Turkey, or let us say the Turkish president and the government, continues losing prestige in the West with his aggressive and provocative approach. Zakir Gul asks, is Erdoğan paving the way for a one-man-rule presidency with the upcoming constitutional referendum in Turkey?
Zakir Gul is an associate professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Plattsburgh. He specialises in studies on terrorism, cyber-terrorism, transnational crime, white-collar crime and policing & society classes
The tensions started with the cancellation of political rallies and lobbying by the Turkish foreign minister and family affairs minister in the Netherlands and Germany because of security concerns.
The president and ministers of the Turkish government harshly criticised the decisions of the Netherlands and Germany to bar the public meeting. Erdoğan responded, “These Nazi remnants, they are fascists.”
On the other side of the debate, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded accordingly. More reaction from Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the Netherlands’ far-right Party for Freedom, came when he called Erdoğan a “dictator.” The tensions intensified recently when Erdoğan threatened the Netherlands that it would pay the price for what it did.
Turkish political elites claim that those Western countries are not acting democratically in that they are violating the freedom of speech and demonstration. It is an irony because these and even worse violations exist in Turkey.
Numerous journalists and public officials are in prisons, and their freedom has been taken from them. It is claimed that with the mass purge in Turkey, more than 100,000 people were displaced, dismissed, interrogated and treated inhumanely, jailed, imprisoned, tortured, and deprived of common citizen rights.
The main reason behind this purge was claimed to be the military coup of 15 July, 2016. The systematic mass victimisation reached a serious level. Amnesty International reported that it “has gathered credible evidence that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape”.
With the latest conflict, Erdoğan may get more support for the referendum and gain more power within the country. He usually uses a similar approach. By polarising individuals and groups and using divisive language he generates an us-versus-them attitude and perpetuates unfounded arguments that the West never likes Turkey.
In other words, as one columnist wrote, “Radical anti-Western antagonism and paranoia, based on an extremist mélange of Turkish nationalism and Islamism, have increasingly infused his [Erdoğan’s] speeches.”
This scenario may sound familiar for those who lived in Turkey between the years of 2013 and 2015. The only difference between now and then is that this time the “witches” are foreigners, not Turkish citizens.
Let us rewind the story a few years back. Interestingly, Erdoğan was again seeking support to establish the majority in order to change the constitution for an empowered presidency.
However, plans did not go as expected. Surprisingly, Selahattin Demirtas from the People’s Democratic Party was influential in the 2014 presidential election and the 2015 general elections. Demirtas clearly indicated and campaigned on the platform that he would not make Erdoğan the president.
Those arguments were not welcomed by Erdoğan. Coincidently, terrorist activities increased between 2014 and 2015, prompting Erdoğan to blame Demirtas for those terrorist activities.
The chaos and frequent attacks and killings have since become commonplace occurrences. Because people were looking for consistency and a strong state to end those terrorist incidents and killings, they disproportionately supported Erdoğan.
The Turkish constitutional referendum will be held on 16 April. Erdoğan no longer has strong opposition within the borders of the country, as the Democratic People’s Party’s effective co-leader Demirtas was arrested and detained.
The Nationalist Movement Party’s Devlet Bahceli has always been on Erdoğan’s side when needed. Finally, the Republican People’s Party has been criticised for being weak as a main opposition party.
Today’s so-called non-partisan and bureaucratic institutions, such as law enforcement and the courts, would never take an action against any wrongdoings of Erdoğan and his government. With a mass purge, Erdoğan eliminated the state officials who could have been potential threats to him.
For instance, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and judges who were part of the corruption case investigation against the government lost their jobs and were either jailed or imprisoned.
The latest debate between the Turkish government and West also benefited some leaders and politicians from the Netherlands, as the Dutch general elections were held on 15 March 15.
Wilders, a strong candidate in the general elections already exploited the situation for his political purpose and benefit by making similar (fascist) explanations despite the fact that he lost in the elections.
Even some ultranationalist and fascist groups, and their disliked groups benefit from such radical and alienating arguments. The debate will justify their actions and ease their recruitment processes.
It looks like all parties in question benefit and consolidate their positions with nationalistic discourse and hate speeches. We may never learn who benefits from the dispute and polarising rhetoric more; however, the people and followers of all sides are influenced greatly, provoked easily and ruled smoothly.
The polarisation and tensions will probably be pumped to a much higher level, at least until the constitutional referendum. The anti-democratic ruling and inhumane applications, and the latest political quarrels showed that Erdoğan would do anything for the sake of his own political agenda, interests and benefits, regardless of it harms his own people and/or Turkey’s relations with long-time allies.