January 25, 2019 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 176

From The MEMRI Archives: Turkish President Erdoğan's Past Close Relations With Afghan Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – In Light Of Hekmatyar's Afghan Presidential Candidacy

January 25, 2019 | By Steven Stalinsky*
Turkey | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 176

As Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a U.S. Specially Designated Global Terrorist, announces his candidacy for the Afghan presidency, MEMRI presents archival material – a column published March 23, 2005 in the New York Sun by MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky – that includes a photo explaining the long-standing relationship between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hekmatyar, and Erdoğan's esteem for the man at whose feet he sits for a photo. It is interesting to note that the man on the left at Hekmatyar's feet is Rached Al-Ghannouchi, the leader of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood movement Ennahdha.

The following is the article:

Click here to view a video of the meeting.

A picture is worth a thousand words. A couple months after Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was elected to office representing the Justice and Development Party, the Turkish daily Star Gazette ran a photo on July 10, 2003, that shows Afghan jihad leader (and Taliban and Al Qaeda ally) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar sitting with two men kneeling at his feet. The man on the right is Mr. Erdogan. The caption reads, "Taliban in the armchair, kneeling is the Prime Minister." It is important to recognize the significance of sitting at one's feet in Islamic tradition: It implies spiritual submission.

Mr. Hekmatyar has long-established ties with Osama bin Laden and is responsible for offering to shelter him in Afghanistan after he fled Sudan in 1996. Following September 11, 2001, Mr. Hekmatyar pledged allegiance with the spiritual leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, to launch a guerrilla war on the Afghan government and American troops there. Mr. Hekmatyar was named in Executive Order 13224 as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" during the same month that Mr. Erdogan was elected.

After Mr. Erdogan came to power, press reports in the West displayed some initial concern for a possible Islamist tilt by Turkey. As the Voice of America reported this week, the "underlying U.S.-Turkish tensions is the growing presence of Islam." The VOA went on to discuss how America had been in support of Turkey's experiment with a party that originated from the Islamist movement and that when it initially came to power it was viewed as something that would prove that Islam and democracy are compatible.

The VOA quoted a professor explaining why Turkey's opposition to American activity in Iraq does not justify anti-Americanism by members of the Turkish government and press corp. "When you have serious newspapers publishing articles about the U.S. having a secret weapon that makes earthquakes and that Istanbul is the next target ...When you have newspapers that publish all kinds of scurrilous articles about the U.S., that is more worrisome. The problem is that some Turkish politicians have joined the fray and have accused the U.S. of genocide and all kinds of other activities in Iraq," VOA recounted the professor saying.

Since the Islamists came to power, there has been a noted increase in anti-Americanism. A BBC poll that found that 82% of Turks are anti-American and one of Turkey's current best-sellers involves a fictional futuristic war with America. Additionally, Turkish protesters laid black floral wreaths outside the American embassy during Secretary of State Rice's visit last month.

MEMRI's Turkish Media Project monitors Turkey's press, and will soon cover TV channels, sermons from mosques, and textbooks. To date, this project has found rampant anti-Americanism. One example includes the Turkish Islamic daily Yeni Safak, known for unofficial ties to the current Turkish administration (such as the fact that the owner of the paper recently married a child of Turkey's Prime Minister).

Shortly after the American presidential election last year, Dr. Husnu Mahalli, a columnist at Yeni Safak wrote on November 17: "When will we understand that this is a new Crusader war?... When will we realize that American aggression targets... all Muslim countries and peoples?... After bombing the mosques of Fallujah, the American soldiers desecrate them by urinating on and soiling their walls. After raiding homes, American soldiers strip the women and girls naked and molest them... and this is why 59 million Americans voted for Bush."

The most recent casualty of the American-Turkish rift is American ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman, who has resigned his post. Some reports point to a statement Mr. Edelman made and was misquoted about dealing with Turkey's President Sezer's April visit to Syria as the reason. It is plausible to suggest issues surrounding the Iraq war are partially responsible for Turkey's increased anti-Americanism. But given that the country is ruled by an Islamist government whose president has given his spiritual devotion to an ally of Al Qaeda, raises many questions which have yet to be explored.


* Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI.

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