TURKEY’S SLIDE INTO DICTATORSHIP: What is the destiny of Turkey? Hopeless future or bright horizons?


What is the destiny of Turkey? Hopeless future or bright horizons?

* Democracy, as “government by and for the people”, is indispensable for Turkey.[1] Though, the term democracy per se doesn’t provide a magic key to open all the doors, particularly those locked by power-holders for many years. Even more, key aspects of democracy have been weakened at the expense of empowering “the one” more and more. Election system lacks transparency and full justice. Interest groups are under a huge pressure. Legislative power addresses Erdogan’s own interests than those of public. The executive-legislative balance of power no longer exists. Media strictly follows Erdogan’s orders, giving no floor to different views. Latest polls reveal that AKP[2] has still more than 50% [3] albeit all things seem dire.

* To change the course towards dictatorship and autocratic rule, any military solution is not a solution at all. Whatever the solution is, it has to be long-lasting as it also has to take Turkey to the Western league. Although, historically, “to be or not to be” struggle seems to be against to “outsiders”, in fact, major and more fervent discussions has taken place internally in order to determine the direction, define the orientation, and draw the destiny of the State. It was such a struggle that Turks had to witness even four coup d’état (1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997),[4] exploiting the gaps in civilian governance, destroying gains in building a sound democratic culture, and taking the country each time 10 years back. Accordingly, during this phase, due to the massive purge so far, Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) should prepare itself mentally and philosophically in order to remedy as quickly as possible from the biggest brain drain the history has ever seen.

* In this context, internal factors have little or no say to discrown Erdogan. Rather, international community which is (or should be) unrest with Erdogan’s unstabilizing and dissociating policies must show up and call a spade a spade without falling into Erdogan’s trap of refugee bluffing. Two major drawbacks seem to purposive: claims of corruption (linked with Zarrab case) and support to ISIS. To say, the Moscow report [5]about Turkey’s weapon supply to ISIS can be kept on the UNSC agenda by the Western Powers. Although Turkey hasn’t approved the Rome Statute yet, Erdogan’s crimes might be investigated when referred to the ICC Prosecutor by the UNSC pursuant to a resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the UN charter. Thus, Russia’s obsolete attempt can be revived by the other members of UNSC, notably the Western ones. What Erdogan does (and did) in Syria corresponds to the main crimes defined by ICC: crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crime of aggression.

* Claims of corruption needs to be investigated by international organizations in terms of money laundering, smuggling etc. Foreign governments should also incline their eyes to these allegations since Erdogan’s international crimes are of such a capacity that can hit every target regardless of international law and humanitarian values. To sum up, Erdogan has turned out a threat more dangerous for the Western World (but also regional states) than, ironically, Turkish society.[6]

* Turkey, in terms of various aspects, has been the subject of a historical walk from Central Asia towards Europe. This lasting trip has left different marks not only on the era and places that witnessed the movement but also on the people who kept interaction, in some way, with the Turks. Being inheritor of Ottoman Empire, Turkey has always sought ways, throughout the walk, to preserve its power to fight, charm to impress, and ability to shape. History, culture and religion have appeared as means to put all these aims into practice under “soft power” umbrella, whereas military power has acted, when necessary (i.e. 1950 Korea, 1974 Cyprus), as a key factor so as to remind “friends and foes” Turkey’s presence. But now, all those parameters are completely out of question in that none can suffice to discrown Erdogan though it fights against all three.



* Polarization within the society will stay as a big challenge even in post-Erdogan era. Turkey, with its high-voltage fault lines, is vulnerable to ethnic or religious-based conflicts, which got worse under the AKP governments for 15 years. Those who will be in charge after Erdogan (or AKP) will have to face with deepened problems related to Kurds and religious extremists. The former directly refers to basic rights stem from being a humankind (ie. Linguistic rights), whereas the latter has deep roots in mindset degeneration and lack of target-specific, high-quality training. Erdogan and AKP have always used Kurds’ demands as a trump card intended for his Machiavelist goals, such as winning elections, instead of struggling to find permanent solutions thereby resting Kurds helpless vis-á-vis PKK. Eventually, the AKP governments failed to recognize the fact that security-focused approach on its own promise nothing less than futility.

* Extremism appears as another challenge pending to be dealt with. Fed by Erdogan’s discriminating manner towards those who are not Sunnis, religious extremism has gained ground more than ever before. The reason lying behind of Erdogan’s policy has its origin in Mawdudi’s sayings, who is among the masterminds of political Islam:

 “If… leaders and rulers be pious and devoted to God, the entire society will certainly follow the course of righteousness and devotion to the Almighty. Even the wicked will be constrained to do good… But if the reins of (the) state are in the hands of agnostics and evil men, the entire fabric will be permeated by the spirit of disobedience to God, tyranny and immorality… God’s earth will be inundated by tyranny and oppression.” [7]

Therefore, even in post-Erdogan era, the extremist mindset will still be surviving so long as it finds followers, and succeeds to exploit fault lines within the society. Tolerance, respect, and understanding will have to be fostered by the help of various tools at every level, from family to state affairs.

* There exists a consensus among supporters of democracy on post-Erdogan agenda, though prioritization may differ. One solution can be applying to Pareto analysis. According to Pareto, as known well, 80% of the problems are caused by 20%, which points out, in our case, the necessity to start with TAF, the one covers only 20% of state affairs whereas creating the bulk of the problems. It is foreseen that multi wreck removal will be long lasting at every level, and the Caterpillars needed will be those who were purged from every level (HOWs specified below)

* It is not a cautious approach to anticipate a quick mindset shift of the public. Yet, to clean the idea of Political Islam whose roots plunge deep into the past appears as crucial one, which means the people will no longer be swallowed by the politicians exploiting religious terminology to attract more and more voters. It may need to put into effect some legislative and Constitutional regulations as a barrier in front of such attempts (see Figure). The worst scenario is overlapping of the rise of political Islam (yes, again!) and regional instability. It merits to draw attention: it is not about Erdogan or AKP itself. On the other hand, the relationship between Turkey’s political Islam and regional instability stands for how those two feed each other in many aspects.

* Russia factor will be weakened once Erdogan, to say Political Islam, regime collapses. Russia has never ended up his historical dreams, and used all tools, ranging from diplomacy to military, in order to realize them. Erdogan’s Russia “sympathy” arises from helplessness instead of being a strategic option. Russia will stay a neighbor state, but no more, in post-Erdogan era provided political Islam also weakens. Otherwise, paramilitary groups such as SADAT will continue to gain ground in a context of power vacuum till all falls into place.

* Turkey’s modernization (Westernization) efforts are all but 300 years old. What makes this journey so tottering is being in a continuum in terms of perpetual reforms the aim of which is getting narrower to the West. However, the EU, as a national goal, has played facilitator role for Turkish policymakers to complete several institutional reforms. Those to be crowned in post-Erdogan era must stick to that path. Defining the West as the best destination for Turkey’s longwinded marché doesn’t necessarily mean excluding the rest of the world, notably Middle East, Mediterranean and Central Asia. Rather, the review maintains that only when Turkey turns its face towards the West can it preserve its power to fight (NATO), charm to impress (EU), and ability to shape (culture, history and religion).



* Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) has lost its military effectiveness during this period of time, which has disastrous impacts upon operational efficiency as a powerful military for regional stabilization. Then, first and foremost, TAF must return to war practices from coup protection practices.[8] Under the pretext of 15th July, TAF has adopted the latter which gave way to selection against merit in promotion system, heavily restriction of trainings and exercises, centralized and convoluted command, as a result poor tactical proficiency. This will the first step of reconstruction, a part of full-scale military reform including professionalism.[9]

* Du to the fact that military effectiveness should be considered within a hierarchical dimension, it would be no wise to anticipate good news from the battlefield without empowering political and strategic effectiveness. One of the most controversial issues will be on civil-military relations, and civilian supremacy must remain as a vital goal no matter what the recent history says.[10] As a purposive tool, a (more) democratic constitution will make it easier for the military to justify its position vis-a-vis civilian control.

* Reconciliation must be both with the historical and cultural values and the people, including those who were purged (once upon a time!).[11] TAF has suffered a great deal from neglecting historical values inherited from its ancestry.[12] Regrettably, it is as hard as starting from scratch. But at the end, the goal must be getting TAF somewhere that each member thinks, reads, questions and produces.[13]

* The most difficult one, reorientation, should also cover the main missions of TAF even to the extent that it can even be discussed the military’s perception of its role in Turkish society as “guardians” of the secular regime. Self-confident and open-minded staff can reorient TAF towards the main goal: security of the state. Before that, promotion and training systems will be in need of comprehensive revision to have self-confident and open-minded personal, backbone of reconstruction period. To conclude, overall military organization should be restructred to keep away from, as Norman Dixon’s say[14], military incompetence in two ways: “directly, by forcing their members to act in a fashion that is not always conducive to military success, and indirectly, by attracting, selecting and promoting a minority of people with particular defects of intellect and personality.” The former refers to what we experienced in the past, while the latter addresses to what we witness today.



* In the midterm it seems likely that Turkish public will find itself in a turmoil fed by economic crisis, regional instability, and outrageous political revenge between political Islamists (AKP) and extremist nationalists (Dogu Perincek’s side). Thus, Turkey’s near future is subject to four driving forces along with global trends: social fragility / marginalization (including tendency towards religious extremism), economic sitation, Syria conflict, and mutual positions of today’s so-called allies (AKP and Perincek).

* Social fragility deepens by the help of economic crisis, and faultlines awaken by discrimination policies against Kurds, and Alevis. Due to economic stagflation and currency fluctuations, a great deal of enterprises go bankrupt thereby multiplying unemployment rate. On the other hand, AKP-backed upper class keeps making money by large-scale tenders and projects, which worsens injustice in income distribution and creates widespread unrest even among AKP supporters. Further, institutions begin to fail since they lose their independency and fall under the influence of political desires. Early outcomes of the purge at every level and the biggest brain drain the history ever seen can show its face, fort the first time, with an economic collapse triggering all other driving forces. The trade deficit deterioretes as export to European Union hits bottom by force of credit rating agencies’ negative assessments.

* The AKP government continous to turn up pressure over Kurds through sword of damocles, judicial investigations, and assassinations. Leading Kurds, notably HDP deputies and mayors, are arrested and detained with the aim of provoking Kurd population against the State. Being still away from officially recognized as “place of worship” by the Government, Alevi’s “cemevleri” are targeted by extremists aiming to trigger a sectarian conflict betwen Sunnis and Alevis. In case it fails, the next phase (or simultenaously with the former) is to assassinate key political, religious, or cultural figures of Kurds and Alevis, to land the crimes on other side (nationalists for Kurds, Sunnis for Alevis), and to lay the groundwork for a civil war. Erdogan and AKP sees it as a last resort for obfuscation crimes they committed for years. In accordance with this purpose, extremists (ISIS militants and SADAT members) whose actions were deliberately overlooked at the expense of letting them strenghten are mobilised for the common goal. The European Commission issues a declaration blaming Erdogan for discrimination policies against those under attack of extremists, and calling for immediate action to stop violence throughout the country. In parallel, France submits a report to United Nations Security Counsil, accompanied with proofs of Erdogan’s relations with the extremists and his role in widespread violence.

* Meanwhile, human right violations in all over the country escalate. Prisons and detention centers are overcrowded with all but real criminals. Poorly educated and politicized police forces don’t hesitate to torture and maltreat to those in custody, while judges and prosecuters continue using law as a weapon against opponents. Human Rights Watch and UN Watch condemns human rights violations in Turkey, asking Turkish authorities and democratic World to take immediate actions. HRW also criticises International Criminals Court for lack of investigations into violence actions ongoing.

* Lacking a realistic guidance and sound military plans, Turkish Armed Forces loses not only effectiveness but also its way in Syria, which in turn causes to withdrawal under the same pretext of removal the tomb of Suleyman Shah. In fact, that the costs of the operation reaches a untolerable point is the main reason hidden by pro-Erdogan media outlets. Erdogan discharges Hulusi Akar, Chief of the General Staff, along with the commanders of Land, Air and Sea Forces, who played their parts featly during 15th July coup-fiction. Moreover, Erdogan pins responsibility for the failure in Operation Euphrates Shield on these four-star generals, claiming that his political guidance is misinterpreted and corrupted improperly by military planners, notably command staff.

* Another tension between Erdogan and Perincek escalates when it comes to decision over command staff assignment. The former greedily wants to see “partisan” and pledger generals around him, while the latter sees it as a do or die. Meanwhile, Turkish Armed Forces gradually loses its unit cohesion, technical skills, and morale under the command of poorly qualified generals who remind Arab counterparts leading their armies to the catastrophe during and after Six Day War in late 1960s. Each side uses every means possible to get down the other on his knees. Perincek dredges up Erdogan’s crimes and corruptions, while Erdogan starts another purge against pro-Perincek soldiers and officials. Foreign intelligence services take part in this fight by leaking Erdogan’s voice and hidden camera records to the press. Determined not to lose its strength, Perincek provokes the public to dethrone Erdogan under the name of “National Consensus Coalition”. In the meantime, international organizations decide to investigate the Erdogan-linked proofs released by the press, which tightens the circle for Erdogan.

* Being afraid of overseas trip due to the investigations ongoing, Erdogan follows the developments in his 1100-room Presendial palace. Social tension comes to a boil owing to economic crisis, aggression towards Alevis and Kurds, intolerance for opponants, widespread arrests and torture, heavy cost of Syria conflict, reescalating terrorist attacks of PKK, and extremist nationalists’ provocations. Erdogan supporters that begin to fear that things are out of control search ways to flee abroad. Being the first time in its history, more than 1 million furious, disappointed and desperate people walk towards the Presidential Palace. Though Erdogan orders security forces to fire on demonstrators and shed bloods of hundreds, he fails to hinder the collapse of neither the Palace, nor dictatorship itself.

* Boeing CH-47 Chinook waits for the passengers with rotors turning……..

[1] One could argue that Turkey has evolved from democracy to dictatorship, but it doesn’t change the fact that Turkey has (and will have) no better way to be able to survive in its region.

[2] It goes without saying that AKP means Erdogan.

[3] http://www.internethaber.com/yarin-secim-olsa-son-ankette-o-parti-ucusa-gecti-1739354h.htm

[4] 15 July was intentionally ruled out, because I call it as “coup-fiction” rather than a real attempt. The reasons are out of scope of this paper.

[5] http://yournewswire.com/un-report-turkey-is-main-supplier-of-weapons-to-isis/

[6] For sure, it depends on expiration date of Erdogan.

[7] Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Ladin, eds. Roxanne L. Euben and Muhammed Qasim Zaman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), p.82.

[8] For detailed definitions, see Caitlin Talmadge, The Dictator’s Army: Battlefield Effectiveness in Authoritarian Regimes (New York: Cornell University Press, 2015, pp.13-18)

[9] I call it “reform”, because I have no doubt that it will be a lasting and painful phase.

[10] Narcis Serra sums up well what I mean: “(…) the government must determine and apply security policy and military policy, as well as embed the armed forces into the administration of the state as just one more branch of the latter and not as an institution that dialogues with the other Powers in the state.” Narcis Serra, The Military Transition: Democratic Reform of the Armed Forces (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.239.

[11] Not only people, but also institutions such as War College.

[12] For more to know the advantages the Ottomans Military enjoyed, see Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Ladin, eds. Roxanne L. Euben and Muhammed Qasim Zaman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), pp.120-121.

[13] To understand better, it will suffice to compare two official journals of two Armed Forces: JFQ of the United States, and Silahlı Kuvvetler Dergisi of TAF.

[14] Norman Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (London: Pimlico, 1976), p.169.


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