Turkey’s disarray continues to unravel
“Peace at home, peace in the world” was a motto coined by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey. What has been happening over the past five years with Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the cockpit, however, has proved just the opposite.
In many ways, Turkey has become a case study for how a steadily erratic leadership can tie domestic and foreign policy in a knot and produce instability.
Signs are increasingly alarming. On the domestic front, Turkey has become a stage for venting rage. Large numbers of people who disagree with growing oppression are up in arms, adamant that they will not let the country’s shift to autocracy proceed quietly. More than 30,000 civilians, the majority seemingly women, marched “for justice,” in a protest led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The route begins in Ankara and ends in a jail on the outskirts of Istanbul, where a CHP deputy with a background in journalism was sentenced to 25 years in prison for “leaking state secrets” to the Cumhuriyet newspaper. The “secrets” were a file on how “secret service lorries” allegedly carried weaponry to jihadist groups in Syria.
In general, paranoia and rage define the government’s policymaking. A recent indictment against six investigative journalists revealed how sensitive “the palace” has become. “Suspects” were detained for reporting on the content of the hacked e-mail account of the energy minister, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law. They could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The arrest of journalists has become routine, strengthening Erdogan’s grip on the Turkish media, which is up to 90% controlled by the government.
Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), a monitoring unit in Istanbul, said there were 166 journalists in jail. This is more than half of the journalists jailed worldwide.
Although many do not want to admit it, Turks wake up to a more brutal reality every day. Such oppression, aimed at building a solid autocracy, is a vicious circle, feeding off itself in every turn. It long ago passed the threshold of absurdity.
Linking dissidents to last year’s coup attempt has become a pattern. This shows the courts’ level of disarray and desperation. The judiciary is under full-scale political duress and must fill in the blanks with charges.
This vicious circle is proof of how badly Turkey’s rule of law has crashed and explains why the opposition party’s long march is simply about justice. A look at data from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) shows how far the oppressive measures have gone.
Politico, a Washington publication, reported that about one-quarter of cases pending at the ECHR — 23,000 — have been filed against Ankara. “According to the court’s registry, 17,630 of these were filed since the failed coup on July 15 last year,” Politico said. “The number of cases that make their way to Strasbourg also marks a staggering increase compared to previous years — 2,212 cases were lodged against Turkey in 2015 and 1,584 in 2014.”
This vast domestic ordeal is only part of Turkey’s reality. Its foreign policy is equally dramatic, ringing alarms daily. It should not come as a surprise that the country’s foreign affairs policies reflect the level of disorder and poor decision-making domestically.
“Ten years ago, Turkey was perceived as a strong honest broker in its region” Unal Cevikoz, a former top Turkish diplomat, wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News. “As a facilitator, Turkey was active from Afghanistan to the Balkans, from the Caucasus to the Middle East. In the east, Turkey was able to bring together Afghanistan and Pakistan in a trilateral format to contribute to the search for the resolution of the Afghan problem… Turkey put forth economic development projects focusing on infrastructure in Palestine and was able to establish an indirect but functional dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In those years, Syria was perhaps one of the closest neighbours Turkey had.”
This is a distant memory. Turkey is widely perceived as an unpredictable player. This is true when it comes to the Qatar crisis and the Cyprus talks. It is reflective of its flip-flopping between the United States and Russia on Syria. Turkey has become so slippery that it invites little, if any, trust. The way it has shelved its recent conflicts with Egypt and Israel has been working against it, surely.
The reason is simple at the core: The more centralised the decision-making becomes under Erdogan; the more Turkey perceives domestic and international challenges as my way or the highway. Erdogan may have the security tools to assert his way at home but seems doomed to fail abroad.
It is known that behind closed doors he shows pragmatism — what a Greek diplomat called “belly-dancing” — but such an approach damages Turkey’s reputation and its national interests.
As Cevikoz “diplomatically” concluded:
“Turkey’s image is seriously transforming from an honest broker to a spoiler. To maintain a positive perception, Turkey’s foreign policy needs to be objective, egalitarian and equidistant to all the actors who may be in a position to contribute to the solution of a dispute. For this, dialogue is the best way of communication.
“An intelligent and constructive communications strategy may positively influence perceptions about Turkey in the region again. In the absence of such a strategy, foreign policy is reduced to an instrument of closed and paranoid domestic policy.”
The question is whether it is too late for such adjustments.