Τurkey is under pressure and is putting us under pressure



 
Interview of Dimitris Christopoulos

Turkey is at war internally with the Kurds, has an open front in Syria, is the host country of millions of refugees and its relations with Russia are not at their best. Nevertheless, it is President Erdogan behind the resignation of Prime Minister Davutoglu. Who, in all truth, is Erdogan and why is he so popular with a large segment of the Turkish people?
Erdogan has been a great leader, who has enjoyed enormous prestige and legitimacy in Turkey and abroad, partly because he was the first political leader who was able to promote a number of critical reforms against the Kemalist establishment. However, and unfortunately for him and for his country, when he first felt challenged from within, he lost confidence in his own power and in the coalition that made him what he is. The result is that he is now behaving in an obsessive and self-destructive manner, which is revealed in an authoritarianism toward everyone; toward his friends, such Gul and Davutoglu) as well as towards his opponents (such as HDP Kurds). The fact, however, that Turkey constantly experiences its transitions with a tendency for traumatic totalitarianism shows that Erdogan-type personalities are not the cause of the problem, but its symptom.

What do you mean "symptoms of a problem”?
I mean that the role of specific personalities in history is important, but not dominant. Turkish history, like any national history, is not a theater play where Kemal or Erdogan are the sole protagonists, although it may seem so. Turkey, as a social and economic entity, has not been able to implement large transitions without severe turbulence, that is, without political violence; from the Young Turks to the neo-Ottomans this has been the case. Unfortunately, Turkish politics continue -up to this day- to wreak the same political havoc.

What can the consequences of these developmentsbe, firstly for Turkey itself and then for its relations with Europe and its neighbors, among which is Greece?
Turkey finds itself in the difficult position you described above, both with its neighbouring countries and at home even though its economy is growing. When the economy shows the first sings of exhaustion, it will but put a strain on all of us, but mostly on the Turks themselves. It will be especially hard on the middle class, which has grown massively in recent years. Right now, several significant regional issues between Greece and Turkey remain pending, in an area of critical geopolitical sensitivity. Despite these unresolved issues, Greece and Turkey have learned to live together, not without hard work. Greece, however is almost invisible in the scale of problems Turkey is facing,  For Turkey, Greece is not a problem. For Greece, Turkey is a problem, and a big one indeed.

And what about Turkey - EU relations?
The EU and Turkey have not been able to come closer during the good years, when the bar of expectations was set mutually high. Today, both are immersed in their own existential problems so I believe it would be overly optimistic to say that there is still a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a deep-rooted aversion within the EU to Turkey's membership, and the Turks don´t trust the EU, either. This European Islamophobia has brought about the revival of Turkish anti-westernism, which has its roots in Turkey´s nationalistic tradition. Look at the embarrassing haggling between the EU and Turkey over the refugee problem and how they are treating one another; the EU is trying to bribe Turkey into keeping the refugees there while Turkey is blackmailing the EU, requesting more…
 
You recently visited Turkey as head of the International Federation of Human Rights Mission on the Kurdish issue. Give us an image of how things are there today.
In the beginning, one of the great hopes for the AKP was that it would proceed with a fair and peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue. Within a decade, the AKP formed a broad social alliance with middle class Kurds on the basis of political Islamism. This alliance was shaken in the June elections when support for HDP brought liberal Turks and Kurdish fighterstogether for the first time –  a development that Erdogan had clearly underestimated.

So he squandered allhope for an agreement, foolishly undermining the talks with the Kurds before the elections. When Erdogan felt threatened, the solution he has chosen ever since has been violence, thus fueling the PKK and plunging the area into a new vicious circle of violence. A country cannot be governed with cities under siege, as is the case in Southeastern Turkey. The policy of violence against the Kurds is inhumane and hopeless. By using harsh assimilation policies Turkey has managed to incorporate a large proportion of the Kurdish population, but a large number of Kurds who consider themselves members of a minority still exists. Their identity needs to be recognized in a clever and humane way, so that there can be social peace.

How do you comment on the constant tendency or "trend" of some people from the Greek side of the Aegean to rejoice whenever Turkey faces a crisis?
Foolish people are everywhere. This nonsense is the product of a blind nationalism that dictates that "what is bad for the other is good for me." Since you asked about the Kurdish issue, I will tell you that this view is still predominant in various nationalistic-”patriotic” circles in Greece, which struggle against infringements of the rights of the Kurds and other minorities in Turkey while, at the same time, resent whoever dares to talk about minority rights in Greece.

This is appalling and not at all convincing. No rational person can rejoice when a neighbor is struggling, because, on the one hand, those who pay the consequences are the hapless people and on the other, because sooner or later these difficulties will cross the border. This applies to all nations, regardless of size. Look at what the Syrian civil war has caused in the region and throughout Europe. Today, Turkey is under pressure and is, in turn, putting us under pressure.

Dimitris Christopoulos is the Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, an Associate Professor of Political Science, Panteion University, Athens.
 
Translated  by Ioulia Leivaditi

First published in Greek on the newspaper “Athens Voice”,  10.5.2016