Yavuz Baydar
Aug 10 2019

With its system in deadlock, Turkey facing darker days ahead

You may remember a scene from the Western films of U.S. director John Ford. The natives suddenly corner a caravan of rich and middle-class American civilians on their way westward under the protection of soldiers in blue. Desperate, the wagons form a tight circle as the natives begin circling around them, chanting war.

This until the convoy is left devastated or utterly destroyed.

As Turkey approaches the Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) holiday in the midst of a simmering economic crisis, the situation of those governing Turkey is more than a little reminiscent of this scene.

Problems the government has denied, deferred or resisted to solve, many of which it has attempted to suppress under heavy police measures for the past six or seven years, are now circling in on the administration in Ankara and its loyal stooges and subservient allies in the media.

At Ahval, we continue to report and analyse every aspect of these developments. We are obliged to be the chronicler of these pitch-black days and months. It was evident, from every angle, that the worn-out, security-centred administrative mindset would bring Turkey to this grave situation; the emerging scene of wreckage signals inevitable collapse.

Turkey is experiencing the deepest, most stratified systemic crisis in its modern history.

Its ingredients are a monolithic mentality, the fear of confronting the past, and a much-discussed but non-existent culture of compromise.

And, of course, a primitive ambition to centralise power in one pair of hands that views the destruction of nature as “progress” and “development”, seeks “public order and peace” by prosecuting and jailing all dissidents, thinks expulsion of those who reject subservience to the powerful as good work and sees all others as hostile and legitimises their persecution.

This is the point to which mediocrity and the reproduction of problems instead of solving them is destined to bring the country.

It is a systemic crisis. But it is not a crisis for which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is solely responsible.

Indeed, it is Erdoğan who has since 2011 opposed reforms and societal dialogue while pursuing anti-pluralist authoritarianism. It is he who has tied the bureaucracy, judiciary, media and other institutions to a single executive centre, led by himself. He is the focal point of the Turkish brand of fascism, its driving force and main architect.

Yet, a large portion of the responsibility of this gradual and continuous “civilian coup” process in slow motion, which made Turkey a country that piles mistake on top of mistake in the eyes of critics inside and outside the country, also lies with each identity group in society, and with the main opposition, as well as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

We must be realistic. Acknowledging painful truths is not the same as being a doom-monger. It allows for the growing maelstrom of problems to be seen clearly and for realistic solutions to be created. We must be brutally honest when looking for the truth.

A massive economic crisis is on its way. Ankara has shown through a series of decisions, including the pruning of staff with international connections from the central bank and the change of administration in Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigations Board, that it will face the coming whirlwind with a centralist and authoritarian mindset by employing nationalism and by withdrawing itself from the international community.

The opening of Turkey’s most precious ecosystems for wholesale profit and demolition of all barriers against greed are signs of the country’s tightening cash flow and lack of funding sources. It has become a state that is impossible to govern, in which the strong act as a law unto themselves, and this will only raise tensions further.

Do these signs show signs of a panicked rush? Probably. The Islamists of the AKP and their allies from the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have seen their opportunity to implement in government the Turkish-Islamic synthesis they have longed for, and have filled the bureaucracy with anti-Western and authoritarian elements.

Seeing the inevitability of the coming crisis, they have understood the need to come together even tighter in the face of the stiff wave of opposition that crisis is bound to elicit. This, even in the knowledge that the inconsequential Syrian “safe zone” negotiations with Washington could well put their political existence at threat in the long term, as much as those negotiations were trumpeted as a victory for Ankara.

Erdoğan leads this hardening of power, due to his defensive mood and the optical deformation in his mindset.  Each one of the president’s steps is taken either with the knowledge or hope that it will increase his personal odds of survival.

Erdoğan knows that his alliance with the nationalists has not been built on stable ground since it was formed in 2014, but the MHP, and its leader Devlet Bahçeli, know equally well that it will not have such a golden opportunity in a future administration. Contrary to some analyses, my belief is that it is safer to assume that the AKP and MHP leaders are bound together until the end.

The animosity shown by Bahçeli and the pro-government media to the Constitutional Court’s recent limited steps toward protecting citizens’ freedom to criticise the state is a sign that the repressive conditions brought in by the state of emergency after 2016’s coup attempt will continue. Esteemed sections of society see the expulsion of Syrian refugees in Turkey as a more urgent matter than freeing the thousands of innocent political prisoners held in Turkish jails.

Meanwhile, many of those who hoped that opposition victories in the local elections would spark a rapid wave of change have understood that they were mistaken. The great success borne by the Istanbul elections has, unfortunately, lost much of its dynamism, and continues to do so. In one sense, this resembles the way the flame of democratic resistance sparked by the Gezi Park protests in 2013 died out.

Perhaps this was what Erdoğan expected. When the dynamics of the local elections lost pace, he was able to regroup, take stock of the situation and, seeing the opposition revert to its timid and fractured state, decided that the continuance of harsh rule was his best option. The one exception to this was his decision to reverse his previous position on Syrian refugees, knowing the hostility of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and opposition nationalist Good Party’s voter base toward the group. The two parties’ lack of a reaction to this move indicates that it was a politically astute move.

So, what can be expected from the coming period in Turkey? It seems clear that the CHP will hold true to its ineffectual opposition to AKP policies and, without offering alternatives, allow the crisis to deepen.

The main opposition party will continue to level criticism at the AKP over the economy, alongside its ineffectual efforts to put together a report on Turkey’s Kurdish issue and meaningless move to organise a Syria conference – without inviting the Democratic Union Party, the main Kurdish political actor in Syria. In the same way, the Good Party is building its policies on the AKP and MHP coalition’s failure to deal with the crisis. If these two opposition parties expect early elections, they may well find that their hopes come to nothing.

Erdoğan, a political animal, will not call snap elections at a time when his party’s vote share has taken a heavy hit. Moreover, the vehemence of his response to former AKP heavy hitters’ plans to form new political parties that could rival the AKP shows that he will do everything in his power to prevent any early elections until the new political formations can be neutralised.

Some have speculated that Ankara could begin a new Kurdish resolution process. However, at such a chaotic conjuncture this, too, seems unlikely. With the AKP and MHP tightly adhering to a domestic and foreign policy line that is strictly opposed to even a hint of reform on the Kurdish issue – a line that, crucially, Erdoğan himself was the architect of – it is unrealistic to expect a civilised approach to securing a peaceful end to the Kurdish conflict from this government.

The crisis is thus doomed to grow deeper. If Ankara’s predicaments in Syria and the rivalry for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean continue, the foreign policy dilemmas it has been drawn into, including Russia’s dubious position will further exacerbate. Yet Erdoğan will most probably have the strength to see off the objections on these issues, the most recent of which came from retired military officers.

That leaves the true opposition: the economic crisis. A crisis that will fuel price increases, indirect taxes and likely currency fluctuations will be felt, just as in neighbouring Greece, most acutely by society.

In short, there is little sign that there will be an end to dark days in Turkey any time soon.