Why Are Turks So Angry?

Security Personnel prepare to disperse protestors in Turkey.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have had significant successes since coming to power in 2002. Erdoğan rescued Turkey’s economy, which had been reeling. He established Turkey as a world power, increasing its influence on the world stage. He also brought Turkey’s abusive military and bureaucratic establishment to heel. Turkish voters welcomed Erdoğan’s charismatic leadership and gave the AKP a mandate in three national elections. So, it was a surprise when demonstrations over a commercial development project in Istanbul’s Taksim Square spiraled into violent protests in 60 cities across the country. Why are Turks so angry?

Erdoğan’s polarizing personality is largely to blame. His arrogance and hubris make him a lightning rod for controversy. Police brutality, including the use of tear gas and water cannon, has enraged protesters adding fuel to the fire. Instead of taking on board their concerns, Erdoğan impugned them as thugs, hooligans, and looters. Erdoğan has become increasingly authoritarian, acting more like a sultan than a public servant.

Erdogan’s Kurdish Gambit

Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Randam/Wikimedia Commons

ISTANBUL – Conflict in the Middle East threatens not only the security of many of its states, but also their continued existence. Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and others, now gripped by sectarian fighting, risk fragmenting into ethnic sub-states, transforming a region whose political geography was drawn nearly a century ago.

Surveying the regional scene, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has conceived of an audacious plan to enhance Turkey’s regional standing and extend his own political dominance at home. Facing the end of a self-imposed three-term limit as prime minister, he is intent on changing the Turkish constitution to introduce a presidential system – with himself on top as the first incumbent to wield much-enlarged power.

Turkish Foreign Policy: Goodbye to “Zero Problems”?

Catherine Ashton with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
Catherine Ashton with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Photo: European External Action Service – EEAS/flickr.

On November 3 2012, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) (Justice and Development Party – JDP) celebrated the 10th anniversary of its landslide victory in the 2002 Turkish general election. Founded a year earlier, the AKP won 363 out of 550 seats in the Grand National Assembly.Ankara’s new administration immediately set about reforming. And arguably one of the domains where reforms have been most noticeable is that of Turkey’s foreign policy. Once described as “one-dimensional”, “reactive”, “passive” and “hesitant”, successive AKP administrations transformed Turkish foreign policy into something far more ambitious, assertive and independent.

When discussing Turkish foreign policy after 2002, it is difficult – if not impossible – not to mention Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his book “Stratejik Derinlik” (Strategic Depth). Turkey’s strategic depth, according to Davutoğlu, “rests on its geographical and historical depth”. The country’s location in the midst of Afro-Eurasia and its Ottoman past “provides Turkey with a unique set of relations with its neighboring countries and at the same time places the country in a position to relate to and influence…developments”. Accordingly,Turkey seeks to use its strategic depth to promote stability and peace in its neighboring regions, an outlook that is often referred to as Ankara’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy. This essentially involves improving or re-establishing economic and political ties with Turkey’s neighboring countries.

Endgame in Sight for the Conflict between Turkey and the PKK?

PKK militant
PKK militant. Photo: James (Jim) Gordon/Wikimedia Commons.

For more than 40 years Turkey has been involved in a prolonged struggle with various types of terrorism perpetrated by domestic and international terrorist organisations. Between 1970 and 2011, the country saw more than 2,800 terrorist incidents. In the last 30 years, the main focus of Turkish counter-terrorist efforts has been on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey’s Conflict with the PKK. In 1984, the PKK began an armed insurgency aimed at the establishment of an independent, socialist state (Kurdistan) for the 25-30 million Kurds that inhabit mostly Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The organisation developed a transnational apparatus in the region, operating under various names in different countries, with logistical and organisational support from members of the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. Throughout the years, the PKK has become almost synonymous with the cause of the Kurds. The PKK’s charismatic founder and leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was captured in 1999, but that did nothing to abate the organisation’s long-term zeal, and the insurgency regained impetus in 2011.


Syria Drives a Wedge Between Turkey and Iran

Turkey and Iran
Turkey and Iran. Image: Truthout.org/flickr.

The Iranian-Turkish conflict about the future of the Assad regime in Syria has the potential to set back relations between Ankara and Tehran by decades. However, the conflict has not reached a tipping point and it is unlikely to do so as long as the Iranian-Turkish rivalry is limited only to tactical efforts by each side in shaping the power struggle in Syria. What will significantly change the Iran-Turkey-Syria equation is if Tehran concludes that Turkey is leading a protracted US-backed drive to bring about regime changes in the Middle East and that “Libyan model” can be repeated first in Syria and later in Iran. Absent of such a scenario, Iran is neither overly free to shape the outcome in Syria nor reliant on the Syrian regime to the degree where it will risk all other regional interests to prop up Assad.  Seen from Tehran, the potential loss of the Assad regime is a recoverable strategic setback if it does not have a spillover effect that directly challenges the Islamic Republic’s grip on power in Tehran. Iran’s relations with Syria were from the beginning a marriage of convenience and plenty of suspicion existed in Damascus-Tehran relations before the Arab Spring. The post-Saddam Shia elite in Baghdad have already turned Iraq into Tehran’s key Arab ally and regional priority.