Erdogan's Turkey

Optimistic expectations that the Turkish system established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, republican, nationalist, secular, and modernized, would continue have been frustrated.  Hopes for a successful multiparty democracy ended because of chaotic politics and military coups.  Turkey is no longer a functioning democracy but an authoritarian system under the control of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an elected dictator, a self-styled "grandmaster" who promises to re-establish the Sultanate, a combination of Islamic nationalism and Ottoman nostalgia.  This will be accompanied by a new Islamic union, led by Turkey. 

Erdoğan has been in power for 15 years as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and president since 2014.  On June 24, 2018, he was elected president with 52.69% of the vote compared to the Republican People's Party's candidate, who got 30.6%.

In the parliamentary elections the same day, Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, A.K., got 42.5% of the vote and 49% of the seats, and his coalition partner, MHP, the Nationalist Movement Party, got 11.1% of the vote and 8.1% of the seats.  Therefore, Erdoğan's alliance controls a parliamentary majority with 344, or 57%, of the seats.  

The authoritarian control of Erdoğan was evident even before his new term as president began.  The day before he was sworn in as president on July 9, 2018, he dismissed 18,600 public servants, 9,000 police officers, and 6,000 military for false allegations of links to terrorist groups.  Erdoğan outlined his new powers in a decree after his inauguration.  Those powers are almost unchecked by any other authority.  

The Turkish constitutional referendum in April 2017, passed by narrow majority, 51.4% to 48.5%, changed the existing parliamentary system with a ceremonial president to a presidential system.  Erdoğan's power was thus expanded and consolidated.  The office of prime minister was abolished, while the president has powers that include drafting the budget, suspending rights and freedoms, dismissing parliament, and calling new elections, along with choosing military commanders, chiefs of staff, diplomats, public and private university rectors, governors, religious directors, intelligence heads, and judges.  Turkey is now the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, more than China or Egypt. 

Erdoğan without public debate has modified the secular laws, and now women can wear Islamic headscarves in offices and in schools.  New legislation will allow dismissal of civil servants supposedly linked to so-called terrorist groups and will allow city governors to ban protesters.  Erdoğan's son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, also rises with an appointment as economics minister.  

In July 2016, after the failure of the coup of July 15, which killed 250 people and wounded 1,400, a two-year emergency rule was immediately imposed and officially ended on July 19, 2018.  However, the power now in the hands of Erdoğan is in effect an extension of that emergency rule. 

Since 2016, 150,000 civil servants have been purged, with 77,000 charged with links to the coup and its supposed organizer, Fethullah Gülen, and a network associated with him.  Gülen, a 77-year-old Muslim preacher, an advocate of tolerant Islam, is living a quiet and tranquil life in a small town of Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos.  He also leads Hizmet (Service), a populist movement, which has several million adherents in Turkey and a network of organizations in commerce, finance, media, and education.  Gülen is charged with treason, conspiracy, masterminding an armed organization, and forgery of official documents, and Turkey demands he be extradited from the U.S. to face trial in Turkey. 

The issue of Gülen is not the only bone of contention between Turkey and the U.S.  More of a potent is the Kurdish military forces engaged in the war in Syria.  The U.S. regards the forces as friendly, while Turkey calls them an extension of the PKK, which for Turkey is a terrorist organization.  In 2018, Erdoğan praised the country's ties with Russia.  Together with President Vladimir Putin, he launched the construction of its first nuclear power plant, being built by Rosatom.  Turkey has bought a Russian missile defense system. 

Relations with the U.S. have worsened, and tensions between the two countries have increased as a result of an unpleasant issue concerning an American named Andrew M. Brunson, an evangelical pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for 23 years.  Brunson is accused of terrorism and espionage and having links with Gülen and with the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' party, and having aided terrorist groups.  The U.S. has attempted to have him freed.  Nevertheless, on July 18, 2018, despite U.S. calls by President Donald Trump and Secretary Mike Pompeo for his release, a Turkish court in the Aegean province of Izmir ruled that Brunson be kept in detention.

If convicted, Brunson faces up to 35 years in jail.  Trump tweeted on July 17, 2018 that he was a fine gentleman and Christian leader and is being persecuted: "Brunson is no more a spy than I am."  The U.S. Senate passed a bill that prohibits Turkey from buying F-35 jets and from purchasing the S-400 air defense system.  The Trump administration and Congress might consider imposing sanctions against Turkey if Brunson remains detained on false charges.

Erdoğan has challenged other countries and foreign institutions.  One case concerns the seizure by Turkey of independent media companies, a politically motivated confiscation that breaches investment treaties with U.K. and some E.U. states.  The seizure is being challenged in the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, located in Washington, D.C.

Another controversial exercise of power is the banning in July 2018 of the screening of a British film Pride, made in 2014 and based on a true story, the help given by lesbian and gay activists to raise funds for families affected by the strike of coal-miners in 1984.  Turkey has not only begun repression of LGBT, but also banned the annual pride parade.

Turkey, a non-Arab country, might have been helpful in facilitating a peaceful solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but Erdoğan has been unhelpful and counterproductive.  Already in June 1997, when he was mayor of Istanbul, he remarked that the "Jews have begun to crush the Muslims of Palestine in the name of Zionism.  Today the image of the Jews is no different from that of the Nazis."  In March 2013, he declared that "Zionism was a crime against humanity."  He sponsored the flotilla on May 3, 2010 seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, allowing the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara involved in the incident to include members of the jihadist IHH organization, hardcore terrorists.

Erdoğan has converted Turkey into an authoritarian and repressive state, one that challenges not only U.S. interests, but also global human rights.  Even though the effort may be fruitless, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley should bring the prejudicial and harmful nature of present-day Turkey with its violations of human rights to the attention of the U.N. Security Council.