by Ghassan Kadi
I should thank dear friend Andrew Korybko for giving me the inspiration to write this article. After he interviewed me a few days ago on his program Redline on Sputnik Radio, it became clear to me that Erdogan is perceived by many observers as a fairly mercurial character; which he is. However, if we dissect his ideology and history, we may get surprised and discover that he is more predictable than most other leaders.
I must admit, I haven’t been to Turkey since late 1983. Between early 1982 and late 1983 I must have made at least ten trips to Turkey as my work took me there. One of the tricks I learned was to have most of my meals in the restaurant at my hotel and to charge them to my account to pay at the end. For petty cash expenses, I also learned not to convert more than USD 100 into Turkish currency at a time; the reason being the rapid depreciation of the Turkish Lira. So every time I cashed in USD 100, I got more Turkish money and paying the hotel bill at the end guaranteed that I paid it at the lowest price.
A lot has changed since then, and definitely on the economic front. Turkey now boasts being the sixteenth largest economy in the world. The truth must be said about Erdogan’s achievements on the economic front. In a very short period of time, he turned the Turkish economy from that of an almost failed state into that of a viable industrial and competitive economy. With a healthier economy Erdogan developed better health care and social services, gaining much accolade and support.
What has changed also was how Turkey was transformed from a nation with liberal Western attributes, looks and attire to one that has a government that is Islamic in spirit, looks and aspirations.
Last but not least, the political power was taken away from the armed forces and put into the hands of the president. That was a major change that perhaps has dug the last nail in the coffin of Ataturk’s legacy.
Ataturk gave power to military leadership. Army chiefs, a council of three comprised of the three main divisions of the armed forces, had the power of a council of elders and the position of a government watchdog. Should politicians put their own interests before public good, the council of generals could step in and declare what was seen in the West as a military coup, when it was indeed the army chiefs exercising their constitutional powers to save the state from the foolhardiness of politicians.
Erdogan stripped this power away from the military and gave the president ultimate power and virtual impunity. Clearly, he was preparing for something huge for which he needed ultimate power.
None of the above observations about Erdogan is a pretext of predictability unless put into the context of him being an Islamist. To see his predictability, we must stop for a moment considering that it is the president of a country that we are analyzing here, and just look at what are the core attributes of an Islamist and what takes precedence in his decision-making.
As an Islamist, ideologically-speaking, there is no difference at all between Erdogan and any ISIL member. They are both driven by the same doctrine that is based on Quranic misinterpretations, and both driven by the same passion and seeking the same objectives of turning the whole world into an Islamic state run by Sharia law.
With all the different Islamist groups that exist today, the difference is not ideological. They will differ on certain strategies, quarrel over transient political loyalties, funds and arm supplies (as they are currently doing in Syria), they will squabble as to what extent they should take the call for Jihad and whom to follow, when to turn it on and off, but in essence, they do not have any difference in their doctrines and outlooks what so ever.
Erdogan might have had a fall-out with ISIL, one that made his blood forfeit, at least for a while, but infighting in between Islamists does not make news headlines. To elaborate this point, a member of say Muslim Brotherhood (MB) can easily shift sides and become a Salafist, to later on join ISIL, and be back to where he started from with the MB. For as long as he is an Islamist however, what he will not do is to join say the Communist Party and/or any other secular party.
After all, strategically, ideologically and historically, Erdogan has two regional enemies; the Kurds and Syria. We may indeed stretch this a bit and include a third enemy; the Shia. In saying this, if Erdogan indeed openly declares animosity towards the Shia, he would have to declare war on Iran. In this, he would be taking Turkey into an unprecedented, yet ideologically-predictable direction. He hasn’t gone this far and restricted his sectarian hatred to Shia Alawites in Syria alone, with the full knowledge that this would upset the millions of Turkish Alawites and cause sectarian tension in Turkey.
But there is the other aspect of Erdogan; the ethnic nationalist Turkman aspect. Turkey is an amalgam of cultures and races and a long history of ethnic rivalry and remnants of ancient empires. The Turkmans, Mongols by origin, were originally the founders of the Ottoman Empire who snatched the might and glory of Constantinople (later renamed Istanbul) from the Byzantines bringing to end the Orthodox dynasty of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The Ottoman takeover of Anatolia has forcefully changed its name, religion and language. Furthermore, ever since the foundation of the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century, the Turkmans had the upper hand leaving other races (Halks, as referred to in Turkish) in a disadvantageous and rather disgruntled position in which they feel that their power has been stripped away from them and that their citizenship is inferior to Turkmans.
During the early Ottoman days, Orthodox Christians had to choose between coercion to adopt Islam or remaining in their faith and facing discrimination. At later stages, Greeks and Armenians faced the same destiny. Then as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and France decided to give the Syrian regions of Celicia and Iskandarun as a consolation prize to Turkey, the Syrians, and of course Kurds were also left in the same disadvantageous position as other non-Turkman groups. By the way, Kurds are by-and-large the biggest ethnic group totaling approximately twenty five million in Turkey alone.
Furthermore, to say that Greeks have lived in Turkey would be an understatement. Historically-speaking, the Aegean Sea was the homeland of Hellenic culture that has spread on both sides of its shores. As a matter of fact, not too many people pay attention to the fact that the ancient “Greek” city of Troy is in today’s west coast of Turkey. Even today, Greek islands are visible from the western coast of Turkey, and in reality western Turkey is therefore historically Hellenic and as Greek as Athens.
It is not surprising and unusual at all therefore to hear in Turkey the reference to the term “Turkish Halkler” meaning “The Turkish Peoples” rather than “people”; a term that indicates divisions and underlies danger if and when those different “Halks” are in combat with one another; a direction towards which Turkey seems to be heading if the Kurdish-Turkman and the Sunni-Alawite divides intensify as they have been since Erdogan’s leading participation in the “War On Syria”.
It is ironic that Erdogan started his leadership by making very strong inroads towards reconciliation with the Kurds. However, when Erdogan wore the hat of the would-be Islamist Sultan, he decided to support the Islamists in their fight against secular Syria. His miscalculations led to the fact that the Syrian Kurds had to take up arms and defend themselves from those Islamists. Erdogan then had to also wear the hat of the Turkman zealot and turn against the Syrian Kurds, with the full knowledge that this would turn Turkish Kurds against him.
When the Kurds were pushed in between a rock and a hard place and had no option but to fight ISIL, Erdogan the MB man, put aside his political difference with ISIL and risked Turkish unity in siding against the Kurds. This is because Erdogan is first and foremost an Islamist, and secondly a Turkman zealot.
It is clear therefore that Erdogan puts his Islamist agenda before his Turkman agenda and before the unity and cohesiveness of Turkey.
Erdogan was prepared to risk everything good he has done, all of his achievements, and put the country on the verge of a civil war in order not to abandon his Islamist brothers and agenda. Now as Turkey quickly approaches the decisive November the 1st elections, Turkey is marred by ethnic divisions, civil unrest, sectarian divisions, risks of economic downfall that may ensue, and above all a series of terrorist attacks, the worst of which was the recent peace rally attack in Ankara.
Erdogan therefore may one day put on the hat of a reformer, then move on to be seen as the NATO man of the Levant. He may even fool some in the pro-Palestine lobbyists when he beats his chest when Israel attacked Gaza or killed many on board of the Mavi Marmara. Now, he wants to be seen as a national hero trying so hard to finally reach a benchmark that all of his predecessors failed to reach, and that is to join the EU, but if this is going to win him any votes, the clock is ticking fast and the first of November is not far away. He may also pose as the Turkman hero who carries the legacy of Turkman superiority like all of his Ottoman predecessors, but at the end of the day, he is simply a text book material Islamist with all the dogmatism and predictability that comes with it.