Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made it clear that the nation under his thumb is no longer one where society is considered to be truly free, no longer a Middle Eastern nation that embraces the tolerant and moderate values of the West. Under Erdogan, Turkey has become the type of Islamic society more reminiscent of a nation like Iran, regardless of the true will of the Turkish people.
Americans who weren’t already familiar with Erdogan’s brutal means of power consolidation got a glimpse of his tactics when, during a visit to the States, his bodyguards beat a protestor – apparently thinking he would be safe from Erdogan’s wrath because he was on U.S. soil – to a bloody pulp for daring to voice his displeasure with the Turkish strongman.
Treating non-Islamic Turks with violent dismissal and disdain has become Erdogan’s M.O., whether in his home country or outside of the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C. He has used a ‘coup attempt’ in August 2016 to pass a long unpopular referendum that gave him immense power, despite skepticism of just how legitimate the coup attempt was. After all, Erdogan never truly was in danger during the entire process, and in time called the alleged coup “a gift from Allah”, even though a reported 232 people lost their lives, with an estimated 1,400 wounded.
That’s quite the gift, President Erdogan.
What he was referring to was the dissent he knew it would further rile in a nation splintering between moderation and Sharia-type rule. He sensed that the tide would be swung in his favor should the people see him as a) a strong leader having survived an uprising by the military and b) a leader with his life imperiled who required greater power to remain safe and run the nation as he sees fit.
Erdogan less-than-convincingly dismissed allegations that he was using the coup as an opportunity to crack down on his political opponents.
"I'd like to know what a crackdown by Tayyip Erdogan looks like... It's just libel," he said. "If Tayyip Erdogan was an oppressive figure, he wouldn't have won 52% of the vote at the presidential elections." (BBC)
The referendum voting conditions were decried by Turks and Europeans as unfair and, even still, the results likely fraudulent. Erdogan’s supporters were encouraged to vote strongly, while a convenient state of emergency resulted in the restriction of those who were likely to vote against sweeping powers granted to Erdogan under the proposed Constitutional referendum. Even with these unnaturally pro-Erdogan conditions, the reported margin of victory was only 51 percent.
Naturally, Erdogan reacted to his critics in a way that has become eerily commonplace in Turkey. He threw them behind bars with no trial and no legitimate charge against them. In July, it was reported that 47,000 dissenters had been arrested, with that number drastically increasing in the months since. Ever since the referendum ‘passed’, Erdogan has made no bones about appearing as a dictator acting by any means to push his nation where he and his supporters would like it to go.
Unfortunately for all Turks, not to mention the West, that direction is toward a brand of Islam that has proven stiflingly oppressive not just in Middle Eastern nations, but around the globe. The fact that Turkey is located where it is means that an entire nation stands on the brink of a massive cultural shift.
Consider the fact that this quote was given at a women’s entrepreneurial conference this past November as evidence of just how tone-deaf the Turkish leader hell-bent on moving his society toward Sharia truly is.
"These epithets of 'moderate Islam' are very ugly, it is disrespectful and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that's it." — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (Gatestone Institute)
A Turkish leader who rejects the term ‘moderate Islam’ is not just naïve, as somebody like Canada’s Justin Trudeau might be forgiven as being. Erdogan is in fact a hardliner who knows precisely that moderate Islam is what nearly half of Turks, if not more, desire. It’s the reality they’ve lived for decades pre-Erdogan, and it’s how they established the reputation as the most moderate primarily-Islamic country in the world.
But, it’s not the version of Islam that Recep Erdogan desires, and that’s what matters most. And, to the chagrin of those who desire a relative level of peace in the Middle East, this heel-turn by Turkey into a nation whose foreign policy reflects its leader’s domestic bellicosity has been startling.
The extent to which Erdogan has established himself as a full-blown domestic dictator speaks volumes of his determination to establish himself as a leader not to be reprimanded, even on the world stage.
‘Since the failed coup in August 2016, the government says, it has purged more than 107,000 government employees for alleged links to the coup attempt. Worse, according to a Supreme Court justice, the Turkish government is investigating a total of 6.9 million citizens, or about 8.6% of all Turks.’ (Gatestone)
When a leader has turned his back on such a substantial portion of his own people, it’s only a matter of time until he turns his eye toward outside enemies. We’ve seen it with the likes of North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and even more significant powers like Iran. And now, Turkey is increasingly engaging in threats and conflicts which are bound to suck in greater foreign powers.
There is Turkey’s unabashed quest to attain nuclear weapons, an unsettling reality for virtually anybody who refuses to kowtow to Erdogan’s oppressive Islamist worldview and tactics. The world found out about their nuclear deal with Russia this past November.
‘Turkey's announcement over the summer that it had signed a deal with Russia's State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) -- of Hillary Clinton's Uranium One stardom -- to begin building three nuclear power plants in the near future is cause for concern.’ (Gatestone)
Then there is the blatant saber-rattling and hegemonic projection over the people of Cyprus, a development that is bound to draw foreign attention.
‘Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned international companies drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus that these hydrocarbons are within Turkey's continental shelf. Cavusoglu said that Turkey "is prepared to take all necessary measures" to protect its rights, and those of the Turkish Cypriots, in the eastern Mediterranean.’ (Gatestone)
And, as America becomes closer allies with the Kurds in Northern Syria, southern neighbors to Turkey, Erdogan has acted predictably. Some have hinted at justification of Turkey’s wariness toward an American allegiance with the Kurds by stating that, you know, Turkey was affected by the Syrian war, too!
This viewpoint completely ignores the reality that Erdogan is subjugating his own people and looking for fights wherever he can find one. Now, he’s looking to get into it over an alliance that doesn’t even fall within the Turkish border. It appears as if Erdogan is channeling his inner-Ottoman Turk, in the worst sense of the comparison.
Turkey is launching an offensive in northern Syria. The Kurds are a religious minority that he would assume subject or slaughter. Surely one of the two are his intention if Turkey does gain ground in Syria, if not a combination of both. But there is no justification for the offensive. The tone of statements issued by Erdogan are so blatantly Erdogan, so bullyish in nature, that one should take them seriously.
So now the United States, clearly intent on taking greater action against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, is likely to face some form of aggression from the north. Turkey is more bellicose than it has been in decades, and its leader has proven that when he talks tough, he tends to follow through with action.
He'll act whether that means action against those who would contest his tactics domestically, against a sovereign Cyprus and those who dare to respect that sovereignty, or against American forces and Kurds occupying northern Syria, a land that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided is his and his alone.
The question is: did the Turkish bully just pick a fight with the greatest bully of all, and will he realize the error of his ways before he seriously regrets it?