President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the well-known fan of air defence systems, is facing impeachment for an endless list of crimes. We have only got to this point because he is probably guilty of most of them.
The Speaker of Parliament, accountable to parliament and not government, has the authority to unveil official documents concerning his actions which have been hidden until now. If that happens, it is very likely that Erdogan’s rule will come to an abrupt end, simply because the list of charges is so long that even if only 10% can be proven that will be enough to sink him.
Many unofficial sources are claiming that Erdogan is going mad at hearing that the nation is no longer following him. Even former supporters who stood by him when he was accused of corruption are now leaving him. Erdogan is blaming all this on his former American aide, the Islamist Sai Baba Fethullah Gulen, the leader of a worldwide movement which is halfway between a faith organiation and bunch of jack-of-all-trade agents active from China to the US. But it is not Gulen but Erdogan himself who is the object of criticism, and it would come as no surprise if documents released by his own comrades brought about his downfall.
One of the issues these documents might talk about is the bomb massacre at a rally in Ankara which made the world news. Prime Minister Davutoglu has claimed that two suicide bombers committed this attack on behalf of both ISIL and the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement, working together.
This claim smears all the Turkish public’s bogeymen at once, but is highly unlikely to be true. Many of the people taking part in the rally were Kurds, it having been organised by the democratic Kurdish party, the HDP. The Turkish government is keen to draw a distinction between ordinary Kurds, and their democratic representatives, and PKK terrorists. This is the basis of the accusation that the PKK must have planned the attack.
But the PKK knows it does not have the strength to destroy the HDP, or take full control of the Kurdish independence movement. It also knows that when a longstanding grievance is resolved by political means the more radical elements gain more public support if they then join the political process. In Northern Ireland, for example, the moderate Republican and Unionist parties dominated their communities until peace was achieved, but then the more extreme parties displaced them as soon as they renounced violence, being seen as stronger voices for their people.
The PKK is also fighting ISIL in the hottest combat regions and is fundamentally opposed to it ideologically. It has more to gain by helping Turkey and the US defeat ISIL, in exchange for a Kurdish state at the end of it, than trying to overthrow a Turkish government which retains international support due to the country’s strategic location. A Kurdish state would be an appropriate thank you for the “moderate Kurdish” contribution to the war on terrorism, granted willingly and with public support, providing a get-out for all sides in that conflict.
Word on the street in Ankara is that the terrorist bombing was the work of the local special services, not ISIL, and probably acting with foreign support. In this view, its purpose was to rally the nation round Erdogan, the face of law and order. However, his refusal to make an official statement about the Ankara bombing for days suggests he has spurned the opportunity allegedly provided him.
Erdogan was elected on a platform of reviving the Golden Age, whenever that was, and making Turkey great again. But he is now putting at risk the economic strength and regional political clout which have become effective levers for doing just that. This is causing many to question his conduct over a number of other matters, which the general thrust of his policy and success enabled him to get away with before. With the idea of being imprisoned keeping him awake at night, Erdogan may well be tempted to resort to measures such as murdering his own citizens to maintain his hold on power, like many another isolated ruler before him.
The embattled leader has tried to shore up his position by using another well-worn tactic of leaders under pressure – engaging in foreign diplomacy, which opposition groups can’t do, to show his superiority. But when Angela Merkel – who despises him, and doesn’t try to hide the fact – visited Turkey for multilateral talks on immigration and stopping the flood of migrants to Europe, this was seen as nothing more than a political stunt, on her part as well as his, as she has no intention of pulling out of the wars which are creating these migrants.
Erdogan also piled more pressure on himself by his approach to the talks. He complained that the 3 billion EUR the EU has offered to help Turkey take tougher measures against immigration is much less than Turkey is spending on caring for refugees at present. However, it is widely known that Turkey is encouraging, not stopping, the flow of migrants to Europe so that they can be used as a political weapon whenever suitable. This demonstrates that, having failed to get into the EU by fair, diplomatic means, Erdogan is happy to resort to foul ones. It is this which forms the substance of the documents the Turkish parliament, and his colleagues, might now release.
As in Kazakhstan, governments can get away with a lot if their economies are booming. Its previous economic strength had encouraged Turkey to bid for regional leadership, which every country which has had an empire believes is theirs as of right. But now the Turkish currency is in deep crisis. Last May the official exchange rate was 3.5 Turkish Lira to the British Pound, but this August it was 4.7. This steep decline has made the TL the worst-performing currency in the emerging global economies, and is making entrepreneurs’ lives impossible.
Turkey has few primary resources and suffers from a deep technological gap. Consequently, it cannot produce most of the components industry needs. These have to be imported, processed and then exported to pay for their importation, and with the local currency so weak it is very expensive and not competitive to do this. The new Russian sanctions will cause even more problems.
The high rate of inflation, apparently the product of heavy printing by the central bank, will soon make several businesses go bankrupt. Public debt is also rising, and is calculated in dollars, making Turkey very vulnerable to interest rate decisions made across the Atlantic. Far from being a regional leader, Turkey has become the modern financial world’s equivalent of a banana republic. Its current political position has been given it as a sop, to keep it onside until the time comes to pull the rug from under it.
Emperor’s new clothes
All this is laying bare the fact that it is time to “Talk Turkey” about Turkey. It has always been a US ally because of where it is, not for any other reason. The US doesn’t want it as a trusted ally, or really care about it.
Turkey is traditionally a foe of what is now the political West, which fought wars to liberate Europe from the Ottoman yoke and to keep modern Turkey from allying with Hitler in World War Two. It was made part of the West to stop the Communists, who had encircled it, getting their hands on its strategic ports.
But the West has never liked Turkey or what it does, despite its consistent praise of “improvements” in its continually vicious internal politics or its “support” of US ambitions. It’s not seen as a Western country but a military base in hostile territory, which the West has no choice but to indulge as far as possible.
This grudging indulgence has always been part of broader US calculations in the region. Several years ago Georgia was made the US forward operating base in the region partly because it wanted a way out of Turkey. Georgia isn’t big enough to play this role all the time, but its previous government was nasty enough to let the US do whatever it wanted, including murder, torture, training terrorists and manufacturing and exporting biological weapons, so that some of the reasons it needed Turkey no longer applied.
Now the US operation has moved to Ukraine, and a lot of the nasty Georgians with it. Ukraine does have the size, military capacity and strategic location to replace Turkey to a large degree. At this stage there are still too many vested interests for the US to just walk away from Turkey. But with everybody else also wanting out, how long will Erdogan be able to bank on this remaining truth?
Former Georgian President Saakashvili, who always said he would be back without the need for elections, was recently caught on tape plotting a coup which would be conducted from Turkey. Saakashvili is arrogant enough to think that he can say what he wants without being called to account, but not so stupid as to be caught in such a way by routine methods. These tapes were made somehow, most probably by “protectors” for whom he, like Turkey, has become a deep embarrassment.
Crashing and burning
Those tapes give the West a convenient way out of both Saakashvili’s gang and Turkey, which have now outlived their usefulness. They were one of the reasons Turkey shot down the Russian plane. But this action has provided another reason for Erdogan to be removed, as it was politically inexpedient, a violation of international law and presents Turkey as a supporter of a terrorist organisation, giving the West ample reason to interfere in its affairs yet again.
If Russia responds to the attack militarily NATO is obliged to defend Turkey. However NATO is now trying like hell to avoid expanding to its east, despite the number of countries knocking on its door, precisely because it doesn’t want to find itself obliged to send its forces to these countries. NATO cannot get sucked into war with Russia, or reconstitute the Turkish state, which is not homogenous to begin with?
The French are fond of talking about their “Fifth Republic”, meaning the state established in 1958, when its current constitution was adopted. France existed before then of course, but under different constitutions and political arrangements. On each occasion, the old France collapsed and was thrown into the dustbin and replaced by a new one, even though it was physically the same country. Erdogan might well achieve his longed-for place in history by being the last president of THIS Turkish Republic, even though it will mean “crashing and burning” with it.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.