It is now clear that Tayyip Erdogan’s political career is heading to a closure, slowly but surely. He had a chance of saving it if he had the courage to immediately offer his apologies to Moscow after the downing of the Russian Su-24 bomber over Syria, that was in fact heading away from Turkey, not toward it.
This turn of events pushed all of Erdogan’s allies away from him, including the United States. After all, making business with a leader that is supporting ISIL, instead of fighting it, means to tarnish one’s reputation, especially against the backdrop of the Paris massacre carried out by Islamists, terrorists that came to Europe through Turkish territory. It’s a well-know fact now that by using financial assistance of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Ankara organized the mass “exodus” of refugees to Europe earlier this year, virtually opening the door for hundreds of the Islamic State militants to infiltrate the EU. It’s doubtful that NATO would ever trust such “allies” again.
Clearly, Erdogan’s actions have jeopardized all of Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, which has been a dream of a great many Turkish political figures and ordinary Turks for years, especially those from the local business community.
But what’s even more grave – the president has publicly disgraced himself before the country. His had already been steadily losing his position, but once he dropped his mask, his ratings started falling abruptly. It turns out that the leader of the Turkish nation is not just an Islamist, he’s a supporter of international terrorism. But Turks, especially the well-educated ones, do not support the return to sharia law, and would rather support the transition towards European values based on secular principles. Public outcry that shook Istanbul’s Taksim Square a couple of years ago, along with all of Turkey’s major cities, was provoked by this silent transition to Islamism that Erdogan has been pursuing. As for the Kurds that make up a third of the country’s population, they have been pretty unhappy by Erdogan’s reluctance to fulfill his promises of expanding their rights and freedoms as well.
As a result of these policies the ruling party – the Justice and Development Party (AKP), founded in 2001 by former members of a banned Islamist movement, almost faced a humiliating defeat in the general election of June 2015. This forced Erdogan to call for snap elections in November to regain the majority in Turkey’s parliament. Experts were convinced that the AKP would face a bitter defeat, but then suddenly on the eve of the election a wave of terrorist attacks changed the situation abruptly. The population was frightened that terrorists would flood Turkish territory, coming from neighboring Syria and Iraq, so it voted for the AKP in hopes that Erdogan and his supporters would consolidate power in order to give an adequate response to the terrorist threat.
At the same time the leading Kurdish party, formed by the merger of the left Kurdish parties and movements, was looking at increasing the number of seats in the parliament, now suddenly faced a defeat. The AKP, of course, did get 50% of votes, scoring only 49.1%, but due to the peculiarities in the vote counting system, officially received more than 50% of the seats along with the right to form a new government alone. However, these numbers would not allow Erdogan to carry out the constitutional reforms that can turn the country into a purely presidential republic headed by him, “the Sultan of Turkey.”
Now we are presented with a situation in which the AKP leader and the sitting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who are largely secured by the victory for the ruling party, has obtained as much influence as the president. And after the downing of Russia’s bomber he strengthened his positions even more, even though he decided not to distance himself publicly from the president. It’s safe to assume that he’s just quietly waiting for a perfect opportunity to strike a mortal blow. He’s nothing short of a dangerous contender that is prepared to replace Erdogan at any given moment. Unlike Erdogan, who grew up in Istanbul’s slums, and learned to claw his way up by trickery and deceit, Davutoglu grew up in a well-educated family. Over the years he has been employed by the department of international relations at the University of Marmara, and was a visiting professor at Turkish military academies in Turkey. In 2003 he was presented with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Then, in 2009 was appointed to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey and served in that capacity until 2014, when he was elected as leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party.
Ahmet Davutoglu made a statement according to which the Turkish Armed Forces were acting on his direct orders in the downing of the SU-24, but it’s more likely than not that he has been simply trying to cover up for the president. One thing is clear: now he’s not just an old professor, he’s a hardened politician, an Islamist that is looking to the West.
Another strong competitor of Erdogan is Abdullah Gul, the former president of Turkey. He has also occupied the positions of Turkey’s Prime Minister, the 1st Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. An avid supporter of European integration, he has put a lot of efforts into the start of negotiations regarding Turkey’s accession to the EU. At the same time he is considered to be a supporter of Islamic values, although not nearly as radical as Erdogan and his entourage is. In addition, he is known for his close ties with Washington. Why the sitting president decided to get rid of him politically is still an unanswered question. It seems that it’s rather Gul that got tired of the lunatic ideas of his former superior, especially in the domain of cooperation with the Islamic State. It is no accident that Abdullah Gul has recently paid a visit to Washington. Apparently, American politicians are interested in putting this old politician into place as a new president, since they’ve clearly have had enough of Erdogan’s unpredictability.
Of course, all this does not mean that Turkey will depose the sitting president or that he will leave tomorrow. The real effect of the economic measures taken by the Russian Federation against Ankara will be apparent in April-May, when Turkish farmers will have no market to sell their vegetables to, while the tourist season will be a bitter disappointment for local businessmen without 3.5 million Russian tourists arriving any time soon. Of course, the opposing forces both within the AKP and from other parties will take advantage of the situation. They are going to be supported by the majority of business circles in Turkey, that depend on the level of cooperation Turkey has had with Russia.
But the deposing of Erdogan is a relatively positive scenario. Those who remember Turkish history should know that Erdogan is hated by the military command of the Turkish Armed Forces, which has traditionally played a crucial role in the maintaining of country’s stability. He threw a lot of generals and senior officers into prison for alleged treason. By now the majority of them should be released. And those generals, just like those who survived Erdogan’s repressions, are dreaming to do away with him, putting an end to the Islamization of Turkey. The army is not getting any revenues from the illegal oil smuggling, so, should the ties between ISIL and Ankara be maintained, the military command, while enjoying the support of NATO allies, can launch a coup d’etat and return to the power they had three decades ago . But this scenario won’t satisfy local Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities, who have experienced the cruelty of the army in the suppression of their rights first hand.
So it is quite possible that we will face the second scenario – the most unfavorable one for the country – Turkey is going to be plunged into political chaos, when the ruling AKP will find itself opposed by both the army and the legal opposition, along with 22 million Kurds led by the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) . In this case, the civil conflict could result in the collapse of the Turkish state with the Kurdish areas (the entire South-East Anatolia) breaking away, seeking ways to create an independent Kurdistan that will absorb certain areas in Syria in Iraq, changing the whole balance of power in the Middle East.
Whatever happens, one thing is clear: Tayyip Erdogan will be forced to answer for his stubbornness, inability to respect others, dictatorship, corruption, and connections with ISIL. And above all, he must answer to the people of Turkey. And also to Russia for the cowardly attacks that claimed the lives of two Russian soldiers who fought valiantly against terrorism.
Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.