Yerevan is anxiously watching developments in neighbouring Turkey. Destabilization in a neighbouring country is in nobody’s interests, but events there are developing rapidly, and it is unlikely that there is anything good in store for Ankara, which has got involved in a whole range of conflicts in the region.
It seems that the truly strong and popular Turkish leader has overestimated his strength and, having unleashed a war on all fronts, both internal and external, now risks if not losing power, then facing very serious problems.
What has happened that the President of Turkey, formerly prime minister, and most importantly, continuous leader of the country for almost fifteen years, should suddenly find himself in such a difficult situation? The answer is both simple and complicated. R. T. Erdogan came to power at the beginning of the twenty-first century as an exponent for the professedly down-trodden Muslim masses of Turkish citizens, who are both relatively poor and followers of the religious ideals of Islam, to which his Justice and Development Party (AKP) gave a political “mould”.
By all accounts, the success of the last decade has gone to the Turkish politician’s head, and he decided to go after internal achievements as well as external. Beyond Turkey’s borders, he set himself the task of overthrowing the Bashar al-Assad’s secular regime in Syria, in the hope of bringing kindred Sunni “Muslim brothers” to power there and inside Turkey he set upon completely changing the political landscape of the country and, having achieved absolute majority in the parliamentary elections of 7 June 2015, changing the country’s constitution so that the Parliament’s basic powers were transferred to the president.
However, Erdogan clearly never studied the Coup of 18 Brumaire. The June elections not only didn’t allow him to become the sole ruler of the country, but he couldn’t even form a government, and now he has been forced to hold new elections, which are scheduled for November 1, where he plans to take revenge. But are his hopes justified?
Firstly, outside the country, the support for all anti-governmental forces in Syria has led to the fact that Turkey has become almost an accessory to the ISIS terrorist movement, which until very recently received the supply of militants and weapons via the 900-kilometre Turkish-Syrian border. This led, in turn, to tensions between Erdogan and his NATO allies, primarily the United States, whom Turkey did not allow to bomb ISIS from its territory or use its Incirlik air base. Relations between the Turkish president and the Kurds have sharply deteriorated. The latter believed, they were receiving insufficient support from the Turkish authorities in the battle against ISIS for the town of Kobanî (Ayn al-Arab), where Washington itself had staunchly supported the Kurds.
The situation changed only after July 20 of this year, when an ISIS militant bombed Kurdish volunteers who had got together to help with the rebuilding of Kobanî, killing 32 of them. However, the attitude of the Turkish authorities to ISIS members had soured even earlier, when on July 17 an ISIS publication in Turkish entitled Konstantiniyye called for a fatwa against the “caliphate” and for a boycott of “unclean” Turkish meat.
The authorities couldn’t leave this with no response Immediately after the terrorist attack, and a telephone conversation between Erdogan and Obama, an agreement was signed according to which the United States was finally granted the right to use the Turkish Incirlik, Diyarbakir, Batman and Malatya air bases to bomb ISIS, and Turkey pledged to directly take part in these bombings. In Turkey, for the first time after the appearance of ISIS on the political map of the Middle East in June 2014, large-scale arrests of supporters of terrorist quasi-state commenced (to be fair, it must be said that the first dozens of radical Islamists were arrested as early as mid-July, before the terrorist attack). More than 500 people were imprisoned; and the border control was tightened: By the end of July, 500 foreigners had been deported for relations with ISIS, 1,100 were denied entry to Turkey, and 15,000 were put on the “black list”. ISIS did not forgive this and on July 23 the first clashes between the Turkish army and ISIS members took place. Scorpion bit the one who hid it in his sleeve, as B. Assad figuratively said speaking on the terrorist attacks in an interview with Russian journalists.
For his consent to the bombing of ISIS, Erdogan was allegedly granted the right to create a kind of no-fly zone over the western 90-km stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border officially to protect 1.8 million Syrian refugees from Assad, but in fact to help the anti-governmental forces (mainly the Free Syrian army). But this fig leaf was of little help to the Turkish president.
Having smoothed out his relations with the West and the United States over ISIS, and having thus obtained a pardon from the USA for taking a tougher stance on his domestic policies, Erdogan opened, apparently inadvertently, a new front, this time with the Kurds, and in particular with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
They perceived the attack of July 20 as a provocation by the authorities (after all, ISIS was called the organiser by the Turkish authorities, not the Islamic State itself) and responded to terror with terror, killing a couple of police officers. And this is where the Turkish president seems to have made a fatal mistake, which hasn’t backfired on him yet.
Instead of allaying the situation, he decided to punish the power that he believes is interfering with his plans to overthrow Assad and is preventing political hegemony inside the country (in the elections of June 7, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won 80 seats in parliament, depriving Erdogan’s party of the majority), he broke the ceasefire with the Kurds that had been in effect since 2012 and unleashed military actions on those who stood for the HDP and the PKK. AKP activists simultaneously attacked the offices of the Democratic People’s Party across the country. Legal proceedings were filed against the party leader, S. Demirtas, for “inciting violence”.
In response, the Turkish Kurds, who decided that they were deceived when they were called for peace, but were declared war instead, took up arms and sabotaged a pipeline, along which oil flows to the camp of supporters of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan – Turkey and Israel (thanks to which 77% of the needs of the Jewish state are met) from its leader, M. Barzani, with whom Ankara shares special relationship. They do not believe in the anti-ISIS policies of the authorities, because they supposedly consider ISIS an Ankara’s tool in the fight against them. According to them, by encouraging the PKK to resume the civil war, they want to discredit the HDP, and then ban it and prevent them from taking part in elections. There are already calls for this from the Turkish ultra-nationalists, who have decided to support Erdogan. They demonise the HDP, declaring it a supporter of separatism.
There is every reason to believe that pursuing this policy of aggravation, Erdogan risks losing the upcoming parliamentary elections. In the current climate he is unlikely to succeed in unifying the nation, while fighting on three fronts – against Syria, ISIS and the PKK. Reforms are stalling in the country, the economic situation is not improving, and the desire to impose an ideology on the whole nation that not everyone shares (at least not the Kurds and the Kemalists) and monopolize power, could lead to increased social unrest. Bonapartism is not fashionable these days…
Pogos Anastasov, political analyst, Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”