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The Future of Turkey: the Kurdish question and the economic outlook

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The last parliamentary elections in Turkey mark a political and an institutional turning point in the country’s history. The importance of the vote derives from two main factors.

Firstly, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s Party of Justice and Development (AKP) has lost its parliamentary majority, although it remains the largest party in the Parliament with 258 seats and 40.9% of the votes. This is the first time that the party has been in this position since 2002, when the AKP swept to power and retained a majority in the Turkish Parliament. However, the AKP failed to achieve its objective of 350 seats, as the party leader and president of the Republic since August 2014, Recep Tayyp Erdogan, had hoped.

This 350 seats threshold would have allowed Erdogan to introduce a series of constitutional reforms leading to a reinforcement of the presidential system. However, Turkish voters would appear to have baulked at this prospect and have opted to maintain the existing balance of institutional power. The elections were an indirect referendum on Erdogan’s constitutional intentions.

Indeed, the electoral campaign went ahead amidst a degree of tension given the issues at stake. Galip Dalay, a senior fellow with the Al Jazeera Center for Studies on Turkey and Kurdish affairs, points out that the main factor contributing to the heated atmosphere remained, above all, the future of the political system: “The whole struggle involves the central question of whether Turkey should have a parliamentary or a presidential system. Unfortunately, all other items on the agenda have taken a back seat with regard to this central electoral question”. [1]

Secondly, the entry of the left-wing pro-Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), into the Grand National Assembly represents a development of marked significance. The HDP, led by Selahattin Demirtas, received 6.5 millions of votes (13%) and 80 seats in the Parliament. This political shift opens the door of Parliament to an overtly Kurdish party for the first time in Turkish history and constitutes a strengthening of Kurdish political influence.

As for the other major electoral figures, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), gained 132 seats with 25% of votes and has worsened its 2011 result. By contrast, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) increased its share of the popular vote to 16.5% and 80 MPs. Institutionally, the new political landscape inevitably entails a period of instability and the country will undoubtedly be confronted with one of three options: a coalition government, a minority government or early elections.

With regard to the Kurdish question, the emergence of the HDP might provide a stimulus for renewed dialogue. In its electoral manifesto, among other measures, the party had pledged to back up self-rule with the introduction of regional assemblies. Since the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres – calling for autonomy for the Kurdish people; a call that remained unheeded –the Kurdish question remains unresolved. After decades of failed attempts at greater self-government, the official opening of negotiations with regard to Turkey’s accession to the European Union represented a shift in perspective and, with it, the potential for greater recognition of Kurdish cultural identity.

The latest elections might possibly induce greater momentum towards a definitive settlement as this involves the continued pursuit of peace talks with the outlawed armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Only hours after the official announcement of the election results, Selahattin Demirtas, HDP leader and human rights lawyer, declared: “We, as the oppressed people of Turkey, who want justice, peace and freedom, have achieved a tremendous victory today. It’s the victory of workers, the unemployed, the villagers, the farmers. It is the victory of the left”.

The possibility of further progress over the Kurdish question is also, it would appear, intimately linked to a series of regional developments, with the Kurds being directly involved in the armed struggle with the Islamic State (IS). Kurdish resistance – alongside contacts with the United States with a view to combating IS – have contributed directly to the growing legitimacy and visibility of the Kurds, a factor that has not yet been recognized by the Turkish government.  

At the same time, the fundamental question of Turkey’s economic future continues to attract a great deal of attention. The main focus has been the question of how best to reboot the economy, on one hand, and the relations between the government and the central bank, on the other hand.

After a period of sustained growth, Turkey has emerged as something of a model in terms of economic policies and development strategies. In a recent report, The World Bank stated: “Turkey’s economic success has become a source of inspiration for a number of developing countries, particularly, but not only, in the Muslim world. The rise of Turkey’s economy is admired, all the more so because it seems to go hand in hand with democratic political institutions and an expanding voice for the poor and lower middle classes”. [2]

This being said, closer examination of the figures points to a less rosy picture. Economic growth has been slowing since 2008 and it is predicted that it will fall to 2 percent this year. Unemployment is at its highest level in five years and, with growth stagnating, the economy will undoubtedly remain something of a thorn in the side of the new government. Nevertheless Abbas Ameli-Renani – a strategist specialising in global emerging-markets at Amundi in London – remains relatively up beat. As he pointed out on the eve of the vote, “if the AKP fails to win a majority and is forced into a coalition with other parties, the markets’ reaction is unlikely to be negative for a sustained period. After 13 years of absolute majorities for the AKP, a weaker vote of confidence by the electorate may be exactly what is needed to refocus the party’s attention on the economic reform agenda that defined its earlier years in power.” [3]

Above all since the election of Erdogan as President of the Republic in 2014, the question of the most appropriate economic strategies to pursue has tended to turn around the relations between the government and the Turkish Central Bank. In principle an independent entity, the central bank has come into conflict with the powers that be over high interest rates. Whilst the central bank is in favour of high interest rates, this policy has drawn some harsh criticism from Erdogan.

Despite the apparent deadlock and stagnation in Turkish affairs, the elections have been greeted with satisfaction by the European Union. Europe is the largest trading partner of Turkey, providing the greatest amount of foreign direct investment to Ankara. Against this background, the European Union has hailed the existing balance of power as “a clear sign of the strength of Turkish democracy. The fact that all the major political parties have obtained representation in the new parliament is particularly important” [4]

 


[1] Umut Uras, Turkey votes amid debate on presidential system, Al-Jazeera, 7 June 2015.

[2] Mustafa Kutlay, Turkish economy after the elections: In search of a new paradigm, Turkish Weekly, 30 June 2015.

[3] Onur Ant, Ali Berat Meric, Erdogan Rivals Frame Economy Debate as Turkey Heads to Polls, Bloomberg, 13 May 2015.

[4] Joint statement by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn on the General Elections in Turkey, 8 June 2015.

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Middle East

What is the public sphere today in Turkey?

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The concept of public sphere, which was started to be examined in Europe in the 1960s, has different meanings according to different perspectives, as a definite definition cannot be made today, and this situation creates important discussion topics about the use of such spaces.

Long debated the definition of public space in Europe, in Turkey also began to affect 1980”l year. After the 1980 coup, some communities, which were kept out of sight, fearing that the Republic project would be harmed, demanded the recognition of their ethnic and cultural identities. Thus the concept of the public sphere in Turkey, especially since the early 1990s to be addressed in various academic publications, use and began to discuss political issues.

Especially in the past years, the public sphere debates on the headscarf issue were discussed from various angles. The debate started with Prime Minister Erdogan’s criticism of President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who did not invite his wife to a NATO dinner, saying “Dolmabahçe is not a public space”, and the President of the Council of Higher Education, Prof.Dr. Erdoğan Teziç; He responded by emphasizing that the public sphere is not a “ geographical definition ” but a functional concept.

Before defining the public sphere, the understanding that shows that the definition of space in the Ottoman Empire was shaped as less private, private, very private and very very private is still one of the biggest reasons for the definition of the public sphere. While expressing, it reminds that he entered the Ottoman literature in a different way in the 19th century. Thinkers who indicate the association of the public sphere with the state in general express it as the sphere that is related to the state, not the “public”. “When you say ‘public’, the state comes to mind immediately; We mean something like government administration, its organs, organizations, officials, or activities, an official domain that is owned or run under state control. However, as Habermas said, the public sphere is above all the sphere in which the public opinion is formed in our social life ”.

As citizens of the city, we observe that some projects have spread to the spaces defined as public space due to the fact that today’s public space and public space concepts have not been defined precisely and construction activities have increased due to the anxiety of rent.

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Middle East

Erdogan’s Calamitous Authoritarianism

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Turkey’s President Erdogan is becoming ever more dangerous as he continues to ravage his own country and destabilize scores of states in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa, while cozying up to the West’s foremost advisories. Sadly, there seems to be no appetite for most EU member states to challenge Erdogan and put him on notice that he can no longer pursue his authoritarianism at home and his adventurous meddling abroad with impunity.

To understand the severity of Erdogan’s actions and ambitions and their dire implications, it suffices to quote Ahmet Davutoglu, formerly one of Erdogan’s closest associates who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequently Prime Minister. Following his forced resignation in May 2016 he stated “I will sustain my faithful relationship with our president until my last breath. No one has ever heard — and will ever hear — a single word against our president come from my mouth.”

Yet on October 12, Davutoglu declared “Erdogan left his friends who struggled and fought with him in exchange for the symbols of ancient Turkey, and he is trying to hold us back now…. You yourself [Erdogan] are the calamity. The biggest calamity that befell this people is the regime that turned the country into a disastrous family business.”

The stunning departure of Davutoglu from his earlier statement shows how desperate conditions have become, and echoed how far and how dangerously Erdogan has gone. Erdogan has inflicted a great calamity on his own people, and his blind ambition outside Turkey is destabilizing many countries while dangerously undermining Turkey’s and its Western allies’ national security and strategic interests.

A brief synopsis of Erdogan’s criminal domestic practices and his foreign misadventures tell the whole story.

Domestically, he incarcerated tens of thousands of innocent citizens on bogus charges, including hundreds of journalists. Meanwhile he is pressuring the courts to send people to prison for insulting him, as no one can even express their thoughts about this ruthlessness. Internationally, Erdogan ordered Turkish intelligence operatives to kill or smuggle back to the country Turkish citizens affiliated with the Gülen movement.

He regularly cracks down on Turkey’s Kurdish minority, preventing them from living a normal life in accordance with their culture, language, and traditions, even though they have been and continue to be loyal Turkish citizens. There is no solution to the conflict except political, as former Foreign Minister Ali Babacan adamantly stated on October 20: “… a solution [to the Kurdish issue] will be political and we will defend democracy persistently.”

Erdogan refuses to accept the law of the sea convention that gives countries, including Cyprus, the right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for energy exploration, while threatening the use of force against Greece, another NATO member no less. He openly sent a research ship to the region for oil and gas deposits, which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called “extremely worrying.”

He invaded Syria with Trump’s blessing to prevent the Syrian Kurds from establishing autonomous rule, under the pretext of fighting the PKK and the YPG (the Syrian Kurdish militia that fought side-by-side the US, and whom Erdogan falsely accuses of being a terrorist group).

He is sending weapons to the Sunni in northern Lebanon while setting up a branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in the country—a practice Erdogan has used often to gain a broader foothold in countries where it has an interest.

While the Turkish economy is in tatters, he is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the Balkans, flooding countries with Turkish imams to spread his Islamic gospel and to ensure their place in his neo-Ottoman orbit. Criticizing Erdogan’s economic leadership, Babacan put it succinctly when he said this month that “It is not possible in Turkey for the economic or financial system to continue, or political legitimacy hold up.”

Erdogan is corrupt to the bone. He conveniently appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister, which allows him to hoard tens of millions of dollars, as Davutoglu slyly pointed out: “The only accusation against me…is the transfer of land to an educational institution over which I have no personal rights and which I cannot leave to my daughter, my son, my son-in-law or my daughter-in-law.”

Erdogan is backing Azerbaijan in its dispute with Armenia (backed by Iran) over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inhabited by ethnic Armenians and has been the subject of dispute for over 30 years.

He is exploiting Libya’s civil strife by providing the Government of National Accord (GNA) with drones and military equipment to help Tripoli gain the upper hand in its battle against Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis said in February 2020 that “The unclear Turkish foreign policy by Erdogan may put Turkey in grave danger due to this expansion towards Libya.”

He is meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort to prevent them from settling their dispute unless Israel meets Palestinian demands. He granted several Hamas officials Turkish citizenship to spite Israel, even though Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction.

He betrayed NATO by buying the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which seriously compromises the alliance’s technology and intelligence.

He is destabilizing many countries, including Somalia, Qatar, Libya, and Syria, by dispatching military forces and hardware while violating the air space of other countries like Iraq, Cyprus, and Greece. Yakis said Turkey is engaging in a “highly daring bet where the risks of failure are enormous.”

Erdogan supports extremist Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and an assortment of jihadists, including ISIS, knowing full well that these groups are sworn enemies of the West—yet he uses them as a tool to promote his wicked Islamic agenda.

He regularly blackmails EU members, threatening to flood Europe with Syria refugees unless they support his foreign escapades such as his invasion of Syria, and provide him with billions in financial aid to cope with the Syrian refugees.

The question is how much more evidence does the EU need to act? A close look at Erdogan’s conduct clearly illuminates his ultimate ambition to restore much of the Ottoman Empire’s influence over the countries that were once under its control.

Erdogan is dangerous. He has cited Hitler as an example of an effective executive presidential system, and may seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It’s time for the EU to wake up and take Erdogan’s long-term agenda seriously, and take severe punitive measures to arrest his potentially calamitous behavior. Sadly, the EU has convinced itself that from a geostrategic perspective Turkey is critically important, which Erdogan is masterfully exploiting.

The EU must be prepared take a stand against Erdogan, with or without the US. Let’s hope, though, that Joe Biden will be the next president and together with the EU warn Erdogan that his days of authoritarianism and foreign adventurism are over.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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