Turkey’s Erdoğan Divides to Conquer

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9 (Turkish Presidency)

Turks vote on Sunday in a contentious election that is unlikely to change the political map dramatically from the last time they went to the polls.

The most recent election campaign has deepened the polarization of Turkish society, however, to the point where some commentators are fearful of the country’s democracy. Read more “Turkey’s Erdoğan Divides to Conquer”

Spain, Turkey Give Minorities No Alternative to Secession

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy welcomes Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Madrid, November 27, 2012
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy welcomes Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Madrid, November 27, 2012 (La Moncloa)

As Catalans vote this weekend in an election that their leaders will consider a de facto referendum on secession from Spain, the government in Madrid seems dumbfounded. It simply maintains that Catalonia has no constitutional right to break away — as if the separatists care about the laws of a country they don’t want to be part of anymore.

Their inability to empathize with Catalonia’s desire for independence is not unique.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is similarly stunned by what it sees as a sudden surge in Kurdish nationalism. In elections this summer, a pro-Kurdish party for the first time cleared the 10 percent election threshold to win seats in parliament. Erdoğan’s ruling Islamists quickly called another election to try and reverse this outcome.

The Turkish government simultaneously launched an anti-terror campaign in response to an ill-timed resumption of violence by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a far-left Kurdish militant group.

Erdoğan’s attempt to paint all Kurdish nationalists as terrorists isn’t working, however. If anything, he may end up radicalizing the entire movement.

Just as Madrid’s refusal to grant Catalonia more autonomy has given nationalists there little choice but to seek all-out independence, Turkey’s attempts to shut the Kurds out of the political process and suppress their culture and identity are giving the country’s largest minority little alternative to armed struggle and separatism. At least as long as Erdoğan stays in power, that seems to be the only way they can preserve their heritage.

What the Turkish leader should have done, argues Soner Cagaptay, an expert in Turkish politics, in Foreign Affairs magazine, is give in to some of the autonomy movement’s demands.

Çağaptay points out that Turkey’s Kurds aren’t as ethnically homogenous nor as geographically concentrated as is commonly assumed. Half have migrated out of their homeland in Turkey’s southeast. One in six Kurds is married to a Turk.

Accordingly, addressing Kurdish demands in Turkey means granting comprehensive cultural rights to all of the country’s citizens, Kurd or not, irrespective of location. Reforms would include access to education and public services not only in Kurdish but in other minority languages as well.

Çağaptay suggests that Turkey can learn from Spain and decentralize. Madrid gave the Basques local political power which pulled the carpet out from under the violent wing of their independence movement. Most Spanish Basques — who have more autonomy than the Catalans — are now content to remain part of the Spain.

Çağaptay is pessimistic, though, that the “Ottoman-nostaligic” Erdoğan will realize as much. It’s not just that he worries about losing Turkish nationalist votes to the far right; he simply fails to grasp what it is that the Kurds want.

Similarly, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy just doesn’t seem to get why the Catalans are so upset.

He has ridiculed their attempts to hold an independence referendum and criticized the regional government of Artur Mas for supposedly mismanaging the region’s economy (Spain’s richest).

But Catalans don’t back Mas because they think he has governed well — at least not in the first place. Many support him because he currently represents Catalonia’s best hope of gaining independence.

Like Turkey’s Kurds, the Catalans are not a wholly separate nation. They have their own language but also speak Spanish. In fact, more Catalans claim Spanish as their first language than Catalan. Through the centuries, Catalans have moved to other parts of Spain and people from other regions of Spain have settled in Catalonia. Author Antonio Muñoz Molina has argued in the Financial Times that very few things in Catalonia would be as they are were it not for their connection with the rest of Spain. “No influence has ever gone in only one direction,” he wrote; “nothing has ever been clear-cut.”

As recently as 2010, only one in five Catalans supported independence. When Spain’s Constitutional Court threw out most of the region’s autonomy statute that year, sentiment began to shift. The same court later blocked an independence referendum and the central government has tried to frustrate and water down Catalan autonomy at every turn. Now almost half of Catalans see no alternative to going it alone.

If a majority of Catalans votes for separatist parties on Sunday, blame Madrid’s intransigence. If the Kurdish struggle in Turkey turns more violent, it would be at least partially Erdoğan’s fault. Time is running out to preserve the unity of Spain and Turkey. Leaders in both states should be willing to share power — or they could lose what they are fighting for.

It’s Time to Call Out Turkey’s Leaders for What They Are

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses the Turkish parliament in Ankara, June 10, 2014 (AKP)

The blatant antisemitic and anti-Western rhetoric of Turkey’s leaders shows just how illiberal the country has become under the twelve-year rule of its Islamist Justice and Development Party.

The reaction of Turkish president and ruling party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was voted into office with almost 52 percent support last year, to Muslim extremists’ attacks in Paris last week was so typically vitriolic, it barely registered in the West anymore.

Rather than condemning the attacks on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in the French capital, in which seventeen people died, Erdoğan insisted Muslims had “never taken part in terrorist massacres” and suggested it was really the West’s own fault. “Behind these lie racism, hate speech and Islamophobia,” he said on Monday. Read more “It’s Time to Call Out Turkey’s Leaders for What They Are”

As Allies Battle Islamists, Turkey Still Focused on Defeating Assad

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses the Turkish parliament in Ankara, June 10 (AKP)

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday his country “will do whatever it needs to do” to help defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But it seems his priority is still to dislodge the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose, the Turkish leader insisted Assad’s regime remained as much a threat to the region as the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. Assad “left space” for terrorist organizations in order to sustain his regime in Damascus, said Erdoğan. “He was the one who prepared the ground for this.” Read more “As Allies Battle Islamists, Turkey Still Focused on Defeating Assad”

Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is almost certain to win his country’s first direct presidential election on Sunday.

A victory for Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey for more than a decade, would likely reinforce the NATO member state’s Islamization and exasperate opponents who have proven unable to thwart what they perceive as a drift toward authoritarianism. Read more “Erdoğan Victory Reinforces Turkey’s Islamization”

Mosul Kidnappings Underline Failure of Erdoğan’s Middle East Policy

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses the Turkish parliament in Ankara, June 10
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses the Turkish parliament in Ankara, June 10 (AKP)

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday tried to blame opposition parties for “exploiting” the kidnapping of Turkish citizens in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

But if anything, the incident shows the failure of his own Middle East policy. Read more “Mosul Kidnappings Underline Failure of Erdoğan’s Middle East Policy”

Turkey’s Erdoğan Wins Local Elections Marred by Irregularities

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife wave at supporters in Balıkesir, February 28
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife wave at supporters in Balıkesir, February 28 (AKP)

Battling graft allegations and accusations of authoritarianism, Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed victory in local elections on Sunday that were overshadowed by a government ban on social media and voting irregularities.

From power outages in provinces where Erdoğan’s Islamists were struggling to hold on to seats to opposition newspapers claiming they had come under “cyber attack” during election night, the vote was hardly the vindication Erdoğan sought twelve years into his prime ministership.

The conservative leader, who is now seen as more likely to stand in a presidential election in August, nevertheless heralded the outcome as a clear warning to his opponents, whom he has routinely described as “traitors” and “terrorists.”

“They will be brought to account,” he promised supporters in Ankara, the capital. “From tomorrow, there may be some who flee.”

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said it would challenge the outcome in Ankara where early voting results had put its candidate ahead before a partial recount gave the candidate for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) the upper hand. No other major changes were expected in the nationwide tally which gave the ruling party 44.2 percent support, up from 39 percent in the 2009 elections.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Erdoğan had crisscrossed the country to rally his conservative core voters in the Anatolian heartland, suggesting that he was far more worried about this first electoral test for his ruling party since protests against the government began last summer than he let on.

Erdoğan had since purged thousands of police officers as well as hundreds of judges and prosecutors who were involved in corruption investigations against members of his cabinet. He blames the raids on a former ally, the religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who denies accusations that he is plotting to topple Erdoğan.

The preacher, who lives in Pennsylvania, is among the most influential Turkish opinion leaders. He shares Erdoğan’s moderate Islamism but has been critical of his foreign policy, especially Turkey’s estrangement from Israel and its support for the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. He further distanced himself from the premier last year when millions of mainly secular Turks took to the streets to protest against what they saw as Erdoğan’s dictatorial rule.

To fight what he described as a “menace” to the Turkish republic, Erdoğan blocked access to Twitter earlier this month, a microblogging service that was used extensively by critics of his regime.

Last week, access to YouTube was also denied after an anonymous account had posted what it claimed were audio recordings of Turkey’s security chiefs discussing a military incursion into Syria on the website.

Turkish Army’s Demand for Coup Retrial Dilemma for Erdoğan

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22, 2013
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22, 2013 (Kremlin)

Turkey’s army last week filed for the retrial of the hundreds of officers who were imprisoned in an alleged attempt to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, aligning both against a judiciary the premier has accused of smearing his administration.

The military, which sees itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular traditions and has taken power thrice in its republican history, was long seen by Erdoğan as his foe. The Islamist prime minister, who has been in power for almost eleven years, was in turn seen as orchestrating the conviction of hundreds of serving and former military officers for allegedly plotting a coup against him.

The army has now seized on Erdoğan’s newfound criticism of the courts to petition for a retrial.

Battling corruption charges against his government, Erdoğan said this weekend, “There are members of the judiciary who are seeking to smear innocent people.”

He had sacked the policy officers who were involved in a graft investigation that saw the arrest of two members of his cabinet as well as the sons of his interior minister and curbed the judiciary’s power, preventing a second round of detentions when newly appointed police chiefs refused to carry out raids.

Erdoğan previously described the corruption probe as a “dirty operation” and claimed that the involved prosecutors were trying to form a “state within a state,” apparently in reference to followers of the former imam Fethullah Gülen who has been increasingly critical of Erdoğan’s policies.

The preacher, who lives in Pennsylvania, is among the most influential Turkish opinion leaders. He shares Erdoğan’s moderate Islamism but has been critical of his foreign policy, especially Turkey’s estrangement from Israel and its support for the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. He further distanced himself from Erdoğan this summer when millions of mainly secular Turks took to the streets to protest against what they saw as the prime minister’s dictatorial rule.

The army’s petition for a retrial puts Erdoğan in a tough spot. By rejecting it, he would implicitly redeem the very prosecutors and judges who locked up his perceived enemies in the military but whom he now considers part of a “gang that is establishing itself inside the state.” If the prime minister supports the army’s petition, on the other hand, he would not only fuel allegations that the coup trials were politically motived in the first place; he would rehabilitate an institution he has fought for the better part of a decade and further undermine Turkey’s legal state.

Turkey’s Erdoğan Sees Foreign Plot in Corruption Probe

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attends a conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November 22 (Kremlin)

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule looks precarious in a standoff with police and the judiciary and after a falling out with a longtime Islamist ally.

Two members of Erdoğan’s cabinet as well as the sons of the interior minister were arrested last week in a major corruption investigation that had been kept secret from police commanders who might have informed the government in advance.

The prime minister, who was most recently reelected in June 2011, was furious, describing the investigation as a “dirty operation” and an attempt to smear his administration. Those involved in the probe were trying to form a “state within a state,” he said, apparently referring to followers of the former imam Fethullah Gülen, who has become increasingly critical of Erdoğan’s policies. Read more “Turkey’s Erdoğan Sees Foreign Plot in Corruption Probe”

Protests Strengthen Turkish Ruling Party, Opposition Feckless

Protests against Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government could end up strengthening his ruling Islamist party as his suspected desire to expand the powers of the presidency and assume it next year, a move that could have split the AKP, has been effectively scuttled.

Michael Koplow writes at the Ottomans and Zionists blog, “When Erdoğan stood the chance of becoming the president in a new presidential system,” which would have meant unseating his ally Abdullah Gül, “it would have led to a clash between the two men and the distinct possibility that the AKP would divide into two camps.” When the political system remains unchanged, a less prominent conservative could be elected president in 2014 and Gül assume the prime ministership after parliamentary elections in 2015. Read more “Protests Strengthen Turkish Ruling Party, Opposition Feckless”