Erdogan’s inflammatory rhetoric shows desperation - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s embrace of religion on the campaign trail and use of inflammatory Islam-versus-the-West rhetoric is a sign of his desperation in the lead-up to the country’s March 31 local elections, according to independent news site Insight Turkey.

Visiting Christchurch, New Zealand, on Monday to honour the victims of last Friday’s shooting attack on two mosques that killed 50 people, Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay urged the entire world to refrain from provocative language.

“Back home, Fuat Oktay’s call fell on deaf ears,” Robert Ellis, former advisor to European Parliament, wrote in an analysis on Tuesday, referring to Erdoğan invoking a possible Islam-West conflict.

“Last year Erdoğan made use of the same echo of Samuel Huntington’s prediction of a clash of civilisations” wrote Ellis, adding that in 2005 it was Erdoğan who proposed the creation of the Alliance of Nations to bridge the divide.

“Erdoğan is a desperate man, who with the slow collapse of Turkey’s economy, faces defeat at the local elections at the end of this month and is prepared to use all means to whip up support for his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP),” wrote Ellis.

His ruling Justice and Development Party faces tight races in several major contests, including for the mayoral posts in Turkey’s two largest cities, Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.

Erdoğan has labeled his opponents terrorists and warned cities in the Kurdish southeast that mayors elected from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will be removed. The government has already dismissed 95 HDP mayors elected in 2014 and replaced them with appointees.

Turkey’s constitution bans the exploitation of religion or religious feelings for political interest. “Nevertheless, religion has been a powerful weapon in the electoral campaign,” said Ellis.

On International Women’s Day, Erdoğan accused marching women of being disrespectful to Islam after they chanted and whistled while a mosque recited the call to prayer.

Like Erdoğan, alleged Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant likes to invoke Crusader-Crescent battles. He scrawled several names and historical references on his weapons, including “Vienna 1683” - a reference to Ottoman’s failed attempt to conquer Vienna.

The day of the Christchurch massacre, the Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), where Erdoğan’s son Bilal is on the advisory board, issued a statement denouncing the women marchers: “The call to prayer for us is a renewal of the intention to conquer Rome, New York, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, Paris and to complete the unfinished conquest of Vienna”.

Samuel Huntington in his famous essay identifies Turkey as a country divided as to whether its society belongs to one civilisation or another, according to Ellis.

“Turkey seems to have made its choice. This change of direction has been compounded by the de facto rejection of Turkey’s application of EU membership, although Turkey still has the status of a candidate country,” wrote Ellis.

Turkish professor of political science Cengiz Aktar, and Ahval contributor, has called on the EU to make up its mind about the reality of Turkey and the need for “a paradigm shift to reflect the post-candidacy era of Turkey-EU relations”.

“But is doubtful whether under the current administration such a paradigm shift will be possible,” wrote Ellis.