The captain’s imaginary wars

President Erdoğan frequently reminds us that we have moved into a new regime and that he has declared war in almost every field. What kind of a war, you would say, is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waging? Where is the front? What is the status of the ammunition? Who are at the targets?

An “economic attack” had been directed against Turkey, Erdoğan said last week. “We are responding to this siege with a new war of independence,” he said. They stopped those who wanted to exploit the country through the “devil’s triangle” of interest rates, exchange rates, and inflation, he said. Then, he turned to the nation and asked them to be patient until 2023.

He shouted all of this at the provincial convention for his party, held in the eastern city of Van, in a football stadium. He argued that what was happening in Libya, Syria and Karabakh was also happening when it came to the economy.

What kind of a war, you would say, is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan waging? Where is the front? What is the status of the ammunition? Who are at the targets? If a mobilization order was issued for the public, then there should be a written strategy and tactics. The steps to be taken should have been described, and definitions should have been detailed accordingly. 

The reason is that in the history of the Turkish Republic, there have been plans prepared and written that can be defined as “economic wars.”

For instance, immediately after the War of Independence in the early 1920s, a period very similar to what Erdoğan was explaining, a document was issued containing  the decisions taken during the İzmir Economic Congress. In its first article, it said, “Turkey is one of the peaceful and progressive elements of the world through its untainted independence within its national borders.” The second article was “Because the people of Turkey have achieved their national sovereignty through their blood and life, they cannot give it up in exchange for anything.” 

A clear strategy was drawn later that covered the abolition of capitulations, the nationalization of foreign monopolies and that the place of the state is at the center of the economy. 

The first Five-Year Development Plan in 1963 was actually similar. Even though no military conflict environment was present at that time, Turkey’s “new economic war” was openly defined. It stated that the world was divided into developed and underdeveloped countries. Turkey, which was on the underdeveloped side, has preferred, the document said, to adopt a development path unique to itself. The introduction of the plan was as follows: 

“The Turkish Nation has definitively chosen a democratic order that will secure human rights and freedoms, national solidarity, social justice, peace and prosperity of the individual and the society. A plan has been prepared so that national savings will be boosted, and in which investments will be made for the benefit of the society, priorities will be defined accordingly and economic, social and cultural development will be achieved through democratic means.” 

Apart from the economic nature of both of these documents, a claim was made in front of the state, bureaucracy, government and ultimately, the people. More importantly, both documents coincided with regime changes. In the first one, it was soon to be declared that Turkey was a republic; in the second one, with the 1961 constitution, democracy and social justice were made out as ideals.

Erdoğan frequently reminds us that we have moved into a new regime and that he has declared war in almost every field. What kind of a justification document for this fight, I wonder, he is presenting us? 

The place we need to look for this is in the Annual Program of the Presidency for 2021 that was published in the Official Gazette on October 27, 2020. This is because it bears the signature of the person with the highest authority, “the commander in chief.” The first sentence of the plan is as follows: 

"The world economy, which recovered after the 2008 global financial crisis, but in fact remained below the pre-crisis growth average due to low investment, trade and productivity problems, has lost momentum as of the second half of 2018 due to the effect of increasing economic, political and geopolitical uncertainties.” 

Then, it goes on to say that there was a simultaneous supply and demand shock together with the pandemic and the crisis. Capital shifted to safe havens, which harmed developing countries, while volatility in the market and exchange permeability posed risks in Turkey’s economy. It added that an opportunity was created for Turkey when the possibility emerged that monetary expansion and capital flows in Western countries might turn again to developing countries. 

It does not mention an attack on foreign exchange rates. Instead, the 14.3 billion dollars of net capital exit in the first six months of 2020 is mentioned. Also, during the same period, the sale of 7.7 billion dollars of government domestic debt securities (DİBS) and the 5.4 billion dollars of foreign sales in the stock exchange market are noted. It also states that tourism revenues have hit rock bottom due to the outbreak. Economic troubles are associated with the problem of foreign currency, not with a mercilessly attacking enemy.

Nowhere in the 422-page report is there a single line or a sentence saying that Turkey is under economic siege, that we have adopted a new economic model or that we are now in a phase of a War of Independence. Let me list the measures taken: providing loans so that small business owners, companies and citizens accumulate more debt, continuing to sentence laborers to a daily wage of 39 liras, and selling whatever is left of public ownership through privatization.  

Here, this is the difference between the “economic war” plans of a period that they prefer to refer to as “curatorship” and the plan prepared by the presidential regime. 

There was a play staged enthusiastically at the stadium at Van, a very nationalistic and epic play, like a copy of Namık Kemal’s “The Country or Silistra,” but when it comes to the presidential program, it transfers into a desperate petition offered to the landlord by a debt-choked tenant. The economy is sugarcoated as if it were an independent economy, in which the top general, with the skill of a wholesaler, is offering the commercial labor market lives that have been devalued due to the dollar. 

Ultimately, it was with the hubris of a Napoleon wandering around the totally-destroyed battlefield, with bands playing marches and accompanied by an army of bodyguards, that he visited the earthquake-stricken Izmir. The only future he can pull from the wreckage of the city is new construction. The victory he can achieve from an imaginary war is just this: iron and cement. That is about all that will be recorded for posterity.

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