Who lost Turkey?

On April 17, the Western world would may wake up having to answer the urgent question: "Who lost Turkey?"  The day before that, Turkey will have completed its shocking transition from a long-term NATO ally and an imperfect democracy into an Islamist dictatorship that threatens the West and peace in the Middle East more than any other state actor, Russia included.  There will be many answers, excuses, and justifications for this sad state of affairs, but what's not at issue is that Turkey is lost, perhaps for a long time, as a friend of the West.

In the run-up to the Turkish referendum on the 16th, there are still many pundits in the West who continue arguing that Turkey could go either way, implying that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could still lose the referendum, which is more a testimony of willful self-deception than of Turkish reality.  The reality is that Turkey stopped being a democracy  quite some time ago, and to imagine that democratic elections could take place under these conditions is wishful thinking at best.

Witness the following developments just since the purported coup last July: lifting the immunity of duly elected parliamentarians and jailing them on bogus terrorism charges; arresting and jailing 85 elected Kurdish mayors and 1,478 politicians; and closing down hundreds of NGOs and media organizations and firing countless teachers, university professors, and government officials.  In yet another government crackdown reminiscent of the communist takeover of Eastern Europe after WWII, Erdoğan confiscated no fewer than 600 private companies worth $10 billion and accused them of terrorism.

How did all of this come to pass with barely any notice, let alone disapproval by the democratic West?  We can start by suggesting two grievous miscalculations.  Though it was obvious from the beginning that Erdoğan is a dyed-in-the-wool Islamist and a self-proclaimed "servant of sharia," this did not prevent those ever hopeful of finding a democratic Islamist, like the Obama administration, from declaring Erdoğan's Turkey a "strong, vibrant, secular democracy" even as he was arresting scores of journalists for criticizing his policies and throwing hundreds of top-brass military in jail on trumped up charges of plotting against the state.

The second reason is of more recent vintage and is just as uninformed.  After German chancellor Angela Merkel made the catastrophic mistake of inviting millions of migrants to come to Europe in 2015, she sought to fix the problem by relying on Erdoğan to stem the tide in exchange for money.  This has predictably led to even greater European unwillingness to confront Turkish misdeeds while convincing Erdoğan that blackmailing Europe pays.

What losing Turkey means has yet to seriously register in both Washington and Brussels, but it will, and soon.  Turkey's transformation from a reliable ally into a rogue Islamist state will have huge and likely unpredictable consequences far beyond its immediate neighborhood.

Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (CBBSS) and editor of the geopolitical website bulgariaanalytica.org. He tweets on national security at @alexieff and can be reached at alexievalex4@gmail.com.