The West – the EU and the US – is writing off Turkey’s Erdogan

In December 2013, Cecilia Malmström, the then Member of the European Commission in charge of Home Affairs (second from left) visited Turkey. (in the 1st row, from left to right) Ahmet Davutoğlu, the then Turkish Foreign Minister, Malmström, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the then Turkish Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdağ, the then Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Egemen Bağış, the then Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator for Turkey's accession negotiations with the EU, and Zafer Çağlayan, the then Turkish Minister for Economy. Seeing it in retrospect Malmström’s advice to respect media freedom, free expression and judicial independence didn't pay any dividends. Erdogan had it its own way. (EU Commission Audiovisual Services, 16/12/2013, Location: Ankara – Parliament).

In December 2013, Cecilia Malmström, the then Member of the European Commission in charge of Home Affairs (second from left) visited Turkey. (in the 1st row, from left to right) Ahmet Davutoğlu, the then Turkish Foreign Minister, Malmström, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the then Turkish Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdağ, the then Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Egemen Bağış, the then Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator for Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU, and Zafer Çağlayan, the then Turkish Minister for Economy. Seeing it in retrospect Malmström’s advice to respect media freedom, free expression and judicial independence didn’t pay any dividends. Erdogan had it its own way. (EU Commission Audiovisual Services, 16/12/2013, Location: Ankara – Parliament).

For the first time in the history of the EU-Turkish relations the European Parliament openly and loudly welcomed last week the heavy losses of the governing party in a general election. The MEPs actually rejoiced on “the most inclusive and representative parliament in Turkish modern history, reflecting the country’s diversity”, forgetting that it’s a hang legislative and cannot produce a viable government. They stopped short of saying they are happy that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to secure his clout on the country for many more years was irrevocably destroyed.

The Press release issued by the EU legislators says clearly that the MEPs “urge Turkey to respect media freedom, free expression and judicial independence and welcome the recent parliamentary elections”. The word ‘result’ is easily meant in the last sentence of this quote. As for the MEPs’ ‘advice’ to Turkey to respect “media freedom, free expression and judicial independence”, there was nothing more eloquent for the Turkish President – who had just failed to become a real Sultan – to realize that his time is up. Let’s follow the facts.

The 7 June end of Erdogan’s rule

On Sunday 7 June the Islamo-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), a creation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite coming fist lost the absolute majority in a legislative election after thirteen years of uncontested rule. This came as a blow to its leaders who had hoped to win a majority large enough not only to form a single party government but more so, to change the Constitution and turn the country into a Presidential republic. Erdogan’s rule could be extended only in this way. For this to happen though the AKP had to elect 330 deputies in a 550 seat Parliament. It won just 258 seats.

Erdogan has been governing the country as Prime Minister and leader of the AKP from 2002 to 2014. Last year due to statutory reasons he had to turn to the Presidency, a quite ceremonial position, and assigned the leadership of the party and the prime ministership to his then foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a devoted and trusted follower. Obviously, Erdogan felt quite uneasy in his new and rather just ceremonial post and looked forward to change the constitution and again become the absolute ruler of the country as it was the case for at least a decade now, this time as President. His plan had a time horizon for many years to come, but an important constitutional change was needed. Fortunately or regrettably, the Turkish voters didn’t do him this favour, fearing he may become a modern day Sultan. They even denied the AKP an absolute majority.

The Kurdish party

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) a Kurdish, center left and minorities party recently created by Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag made the difference. The new party first appeared in the Presidential election of 2014 authentically expressing the Kurdish minority. Its twin leadership though managed to also appeal to minorities, the women of the western looking part of the population and to those who feared that Erdogan was about to become an absolute ruler. Many analysts in Turkey say that (HDP) was also helped in the 7 June election by the win of the left wing SYRIZA in neighboring Greece.

Finally HDP managed not only to cross the 10% threshold and enter the Parliament but also won 13.1% of the vote and elected 80 deputies in the 550 seats house. It was exactly what AKP lost. In previous legislative elections the Turkish Kurds had voted for Erdogan; not this time. The reason was the latest animosities of Ankara against the Kurds in neighboring Syria. The heroic resistance and win of the Syrian Kurds in the battle of Kobani – aided by the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes – against the Islamic State (ISIS) murderous forces last year galvanized the Kurdish sentiment also in Turkey.

The battle of Kobani

The battle of Kobani, a Kurdish town in Syria just some hundreds of meters from the Turkish border, became first page news all over the world for weeks. All along that time Ankara stayed ‘impartial’, enraging the Kurdish population at home. Actually, deadly fighting took place also in the Turkish side of the border between Kurds and various Turkish military units. The battle and the Kurdish victory in Kobani must have plaid a decisive role in the subsequent developments involving the US and EU foreign policies towards Turkey and the Middle East in general.

Kurds in Syria and Iraq have proved themselves to be a reliable and effective ally for the West in this crucial region. At the same time Turkey and Erdogan, its absolute leader until 7 June and still a central player, appeared to be major impediments for the US and EU strategy in the region. Ankara remained attached to the Islamophil (Sunni) forces in the Middle East and actually accused the West of undermining Turkey’s internal stability. The West has never accepted Erdogan’s continuous slippage towards a kind of Muslim conservatism if not totalitarianism away from Turkey’s secular tradition. Erdogan personally is currently malevolent towards Egypt’s secular President el-Sisi and still supports the deposed (Muslim Brotherhood) President Mohamed Morsi. Not to say anything about Turkey’s aggressiveness towards Israel.

Kurds win, Erdogan loses

All those developments have created a negative wave against Erdogan. The Turkish Kurds, the country’s westward looking parts of the population (coastal areas and Istanbul) plus religious sects like the alawites and other minorities, are becoming all the time increasingly challenging of his choices. His strong adherence to the Sunni Islamic forces in the wider region made him unattractive and fearsome to all those parts of the population. Undoubtedly the West has now a strong base within the country to contest Erdogan.

The Sunday’s 7 June electoral result is the epitome of all that, signaling the end of Erdogan’s era. As for the US and the EU, Erdogan has now become a ‘necessary’ nuisance to be addressed in force ‘occasione data’. That’s why the EU Parliament went as far as to hail the losses of the governing party in the 7 June elections. The relevant resolution of the MEPs, approved by 432 votes to 94, with 127 abstentions says clearly “the elections demonstrated the resilience of Turkish democracy and the democratic spirit of its citizens and welcomes the most inclusive and representative parliament in Turkish modern history, reflecting the country’s diversity”.

Translating it briefly the MEPs say here that the Turkish democracy wants Erdogan out. Europe doesn’t seem to care much if the hung Parliament the election produced in Ankara cannot turn out a viable government. Europe, probably, and undoubtedly the US too, are celebrating the disorder in the Turkish political scenery.

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