Turkey Is Not Turning into the Next Syria

The failed military coup in Turkey has helped the country’s ruler Erdoğan to consolidate power. Erdoğan accused the Service Movement (or “Hizmet”) inspired by the spiritual teachings of Fethullah Gülen of preparing the coup.

He began arresting and eliminating the adherents of the rival movement he had originally put into the State apparatus himself. However, the secular opposition, mainly the unwanted journalists, have been swept along with it – ironically, even those who had warned of the danger of an alliance between the two Islamist groups. The academy has been decimated and, above all, intimidated. The repressions have afflicted even the leaders of the pro-Kurdish parliamentary parties at the national and municipal levels.

In this situation, Erdoğan managed to pass constitutional changes through the Parliament which are designed to grant him absolute power. These constitutional amendments will now be subjected to a referendum. Under the conditions of the state of emergency, it can be well anticipated to have a positive outcome.

If Erdoğan’s absolute power is confirmed, he will most likely drop his threatening rhetoric about restoring the stream of refugees to Europe. He will not cancel the agreement on returning refugees, he will not break Turkey’s existing alliances, nor will he change the country’s prevailing commercial and economic orientation to the West. It is, in fact, the only way for him to ensure the influx of investments and know-how which the lagging Turkish economy is in dire need of. Today, it seems that the ultimatum of resuming the stream of refugees if the EU does not abolish visa requirements for Turkey has been abandoned silently.

Hints of normalizing relations with Turkey’s western allies may be seen in the recent visits of the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor to Turkey. The German Chancellor, as a representative of the country with whom Turkey has had the longest lasting and most important ties, has been especially politically realistic towards Turkey, which has benefited the Union as a whole.

The wave of terror unleashed in Turkey which makes the misleading impression that Turkey could collapse was largely brought about as a manoeuvre to intimidate the voters and bring them back to Erdoğan’s party. In fact, his party had just marked the first loss of parliamentary majority after a long time in 2015. Part of the tactics was the termination of the process of reconciliation with the Kurds, as the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party also entered the Parliament at the expense of Erdoğan’s party. The People’s Democratic Party was also voted for by many liberal Turks of the secular bend. This occurred in the “corrective” election Erdoğan declared after his party’s defeat in the previous one. Now, the abortive coup has brought him the possibility of a final reckoning with his opponents. The conflict between the military and the Kurdish guerilla PKK will not come to a halt if there still remains the emphasis on its forceful resolution; however, Erdoğan has now been forced to get down to the breeding ground of the so-called Islamic State in his own country, even though he had more or less tolerated the Islamic State previously.

Turkey is therefore probably going to join the ranks of dictatorships ruling to the European Union’s eastern border. However, not even in the past was it possible to talk about Turkey as an actual democracy but rather just as a plurality system of political parties with an authoritative structure of one leader under the auspices of the army as the guardian of secularism. The hopes of the liberal secular strata of the Turkish society were mostly fixed on the democratization of public life under the influence of the accession negotiations with the European Union, especially when Erdoğan did effectuate some democratization reforms in the first decade of his rule. However, this proved to be a hypocrisy.

Nonetheless, the secular heritage of the Turkish Republic of Kemal Atatürk cannot be dismantled easily by Erdoğan, if ever that becomes his intention. To him, restoring the role of Islam in public life is a mere means to achieving absolute power. It’s not as much about Islamism as it is about Erdoğanism, intending against the secular ideology of Kemalism which had isolated Islam from public life according to the European model. The emancipation of Islam in Turkey’s secular society has gained a stable electorate for Erdoğan in the traditionalist conservative strata.

Tomáš Laně

Tomáš Laně

Turkologist, former Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Turkey