Turkey’s interim passage to anarchy

The current mayhem, if it continues, is likely to once again tempt the military top brass to stage a coup and take power in the name of restoring order as it has done several times earlier. 

Mohammed Ayoob
22 October 2015
State funeral of colonel killed in combat with PKK, October 18.

State funeral of colonel killed in combat with PKK, October 18. Demotix/Piero Castellano. All rights reserved. The twin bombings on October 10 at the Ankara Railway Station that left one hundred people dead were just the latest in a series of terrorist attacks that Turkey has suffered from recently. In addition, the civil war between the Kurdish PKK and the Turkish state has been renewed after a lapse of two years thus further adding to the mayhem, especially in the predominantly Kurdish populated areas in southeastern Turkey.

The failure of the Turkish political parties to form a coalition government after the indecisive parliamentary election of last June has amplified the uncertainty and instability in the country. The interim government under Ahmet Davutoglu gives the appearance of near-total indecisiveness as it waits out the time until the next elections scheduled for November 1. The Turkish currency has fallen precipitately as a result both of economic slowdown and political uncertainty thus adding to the woes of the middle class at a time when Turkey has increasingly become a middle class society. All this portends a gloomy future for Turkey at least in the short-term and possibly for the medium-term as well.

There are several interrelated reasons for Turkey’s current predicament. The first is the civil war and the anarchy prevailing in neighboring Syria. Turkey has been hosting over two million Syrian refugees. This has strained the economy; it has also added to the country’s political problems because its open-door policy toward the refugees has permitted the entry into Turkey of terrorist elements of various hues, including those owing loyalty to the ISIS. It is these latter that have been blamed by Turkish officials for the latest Ankara bombings.

Turkish policy itself has contributed in substantial part to the importation of Syrian terrorism and violence into Turkey. Ankara stepped into the Syrian quagmire without adequate forethought. It assumed that the Assad regime would fall in months if not weeks. Assad still controls parts of Syria, including the capital, after four years of the outbreak of the civil war. The Turkish government in addition to being the most vocal proponent of regime change in Syria undertook a very proactive role in unseating Assad, including acting as a conduit for arms to the rebels and materially supporting some of the most extreme groups opposing Assad. Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war almost came to match Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. Just as the latter led to the ingress of the mayhem and terrorism haunting Afghanistan into Pakistan, Ankara’s deep involvement in Syria has encouraged the entry of Syria-related violence into Turkey in a major way. My warning to the Turkish government of this danger three years ago in an article in the Guardian sadly fell on deaf ears.

Secondly, President Erdogan’s short-sighted policy of reversing his stance on the Kurdish issue and adopting a hardline toward the Kurds’ political aspirations after the June elections has had major negative effects on Turkey’s security by reopening the shooting war with the PKK. This has led to killings on both sides and put a stop to the negotiations between the government and its Kurdish interlocutors. This change of policy was a result of two factors: one, Erdogan and the AKP wanted to appeal to the ultra-nationalist Turkish constituency, which has always been skeptical of negotiating with Kurds, in preparation for the next round of elections. Two, and equally important, Erdogan could not forgive the moderate pro-Kurdish party, HDP, for having crossed the ten percent threshold of votes in the June election thus winning 80 seats and depriving the AKP of a majority in parliament. His policy on the Kurdish issue seems to be very much a part of his vendetta against the HDP.

Consequently, even the most moderate of Kurds now seem to be alienated from the AKP, which normally captured almost half of the Kurdish vote in past elections. They are expected to vote en-bloc for the HDP in the November elections thus further polarizing the Turkish polity. More importantly, substantial number of Kurds are becoming irreversibly alienated from the Turkish state as they suffer disproportionately from the bombings and killings now becoming the norm in the country.

Furthermore, Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian mode of governance has done enormous harm to state institutions, the press and civil society in general. His attitude that “if you are not with us you are traitors to the nation” has not only led to a high degree of polarization among the secular-minded and religious-minded Turks but has also alienated Islamists of various hues who do not agree with Erdogan’s dictatorial methods.

As a result, Turkey seems to be lurching toward an uncertain and possibly gloomy future. The current mayhem, if it continues, is likely to once again tempt the military top brass to stage a coup and take power in the name of restoring order as it has done several times earlier. The only way this outcome can be prevented is if the November elections result in a reconfiguration of political forces in such a way that it leads to the formation of an inclusive government that is able to reverse the current polarization in country, address the Kurdish issue wisely, and restore the democratic process in its entirety so as to ward off all authoritarian tendencies whether they emerge from the civilian or military sector.

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