The new pursuit of Erdoğan: Dove on the outside, hawk on the inside

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Translated by Tanem Zaman

Hello, good day. The government in power has been speaking of economic, legislative and democratic reform for some time now. They have been working on it; it can be announced any time. The AKP administration will discuss the work that has been done. Of course, President Erdoğan will say the last word and the reforms will be explained to us. Many people have said this before – I have said it as well: it is not feasible to be extremely hopeful for what this “reform” will be. Because before implementing reforms on democracy and jurisdiction – let’s put the economy aside – Turkey first needs to abide by the already existing laws on democracy and jurisdiction. For example, there is the bindingness of the Constitutional Court. Or, the people who run the country do not recognize the European Court of Human Rights. But let’s still wait and see what will be announced. 

Aside from making a reform, the government in power needs to appear like they are making reforms not necessarily to their own public, but in fact to the international publics, especially to the West. If we consider it this way, we can see these reforms as “for the sake of appearances”. The economy is a little different; because when one acts against certain international standards and rules in the economy, the feedback comes very rapidly either through an economic crisis or through the existing crisis intensifying further. In comparison to this, there is no rapid feedback to breach democracy and law, to move Turkey democratically backwards, or to move the country away from the rule of law. The rapid feedback is the public within the country, and that is mostly done through elections. And in order to balance that out, he wants to take it down through discourses like “survival” and “fight against terrorism”, or through strategies that escalate polarization. 

When I look at the results, I see that Erdoğan’s strategy is to appear as innocent as a dove to the outside world -in political terminology, “dove” is used for those who are pacifist, those who stay away from conflicts, those who try to solve problems rather than create them- that is the profile he wants to create for himself. But to the domestic audience, he wants to appear as a “hawk” -again, in political terminology hawk refers to “uncompromising, remorseless”- someone who puts the government in power’s perpetuity and interests on top of everything, who imposes on the public, who never negotiates with anyone, who escalates polarization instead of listening to the problems of the public and looking for pluralist solutions, and thus, who creates barriers in front of real solutions to real problems. Let’s elaborate on this now: the bilateral talks regarding the latest conflict that arose with Greece restarted in Istanbul after a break. They had their photos taken. At least, Turkey appears here as a decent side who wants to bring problems to the table, who wants to discuss it at the table and of course this is a positive situation to be in.  

What will come out from this? Whether there will be a solution or agreement from this is a separate concern; but at least Turkey now presents itself as a country that sits at the table and discusses these issues. Similarly, Turkey is communicating with the European Union on a regular basis. Most recently, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had contacts that were announced to be positive. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu even mentioned the “visa liberalization” matter that we had forgotten about. I am not sure if you remember; when Ahmet Davutoğlu was the prime minister, this would be brought up regularly in an “either today or tomorrow” manner. Of course, it did not happen. Now, we see this being mentioned again; I don’t think it has a chance of coming true, but at least it was mentioned. Regarding the messages being delivered to us from Europe, they are trying to be as positive as possible in order to not lose Turkey. They want to hold Turkey at a specific place. At some point, it was said that relations with Israel were going to be fixed, and that there will be reciprocal ambassador appointments, but that also stopped somewhere. However, this topic is seriously still on the political agenda. 

Recently, there was a thoroughly-done news file put together by The Times newspaper in the UK. In that news file, there was an allegation that the members of Hamas (Palestininan Islamic Resistance Movement), who have created a base in Turkey and its members have settled in Turkey for a very long time that even some of them have received Turkish citizenship, were facing a set of restrictions imposed on them. This is a very long and thorough news file. It doesn’t necessarily says that “Turkey is blocking Hamas’s practices in Turkey”, but the news came out like “Certain restrictions are being put in place, their arbitrary actions wants to be prevented and as this is put in place, of course, it is being done through the perspective of fixing ties with Israel.” The details of this article are interesting. It is not possible to know how accurate this is yet; but it is not surprising at all. The matter with the US is still in question. Because something happened in the US that the Erdoğan administration never wanted: Trump lost, and after Trump lost, the Biden administration took over the affairs. Turkey’s turn is yet to come, but from the talk that the US Secretary of State gave to the Senate, his referral to Turkey as “a so-called ally” points out that there will be issues. 

Interestingly, at the key positions of the American administration, there are some names who know Turkey inside out. Many people talk about McGurk (Brett McGurk is National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa for the Biden Administration). As it is known, he was the person who coordinated the YPG in Syria and he was someone that Turkey did not want. Apart from McGurk, there is Eric Edelman (Eric Edelman was the US Ambassador to Turkey during the Bush administration), he was an ambassador that the ruling AKP did not want and continuously opposed to as well as openly criticized. Nancy McEldowney, Edelman’s right hand in Ankara, is now the National Security Adviser to the US Vice President Kamala Harris, in other words, her right hand. Usually, in the American system, it is the Vice President rather than the President who manages the foreign policy. For example, Biden managed the foreign policy during the Obama administration. Now, Kamala Harris has a name as her right hand that knows Turkey extremely well, and also knows Turkish. What’s even more interesting is that, McEldowney’s assistant Phillip Gordon also knows Turkey very well, and has once written a book on Turkey with Ömer Taşpınar who we do the “Transatlantik” broadcast with. He was also responsible for the team that Turkey was a part of at the State Department during the Obama administration. There are also different names, but these three names in and of themselves show that Turkey will be on the top of the US political agenda, and that Turkey will not only be under Washington’s radar through ties with Russia, but also on issues like democracy and state of law. And when it is time, -which I don’t think will be too late- just like the relations  hoped to be created with the EU, we can assume that the dove-like messages will also be given to the US. They will want to appear as if there is a conformist administration in Turkey. In addition, I think another reason for Erdoğan’s desire to improve relations with Israel is Biden coming into power in the US.  

But as all of this is happening, nothing changes inside Turkey. And that is to say, the Turkish administration who wants to appear pleasant to the outside, still continues to polarize the public, to disregard the opposition, and to insult people in every way – the people, the journalists are being assaulted on the street, some of which claim that they were not intended to be assaulted, but to be murdered, that is was Selçuk Özdağ had said. (Selçuk Özdağ is the Vice Chair of the Future Party and he was attacked by five people in front of his house). But the President and those who are ruling the country are refusing to condemn this action openly. In fact, MHP Leader Devlet Bahçeli said today in a group meeting, “They made themselves be attacked on purpose”. When we look at the law, Turkey is no longer a state of law. The legislative branch is completely dependent on the political power now. The latest encounter with İrfan Fidan and how he was brought to the Constitutional Court with a snap of the fingers clearly shows how things have gone way out of common law and rules in this country. On one hand, there is a need and obligation to seem pleasant to the outside, something that is done out of obligation, but on the inside there is no identification of such need.  

Of course the key issue here is this: how seriously will the Western administrators, and to a point the Western public, accept this dual politics? -to express it fully: Don’t they see the government that tries to appear pleasant to them is actually cruel on the inside? They see that, they know that. They know that the release of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala is required by law. The latest statement from the European Union was in this direction: “We are not asking for anything, this is what is supposed to be done by law”, they say. They know what is happening in Turkey better than anyone, but they accept this dual game only to a certain point. The question of where that certain point ends is personally the most important problem on behalf of the political power. Now, if we are to return to the beginning:

In respect to the works regarding the reform, there is an escalating discontent within the Justice and Development Party. There is an inclination toward the notion that the power cannot be obtained anymore if the government in power continues to distance itself from a state of law, from fundamental rights and freedoms and from democracy. This inclination mostly states that: the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights are making decisions, and we need to abide by them from now on. There is an outburst like that. They at least want to make the Constitutional Court and ECHR rulings a shield for themselves and walk away from here. And through this, they want to weaken the harsh and undemocratic alliance that Edroğan established with Bahçeli and some other powers. In response to this, as we saw with the İrfan Fidan incident, Erdoğan says “We can control the Constitutional Court too, don’t you worry”. On the other hand, what are the advisors, for instance Mehmet Uçum, trying to say with the consecutive statements they make? He makes statements like: “European Court of Human Rights are not binding at all, we should not take these seriously; our national sovereignty is of paramount importance; that is what we consider, the rest is none of our business.” This has no legal base, this has no perspective appropriate to any of the international agreements. But this actually shows us that there is a fight in the AKP wing of the political power. And that is, some people inside the AKP are trying to say that the dove-like appearance shown to the outside also needs to be shown on the inside, and that there is no way out of this anymore. But from what I observed, they cannot find a way to say this without upsetting Erdoğan. And Erdoğan is not a politician who needs to be convinced by them. He knows what is going on better than everyone; but it seems that he decided to go with this dual game at this stage. But he might need to give up this decision. This is not something to happen today; but very soon, he might acknowledge that there is no further step to take in this direction, and that he might have to accept that there is no sea left to swim in and might want to turn back; but when that day comes will he have the opportunity to turn back? Frankly, I am not so sure. That is all I have to say, have a good day.

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