Monopolisation of power and the never-ending political crisis

The following article is the second in a series by Yektan Türkyılmaz - Turkey: Manufactured Chaos? First article can be found here.


The Turkish regime has long abandoned interactively engaging and managing complex, deeply rooted challenges, questions or problems. 

Instead, it has adopted a fundamentalist peremptory approach. 

Particularly after the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, the Turkish political leadership incessantly vowed to uproot ‘nuisance matters’ once and for all, either by resorting to coercive methods, or by denying their very existence. For instance, it has become almost a habitual response for government spokespersons to declare any irritating legal, political and diplomatic statements or actions ‘null and void’ (yok hükmünde). 

The real or imaginary actors of these challenges, meanwhile, are customarily discredited as illegitimate interlocutors for being traitors, foreign enemies, agents provocateurs, or simply as terrorists. 

Such an attitude has been taken towards the Kurdish movement, the alleged “invisible hand” behind the economic crisis, at times towards the United States, NATO and the European Union, and even against dissident voices within the ruling elite. 

This kind of rhetoric is not entirely new to Turkish politics and diplomacy. But, especially in foreign relations, firing off vulgarisations that supersede strategic and coordinated policymaking is peculiar to the post-2016 regime. Besides, the same period witnessed perhaps the most frequent refutations of Turkish government statements by officials of other countries, including the United States.

Certainly, there is always room for pragmatism in interpretation or even for misunderstanding in diplomacy. But the repeated and consistent erasure of facts in negotiations alludes to a pattern of hearing only what suits the Turkish position.  

One might deem the above panorama as a reflection of revolutionary bravado. It might also, however, offer an obvious picture of fecklessness - that is, the lack of the vision, intent, know-how, and appropriate means and capacity to realistically deal with complicated and challenging issues. 

This incapacity and/or reluctance to pursue dialogue with those with whom one disagrees points to a type of narcissism Japanese historian Shozo Fujita describes as a loss of experience, a loss of interdependence and anxiety about encountering the other.

What unavoidably accompanies this psychological state - that involves the loss of the other - is the decay of communication and relationality skills that are a key development in understanding how the regime turned forcible and feckless simultaneously. 

By the day, the Turkish regime has become more distant - both domestically and diplomatically - from being a powerful institutionalised political network that seeks to form common will with other political actors through dialogue and consent building directed towards achievable goals. 

Instead, it is progressively becoming a resentful and unstable circle imperiously and quixotically weaponising all its strength and leverage to untested limits to reach a golden age. That is, a fictional epoch made up out of an eclectic and anachronistic mishmash of historical episodes of absolute victory, supremacy and might mirroring the grandiose self-image of the leadership.

The post-putsch purges, combined with Erdoğan’s determination to monopolise power and to recruit a new bureaucracy on the basis of unquestioned homage to his cult of personality, took a hefty toll on the state apparatus - on the separation of powers, on procedural norms and mannerisms, and on human capital in the system. 

Especially crucial here is the fact that the new members of the “enemies of the state” club, that is the Gülenists, in contrast with the conventional ‘internal enemies’, that is, the 3 Ks (Kürt, Kızılbaş, Komünist) were not only widely and deeply entrenched in the state apparatus, but its followers could not be distinguished from the constituency and cadres of the ruling AKP. 

The paranoid and revanchist post-coup restructuring of the bureaucracy and its cadres in the haze of the reign of fear also had a self-destructive dimension. Between July 15, 2016 and the AKP’s election fiasco of March 31, 2019, the building and maintenance of a personality cult was only possible at the expense of an attenuating state apparatus, an increased division between the public and incessant chaos/crises in virtually all sectors of public life.

It is ironic, however, that at the same time as anxieties about the prospects of the country increased, the ruling elites’ customary victimisation rhetoric began to be supplanted by a vocabulary of national will/agency, imperial grandiosity and Sunni/Turkish supremacy

That is, in Turkey since the 2016 coup, paradoxically, the spread of narcissistic fervour, both among the elites and in the mood of the pro-regime crowds, was accompanied by the weakening of the state apparatus. 

In the summer of 2016, the Turkish public began to be told of the most ambitious objectives in the fields of security, economy, and regional and oversees diplomacy. Obviously, historical collective victimhood narratives have much in common with narcissistic group self-images. Yet, a key difference needs to be underlined; the former ascribes passivity to a preyed on collective subject, whereas the latter obsessively foregrounds its agentic capacity and feats. 

Therefore, (collective/group) narcissism is a crucial psycho-political dynamic in explaining both the mutual construction of the cult of personality and the zealous obedience of the masses, as well as the discursive terminology that currently frames the country’s domestic and international politics. 

This terminology has progressively been more frequently justified by solipsistic convictions of precedence based on who they are, that is, their national belonging; who they were, that is, the past imperial glory; and whom/how they worship, that is, the Sunni Muslim faith. 

Turkey’s war regime, locating its so-called survival struggle (beka mücadelesi) in the physical and diplomatic battle zone beyond its borders renders the country’s latent supremacist, expansionist and irredentist aspirations clearly visible. 

But this move does not fundamentally change the decision-making and actions of the ruling elite; that is, the unilateral maximalism in their rhetoric/goals and audaciousness in their deeds. 

In other words, as of Oct. 9, 2019, the self-destructive survivalist strategy, that is the domestic political practice of rushing to overcome a crisis by creating an even bigger crisis, has simply begun to be spread beyond Turkey’s borders, into neighbouring countries and even across continents. 

Erdoğan’s government has so far pushed the politically tottering country into fathomless and messy conflicts in Syria and Libya. It would not be surprising to see the list grow to include perceived opportunities in conflicts/crises in Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, the Caucasus, Africa, the Gulf and even Central Asia.

Some pundits might perhaps attribute geopolitical foresight and diplomatic ingenuity to the Turkish leadership concerning its ‘victory’ in occupying parts of Rojava/northern Syria and imposing its version of a ‘buffer zone’. 

But one should bear in mind the regime’s domestic performance over the past four years; all the victories that saved the day were won at a high price, which eventually amounted to the institutional collapse of the system and to a never-ending political crisis. 

Now, the regime is rehearsing a very similar scenario abroad; squandering the country’s 70-year-long accumulation of diplomatic capital, that is, its strategic alliances, international prestige and its progress in long-term geopolitical aspirations. 

Last but not the least, it would not be surprising to eventually see the Turkish government’s aggressive and impulsive unilateralism force rival international actors into a coalition against it. That is exactly what the Erdoğan regime has ‘achieved’ after so many ‘victories’ at home. 

© Ahval English

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