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Powerful Turkish Drones’ Manufacturer Linked to Turkish Government, Islamists; Also Serve as Turkish Influence Tool

May 17th, 2022 14:52

US media is report­ing that the man­u­fac­tur­er of the Turk­ish Bayrak­tar TB2 drones, dev­as­tat­ing to the Russ­ian mil­i­tary in Ukraine, has ties to Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Erdoğan and oth­er Islamists. Accord­ing to a New York­er report:

May 9, 2022 The Bayrak­tar TB2 is a flat, gray unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cle (U.A.V.), with angled wings and a rear pro­peller. It car­ries laser-guid­ed bombs and is small enough to be car­ried in a flatbed truck, and costs a frac­tion of sim­i­lar Amer­i­can and Israeli drones. Its design­er, Selçuk Bayrak­tar, the son of a Turk­ish auto-parts entre­pre­neur, is one of the world’s lead­ing weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers. In the defense of Ukraine, Bayrak­tar has become a leg­end, the name­sake of a baby lemur at the Kyiv zoo, and the sub­ject of a catchy folk song, which claims that his drone “makes ghosts out of Russ­ian bandits.”[…]

In May, 2016, Bayrak­tar mar­ried Sümeyye Erdoğan, the youngest daugh­ter of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Pres­i­dent. Erdoğan is the leader of a polit­i­cal Islamist move­ment that, the ana­lyst Svante Cor­nell has writ­ten, wish­es “to build a pow­er­ful, indus­tri­al­ized Turkey that serves as the nat­ur­al leader of the Mus­lim world.” Turkey’s arms indus­try has grown ten­fold in the past twen­ty years, and most of the country’s mil­i­tary equip­ment is now man­u­fac­tured local­ly. “The Bayrak­tars, and par­tic­u­lar­ly the TB2s, have turned into the flag­ship of the Turk­ish defense indus­try,” Alper Coşkun, a for­mer Turk­ish diplo­mat, told me.

Read the rest here.

Accord­ing to the New York­er, Bayraktar’s father, was an advis­er to Pres­i­dent Erdoğan, while Erdoğan was a local politi­cian in Istan­bul. Özdemir was also “friend­ly” with Necmet­tin Erbakan, the for­mer Islamist Prime Min­is­ter and founder of the Islamist Mil­lî Görüş move­ment. Özdemir Bayrak­tar was said to have briefed Erbakan on Selçuk Bayraktar’s work on drones while Selçuk was study­ing, and by the mid-2000s ‚Selçuk Bayrak­tar was embed­ded with the Turk­ish military.

The New York­er also illus­trates how the drones are a poten­tial Turk­ish influ­ence tool, serv­ing as a rel­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive king­mak­er in con­flicts. The arti­cle says that TB2 drones cost about 1/6 of the price of the US’s Reaper drones while also being extreme­ly effec­tive: cit­ing a for­mer State Depart­ment spe­cial­ist on Turkey:

This enabled a fair­ly sig­nif­i­cant oper­a­tional rev­o­lu­tion in how wars are being fought right now. This prob­a­bly hap­pens once every thir­ty or forty years.

The arti­cle also details how the TB2 drones made a major dif­fer­ence in the 2020 Azer­bai­jan-Armen­ian war. The arti­cle notes that the drones are not one-time pur­chas­es; effec­tive­ly bind­ing pur­chasers into ser­vice agree­ments with Turkey:

Once a fleet is pur­chased, oper­a­tors trav­el to a facil­i­ty in west­ern Turkey for sev­er­al months of train­ing. “You don’t just buy it,” Mark Can­cian, a mil­i­tary-pro­cure­ment spe­cial­ist at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies, told me. “You have mar­ried the sup­pli­er, because you need a con­stant stream of spare parts and repair exper­tise.” Turkey has become adept at lever­ag­ing this rela­tion­ship. It struck a defense deal with Nige­ria, which includ­ed train­ing the country’s pilots on TB2s, in exchange for access to min­er­als and liq­ue­fied nat­ur­al gas.

Final­ly, the arti­cle demon­strates how TB2 drone sales have been used to advance Turk­ish for­eign pol­i­cy objec­tives. For exam­ple, in Ethiopia, they were only deliv­ered after the gov­ern­ment seized a num­ber of schools run by Fethul­lah Gülen’s orga­ni­za­tion, which Turkey blames for the 2016 Turk­ish coup. Accord­ing to Turk­ish media, the Ethiopi­an Gülen schools were tak­en over by the gov­ern­ment-found­ed  Maarif Foun­da­tion (Türkiye Maarif Vak­fı), which osten­si­bly pro­vides edu­ca­tion, dor­mi­to­ries, and schol­ar­ships abroad, from pre-school to high­er edu­ca­tion and rais­es a “Turkey-friend­ly youth.”