Turkey

Turkish Leader Erdogan Making New Enemies and Frustrating Old Friends

7/15/16
Earlier this month, The New York Times examined how Turkey's leader has been mired in disputes with just about everybody fomenting instability in his country.

from The New York Times,
7/4/16:

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, strode onto a stage a month ago looking down upon a sea of a million fans waving red Turkish flags. They were celebrating the 15th-century conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, the golden moment of Turkey’s Muslim ancestors triumphing over the Christian West. “The conquest means going beyond the walls that the West thought were impervious,” Mr. Erdogan said as the crowd roared. “The conquest means a 21-year-old sultan bringing Byzantium to heel.” The spectacle, complete with a fighter-jet sky show and a re-enactment of the conquest with fireworks and strobe lights, projected an image of unity and command, of a nation marching together toward greatness, drawing on the achievements of a glorious past. But that soaring vision is being grounded by sobering realities. Mr. Erdogan, who long professed a foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors,” now seems to be mired in disputes with just about everybody and just about everywhere. Kurdish and Islamic State militants have struck Turkey 14 times in the past year, killing 280 people and sowing new fears. The economy has suffered, too, as the violence frightens away tourists.

At the same time, Mr. Erdogan has become increasingly isolated, frustrating old allies like the United States by refusing for years to take firm measures against the Islamic State. He has recently gotten serious about the militant group, but that appears to have brought new problems: Turkish officials say they believe that the Islamic State was responsible for the suicide attack that killed 44 people on Tuesday in Istanbul’s main airport, a major artery of Turkey’s strained economy. He has helped reignite war with Kurdish separatists in Turkey’s southeast, and hundreds of civilians have died in the fighting, which began last summer. He alienated Moscow last fall when Turkish forces shot down a fighter jet that he said had strayed into Turkish airspace. He had grown so alone that this past week he moved to make peace deals with Russia over the jet’s downing and with Israel over its killing of several Turkish activists on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010, after railing against both countries to voters.

Where Mr. Erdogan once held up Turkey as a model of Muslim democracy, he now frequently attacks democratic institutions. The editor in chief of Turkey’s largest daily has fled the country, and another is on trial on charges of revealing state secrets. The president has grown intolerant of criticism, purging his oldest allies from his inner circle and replacing them with yes men and, in some cases, relatives. (His son-in-law is the energy minister.) Mr. Erdogan hints darkly in near-daily speeches on Turkish television that foreign powers are plotting to destroy him, and he has moved from a modest house in central Ankara to a grandiose, Persian Gulf-style palace on the edge of the city. Brown and pink buildings for his staff dot meticulously landscaped grounds so enormous that staff members are driven around in minibuses. Now he has set his sights on a new target: transforming Turkey’s parliamentary system of government into a presidential one, a change his critics say could soon open the door to his seizing the title of president for life. On the night of the airport bombing, the Parliament, which his party controls, worked until 5:45 a.m. to pass sweeping legislation that will help pave the way by purging hundreds of judges from Turkey’s top two courts. “The ship is going very fast toward the rocks,” said Ergun Ozbudun, a liberal constitutional expert who once defended Mr. Erdogan. “Pray for us.”

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