Turkey Analyst
Last updated: 9 July, 2012

Turkey: What the columnists say

Is the AKP starting to fall apart, what does the downing of the Turkish jet really mean and has Erdoğan exaggerated the strength of his country? Find out what the columnists think.

The consequences of the downing of the Turkish reconnaissance aircraft by Syria worries commentators in the Turkish press. There is very little jingoism and warmongering in the columns. On the contrary, the point is made by several commentators that Turkey’s entanglement in Syria is unwise, and concern is expressed that the country’s relations with Russia and Iran, Syria’s champions, stand to suffer damage. The latest developments in the power struggle between the AKP government and the Gülen brotherhood – the government’s plans to abrogate the power of the special courts – are welcomed by pro-AKP commentators, while the prediction is made in the columns of the opposing side that the end is beginning for the AKP. Meanwhile, one prominent pro-AKP commentator predicts that the purge of Gülenist power in the state apparatus clears the way for a negotiated solution of the Kurdish problem, which the Gülen brotherhood is claimed to have been responsible for hindering.


Ahmet Altan in Taraf wonders why so many Turkish citizens are being killed in the eastern Mediterranean, first when nine Turkish citizens were killed by Israel in the Mavi Marmara incident, and now, when Syria shot down a Turkish jet, killing the two pilots. As far as I know, things like that had never happened before in the history of the republic. How come that our citizens are being killed now, when we are supposedly stronger than we have ever been since the founding of the republic? My guess is that there is a strong connection between the belief that we are stronger than ever and the killings of our people. I think that we are suffering these losses as a consequence of what has become the characteristic of the AKP’s power, the exaggerated perception of our strength. We are now facing the very unpleasant choice between being a country that is unable to do something when its plane is shot down and going to war. Maybe this crisis can be overcome, but if Turkey continues to be governed in this reckless way I fear that we will get into more troubles.


Sedat Laçiner in Star writes that it is extremely important to underline that Turkey should not under any circumstances go to war on its own against Syria. Not only is Syria too big a burden for Turkey to carry, but there are dimensions of the problem that transcends both Syria and Turkey and that may harm Turkey in many ways. Yet despite our warning, it is as if some hidden hand is pulling Turkey into Syria. First, there were the incidents of firings into Turkey across the border, and now the Turkish jet has been shot down. The fact that the Turkish reconnaissance jet was flying this close to the Syrian coast and at such a low altitude is also something that brings questions to mind. When evaluating what is happening between the two countries, it is impossible not to take Russia into account. Because the Syrian-Russian alliance is growing stronger by the day, and the air defense systems that are being erected all around the country, including the one that brought the Turkish jet down, are being supplied by Russia. So you see, the downing of the jet is not only a matter between Turkey and Syria. The Syrian crisis is evolving from civil war to an international confrontation of two blocs. On one side there is Russia, China and Iran, and on the other side those who have aligned themselves with the rebels. However, the problem from Turkey’s point of view is that the block to which it belongs has not solidified enough. That leaves Turkey exposed, alone confronting the other bloc, raising its costs. First, Turkey must not remain alone against Syria, second it has to desist from reacting impulsively at the heat of the moment, third, while speaking as if it is only dealing with Syria, it needs to act differently, fourth, avoid sticking its hands into the fire directly, and fifth, take care to watch its back while paying attention to Syria.


Mümtaz’er Türköne in Zaman raises the question whether the AKP is about to fall apart. Once you have asked that question, that means that we are at the beginning of the end. There is as state of disarray within the ranks of the AK Party. The reason for this disarray is that the party does not have any challenger. Ranks are tightened when you face a common enemy. The AK Party has lost its most invaluable asset, the one thing that has brought it to where it is today, its enemy. The republic of Turkey is being governed by its strongest and unrivalled power ever. But such power contains the seeds of its own destruction. Such concentration of power always starts a process that is harmful. Now, a fundamental rule of politics is that no one wants to share power. But, concurrently, power that is not shared is always dangerous. Historically, politics has always been a bloody game in our history. The discussion that has started over the statute 250 (of the trial code) is something that crucially reveals the split that is bound to follow as a consequence of that concentration of power. Is the AK Party about to fall apart? The discussions about the special courts will provide clues to this question. Do you expect that the parliamentary group of the AK Party is going to vote unanimously in support of the changes of the judicial system?


Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak writes that two main developments are about to shape Turkish politics: First, the signs are that the government is preparing to take new steps that are going to open up new venues for finding a political solution to the Kurdish issue. Second, the government is about to abrogate the authority of the specially authorized courts and the specially authorized prosecutors. These two initiatives are closely linked; they are suggestive of the power struggle between the government and the autonomous group that has defied it. The government is going to clean it up. Political correction and democratization are not the only priorities of the government; as the crisis over MİT (The National Intelligence Agency) demonstrated, it is performing a surgery on a judiciary that had become a threat to it. And the power struggle is not only fought over the judiciary, but also with the Kurdish issue as an instrument. While the government seeks to clear the way for a political solution, the other side opposes it, clinging to the instruments the security apparatus and wants to continue with the KCK operations (the mass arrests of thousands of Kurdish politicians and activists). So, even though the government is not only seeking democratization, its corrective measures will end up having a positive impact on the whole system.


Hasan Bülent Kahraman in Sabah comments the recent statement of Kurdish Member of parliament Leyla Zana that Prime Minister Erdoğan is the one that has the power to solve the Kurdish problem. What was it that prompted Zana to issue this statement, that both recognizes that the AK Party is the strongest actor for a solution, while simultaneously demanding that the PKK-BDP axis adopts a whole new position? This is undoubtedly one of the turning points in the history of the Kurdish movement. The answer is simply that the world has decided that Turkey needs to solve the Kurdish problem. This in turn has everything to do with Turkey’s internationalization; it’s closely connected to the capital flows to Turkey. But while Zana if not condemns, then at least contradicts the traditional position of the PKK, Öcalan and most of all of the BDP (The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party), that is nonetheless no reason for the AK Party to rejoice and declare “victory”. On the contrary, she has assigned the AK Party some homework, a big project. In fact, Zana made crystal clear that a solution converges on two points: Constitutional guarantees for the Kurdish identity, and education in the mother tongue. These are no small matters. They amount to a significant step for the AK Party to take. If that does indeed happen, then that will be another historical turning point.

This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.