From a War of Travel Advisories to a Face-off in Syria

January 15, 2018

On December 28, 2017, the Turkish Embassy in Washington issued a statement which welcomed the decision of the U.S. to resume regular visa procedures by lifting the restrictions applied to Turkish citizens and said that in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, restrictions on visa services applied to American citizens had been lifted simultaneously. This was supposed to be good news for a turbulent relationship. Not quite…

Two weeks later, on January 10, the U.S. State Department launched a new travel advisory program with every country having a “Travel Advisory” providing levels of advice ranging from 1 to 4:

  •  Level 1 – Exercise Normal Precautions: This is the lowest advisory level for safety and security risk.
  • Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security.
  • Level 3 – Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security.
  • Level 4 – Do Not Travel: This is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks.

Under this new program Turkey is a Level-3 country together with Russia, Sudan, Pakistan, Venezuela and Honduras. Level-4 countries are Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Turkey’s categorization as a Level-3 country leaves no room for elucidation regarding the state of Turkish-American relations.

Washington’s “Turkey Travel Advisory” says: Reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.”

The terrorism related part of the Advisory tells U.S. citizens not travel to areas along the Turkey-Syria border and the southeastern provinces.

Then comes the “arbitrary detentions” part:

“Under the current State of Emergency, security forces have detained individuals suspected of affiliation with alleged terrorist organizations based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear to be politically motivated. U.S. citizens have also been subject to travel bans that prevent them from departing Turkey. Participation in gatherings, protests, and demonstrations not explicitly approved by the Government of Turkey can result in arrest. The Government of Turkey has detained and deported U.S. citizens without allowing access to lawyers or family members, and has not routinely granted consular access to detained U.S. citizens who also possess Turkish citizenship.”

The next day, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its own retaliatory travel advisory for Turkish citizens travelling to the U.S. It mentions a rise in terrorist attacks and violence in the U.S. and refers to specific incidents as evidence of this trend. Turkey’s updated advisory also has an “arbitrary detentions and court cases” part. It says:

“Moreover, Turkish citizens including public officials travelling to the U.S. are arbitrarily detained on the basis of information from unworthy sources; in cases brought against Turkish citizens, U.S. courts pass judgements giving credence to fictitious allegations and slander by members of FETO terrorist organization or its sympathizers.

“Under the circumstances, Turkish citizens going to the U.S. are advised to review their travel plans and to remain alert should they choose to go there.”

In reality, Turks intending to travel to the US will not heed this advisory but Americans will probably mind theirs.

Surely, underlying the visa restrictions, publication of travel advisories and retaliatory measures are deeper differences, conflicts of interest and the trend is worrisome to say the least.

The Defense Post reported on Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition is working with its Syrian militia allies to set up a new border force of 30,000 personnel which will deploy along the borders with Turkey, Iraq and the Euphrates River Valley, which broadly acts as the dividing line separating the U.S.-backed SDF and Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia. As before, Ankara reacted to the news in threatening language since the SDF also comprises the YPG, a PKK affiliate. President Erdogan said that the U.S. has acknowledged creating an “army of terror”.

For more than a year, U.S. support for the YPG has been a source of tension in relations and occasionally shots have been fired across the border in both directions. However, a major clash between the YPG and Turkish armed forces has the potential to turn into a crisis between two NATO allies.

Hopefully, all bridges have not been burnt and the two “allies” still have some options other than crisis management.

And hopefully again, Turks without exception would admit someday that all our current foreign and security policy troubles started with our involvement in the Syrian conflict and while trying to bring about regime change in Syria we shot ourselves in the foot.

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