To understand, first, the gravity of the developing story in Turkish politics, let’s have a look at the spot-on wrap up by David Gardner in Tuesday’s edition of the Financial Times:
“Since his ascent to the presidency in August last year, Mr [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan has continued to expand his power at the expense of the rule of law and basic freedoms of expression and assembly. The president is issuing writs for defamation like confetti.
“With [Justice and Development Party] AKP-incited mobs attacking [Peoples’ Democratic Party] HDP party offices and independent media operations, and daily xenophobic outpourings against the international conspiracy supposedly out to get Mr Erdoğan, the military he had defanged is edging back into the circle of power. Army commanders… have been handed effective control of a dozen southeastern provinces. ‘Because of Erdoğan’s intoxication with power we lost the opportunity to democratize this country under civilian rule,’ says one leading analyst.”
Against this background, the HDP’s departure from the already problematic interim government was only a matter of time. It happened on Tuesday when two ministers from the pro-Kurdish party, the minister of the EU and the minister of development, arranged a hasty press conference (which was totally censored by the so-called ‘mainstream’ media) and declared that the path to the polls were under full control of the “palace” — referring to President Erdoğan and his team. They repeated “we shall not allow you to have executive presidential powers” and walked out.
When the political situation in Turkey deteriorates day after day, tumbling into an “ungovernable state,” its president is fully determined to engage all in his reach to instrumentalize in his personal favor.
Domestically, he successfully managed to carve a divide between the three main opposition parties, using the timidity of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on the Kurdish issue, and the fierce hostility of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) towards the HDP. Riding on the divided opposition, the media and large swaths of the electorate, the pressure on dissenting voices mounts with every passing day, as the civil society remains unwilling or unable to unite on the most basic common denominator over human rights. This sort of national confusion perfectly serves all the ambitions for a shift towards fascism.
Internationally, the conditions also seem ripe for the Erdoğan team’s manipulations. When the deal over the Incirlik Air Base was sealed, and the written objectives pointed to a joint battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Turkey’s allies were to a large extent shocked to instead see a wide front opening against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), one of the key allies of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia fighting on the ground against ISIL.
This has led many independent columnists and media outlets to criticize the White House for letting itself be thoroughly duped by Ankara. This issue is now slowly building up to a nasty conflict between Turkey and the US, adding problems rather than helping to prepare solutions.
Now, another critical moment — wide open to abuse — is approaching.
It has to do with containing the Syrian refugee problem within the borders of Turkey.
It was reported on Monday that “EU officials hope the emergency summit on Wednesday” will deliver concrete pledges of support for Turkey and other nations housing some 4 million Syrian refugees, as well as for the 11 million Syrians now homeless inside their own country. The European Commission had said it was ready to come up with an estimated 1 billion euros for Turkey, more than five times what the EU has already mobilized for the 2 million refugees there…
It is clear that some of the EU members — particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe, whose democratic mindset is still immature — see the Syrian refugee influx as a burden to be shuffled over to Turkey. Their selfish sense of urgency raises doubts among Turkey’s already pressurized reform circles that in what may be seen by Ankara as a perfect negotiating moment to consolidate authoritarianism.
It may be in the EU’s short-term interests to keep the refugee crisis limited to Turkey, but if it is not put in the context of long-term interests — which is a democratically stable Turkey — we are doomed to see deeper troubles ahead.