Turkey’s Dark Future
David L. Phillips
30 July 2015
Storm clouds are gathering. Turkey has a dark future. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bears responsibility. His policies have made Turkey less secure, stable, and solvent. Erdogan is digging a hole for Turkey. Instead of getting out of the ditch, he keeps digging, casting aspersions and blaming others for Turkey’s problems.
On July 24, the US and Turkey announced an agreement allowing use of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base by the coalition for air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Erdogan seized on the deal to bomb PKK outposts in the Qandil Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.
To the West, counter-terrorism means fighting ISIS. To Erdogan it means killing Kurds. Erdogan cannot whitewash his true intentions by feigning cooperation with the coalition. At the recent NATO meeting, several countries expressed concern that targeting Kurds would strengthen ISIS.
Erdogan justifies air strikes, citing the killing of 2 policemen by the PKK. The PKK claims that the police officers were collaborating with ISIS, allowing the bombing of a Youth Center in Suruc earlier in the week that killed 32 people. Turkey has been the Islamic State’s lifeline. The jihadi highway runs through Turkey to Syria. Turks provide logistics, funds, weapons, and medical care to Islamic State fighters.
Erdogan set the bait after Suruc; the PKK took it. Now violence is spiraling out of control.
Erdogan says the bombing campaign will go on indefinitely. He is recklessly leading Turkey into a state of perpetual war. Richard Holbrooke said of Milosevic, “He tried to solve a problem by creating a bigger one.” Erdogan is doing the same thing.
Escalation comes at a time of waning legitimacy for Erdogan. He is waging war as the figurehead of a lame duck party. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority and moral authority during national elections on June 7.
Provoking the PKK is a brazen ploy to create a crisis. Erdogan is pandering to nationalists, demonizing the PKK, and marginalizing Kurds in Turkey who number 20 million. On July 30, the Turkish government has arrested over 350 Kurdish community activists.
It seems that Erdogan is angling for new elections. He is trying to discredit the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish party which received 13.1% of the votes and will be seated in parliament for the first time. Erdogan is furious with the HDP for its strong showing, which denied the AKP enough support to change the constitution and establish an executive imperial presidency. In retaliation, Erdogan is threatening to lift the parliamentary immunity of HDP legislators. He’s even intimated at closing the HDP for supporting the PKK.
Attacking the PKK effectively undermined the peace process. Two years ago, the PKK initiated a unilateral ceasefire and sought talks to end its armed struggle for greater cultural and political rights. Social divisions in Turkey are worse today than any time in recent memory. The risk of renewed civil war looms large.
War-mongering also has an economic cost. Turkey’s over-heated economy is highly leveraged. Corruption is rampant in Erdogan’s inner circle. Erdogan fears that the newly-elected parliament could open corruption and mismanagement dossiers, targeting the AKP and its leadership.
Erdogan conjures enemies at home and abroad, using fear to manipulate the electorate. He accuses the pious Gulen Movement of plotting to establish a parallel administration and overthrow his government. He has arrested hundreds of administrators, judges, and law enforcement officials with ties to Gulen.
Erdogan wants Turks to blame others for the country’s problems. However, there will be a tipping point when they blame Erdogan for mismanaging Turkey’s affairs, endangering its security, and turning a blind eye to criminal profiteering by his friends and family.
David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a senior adviser and foreign affairs expert to the U.S. State Department. His recent book is The Kurdish Spring: A New Map for the Middle East.
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