President Erdoğan is a supremely skillful survivor, always able to shift the blame of his past sins to his opponents. Even when he aknowledges some accountability, as in the Ergenekon and "Sledgehammer" hoaxes and the Gülenist involvement in the botched coup of July 15th 2016, he is immediately forgiven by his devoted supporters.
Summary Until the Referendum
(Short Recap of Blog History.)
Erdoğan came to power in 2002 as the US choice for the “moderate Islam” Project aimed to transform secular and nationalist Turkey of Ataturk into a theocratic state that stressed piety and obedience rather than national interest. Once induced to cooperate, leader of the Faith of of such a flock would be an efficient servant of foreign interests. To this end, even the reintroduction of the Caliphate could be in the books- such a regression into the Ottoman system of government could be expected to win over the Muslim World, particularly the Sunni.
All this was part and parcel of the “Greater Middle East Project”, a long-winded plan to rearrange the Middle-East to suit US, Israeli and Globalist interests. Erdoğan’s AKP government was to be the political power apparatus inside Turkey, the Gülen movement would pull strings from abroad, namely Pennsylvania, as it does in many CIA-targeted nations around the world.
The prime instrument of the “moderate Islam” program was, of course, Islam, and the only thing “moderate” about it was its subservience to Western, particularly US interests.
An unpalatable demand on the Turkish Republic was the creation of an independent Kurdish state, to be carved out of the territories of four sovereign nations, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The first three the US could isolate, disrupt an deven bomb with impunity- Iraq had already gone through that grinder- but Turkey, a NATO ally, was a delicate matter- any transformation that happened there would have to maintain the appearance of a democratic process supported by the people.
In the years following its amazing election victory in 2002, endorsed visibly by the US and the West, Erdoğan’s AKP attacked the secular Kemalist institutions of the Turkish Republic with unbridled vehemence. The Gülen cult, using religion and abusing the needs of poorer students seeking education, had for years been providing assistance and lodging, which came with a heavy dose of indoctrination. By the time Erdoğan’s AKP achieved power, members of Gülen’s cult had graduated, infiltrated the police and judiciary, and were forcing the jealously guarded gates of the military. Erdoğan’s AKP shielded Gülenist activities, paving the way to ever greater infiltration, while Gülen’s moles in the police were planting evidence and those in the judiciary were ordering massive roundups based on that same evidence, “discovered” by the police who planted them.
Turkey’s Kemalist elite, academicians, journalists and especially officers, were herded to prison in great numbers. Those Turks who saw themselves aligned with the West were dismayed to see the Western press and leaders of opinion regard AKP’s policies as “reforms”. A large portion of the Turkish press and media were directly linked either to the AKP or Gülen, most of the rest being reluctant to bring too strong a criticism because of the vested interests of the moguls who owned them. True opposition dwindled. The protests on behalf of the victims of the Ergenekon, "Sledgehammer" and related witchunts were downplayed or even altogether ignored by most.
The “Resolution Process” (Çözüm Süreci), also known as the “Peace Process” (Barış Süreci) with the seperatist PKK militants and even their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan were duly launched, with US ambassador Ricciardone taking trips and making contacts in the Southeast.
The opposition inside the parliament was rendered ineffective by making sure the party leaders never rocked the boat to the extent that US interests could be threatened, and a %10 threshold assured that alternative parties would never get any seats. The main opposition party, the CHP, enjoying the support of the secular Kemalist voters because it had been founded by Kemal Ataturk himself, supported the “Peace Process” talks even after the AKP broke them off.
However, the strong fundamentalist slant of the AKP’s “moderate Islam” policies had repercussions, and Erdoğan’s aggressive, haranguing style made matters worse. The Gezi uprising of 2013 almost toppled the AKP and put the Turkish leg of the Greater Middle East Project in jeopardy. (See: "Closing the Gezi Year", 23 Aralık-December 2013) After that, President Obama started to distance himself from Erdoğan, and for a while it seemed as if CHP’s Kılıçdaroğlu was jockeying for the role of the next favorite of the US. (A trip to the US, luncheons and tête-à-têtes with Ambassador Ricciardone). Predictably, strains between Erdoğan and the Gülen cult started to show.
The Erdoğan-Gülen cooperation was still functioning at the end of the summer of 2013; The Gülenist judges passed the severe Ergenekon judgments on August 5th, 2013, with a great number of life sentences passed out to the most respectable of names. Extreme security measures kept protesters away from the courthouse, situated inside the notorious Silivri prison. (See: "Ergenekon Trials and Tribulations", 30 Ağustos-August 2013.) Just months later, on December 17th, 2013, that same judiciary launched raids into the homes of close relatives of AKP bigwigs, including Bilal Erdoğan, the prime minister's son, exposing a Money-laundering scheme. (It was something that hurt the US interests more than Turkish ones, having to do with the clandestine export of Iranian oil.) The war was on between
ex-favorite Erdoğan and the US tool and puppet, Gülen. Erdoğan struck back with a vengeance, declaring the Gülen cult a “parallel state” (we could have told him that; in fact, we HAD been telling him that), and vowed to sift it out.
Turkish humor magazine Uykusuz,
February 23rd 2014; Valentine theme
February 23rd 2014; Valentine theme
parodying the Erdoğan-Gülen break-up.
In sifting out the Gülenist “parallel state” that would threaten his power through scandal, Erdoğan was also sifting out the instigators of the Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and related witchhunts and showtrials, and with their tormentors gone, the road was open to the retrial of all, and their eventual acquittal.
With US support wavering, Erdoğan reduced the pressure towards Islamization, the requirement of the “moderate Islam” program, and started playing all cards at once. Erdoğan the Nationalist had arrived, but Erdoğan the pious champion of Islam was still there. His popularity soared, there was no more talk of a “resolution process” that would pave way for an independent Kurdish state, so much sought by the US. Prime minister Erdoğan pressured for an elected presidency rather than an appointed one as hitherto, and thanks to the appallingly poor choice of the CHP/MHP joint candidate (and a no-holds-barred campaign by the AKP) he acceded to the Presidency on August 10th 2014.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s opposition CHP seized the hot potato of Kurdish seperatism all too willingly when it endorsed the Kurdish-seperatist HDP and boosted it over the threshold into parliament in the elections of June 7th, 2015, sacrificing a portion of its own votes in the process. Moreover, Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP had been further implicating itself by taking up the cause of the persecuted and arrested police officers, prosecutors and judges who had been acting under Gülen’s order- took up their cause more zealously, in fact, than it had for the witchunt victims who had so severely suffered through their machinations, and this did nothing to polish the image of the party once founded by Kemal Ataturk himself.
Erdoğan’s anti-nationalist acts ebbed out, tensions with the representatives of the secular Kemalist Republic, particularly the military, eased. The PKK strongholds in the east, with arms and ammunition stockpiled during the “resolution process”, were smashed with military force.
Then came the coup attempt of July 15th 2016. Erdoğan called citizens to the streets to face the tanks and helicopters. There is evidence supporting the cliam that it was launched by Gülenists who had infiltrated into the Forces and were to be sifted out with the coming promotions (in August). The Chief of Staff and the commanders of the Forces were kidnapped in the prelude, and indeed soldiers combatted soldiers. It was all over within 24th hours, with close to 250 dead.
What followed was a show of reconciliation where the rivalling parties seemed to bury the hatchet. But ever fearful of a successful coup, and visibly spooked by the tanks and jets of July 15th, Erdoğan’s AKP simply shut down all military schools and expelled the students, dealing the greatest blow since the witchtrials.
On July 24th the Turkish military launched Operation Euphrates Shield, targeting not only ISIS but the the PYD as well, the Syrian version of the PKK, allied to the US. Erdoğan, once so willing to go along with US plans for an independent Kurdistan, was now seen as the hero defending the unity of the land while the CHP under Kılıçdaroğlu, with its open support for the Kurdish-seperatist HDP, began to appear more and more like a traitor.
With his undeniable skills as a survivor and his fiery style Erdoğan won ever wider public support by answering back to the arrogant Western powers. He cultivated the image of one who dares to contradict, a sure defender of national interests.
Erdoğan was ready and willing to take the next step towards absolute power, a "presidential system" with a new constitution which would abolish the office of the Prime Minister and give more, in fact unprecedented powers to the President. Still, it was not politic to blow one's own trumpet, so soon after the coup attempt that was squashed in what was flaunted as a "victory for Democracy" (though hardcore Erdoğan supporters saw it as a victory of Islam). Almost on cue , Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the second opposition party MHP, resurrected the dormant issue on October 11th, 2016. In view of his record of critical rethoric towards the Government, it seemed absurd and incomprehensible that an opposition leader like Bahçeli should propose and then enthusiastically endorse a new system that would grant Erdoğan even greater powers.
Erdoğan and his advisers must have found it risky to bring up the issue themselves, so soon after the failed coup. The proposal had to come from outside, from an allegedly "disinterested" party. A historical precedent would be the declaration of the second German Reich following the Prussian-led victory of a coalition of German states against France in 1870. The Prussians wished to use the victory to forge a united Germany under Prussia. King Ludwig II of Bavaria was chosen to propose to King Wilhelm of Prussia the emperor's crown, and history tells us he was forced to do sign the "Kaiserbrief", offering Wilhelm the crown.
Mural from the Kaiserpfalz in Goslar, Germany, depicting the founding of the second German Reich. Bavaria's King Ludwig is depicted presenting the Kaiser's crown to Prussia's Wilhelm while other German kings and princes look on.
(Part of a cycle of paintings by Hermann Wislicenus)
The first attempt was to block the move within parliament; but there were enough parliamentarians available for purchase to push the motion through, in spite of some fierce resistance, like the very brave and conscientious independent MP Aylin Nazlıaka who handcuffed herself to the microphone and from there pleaded directly with Bahçeli to retract (January 19th, 2017.) She was removed, by no means delicately, by Erdoğan's AKP lackeys.
AKP lady MP's trying to pry away Nazlıaka (center) from the microphone.
(Image from the media.)
Images of a larger-than-life president. During the two months of campaigning the country was plastered with images of the strongman that would be even stronger.
(Images from my camera.)
(Images from my camera.)
Left: Leaving no avenue untried, Erdoğan's campaigners used all possible media to build up the image of the hero.
Poster of a film about his rise as the hero of the people and books extolling his qualities as a leader. The title of the film, Reis, means "Chief" and is the way his admirers and followers like to call him. The title of the book, Lider, is of course "Leader".
(Images from my own camera.)
No one could have expected the Islamist Erdoğan to forego the tried and true tactic of abusing religious sentiments and many imams reportedly preached the virtues of a “yes” vote to the assembled pious. Reaching out to the vast rural population Erdoğan regularly invited the muhtars (local authorities on the village level) to vast banquets at his spanking new “palace”- attendance compulsory! Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım beamed from huge posters like a candidate, pushing for a “yes” vote, even though the new system would do away with the office of the Prime Minister altogether- an almost comic absurdity.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım beaming like a candidate while campaigning for a "Yes" vote that would abolish his office.
(Image from the media.)
Erdoğan even greater powers than he has up to now usurped.
Banner with "opposition" party leader Bahçeli endorsing the "Yes" campaign.
(Image from my own camera.)
Lacking any semblance of a convincing argument in their favor, Erdoğan and the “Yes” faction decided they would have a better chance if they could foster the illusion of an election of a government rather than a referendum for a new system. Accordingly, they tried to turn it into a AKP-CHP rivalry, hurling accusations on CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. This, of course, was patently absurd: Erdoğan would remain President with the AKP in power until 2019, whatever the outcome. Besides, the new system would benefit whoever would manage to hustle to power after that, even their arch rival Kılıçdaroğlu, and though his most fanatical supporters don’t want to acknowledge it, Erdoğan, too, is only a mortal.
Another tactic of the “Yes” camp was the childishly absurd ploy of “guilt by association”; the Kurdish seperatist HDP was campaigning for “No” as were the insurgents known as the PKK. Likewise, Fethullah Gülen supported a “No” vote. So, the argument went, you would be aligning yourself with them if you too voted for “No”, and as such, would be no better than a traitor! (Never mind that Erdoğan and the AKP had once been in close cooperation with the Gülen cult and promised the world to the PKK during the “resolution process”.) This lopsided argument was voiced by men whose duty it was to embrace the nation and defend our liberties- President Erdoğan himself included, but I must say Bahçeli of the “opposition” excelled himself, becoming far more obnoxious than Erdoğan ever had been at the height of the Gezi riots of 2013!
For weeks the “yes” vs “no” argument was the main topic in the country; our servicemen fighting and dying in Syria receded into the background. The fact that some 16400 cadets had been expelled and all military schools shut down, all military hospitals transferred to civilian authority, did not even make the news anymore, barring a modest number of picketers assembling weekly, with only Ulusal TV and the Aydınlık newspaper reporting.
Cadets dishonourably discharged for being there during the coup attempt- the ones who aren't actually in prison- demonstrating for their rights with the support of their families at Beşiktaş, Istanbul, on April 22nd, 2017.
A distressed mother is having her say at the microphone.
(Image from my own camera.)
A distressed mother is having her say at the microphone.
(Image from my own camera.)
The social media buzzed with “Yes” and “No” messages, both sides often resorting to the “guilt by association” formula, though I must say the “Yes” camp did that a lot more, having little else to hold on to.
The “Yes” campaign was run with a desperation that hinted that a high “No” vote would have catastrophic consequences for the ruling clique, to which Bahçeli, erstwhile “opposition”, had now attached himself at the risk of estranging his party and supporters.
There is all sorts of speculation as to what these consequences might be. I still hold on to my assertion that Erdoğan sees the strengthened presidency as another step on the ladder to a reinstated monarchy- he has on repeated occasions referred to some past sultans as “my grandfather”. (See: "Turkey's Third Reich?", 9 Haziran-June 2016.)
Left: This poster put up in Çankırı in October 2016 reads "Grandson of the Ottoman, Leader of Islam, WELCOME".
(Image from the Media.
If I am correct in my suspicions, he will be following in the footsteps of Louis Napolen who was voted President of the French Republic in the wake of the 1848 upheavels. When his term ran out in 1851, he extended it through a coup, followed by a referendum which endorsed his claim. He immediately brought constitutional changes to consolidate his power. A year later, in 1852, he followed up with another referendum, this time seeking public endorsement to a more ambitious claim: the throne of his uncle. He was crowned Napoleon III, Emperor of the French, and inaugurated a reign with all the pomp associated with the title. After all the bloodshed of the French revolutions (1789, 1830, 1848), the Republic Française thus returned to abolutism, and by popular vote. An argument with Prussia over the Spanish succession led to a war that brought the new French Empire crashing down (1870), the whole affair deteriorating into the internecine slaughter of the French Commune (1871).
Napoleon III as painted by Franz Xavier Winterhalter and the Hôtel de Ville in flames as French kill French during the Paris Commune: a tragic end to dreams of glory.
While Erdoğan’s campaigners gave their all to persuade the sceptics that the new system would strenghten the republic, more firmly establish democratic rule, and even be in line with Ataturk’s wishes (laughably absurd), it is clear another message was being doled out to his supporters in ultra-conservative circles. Just as the public resistance to the July 15th coup attempt had been a victory of democracy to some, but a triumph of Islam and even a proof of the inviolability of Erdoğan’s sacred person to others, the referendum was being touted as a step up the democratic ladder to the intellectual voter while for the conservative fanatic, it was a return to the theocratic Ottoman Empire, with Erdoğan as Sultan and Caliph as the the self-styled descendant of the line. Voters abroad parading to the ballots in consulates attired in caftan and turban à la Ottomane could not have been much concerned with democracy and the Republic.
Right: Erdoğan as Man of the Republic.
"The Public says 'Yes', the Republic grows Stronger".
Poster in Kadıköy district in Istanbul, an area not responsive to appeals in a religious and neo-Ottoman vein.
(Image from my own camera.)
Left: "Yes" voter in Strasbourg, France, casting his ballot at the Turkish consulate. The imperial age he yearns for had no use for ballot boxes and public opinion.
Image from the media.)
Erdoğan’s opponents supporting a “No” vote demonstrated abroad in such an ill-concieved and tactless fashion that one wonders whether the organizers were secretly hoping for a “Yes” outcome: large groups disdaining to carry the Turkish flag, but waving the banners of the hated PKK, it’s Syrian conterparts PYD and YPG, and images of PKK leader Öcalan, provoked national feelings and pushed the Turkish voters to Erdoğan’s camp. Completely disassociating himself from the “resolution process” talks with the PKK, Erdoğan emerged as the hero standing up against the Western-supported PKK terror. Anti-Erdoğan protests that attacked Turkey as a nation were even harder to understand, since the ugly spectacle was even surer to drive Turkish voters to a defiant superman.
Images that cannot possibly win over: from the Basel carnival (Fasnacht) in Switzerland, March 6th 2017.
(Images from the media.)
Dutch police refuse Minister Kaya entry to the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam.
(Image from the Media.)
Offended, and no doubt roused into action, ethnic Turks came out in support of their wronged minister, and clashed with the police- who went against the demonstrators with dogs. Photos of Dutch police dogs biting into Turkish flesh offered the perfect opportunity for Edoğan to harangue the Dutch as “Nazis”, raise the ghost of Srebrenica, and emerge as the powerful protector of the Turks against the Infidel.
Dutch treatment of ethnic Turkish demonstrator, Rotterdam, March 11th 2017.
(Image from the media.)
The insistence on campaigning in a country against the decisions of the authorities of that country smacks of provokation. An AKP MP (Hüseyin Kocabıyık, MP for İzmir) commented that Holland ought to be thanked since their actions had boosted the "Yes" vote by two points! Ironically, the AKP regime had itself prohibited all campaigning outside national borders (electoral law 5479 clause 94 A, dated March 22nd, 2008) and was thus breaking its own law.
Left: Another example of what NOT to do: Swiss newspaper of March 13th, 2017, exhorting in Turkish to "vote NO against Erdoğan's dictatorship". Such obvious meddling from abroad was bound to be counter-effective.
With the AKP’s record, there was no reason to expect fairplay at the ballots and the counting, but the claims and images that started circulating immediately afterwards exceded even previous elections. A videoclip shows an old Syrian refugee woman, hastily given citizenship status like many of her compatriots in time for the referendum, with an official and an interpreter, outside the ballot booth, obediently putting the stamp where she is told. Others show ballots being stamped for “yes” en masse! One shows unmarked ballot envelopes stamped with the obligatory seal after the fact; we hear the voice of the person recording the image
saying “you are now commiting a crime”, which doesn’t seem to impress the culprit at all.
Right: From one of the many You-Tubed videos on the Internet, this one showing the "Yes" areas stamped in series.
Erdoğan got his was by the slimmest of margins. (%51.4 "Yes" to %48.6 "No".) He lost all major urban centers, and many neighbourhoods that had been AKP strongholds. He couldn’t afford to cancel any contested votes, so he was certainly not going to honor any objections or call on impartial observers.
Protesters rallied before the offices of the Board the very
Left: Ulusal channel reporting the protest before the Election Board on the night.
But the overall reaction remained feeble- there was not to be another Gezi. Amazingly, the Vatan Party held its supporters back, advising against a confrontation: its leader Perinçek declared it would be improper “to appear on the same side as the PKK and Gülen”- echoing the AKP campaign argument against a “No” vote. Perinçek gives precedence to the suppression of the PKK and its partners in Syria, even if it means a confrontation with the US over the issue, and is for a united Turkey, preferably not under Erdoğan, but preferring unity under Erdoğan to a divisive democratic struggle with so many conflicting camps. Perinçek is also for allowing Erdoğan room to clear all Gülen adherents from government and state institutions, even though there can be, and cleary have been, excesses in the implementation and a program to replace vacancies with his own followers.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP banks on secularism to hold the Kemalist vote but gives signals towards negotiated solutions with the PKK- the “resolution process” all over again- and is close enough to the US to give barely concealed support to the Gülen movement. The possible secession of the southeasern provinces to a newly fashioned Kurdistan does not seem to be a matter of concern for Kılıçdaroğlu and the party leadership.
The AKP is Erdoğan’s tool for power, and the referendum victory, contested as it is, has allowed him to return to the head of the party. (The law had hitherto required that the President sever all contact with his political party, and maintain a neutral stance before all parties.) Since his breakup with Gülen and deviation from the path prescribed by the US, he has become more of a riddle. Long standing Ottoman Islamist, recent nationalist representing and ostensibly defending the Republic, it is hard to say where he really stands- as difficult as to make out what other nations really make of him and how they plan to react. At the end of the day, Erdoğan’s cause may be nothing more than himself, switching policies according to what he sees as his best chance for survival and power. Ironically, he still has what it takes to become a hero, if he could really flush out the Gülen infiltration that he and his party once aided and abetted, force the US to backtrack in Syria, crush PKK insurgence without victimizing the ethnic Kurdish population, provide a concensus on a Kurdish/Turkish identity, let up on the forced Islamization program and return to a secular state that is less suspicious of conservative Muslim practices, nurture a Muslim outlook that is more open to the secular viewpoint, return to the Armed Forces the honor and authority due to the crucible and guardian of the Republic, and ultimately step back from his newly acquired powers and establish- or re-establish- a more democratic form of government before leaving the stage. He can do all of this, he certainly has the inflated opinion of himself that could possibly motivate him towards such a transformation. Whether he would really want to is yet to be seen.
Neo-Ottoman Islamist or secular Republican? Ataturk's nemesis or emulator? Erdoğan is hard to grasp. Photo from Ankara, April 2017.
As for other nations, we still remember how they had eulogized Erdoğan as a reformer when his hardly democratic practices served their purposes. Now with ever increasing conflict with Western interests, the Western media is demonizing him. Some observers prefer the expression “Saddamizing”, and the implication is clear: preparing the public opinion for a time when another US-led “international coalition” may be called upon to remove him by force. Though there are certainly some in Turkey who would not be averse to such a last resort solution, if all else fails, I know most of the population, Erdoğan’s hardest critics included, would choose to rally round a dictator if the country is under attack.
It is my conviction that to be “saved” by foreign Powers, even from a Saddam-style dictator, would have a catastrophic effect on Turkish identity because it would deprive us of the greatest treasure we possess: the heritage of the War of Independence, the founding of the Republic and the Reforms, which provide the almost subconscious pride and self assurance of being a nation that has saved and renewed itself without an outside benefactor. If it ever comes to being rescued from our own leaders by armies in foreign uniform, we can never be the same!