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.



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.’


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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