Turkey's drift from the West began with exclusion of Davutoğlu

A circle, which began to be drawn in Turkey on May 1, 2016, came to a full close on Sept. 13, 2019.

Just days ago, an international relations professor who served as Turkey’s former foreign minister and prime minister, resigned from the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), without waiting on a decision about his ousting from the party’s disciplinary committee.

The era of the ruling AKP under the leadership of Ahmet Davutoğlu, who won the Nov. 2015 general elections for the party by winning 49.4 percent support, was marked by success.

One of the most striking characteristics of Davutoğlu’s time in office as prime minister was the precedence he gave to Turkey’s relations with the EU and the West. It is during this time that Turkey’s Foreign Ministry came up with a "genius’’ proposal to the EU in the face of a deluge of deaths involving irregular migrants looking to make their way to Greece through the Aegean Sea.

Accordingly, all "irregular migrants" crossing from Turkey into Greece would be sent back and for each Syrian returned to Turkey, a Syrian migrant will be resettled in the EU.

While this proposal was met with applause by Europe, Davutoğlu had already rolled up his sleeves to put pressure on the EU to push the demand for Turkish nationals having access to the Schengen passport-free zone.

On May 1, 2016, at a time when Turkey was as at the height of its relations with the EU, the economy was in a relatively good place and Turkey had come out of the war with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) without incurring too much damage and the AKP was happy with success of the November elections, the public woke up to an eyebrow-raising notice published in social media.

The anonymous notice accused Davutoğlu of being the architect of the chaotic policies in neighbouring war-torn Syria and conspiring against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The notice pointed to an intra-party leadership struggle, Davutoğlu’s eyeing of Erdoğan’s seat, and the prime minister’s conspiring against the leadership with other disgruntled AKP members. But was that all?

Exactly four days after the notice was published on May 5, 2016, Davutoğlu resigned following a speech, which was filled with praise, yet lacked the clarity that had come to be expected from him.

This marked the end of the 64th government of the Turkish republic under his leadership.

This was the beginning of the circle, whose drawing began on May 1, 2016, which came to a full close with Davutoğlu’s resignation. 

The resignation of Davutoğlu would mark the beginning of an era in which the ruling Islamist AKP made a 180-degree change in its policies, distancing itself from the West. 

The forced resignation of Davutoğlu, one of AKP’s most well-equipped figures who stood closest to the West’s dominant value of democracy, was a turning point after which Turkey turned its back to the West and headed in an opposite direction. 

The first sign of this radical departure became evident in a speech delivered by Erdoğan on May 6, 2016, when he addressed Europe, accusing them of supporting terror and thanking Davutoğlu for his services, but implying he would soon be replaced.

Erdoğan on this day told the EU that Turkey and the continent would go their separate ways. Two days later, he would dismiss the work done by Davutoğlu regarding the EU visa.

The former prime minister became a recluse character following his resignation and not too much later, exactly 2 months and 10 days on, Turkey was faced with the military coup attempt of 2016.

After the coup attempt was thwarted, the voter base of the ruling AKP was pushed into an unfounded state of vigilance.

Even though the putsch had been prevented, the people were called unto the streets in an attempt to prevent what officials called new uprisings and terror sleeper cells.

The government increasingly pointed to the United States as the perpetrator of the failed coup with European countries also being placed on the chopping block as part of the drummed up "crescent and cross war".

Artificial crises were created with Germany and Holland as part of this plan.

For example, Turkey looked to the CIA and a religious group accused of being its apparatus, the Gülen movement, as being behind the January 2017 ISIS bombing at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub. 

Thus, an anti-western wall was constructed in the entire country.

What was the motivation of this process, which forced Davutoğlu into resignation and dragged the AKP in the opposite direction of its initial principles and driving force?

In seeking an answer to this question, one must revisit 1 month and 10 days before May 1, 2016. 

The arrest of Reza Zarrab, followed by the former executive at Turkey’s state-run Halbank, Hakan Atilla, both of whom were accused of being part of a scheme to bust sanctions on Iran, unveiled a reality.

Zarrab and his Iranian partner Babak Zanjani, along with a number of Turkish ministers who had been implicated in what came to be known as the December 17-25 corruption case, had established a trading system, which sidestepped the U.S. sanctions placed on Iran.

The trade they conducted was not only in violation of international agreements, but also illegal according to Turkish and Iranian laws.

What we know about Zanjani and those in the Turkey leg of the operation point to a crime of going beyond protecting Turkey and Iran’s interests against the United States and into facilitating personal gain of large sums of money.

There were two aspects of the case that concerned the Turkish public.

Firstly, a small circle of people under the supervision of Erdoğan had conducted off-the-record trade with Iran and in doing so, lined their own pockets with considerable sums of money.

Secondly, the country’s involvement in serious U.S. sanctions implied that there would be large financial penalties, bans and coercions to be faced by Turkey in the upcoming days.

The first of these was mentioned in 2016 Pelican group notice, in which Davutoğlu was accused, and desire by the former prime minister to try the ministers mentioned in the organisation at the Supreme Court was presented as a betrayal of sorts.

The second was a bit more peculiar.

The cases in which Atilla and Zarrab were tried should have, at the very least, involved fines against Turkey. But the United States never took steps to this end and the issue was almost placed on the backburner. How did this happen? And why?

The most probable answer to this question lies in the chaos unfolding in Syria.

The power of influence of Turkey amid chaos unfolding in the region prevented the U.S. from confronting Turkey and the face-off between Ankara and Washington was postponed.

This was also evident in the U.S. stance following Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.

The U.S. sanctions only went as far as ejecting Turkey from the F-35 programme and were stopped there. And this was attributed to Trump’s initiative on the matter. 

We may see this, for the time being, as Erdoğan’s victory. After all, corruption was covered up and U.S. sanctions were effectively prevented through a proven sanctions-busting scheme.

However, the picture before us is not all that clear.

Analysts maintain that Turkey is isolated and confined in Syria, where Russian dominance that is independent of the United States, has established itself.

The Syrian regime has geared up to clear the last rebel stronghold of the country, the northwestern province of Idlib, from the militant groups, many of which are backed by Turkey. This means that thousands of dangerous militants will flow into Turkey, alongside the one million refugees fleeing the region. 

Erdoğan may be drawing a picture of dialogue with Russia and Iran, however, he was forced to remain silent in the face of a statement by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a summit in Ankara earlier this week that Turkey ‘’supported terrorists.’’

The only measure Erdoğan could employ was been threatening Europe with ‘opening the gates’ for the millions of refugees being hosted by Turkey.

The train of a Turkey that was protected by the West has long left and it is evident that this locomotive has no intention of returning until Erdoğan leaves power.

It is now a time when there is a wave of resignations from the ruling AKP and talk of the creation of new political movements inspired by the initial principles of the party.

In short, Erdoğan is speedily losing his grip.

Dossiers are coming out of every corner following the defeat of the AKP in the March local elections, which point to pervasive corruption and a systemic web of extravagant spending.

All of the latest developments point to evidence that a wrong path has been entered with a typical Islamist shrewdness leading to calamity, social erosion, primitivity and chronic problems, among others.

The new question on Turkey’s agenda as the country is faced with problems which Erdoğan himself should have seen coming, albeit not to this extent, as his circle increasingly sinks into a swamp is as follows:

What else is Erdoğan willing to risk in order to protect himself?


© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.