The arrival of the Turkish aid consignment in South Africa. Screengrab from ITV/YouTube.
The arrival of the Turkish aid consignment in South Africa. Screengrab from ITV/YouTube.

Is Turkey covering up military arms deals by donating aid to superpowers and African governments?

By Mirza Aydin Time of article published May 16, 2020

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One of six Turkish A400Ms military cargo planes which recently landed in South Africa delivered a token amount of medical supplies to South Africa, while all six returned to Turkey full of munitions. This was exposed in  articles by the Daily Maverick and IOL, which questioned  whether Turkey imported these arms to use in Syria and Libya.

The writers highlighted the fact that South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) has no legal authority to approve arms exports to countries which are engaged in conflict.

Neither the NCACC or the exporter company Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM) have provided any concrete information about the transaction. Turkish ambassador to South Africa Elif Ulgen Comoglu also did not provide any information on this arms business. 

City Press mentioned in an article "Getting the low-down on the How to Steal A Country documentary," that the US and Turkey are good examples for South Africans to understand state capture. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been ruling Turkey since 2003, and for the last nine years the country has faced mounting criticism as the ruling Justice and Development Party becomes more authoritarian.

Turkey has been very actively supporting rebels in Syria since 2011, and now Ankara is actively involved in the war in Libya.

The Turkish economy entered stagnation in the last quarter of 2018, and the construction sector, which is the locomotive of the economy, faces one of its biggest slumps on record. Erdogan, who has shares in almost all the major construction companies, now involves his family heavily in the arms business and has become  one of the biggest global arms traders.

Erdogan's government has waged a fully fledged war against Khalifa Haftar's forces, and has been violating the United Nation’s arms embargo with its involvement in Libya.

The UN, EU and major media houses have reported Ankara’s ongoing arms exports and military deployments to Libya. Journalist David Lepeska mentioned in an article in that the main reason for  Turkey’s involvement in Libya is Qatar’s post-Arab spring connection to a Libyan Islamist.

Turkey helped Qatar when a bloc of regional states led by Saudi Arabia placed a blockade on Qatar in mid-2017. Turkey has military bases in Qatar and the trade between both countries surged almost 80 percent since the blockade.

Qatar invested US$15 billion  in Turkey in 2018, and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim al-Thani gifted a US$500 million luxury private jet to his “brother” Erdoğan.

Turkish media reported last week that Turkish Intelligience Chief Hakan Fidan was in Libya, and Turkish special forces started to be deployed in Tripoli. Regular Turkish troops were deployed in Libya from January.

Elizabeth Tsurkoy, research fellow from Regthink commented:  “Russia and Turkey rush Syrian mercenaries to kill each other in Libya. Turkey’s mercenaries get US$2000 and Russians get US$1000.” According to Turkish media, Ankara carried more than 8 000 Syrian rebels to Libya. Turkey keeps soldiers in Lebanon, Mali, Central African Republic and Afghanistan as part of the UN peacekeeping forces.  

However Ankara has a military presence in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somali and Qatar through its own independent military interventions and initiatives.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund think-tank told the Financial Times: “Turkey’s medical donations come at a time when Turkey’s international prestige is very low and the attitude of various publics around the world towards Turkey is also very negative”.

Turkey, like other lower-rated emerging markets, faces big pressure on its credit ratings due to the  Corona virus outbreak.

Turkish economists commented that the ruling AKP’s US$15.4 billion stimulus package does not meet the needs of ordinary citizens. Many Turks complained in interviews that they have not received a single free mask from the state while Turkey donates masks to many countries, including the US and UK.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told media that despite the country's needs for medical items, Ankara donated masks, sanitizers and other equipment to more than 50 countries.  

In her IOL article entitled " Turkey and South Africa lead regional efforts in tackling Covid-19," Turkish ambassador to Pretoria Comoglu defended the  arms trade with South Africa.

Instead of answering questions as to why Turkey sent six military aircraft for  just a small amount of medical aid to South Africa, she accused South African journalists of conducting a smear campaign against the Turkish military aircraft landing in Cape Town. The ambassador did not mention whether Turkey is going to use these arms in Libya.

Turkey is a developing country and not a big economic player in Africa or in any other part of the world, but it is a major military power under NATO. It is also heavily involved in military conflicts from West Africa to Somalia, despite the African Union’s warnings. The AU needs to take more precautionary action against Erdogan’s military interventions on the continent.  

* Mirza Aydin is a Turkish journalist based in Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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