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20 July, 2024
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On Erdogan, the West and Greek-Turkish relations

Turkey’s Greece as well as Cyprus policy is not run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but by the Security and Foreign Policies Board headed by Erdogan that convenes at the presidential mega-palace



by Cengiz Aktar

Let’s start with the domestic facts and figures to dispel the widespread wishful thinking betting on the victory of the so-called “opposition front” at the next elections.

The regime will do everything in its power to keep and actually deepen the polarization of society and dig out the existing fault lines between the secular citizens, the Kurds and the Gulenists

Above all, the regime in Ankara has violated the constitution and the existing domestic and international laws so many times that it does not have the luxury of losing the elections and simply handing power to its successor. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his proxies could face multiple life sentences.

Thus the regime has a multilayer strategy to win the elections.

Firstly, the electoral engineering ranges from masterminding the whole electoral system comprising the electoral bureaucracy, the electoral constituencies, the relevant laws and regulations.

The electoral bureaucracy will be of key importance. The appointment of pro-regime judges to the High Electoral Council (YSK) is in place. Council President Muharrem Akkaya is the high judge who pioneered the YSK’s decision to vote for the annulment in the first place of the Istanbul mayoral election won by opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu on March 31, 2019, acceding to the regime’s foolish request.

The chairpersons of the electoral commissions will be composed of ranking judges, all being regime appointees. Thus, the ballot boxes and electoral commissions will be under the direct control of the regime.

On the other hand, the Council and the electoral commissions could reject candidates on any pretext, they could even reject alternates to be nominated in place of the rejected ones, thus leaving the opposition parties without candidates in many constituencies, unable to nominate candidates on time, thus unable to participate in the elections in a given constituency.

As for the counting of votes, the Council has partnered with a public company specializing in defense and software, Havelsan! No crystal ball is required to predict the likely result.

Secondly, the regime will do everything in its power to keep and actually deepen the polarization of society and dig out the existing fault lines between the secular citizens, the Kurds and the Gulenists. The continued presence of Suleyman Soylu at the Interior Ministry and the reappointment of radical Erdogan subordinate Bekir Bozdag to the Justice Ministry are strong assets to tightly control the system and the country. The regime’s semi-official armed bands will be ready for duty on the election days.

Thirdly, the regime is aware of the weak support it garners among Generation Z, who are sensitive to climate change, environmental action, LGBT rights, animal rights etc. It is according to this apprehension that the stubborn prevention by the Interior Ministry of the creation of the Green Party needs to be understood. One should also read the imminent law on the censorship of social media along the same logic. The youth, like everywhere and together with top opposition figures, is very active on social media.

Fourthly, the regime has a rock-solid one-third of the voters whatever it says or does. Erdogan’s party is still at the top for the vote intentions.

Fifthly, the election campaign will, once again, be favoring the regime unfairly, in the form of access to Turks’ main source of information, television channels.

Sixthly, the disarray of the “opposition front,” whose anti-Kurdish genetics forbid any strong common front. Within this framework, substantial pressure upon the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) will continue unabated. The party still runs the risk of being banned. The impeachment procedure of 14 HDP MPs is on standby on the floor of Parliament. One of the likely candidates, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, will face tremendous hurdles to beat Erdogan in the second tour, as he might be short of the Kurdish vote.

Finally, the stakes for internal strife, as well as for one or more external military adventures, will remain high, to galvanize national passions and to influence, frighten and manipulate voters, allowing in extremis even the postponement of elections if the perspective of winning them becomes totally bleak.

There fits in the fate of Greco-Turkish relations, but before discussing it one should stress Erdogan’s uppermost headache: the dire state of the junk-rated Turkish economy. The economic situation is so bad that it has a huge potential to disrupt the faultless election engineering that is in place, prompt snap elections, trigger a social implosion and accelerate foolish foreign adventures.

Every indicator is in the red with the single exception of the government debt-to-GDP ratio, which is expected to reach only 45 percent of GDP by the end of 2022. That means that Ankara still has a wide margin to borrow whatever the borrowing costs are. Turkey’s CDS hovers around 700 points!

All in all, Turkey in mid-2022 is sailing toward uncharted waters like never before in its 99 years of republican history. The country is prone to internal and external convulsions, all man-made – i.e. masterminded and ill-conceived by the regime. In that sense, the Ankara regime today is an open security threat (just as the Moscow regime) not only for its neighbors and its former allies but also for the country itself to judge by the scope of the institutional, human and environmental ruins.

It is within this overall security framework that one needs to evaluate Greco-Turkish interactions.

Greece’s traditional rulebook regarding Turkey is no more. And that Turkey encompasses both the regime and the “national opposition,” who sometimes appear to be more papist than the Pope. After all, the challenge to the sovereignty of some Aegean islands or for that matter the gimmick called “Blue Homeland,” although fully espoused now by the regime, have not been its feat.

Turkey’s Greece as well as Cyprus policy is not run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but by the Security and Foreign Policies Board headed by Erdogan and which convenes at the presidential mega-palace. Like all other public institutions, the ministry has become redundant and its meager calls for diplomatic action are never heard by the sole decision-maker, Erdogan.

Let’s turn to NATO and the collective security issues. Ankara feels the heat generated by the endeavors to set up a new security architecture in Greece both bilaterally through the US-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement and multilaterally through the bolstering of Alexandroupoli and Souda Bay. The growing imbalance in air superiority and the performance of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in DC has come on top of the brewing irritation which turned into open ire. (Erdogan’s parochial habit to take umbrage and his vengefulness, now against Mitsotakis, should not be taken lightly either.) Erdogan and the Turkish establishment are now grasping the new role Greece is starting to play on the southeastern flank of NATO, where it is increasingly superseding Turkey.

Once again the isolation of Ankara is the consequence of its sovereign decisions and no ally is pushing Turkey around or out, provided that it plays by the shared principles and values. Quite to the contrary, NATO’s Western members are ever ready to “understand” Ankara’s bellicose moves in the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria, labeling them as enigmatic “legitimate security concerns” to keep Turkey within the Alliance at all costs. But it is Ankara who is pushing itself out. The purchase of S-400 Russian missile systems, upping the ante with Greece, double-playing Russia and the West on Ukraine aggression, blocking the membership of Finland and Sweden for intolerable reasons are all autonomous choices.

Let’s hear what the presidential hopeful Kilicdaroglu said last Thursday: “[Chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet] Bahceli also suggested leaving NATO. NATO is necessary for Turkey, but I would like to see how sincere they are as a government. The US filled Greece with bases. Their goals are clear. Let them bring the closing of the US military facilities in Turkey to the Parliament, we will support it with the spirit of the Kuva-yi Milliye [nationalist forces during the 1920s liberation war].” He continued to reiterate his party’s policy in a written response to Erdogan’s question, on Wednesday: “Our stance is very clear. It is imperative that we increase the pressure in the Mediterranean and Aegean. I took the ship, I pulled it back, I wish Biden would call me, this is not the way. If you have a heart, take a step on the occupied and armed islands. We will support!”

These choices make Ankara an unreliable partner if not a non-partner. Even the antediluvian Turkish raison d’etat is no more. The country is decoupling from its strategic partners, in fact, it is increasingly de-Westernizing.

Obviously the same goes for the EU membership prospects. In a previous article in Kathimerini English Edition, I was discussing the irrelevance of Turkey’s prospective EU membership as a policy instrument for neighbors.

Democracies’ first and foremost principle in external relations is dialogue, negotiation and respect for international law, without being naive about the limits of the diplomatic action when dealing with bellicose nations. The West is bitterly trialing the fiasco of the past three decades’ appeasement and necessarily, empowerment policy vis-a-vis Russia. One should not replicate it with Ankara.

Today the antagonism is not and should not be between nationalisms but between democracies and non-democracies. The same goes for the norms, standards, principles and values which still mean something to democracies while they are rejected intentionally by others for the sake of their non-democratic rule.


Cengiz Aktar is a professor of political science at the Faculty of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. His latest book “Le Malaise Turc” (The Turkish Malaise) was published in November in France.

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