Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Turkey Starts 2017 On A Steep Downhill Slide

More terror, more bloodshed, more tears, more hollow official condolences. After all the attacks we have seen in France, Belgium, Germany and especially Turkey these past several months what is left to say? Our reserves of shock and horror have almost run dry. In this age of rigid sectarianism and deep, self-righteous, unyielding social/political divisions we have come to expect these terror attacks as the new normal.

The fanatical Islamic group ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deadly New Year’s attack at an exclusive Istanbul nightclub. Turkish authorities have rounded up several of ‘usual suspects’ without managing to catch the actual gunman. Thousands of extra police were on duty in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve, yet somehow this gunman was able to take a taxi to the nightclub, calmly get out and retrieve his automatic weapon from the trunk of the car, shoot a policeman in front of the nightclub, go in the club, kill more than 30 people, and then escape into the night. His harsh image was caught on CCTV cameras, but now one suspects he is ‘in the wind’ and will never be found.

Gunman firing in the Istanbul nightclub
 This attack has ignited furious debate in Turkey about government incompetence and the consequences of its attacks on the secular lifestyle followed by millions of Turks. They claim the government has been promoting an Islamic agenda while actively suppressing secular reforms instituted by modern Turkey’s founder Kemal Atatürk. Indeed, government-approved sermons delivered in mosques in the Friday before New Year’s included sharp warnings about the illegality and immorality of New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Even Santa Claus was not safe. Long considered by the Islamic press as merely an agent of perfidious Christian and Western values Santa Claus was always on tricky ground in Turkey – despite Turkey being the birthplace of St. Nicholas. This year things got a little out of hand as armed thugs held a gun to the head of someone dressed up as Santa Claus. And no one from the government had anything to say about this incident despite their vacuous claims of tolerance and respect for other religions.  No wonder secularists are worried about the steady erosion of their lifestyle in an increasingly intolerant Turkey.

Even he is not safe in Turkey
In a broader context, the nightclub attack is an another stark symbol of the overall incompetence driving the country straight over the cliff. As a close friend put it, “What do you expect from a government that refuses to recognize the serious economic and social problems staring it in the face. As far as they are concerned this is the best possible of all worlds.”

Forget the incompetence for a minute. The policy U-Turns should leave the ruling AKP-supporters scratching their heads. Then: We hate Israel. Now: We love and need Israel. Then: We hate the evil Assad. He Must go. Now: Assad will play a key role in the reconstruction of Syria. Then: Russia is a real threat. Now: Russia can balance the malignant influence of the hypocritical West and protect Turkey’s real interests.”

By now the economic tail-spin has become apparent to almost everyone – except the one person who counts. Inflation is up, the currency is way down, unemployment is up, investment is down. President Tayyip Erdoğan still maintains that everything is going smoothly, and there is no need for any change. When the Turkish currency was sliding faster than a bob-sled he and his entourage made a very big show out of telling the hapless man-on-the-street to Be Patriotic and sell evil foreign currency. Sadly, a few naïve citizens actually believed him, and are now suffering losses as the Turkish Lira continues its disappearing act. One bank CEO recently told me there would be several large bankruptcies in 2017 as private sector companies find it impossible to repay foreign currency debt taken out when the Turkish currency was much stronger and semi-stable.

On top of the terror attacks a Turkish policeman, a highly-trained policeman, gunned down the Russian ambassador at a photography exhibition in Ankara. Apparently, the gunman waltzed around the metal detectors by showing his police ID. The Turkish government’s only response was to blame the now hated Fetullah Gülen who lives in the United States. So much for background checks for security officials charged with sensitive political protection duty.

Erdoğan can twist and turn and spin anyway he wants. But the empty shopping centers and hotels tell a different story. People are staying home, not going out.  Besides having less and less money to spend, no one wants to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught in yet another terrorist attack.

Does he really understand what's happening around him
The Turkish army is now bogged down in Syria trying to take the small town of al-Bab from ISIS. The army entered Syria ostensibly to fight ISIS, but the real objective is to stop the advance of the Syrian Kurdish fighters along the southern border of Turkey. The president has declared that al-Bab is about to be taken any day. So far, the town remains in ISIS control and Turkish losses are mounting.  

Erdoğan and his flunkies have now resorted to ludicrous claims that the reason for the army’s difficulties in Syria is that the Americans are not giving enough support to Turkey's anti-ISIS fight. What utter and complete nonsense. What are they saying? The huge Turkish army can not defeat a rag-tag bunch of jihadis?? That should be embarrassing. But then, no degree of foolishness seems to embarrass this government. The U.S. and the Kurds have been fighting ISIS for a long time while Turkey only recently decided that ISIS was a real threat. Welcome to the real world. But then, these claims fit a usual pattern. None of the problems confronting Turkey are caused by the incompetence of government officials. Those problems are all caused by ‘outside influences.’

And now Erdoğan wants to change the constitution to give himself unlimited, unchecked power. It seems improbable that anyone would call today’s Turkey enough of a ‘success’ to warrant giving the president unlimited power. But maybe there are enough fervent Erdoğan supporters to give him what he wants despite the wreckage surrounding them. Turkish citizens might want to ask themselves the following question. If Turkey can suffer so much under limited presidential power, how much more will it suffer if the president has unlimited power?


Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention the interest lobby. :)

David Edgerly said...

Of course! The famous 'interest rate lobby' working day and night to undermine Turkey and keep it from reaching its justified place at the high table of world powers.