Nero & Caligula: Two in one

Democracy dies in Turkey not with a whimper but with a big bang for all those who have ears to hear it. What’s on Erdoğan’s agenda is actually the next elections. He seems bound to lose them. As that will be an outcome Erdoğan and company can ill afford, they are hell-bent on burning our common house down.

Yesterday Kocaeli MP Gergerlioğlu from the People's Democratic Party (HDP) was taken into custody in the parliament. He had refused to leave the building by way of resistance. Meanwhile, Central Bank Governor Naci Ağbal is relieved from duty after less than five months in his seat by the President. He tweeted his gratefulness (!) for the said decision. The President also rendered the “Istanbul Convention” aimed at effectively combating violence against women null and void for Turkey by a single unilateral decree, in other words by his sole signature. A case to shut HDP down is introduced by head prosecutor while the Interior Ministry busies itself to pull hundreds of HDP members into custody daily.

The mind-bogglingly absurd and pharaonic Channel Istanbul (that will run parallel the existing Bosphorus Strait) project is blanketed by a “state guarantee” again by the sole signature of the President. In the meantime, the property rights of the iconic Gezi Park at the heart of Istanbul’s central Taksim Square which was the home of the mass public uprising in 2013 is stripped from the Metropolitan Municipality held by the opposition and allocated to the Sultan Beyazıt Foundation. That move is yet another defiance by the President to prove his willingness to move forward with the then shelved shopping mall construction project on Gezi’s premises.        

Now the above is a tall order by all the means even by Erdoğan’s own standards. Democracy dies in Turkey not with a whimper but with a big bang for all those who have ears to hear it. Oh, and that’s not because the Gülenists are being persecuted by the way. Gülenists were and their remainders still are the metaphoric worm in the apple but not the light cavalry rushing from the side-lines to save it. They are part of the problem not of the solution. It is high time for the U.S. and the EU to see that Gülenists are shamelessly piggy-backing all colors of democrats and the Kurds in Turkey who were targeted by them while they were corrupting the republic from within.  

On the foreign affairs front too, the past week was quite lively to say the least. The Turkish Air Force hit the SDF targets near Ain Issa in the East of Euphrates for a first time since 17 months. Erdoğan had the EU mandarins Michel and Von der Leyen on the phone ahead of the March European Council. Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu also spoke on the phone with his French counterpart LeDrian. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif visited Turkey. Greek Foreign Minister Dendias’ and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang’s visits are announced. Ankara also made gestures towards Cairo by muzzling Muslim Brothers affiliated media headquartered in İstanbul and by taking conciliatory diplomatic steps in Libya.    

In an interview with Turkish journalists in Istanbul, U.S. Ambassador Satterfield underscored the fact the S-400s remain the central obstacle of normalization of the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations. The Ambassador did not mince his words when indicating that the issue will not “be resolved in a tricky or cute fashion”. Yet the same ambassador was not vocal at all if not completely silent on the human rights abuses such as enumerated (again) above. Neither were Michel and Von der Leyen or le Drian for that matter in their respective phone conversations with their Turkish counterparts.

In short, not only we are not out of the woods yet but also we are alone in the woods. For the archetypal western pundit, journalist or diplomat working on Turkey, the country’s NATO membership is an anomaly. Secularism is a luxury only adopted by a minority in a predominantly muslim population. Turks and Kurds are irreconcilably sworn enemies of each other. Turkey is not even a Janus of sorts but anchored firmly in the East. For that same bunch, the litmus test for being a democrat in Turkey is to stand with the gulenists who sought refuge in the EU countries and the U.S. even if they were the ones who dynamited the democratic institutions in Turkey. That’s their story.

These are dark times and the Republic is under frontal assault. Yet, have we seen darker times than these in Turkey? Most definitely. But the year is 2021 and the frustration is understandable. Our history appears not to move forward in linear fashion but to draw endless doughnuts. Looking back, our history is both a graveyard choke-full of its best and brightest who endeavoured change and a junkyard of various kinds of progressive enterprises. On the other hand, surveying the horizon, one comes across both darker and awe inspiring cases like Myanmar, Hong Kong, Algeria etc.

In Europe on the other hand, there are some early signs of finally shaking a long hangover due to the pandemic and prior to that, to the refugee waves and the islamist terror scare. It may be construed as trying too hard but I intend to take the D66 electoral gains in the Netherlands as one bright ray of light tearing through dark clouds. Again based on the last regional elections results, in post-Merkel Germany, Greens appear to be well-placed to take part in the government. In France, the 2022 presidential elections triggered a pivotal debate on Islam and secularism and on whether Islamism as a variant of authoritarianism is a threat to democracies or not.   

Beyond the Atlantic, President Biden did not loose time to confirm that he considers his Russian counterpart Putin a “killer” and vowed to make Russia pay the price -if its interfering in the U.S. elections is proven. In Alaska, at the ice-breaker U.S.-China high level meeting, Team Sullivan & Blinken stopped short of almost coming to blows with Team Wang & Yang while the cameras were still rolling. If we are about to enter a second cold war of sorts, unlike the twentieth century version, this time around the U.S. will need to counter China’s dystopia by standing firmly behind “our common values”: Marshall Plan will need to take precedence over Operation Condor.        

Then, what’s next in Erdoğan’s agenda? Pulling out of Lausanne and Montreux treaties as well? Ditching the civil law? Bringing back the caliphate? Introducing life-long political bans to his most formidable rivals with Demirtaş first and foremost among them? Making a military move towards Ain Issa, Fishhabur, Shengal?  Nothing can be, neither should be, ruled out. Turkey is in free fall accompanied with a deafeningly blaring narrative that it is, on the contrary, in a millennial take-off position. Those in charge of the government endlessly talks about an existential threat while at least half of the population considers they themselves as the existential threat to the republic.

What’s on Erdoğan’s agenda is actually the next elections. He seems bound to lose them. As that will be an outcome Erdoğan and company can ill afford, they are hell-bent on burning our common house down. If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad will go to the mountain: If you cannot govern the town, then you burn it to the ground and rule happily after the shantytown that replaces it. 

April 12, 2021 Ursula standing