BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Given the size of Turkey’s President Erdoğan’s ego, chickens, the bird usually referred to in the saying that is this article’s title, seemed like too small of a bird. Plus, it turns out the centuries-old origin of the saying is “curses, like chickens, always come home to roost” – what is Erdoğan for Turkey but a curse?
Erdoğan’s imperial, sultanic, ambitions have led to a very dicey, possibly untenable, situation for the country he aspires to lead to “greatness” on and in an unabashedly Ottoman scale/way (remember the recent reference to a post WWI map showing parts of Iraq as within Turkey’s borders). Recent commentaries observe that all politics and policy in Turkey for the foreseeable future will hinge on and be determined by Erdoğan’s pursuit of constitutional changes creating an all-powerful presidency. This makes perfectly good sense given his behavior while in power.
The subsuming of all considerations to Erdoğan’s megalomania is expected to harm Turkey’s economy, at least over the course of 2017. Couple this with the hits Turkish tourism, a very important sector of the country’s economy, has taken recently, and you can easily imagine that the quality of life for Turkish citizens could measurably decrease. Remember that Russians were a large portion of those enjoying Turkey’s beaches. They were effectively barred from travel to Turkey in the aftermath of the downing of a Russian plane by Turkish forces. It is difficult to believe that was done without Erdoğan’s express permission, despite his protestations to the contrary.
The state of emergency declared in Turkey after the unsuccessful July coup (blamed on the Gulenists by Erdoğan) was just extended for another three months. This maintains the climate of fear and repression in the country and allows the continuation of Erdoğan’s witch hunts against the military, civil service, and media sectors of society. To date, over 41,000 people have been arrested, and well in excess of 100,000 people have been fired summarily from their jobs. These assure the sustained criticism by human and civil rights advocacy groups in and out of the country. None of this makes for an appealing environment for tourists.
Add the now frequent bombings and other mass murder attacks that have beset Turkey over the past 18 months, and you have a recipe for Europeans staying away. They were the main source of Turkey’s tourist income. And to what are the attacks attributable? Once again, it’s Erdoğan. He reignited the war against the Kurds, who are now retaliating.
But that’s not all. Daesh/ISIS is now also targeting Turkey. That band of religiously motivated fanatics (rightly) feels wronged by Erdoğan. Remember that he was surreptitiously supporting them, along with the more overt support for other, supposedly moderate, Syrian opposition groups in their battles against the Syrian government. But because of ongoing U.S. pressure, and even more so the consequences of the airplane downing and Russia’s harsh economic and diplomatic counter-measures, Erdoğan turned on his erstwhile allies. Turkey is now fighting to drive Daesh/ISIS out of their northern-Syrian positions. They are retaliating.
In the same vein, Turkey’s support of Uighurs in their anti-China efforts is also backfiring. The suspects in the latest attack on a courthouse in Smyrna (Izmir) are apparently Uighurs. If this turns out to be correct, it means these secretly trained ethnic cousins of the Turks are now turning their guns on their trainers. The irony is delectable!
Turkey/Erdoğan is in a corner. Europe has been antagonized. Russia has a tight hold on Turkey’s neck. The U.S. has been somewhat distanced, at least the outgoing administration, and there’s no telling what the incoming administration’s approach will be. Standard tensions exist with Greece. Meddling in Syria and Iraq is now blowing back. Internal turmoil is rife. Already I saw a headline asking if Erdoğan is losing his grip. That is a very legitimate question. How long will the elites of Turkey, even those who owe their positions, power, and prominence to Erdoğan and his AK Party, tolerate the costs of his pursuit for unchecked power? How long will the masses accept lesser living conditions when an improving economy was part of the reason they repeatedly voted in support of the AK Party?
Where is Erdoğan’s maneuvering room? He is probably hoping to consolidate power before people’s patience runs out. But he is heavily constrained, and much of what he has to deal with are factors he has minimal control over. Not only those mentioned above, but Syria also is an actor which can confound any moves he makes. Take a look at the map found at syria.liveuamap.com to get a better picture of who controls what. With Aleppo in government hands, will Syria now turn its guns westward to reclaim control over the rebel-held territory east of Alexandretta/Iskenderun, south of the Kurdish held “canton” of Afrin and north of Hama? Will Syria further arm/support the Kurds so the latter can drive out Turkey and the factions/forces it supports from the territory separating the Kurdish controlled cantons to its east and west? What will the Russians do, or support/prevent Syria in/from doing? How will the battle to retake Mosul impact all of this?
In light of all this, Prime Minister Yildirim’s comment on the eve of his visit to Baghdad that Turkey’s policy is to “increase the number of our friends and decrease the number of our foes” sounds more like a plea for mercy. It also sounds like a very watered down, pathetic version of former Foreign and Prime Minister Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy.
Most importantly, what should Yerevan be doing? It seems to me obvious to me that President Sarkissian and all relevant ministries should be working with their Russian counterparts to maximize the squeeze put on Turkey. Perhaps the screws can be tightened so much that the northwestern-most corner of Nakhichevan could be annexed by Armenia to eliminate the direct border Turkey has with that “Autonomous Republic” within Azerbaijan.
In the Diaspora, we should be advocating policies in our host countries that will keep Turkey squirming until it reforms its international and internal behavior and policies.