By Abdullah Bozkurt
November 09, 2015
Turkey’s Islamist rulers have locked themselves in a vicious cycle in which they can now only rely on repressive measures such as abuse of the criminal justice system and police crackdowns on the right to dissent and the right to freedom of expression, fueling more outrage and resentment towards the government, which in turn finds itself in a desperate attempt to resort to more brute force.
With the society deeply divided in a deliberate scheme by the Islamists and their ultra-nationalist partners amid a tense and polarized environment, this will surely deepen the governance crisis in Turkey. The snap poll did not resolve the underlying fundamental problem in Turkey which is the confrontational and exclusionary politics adopted by Islamists who are bent on pursuing a culling season on each and every opponent in the country.
As a result, the risk of instability against the background of pervasive authoritarian policies will continue to linger on for some time in Turkey. Having won a largely unfair snap poll that was hastily imposed on the opposition by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who did not like the outcome of the election only five months ago, Turkey’s political Islamist zealots will continue their campaign of systematically closing down the avenues of critical and independent voices.
The witch-hunt launched against critics and opponents will not just be limited to muzzling the free press but escalate to incorporate opposition political parties, business groups and civil society organizations. Erdoğan’s kleptocracy is determined to monopolize every lever of political, social and economic power by employing thugs in key positions in order to sustain this authoritarian regime.
Out of all possible scenarios, such as Erdoğan suddenly becoming a visionary leader that helps the nation reconcile, or the opposition’s strength dying down, or an insider coup in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) or a full frontal attack to crush opposition elements, the last option seems more likely than ever given the post-election behavior on the part of Erdoğan and his ilk.
That means Erdoğan has to rely more on the police force and jailing opponents in larger numbers than before in order to stay in power. That option inevitably will trigger a vicious cycle of outrage leading to more crackdowns creating further backlash. If one thing is clear, liberals and moderate conservatives, leftists and nationalists, Turks and Kurds, Alevis and Sunnis in this country will neither agree to an authoritarian rule for good nor settle down for less than what they have already accomplished over decades of painstakingly difficult democratic struggle. Erdoğan’s intimidation tactics will never work to help his authoritarian regime gain traction to survive in the medium and long run.
What then should Turkey’s allies and partners who have a vested interest in floating Turkish democracy in these turbulent waters be doing? I get asked a lot about that. Should they be vocal in their criticism that may play into the hands of Islamist autocrats, who will certainly use this to feed into conspiracy theories? Should they be quiet, which may very well be interpreted as blanket approval of what Erdoğan has been doing? Should they keep engaging with this regime hoping that will lead to a change in Erdoğan’s behaviour?
These are all legitimate questions and judging by my encounters with diplomats in Ankara, they are struggling to make sense of the current debacle that Turkey has found itself in. Here is what is obvious to the naked eye: The fact that Erdoğan polarized the nation and divided it further in order to consolidate his base by demonizing the other side makes it very difficult for Turkey’s friends to stand on the middle ground. Any statement is surely bound to be interpreted in a way that will support or oppose the Erdoğan regime. There is no escape from this and nothing can be done about it.
Playing a balancing act where there is no benchmark for any sort of sanity to measure success in a country that is quickly descending into a fascist regime will accomplish nothing other than prolonging the current debacle. Under these difficult circumstances, the best strategy would be be a combination of policies to produce tangible and positive outcomes from the Erdoğan regime. If and only when the Turkish government adopts genuine reforms to address lingering concerns in the Turkish democracy, then it should be acknowledged and rewarded. It should not be other way around.
The Turkish Islamists have proven to be quite savvy in paying a lip service to reforms by announcing fancy programs and offering pledges to improve problematic areas, only to thwart these steps later in practice. Soft-pedalling on criticism and further engagement with the Turkish government in the face of a massive crackdown on democratic principles, the rule of law and fundamental rights will only serve a further slide in Turkey’s democracy. Simply expressing concerns without backing that with policy action will never produce a result at this juncture.
What is more, it will be remembered by this nation where the US, the EU and other allies and partners stood in this nation’s difficult times. It is time to make a stand rather than employing an appeasement policy towards Erdoğan and his associates, who hold this nation and its strategic location as ransom to their whims and emotions. In the short run, Turkey’s allies and partners may be tempted to extract maximum concessions by capitalizing on Erdoğan’s weaknesses and his desperate need for recognition and acknowledgment. But that will blow back in their faces eventually.
Turkey’s allies and partners may have been preoccupied so much with dumping the refugee problem back into Turkey’s lap, opening up Turkish military bases for their own pet projects, or building natural gas pipelines to use Turkey as a trump card. However, they seem to forget that this resilient nation will surely overcome this challenge by the Islamists on democracy, just as they did away with the military regimes of the past. While the nation keeps fighting to protect the democratic gains, rights and freedoms, the position of Turkey’s allies and partners will be carefully noted.
In the medium and long term, they will be seen as accomplices who propped up this authoritarian regime which oppressed its own people in a way that was not seen even during the past military-era regimes. Turkish main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused the Erdoğan regime of employing similar policies to those of Germany’s Nazi regime. He said the tactics employed by Hitler’s propaganda leader, Joseph Goebbels, are being used by the government. He also lashed out at the EU for adopting a hypocritical approach to Turkey. Perhaps he is right in the sense that major powers are simply appeasing Erdoğan, just like they did for Hitler, with no regard whatsoever for the suspension of the rule of law and the trampling of rights and freedoms in Turkey.