Turkey: Will the operation in Syria resolve Erdoğan’s crisis?

Translated by Melissa Clissold

For a long time, it has been claimed that an operation in Syria will seriously help resolve the crisis that Erdoğan is going through. Is this true? Will Operation Peace Spring be able to reinforce Erdoğan’s administration?  

Hello, good day. President Erdoğan just announced that operations have begun in the North of Syria. He began a new operation called “Peace Spring.” The president states that he would turn this area that he claims has turned into a terrorist corridor into a peaceful corridor. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), stated that they would fight against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)/ People’s Protection Units (YPG) as well as ISIS – Daesh in their own words. He stated that they respected Syria’s integrity, and would do what was necessary to procure this. It was already known that the movement would begin; but it looks like it has happened faster than expected. 

So, preparations have truly been made for this operation for a while. And together with American President Trump giving the ok, it was put into action. And now, as government and administration spokespeople have stated, Turkey has entered a new war. Let’s see how it will develop. This is of course a military issue, it is also a strategic issue; but at the same time, it is a very serious political issue. And this situation has a lot to do with internal politics. This movement, the intervention in Syria,  especially in the North, has been on the agenda for a while now. 

In fact, there has been speculations before the local elections, that the administration may do this in order to not lose the municipalities. It didn’t happen. But the administration that suffered serious losses in the local elections needed someway – how should I put this? – to heal the wound, it needed certain manoeuvres. And the first thing that comes to mind, and perhaps the only thing that came to mind was intervention in Syria. And this is being experienced right now. This isn’t a secret: The administration needed such an incident with a national perspective in order to dress their wounds as well as the wounds of their partner,  the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Today I saw one of Suat Kınıklıoğlu’s tweets; an English tweet. It said: “The operation won’t be very comprehensive, I bet…” “…It won’t be very comprehensive, but it will be stated that they have hit the YPG in a very serious manner. Afterwards, early elections will be held, and Erdoğan, regaining his strength will win this election.” This is what a lot of people think. And as someone who works especially on strategic issues and as someone who has spent time as a MP within the AKP, we must place importance on what Kınıklıoğlu says. But I don’t think that the issue is so black and white. Will the operation be comprehensive or not? How will it unfold? 

I’m not in the position to say much about this topic. They aren’t topics I have a lot of command over. But when we look at the political dimension of the situation, I do not think that this operation will be a solution to the administration and Erdoğan’s crisis. Of course, people will gather around the President in a situation where national emotions are amplified.

This may happen. But in the election that will take place afterwards – let’s say he took a decision to carry out early elections, within this atmosphere, Erdoğan decided to go through with early elections, he may not be able to achieve the increase in votes that he is expecting and I doubt that he will. I witnessed an example of this when I was a child. We know about it because I was part of a family that supported the Republican People’s Party. The CHP Chairman Bülent Ecevit, together with Erbakan and the coalition government with the National Salvation Party (MSP) entered Cyprus under the name Cyprus Peace operation; just as today, the word “peace” was there too – after the large public support he took the country to early elections. And the CHP lost its ruling powers. 

His votes increased, but he could not form a coalition and he abandoned the country to the Nationalist Front coalitions. From then till today, the CHP’s has not returned easily. Until years later, when the coalition was formed together with the Social Democratic Populist Party, Erdal İnönü, and Süleyman Demirel’s True Path Party. I’m not sure how much that counts. The CHP did not get another chance to be a main partner in a coalition. There was a very simple reasoning there. 

Here, there is a rearing up. The CHP, for the first time, reached out to fractions outside of itself, so that it could obtain power alone or become stronger. Its calculations didn’t work out. And there is a calculation here. In this calculation, there is an operation being carried under the name of the struggle against terrorism, as a national case. When you look at the support of the public for this operation, it probably exists to a large extent. Those who oppose are probably very few. There is no need to be a prophet for this; but I do not think that these operations will impact the votes significantly. 

The opposition parties here – other than the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – did not approach the operation in a critical way. They generally supported Turkey’s, Ankara’s complaints or activities, policies regarding Northern Syria. There may have been certain problems in the minor details. But we saw lately, the CHP and the Good Party (İYİ Parti) supported the necessary memorandum needed for this operation. İYİ Party, by facing the music and the CHP bowing its head. Therefore, the administration will not be able to use this decision against the opposition in a potential election.

I do not know the İYİ Party, but I do not think that what the CHP has done has hit the target. I think that because the CHP has not been able to break this cycle, that it does not go beyond feeling trapped. But it is clear that this decision is a structural decision. The CHP has on countless occasions played dumb regarding the Kurdish issue next to the state and the ruling party. And this always keeps them within certain limits. Of course, there are certain thoughts behind this together with the example of the SHP operation in the past or certain incidents that have been experienced.

But this must not be forgotten: Back in the day, with the SHP incident, Tayyip Erdoğan within the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration took a much larger step to form relationships with Kurdish politicians and Kurds than the central-left parties. Other than being worn out, he also made some gains. Then things changed. Therefore, I do not think that not joining the state regarding the Kurdish issue will necessarily mean a loss. A certain distance must be kept. The CHP preferred this. 

And I truly think that a majority of the CHP will find this to be the right decision. But, the fact that the CHP joined together with the representatives of the administration in this process labelled a war, places a shadow over the image of the CHP being the opposition. No matter, it is not easy to oppose war. It is not easy for those who carry out politics. But there are some that came against this in Turkey too. For example, the March 1 2003 memorandum was rejected by parliament. And the parliament had said no to occupying Iran together with the US. It was a very difficult process. 

I am someone who followed this process very closely, – some will remember that date – I was working at NTV. And few of us were opposing a group of pro-war journalists. And their greatest power was their belief that the parliament, administration and state would pass the memorandum. But in a miraculous manner, the parliament rejected it. And interestingly the AKP gained the most out of this situation. It’s very interesting. Erdoğan was banned from politics at that time again. And despite him being banned – The Prime Minister was Abdullah Gül – they had promised this memorandum to the US. But the memorandum did not pass. And if it had passed, the AKP would probably have disintegrated within a year of coming to power. 

There was a certain other aspect in the tweet that I mentioned earlier by Suat Kınıklıoğlu. It just popped into my mind. And that was “Erdoğan will want to go to an early election and try to block the way for the parties that are being formed from those breaking away from the AKP such as Davutoğlu and Ali Babacan.” Back in the day, the memorandum not being passed had prevented the disintegration of the AKP. Now with this memorandum and new operation, the disintegration of the AKP may not be prevented, but the effect of disintegration may be diminished – at least this might be calculated. Yet, this must be stressed: In these types of incidents, strategic events, one must be prepared for all sorts of surprises, as I mentioned yesterday, especially if these things are under the control of someone like Donald Trump whose night and day is completely different. 

We may witness that this situation may actually deepen the wound of Erdoğan and the AKP as opposed to heal it. And may even open the path for those new parties such as Ali Babacan’s party. This isn’t a bet, even if Kınıklıoğlu has said “I bet…”, it is impossible to do so; politics isn’t easy, I don’t think that voters can be swayed easily with certain simple steps, with an attitude of “If we do this, this will happen.” 

The latest examples of this was experienced during the March 31 and June 23 elections. A lot of people had thought that Erdoğan would be able to gain the upper hand there, even if not in Ankara, in Istanbul.  But we actually saw that the manoeuvres Erdoğan made were mostly out of desperation. And I think we are face to face with such an incident today. The operation carried out today, is perhaps the last card that the administration will use to open its way.  

But it also paves the way for things like war, the military, the army. These aren’t the paths of politics. When you try and carry out politics through military movements, you must be open to all consequences. There is a very serious economic crisis currently in Turkey, it is going through an economic crisis. This operation will not help the economic crisis in any way. 

It will mostly cover up the discussions regarding the economic crisis. It will cover up other issues from being discussed. Maybe it will be an operation that will prevent discussions on democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms, the state of law being discussed. But I do not think these can be truly prevented. Because I think that Turkey has entered a brand-new course. And I do not believe that a military operation can help renew the administration and prevent Turkey from going down this new path.

The crisis is very deep and perhaps this operation could postpone this deepening a little more or prevent it from being seen for a little while. I think it is too early to say that Erdoğan will regain his strength and that the MHP will also come out of this stronger. I predict the exact opposite. I think that this operation, will actually further the crisis that the administration is going through. Because, the aspect here is this: The arguments put forward and very strong arguments. Secondly, let’s say the arguments are strong, there is still nothing that Erdoğan can say that will help with the economic and political problems experienced in Turkey. There are no comprehensive solutions or perspectives being presented.

Therefore, this movement did not surprise anyone. After a certain phase , it did not surprise anyone. And in fact, with Trump pulling back his troops, things will be calm for a while. But then Turkey will once more come face to face with its problems – mainly its economic crisis. And it does not look like the Erdoğan administration has any realistic solutions to these problems. And this operation is not something that will help. As a result, I think Turkey is going down a wrong path. 

I truly hope people will come out of this as unharmed as possible, firstly Turkey, and Syria, people on both sides of the border, the whole region. I truly hope this phase ends. But I don’t think this operation will prevent Turkey from going down its new path. I don’t say this as a desire, but as an analysis. And of course, my desire is as such. Yet, despite all this, I believe that the recent political developments in Turkey, and that the road that those ruling the country have entered, is a one-way road and that this loss, Erdoğan’s loss, cannot be postponed any further. Yes, that is all I have to say. Good day. 

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