Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, who was overthrown April 11 by military coup, was a good friend and close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During his 30-year rule, Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 and 2010, charged with five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes and three counts of genocide for his alleged mass killings in Darfur that cost some 300,000 lives.
Bashir could travel safely to only a few places in the world and Turkey was one of them. The last time he visited Turkey was right after the June 2018 elections to join Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony.
Six months before that visit, Erdogan had been to Sudan in December 2017, a trip that signified the close relations between the two countries.
While in Khartoum, Erdogan didn’t spare his chance to lash out at the West. “The imperialists devastated Africa, while Turkey will be there for a win-win,” he said. During his visit, the two leaders decided to increase the trade volume between their countries to $10 billion from $500 million. Turkish companies, mainly in the construction field, became involved in some 300 projects in Sudan following Erdogan’s visit.
In 2014, Turkey rented some 350,000 hectares [almost 865,000 acres] of agricultural land in Sudan for 99 years. In September 2018, Turkey’s state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corp. made an oil-exploration deal in Sudan that amounted to $100 million.
Turkey’s most important geopolitical and strategic involvement with Sudan concerns Turkey’s interest in establishing a military base on Suakin Island. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited Khartoum in 2018 to arrange to lease the island. Suakin is strategically located at the Red Sea near the Gulf of Aden and Saudi Arabia. The ambitious Turkish project would become the third foreign Turkish military facility, after Qatar and Somalia. Such Turkish objectives irritate the Arab-Sunni axis of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Sudan has always been considered, geopolitically, the Achilles heel of Egypt.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was quick to applaud Bashir’s removal, while Erdogan’s tone was comparatively very measured. The wording used by Anadolu Agency, the Turkish government’s official mouthpiece, is interesting to note: “Turkey’s president voiced hope Thursday that Sudan will handle its current process peacefully, in a spirit of national reconciliation.”
“I hope that Sudan gets through its current process in national reconciliation and peace,” Erdogan said at a joint news conference with Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Burkina Faso’s president, in Ankara.
Amid various accounts about Bashir, there is no reliable information, according to Erdogan, who went on to say Turkey supports the continuation of “deep-rooted” relations with Sudan.
“Earlier Thursday, the Sudanese army announced the ‘removal’ of al-Bashir and the imposition of a two-year ‘transitional phase,’” Anadolu reported.
Anadolu did not report fully what Erdogan said in the press conference with the visiting president; he referred to the coup that removed Bashir.
Erdogan reminded his audience that he did not achieve power thanks to any coup, but was targeted by a military coup attempt. “[Bashir] knows what a military coup means,” Erdogan said. “Every coup [brings a] severe loss of blood. I do not want friendly and fraternal Sudan to have such an experience.”