Among the many ways that Tayyip Erdoğan has damaged Turkey – economic collapse, corruption, perversion of the judicial system, international isolation – perhaps the worst is the destruction of Turkey’s once promising reputation as an up-and-coming, serious country.
Now the mere mention of Turkey’s name is greeted like a loud belch in church – with withering silence and not-so-quiet questions about ‘who let him in the door.’ Turks leading successful lives abroad used to be proud of the rapid strides their homeland had made. Now they wince in embarrassment when someone recounts Erdoğan’s latest folly.
In short, he has obscured the real Turkey – a country
endowed with millions of hard working and smart people, beautiful landscapes, fascinating
multi-cultural, rich history stretching back to the dawn of civilization, a
dynamic cultural environment, and an economy – with rational management – that can
become the strongest between Germany and India. Worst of all, perhaps, are
the damaged dreams of the young generation.
The young generation feels betrayed
Now, unfortunately, all this potential is obscured under the dark cloud of Erdoğan’s bizarre vision of a country beset on all sides with foreign and domestic enemies whose only perceived goal is to throw Turkey off its pre-ordained, glorious upward path paved with ever deeper layers of his beloved concrete. That is the perverted vision that dominates news about Turkey.
Seldom has a country’s leader travelled the world as much as he has and learned so little. He has the same huge chip on his shoulder that he did growing up in one of Istanbul’s toughest neighbourhoods. Instead of profiting from the thousands of extremely well educated, well-travelled, multi-lingual business people, academics, scientists, cultural leaders and others Erdoğan regards them as enemies. Turkey used to have a very skilled, successful diplomatic service that was the envy of many countries. Now the only qualification for senior diplomatic rank seems to be loud praise for the Reis – the boss. He has notoriously thin skin and blows up at any story that doesn’t lavish the type of praise that would make even Caligula blush. No one is quite sure who, if anyone, he listens to. His circle of ‘advisers’ seems to be limited to family and utter sycophants desperately hanging on to the only job they can get.
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All this would be somewhat comical if it didn’t have serious ramifications. Take international relations for a start. Erdoğan’s Turkey has become toxic. It is completely isolated with no allies. A once-proud country is now the butt of jokes circulating widely on social media. As far as the economy is concerned, no serious investor wants to touch it. I am aware of several projects that have been put on hold because of the dense fog of uncertainty surrounding the country. As the Turkish Lira collapsed the government came up a half-baked scheme trying to entice people holding foreign currency bank accounts to convert them to the local currency. Despite massive publicity and twisting the arms of state run banks less than 2% of all bank deposits have been converted. Now the government wants to make exporters convert 25% of their hard-currency profits into Turkish Lira. Brilliant. How are they supposed to pay for all the imported raw material and intermediate goods that go into Turkish exports? Whoops! Forgot about that one.
According to recent polls Erdoğan’s popularity is sinking fast. With the opposition finally uniting he has a good chance to lose the next election scheduled for 2023. Faced with diminishing projects for staying in power through normal elections he is lashing out in desperation. His latest move is to threaten the young, dynamic mayor of Istanbul with harbouring ‘terrorists’ – i.e. anyone who disagrees with Erdoğan – and thereby fabricate an excuse to remove him from office. The real problem with the mayor – Ekrem Imamoğlu – is that he is from the major opposition party and defeated Erdoğan’s hand-picked candidate by 800,000 votes in the last election. Such a move would most likely backfire and hurt Erdoğan even more. But, unfortunately, the country seems to have moved beyond rational calculation. As Erdoğan schemes and fights for survival it is almost impossible to predict the immediate future with any degree of certainty.
In short, Erdoğan is trying to convert a rich, dynamic, incredibly complex country into a pale, narrow, ever-fearful, ever-angry, caricature. Ultimately he will fail. But at what tragic, avoidable cost?