No Minister

Dear President Erdogan. Get Stuffed.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

Kemal Ataturk 

I can never read those words without feeling a surge of uplifting emotions. They’re right up there with Lincoln’s call “to bind up the nation’s wounds“, in his second Inaugural address. Having said that, an article some years ago in The Guardian demonstrated that they’re not Ataturk’s actual words, though there’s no doubt his sentiments were along those lines.

Ataturk also famously built the framework for turning Turkey into a modern nation, specifically by limiting the influence of Islam on its political and civil institutions: Kemalism – also called “Turkish socialism”, with its “six arrows” of Republicanism, Populism, Nationalism, Statism, Reformism and Secularism (laiklik in Turkish, a variation of the French concept for secularism, Laïcité).

The Turkish military continued that work for decades after Ataturk died, defending Kemalism in matters great and small, They went too far in conducting military coups that pushed out democratically elected leaders and governments: in 1960, 1971, 1980, and effectively in 1997 when they forced the removal of an Islamist PM. But it should be noted that those coups were often welcomed by large parts of Turkey’s population.

In the wake of the rise of Erdogan, one can see why.

Erdogan first came to attention twenty five years ago when he won the Istanbul mayoral election in 1994. Like most politicians he had bigger plans, but unlike most, his did not just focus on climbing the greasy pole of politics to higher positions. Erdogan did not support the secular aspect of Kemalism. While happy enough to employ four of the arrows, he wanted Islam to return to the core of Turkey’s imperial hopes and dreams. The Ottoman empire reborn. Republicanism, Secularism and Reformism – unless it was reforming back into the past – were out.

To that end he has subverted the Turkish courts of law, the civil service and especially the military by selecting like-minded cronies as judges, bureaucrats and military officers. He has also cracked down on freedom of the press, to such an extent that Turkey now has more journalists in jail for its size than any other country in the world.

And naturally there has been a constant campaign of intimidation of political opponents, who have found themselves being prosecuted or under investigation for numerous “breaches’ of law. It’s all drearily similar to the antics of Chavez, Maduro, Assad, Putin and a dozen other little wannabe dictators around the world.

The military coups were sudden, blinding events involving much the same tactics, but Erdogan has been far more successful by taking a far slower path, steadily undermining each civil insititution that provided cantilever support for the others, all to remake Turkey in a non-Kemalist image. He co-founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as the necessary voting base needed to leverage change in all other areas. In a darkly comic manner he mirrored Russia by moving from Prime Minister (2001 to 2014), to President in 2014, with his successor PM meek and quiet. Nobody doubts who runs the country and he has pushed for constitutional changes to transition the Presidency from being ceremonial and neutral to one more like that of France, the USA and Russia. Whenever a strongman President pulls such stunts it’s a bad omen for the future. Look for the five-year, one-term-only Presidential rule to be the next to change.

Along the way, Erdogan has hit a few bumps, not least with the likes of Assad and Putin. Geopolitics has proven tricky as Erdogan’s enemies slowly evolved from the EU to the USA, and then Russia, even to the extent of shooting down a Russian fighter-bomber. Turkey has been a long-time enemy of Syria and the Assad family, with countless border disputes, paramilitary and small-scale military actions carried out by each country against the other over the decades, so Erdogan is not unique in this matter. But the Syrian civil war and the involvement of long-time rivals Russia and Iran, have put Erdogan on the spot. Unlike his predecessors he has found little support from NATO and the USA, having burned more than a few bridges with them over the last twenty years.

As a result playing both sides won’t work. The decision to purchase the Russian S-400 SAM system probably has not placated Putin, and has led the USA to restrict, and possibly soon, stop all sales of the new F-35 fighter to Turkey, a damaging blow to its military and prestige as a NATO member. The fact that Turkey actually supplies some parts for the F-35 is now under the US microscope.

Then there’s the economy. While Erdogan has not been as stupid as Chavez, Maduro or Mugabe in pushing more pure Socialist policies, he certainly has tried to bend large corporations to his will. They’ve also suffered from a brain drain as the smarter set gets the hell out of the country, as well as the growing corruption; the price of doing business in a nation where the law itself is bent to political ends. The result has been more manipulations of the currency and poor quality fiscal spending to compensate – which naturally enough has made the economy steadily worsen, with rising budget deficits, debt, inflation (20%) and unemployment. A Chavez-style money printing gap-filler would be the final straw.

Yet Erdogan has prevailed. I’ve been hoping for at least a decade that he would be defeated by a combination of all these things, not least the fact that eighty years of Kemalism is not so easy to destroy when it has made its way into the hearts and minds of the population. Subverting the institutions is only a start to changing the people; it takes decades, and there’s no indication that there are mini-Erdogans waiting for him to pass from the scene and who are equally capable and single-minded as he.

There has been plenty of low-level resistance to his plans, with any number of Turks rolling their eyes at his nonsense. But perhaps I’ve been listening too much to the smart set – the Turkish equivalent of the US Coastal knobs who spit on the rubes of the hinterlands in that nation. Erdogan has got a large amount of voter support over the years, for reasons that will not go away when Erdogan does. What do they think? In what direction will they move?

Perhaps it’s too soon, but recent elections may indicate the beginning of the end for Erdogan:

Initial, albeit unconfirmed results on Monday, showed that Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu took a nailbiter in the economic center and most populous city of Istanbul, edging out the AKP opponent Binali Yildrin by just .3 percent. 

Meanwhile, CHP’s secular Mansur Yavas is so far documented to have defeated AKP’s Mehet Ozhaseki 50.9 percent to 47.2 percent in Ankara; and in Izmir, the results so far point to CHP’s nominee Mustafa Tunc Soyer at 58 percent as AKP’s contender Nihat Zeybekci lingers at 38.5 percent. 

All votes have reportedly been counted in those cities. And voter turnout was high, with more than 85 percent of the 57 million registered leaving their mark at the ballot box.

These are only municipal elections; city Mayoralties. But it should be noted that this is where Erdogan began his rise to power, and he knows it, which is why he basically treated them like a national election. He attended countless rallies and at least one, tried whipping his supporters into a frenzy by playing, on large screens, video from the Christchurch shooter’s body cam. All this while trying to join his local opponents to the hip of the New Zealand shooter, casting them as people who not only would not defend Turkey and Islam but actually join with the Western imperialists.

Only this time it didn’t work. Let’s hope this trend continues and that Erdogan fails to further warp Turkish democracy before it boots him from power. Let’s also hope that the AKP has no similarly capable autocrats in its ranks.


Written by Tom Hunter

April 4, 2019 at 12:02 am

Posted in New Zealand

Tagged with , , ,

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