‘Rogue partner’

”Turkey watchers are used to heated political exchanges both within Turkey and between the country and its international partners. In the past spring and summer, however, all boundaries have been overstepped” wrote Marc Pierini last Monday. Formerly an EU ambassador in Ankara (when Turkey was stille seen as the rising star), he is with Carnegie Europe issuing comments that reflect the deepening gloom enveloping the Erdoğan-centered, destructive mismanagement.

What’s next, then, people ask.

Before I dig into the prospects, let me share here Pierini’s findings. He sees four consequences as rapidly standing out.

First, the European tolerance and leniency with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is over. Erdoğan is no seen as only elected leader in NATO or the Council of Europe who regularly executes verbal attacks against his counterparts for domestic political purposes.

Second, the EU governments under attack at last see Erdoğan’s hand and counter with tough rebukes, ”as a a defense of their democracies”. Doing nothing has become politically unsustainable.

Third, the EU-Turkey is now in jeopardy. If no progress is made, EU business will potentially lose some advantages, but Turkish business will lose a lot more at the worst possible time for the country.

Fourth – and most worrisome – the Western military and intelligence community will alter its general assessment of Turkey.

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”With unchecked authoritarianism growing by the day, the rule of law systematically dismantled, state hostages occurring here and there, blunt political interference taking place, and the military vastly disrupted, Turkey may increasingly appear to be a rogue partner. The implication for many of Ankara’s partners is an irreparable loss of confidence with the current leadership. Over time, and despite occasional appeasing words, that may even lead to a policy of containment” concludes Pierini.

The reality is ugly, where som pundits now use the metaphore of ‘cat cornered’ regarding the mercurial hegemon. Much of the myopia lies with the EU leaderships, ignoring early desperate warnings from Gezi protests on, living in false optimism, tactical errors and, often, indifference.

But here we are. Let me issue another heads-up that, given the dead-end road Turkish President obstinately locked himself in, the inner logic of the crisis means a further free fall – a strategic challenge to the new German Government after the elections. Not only the infernal conditions which will prevail in Turkey, but also for the prospect that it may create splits within the EU. As already noted, the UK displays intentions to fill in the vacuum by keeping remarkably silent about the erosion of the rule of law in Turkey, as it may be hoping for getting a larger slice of trade and cooperation. The sly scheme is already visible.

What else about the future for Turkish people?

”What will happen? Is this crisis sustainable?’ people ask me.

No, the crisis is not sustainable. At the moment, it is spreading as a systemic disease and it is deepening. Turkey shows all the signs of a police state, almost ready to be identified as a larger copy-paste of Azerbaijan, but its social textures, and the tradition of free vote for seven decades point out to an extended resistance from within. This will, sooner or later, turn Turkey into an ungovernable land. The path chosen by Erdoğan is committed to establish an order by brute force and, sadly, this vision may include stains of blood.

”But why? Why did Erdoğan choose such a path when Turkey was until some years ago climbing up so well that it raised all the hopes?” asked some people in Sweden, when I was at visit recently.

He had to. The political machinery he favoured, so visibly marked since 2011 elections, was a blend of a cronyism, nepotism and clientelism. He shaped an order which made it possible to make dependent various segments of society directly to him. Redistribution of sources cemented the support of his voter base, and a new sycophant business and political class emerged, copying the earlier patterns which sunk Turkey into corruption in the 1990’s.

How was he able to do it? The key issue was the public procurement system. In the good old days when much seemed to go well with the attempts to meet the EU membership criteria, the old AKP leadership was very keen on accountability. Then, roughly from 2010 on the public procurement law attracted much attention of Erdoğan and his cronies; in small cunning steps it was amended more than 160 times to eventually be turned into a ‘dirty wheel of fortune’ which led to a profound corruption, paving way for an ‘organized looting’ under the political shield.

As a result, as of today, allegations of massive corruption stand between Erdoğan and a return to democracy. That is also the main reason why the judiciary is an extended arm of the Palace, that is why the rule of law has been demolished, that is why scrutinizing journalists have no choice but jail or unemployment, that is the reason why Turkish or foreign national are now being taken prisoners as hostages for swaps. So, his current choice exposes Erdoğan as keen on survive politically, possible never leave the power, unless offered an exit strategy.

”Will Turkey’s finest human resources continue to leave the country?” people ask me.

Yes they will. A diaspora of qualified workforce is already in the making. Its acceleration, the growing exodus, will depend on the consequences of the economic redistribution of domestic wealth as well as the alienation caused by majoritarian supremacy – a Sunni voter base placing itself at the top of the new social hierarchy, a new tutelage dictated by its lead all-Sunni institution, Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs).

”But, the referendum showed that those opposing the Erdoğan rule are about 50 %. Why can’t the political opposition unite?” people ask me.

It looks like a mission impossible. This has to with Turkey for long cut through three major identity cleavages – Sunni, Secular and Kurdish. Then, the first two are some what united by some archaic form of Turkish nationalism – denialist of the past crimes and, to a large part, resistant to Kurdish demands on collective and individual rights. The secular segment, then, does not struggle enough to overcome its worship culture for the State, and allergia for the Kurdish political movements that want to have say in Parliament. So, much depends if a new wisdom emerges from within the main-opposition and some cop-outs of the nationalist MHP party to find a minimal common ground to battle against Erdoğan, who will not go quietly.

Given all these aspects, dear readers, keep being prepared to watch Turkish crisis deepen, and please do not let your attention, and your compassion for all those who battle for a decent democratic order over there.

 

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Disillusioned by the education and the future, Turkish students join the exodus

With a big smile, she extended her hand and said ‘Hello, I think I know you, I am a Turkish student, just arrived.”

I was at a brief visit for a university in Sweden, and had landed in the midst of a crowd of newcomers from all over the world. The yard was a sort of beehive, great stage for meet and greet, students making new friends.

In a breath, she told me her story. ”Herr Yavuz, my university in Turkey, Zirve, was shut down brutally. I was just left out in the cold. Then, I managed to get myself to Ankara University. But, soon almost all my teachers were sacked from there, so I called my elder sister in Sweden, and came here.”

”I am so sad for friends left out there, they have no future” she added, her eyes darkening.

What could I say? ”I agree with you, sadly” I mumbled. ”But you did the right thing, and it is important that you complete your education in a totally free environment like this, and, by the time you are through, I am pretty sure you will return to a free Turkey…’

The fact was that I wasn’t that sure. I just didn’t want to spoil her hopes and dreams. Wished her all the best, and walked away.

On the road to my meeting, a girl shouted from behind. She was having trouble finding the path to train station and asked for help. Her English accent was so in-your-face Turkish. ‘Let us speak Turkish” I said and she now had big eyes. Quickly, I learned her story. She had left her homeland to do her master’s thesis. Her comment was brief: ”I left because there is no more legal order over there, it is finished…” Before she parted ways, she told me that there were now quite a few happy Turkish students there, and they all felt a relief for a better future.

Walking alone, I happened to find myself in grief suddenly. These kids were alright, but the entire generation of millions of others, many of them bright young urbanites in Turkish cities, I felt such a pity for them: their unhappiness in an increasingly conservative, intolerant, brutal environment would definitely contribute to a bitter, hopeless, isolated youth. From other oppressive societies we had enough knowledge on how radicalisation creeps in, dragging the countries into a steady state of instability.

Turkey’s ‘backward transition’ to Orwellian format has been sending these clear signals in a powerful manner lately. The unease that has has spread to large parts of the society, and to those parts opposed to what they see as Erdoğan’s path towards Militarist-Islamist order, both families and children of seculars, left-leaning segments, Alevis and Gulen sympathisers seem focused on getting out to an education system abroad.

Daily Cumhuriyet compiled some statistics latelt, that are telling of the powerful trend of ‘student exodus’. We learn that the number of students – at gymnasium and university level – who want to finish their studies elsewhere than in Turkey increased in a year by 30 percent.

Germany and Canada top the league of desired countries, according to the report. For example, those seeking studies in Canadian universities increased from 100 per year to a nearly 1.000 this year. The applications for German universities tripled during the same period. The attractive part with German system is that it makes it financially easy for students to move on to state universities with low costs.

”The brightest youngsters of the country now seek ways out of here” told one expert to Cumhuriyet. ”Of all those who have finished foreign-affiliated gymnasiums, half has done that…’

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She refers to well sought-after schools in big cities in Turkey. There has been a number gymnasiums built during the late Ottoman era. Several top level French schools as well as German, Austrian, Italian and English ones.

Other countries such as Italy and France have also seen an increase, even Poland and Czechia, but the real ”boom” is noted, according to the report, with the stream into Sweden. The statistics say that this year the increase has been more than 60 percent.

So, if the oppressive trend and political crisis continue in Turkey, which it seems it will, even accelerate, the inevitable exodus will not only be limited to the elite and qualified adults, as well as dissidents, but also what potentially would constitute a better future for the country.

Having been born and raised in secular western and southern urban settlements of Turkey, this generation of students – who have been the core of Gezi Park protests – may be the last one that either abandon the ship with others simply resorting to bitterness, isolation and – perhaps – mass aggression.

Turkish education system has always been problematic, with the need for a fundamental modernisation, and now, with the rejection of Darwin and injection of Jihadism as part of the curriculum, and rapid erosion of secularism in the schools, it leaves the youth with dramatic choices.

 

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Spain arresting EU citizens persecuted by Turkey on their views is a scandalous act

Only a week or two after the failed coup in Turkey, which took place in July 15, 2017, I was discussing some legal matters which might be of use any of my journalist or academic friends, who either happened to be on European soil or had fled the country.

After some conversations with German colleagues and bureaucrats at European Court of Human Rights, who knew about rights and obstacles, I called a British lawyer. He had some questions to ask, about who abroad would be where etc.

And when he learned that Can Dündar – the former editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, who had to leave the country because of high crime charges simply because of journalism – he was clearly irked.

I had told him in confidence that he was in Barcelona, albeit temporarily.

After a brief silence, ‘I think he should be immediately told that he mustn’t stay there’ he said. I was suprised. ‘Why, Spain is part of the EU?’ I reacted. ‘It’s high risk because of two reasons’ he answered calmly.

‘First the two countries have bilateral treaty on return of people suspected or charged of crimes; and second, more important, the Spanish authorities, particularly its police, is not at all as aware about the lack of rule of law in Turkey, they are rather ignorant, aloof and rigid about the cases that come before them. They tend to believe Turkish authorities even when it often lies, and lacks any notion of justice and proof.’

Soon after, Dündar left Barcelona for Germany. I still wonder what would have happened if Ankara had found out where he was. Most probably, I have an inkling now, he would have faced the same fate as two Kurdish dissidents from Turkey, who only in the course of weeks ended up in Spanish jails.

The first one was Hamza Yalçın, the editor of the leftist, pro-Kurdish weekly, Odak; and the second, Doğan Akhanlı, a prominent human rights defender, author and outspoken critique of Erdoğan’s government.

Yalçın is a Swedish citizen; Akhanlı is a bearer of German nationality for a long time.

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Akhanlı was released Sunday morning, but it doesn’t change the concern that his – or other EU passport bearers’ – freedom to travel and personal integrity has already been endangered; sending wrong signals.

At the outset, the Spanish pattern is utterly worrisome. From the legal perspective, an EU member country arresting people who are citizens of other EU countries, on demands of a third country, whose rule of law entirely collapsed and whose leadership for some time has resorted to hostage-taking tactics, – doing so without any flexibility and consultations with the EU countries involved, is, simply, a scandal.

It appears to be so, because the collapse of rule of law in Turkey is coupled with its authorities’ inability to present any credible evidence about any politically-coloured case and suspects – including the failed coup – and, late reports suggest, that because of the immense post-coup purge, the judiciary now has been filled by young, Erdoğan-loyal recruits who do exactly as the political executive tells them to do. Arrest this, prepare an indictment like that, keep that and that in jail etc.

The point is some EU member countries, such as Germany, now is fully aware of this catastrophic situation.

The row that developed between Erdoğan and Berlin has exposed the magnitude of that: Turkish president is extremely frustrated that some Turkish officers, academics, journalists and dissident Kurds are ‘still making noise’ on EU soil. He has repeated that around 4.500 dossiers of extradition were sent to Berlin, to no avail.

German authorities understandably reject those, saying that the concrete evidence is lacking, and the extradition to current Turkey, in which torture has come back and the death penalty is being pushed forth by the ruling AKP, is unlikely – because the EU and European Human Rights Court system is strictly binding.

Spain should be aware that the showdown between Turkish government and its allies is to escalate. Both the EU and the USA are exposed to the fact that, regarding the dissidents from Turkey, Erdoğan is absolutely determined to export his own values and his will to European mark.

“The Turks have been shameless about [privately] linking arrests to people they want in the US and Germany,” one European police official told BuzzFeed News recently. “We’re in the process of warning our own people to pay attention.”

Eric Edelman, who served as US ambassador to Turkey from 2003 to 2005, cited Turkish attempts to intervene at a trial that Erdoğan sees as ‘extremely sensitive’ for his international status – the so-called Zarrab case- and claimed in a recent Washington Post article that the ”the Turkish government is engaged in hostage diplomacy.”

Turkey is at a very turbulent phase, threatened by a full-scale mobocracy. Spain, therefore, should be extremely aware of this special case, and treat it as such. In cases like Yalçın and Akhanlı, deep and rapid consultations with Sweden and Germany would have been much wiser; shown respect for human rights than taking seriously the Turkish demands for extradition in the cases of freedom of expression. It is apparent that the security and judicial apparatus in Turkey is now an extended arm of its mobocratic rule.

Most important of all, the EU – and other – citizens of Turkish/Kurdish origin, who disagree with the way Erdoğan is running Turkey, must be able to travel to Spanish soil without any fear for unfair treatment by its authorities.

 

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Erdoğan’s new task on autocratic path: Full-scale purge inside his party, AKP

Now, this is the moment I was waiting for.

When it came to the real challenge – I mean ‘taking the bull by the horns’ – Erdoğan’s most recent stepping in to totally restructure his own party is the one. His rise or (slow motion) fall will be defined by this. One may always say, ‘it is the economy, stupid’ but it is here these elements somehow merge together, because the party, the AKP, that carried Erdoğan to the absolute top has become irreversibly corrupt and the very rotten system which created parasitic entities will have to respond to his interventions.

Signs of AKP’s well-being have been since the referendum in April been contradictory. While there have been no reliable, independent opinion poll conducted since then, the insider reports from within the party clash between the claims that the nearly % 50 voters support remains intact and the assertions that about % 10-15 shifted into ‘undecided’ status.

As the AKP celebrates 16th anniversary of its foundation, rumours have been swirling forcefully. Erdoğan has been candid about a need for change; he used the term ‘metal fatigue’ for nothing. This description only point out to determination that he will stop at nothing to turn the party into a Baathist format, in which absolute loyalty, and nothing else, counts.

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Meanwhile, the other founders, the so-called ‘grey-haired’ lead figures who were the architects of the AKP programme as Turkey jumped into the millennium with immense systemic problems, sit rather silently and watch. Obviously fearful for rage and revenge from the ‘great leader’ they at best send out vague signals of dissent.

One of them is Abdullah Gül – the former president. He is according to some reports frequently visited by some dismayed ministers these days. The most remarkable gesture of his was the refusal to attend the anniversary celebrations this week. Usually silent Gül could have sufficed with it, but he went further and issued a statement. His remark was summarized in a phrase:

”The AKP should continue its path by readopting the values and policies as its guide; by merging the universal criteria of democracy with its values.”

This was, by Gül’s standards, a loud message, emphasizing ‘readoption’ and an imperative. İt is clear he has entrenched himself, awaiting how the AKP’s local branches will react when Erdoğan starts bulldozing the established cadres.

There are others among the ‘grey haired’ founders who have become vocal lately. As it is known, the party was more or less until 2007 run collectively – and succesfully – by a collective leadership in which Erdoğan was treated as ‘ecumenical’.

While Gül as the FM was the reform-oriented ‘smooth operator’ who in cabinet meetings constantly restrained Erdoğan, Bülent Arınç and Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat were the ones who appealed to AKP’s Turkish and Kurdish grassroots, and the economy was managed by Abdüllatif Şener and Ali Babacan. In the past six years, Erdoğan was keen to liquidate all of them, in his pursuit of one-man rule. Sycophants who in the palace flocked around him were extremely influential in dispersing his doubts about keeping them, whenever he had those second thoughts.

And it is now another ‘grey haired’, Abdüllatif Şener, who apparently smelled blood. Otherwise having kept silent since his dramatic resignation from the party ten years ago, Şener – regarded as the chief architect of AKP’s initial party programme in August 2001 – is extremely outspoken these days, shedding light on what went wrong with Erdoğan and his abandoning the democratic reform path.

The interview he gave to Köln-based Turkish-Kurdish news site, Artı Gerçek, is filled with interesting remarks. Here are some of them, that can be interesting for the reader.

”What went wrong under Erdoğan?’ is the first question.

”It was defined by Erdoğan’s personality, identity and style. But it was also the problematic law on political parties, which in anti-democrati  it makes it easy for a one-man based path. He was focused on a single power and rested on this law” says Şener and states that Erdoğan never aimed at establishing a democratic order in Turkey. All he wanted was to expand his influence and power.

‘Whenever the conjuncture allowed and whenever social and institutional elements paved way, he took those steps. And he ended up where he is today.’

To gain legitimacy, Erdoğan had to ‘use’ the EU, Şener says.

The other one was the Kurdish Peace Process, which he claims turned upside down Erdoğan’s calculations. But all along, his pattern was to use and abuse whichever groups was in his favour.

”It was the same with the Gülen Movement; he walked with it for a while, in order to gain power within the bureaucracy. When it turned into a threatful clash of interests, he turned into purging all of them. This is a very complex structure and process; these are not coincidental processes, both from political and legal aspects…’

There were several critical thresholds that has led to Erdoğan’s march to autocracy, according to Şener. When the Constitutional Court decided (in 2008) not to shut down the AKP, Erdoğan felt emboldened by the notion that the judicial control over the party was over. This was the first threshold.

And the second one was those amendments after the much-debated constitutional referendum in 2010, which helped Erdoğan to ‘pacify’ the checks and balances system to his favour. This is when the pattern to criminalize the political opposition started to take shape, which led to lifting of the deputies’ immunities. And, thirdly, there was the third threshold: Kurdish Peace Process which was terminated in 2015.

”The peace process was used by him to cement his personel domination and power, but when it evolved into mechanism which had started to lead Turkey to a solution and democratisation, it clashed with Erdoğan’s political strategy. At that stage he threw in the towel and turned the Kurdish issue into a fierce poltical battlefield.’

Şener counts the failed coup last summer – which he describes as an event ‘so far unknown about by whom and how it was organized and conducted’ – as the final threshold for Erdoğan to acumulate power in his person.

”Just because a debate in which dissenting views are forbidden in this country, there is only a single-line publications (in media) and we are unable to learn the crucial details. As a result of all these, and because of the oppression on the entire opposition, there is no more any poolitical or bureaucratical structure left to limit Erdoğan’s power. He could not have achieved all this if he had not instrumentalized democracy.”

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So, here we are.

Back to the question: Now that he is entirely exposed in his quest for absolute power, will Erdoğan be able to take the bull by the horns and shape the ruling party totally into one, into an obedient political flock? It is true that he has managed to build a strong enough security and ‘mukhabarat’ system around his palace, backed by some armed militia groups, but, having squeezed himself inside a nationalist-militarist-conservative alliance block, it will be a real challenge. There are those who see it as the beginning of the end for his rise; but having his enormous skills for survival and cunning mind, I am cautious.

He may – and probably will – surprise us all.

 

 

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Is Kurdish referendum a ticking bomb?

U.S Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, seems to have failed to persuade Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, as many unknıwns remain about the outcome of the referendum on independence of Kurdistan.

Barzani asked Tillerson what the guarantees and options would be to determine the future of the region’s people if the referendum was postponed. KRG declared on June 7 a plan to hold the referendum  on September 25. The announcement had come following a meeting between the region’s political parties, except the Change Movement (Gorran) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG).

An official from the U.S. State Department told NRT English on August 7 that the U.S. does not support the Kurdish referendum at this time and expressed the continuous support of the U.S. for a federal, prosperous, unified and democratic Iraq.

“A referendum now, even this non-binding one, could have catastrophic consequences for Baghdad-Erbil cooperation that is essential to defeat ISIS [Islamic State]. A referendum now also has the potential to lead to violence and instability, especially as the Kurdistan Regional Government plans to include disputed areas in the poll,” the official said.

The prospect raised deep concerns in Teheran as well as Ankara, and led to a top level military visit by the Iranian army chief, Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, to the Turkish capital.

And the main question is, how Turkey and KRG will manage the rising tension, from their vantage points.

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Erdogan has said the referen­dum “would imperil the territo­rial integrity of Iraq” and the Turkish Foreign Ministry has described the prospect as “dam­aging the regional stability.”

Repeated statements from the United States, the United King­dom and Germany have said that, if the referendum ends with a resounding yes, which is foreseen as almost certain, independence of the Kurdish state would not be recognised.

Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani has not blinked. In an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper, he said the decision to call the vote for September 25 was definite “with no return.”

“I am asking,” he added, “when will the proper time arrive for the referendum? If we wait for others, such a time will never come. It is only the people of Kurdistan who can decide the date.”

In an interview with Foreign Policy, Barzani was evasive when asked about how he sees Turkey’s reaction.

”We would prefer to die of starvation than to live under the oppression and occupation of others,” he said. “If this decision is made by referendum and the reaction is to isolate us, let our people die. That will be a ‘glory’ for the world that they have killed our people by starvation just because those people wanted to express their destiny through democratic means.”

It is apparent that Barzani is keen on gambling, possibly calculating the administrations of US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron would seek a balance in that part of the region where Russia and Iran are expanding their influence.

Over the last few years, the relationship between Ankara and Erbil has been intensely focused on economic and commercial interests. The KRG has had no option other than collaborating with Turkey to export Kurdish oil through Kirkuk-Iskenderun pipelines and is dependent, to a large scale, on Turkish invest­ments.

For Erdogan and his family, especially his son-in-law Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, the business has been very personal. For many Turkish investors, who have seen heavy losses in markets such as Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan is a backyard Ankara cannot afford to lose.

There begin the complications that Erdogan knows will test his pragmatism against the decades-long Turkish foreign policy position to block Kurdish self-rule that would lead to international recognition.

Erdogan’s domestic political ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has based its existence largely on the demands of the Turkmen minority, and a big part of the Turkish media has positioned itself against Barzani’s declaration, claiming that it is yet another Western conspiracy to weaken Turkey.

How, then, will Erdogan juggle the Kurdish independence vote? His low-key approach points to a calculation that a Kurdish “yes” will cause sharp friction with Baghdad and that Barzani may ask for Turkish help.

Further on, knowing that the result will be non-binding could give Erdogan leverage to engage KRG to alienate the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) in return for more powerful eco­nomic and even military coopera­tion between Ankara and Erbil.

This could mean that Erdogan, who has weakened the pro-Kurd­ish party in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), through oppressive measures, may calculate to operate easily to increase the gap between Bar­zani’s KRG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), pushing for a battle between them. “Divide and rule” is an Ottoman legacy and this is where the Turkish president hopes to appease the hardliner nationalist vote at home.

There are many more balls to juggle, however. For both Russia and the United States, the Kurdish presence has dimensions that are aimed at limiting Turkey’s manoeuvring space. As long as Erdogan plays hardball with Turkey’s Kurds, it may not cause a friction with any of them but, if he hardens his stance on the Iraqi Kurds, he will face tougher choices and higher risks.

So, from their vantage points, both Barzani and Erdogan would possibly play for time. After all, the heart of the matter is that they both desperately seek ways to consolidate their one-man rule and they won’t let a vote rock their boats.

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Abused, hated, and hunted: ‘Eternal solitude’ of the Turkish intellectual

Against the solid, collective adoration of President Erdoğan, what strikes any observer is the solitude of the intellectual, which is an enforced isolation whether or not inside prison. Taken together, these two phenomenon – victorious masses in denial of democracy and the individual in defeat – not only marks the tragedy of Turkey, but also points out to the continuity of the regime, which Erdoğan envisages as a one-man rule.

In the best sense of Catonism – taking its name from the famous Roman conservative, Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC – 149 BC), Erdoğan’s vision has become much clearer after the referendum in mid-April. With the once-secular military smothered by his will, Jihadism introduced into the schoolbooks and religious marriages now on the agenda, Turkey has entered the stage of what Barrington Moore described as ”advocacy of the sterner virtues, militarism, contempt for ‘decadent’ foreigners and anti-intellectualism.”

Last week, Turkish public was delivered the ‘news’ that it was just about that: constructing a new regime. In a TV channel, Ayhan Oğan, one of the top figures of Erdoğan’s party, AKP, declared, in a well-known arrogant manner, that ‘we are now busy building a new state. Whether you like it or not, founder of the new state is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.’

The main-opposition attempted to trigger a debate on these words, but to no avail. There is not much steam left in the party, CHP, which was formed by the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as it watches the accelerated erosion of fundamental values which kept Turkey intact for decades, albeit on a fragile democratic order.

The dilemma of the CHP lies, among other points, in its inability to form a strong, diverse intellectual ‘belt’ around it. That may have to do with the essence of Kemalism – which Karl Popper may easily have placed among other ‘closed’ ideologies he had scrutinized – and, as a result, the CHP always kept the finest of the Turkish and Kurdish intellectuals at a distance. It was seen as more precious to protect the state, than allow the independent thinkers to debate ways to reform it.

As a matter of fact, I have met no one in Turkey, among the secular, elite supporters of the CHP, who would appreciate the the famous line in Tomaso di Lampedusa’s famous line in his masterpiece, ‘The Leopard’:

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

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The pathos of the Turkish intellectual was the one that condemned her/him to loneliness – the unending desire for change. In what some would call despair, many of them had welcomed the new spirit, that the early AKP had represented, and in the lack of a better alternative at the left of center, they chose to gamble.

The game was over already, weeks before Gezi Park protests. What the chairman of the AKP’s Istanbul branch, Aziz Babuşçu, had said was a prequel to Oğan’s blunt declaration. ”Those who are our stakeholders, this or that way, will not be able to continue” he had said then.

”Let’s take the liberals. They have been stakeholders, but the future is the one of reconstruction, which will never be as they imagine or desire it. So they will not (be allowed) to be with us. Those who walked along with us yesterday, will be walking wth those forces that are against us. They will never accept a recontructed Turkey and a future we aim to improve.”

These words were from a closed door party meeting then, and echoed as a wake-up call for many intellectuals – from left or right flanks – who had lended a hand in the EU-led reform process. From then on, it was all a series of political steps reminding that the game was over.

Yet, a lot of time was wasted in vain to build a bridge between the CHP and the disillusioned intellectuals. What made it impossible was the gap in between that the CHP refused to acknowledge how grave and urgent the Kurdish Issue is for Turkey’s future. Erdoğan has read into this very sharply, and did his best – very easily – to keep them apart.

After Gezi Protests and during the demolishing of the legal order which began in early 2014, it was obvious that the most vulnerable segment to authoritarian push was the intellectuals; squeezed into their isolation; with no political interlocutor to rise to the occasion. They were not many, they were marked one by one, the black lists were ready for round-ups, and Erdoğan knew one thing: When they were picked by the police, as singles or in groups, not even the CHP would dare react properly, let alone the masses which support it. The game was long over, and this was the ‘coup de grace’. He can do anything with them, any time now, they are now his hostages on free foot, if not in prison.

In a recent essay, Soner Cağaptay, a senior Turkish analyst based in Washington described the systematique of Erdoğan-style Catonism as such:

”Erdoganism blends post-colonialist theory with anti-Westernism. According to Erdoganists, after World War I, Ataturk’s cohort of secular republican founders struck a deal with the Allies to subjugate Turkey under Western interests. The tradition of subjugating the people’s will to the West continued under various secular parties that governed Turkey until the AKP took over almost a century later. The coup attempt of July 15 threatened the people’s will once more, according to this story, but this time, the people fought back… July 15 was proof that the people’s will needed a resurrection, or Dirilis.”

”The revolutionary language of Dirilis gave Erdogan the opportunity to renew his fight for an executive presidency with fresh fervor. In the months following the coup attempt, pro-Erdogan civil society organizations held numerous panels and conferences about the failed putsch across the country with titles like “July 15: From Resistance to Resurrection.” When the AKP organized a constitutional referendum on April 16 to elevate Erdogan’s powers, its ad campaign capitalized on this language, declaring, “July 15 Resurrection, April 16 ”Risorgimento” [Resurgence].”

All this exposes the precious solitude of the Turkish intellectual, now, more than ever before, exposed by profound disillusion and despair. The ‘March for Justice’ had lit up a flame of hope, but seems to have faded quickly. Intellectuals are divided also between illusion and realism, many of them trapped by wishful thinking.

Perhaps it is as described by a Kurdish veteran politician and thinker, Tarık Ziya Ekinci (91) most recently. Arguing that Kemalism will never ever have a strong enough social base to claim power, and the AKP now replaced the CHP as the ‘party that seized the control of the Turkish state” he wrote:

”A political party’s success is measured by its ideological-cultural hegemony in the society and today the only party that has the ability is the AKP. Its core ideology is Sunni Islam. In all the Muslim states throughout history, its leaders were seen as the representatives of divine power. This is the reason AKP insists on the one-man rule points out to the committment to thşs tradition. The choice of our Muslim people is in this direction.”

If true, this is the worst possible situation for any intellectual, with a sense of dignity and conscience.

”Erdoganism has set Turkish democracy on a path to self-destruction, and there seems to be no exit wrote Cağaptay.

The damage done is so vast that he may be right.

 

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Why the adoration for Erdoğan among the Turks abroad remain so rock solid?

”Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it” wrote Paul Mason, an expert on social justice, in the Guardian.

”Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.”

Well, it is definitely not a spectator sport, as someone said.

But as Mason does a striking ‘tour d’horizon’ over Trump, Erdoğan and Putin surfing on the silence of their own masses, we know how deep the apathy of the peoples on certain parts of Europe. Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia and Poland’s brutal refusal of refugees display the failure of their peoples to internalise the universal notion of compassion and human dignity. Oblivion of their plight under the totalitarian rule during Cold War is a remarkably strong part in what Mason is describing as death of democracy.

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Somewhere else in the periphery of Europe is another aspect of the new phenomenon: it is really puzzling why still so many Turks are still in such high admiration of their ‘Reis’ – as they call President Erdoğan – no matter how irrational and self-destructive his management gets.

How is it possible, a Dutch friend asked me repeatedly, that Turks living in safe, predictable, prosper conditions in Western Europe do not care a bit about their countrymen at home, when they are treated so ‘inhumanly’? What makes these people so aggressive against the countries they live in, against the people who express disagreement with the way Turkey is harrassed?

It is not that Erdoğan was solely responsible in whipping up people to bring out their dark side – the evil within. There is much more to it. Erdoğan knows that his rule was a golden opportunity to exercise revenge on what many of his followers see as decades long cultural apartheid, during which the elitist humiliation of the pious segments and religious congregations was profound. Soon after the foundation of the republic, after the abolishment of the califate, most of the religious groups had to go underground.

Saulterdogan

The AKP under Erdoğan symbolizes, for their grandchildren, a collective act of revenge; a victory of the riff-raff. The length and scale of the AKP’s rise and stay in power means also that a change of power by democratic means may no longer be an issue: its possible repercussions are perceived with horror by those masses, as a path to new period of oppression. This fear is the main element that defies any prospect for a return to democracy. Thus, it has also eroded whatever remained of morality and compassion within the society. It leaves room only for ‘dog eat dog’.

There is more to see, in all its simplicity, to understand why support for Erdoğan remain so unchanged. Recently I have found a load of food for tought in an ordinary chat that a scholar, Ayşe Çavdar – from University of Duisburg-Essen – had with a Turkish taxi driver, which she wrote about in news site Artı Gerçek.

She and the driver find themselves in a conversation where they agree about the unacceptabily of the coup but when it comes to the AKP, they sharply disagree, but in a remarkable way:

He doesn’t object to her comments on how corrupt and immoral the AKP is, just responds in phrases like ‘yes, but who hasn’t been before them?’ or ‘yes, the agriculture in Anatolia is dying, but when was it ever healthy?’ or ‘yes, Turkey is drifting apart from the world, but the world is also drifting apart from Turkey’.

Çavdar was struck by his fatalism. He was saying ‘that’s just the way things are (in the world), why should we expect muslims to change things?’.

His account revealed that he was swindled three times by ‘Islamic companies’ in the past 20 years and had lost all his savings. That was why he was working as a taxi driver.

Then she asked the question: ‘But this is reason for not supporting the party which such money has flown into, but for being opposed to it. Don’t you remember Deniz Feneri (Lighthouse) case? And the same AKP did not do anything to compensate your losses?”

To her surprise he agreed but said:

”Muslims finally could breathe easy, feel comfortable in Turkey.”

After talking at length (he had parked the car because he wanted to talk) with him, Çavdar summarized the way of his reasoning.

”This is what I understood” she wrote:

”If he had accepted the notion that what made the AKP build his power on was his and friends’ and neighbours’ savings; that it was the capital for corruption and lawlessness, all his life story would because of the decisions he made on religious concerns go down in drain. The meaning he gave his life would be shattered on so many levels. Despite the fact he knew the injustices of the state, he supported the AKP because he believed that something good would come out of such evil.”

When pressed by her as ‘come on, do you really believe that?’ his response was blunt: ”Do I have any other choice?”

”We had had to endure so much, so should you!”

Çavdar’s account is, of course, only a part of the reality. This man represents an AKP supporter, an incurable Erdoğan admirer from a distance, who chose to live in a lie.

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Then there are others. Another segment is comparable to those in Russia. Like the grocery owner in Berlin that some time ago had talked to. Not complaining about his well-being, and saying that he had voted for Erdoğan only once, he wouldn’t let me discuss his isolation in international scene. ‘Enough is enough and he is saying it to everyone. He thinks and talks exactly like us’ he said, meaning many like him abroad. This attitude is the exportation of the ‘revenge’ pattern against the elite many feel at home, in Turkey.

The domestic masses of the pious middle class in general, still at his ‘social adolescence’, it was about a sense of equality in the early phases of the AKP rule. No longer. Because of the divisive crisis politics Erdoğan pushed so mightily, it has now turned into a sense of collective superiority, but with no intellectual arsenal that would help consolidate it. The support is all dependent on the employment, and social privileges like housing and health care. Once the economy’s faltering gains pace, this middle class, so visible in its lumpen patterns and lack of devout morality, will stand ready to abandon the very power which has fed it.

Democracy has nothing to do, no meaning, in this context.

It stands with presence of a benevolent leadership; what we see currently is a contagious free fall, everywhere.

 

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Turkish opposition in grand delusion

It is question time now. Everyone who is one way or another is interested, or has interests in, Turkey, keeps pouring out questions, as the crisis under Erdoğan deepens.

”Will there be an end to this?” was a question sent to me by an unemployed colleague from Turkey. I know he with his family has been living in scarce savings and he knows that he is unemployable because he is ‘toxic’, because he belongs to those who never gave up on the honour of journalism. Fired, jobless, he is one of those qualified pariahs.

”Is this crisis sustainable for Turkey?” was another question which kept us busy for days last week. ‘How long can this ordeal go on?” we asked each other, colleagues in exile and some others from Greece.

Very hard to predict, maybe harder than ever before.

To many of us, discussing the issue, it was clear, we recalled, when Erdoğan harshly singled himself out as the sole decision maker, when he demolished personally the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia nearly a decade ago; when he challenged Israel with a flotilla to break the Gaza embargo; when he defied his party’s senior figures that Gezi protests were only to be crushed; when he responded to graft probes in late 2013, by tearing the structures of the judiciary to pieces.

His de-facto suspension of the constitution by rejecting independence as soon as he was elected president in 2014 and his personal decision to turn down the peace table with the Kurdish Political Movement in 2015 and his murky role in not preventing the coup attempt last summer, came as solid proof that, by singling himself out obstinately, he had as a person become the very problem with Turkey; more than anything or anybody else.

Now that Germany has been forced by the same obstinacy to change language and, even, perhaps, attitude with concrete steps, the question of ‘how long’ becomes even more complicated.

Add to this three very angry players – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE – the question mark becomes bolder. It should have downed upon Berlin that the ‘Turkey question’ is both simpler and more complex than thought. Everything that defines Turkey’s relations have been reduced to one individual, who by spreading fear and cunning intrigue, has seized control over anything.

Far worse, whoever these days from the government behind closed doors try to backpedal or modify the destructive hard-line and threatful language production, finds himself/herself sidelined. ‘Because all is personal with Erdoğan’ told me a colleague, ‘his success depended from the very beginning whether or not he would be able to establish lasting personal relationships with leaders all around him.

Just because he is so slippery and wobbly, he has now nobody who trusts him. Nobody. They all see him, including the leaders of Qatar and Azerbaijan, as a liability; a person with no future, because he is seen as one with a mindset that does not offer stabile relations. He has marked himself as a foul player.’

Whether or not his current impasse in the international stage will play out in the length of the Turkish crisis is, where the question becomes more complex. Because, the paradox is, Erdoğan is as successful in choreographing tension politics at home as he fails so miserably abroad. And the large portion of the problem is the lack of convergence of ‘understanding’ between the benevolent allies of Turkey and the opposition in Turkey. The latter is still so deeply in disarray that it defies optimism.

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The core problem with the opposition and whatever remains in the critical media is the persistent pattern of explaining the sources of crisis as the sole result of a showdown between Erdoğan and his foe, Gülen.

This dominant linear reasoning is based on that; by trying to expose how strongly allied Erdoğan’s AKP and Gülenists (or, as defined by Erdoğan, ‘FETÖ’) once were, the secular opposition and some of my colleagues are stuck in the belief in pushing back the AKP. The shallowness of this type of analysis leads large parts of the opposition to a defensive attitude – ‘we are not FETÖ’ is a common phrase – as it legitimizes a collective punishment of social groups in defiance of all legal norms.

More importantly, for many hard-core pundits in Turkey a sheer focus in Gülenists seems to be an easy way out; the analysis of how the system is being changed from a shaky semi-democratic one into an autocratic order, in which the secular opposition also has borne a responsibility.

Also, it paves further way for Erdoğan to enhance its domain of attacks, all the other groups of critics, by using the word FETÖ. It gives legitimacy that whoever is accused of a linkage with Gülenists deserves ill treatment and prison. These pundits may not have been aware of such consequences their reasoning causes. It is questionable whether this strategy will make the opposition rescue democracy from the hands or Erdoğan and his team.

Deeper analysis is lacking at home. But elsewhere, Erdoğan’s cunning game has been exposed more and more.

”President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his allies have created a historical and political narrative surrounding last summer’s coup that is effective for being both unifying and divisive” wrote one of the sa-harp observers of Turkey, Nick Danforth, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Washington DC.

”Erdogan has used the commemorations to declare a long-awaited victory over Turkey’s secular elite and the Kemalist military establishment that kept them in power. But at the same time, he has also taken the opportunity to co-opt and Islamicize the symbols of Kemalist Turkey in order to consolidate his support among committed nationalists in the military and the population at large.”

”Hitting an appropriately patriotic tone while commemorating a popular victory over the nation’s own army required some finesse. Thus, while emphasizing that July 15 represented the decisive end of a decades-long tradition of military interference in politics, the government has also insisted that, because this “civilian” coup was carried out by followers of Fethullah Gulen, it was fundamentally different from Turkey’s previous “military” coups.

Going a step further, government rhetoric has emphasized that July 15 was not even a coup attempt in the traditional sense but in fact a “foreign invasion” orchestrated by Gulen’s puppet masters in Washington. Since Turkey’s Kurdish separatist movement is also widely seen as an instrument of foreign intrigue, this makes both the Army and the citizens who resisted it part of a unified struggle against Turkey’s enemies.”

”In solidifying his power since last summer, Erdogan has proved particularly skilled at recalibrating the official account of what happened according to his political needs. Initially, Erdogan embraced the country’s secular opposition, inviting opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu to participate in a giant post-coup unity rally and praising his followers for standing up against the Gulenist coup attempt. Now, however, Kilicdaroglu and his party are increasingly falling afoul of the government’s coup narrative, and joining the ranks of the nation’s enemies. When Kilicdaroglu led a large anti-government protest march, Erdogan first accused him of “marching for terrorists,” then more directly of being a Gulenist agent.”

For a skilled politician as Erdoğan, keeping the opposition vulnerable by way of ‘association with the devil’ has become a very useful cat and mouse game. He is keeping his critics in defence of who they are not rather than, these critics attacking him on how he destroyed Turkey’s fragile democratic system, by using and abusing one ally after the other. To many of his critics it is very hard tıo admit that there is little difference between how Erdoğan duped the entire Kurdish Political Movement and Gülen Movement, although the latter bore also heavy responsibility for abuses of power, serve, at the end of the day, his own purposes.

For the time being, what faces the opposition, though, is a cliche:

United it will stand, or divided it will fall.’

”At least for the time being, the opposition, on both the left and the right, seems to understand that it is only through cooperation that it can hope to challenge Erdogan’s hold on power” wrote another sharo pbserver, Howard Eissenstat, Professor with the St Lawrence Universit, and a Senior Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy.

”A scenario in which the opposition succeeds in this is conceivable, but it would be the longest of long shots.”

There is a theoretical possibility, that it can happen. It presumes that the CHP and the Kurdish Political Movement close the ranks, and embrace all the underdogs who have suffered under Erdoğan, including the grassroots of Gülenists. Yet it is a very hard call.

This impasse is what Erdoğan invests his future on.

”At least five years, I am doomed to stay outside Turkey,” explained a colleague of mine to Greek journalists in our meeting.

‘We are a nation that are composed of clever individuals, but as we get more and more collective, dumbness and incomprehension takes over. This is the destiny of our opposition.’

 

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Who can challenge Erdoğan, and how?

Now that Turkey from various vantage points display a ‘free fall’ pattern – particularly because of the fall-out with Germany and Saudi Arabia – the key question is what are the capabilities of the opposition at home.

Is it, after the March for Justice, gaining ground to challenge Erdoğan, or still tramping on the same ground?

Who can challenge the AKP and the current hard-liner ‘coalition’ it worked so hard to establish in Ankara?

”The silver lining, if there is one, is that Turkey’s opposition has shown new signs of strength in recent months and has fanned hopes that it could challenge the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections” wrote Howard Eissenstat, Associate Professor with St Lawrence University and a Senior Fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy.

”The hard truth, however, is that this new vigor has likely come too little, too late” he continues.

Let us see now how he argues, in excerpts, for this line in his recent analysis, that I mostly agree with:

”In the lead-up to the April constitutional referendum, the “no” campaign, which opposed the new presidential system, was surprisingly effective, given how remarkably uneven the playing field was: the “yes” campaign benefited from open government support and blanket coverage by a press essentially beholden to the government. Some opposition figures, such as the leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), are behind bars, and many of their followers were among those displaced by the fighting between the government and the PKK; as a result, many of these would-be “no” voters were denied the opportunity to cast their ballots in the referendum.

Moreover, officials in AKP-controlled municipalities routinely had “no” campaign posters torn down and repeatedly broke up or banned “no” rallies. In the end, and despite significant evidence of voting irregularities, the “yes” campaign managed to squeak by with only 51.4 percent of the vote. Erdogan may have consolidated his power, but not without betraying new electoral weaknesses.”

Perhaps even more striking, starting in June of this year, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led a remarkable 280-mile “Justice March” from Ankara to Istanbul.

The march ended in Istanbul with a massive rally that drew hundreds of thousands of citizens. It was a remarkable political moment, as much a festival of defiance as it was a political meeting. For the first time in memory, government critics seemed hopeful.”

That hope may be misplaced, but it is not an empty one. Kilicdaroglu’s march demonstrated his realization that to be effective, the opposition needed to be more creative and dynamic than it had been in the past.”

‘At least for the time being, the opposition, on both the left and the right, seems to understand that it is only through cooperation that it can hope to challenge Erdogan’s hold on power.”

A scenario in which the opposition succeeds in this is conceivable, but it would be the longest of long shots.

”This month, Meral Aksener, the most prominent of the MHP rebels, announced that the group would form a new party in November. This is important not only because it would threaten Bahceli’s place in the parliament, where he has positioned the MHP as less an opposition party and more a junior partner to the AKP, but also because a new right-of-center party might conceivably siphon off votes from the AKP. Turkey is, at its core, a center-right country; a key element of the AKP’s success has been that it has had few rivals to compete with among this segment of voters.”

In the 2019 elections, a real challenge from the center-right would force the AKP to compete for that slice of the electorate in the parliament, potentially opening space for a “grand coalition” among the opposition parties. A dynamic candidate who can appeal to the center-right is the opposition’s only real hope of challenging Erdogan for the presidency. Leftists and progressives may not be excited about such a candidate, but fear of Erdogan could well push them to support a right-leaning candidate. Despite 15 years in power and effective control over most of the Turkish media, the AKP has never been able to extend its electoral base beyond 50 percent. Even if 40 percent of the country is utterly loyal to Erdogan, nearly half of the country remains utterly opposed to him. This reality is unlikely to change.

The problem… is… the assumption of free and fair elections. That no longer seems likely in Turkey. If one lesson of the April referendum is that Erdogan’s base has softened, another is that the opposition cannot rely on a level playing field or even a valid vote count. The press is no longer free. Basic state institutions, including the judiciary, are now largely extensions of the AKP. Of the three opposition parties in the parliament, one has been co-opted by the government and the leaders of another languish in jail.

Turkey is not in any meaningful sense a democracy.”

Saulterdogan

Astute observations, which justify pessimism.

Despite the relative economic stability, Turkey’s political system has remained corrosive and its complex society has never been liberated from turmoil.

Now, under an extremely visible authoritarianism promoted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the very existential essence of the republic is in trouble, a harbinger of an even more profound crisis ahead.

Given Erdogan’s unshakable determination to reconstruct Turkey as a country run single­handedly, under a model that has the blend of ingredients imported from Ba’athism and deeply dictatorial Central Asian repub­lics, this seems inevitable. On the political, legal and social levels, screws are tightening at an accelerated pace.

Fiercely defying the March for Justice by the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had assembled hundreds of thousands in Istan­bul, Erdogan’s Justice and Devel­opment Party (AKP) and its de facto ally, the extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), voted for changing the 44-year-old regulations of parliament.

The right to voice dissenting views as well as steps for account­ability will be severely restricted when the changes are in force.

This move leaves parliament devoid of political weight. One CHP deputy described it as the “last nail in the coffin of democ­racy.”

There is more. Erdogan has subordinated the judiciary to his palace. The most recent arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders — without proof — are by far the strongest sign of another ingredi­ent in his political architecture under way: Putinism.

Socially, society is more polar­ised than ever, with Erdogan responding to the CHP-led March for Justice with a mass rally to celebrate the rescue of democracy a year ago, when a small group of officers attempted a takeover by a limited uprising.

In many ways bitterly reminis­cent of similar ones in 1930’s Europe, the assemblies in Istanbul and Ankara were pumped up by speeches filled with threats to domestic opposition and severe accusations to Turkey’s allies. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu refused to attend events on the anniver­sary of the failed coup events because his speech was cancelled on orders from Erdogan.

To underline Erdogan’s resolve to take full control of Turkey, the ruling AKP, backed by the MHP, extended emergency rule another three months. Optimists were shocked to hear the president say, once more, that it would be extended “as long as we want it to be,” that Turkey without such limitations was inviting anarchy and chaos.

Allies and friends of Turkey in the West seem to have let go of the benevolent anchor and are preparing for a country that to their eyes is no different than Egypt, Pakistan or Malaysia.

The essence of the debate thickens: Does Erdogan’s hiking tenacity point to strength or weakness? Critics at home see his raised acrimony as a sign he was frightened by the March for Justice and that his party is losing at the polls. This view, however, may be an illusion.

As far as his seizure of control of key state institutions and the way he has surrounded himself with hard-line cadres of bureaucracy are concerned, this is just the opposite. The fact is, as the Guardian pointed out: “His opponents are scattered. In politics, they remain divided between Kurdish, nationalist and leftist groups.”

Erdogan may have been seeing pockets of dissent within the army’s leadership — his emphasis on “purging out all subversive elements” was very loud lately — and decided to go full blast towards a meeting of the Supreme Military Council in August that will put final touches on reshaping the army to serve his political vision.

Once he passes that threshold, his attention will turn to tighten­ing “loose screws” in his party and, his real challenge, the economy.

The latter means, clearly, that if Erdogan eventually has to leave power, it will be because of himself; not due to the opposition. The signs are telling of a “Turkish bubble.”

“Fears for the Turkish economy in international decision-making centres are running very high and it’s only considered a matter of time now before the bubble bursts,” wrote Alexis Papahelas, executive editor of Kathimerini. “The fact that the Erdogan system issues its own loans outside the institutional banking framework speaks volumes.”

Unemployment is rising — as is the budget deficit — and is three times higher than a year ago. Turkey has expanded state guarantees to pump in $14 billion loans to almost 300,000 firms. Nobody knows how these loans are spent. Approximately $200 billion of assets have been injected into a wealth fund.

Another Venezuela?

Likely.

No matter what, one will have to follow the money to answer the question “Quo vadis, Turkey?”

 

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Defining human rights as his enemy, Erdoğan is now at a point of no return

Perhaps it is my fault.

I can no longer understand the naivete – some would call it wishful thinking – of the people I know, that no matter how badly the current ruling factions of Turkey under the banner of Erdoğanism hit at those who disagree, we should have a reasonable discussion with the oppressor.

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I have known Özlem Dalkıran for ages. One of the most conscientuous – and humorous – folks I met in Turkey, she had always been on the forefront to stand for the underdogs. She lined up behind those who were keen on breaking the age-old taboos of Turkey.

A friend of the late Hrant Dink, the Armenian-Turkish colleague slain ten years ago, she made his family’s pursuit of justice her own. Wherever there was trouble with the oppression, one could spot her smiling face around.

‘How can they do this to her?’ was the question I heard, when talking to her friends. Then, as soon as her time for arrest was extended along with 9 other human rights activists, the tune had changed. I was told by some optimists that it was an act that amounted to a mistake and their release was imminent and inevitable.

I was stunned to hear that. ‘Are you living in a parallel universe?’ was all I could mutter to one of them, whom I felt close enough to express my bewilderment openly. ‘Are you not aware of what sort of barbarism Turkey is exposed to?’

I tried my best to explain to her how Stalin had orchestrated those show trials by inventing enemy out of every one he disliked, and how endless and how irrational everything about these roundings-up have been and would be. Such conversations ended up me shaking my head in surprise about the naivete of theirs.

Nothing to do, really; these were the well-educated, highly intelligent acquaintances, who had been lost in the aquarium of brutality.

They believed in what they in despair wanted to believe in.

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Days after came the ruling, in early hours of the day. I had a very bad sleep, somewhere outside Turkey; got up at sunrise, only to find out that Özlem and her five activist friends were placed in pre-trial detention. Adding to the groups of hostages, with the addition of the Sweedish citizen Ali Gharavi (IT consultant) and Peter Steudtner (well being trainer). Not a surprise. New hostages. No holds barred. A German father of two children is now behind bars, along with other dreamers of a dignified life for the oppressed, for swaps in dirty international politics.

Not a surprise either, that their arrest had taken place when Kemal Kılıçdaroğu, leader of the main opposition party, CHP, was on the verge of completing his 430 km long ‘March for Justice’ in Istanbul. The raid aimed at ‘catching the criminals on the act’ in Büyükada (Prinkipo) island outside Istanbul was apparently to mock the goal of the march; a slap in the face of the opposition, as well as the leaders of G-20, who were meeting Erdoğan in Hamburg.

A few understood the latent meaning of the arrests.

Saulterdogan

Ruthlessly keen on displaying how in alliance he was with the mindset and patterns of Putin and Sisi, Erdoğan dared the world that he would not blink even a bit for opening a new phase in cracking down on whosever stands on his way. Kurds, Gülenists, leftists and liberals, academicians and journalists and judges did not suffice.

Now, he and his dark supporters in the state apparatus felt the time was mature to go to the next phase: the very people who had been dedicated to struggle for human rights of those who were targeted.

The message could not have been clearer. Criminalisation of the very commitment to the rights and freedoms meant a direct assault on whatever was left on the conscience of the nation. This is well known pattern of the rise of fascism everywhere – from Italy to Iran and beyond – that paralysation of the compassion for the ‘other’ opens the gates to an Orwellian society.

My surprise is that such large segments of the intellectuals and all those who care for an open society could imagine that Özlem and her friends would be released. How could they believe that, when thousands of others were kept as political prisoners, I wondered. What was their ‘privilege’? No, the despair was now so deep that all hopes clinged to a hope.

Days before the judge’s decision to send Özlem, Peter, Ali, İdil, Veli and Günal to prison, some of those friends were shocked to hear Erdoğan’s voice in their mobile phones, in the night of the coup anniversary. The main GSM service provider, Turkcell (whose board is appointees by the AKP – hello Orwell!) had organized a favour for Erdoğan that he could in person speak to each and every citizen, to express his thanks that the nation had ‘indeed’ saved democracy from the putschists last year.

How could it be? they asked. How was it possible? I tried to explain the best I could, that Turkey was more or less hijacked by a coalition of dark forces under the leadership of a person, whose intentions and vision was very serious. The tragedy of those shocked was that they had underestimated the determination and Macchiavellian intelligence of the leader, miscalculated totally how far he would go. He will.

When I hear these days the commentary that Erdoğan had become ‘frightened’ by the March for Justice of the opposition, I can not help but bitterly smile. He is not. Not a bit.

If these comments were not a product of yet another wishful thinking, they express only misjudgments that he is blinking for his goals set for an Sultanic rule. Never.

His design for absolute power is that this is a journey for political life or death. Erdoğan will never shy away from the political, legal and social ammunition he accumulated; he will spend it in full, if necessary. He is beyond fear. If any sensation to speak of, it is frustration or anger. Once you know this, I told my acquaintances who remained in shock, your picture will be clearer. Then, you’ll know your action or non-action plan better.

Then you will know whether or not the political opposition grasps the ugly reality of the rise of Turkish fascism.

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Speaking at the rally for the anniversary of the coup, Erdoğan went as far as reprimanding his justice minister, Bekir Bozdağ, on why he had ‘released’ Ahmet Türk, the ‘grand old man’ of Kurdish struggle for human dignity over decades, from the prison. 75 year old Türk was not only stripped off brutally his elected position as the mayor of Mardin, but also put behind bars for ‘terrorist activity’.

He was let go because he was very frail, due to heart issues, and later had joined the March for Justice, albeit briefly as a symbolic act.

‘What kind of a sick man is this?’ Erdoğan roared, looking at the minister in the crowd. ‘How come he was released? Then he attends the march. Minister, did this man get a health report from a proper hospital? Were you shown the report at all? How come did he get this thing with a release? He should have been under surveillance!’

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Ahmet Türk (in the middle with the blue shirt) joined briefly the ‘March for Justice’, led by the main opposition party, CHP.

Erdoğan was speaking about a man, who enjoys all the Kurds highest respect.

He was one of those who had been subjected to the severest torture during the military rule after the coup in 1980. Yet, he has remained a most moderate voice for peaceful co-existence between Turks and Kurds.

My concern more tan anything else is, how the valuable human dimension in Turkey becomes a waste.

Ümit Kıvanç, a colleague, is also a friend of Özlem and many others.

‘They are stealing years from human lives’ he wrote. ‘They are committing this big crime with a ruthlessness that goes far beyond any reason and conscience; with a dirty and poisonous joy of destroying the peoples’ lives. Without a shred of regret.’

 

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