On November 3, “Kultura”(“Culture”) Russian newspaper published an article by Vigen Akopyan, EADaily’s editor-in-chief, telling about the domestic policy processes in Turkey and their influence on the situation in the region. Below is the translation of the ordinal article.
Turkish rook unmoors
The current global political processes can be compared with a chess game, where Turkey is a rook able to give a deathblow to any target by using massive forces and weaponry. Furthermore, it is a protected rook – Turkey is a NATO member. Yet, with the Middle East plunging into battles, the Turkish rook is showing signs of strain. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly expressed readiness to give a direct destructive blow to Syria to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. However, the player – the one who moves the figures at the chessboard – did not guarantee a full protection of his rook in the Middle East battle.
What was Erdogan’s problem before the November 1 parliamentary elections in Turkey? What is his problem now, after the elections?
His efforts towards Assad’s downfall with the support of the opposition forces and through creating and arming radical terrorist groups were failed. The aggression in Syria has increased the influence of the Kurdish factor in Turkey and triggered disturbances across that country.
Victory in the Syrian crisis was the task number one for Erdogan during the first years of the war. He failed to achieve that goal either. Neither the Turkish president - the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) - managed to achieve the necessary result at the parliamentary elections of June 2015. Erdogan, who moved from the prime minister’s to president’s office, could use those elections as a launching pad for amending the Constitution.
The Turkish president’s hardest game in the foreign and domestic policies failed in the most important combination – the Kurdish issue. As it turned out, it is impossible to destroy Kurds in Syria and build good-neighbored relations with them in Turkey, where they account for about 15 percent of the total population. After the June elections, Kurds have entered the parliament with an unprecedented number of seats. Erdogan lost the chance to secure his presidential power de-facto.
Meantime, the situation in Syria got out of control. Russia interfering with the conflict has closed the horizon for Turkey’s rook. It was moored to the shore without a chance to maneuver. Before that, the terror attacks in Suruç and Ankara became forerunners of large-scale violent outbursts – an inevitable result of Turkey’s official withdrawal from the peace talks with Abdullah Öcalan’s Kurds. Serving a life sentence in solitary confinement as the only prisoner on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara, Öcalan urged Kurds to forget about him i.e. he gave them a free hand.
It appears that Turkey is facing an inevitable civil war. As to Erdogan, he faced the inevitable early elections that required the rook unmoor from the shore blocked from all sides and land on another file.
Erdogan and his AKP have managed to do it partially. In the period from July to November, Turkey, namely the government, army, and the nationalist part of the population – Erdogan’s traditional voters - rallied round the flag against the external (Syria) and internal (Kurds) threats. The November 1 elections demonstrated Turkey’s internal capacity to support the government in hour of need. Turks gave Erdogan a carte blanche for their own security, first. It is entirely possible that the decisive actions of Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin became exemplary for Erdogan and his supporters. Without a strong president, Turkey will not overcome the crisis and the Turkish rook will be sunk by torpedoes from all sides.
The ruling AKP party won the snap election in Turkey and managed to prevent the Kurdish minority from entering the government. Yet, there is no peace with Kurds either! Erdogan’s party which Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu led during the elections can form the government on its own. However, with its 49% of votes, Erdogan’s party cannot form a Constitutional majority. His major goals – resolution to the Kurdish issue and Constitutional amendments – have remained unachieved. Resolution of the Syrian crisis within the interests of Turkey is another goal that remains unachieved and even more obscure than others.
How will Erdogan settle these problems? He will actually have to weigh up the situation on the chessboard thoroughly. Turkish’s rook is maneuvering in the waters protected by another regional rook – Iran. All questions and problems connected with Syria and Kurds affect the interests of Tehran. On the other wing emerges the shadow of the Middle East bishop – Israel. The Turkish-Israeli relations have deteriorated seriously. In fact, the turbulence and bloody battles in the Middle East started from the deterioration of these relations.
It is extremely difficult to forecast the Turkish government’s actions amid “two-dimensional” destabilization. However, it is possible to foresee that Erdogan as an experienced politician will take a pause after the success at the elections to weigh up all cons and pros, and will resume the peace talks with Kurds from more favorable positions, as well as will try to disassociate fully from ties with fundamentalist and terrorist groups in Syria. Turkey may step out of the regional crisis only through re-thinking the ongoing global game on the entire chessboard. Ankara will have to reconsider some firm behavior models of the regional rook. It seems impossible, but in a chess game, the figures can transform to get adjusted to new realities. History has proved this. Meantime, a game of a novice player vs. grand master differs from the one between two grand masters by the tasks and the quality of the figures on the chessboard.
The unipolar world is ending. The Turkish people gave a vote of confidence to Erdogan, first of all, because they see him as a leader able to change Turkey’s capacity and line to make a strong geopolitical figure. To that end, he will have either to correct the foreign policy of Turkey - away from the crisis-stricken Europe, which refused to admit Turkey to its family, and the “haughty administration” in Washington to new Eurasian horizons – towards China, Iran and Russia, or to prepare for a wider involvement into the hostilities.
Vigen Akopyan, EADaily Editor-in-Chief