Commentary Magazine


Topic: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Has Obama Realized the PKK Can Be Allies?

Difficulties in the Turkish government’s relationship with Turkey’s Kurdish population continue to overshadow efforts to implement a coherent and comprehensive strategy to address the problem of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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Difficulties in the Turkish government’s relationship with Turkey’s Kurdish population continue to overshadow efforts to implement a coherent and comprehensive strategy to address the problem of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The problem is this: While to most American audiences the Kurds might simply be the Kurds, they are divided politically, linguistically, and culturally. In short, the United States now works closely with Iraqi Kurds, but labels the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist group. Herein lies the problem: Masud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, may depict himself and may be considered by some American officials to be a Kurdish nationalist leader, but his popularity is largely limited to two Iraqi provinces: Duhok and Erbil. And even in Erbil, his popularity is tenuous.

The imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan remains the most popular figure among Turkey’s Kurds, enjoying the support of perhaps 90 percent of Syrian Kurds, whereas Barzani barely musters 10 percent popularity there. Whereas Turkey long sought to declare Öcalan irrelevant, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reconfirmed Öcalan as the paramount Kurdish leader in Turkey when he had his administration negotiate a ceasefire with the imprisoned Kurdish leader. This may not have been Erdoğan’s intention, but it was the result. The irony here for Turkish nationalists is that Erdoğan was likely never sincere about achieving peace with the Kurds, or at least with those Kurds who continued to embrace ethnicity rather than Sunni Islam as their predominant identity. After all, every Erdoğan outreach to the Kurds occurred in the months before elections, and was abandoned in the weeks following them, when Erdoğan no longer needed Kurdish electoral support.

Even as Erdoğan now acquiesces to some support for the besieged Kurds of Kobane, he seeks to limit the provision of that support to his allies among Barzani’s peshmerga, never mind that KDP peshmerga would be out of place in Syria and do not have the skill or dedication that the PKK’s Syrian peshmerga, the YPG, have exhibited. If Erdoğan thinks Barzani’s peshmerga can save him, he is kidding himself: As soon as those Kurdish fighters enter Syria, they will subordinate themselves to the YPG which know the ground and are, at this point, better motivated and more skilled.

Erdoğan continues to insist that there is no difference in his mind between the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the PKK: To the Turkish President, they’re all terrorists. Evidently, however, the American position is shifting. Obama has insisted that he approve every military operation in Syria. This is why the recent airdrop of supplies to Kobane is so important: That airdrop directly assists the PYD, YPG, and the PKK. In effect, Obama is now aiding a group that his State Department still designates a terrorist group.

In reality, that designation is probably long overdue for a review if not elimination. The PYD governs Syrian Kurdistan better than any other group which holds territory runs its government. Nowhere else in Syria can girls walk to school without escort (let alone attend school) or is there regularly scheduled municipal trash pick up. And the YPG, meanwhile, has been the most effective force fighting ISIS and the Nusra Front. Given a choice between ISIS and the PKK, the United States should choose the PKK. The group may not be perfect—it retains too much of a personality cult around Öcalan and internally could become more transparent and democratic—but in this, it is no different than Barzani’s KDP. Indeed, the only difference between the two is that the PKK has not indulged in the same sort of corruption that has transformed Barzani and his sons into billionaires.

The most interesting aspect of the U.S. airdrop to the Kurds of Kobane is how muted the reaction has been. Turkey might like to think the nearly 150 members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus would hold water for Ankara and object to the provision of arms and aid to a group Turkey’s president considers to be a terrorist entity, but its members recognize that most American officials now consider the Hamas-loving Erdoğan to be more of a threat to peace than the PKK. Indeed, perhaps with this airdrop, the change so long denied by diplomats is now apparent: The Emperor Erdoğan has no clothes. It is too early to suggest that Öcalan trumps Erdoğan in the American mind but thanks to more than a decade of Erdoğan’s rule, when deciding between Turkey and the PKK, American officials no longer will automatically side with Turkey.

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Criticism to Become Crime in Turkey

I have written here many times about Turkey and its war on the media and free speech. Turkey is already “the world’s biggest prison for journalists,” according to Reporters Without Borders. President Erdoğan has, in recent months, been on the war path since Turks used online news portals and social media to report on and discuss tapes which suggest that he and his family had embezzled money to the tune of over one billion dollars. Alas, with Erdoğan secure in the presidency and the opposition largely cowed into submission, Erdoğan is now taking his campaign against media and free thought to the next level. As “the Radical Democrat,” a blog which follows press freedom in Turkey closely and often breaks news about new and real threats to free expression in that country, writes:

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I have written here many times about Turkey and its war on the media and free speech. Turkey is already “the world’s biggest prison for journalists,” according to Reporters Without Borders. President Erdoğan has, in recent months, been on the war path since Turks used online news portals and social media to report on and discuss tapes which suggest that he and his family had embezzled money to the tune of over one billion dollars. Alas, with Erdoğan secure in the presidency and the opposition largely cowed into submission, Erdoğan is now taking his campaign against media and free thought to the next level. As “the Radical Democrat,” a blog which follows press freedom in Turkey closely and often breaks news about new and real threats to free expression in that country, writes:

Draconian internet laws in Turkey are deepening yet once again with a new reform package that will bring by new measures against freedom of speech in Turkey. Previously, the government has already tried to silence masses through censorship measures, surveillance of netizens, blocking access to web sites, or even raids on online news portals’ headquarters. The most recent “development” on the laws against online free speech is the most recent law draft that foresees up to 5 years of imprisonment for tweeps that criticize the government online.

The issue goes beyond simply social media or print criticism, but rather will extend to slogans during street protests:

The new bill’s scope is not limited to digital public spaces but also makes opposition movements’ visibility on streets problematic. The slogans that have been adopted by critical groups on street protests had already drawn many frowning faces so far, and with the new bill they will be considered a crime. New law also breaches the diplomatic immunity of politicians, allowing them to be put on trial as well, in case of threats against public-officers, soldiers, police, governors etc. The prison sentence will possibly go up to 5 years depending on the intensity of the “criminal activity.”

To make matters worse, the new law restricts the ability of lawyers to defend those accused of criticizing the government. Welcome to the new Turkey, a country intent on falling below even Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain in press freedom rankings.

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Turkey, Kobani, and American Excuses

American officials are in high dudgeon about Turkey’s inaction to prevent the imminent fall of Kobani, a Kurdish-populated town in northern Syria, to the black-clad fanatics of ISIS. Given that Kobani is right across the border with Turkey, Ankara could presumably save the town simply by rolling its army across the frontier. But this President Erdogan refuses to do, even as ISIS edges closer to the center of town.

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American officials are in high dudgeon about Turkey’s inaction to prevent the imminent fall of Kobani, a Kurdish-populated town in northern Syria, to the black-clad fanatics of ISIS. Given that Kobani is right across the border with Turkey, Ankara could presumably save the town simply by rolling its army across the frontier. But this President Erdogan refuses to do, even as ISIS edges closer to the center of town.

Why isn’t he doing more? Partly it’s because he doesn’t want to collaborate with the Syrian version of the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist group which has battled the Turkish state for years. But partly it’s also because he doesn’t think there is any point in intervening against ISIS as long as President Obama isn’t willing to attack the root cause of the Syrian civil war–the Bashar Assad regime.

Erdogan deserves all the opprobrium he is getting for his inaction but, as the Washington Post editorialists astutely note, the U.S. doesn’t have the high moral ground here. The U.S., they write, “is poorly placed to pass judgment, having stood aside for more than three years while 200,000 Syrians died, most at the hands of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Another 3 million have become refugees, including 1 million who have alighted in Turkey — which, adjusting for population, would be the equivalent for the United States of more than 4 million Mexicans streaming across the border.”

Moreover, the Obama administration is still refusing to create a no-fly zone over Syria as Erdogan and the moderate Syrian opposition are urging. This American failure is allowing Assad to take advantage of the anti-ISIS campaign the U.S. is conducting to focus his attacks on western parts of Syria which are held by the moderate opposition.

Instead of pointing fingers at Erdogan, American policymakers would be better advised to act on his advice to stop Assad as well as ISIS.

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Is Kobane 2014 Warsaw 1944?

This summer, after a lecture at Poland’s National Defense University, I was treated to a tour of the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The museum, which commemorated not the Jewish ghetto uprising but rather the uprising of the Polish resistance against the Nazi occupation two years later, should be a mandatory stop on any visit to Warsaw. The story is well-known but, for those who have forgotten, my colleague Marc Thiessen wrote about it here.

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This summer, after a lecture at Poland’s National Defense University, I was treated to a tour of the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The museum, which commemorated not the Jewish ghetto uprising but rather the uprising of the Polish resistance against the Nazi occupation two years later, should be a mandatory stop on any visit to Warsaw. The story is well-known but, for those who have forgotten, my colleague Marc Thiessen wrote about it here.

When the Polish partisans rose up, they expected the Red Army to sweep into the city and liberate it from the Nazis. Instead, the Red Army stayed put while the Nazis gained the upper hand, slaughtered the Polish nationalists, and then razed the city. While the United States embraced Soviet dictator Josef Stalin as an ally in the realpolitik world of World War II, too often whitewashing his racist and murderous proclivities, Stalin himself had a plan for post-World War II Europe, and strong Polish nationalism had no place in it. What I had not known until I had visited the museum was the multiple requests to the United States and its allies to provide air support or airdrop supplies to the partisans who were slowly being starved between Nazis and the Red Army. No air support was forthcoming; the allies did not want to irk Stalin. When it came to other supplies, what came was too little, and much too late.

Fast forward 70 years. The Islamic State (ISIS) is surrounding the majority Kurdish town of Kobane, an enclave which has also taken in thousands of displaced Christians and Arabs. The United States has for months ignored the advance, and only in recent days provided some aerial assistance. Those fighting in Kobane are wedged between ISIS and, just a kilometer away, the Turkish Army. The Turks refuse to provide assistance to the Kurdish defenders, even as they watch hundreds of thousands flee, and thousands killed or wounded.

Many Turkish citizens—both ethnic Turks and Kurds—recognize the cynicism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for whom outreach toward Kurds is consistently just a pre-election ploy. This is why, as the fall of Kobane to ISIS has neared, Kurds have taken to the streets inside Turkey to protest. In the last couple days, this has led to more than a dozen deaths inside Turkey and the Turkish government imposing curfew on six cities. The analysis and observations of “the radical democrat” are well worth reading.

The Kurdish resistance first toward sl-Qaeda and then toward ISIS started out strong. But, as ISIS has enriched itself through the seizure of equipment and a flow of foreign militants and, perhaps, some support for Turkey as well, it has grown strong. At the same time, Turkey, the Syrian regime, and ISIS have blockaded the Syrian Kurds. The State Department demand that the Syrian Kurds forfeit their claim to federalism and subordinate themselves both to the Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups of the official opposition who live in Istanbul and control nothing on the ground and to Iraqi Kurdish leaders who, because of corruption and the antics of their sons, are hugely unpopular is short-sighted and ridiculous. That Secretary of State John Kerry is prepared to watch thousands slaughtered, raped, or enslaved in order to drive this point home is a poor reflection on what America stands for.

How sad it is that history is repeating, with the Syrian Kurds playing the part of the Warsaw partisans and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan playing the part of Stalin. The Americans, alas, are once again recognizing pending tragedy but refusing out of cynicism, misplaced diplomacy, or simple incompetence to do anything about it. The freedom-seeking world should be better than it was in 1944, as the freedom fighters of Warsaw perished. Unfortunately, events are showing it is not.

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Obama Should Apologize, Not Biden

For most casual observers, it will be filed under the category of “Biden being Biden.” But the story of the apology to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tells us more about the Obama administration’s dysfunctional foreign policy than it does about the vice president’s predilection for saying embarrassing things. But rather than apologizing to Erdoğan for telling the truth about the Turks facilitating the rise of ISIS by letting Islamists enter Syria, it is Biden’s boss, President Obama, who should admit that it was his foolish decisions that did more to create the disaster in Iraq and Syria that allowed the rise of Islamist terrorists.

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For most casual observers, it will be filed under the category of “Biden being Biden.” But the story of the apology to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tells us more about the Obama administration’s dysfunctional foreign policy than it does about the vice president’s predilection for saying embarrassing things. But rather than apologizing to Erdoğan for telling the truth about the Turks facilitating the rise of ISIS by letting Islamists enter Syria, it is Biden’s boss, President Obama, who should admit that it was his foolish decisions that did more to create the disaster in Iraq and Syria that allowed the rise of Islamist terrorists.

Biden’s statement at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government was the textbook definition of a gaffe: telling an embarrassing truth. He was quoted as saying that Erdoğan admitted to him that Turkey had erred by letting Islamists flood over the border when it was aiding Syrian rebels against the Assad regime and that they are now trying to be more selective about the people that are allowed to cross into the war zone. Since Turkey was willing to aid anyone who said they were willing to fight Assad, they deserve some blame for allowing ISIS to be armed and giving them the time and the space needed to begin their offensive that ultimately brought much of Syria and Iraq under the control.

That hit a little too close to the truth for Erdoğan, who demanded an apology and the always biddable Biden complied even though he also wrongly praised the Turks for their belated decision to join the anti-ISIS alliance, something that our Michael Rubin pointed out didn’t mean exactly what Biden thought it did.

Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and their geo-strategic position means that Washington will always need to tread carefully around Ankara’s interests even though it is clear that the goals of Erdoğan’s Islamist government are antithetical to those of the United States.

But if high-ranking Obama administration officials are so eager to apportion blame for ISIS’s ongoing strength they should look at a mirror rather than at Turkey.

Erdoğan’s desire to overthrow the Assad regime was no secret and led Turkey to make common cause with many undesirable elements. Indeed, as Michael Rubin noted, the authorization of the use of force in Syria by Turkey is about their desire to suppress Kurds, not to battle ISIS.

But Turkey’s unchecked mischief making in Syria was only made possible by Erdoğan’s erstwhile best buddy Barack Obama, who stood by and did nothing about Syria when U.S. intervention early on would have toppled Assad more easily while also making it far less likely that ISIS would have arisen in this fashion.

More to the point, while the president blamed U.S. intelligence for failing to anticipate ISIS gaining strength—something that is a blatant lie since it warned Obama of the dangers of the course he was following—it is more than obvious that the administration chose to let the Turks run amok because of its reluctance to face up to the need for America to lead in the region. By ignoring the advice of his more sober senior advisers like Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, and pulling out of Iraq and dithering on Syria while he was cozying up to Erdoğan, it was Obama who created the power vacuum that gave ISIS its opportunity.

But as we survey the unfolding tragicomedy of the administration’s relations with Turkey, we’d also do well to ponder what the loose-lipped vice president will be saying about our current problems a year or two from now. If President Obama sticks to his current policy of desultory bombing of ISIS with no effective ground forces opposing the Islamists, the threat from these terrorists will grow rather than recede. Since the president is still more interested in withdrawing from the region and striking deals with its more dangerous actors such as Iran rather than in backing our endangered moderate Arab allies or Israel, before too long it will be necessary to construct another cover story to account for the disasters that will follow.

When Biden is asked in late 2015 or in 2016 who or what created the disaster in Iraq and Syria or the next domino to fall, there’s no telling who the scapegoat will be. But no matter which country receives the veep’s inevitable apology, the real answer will always be Barack Obama.

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Turkish Vote Less than Meets the Eye

CNN is reporting that the Turkish parliament has approved military action against the Islamic State (ISIS). This may be the headline that Turkey wants, but it is not actually what the Turkish parliament has done. The Turkish parliament has instead voted to authorize its army to operate in Iraq and Syria. This extends a mandate that was approved two years ago but was about to expire. Hence, had Turkey previously wanted to operate against ISIS, it could have. More importantly, the Turkish motion did not specify a target. This means that the Turkish authorization could just as readily allow operation against Syrian Kurds who are fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked groups, or against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

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CNN is reporting that the Turkish parliament has approved military action against the Islamic State (ISIS). This may be the headline that Turkey wants, but it is not actually what the Turkish parliament has done. The Turkish parliament has instead voted to authorize its army to operate in Iraq and Syria. This extends a mandate that was approved two years ago but was about to expire. Hence, had Turkey previously wanted to operate against ISIS, it could have. More importantly, the Turkish motion did not specify a target. This means that the Turkish authorization could just as readily allow operation against Syrian Kurds who are fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked groups, or against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The Turkish vote means that Ankara could be helpful should it so choose, but it might simply stop at the appearance of being helpful, especially if American reporters and news organizations like CNN transpose their own goals onto a Turkish government which too often in recent years has operated against Western interests rather than in their favor.

Only the coming days will tell. But let us hope that neither the Pentagon nor the State Department let Turkey off the hook or accept pretend partnership rather than substantive cooperation.

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Turkey’s Jihad Against Online News Portals

In 2002, Reporters without Frontiers ranked Turkey 99th in the world in terms of press freedom. That was a poor showing for a country aspiring to join the European Union, but it still placed Turkey well above countries like Burma, Russia, Ethiopia, and Iraq. No longer. Over his more than decade-long premiership, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used a number of tools to constrain press freedom.

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In 2002, Reporters without Frontiers ranked Turkey 99th in the world in terms of press freedom. That was a poor showing for a country aspiring to join the European Union, but it still placed Turkey well above countries like Burma, Russia, Ethiopia, and Iraq. No longer. Over his more than decade-long premiership, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used a number of tools to constrain press freedom.

After replacing technocrats on Turkey’s banking and tax boards with political loyalists, Erdoğan levelled ever-increasing tax liens against media organizations that criticized him or his agenda. If his targets did not forfeit their media outlets, Erdoğan would confiscate them. While, in theory, these media companies would come up for auction, Erdoğan would ensure that the only permissible bidders would be loyalists to his political party and, preferably, members of his own family.

Erdoğan would simultaneously employ other strategies as well. Turkey imprisons more journalists than Iran and China. It harasses female journalists and has recently begun targeting journalists working for foreign outlets as well. (I have not been immune; after I criticized Turkish corruption, Erdoğan aide Cuneyd Zapsu and (now disgraced and fired) EU Minister Egemen Bağış sued me in a Turkish court). He targeted authors to confiscate unpublished manuscripts; Turkey now prosecutes thought-crime rather than actual crime.

Now, alas, Turkey is no longer willing to simply go after traditional outlets. While Erdoğan’s jihad against social media is long standing, Erdoğan increasingly seeks to control what can be published online. Quite simply, the Internet—and, more broadly, free discourse—frustrates Erdoğan, who would much rather crush dissent than accept the accountability and transparency a free media encourages or address the merits of his opponents’ arguments. As journalists have moved to online outlets to escape Erdoğan’s authoritarian ambitions, the number of Turkish news portals has exploded online.

It is these that Erdoğan now targets. According to “the radical democrat,” a Turkish blog which closely follows free speech, Internet freedom, and individual liberty issues in Turkey:

Today, surprisingly access to Karsi‘s newsportal online was blocked… The portal continues to use a proxy newsportal for now “uncensored news” (sansursuz haber) until it also gets subjected to same treatment. Another surprise news of the day is that newly established “Gri Hat” (Grey Line) newsportal is also taken to court and blocking access is declared, for potential to distribute critical news material which has published the corruption records on the newsportal. Gri Hat was established not more than a month ago by unemployed/fired journalists and it was going to leak more news pieces regarding all kinds of corruption… If alternative/opposed news portals continue getting raided or subjected to threats and give in to such pressure, the future of democracy hangs on spikes in Turkey.

Turkey was never a beacon of freedom. But with Erdoğan’s latest move against Internet portals, it seems determined to fall further in international press freedom rankings, below even Iran, Belarus, and China.

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Checking in with Tawakkol Karman

The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

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The Middle East is on fire. ISIS is on the rise and Jordan and perhaps Lebanon are in its crosshairs. Foreign jihadis are beheading kidnapped journalists and perhaps aid workers as well, and gleefully capturing UN peacekeepers. A generation of women is being repressed. The Bahraini government has arrested prominent Shi‘ite activist Maryam al-Khawaja and is thumbing its nose at international condemnation. Turks have embraced autocracy, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes no secret of his disdain for the democratic order that empowered him.

Given everything going on, I figured it would be time to check in with Tawakkol Karman, the young Yemeni activist who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. I have written here before about Tawakkol Karman, especially to criticize her silence in the wake of the Pakistani Taliban’s assassination attempt against then 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

Now, Tawakkol was a Yemeni opposition activist and the daughter of a Yemeni Islamist official who grew to fame for her peaceful protests against the dictatorship of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. She was not picked simply for her work in Yemen, however, but rather to make a political point. At the time, Thorbjoern Jagland, a Labour Party activist who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, explained to the Associated Press:

The prize is “a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

In other words, Jagland and his colleagues wanted a symbol: A woman, an Arab, and an Islamist and they searched until they found someone that could put check marks in all the right boxes.

So what has Karman done since her silence on Malala?

She has joined with other female Nobel laureates to condemn Israel’s fight with Hamas in Gaza, but could find no time to even consider Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel or the role of Hamas’s genocidal ideology encapsulated in its charter.

She is much more prolific on Facebook and Twitter. She celebrated Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rise to the presidency in Turkey, never mind his repression of the press or women. There seems to be little if any condemnation of the Islamist beheading of journalists and aid workers or the arrest of non-violent Shi‘ite activists in Bahrain. My Arabic is poor and so I may be missing passing mention she may have given, but Karman certainly declines to make condemnation of Islamist abuses central to her activity, even though she is perhaps more empowered than anyone else to do so.

To Tawakkol Karman, peace and human rights seem to be less of a priority than the promotion of Islamism. She interprets human rights through a sectarian lens. How tragic that the Nobel Committee, so desperate to make a politically correct statement, ended up empowering someone who may embrace non-violent protest, but stands very much for the opposite of peace and universal human rights. And as for Mr. Jagland, he may have believed that the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates were part of the solution, but his experiment seems to confirm that they are much more part of the problem.

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Turkey Doubles Down on Conspiracy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not only an Islamist and an autocrat disdainful of the rule of law, but he is also a full-blown conspiracy theorist. As he has faced challenges—whether from homegrown environmentalists, foreign diplomats, followers of Fethullah Gülen, or anti-corruption officers who question how he has become a multimillionaire several times over during his time as a public servant, he or his proxies will increasingly launch into ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories.

There was, for example, the “Interest Rate Lobby,” a thinly-disguised attack on allegedly Jewish-run finance. Erdoğan subsequently dispensed with the niceties promoted by his aides and blamed Jews directly. A bit over a year ago, one of Erdoğan’s favorite newspapers accused me personally of plotting the unrest that culminated in the Gezi Park protests, never mind that I’ve never met (or am not on speaking terms) with so many of the officials supposedly participating in my secret meeting, and I wasn’t even in Washington at the time. (My response to that bout of Erdoğan craziness is here.) Buzzfeed listed nine conspiracy theories used to explain the corruption scandal in Turkey. Whenever Al Jazeera calls you out on conspiracies and suggests you’re becoming a banana republic, you probably have something to worry about.

Because the Erdoğan regime has taken over the independent press—press freedom in Turkey, of course, now ranks below even Russia and is on par with Iran—conspiracy theories now substitute for news and analysis. What is missed in fact is made up for in repetition. Given how conspiracies have become the new normal, it says something when the craziness of any particular one shines through. Such was the case last summer when Turkish journalist and longtime Erdoğan mouthpiece Yiğit Bulut claimed that Israel was trying to assassinate Erdoğan by telekinesis. (Of course, this was always silly claim: didn’t Bulut know that to build up lethal telekinetic power is a seven-day task, but many Israelis would have to rest on Saturday and that it’s hard to focus telekinetic power simultaneously upon interest rates and telekinetic assassination?)

Well, rather than end Bulut’s career, Bulut’s loyalty and his ardent defense of Erdoğan against Israel’s evil telekinesis plot have paid off (so much for Jews being able to trash careers in such enlightened societies such as Turkey). Erdoğan has announced that he has appointed Bulut to be his chief economic adviser. With dark clouds looming on the horizon for Turkey’s economy, let’s hope that Bulut’s credentials go beyond his constant vigilance against malevolent telekinesis and the machinations of the Interest Rate Lobby. Let us hope that he keeps an open mind so he can dream up and expose ever more conspiracy theories to explain Erdoğan failures. In the meantime, however, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulut is as clear a sign that investors should flee and flee fast from what Turkey is becoming.

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Congress Last Holdout to Break Turkey Embrace

Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

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Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

Turkish journalists and even former budget officials privately acknowledged and detailed how Erdoğan used Islamist backers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to amass political slush funds, a practice I detailed here, and which history has proven correct. Erdoğan also reoriented Turkish foreign policy and society away from Europe and the West and into the Islamist world, a mission of which he placed Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in charge. It’s no coincidence that he appointed Davutoğlu to be his Medvedev now that Erdoğan is moving onto the presidency. At any rate, I’ve detailed Turkey’s change repeatedly in the pages of COMMENTARY, but I summarize most of them in this lecture delivered at the Chautauqua Institution last year.

Obama might be forgiven for not being aware of just how corrosive Erdoğan has been to Turkey’s democratic development and rule of law. After all, a succession of U.S. ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being a notable exception—had long carried water for Erdoğan. Had they acknowledged that Erdoğan wasn’t as progressive as they claimed, they might have condemned what they believed to be an enlightened notion of just what “moderate Islamism” could become. In recent months, many of these former ambassadors have gone silent, and some have even noticeably and publicly switched sides, for example by signing this letter. If they had previously defended Erdoğan publicly, their counsel to Obama and his aides was even more dismissive of the notion that Erdoğan was up to no good.

Well, that’s all past, it seems. As Erdoğan gears up for his presidential inauguration, the Turkish press notes the foreign dignitaries who will be attending:

Fifteen countries are to be represented at the level [of] president or heads of state, 6 countries at the level of parliament speaker, 12 countries at the level of prime ministers, 3 countries at level of vice presidents, 7 countries at the level of deputy prime ministers and around 40 countries at the level of ministers.

The highest American official? The chargé d’affaires at the embassy, a clear sign that the United States is not supportive of how Erdoğan acts and what his true agenda is.

Too bad that so many congressmen have not gotten the message, and still lend their names through their membership in the “Caucus on US Turkey Relations & Turkish Americans” (more often called simply the “Congressional Turkey Caucus”) to endorse a regime that supports Hamas, engages in anti-Semitic propaganda, allows international jihadists and perhaps even arms to cross unmolested into Syria, makes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attitude to the press look positively enlightened, and even lends assistance to Iranian sanctions-busting. Perhaps such positions could be expected of folks like Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a former member of the Nation of Islam and a cheerleader for more radical causes, or Gerry Connelly (D-Va.), who has flirted with groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations. But dozens of other congressmen should know better, and not allow themselves to be used by the Turkish government for its own propaganda purposes.

Congress so often takes the lead to seek to defend religious freedom, to ensure that the White House doesn’t subvert American national security in its rush to cement deals with regimes like Iran’s and Russia’s, and to try to prevent the State Department from allowing U.S. money to be used by terror-sponsoring groups. And yet when it comes to Turkey, it now trails behind even Obama and the State Department in recognizing just how destructive Turkey has become. It’s time to quit the Congressional Turkey Caucus; Istanbul is a lovely city, but the junkets membership allows do not enhance American security, diplomacy, and interests and are simply are not worth the price.

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Who will be Turkey’s Medvedev?

As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prepares to move to the presidential palace and to transform that office from its former ceremonial and constitutional role into that of strongman policymaker, there will be a change in the premiership.

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As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prepares to move to the presidential palace and to transform that office from its former ceremonial and constitutional role into that of strongman policymaker, there will be a change in the premiership.

Erdoğan has announced that he will choose his successor on August 21. Several names have been floated. When I was in Turkey earlier this, several people suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan might take the post. On paper he seems qualified: he was previously minister of foreign affairs and also minister of finance, and in his deputy premiership, he also has special responsibility for the treasury. That may also be his undoing. Erdoğan is politically savvy but he does not have any firm grasp of the economy. Certainly, he implemented no-nonsense reforms which were long overdue and for that he gets credit, but he also was fortunate enough to hold power against the backdrop of a demographic dividend and in the aftermath of massive currency devaluation. The Turkish economy had hit rock bottom shortly before Erdoğan’s Islamist party won election. Rebounds are often time of great prosperity, especially if the starting point is the economy’s nadir. Today, however, the Turkish economy is tenuous at best. Currency devaluation has undercut Turks’ buying power, and personal debt is up more than 3,000 percent. People are living on credit, and eventually the banks will call in the debt or risk failure. Against this backdrop, Babacan has sought reforms that Erdoğan neither wants nor understands.

Others have suggested that Ahmet Davutoğlu, architect of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman foreign policy. Davutoğlu’s policy has on the face of things been a disaster: He has embraced Hamas over the Palestinian Authority; looks at Israel with anti-Semitic disdain; was for Assad before he was against him; oversaw perhaps the covert Turkish flirtation with ISIS; and cast his lot with the Muslim Brotherhood over Egypt. In short, he has made Turkey into a pariah in the region, but his ideological radicalism and fealty to Erdoğan’s ambitions to be sultan in reality if not in name, makes him another prime candidate.

Others suggest Bülent Arınç, another Erdoğan deputy who, while serving as parliamentary speaker once warned the constitutional court that the AKP could dissolve them if they kept finding AKP legislation unconstitutional. He, too, has the right ideological pedigree. Other candidates might also take the prize, all of them handpicked for their loyalty to Erdoğan.

Make no mistake, though: It doesn’t matter who becomes Turkey’s Dmitry Medvedev because just as in Russia, the premiership will be irrelevant. Erdoğan has become the Turkish equivalent of Vladimir Putin. He is an authoritarian dictator, a strong man, and internally as intolerant as the Islamic State even if he too refined to show it directly. That the premiership no longer matters in Turkey, that any appointment will be as irrelevant as Putin’s placeholder was in Russia, shows just how far Turkey has fallen. It is now just another third world dictatorship, and will ultimately be just as much a failure. Unfortunately, the damage Erdoğan can do before that happens will remain considerable.

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Turkey’s Pariah President

Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

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Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

But with votes counted, Erdoğan will claim a popular mandate, no matter how shady his path to the presidency. How ironic it is, then, that Turkey has effective elected a pariah to be president. Erdoğan began his tenure as prime minister committed to neo-Ottomanism, the idea that Turkey should lead a community of nations that once had the commonality of being in the Ottoman Empire. And his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, promised a policy that would lead to good relations with all Turkey’s neighbors.

Consider the reality: Turkey seeks to be a big player in the Middle East, but as Turks wryly noted during a visit last month, Erdoğan is now unwelcome in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, something no previous Turkish statesman had ever achieved. So much for the role of respected mediator. Nor is Erdoğan anymore welcome in the White House; even the Turkish government acknowledges that Erdoğan and President Obama no longer talk directly on the telephone, quite a status change for the man Obama once described as one of his most trusted foreign friends.

True, Erdoğan is not completely isolated. He might still receive a hero’s welcome from Hamas’s leadership, and in Iran. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin will embrace his Turkish counterpart not only as a friend but also as a business partner. And Qatar, of course, will always lay out the red carpet for any supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Erdoğan has been one of its key investments.

Erdoğan is not completely isolated, but the fact that his most trusted friends and allies are Hamas, Iran, and Russia confirm the facts: Turks have elected as their president not a statesman, diplomat, or respected representative but rather a pariah, one who has contributed not to peace and stability, but rather to war, unrest, and insecurity throughout the region. He has become not a symbol of progressive Turkey, but rather one of backwardness, misogyny, corruption, and dictatorship.

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Turkey’s Authoritarian Moment

Turks will head to the polls on Sunday, August 10. It will be the first time the Turkish public elects their president, a post which in the past has both been largely ceremonial and also meant to be above politics. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, feels different and seeks to transform the position into a mechanism not to protect constitutional guarantees but to eviscerate them. When pressed during his confirmation hearing last month, John Bass, a career foreign service officer nominated to the ambassadorship to Turkey, only acknowledged Turkey’s “authoritarian drift” when Sen. John McCain threatened to hold up his nomination until he received an answer.

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Turks will head to the polls on Sunday, August 10. It will be the first time the Turkish public elects their president, a post which in the past has both been largely ceremonial and also meant to be above politics. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, feels different and seeks to transform the position into a mechanism not to protect constitutional guarantees but to eviscerate them. When pressed during his confirmation hearing last month, John Bass, a career foreign service officer nominated to the ambassadorship to Turkey, only acknowledged Turkey’s “authoritarian drift” when Sen. John McCain threatened to hold up his nomination until he received an answer.

Bass may wanted to have been diplomatic, but a quick look at the current presidential race shows just how authoritarian Turkey has become. Make no mistake: Erdoğan is as much a dictator as Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad are and Hosni Mubarak was. The current presidential race merely confirms it.

Consider the following:

Turkish law says all public office holders should resign a month or two before elections, but the High Election Council, dominated by Erdoğan groupies, gave Erdoğan an exception. The prime minister, of course, doesn’t want to resign even for a moment both in fear that corruption cases suspended because of his parliamentary immunity would kick in and because he wants to use the resources of the state in his campaign.

And, indeed, he has. Whenever he has held a public rally—and he holds multiple rallies per day using his plane or bus to get there—local governors and government officials bus in thousands of people who are handed flags to wave and instructed what slogans to chant. Government officials who do not attend the rally are blacklisted, and quickly find themselves moved to different towns or demoted to lower positions. State officials “request” that contractors who do business with the government pay for the expenses such as buses, flags, and food for those attending the rallies. If contractors do not comply with the request, they will not get a new contract.

The new presidential election law restricts individual campaign contributions to a candidate to about $4,000 and requires that payment be made through a bank, but such donations in kind do not count as campaign contributions. Therefore, when it comes to campaign resources, the Erdoğan government’s blackmail puts Erdoğan in a different category than his two competitors.

Turks also know that a campaign contribution made through a bank to anyone other than Erdoğan could lead to blacklisting. Donate to Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, for example, and expect your business to be audited, lose your government job, or be fired from your private sector job under government pressure. (When I was in Turkey earlier this summer, even some of those working in multinational businesses asked not to be included in group photos of lunches that included low-ranking opposition politicians since they were afraid that would be enough to invite retaliation.) In effect, İhsanoğlu and Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtaş receive donations only from their much smaller pools of political activists or from retirees who are less susceptible to blackmail.

Erdoğan operates not only by intimidation, but also by reward. Turks report lines of pensioners in front of banks in order to donate the equivalent of $50 to Erdoğan’s campaign. One old lady interviewed on Turkish television, when asked why she was there, said, “They [AKP] gave me this money to deposit to an account in the bank. In return they will give me food.”

State radio and television (TRT) focus on Erdoğan and rarely give any airtime to İhsanoğlu and Demirtaş despite their mandate for balance. In a typical ten-day period in July, the official statistics showed 428 minutes of coverage for Erdoğan, 45 seconds for İhsanoğlu, and no time whatsoever for Demirtaş. The ratios have improved slightly, but Erdoğan still receives 25 times the coverage of the other candidates.

Even those outside Turkey are subject to intimidation. Absentee voters in Turkey were shocked to see that ballot envelopes are transparent enabling Turkish officials to see the ballot. Rather than count the ballots abroad, they will be flown on the state-owned airlines Turkish Air and counted back inside Turkey. What happens to those ballots along the way is anyone’s guess.

Erdoğan is a dictator. The constitution prohibits the use of religious symbols in political propaganda, but Erdoğan has waved a Qu’ran in election rallies and declared a vote for him is a vote for the Qu’ran. He has an agenda and, like Putin, he recognizes that the West is all bark and no bite. The question is not only whether Turkey has re-embraced authoritarianism so many Turks sought to leave behind more than a half century ago, but also what cost Erdoğan’s dictatorship will extract from the Turkish public and regional security.

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Erdoğan’s Projection of Hatred

Israel’s exercise of self-defense brings out the worst in those prone to hate the Jewish state, or Jews themselves. Hence, protestors of the Israeli campaign against Hamas—action brought on by Hamas’s kidnapping and killing of Israeli (and American) teens and the launching of rockets itself—in Paris sought to sack synagogues. German police allowed anti-Israel protestors to use a police megaphone to incite the crowd with anti-Semitic chants. A University of Michigan professor turned polemicist was particularly unhinged with this piece as he performs intellectual somersaults to ignore the fact that Gaza is not occupied, Hamas is motivated by ideology rather than grievance, and that Hamas’s charter blesses genocide against not Israelis but Jews everywhere. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s authoritarian and virulently anti-Semitic ruler, can be counted on to take hatred to a new level.

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Israel’s exercise of self-defense brings out the worst in those prone to hate the Jewish state, or Jews themselves. Hence, protestors of the Israeli campaign against Hamas—action brought on by Hamas’s kidnapping and killing of Israeli (and American) teens and the launching of rockets itself—in Paris sought to sack synagogues. German police allowed anti-Israel protestors to use a police megaphone to incite the crowd with anti-Semitic chants. A University of Michigan professor turned polemicist was particularly unhinged with this piece as he performs intellectual somersaults to ignore the fact that Gaza is not occupied, Hamas is motivated by ideology rather than grievance, and that Hamas’s charter blesses genocide against not Israelis but Jews everywhere. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s authoritarian and virulently anti-Semitic ruler, can be counted on to take hatred to a new level.

Here, for example, is Erdoğan comparing Israel’s policy to Hitler’s, while accusing Israel of perpetrating state terrorism. The irony here is that it was under Erdoğan that Mein Kampf became a Turkish best-seller, apparently because of mysterious Turkish subsidies, and a Turkish film endorsed by Erdoğan’s wife brought blood libel to the big screen. There’s a reason why Turkey’s centuries-old Jewish community is now beginning to flee.

But what about the charge of state terrorism? Hamas, of course, is in violation of the Geneva Accords by hiding among civilians, eschewing uniforms, and placing weaponry in homes, schools, and mosques. Despite this, Israel, however, has bent over backwards to prevent civilian casualties. They are the only military force in the world to utilize roof-knocking, for example, to warn civilians to evacuate buildings in which Hamas built bomb factories or sheltered terrorists.

But what about Turkey? On December 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets fired at a column of unarmed Kurds near the border, killing 34, half of whom were children. While Erdoğan has claimed that Muslims don’t kill Muslims, dozens of widows, parents, and orphans beg to differ. And while Erdoğan claims that Israel pays money for the deaths of those on the Mavi Marmara, he has refused to pay compensation for the Kurds for whose deaths he is responsible. That’s certainly reflective of Erdoğan’s hypocrisy. But taken together, it creates a certain irony: a racist, hate-mongering ruler who censors the press, slaughters innocents on the basis of their ethnicity, and then accuses others of acting like Hitler. Perhaps when Erdoğan invokes such analogies, he projects a bit too much?

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Can Turkey Hijack the Internet?

Turkey continues its march toward authoritarianism unabated. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made clear that not only does he want to become president, but should he assume that office—and there is every reason to suspect he will given both the blind support Turkish Islamists give him and the power over the bureaucracy which he can wield to change the results of close elections—he will not act aloof from politics as the constitution demands, but rather will wield his power to privilege his supporters and punish those who oppose him.

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Turkey continues its march toward authoritarianism unabated. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made clear that not only does he want to become president, but should he assume that office—and there is every reason to suspect he will given both the blind support Turkish Islamists give him and the power over the bureaucracy which he can wield to change the results of close elections—he will not act aloof from politics as the constitution demands, but rather will wield his power to privilege his supporters and punish those who oppose him.

Indeed, Erdoğan is not shy about using whatever power he can accumulate, whether it is constitutional or not. Visiting Istanbul and Ankara late last month, businessmen to a man (or woman) said that should they become involved in politics either directly or by funding a party or cause which contravenes Erdoğan’s vision, they can expect ruinous tax audits and judgments designed to dissuade and ruin. At the height of his purge of the military, one-in-five Turkish generals was in prison, never mind that the supposed evidence against them was blatantly fraudulent. Erdoğan and his then-allies in the Gülen movement controlled security forces and heavily influenced the judiciary—and so simply were not going to allow rule of law to get in the way of his agenda.

The prime minister has reserved special animus toward the free press. Turkey now ranks below Russia in terms of free press and is on a trajectory to fall below even the Islamic Republic of Iran. So much for the model of democracy to which President Obama, and former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell once referred. Erdoğan is smart: while he has come down like a ton of bricks on journalists and editors who have dared criticize him or give voice to his opponents, journalists who tow Erdoğan’s line find themselves recipients of millions of dollars in largesse. Some have been so bold as to buy fancy villas alongside the Bosporus when just a few years ago, they were unknown and their journalism job would not suffice to pay the real estate bill. One veteran journalist estimated that only five percent of Turkish journalists working today can be considered professional or ethical in their work.

Erdoğan has previously lashed out at social media and Twitter. As is so often the case with Turkey, real repression follows months after the headline-grabbing bloviating when the international media moves on. Erdoğan, however, doesn’t forget. According to Turkish Internet and privacy experts, it seems that the Turkish government is taking Internet surveillance and censorship to a new level:

Due to legal obstacles to prohibiting social-media sharing by political dissidents in Turkey, the government has a new strategy: to act as Internet pirates… Turkey will now try to hack into ISPs’ systems and surveil users’ browsing/sharing habits. With this aim, recently the Internet watchdog sent a “secret orders” memo to ISPs, to prepare the software infrastructure necessary for detecting users that share unwanted content on social-media platforms. The daily Taraf’s article by Tunca Öğreten reveals the government’s plans to intervene in Internet users’ privacy and basic freedoms yet again.The method for intervening between the user agreement which secures the user’s privacy regarding the service s/he signs up for is to hack into the HTTPS protocol and surveil user habits. The government’s request from ISSs to establish a bug that will work as spyware is planned to enable browsing all users’ behavior and data without their consent. This includes not only the content of social media updates a person shares but also the e-trade flow and all related data; and the system is planned to be open for immediate interventions.

The whole article is worth reading as the Turkish government increases its machinery of repression. And the response from Washington? Crickets.

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Is Turkey’s Partition Inevitable?

World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

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World turmoil in 2014 increasingly recalls that of one hundred years ago as national aspirations and trans-national ambitions set the world on a path to war. I do not suggest that the world is on the verge of a catastrophe such as that unleashed when an assassin’s bullet struck down Archduke Ferdinand just over a century ago, but rather that forces now at work could fundamentally remake the map.

I posted earlier regarding the possibility that Iraqi Kurds may soon declare their formal independence, a move with which even Iraqi Arabs have grown ambivalent. After all, Iraq’s real oil wealth is in southern Iraq, and many Iraqi Arabs would be fine keeping that for themselves.

Syrian Kurds have been coy about their future. The Kurdish administration in “Rojava,” an autonomous zone in northeastern Syria, is relatively secure, organized, and functioning. Kurds there say they will settle for federalism within the confines of Syria, although the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham in the areas surrounding Rojava suggests that events outside their region may ultimately determine the outcome, much as it has in Iraq.

For Kurds, however, Turkey is the real prize. That is where the bulk of Kurds live, and southeastern Turkey remains an incubator of Kurdish culture. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened negotiations with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which once waged an insurgency and terror campaign against the Turkish state. The PKK has accepted a ceasefire and temporarily laid down their arms. While Erdoğan has hinted that he will offer the Kurds a reform package ahead of the August presidential elections (for which he wants Kurdish support), history should not give the Kurds much confidence: every outreach Erdoğan has made to the Kurds has come against the backdrop of elections, and after elections have passed, Erdoğan reneges on his promises. Fool me once, fool me twice, but few Kurds are prepared to be fooled a third time, except perhaps against the backdrop of a fight.

Herein lies the problem: If Erdoğan makes good on his reforms to the Kurds, then it sets Turkey down the path toward federalism, the way-point for independence. Turks must also prepare for Öcalan’s release. They may consider Öcalan a terrorist, but Erdoğan has made him the indispensable man. There is simply no outcome that won’t see Öcalan released first from isolation, and then from prison entirely, at which point Kurds and many others will celebrate him as a Kurdish Mandela.

Demography, too, is in the Kurds’ favor. Erdoğan may hope that religious solidarity will trump nationalism, but this is a naïve hope. Turkish Kurds can smell a state, and with Iraqi Kurds on the verge of achieving that dream, there will be no denying Anatolian Kurds the same outcome. The map is changing. Turkey is celebrating its 90th anniversary. When it marks its centennial, however, expect the map of Turkey to be much different. When that happens, perhaps Turks can celebrate Erdoğan as their Sultan. The new Kurdistan, however, should put Erdoğan on their currency alongside Öcalan and Barzani as a man who made it happen.

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Turkey’s Last Chance?

Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

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Turks will go to the polls on August 10 to elect a new president, the first time that office will be filled by direct election. This weekend, incumbent Abdullah Gül, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) acolyte, has announced he will step down and the AKP will determine its nominee on July 1. The party’s nominee will likely be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist, corrupt, and increasingly authoritarian prime minister.

Rather than roll over and accept Turkey’s slide into autocracy or kleptocracy without a fight, the center-left Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have nominated a joint candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Turkish history reflects the significance of such a choice: For decades, the CHP and MHP were at each other’s’ throats. Gangs affiliated with each targeted supporters of the other. The heightened political polarization in Washington today is nothing compared to what the CHP and MHP wrought. What happened in Turkey is as if Valerie Jarrett and Karl Rove suddenly decided to mount a joint candidate against a greater threat.

I spent the last week in Turkey, talking to several CHP and MHP officials as well as contacts who aren’t involved in politics about the İhsanoğlu choice and Turkey’s way forward. Admittedly, many CHP and MHP members are uneasy: İhsanoğlu’s credentials are primarily because of his Islamic scholarship. While members bend over backwards to say he is not an Islamist, he is far different from the typical CHP and MHP candidate, and their respective bases suggest as much. Some outside the parties suggest that the choice of İhsanoğlu effectively acknowledges the end of secularism in Turkey, although party leaders hotly deny this.

What there does appear to be consensus about, though, is that an Erdoğan presidency will permanently end the Republic of Turkey as anyone knows it. Erdoğan is increasingly blunt in his desire to remake Turkey and Turkish society, hence his declaration that “We will raise a religious generation.” Some politicians even suggest Erdoğan sees himself more as a caliph responsive to the Islamic umma (community) rather than simply a leader for Turks. The autocracy under which Turkey now suffers was reflected in the debate about which “Medvedev” might succeed Erdoğan as prime minister.

If Erdoğan wins the presidency—either in the first round on August 10 or, if he receives less than 50 percent, in the second round on August 24—then Turks believe he will increasingly rule as a dictator, remaking the once more ceremonial presidency even as his old party withers under his thumb or falls apart. Indeed, given accusations that the AKP has fiddled with ballot boxes, some Turkish politicians suggested that Erdoğan would automatically gain a fraud bonus of perhaps five percent, which the opposition will have to overcome.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has shifted its diplomatic posture away from Europe and toward the Middle East. Rather than even align with the more secular dictators of the Middle East, Erdoğan has aligned instead with religious radicals, whether in Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hamas. Elections matter. But after 12 years of electoral wins, the August polls might mean the end of meaningful elections in Turkey, for an Erdoğan victory would likely mean years more of using the institutions of state to attack anyone in politics, business, or society who dares to stand in his way.

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Erdogan Unhinged

The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

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The German government’s publicly expressed discomfort with a visit by Recep Tayyip Erdogan–Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian, anti-Semitic premier–will be familiar to those who have covered Erdogan’s career or followed his exploits. Germany has no issue with Erdogan’s visit per se as much as they don’t like the idea of him giving an address to the country’s Turkish diaspora.

Turkey is a NATO member and, if you ask European Union officials on the record, a perennial candidate for eventual EU membership (though an obviously unrealistic one). So why is a European country eschewing the standard multiculti fare and worrying aloud about the Islamist leader’s speech? Because Erdogan is a loose cannon, whose public profile has always had to be managed carefully by party leaders lest the world hear a set of Erdogan Unplugged and come to the conclusion that the Turkish leader is a raving maniac.

The rise of social media–which Erdogan has tried to ban–and the spread of public protest movements to Turkey have tested Erdogan and his party. They have begun to come unglued. The latest test of Turkish leadership was the awful tragedy of the mine explosion in the Turkish city of Soma on May 13. Our Michael Rubin explained that the disaster–or, rather, its aftermath–encapsulated a couple of the major problems of Erdogan’s rule, most notably incompetence and blame-shifting.

After a government official was caught on camera beating a defenseless protester, tragedy descended into farce, as the Telegraph reports today:

A Turkish prime ministerial aide who rose to international attention after being photographed kicking a prone demonstrator has been given sick leave after suffering injuries to the same leg he used to carry out the attack.

Images of Yusef Yerkel assaulting the protester on the streets of Soma on May 14 a day after a mining disaster that killed 301 people quickly went viral after they were posted on the internet.

They also became emblematic of a perceived insensitivity to the tragedy on the part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister and Mr Yerkel’s boss, who was visiting Soma when the incident occurred.

That’s quite the generous workers’ comp plan on offer in Erdogan’s government. But the spectacle spread, perhaps inevitably, when the prime minister himself was confronted by protesters:

“Why are you running away, Israeli spawn?” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is heard yelling at a protester in video footage circulated by the opposition Sozcu newspaper, using an expression considered a curse in Turkish.

That sentence is key to understanding the rot of Erdogan’s world. To be called an Israeli is apparently by definition supposed to be an insult in Turkey. The tensions between Turkey and Israel have much to do with geopolitics but enough to do with Erdogan’s Islamism to shine a spotlight on anti-Semitism in that country, and the way Erdogan is happy to express it and fan it when he feels threatened.

Falling back on anti-Semitism and specifically claims of Jewish disloyalty (hence a Turk being called “Israeli spawn”) is old hat for the region’s autocrats when they need to distract the public from their own corruption. It’s an especially important tool for Erdogan because he’d like to extend his influence throughout the Middle East but would be something of an outsider to the region’s Arabs. Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel incitement are seen by thugs like Erdogan to be unifying themes, and reveal the absurdity of Western leaders like Barack Obama “anchoring” regional policy in a petty aspiring tyrant like Erdogan.

Such incitement is often dismissed as mere rhetoric, but aside from the actual danger to Israel–such as embracing and funding Hamas, for example–the toll such hate takes on Jews in Turkey should not be overlooked. In a post at Hurriyet Daily News, Haymi Behar explains “what it is to be born as ‘Israeli spawn’ in Turkey.” Here’s a sample:

It means your favorite team Fenerbahçe playing against Maccabee Tel Aviv – which you only know by name – and your classmates who go to matches with asking you: “Are you supporting ‘us’ or ‘them?’”

It means internalizing Anne Frank’s Diary as you grow up.

It means being a part of a mere 13 million tribe in a sea of 7 billion in the world, and being a small sample of the 17,000 “spawn brothers” in Turkey.

It means trying to figure out why you are being held personally responsible Jesus’ crucifixion and the killing of Sultan Fatih the Conqueror, even though Jews only make up 0.2 percent of the world’s population.

It means having the ability to have all the answers ready, waiting in your mind, to respond anytime in your life to all these colossal historic questions.

It means trying to create a happy life for yourself while baring the burden of your ancestors having been enslaved, expelled constantly, despised and being the victims of the most massive industrially planned genocide ever committed.

It means keeping in your mind the question, “How did we manage to be the leading actors of so many conspiracy theories with such a small population?”

It means getting used to hearing hate speech and discrimination any God given day.

This is what can be revealed to the world when Erdogan speaks his mind, and it’s why the German government was holding its breath–because putting faith in Erdogan’s better judgment is like putting faith in any number of comforting, but nonexistent, entities.

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What the Mine Disaster Says About Turkey

The explosion in a mine in Soma, western Turkey, has now killed almost 250 people and is an unmitigated disaster. Turkey no longer has a free press—Freedom House has taken the unprecedented step of ranking it “not free”—and so it’s important here to fill in some of the gaps and add some context about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s behavior, because they really do reflect the type of religious autocracy over which Erdoğan now presides with an iron fist.

First of all, the mine disaster reflects the incompetence of Erdoğan and his cronies. Any criticism of the status quo, however constructive, he sees as a personal attack to be deflected and against which to retaliate rather than to be addressed. Less than a year ago, his energy minister praised the mine’s leadership for prioritizing worker safety. And, just 19 days ago, Erdoğan used his parliamentary supermajority to defeat in parliament a proposal by the opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) to set up a parliamentary inquiry to examine safety concerns at coal mines. The CHP had raised the issue based on numerous complaints by miners about lax or disregarded safety measures at their mines. Erdoğan refused: Better to bury reports of security problems or flaws rather than acknowledge such things occur on his party’s watch.

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The explosion in a mine in Soma, western Turkey, has now killed almost 250 people and is an unmitigated disaster. Turkey no longer has a free press—Freedom House has taken the unprecedented step of ranking it “not free”—and so it’s important here to fill in some of the gaps and add some context about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s behavior, because they really do reflect the type of religious autocracy over which Erdoğan now presides with an iron fist.

First of all, the mine disaster reflects the incompetence of Erdoğan and his cronies. Any criticism of the status quo, however constructive, he sees as a personal attack to be deflected and against which to retaliate rather than to be addressed. Less than a year ago, his energy minister praised the mine’s leadership for prioritizing worker safety. And, just 19 days ago, Erdoğan used his parliamentary supermajority to defeat in parliament a proposal by the opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) to set up a parliamentary inquiry to examine safety concerns at coal mines. The CHP had raised the issue based on numerous complaints by miners about lax or disregarded safety measures at their mines. Erdoğan refused: Better to bury reports of security problems or flaws rather than acknowledge such things occur on his party’s watch.

Second, rather than acknowledge that this horrific accident might have been avoided or, perhaps more realistically, working to determine how it might have been avoided so as to prevent its repeat, Erdoğan has simply declared the accident to be the work of fate or a “divine conclusion.” For Erdoğan, success is because of his own wisdom and failure is because of God. As one Turkish correspondent quips with tongue in cheek in an emailed response to Erdoğan’s comments, “What I do not understand is, why God is punishing us and not Germany or USA or even Poland. God must not like us.”

As if on cue, the Turkish government is now using force to crackdown on protests questioning the government’s record. Welcome to Turkey: an autocracy marked by gross incompetence but according to Erdoğan, to push for anything else would be to interfere with divine fate.

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Extradite Fethullah Gülen?

Fethullah Gülen is the reclusive but influential Turkish Islamist leader who resides in a well-guarded and, indeed, fortified compound in the Poconos, having fled Turkey in 1999, theoretically to get medical treatment but also to flee prosecution for remarks he made advocating for the overthrow of the system (he has since disputed the veracity of the recording of those remarks).

Five years ago, Rachel Sharon-Krespin, the director of the Turkish Media Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), penned probably the most comprehensive though critical study of Gülen. One needn’t go far to find far more glowing accounts of Gülen, although most of these come either from close associates or those like Georgetown Professor John Esposito, whose program has benefited from the Gülen movement’s largesse.

I have long been quite cynical about Gülen. I admit, I have wavered with time but whenever I began to consider that perhaps I had been too ungenerous in my interpretation of the movement and the man, either someone would dig up new statements by Gülen that raised questions about the sincerity of his interfaith tolerance, Gülen’s flagship paper Zaman would hint at some anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, or his followers would tweet their embrace for everything from an endorsement of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s dual loyalty accusations against various Jews to far more virulently anti-Semitic attacks on me personally. That said, to the movement’s credit, no matter how critical I might have been about Gülen, members of the movement or its constituent groups always kept the door open to dialogue and communication, an openness which I respect and appreciate.

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Fethullah Gülen is the reclusive but influential Turkish Islamist leader who resides in a well-guarded and, indeed, fortified compound in the Poconos, having fled Turkey in 1999, theoretically to get medical treatment but also to flee prosecution for remarks he made advocating for the overthrow of the system (he has since disputed the veracity of the recording of those remarks).

Five years ago, Rachel Sharon-Krespin, the director of the Turkish Media Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), penned probably the most comprehensive though critical study of Gülen. One needn’t go far to find far more glowing accounts of Gülen, although most of these come either from close associates or those like Georgetown Professor John Esposito, whose program has benefited from the Gülen movement’s largesse.

I have long been quite cynical about Gülen. I admit, I have wavered with time but whenever I began to consider that perhaps I had been too ungenerous in my interpretation of the movement and the man, either someone would dig up new statements by Gülen that raised questions about the sincerity of his interfaith tolerance, Gülen’s flagship paper Zaman would hint at some anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, or his followers would tweet their embrace for everything from an endorsement of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s dual loyalty accusations against various Jews to far more virulently anti-Semitic attacks on me personally. That said, to the movement’s credit, no matter how critical I might have been about Gülen, members of the movement or its constituent groups always kept the door open to dialogue and communication, an openness which I respect and appreciate.

That does not change my overall suspicion of the movement. While many have embraced the Gülenists as the potential saviors of Turkish democracy for blowing the whistle on the endemic corruption and megalomania of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the fact of the matter is they were for him before they were against him and did not expose his abuses until Erdoğan turned on them. I am happy that the movement has exposed the truth about Erdoğan, but that does not mean that the enemy of my enemy is always a friend.

Gülen and Erdoğan are now certainly enemies. Apoplectic about the Gülenists’ exposure of his abuses of power, Erdoğan has been on a rampage in recent weeks, purging Gülen’s followers without regard to law and engaging in rants that might lead dispassionate observers to question Erdoğan’s stability. Now Erdoğan is demanding Gülen’s extradition, in theory for constructing a parallel state, but in reality for the crime of exposing and embarrassing the prime minister and endangering his secret bank accounts.

Several years ago, I compared Gülen to Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. After all, when Khomeini was in exile, he spoke about his desire for democracy. When he returned to Iran, he consolidated power, eschewed the tolerance he once wove into his rhetoric, and showed his radicalism undiminished by time. I speculated that if Gülen returned to Turkey, he would be met by millions of adoring supporters who might let their ideological passion get the best of them.

Now, perhaps, it is time to make the opposite comparison: Fethullah Gülen to the shah.

When the shah fled Iran, he too came to the United States to seek medical treatment, and was granted entry. I am glad he was. Facing the ire of Khomeini and his radical students, Carter and senior diplomats plotted quite openly to force the ailing shah to depart. At one point, they even encouraged Panama to send the shah back to Iran, where he would have faced humiliation, torture, and execution. Whatever the Shah may have been, and whatever his faults, handing him over to appease a revolutionary madman would have been wrong both morally and from the standpoint of American national interests.

I admit, I wish that the United States had never given refuge to Gülen. There were many places he could have gone, and it was not an American interest to host him in the United States, let alone have him reside in such a heavily armed compound. At the very least, that decision taken during the Clinton administration poured gasoline onto the flames of already imaginative Turkish conspiracy theories.

But Gülen is here now, and he has been here for 15 years. I need not trust the man nor endorse his movement—indeed, I remain quite a critic—but that does not mean that the United States should follow the logic of callous diplomats who argued in the case of the shah that appeasing Khomeini was worth it. By no means should senior American officials consider Erdoğan’s demands for Gülen’s extradition. Gülen may not have consistently been a dissident before, but he is now. It is never wise for the White House or State Department to appease off-kilter authoritarians in their petty, personal vendettas.

The national security debate, especially with regard to Islamist thinkers, has long been polarized, and never more so than now. That said, perhaps out of the chaos in Turkey comes an opportunity for a real consensus: Let us hope that not only supporters of Fethullah Gülen, but also his skeptics and his detractors recognize that under no circumstance should the U.S. government accept Turkey’s extradition request.

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