Erdogan’s Triumphant March to Presidency

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Is it a guilty thought for any Armenian to wish that Turkey were to be wiped off the map the way historic Armenia was? Whether guilty or just, that is not a probability in the present world order, where Turkey is gaining prominence thanks to its strategic location and its leadership’s policies.

Therefore, Turkey is there, bordering Armenia and Armenians will have to deal with it until the end of history.

Prime Minister Erdogan has much to do with Turkey’s gaining prominence during the last decade and at this time, his political fortunes are moving triumphantly towards his ultimate goal, which is his country’s presidency. Up to now, the post has been a ceremonial one, but after Erdogan’s election, it is planned to be converted into a political powerhouse. Current president, Abdullah Gul, his fellow collaborator in the AK Party, is geared to replace him in a much-enfeebled premiership.

Despite fervent denials that a Putin-Medvedev style pact exists between them, developments indicate otherwise.

The presidential election will take place on August 10. Some absentee ballots by expatriate Turks in Germany herald Erdogan’s victory, if not in the first round, but certainly in the second round.

Historically, Turkey’s presidents were elected by the parliament; first time around, the election is held by the popular vote, which will have a more powerful mandate for the president.

Opposing Erdogan are a number of candidates representing different factions and interest groups. The opposition parties are mostly urbanites and consider themselves “modernists” rallying around the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which distinguishes itself from traditional nationalists supporting the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). These two parties have joined forces to support a single candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

For the first time in Turkey’s modern history (if we discount rumors of Ismet Ununu’s Kurdish ancestry), a Kurd is running as a candidate; that Kurd is Salahattin Demirtas, who represents leftists and socialists. Despite Demirtas’s vocal support for the Armenian Genocide in the past several years, it is believed that the majority of Armenians will vote for Erdogan for two reasons:

•Erdogan has ingratiated himself to the Armenian community by some symbolic gestures and by returning to the community a few pieces of real estate, confiscated by the previous administrations.

•The political pendulum may swing any time in Turkey as it did during the 1960 and 1980 coups, and anyone caught red-handed voting for socialists or leftists may end up in jail.

Although political pundit Etyen Mahcupyan discredits, in a commentary on August 2 in Sabah daily,, the opposition group’s ideologies as inept to exercise the judiciary’s authority over the executive, a columnist in Today’s Zaman, Dogu Ergil, bluntly identifies the new administration as an authoritarian one, of course, based on Erdogan’s record thus far: “The separation of powers having been reduced to merely a principle will disappear and give way to a union of powers under the guise of ‘administrative unity.’ The legislature will no longer be an institution to check and correct the excesses and deviations of the executive branch. The executive will be presented by the president, who has already declared himself the sole decision maker.”

Despite such assessments, Erdogan’s popularity has not been dented. On the contrary, it has survived many adversities. In May 2013, President Obama reprimanded Erdogan and his intelligence chief Hakan Fidan for supporting the “wrong insurgents” in Syria. In June 2013, police brutality against the Gezi Park protestors hardly bruised his popularity, despite international condemnations. In July 2013, a soul mate of the AK Islamist Party in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, fell, and its elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was jailed. In a massive witch-hunt in Turkey, thousands of policemen and judges were replaced or fired and at one point, Erdogan’s arrogance ran out of control when he threatened to expel the US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, for his alleged involvement in the corruption probe of his family and cronies.

He also used that opportunity to neutralize Fetullah Gulen’s sympathizers.

Erdogan’s Palestinian policy comprises many layers; his virulent attacks against Israel, even invoking Hitler and accusing the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of committing genocide, yielded abundant dividends domestically. On the other hand, he did not suspend military cooperation with the Jewish state and his son continued his business activities there. While Israel was pounding Gaza, a source in Iran revealed that Ankara was shipping jet fuel to the IDF.

One Turkish journalist remarked that on the one hand, Erdogan’s anti-Israeli outburst contributed to his popularity in the Muslim world, while on the other hand, they constituted a Godsend to Prime Minister Netanyahu indicating that anti-Semitic sentiments were on the rise and Israel needed more support. The veracity of that statement was proven by the US senate, which with unusual unanimity of votes (100-0), approved to send a $350-million gift to Israel.

Erdogan’s Kurdish policy also proved to be multi-layered. Contrary to Secretary of State John Kerry’s pleadings to Turkey to support Nouri Al-Maliki’s central government in Iraq, Erdogan cut a deal with Kurdistan’s Massoud Barzani to market Kurdish oil internationally and undermine the stability of the government in Baghdad. He also came to an understanding with Iraqi Kurds not to provoke the PKK in Turkey and encourage the Kurdish independence movement there. That is why Abdullah Oçalan, PKK’s jailed leader, and Demirtas are satisfied with seeking autonomy within Turkey.

The Kurdish issue in Syria has a different dimension. The reason President Obama reprimanded Erdogan and Hakan is that Turkey was — and has been — supporting Jihadists to fight Syrian Kurds who have carved an autonomous region and have been observing a neutral position between the government forces and its opponents. Erdogan, fearing the emergence of another Kurdistan on its borders, is trying to eliminate that prospect, misusing the US-supplied armaments for his selfish goals.

As we can see, Armenians will be dealing with a formidable and sophisticated opponent. We need to abandon our traditional views of the “stupid Turk” and be prepared to deal with a major power, whose influence is growing inexorably in the region.

Fortunately, we are at a juncture of history and Armenian-Turkish relations where we no longer are facing Kenan Evran and Turgut Ozel. We need to be reminded that the engineer of the bloody coup in 1980, the dictator Evran, challenged Armenians by stating: “If you want land from Turkey, come and take it! Land can only be taken by blood.” Turgut Ozal, in his turn, said that “1915 has not been enough of a lesson for the Armenians; what if we drop a few bombs over Yerevan during our war games, to teach them a lesson?”

The Erdogan government took a few initiatives, which were very different from the above belligerent postures. Of course, those initiatives were not done out of the goodness of his heart; there is no such thing in political dealings. They were compelled by political necessities.

Turkish leaders have nothing to fear from Armenia or Armenians. But their case hangs over Turkey like the sword of Damocles to be used by the international community at the convenient time. The Genocide issue has been used by Israel, the European Union and even the US to extract concessions from Turkey. Blockading Armenia has always raised questions with the EU, NATO and the World Trade Organization. Therefore, Turkey is sensitized by the political impact of those issues and would like to blunt them or to dupe the Armenians into submission or silence.

The ill-fated protocols were promoted for that very same reason. Especially, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wished ardently to render them into a feather on her foreign policy cap.

Erdogan’s condolence to the children and the grandchildren of the Armenians who were “relocated” during the Ottoman period did not go as far as his apology to the Dersim Kurds who were slaughtered during the Kemalist rule, but it was a step in the right direction which Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu tried to capitalize. Also, Turkey played the game of football diplomacy with Armenia.

Even some trial balloons were floated in the Turkish press recently that Ankara was in the process of planning to open the border with Armenia.

On a more tangible issue, Erdogan took the initiative to return some valuable pieces of real estate confiscated from the Armenian community. If any thing, that was a symbolic minimum out of 2,000 churches and monasteries and other historic sites still languishing in ruins or being used as stables or storage facilities. When the Turkish government began returning some properties, Patriarchal Vicar Atesian, who was manipulated to assume the Patriarch’s responsibilities by the Ankara government, playing the role of his master’s voice, stated that the Patriarchate cannot handle all the properties, should the government decide to return them, oblivious of the fact that those properties belong to the entire Armenian nation and not necessarily to the Patriarchate.

Before his assassination, Hrant Dink had a prophesy: he said, “The Turkish government will never give in to outside pressure. Only internal democratization will force changes. Armenians have to help bring democracy to Turkey to achieve recognition.”

Every passing day vindicates Dink’s prophesy. Despite the existence of Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, Armenians are commemorating April 24 on Taksim and Bayazid squares without fear of government repression.

The Armenian question has been such a serious burden on Turkish foreign policy that Ahmet Davutoglu took pains recently to publish a thesis in Turkish Policy Quarterly under the title “Turkish-Armenian Relations: Is a ‘Just Memory’ Possible?”

It was a serious opening, albeit self-serving, to challenge our scholars. Prof. Gerard J. Libaridian took the foreign minister to task rebutting his case point by point.

Our scholars, sometimes consider such challenges as advocacy and they shy away from the battlefield or if they engage in the battle, they try to insult the other party, damaging the issue in both cases.

Libaridian has chosen a moral high ground and has treated the issue in a scholarly and dignified manner.

The Turks will challenge Armenians in every possible field. We do not need to be intimidated nor offer empty belligerence.

Erdogan’s election will be the most formidable challenge. The diaspora and Armenia have to mobilize their resources. The battle will be long and arduous but it is not unwinnable.