General elections in Turkey are scheduled for June 18, 2023, but due to the initiative of political forces opposed to Erdogan, it may occur earlier. Voters will elect a new president and 600 members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, each for a five-year term. Therefore, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is already actively seeking to enhance the image of a national leader in the eyes of citizens, who goes straight to his goal by taking the most severe official position on any issue.
However, not everything is as rosy as Erdogan would like it to be in the foreign and domestic policies of the current Turkish President. Tensions within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have risen recently, with significant corruption scandals repeatedly rocking the country, forcing the most prominent AKP members to leave the ranks and some forming new parties. These include former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, former Foreign Minister, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and others who were at the root of the AKP. They declare that Turkey needs an entirely new vision for the future, claiming that Erdogan has exhausted the resources to continue his geopolitical experiment and that its economy cannot withstand his ambitious foreign policy.
As recently as last summer, the Bloomberg agency stated that only 27% of the country’s citizens support the ruling party, the lowest figure since the founding of the AKP. Reasons for this situation are rampant inflation, high unemployment, ineffective measures to combat the coronavirus, mismanagement of the economy, and the depletion of the Central Bank’s foreign currency reserves during the bank’s rule by former Finance Minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. Against this backdrop, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), decided to take on Erdogan, even calling on him to hold early elections. Kılıçdaroğlu believes Turkey is losing its geopolitical immunity due to lack of a coherent foreign policy and is unable to play on all platforms at once: in the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the Caucasus.
Indeed, the foreign policy of “Zero Problems with Neighbors” declared by the AKP leader earlier has turned into a conflict with most of them, Syria, Greece, Cyprus, Armenia, Iraq, Egypt, and Israel. The protracted process of Turkey’s integration into the EU is now virtually frozen, and Ankara’s disagreements with Washington and Brussels on several regional issues have worsened. Erdogan’s desire to unite Fragments of the Ottoman Empire under his wing, including the Eighth Summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States or Turkic Council held on November 12 in Istanbul. Followed by his demonstration of a “map of the new Turkic world,” only brought additional censure for him from many countries. And it is not surprising, since the “new world” in Erdogan’s style includes, apart from Turkey: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, the Balkans, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China, parts of Mongolia and Iran, Europe, and a large part of Russia: Yakutia, Buryatia, Altai, Khakassia, Bashkiria, Tatarstan, Tuva, Saratov region, Samara region, Astrakhan region, Ulyanovsk region, Penza region, Orenburg region, Chelyabinsk region, Kurgan region, Omsk region, and Novosibirsk region as parts of Ottoman Empire 2. It is clearly encroaching on the territorial integrity of other nations.
It’s no secret that Syria, Iraq, and Libya occupy a special place in Erdogan’s plans to create a new Neo-Ottoman Empire. In recent years Ankara has been actively trying to gain a foothold, including the use of its armed forces. For example, by expanding its military presence in Syria under the slogan “fighting Kurdish terrorism,” Erdogan hopes to annex Turkey’s lands inhabited by descendants of ancient Turkmen (Turkomans) who are of the same blood as Turks themselves. Both are descendants of medieval Seljuks. But other Syrians are not inspired to join the new Ottoman Empire. Hence, anti-Turkish sentiments have been growing in the country lately, and not only among the Kurds.
Despite the vigorous development of Turkish military-industrial capabilities and Erdogan’s logistical reinforcement of the Turkish army, Turkey still lacks the strength to conquer the pearl of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt. Let alone march victoriously across the Maghreb, across North Africa. But these expansionist aspirations of Ankara have long been evident to those countries. As a result, any attempt by Ankara to interfere in the internal life of these countries will be met with unequivocal opposition. In particular, it happened in response to Turkey’s recent attempts through the Muslim Brotherhood (a formation banned in Russia) to achieve a change of power in Cairo. Former President Mohamed Morsi, who relied on them, was removed from power. Ankara’s attempt to influence the situation in Libya through its mercenaries will have a similar result. The Arab-Berber population hates the Turks who ruled the territory until 1911 and remembers them as conquerors.
Ankara has recently signed several agreements with Kyiv, including the military, and military-technical fields. The Turkish authorities have been very proactive in the Transcaucasus, especially in integrating Baku and Tbilisi into NATO’s military structures (joint exercises and maneuvers, personnel training, conversion to NATO weapon standards). However, these steps, many of which have an openly anti-Russian vector, are perceived with apprehension and at times with open criticism in Moscow, which does not improve Turkey’s relations with Russia. Meanwhile, Russia has become an essential business partner for Ankara in recent years, turning Turkey into a gas hub through the construction of TurkStream, equipping it with advanced Russian weapons, including S-400 SAMs, and providing substantial support to the Turkish tourism industry by Russian citizens.
Thus, it is not surprising that Erdogan’s and his party’s credibility continues to decline amid a series of crises, scandals, and foreign policy failures. Today, Erdogan can charm no one with his rhetoric, neither internationally nor at home. The AKP and Erdogan are required to make substantial policy adjustments. Otherwise, after the elections, October 29, 2023, will be the hundredth anniversary of the Turkish Republic, power may shift to other political forces in the country, particularly to the Kemalists from the AKP.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.