Scots, French, and other related groups);
1The whole Celtic race has been regarded as descended from Gomer, though history suggests modern Celts are descended from both Gomer and Magog. Archaeologists and ethnologists agree that the first Indo-European group to spread across Europe were Celts. The Irish Celts claim to be to the descendants of Magog, while the Welsh Celts claim to be to the descendants of Gomer. Irish chronicles, genealogies, plus an extensive number of manuscripts which have survived from ancient times, reveal their roots. The Irish were descendants of Scythians, also known as Magogians, which is strongly supported by etymological evidence. Archaeological evidence shows that both the Celts (from Gomer) and Scythians (from Magog) freely shared and mingled cultures at their earliest stages. Russian and eastern European excavations plainly reveal the blending of these two groups. Their geographical locations (what is now eastern Europe, southern Russia and Asia Minor) were referred to by the Greeks under the name of Celto-Scythae, which was populated by the Celts to the south and west, and the Scythians to the north. The ancient Greeks first called the northern peoples by the general name of Scythae; but when they became acquainted with the nations in the west, they began to call them by the different names of Celts, including the Celto-Scythae. Celts and Scythians were considered essentially the same peoples, based on geography, though many independent tribes of Celts and Scythians existed. The Latins called them “Galli,” and the Romans referred to them as “Gauls,” and considered them fiercely independent barbarians. Later names used by Greeks were the Galatai or Galatae, Getae, Celtae and Keltoi. In the third century before Christ (about 280 B.C.), the Gauls invaded Rome and were ultimately repelled into Greece, where they migrated into the north-central part of Asia Minor (Anatolia). They conquered the indigenous peoples of that region and established their own independent kingdom. The land became known as Galatia (Gaulatia). The Apostle Paul wrote his famous epistle to their descendants, the Galatians. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote that the Galatians of his day (93 A.D.) were previously called Gomerites.
Early Celtic tribes (from Gomer) settled much of the European theater, including present-day Spain, France, England and Germany, prior to contact with Scythians. For many centuries France was called Gaul, after the Celtic descendants of Gomer, whom ceded the territory to Romans and Germanic/Teutonic Franks (whence France) in the 4th century A.D. Northwest Spain is called Galicia to this day. Some of the Gomerites migrated further to what is now called Wales. The Welsh claim their ancestors “first landed on the Isle of Britain from France, about three hundred years after the flood.” The Celtic language survives intact today mainly in the two variants of Welsh and Irish/Scottish Gaelic. The Welsh call their language Gomeraeg (after Gomer). The Celts of today are descendants of Gomer, and of the blended tribes of Magog and Gomer.
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Airstrikes by Russia Buttress Turkey in Battle vs. ISIS
By Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, NY Times, Jan. 8, 2017
WASHINGTON–Russian warplanes have carried out airstrikes to support Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria against the Islamic State, an important evolution in a budding Russian-Turkish partnership. The deepening ties threaten to marginalize the United States in the struggle to shape Syria’s ultimate fate.
The air missions, which took place for about a week near the strategically important town of Al Bab, represent the Kremlin’s first use of its military might to help the Turks in their fight against the militant group. The Russians seized an opening to try to build a military relationship with Turkey, a NATO member, as the United States has sought to keep the emphasis on taking Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-declared capital.
The Russian bombing is a remarkable turnabout from November 2015, when a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down a Russian Su-24 attack plane that had violated Turkey’s airspace.
Russia and Turkey had already been involved in a joint effort to establish a cease-fire in Syria–one that does not involve the United States. At the same time, ties between the United States and Turkey have come under growing strain as the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has become increasingly alarmed about the Kurdish forces known as the Y.P.G. The United States has aligned itself with those forces to combat the Islamic State in Syria.
Some analysts say Russia appears to have arrived at an accommodation in which the Turks are moving to establish a security zone in northern Syria to preclude Syrian Kurds from setting up an autonomous region. In return, the Turks appear to be backing off their efforts to unseat President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who, with Russian help, is strengthening his hold on the country’s major cities to the south.
“The Russian-Turkish rapprochement is largely tactical,” said James F. Jeffrey, a former United States ambassador to Turkey. “Russia can live for now with a Turkish enclave in northern Syria if it does not threaten the Assad regime. And it allows Russia to exploit the U.S. shift to Turkey’s rival, the Y.P.G., by providing air support to the Turks against the Islamic State, which the U.S. inexplicably is not providing.”
Turkey began the operation at Al Bab, east of Aleppo, without coordinating with the United States and without the benefit of American airstrikes. “This is something that they’ve decided to do independently,” Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for the American-led operation against the Islamic State, said in November.
Turkey appeared to have assumed that it would make short work of the Islamic State fighters there. But the fighting has been stiff. In late November, the Turkish military’s problems were compounded when three of its soldiers were killed in what Turkish forces said was a Syrian airstrike.
Mr. Erdogan later spoke by phone with Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, who assured him that Russia had not been involved in the air attack, according to Turkish news reports. The improving ties between the two autocratic leaders opened the door to greater cooperation.
By any measure, the nascent cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a striking development. The situation was far different when Russian warplanes arrived at Latakia, Syria, in September 2015 to help the Assad government take on rebel groups, including some backed by the United States and Turkey.
Relations were thrown into a crisis after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian Su-24 attack plane and the Russian pilot was fatally shot by Syrian rebels as he was parachuting down. Mr. Putin denounced the shoot-down as a “stab in the back.” Russia responded by deploying the S-400, an advanced air-defense system, at Latakia, and imposed economic sanctions against Turkey.
But over the past year, the calculations of the two countries have changed. While President Obama warned that Syria would become a Russian military “quagmire,” the Russians, working with Iran, Iranian-backed forces and the Syrian military, helped Mr. Assad take back Aleppo in the waning months of the Obama administration without substantial Russian casualties.
Still, Russia has to reckon with the fact that the Syrian military lacks the troops to control all of the country. At the same time, Turkey’s immediate objectives have shifted. Worried about the possibility that Kurdish fighters might link up separate cantons to establish an autonomous enclave across northern Syria, as well as about the presence of Islamic State fighters near its borders, Turkey sent its own forces into northern Syria in August.
The Turkish offensive, which has enlisted the support of Syrian opposition groups that Turkey has backed, succeeded in taking the town of Jarabulus. But it has become bogged down near Al Bab, the last major town west of Raqqa still held by the Islamic State.
Purges Have Weakened Once Mighty Turkish Military
Der Spiegel, January 18, 2017
Eyup Ozcan is one of the most talented soldiers of his generation. He graduated from the military academy in Istanbul with excellent grades and also studied at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He served in Bosnia and commanded a battalion in Ankara before transferring to NATO in Belgium in 2015. His path to the helm of the Turkish armed forces appeared to have been clearly mapped out.
Now Ozcan is sitting in an office building in Brussels and says he feels like a prisoner. He wears a creased suit instead of his uniform and the diplomatic passport in his briefcase is no longer valid. The Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suspended Ozcan from service, suspecting him of having participated in the July 15 military insurgency. Ozcan has now applied for political asylum in Belgium. He fears he will be arrested if he returns to Turkey, as has happened to many of his comrades.
In the wake of the coup attempt, Erdogan has been tough in cracking down on suspected conspirators. He has fired close to 100,000 public servants while the governors of 47 districts and the deans of all Turkish universities have been forced to resign. Nearly 200 media organizations have also been forced to shut down. But no institution has been as hard hit by the purge as the military. One-third of all generals and admirals have been suspended from service and the air force has lost 265 of its around 400 fighter pilots. The repression has also been directed at Turks abroad. Erdogan has recalled at least 270 officers and military attaches at NATO bases, including those in Mons, Naples and Ramstein in Germany. NATO Supreme Commander Curtis Scaparrotti warns the dismissals have “degraded” the alliance’s military capabilities.
Some of the fired NATO officers have now spoken to SPIEGEL, the first time they have gone public with their stories. For the interview, Ozcan and three colleagues have all changed their names to protect their identities; they have family in Turkey and are concerned about the government taking revenge. The men provide a devastating assessment of the Turkish armed forces. They say the failed coup has damaged the troops’ morale and image while adding that diverse groups are wrestling for power with some of them openly opposing army Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar. “The military is going through the most difficult time in its history,” says former Chief of the General Staff Ilker Basbug.
President Erdogan doesn’t seem to care. He has sent his soldiers into Syria and Iraq, both of which are complicated operations. In the midst of crisis, Turkey appears to be veering away from the West and toward the East, particularly toward Russia. Since the July 15 revolt, Turkey–once a pillar of NATO with the coalition’s second biggest army–has become a danger to the alliance.
Eyup Ozcan was sitting together with friends at a Turkish restaurant in Brussels on July 15 when the television began showing images of tanks on the streets of Ankara and Istanbul. “I was shocked. I thought this can’t be real,” he says.
That night, a group inside the Turkish military temporarily seized control of parts of the country. The insurgents occupied the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul as well as state broadcaster TRT. Fighter jets bombed the parliament building in Ankara. But the government managed to regain control by the next morning.
Ozcan had hoped that orderly life would return to the military, but a short time later he was ordered to leave his post at NATO headquarters. The government accuses him of supporting Islamist preacher Fethullah Gulen, the man Ankara suspects of having orchestrated the coup.
Ozcan denies having any ties with Gulen. He says his uncle has an account with a bank that is part of the Gulen network, and that it is possible this is how he fell under the authorities’ radar. “Erdogan is conducting a witch hunt,” he says.
The purge has shaken the military. “Everyone is afraid of being denounced,” says a private from Ankara. Support among his men has diminished for army chief Akar as a result of images of imprisoned soldiers who appear to have been abused. The week before last, a court convicted the first high-ranking soldiers who participated in the coup attempt and sentenced them to long prison terms.
The general staff is now having trouble refilling the massive number of posts left empty by the arrests. The government is currently using newspaper ads in an attempt to attract 25,000 new recruits. Many of the officers who are now sitting in jail controlled key parts of the military and it will take generations for the armed forces to recover from this loss of experience and knowledge, argues Gareth Jenkins, a Turkey expert at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. The shortage of air force personnel has become so acute that nine pilots are currently flying sorties in Syria who were placed in temporary detention over the summer as alleged members of the putsch. They aren’t actually allowed to leave the country and they are required to report to the police before and after each mission.
The turmoil within the army poses threats to the troops’ safety. Turkey marched into Syria in August in order to drive Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish militias out of the border regions and Turkish soldiers have now been fighting for six months in the neighboring country, with no sign of an end to the operation. Former Turkish ambassador to the United States Faruk Lagoglu has described it as a “suicide mission.” At the end of December, 16 soldiers died during an attack against IS in the city of al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo. The losses on the ground are “higher than they need to be” because the air force is no longer capable of providing sufficient support, says one fighter pilot dismissed from his position by the government.
Turkey’s self-image has taken a hit as a result of the military’s weakness. The armed forces had long been the source of great pride in the country with generals, known as pashas, having determined the country’s political direction for decades. They view themselves as the guardians of the secular-nationalist legacy of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern-day Turkey. But Erdogan has broken the military’s power since taking office as prime minister in 2003. Together with members of the Gulen movement in the state apparatus, with whom he was still allied at the time, he had hundreds of Kemalist officers sentenced in show trials. Gulen supporters took advantage of the clear-cutting to rise within the military. But in the ensuing years, Gulen and Erdogan had a falling out. Erdogan claimed last summer that the preacher had orchestrated the coup attempt in order to topple him and he has since taken a hardline approach toward alleged Gulen supporters.
The second major purge in the Turkish military within just a few years has created a vacuum–one that splinter groups are now trying to fill. The country’s ultra-nationalist Patriotic Party (Vatan Partisi) and the radical Islamist Sadat group are expanding their influence within the military. Patriotic Party head Dogu Perincek is advocating for Turkey to turn away from Europe and he is working together with Russian political consultant Alexander Dugin. Sadat, meanwhile, arose from a private security firm whose founder, Adnan Tanriverdi, a former general who was forced into early retirement during the 1990s because of his Islamist activities, has now, following the attempted coup, become an adviser to Erdogan.
Both groups could play a role in shaping the direction of the Turkish armed forces. Turkish security analyst Metin Gurcan believes the military will increasingly pursue a religious, Eurasian agenda. Former Turkish NATO officers warn that Russian President Vladimir Putin could exploit the power struggle inside the Turkish military in order to increase Russia’s influence over NATO partner Turkey.
In November 2015, Moscow and Ankara stood on the cusp of a military conflict after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian-Turkish border. But after Erdogan issued an apology, the two sides have displayed increasing unity. Army chief Akar traveled in November to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart and in mid-December, Russia and Turkey also negotiated a deal on the evacuation of eastern Aleppo.
The murder of Andrey Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, by a Turkish police officer on Dec. 19 in Ankara actually seems to have brought the two countries even closer together. Just one day after the attack, the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey met for talks on Syria in Moscow. One Russian senator suggested that NATO ordered Karlov’s assassination in order to torpedo Russian-Turkish relations. Government-aligned Turkish media quickly picked up the conspiracy theory. Karlov’s murder, one television commentator said, had once again placed a question mark over the military partnership with the West.
Turkey Signs Russian Missile Deal, Pivoting From NATO
By Carlotta Gall and Andrew Higgins, NY Times, Sept. 12, 2017
ISTANBUL–In the clearest sign of his pivot toward Russia and away from NATO and the West, President RecepTayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that Turkey had signed a deal to purchase a Russian surface-to-air missile system.
The deal cements a recent rapprochement with Russia, despite differences over the war in Syria, and comes as Turkey’s ties with the United States and European Union have become strained.
It is certain to stir unease in Washington and Brussels, where officials are trying to keep Turkey–a longtime NATO member, and an increasingly unlikely candidate for European Union membership–from entering Russia’s sphere of influence.
The deal comes as relations between Russia and the West are at a particularly low point.
Although a prospective missile purchase from Russia was made public several months ago, Mr. Erdogan’s announcement was the first confirmation that Turkey had transferred money to pay for the missile system, known as the S-400.
“Signatures have been made for the purchase of S-400s from Russia,” Mr. Erdogan said in comments published in several newspapers on Tuesday. “A deposit has also been paid as far as I know.”
The purchase of the missile system flies in the face of cooperation within the NATO alliance, which Turkey has belonged to since the early 1950s. NATO does not ban purchases of military hardware from manufacturers outside the American-led alliance, but it does discourage members from buying equipment not compatible with that used by other members.
A NATO official in Brussels, the headquarters of the alliance, said that no NATO member currently operates the Russian missile system and that the alliance had not been informed about the details of the purchase by Turkey.
Turkey had earlier planned to buy missiles from China, but that deal fell through under pressure from the United States.
Western arms makers lobbied hard for the expansion of NATO into former Soviet satellite countries after the collapse of Communism. They have since lobbied both new and old NATO member states not to stray outside the alliance for weapons purchases that would cut into their business.
Mr. Erdogan dismissed issues of interoperability, brand loyalties or the geopolitical optics of such a sale. “Nobody has the right to discuss the Turkish republic’s independence principles or independent decisions about its defense industry,” the daily newspaper Hurriyet reported him as saying.
“We make the decisions about our own independence ourselves,” he said. “We are obliged to take safety and security measures in order to defend our country.”
Mr. Erdogan’s announcement–made to Turkish journalists aboard his presidential jet as he returned from Kazakhstan–appeared timed as a riposte to two judicial cases announced last week in the United States. One is against his presidential bodyguards, who are charged with assaulting protesters when Mr. Erdogan visited Washington this year. The other is against a group of Turks, including a former minister, accused of breaking United States sanctions against Iran.
Mr. Erdogan has angrily criticized both cases.
Yet Turkey has other reasons for the missile purchase. It needs to cultivate good relations with Russia, and it also needs to build its own military defense, said AsliAydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Turkey wants the deal,” she said, “and Russia is only too happy to drive a wedge into the NATO alliance.”
Mr. Erdogan’s announcement of the deal with Russia came after Germany said that it was suspending all major arms exports to Turkey because of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country and the increasingly strained ties.
The purchase of Russian missiles would take cooperation to a new level, but is not the first time that Turkey has bought military equipment from Russia. It turned to Moscow in the early 1990s to buy military helicopters and armored personnel carriers.
After relations hit a rocky patch over Russia’s 1994 war in Chechnya, however, Turkey disappointed hopes in Moscow that it would become a major new market for Russian hardware.
Russia, largely squeezed out of the arms market in Western and Eastern Europe, even in countries that once bought nearly all their weapons from the Soviet Union, has looked for years to NATO’S eastern flank as a promising market and the alliance’s weakest link. It has also sold weapons to Greece, another NATO member and to Cyprus, which is not a member of NATO but houses British military bases and effectively serves as an outpost of the alliance.