walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Published on: March 13, 2014
All the PM's Conspiracies
The End of Erdogan

Even if his party manages to scrape by in Turkey’s upcoming municipal elections on March 30, Prime Minister Erdogan has already done irreparable harm to his brand.

It is hard to imagine how in any society a Prime Minister caught on tape firing journalists because he does not like their point of view or instructing television stations to stop the broadcasting of an opposition leader’s speech in parliament could survive. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of corruption allegations that have been leveled at this particular PM’s ministers, their families, and most critically at him and his own son.

Welcome to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. While he’s indirectly conceded the interference with the freedom of the press, the Prime Minister and his stalwarts have engaged in a scorched-earth strategy of blaming a vast conspiracy for the attacks against him. Never mind that ministers have lost their jobs and their sons have been arrested (along with a state-owned bank CEO). Never mind the millions of dollars worth of cash found in houses owned by all these figures, or the taped conversations leaked to the public, mainly through social media outlets, revealing that judicial investigations have been ongoing for sometime. Forget all that: It is not the alleged thieves, crooks, and their enablers who are at fault, but the accusers. So goes the logic in Erdogan’s Turkey. There’s nothing wrong with having millions of dollars and euros stashed at your home or office or elsewhere, and sweetheart deals with shady businessmen are perfectly okay. It’s questioning these practices that is the real threat to the nation.

At the heart of the conspiracy, it is claimed, is a “parallel state” led by Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric who sought refuge in the United States in 1999 when he was persecuted by the then-dominant Turkish military establishment. Gulen and Erdogan had earlier formed an alliance against this common enemy. But now, with the military forced back into its barracks, they have turned on each other. For Erdogan and his supporters this vast conspiracy, instigated by Gulen and his presumed followers in the judiciary and the police force, is aided and abetted by a slew of villains. These include, Americans, Jews, Israel, Germans, neocons, CNN, Financial Times, a variety of international and domestic banks, the Council on Foreign Relations. Even the Queen of England, if you can believe it, has nothing better to do with her time than plot the downfall of the Turkish Prime Minister and his supporters. Why, exactly, would all these people have it in for Erdogan? It’s a mystery, of course.

But let’s set aside these fantasies, at long last. The truth is that Erdogan is the principal and lead actor in his own demise. As good a politician he has been up to recent times, these allegations somehow caught him by surprise. He has been the unchallenged leader of Turkey for a decade. No one has dared cross him, and no one has figured out how to beat him. The opposition has been weak, and the resources he has marshaled have enabled him and his party, the Justice and Development Party, AKP, to build a formidable patronage network that encompasses a vast segment of the Turkish press, business groups, lots of NGOs, think tanks, and segments of the bureaucracy. The money that he and his family members have allegedly collected has not merely gone toward self-enrichment, but also toward financing and building a monumental network of individuals and organizations whose only loyalty is to Erdogan.

This web of supporters has, in Erdogan’s name, ginned up all these conspiracy plots, which would challenge the credulity of an eight year old but which nevertheless have fanned the flames of social division. By means of wealthy close businessmen who have benefited from state contracts, Erdogan engineered the purchase of many Turkish media outlets, along with the columnists that come with them. The Erdogan press is Pravda on steroids, attacking and defaming anyone who opposes the “master,” as some have come to call him. They have little choice but to defend Erdogan to the bitter end. Were he to lose power, even to another faction within his own party, they would all lose their privileges. The sad truth is that Turkey has experienced such periods before, when the military and its allies mounted a massive campaign to undermine a coalition government that it considered unsavory. Some of AKP’s current members were in that government in 1996–97 and remember those days with bitterness. Given that AKP and even some of its current opponents attributed the 1997 coup to American and Israeli villains, it is no surprise that today many AKP supporters are willing to buy into that recycled narrative.

But will conspiracy mongering be enough to save Erdogan? At some level, he has already lost and lost big. He had aimed at being the most transformative leader Turkey has known since its founder Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s and 1930s. He came awfully close. He managed the economy relatively well, delivered a slew of new services in both health and education to citizens of modest means, and invested heavily in infrastructure, from transportation to utilities. Perhaps his greatest achievement still to come: a peace deal with Turkey’s rebellious Kurdish minority. If it comes, it will have been the result of his opening of the door and dramatic reversal of decades of uncompromising and violent Turkish state policy with respect to the Kurds. For the time being, the ceasefire has put a temporary end to the flow of military casualties.

Erdogan had hoped to stick around the Turkish political scene for another ten years, preferably as President of the Republic. Even if his party prevails in the upcoming March 30 municipal elections (that is, if they win a plurality of votes), he has severely damaged his own brand. He is a diminished figure. His hubris and self-confidence, and the lack of a democratic culture in his party, have served him poorly. Internationally, no one can take seriously a leader who propagates preposterous conspiracies targeting Turkey’s most vital allies. He will be remembered not as a transformative leader but as a divisive one—as someone who has called his opponents terrorists because they are leftists or atheists, who deepened the sectarian fracture between majority Sunnis and minority Alevis. In sum, he has already lost his claim to any moral legitimacy.

Still he is not a man without resources. He is quite capable of engendering a crisis of sorts, international or domestic, to distract attention and to rally the troops around him. Accusations of foreign involvement bought him time earlier in May and June 2013 during the massive protests in Istanbul and elsewhere.

It is also possible that, barring a manufactured crisis, serious reversals in the municipal elections—including the possible losses of Istanbul, his home base, and Ankara to the opposition—will provoke a move against him within his own party. Already some in the party are secretly hoping that President Abdullah Gul, also a founding member of AKP, will intervene. There is no question that Erdogan is in a fight for his political life, but the ground is rapidly shifting under him. The crisis is taking a toll on the economic life of the country. No amount of bombastic recriminations against real and imaginary enemies can undo the momentous damage done to his and Turkey’s reputation, the rule of law, and confidence in sound crisis management—all necessary ingredients for a country to move ahead in a globalized world.

Henri J. Barkey is a professor of international relations at Lehigh University.
show comments
  • JohnOfEnfield

    All this reminds of another president I know.

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  • ilse karaim

    End of Erdogan? It seems more likely to be the wish of Prof. Barkey; however, most recent polls show Erdogan’s party still has more than 40% support, securing both Istanbul and Ankara, while the main opposition party has less than 30%.

    • Rol_Texas

      “Even if his party prevails in the upcoming March 30 municipal elections (that is, if they win a plurality of votes), he has severely damaged his own brand. He is a diminished figure.”

    • John

      First, As a Turk, I am ashamed to have Erdogan as a PM. There are a couple of cases in Asia, where presidents/politicians that are accused of corruption, choose ending their life than to face shame. Our guy on the other hand has no sense of shame. This bothers me the most.

      Anyway, there are rumors, pictures of voting papers already stamped with AKP on the Internet. I am pretty sure that somehow they cheated on the elections the second time they got chosen. So that is the main factor. In addition, Erdogan’s core voters are from the ghetto. People that somehow graduated high school and like many Turks are religous. That type is not aware of whats going on in the country. To them, he is a charismatic leader that is taking Turkey to the next century while allowing more room for religion. This portion of Turkish population (the majority I can say) do not follow news regularly. Well, even if they try to catch up with the news, they are most likely going to see Erdogan propoganda anyway, since most of the media is controlled by him. In short, most of his supporters are not aware of whats REALLY going on.
      It’s really annoying to see your country to transform into a version of Nazi Germany.(special thanks to USA for supporting and picking Erdogan when he was coming up).

      • ali

        I say be aware of charismatic Turkish leaders.Previous gifted leaders in Turkey took care of several genocides and attrocities

      • A.T.

        Hi “John”,

        I am running 2 companies, graduated in Denmark, Holland and England for triple-Bachelor degrees within 4 years. Also I have launched charity organizations and right now, at the age of 26, I am employing 200 people.

        I hope I am privileged to ask you some questions:

        1. Would you count me to the profile of Erdogan supporters above (Yes, I am supporting Erdogan and the AKP)?
        2. If yes, please tell me the “whats REALLY going on”?


  • Gavurbey

    Even after ten years and increasing margins of victory in elections, pundits such as Barkey refuse to take Erdoğan, the AKP, or the people who vote for him seriously. Thus, they will continue to be confounded by the election results and Turkey’s continuing development as a culture, democracy, economy, society, and state.

  • trt

    take a look at agypt’s pm. mursi…. isn’t he just another agent in the name of Sionism…. isn’t he equal to turkeys PM. Emperialism is the biggest problem on earth…..

  • YK

    It’s really hard to imagine how a prime minister can survive under these circumstances. But wait! Maybe it is even harder to imagine not knowing how and by whom a leader of a country is recorded on tape…That probably explains the survival as well.

  • Jon

    Excellent analysis. Another sad, but revealing fact is how poor the Turkish vocabulary of Erdogan and his “Harvard educated” son, Bilal, is on those recorded tapes. The demise of borderline-illiterate, street-smart politicians is nothing new in developing countries…

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  • gubblerchechenova

    Never mind that the opposition s just as bad.

    Yet, Europe keeps taking in Muslim immigrants.

  • gubblerchechenova

    “These include, Americans, Jews, Israel, Germans, neocons, CNN, Financial Times, a variety of international and domestic banks, the Council on Foreign Relations. Even the Queen of England, if you can believe it, has nothing better to do with her time than plot the downfall of the Turkish Prime Minister and his supporters.”

    Silly to mention the queen. But who can deny the Jewish/neocon role in the oppression of Palestinians, the Iraq War, the war is Syria, the destruction of Libya, and the economic strangulation of Iran(a nation with no nukes while Israel has 300 illegal ones)? Your denial of the Jewish role in world affairs is loonier than Erdogan’s jokey mention of the queen.

    Who in the West are spearheading the effort to undermine Russia via Ukraine? It ain’t Mexican-Americans, black-Americans, or most white gentile Americans.
    It’s Jewish-Americans and Jewish-Brits who are leading the charge?

    You got guts and eyes to admit that?

    • ali

      I think you are as mad as your master the Islamist Erdogan.

    • scott stams

      Yeah, except that Svoboda, a rabidly anti-semite neo-nazi party is currently sharing power in Kiev. You either are not that well read or, more likely, are an anti-semite muslim yourself. Do you have the guts to admit that?

  • stevesailer

    The organization headed by Imam Gulen, who is holed up in a fortified compound in the Poconos, is the largest operator of charter schools in the United States. The Gulenists take in over a half billion dollars of American taxpayer money each year to run over 130 charters in this country:

  • stevesailer

    According to Wikileaks, the American ambassador to Ankara, James Jeffreys, cabled Foggy Bottom:

    “Gülenists also reportedly dominate the Turkish National Police, where they serve as the vanguard for the Ergenekon investigation—an extensive probe into an alleged vast underground network that is accused of attempting to encourage a military coup in 2004. The investigation has swept up many secular opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), including Turkish military figures, which has prompted accusations that the Gülenists have as their ultimate goal the undermining of all institutions which disapprove of Turkey becoming more visibly Islamist. (COMMENT: The assertion that the TNP [Turkish National Police] is controlled by Gülenists is impossible to confirm but we have found no one who disputes it.…)”

    In defense of the Gulen cult that is taking down Prime Minister Erdogan, however, let me point out that they appear to be serious, sober-minded men who take the long view of things. So, maybe they deserve a chance to run Turkey for awhile to see how they do. Or maybe they would be a disaster. I don’t know.

    • YK

      Steve, the problem is while they want to run Turkey, they do not want to form a political party and ask for people’s votes. I find this unacceptable regardless of how serious and sober-minded they are.

      • stevesailer

        It’s almost as if Turkey is full not just of conspiracy theories, but of conspiracies.

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  • free_agent

    I’ll believe in the end of a bad government when I see it.

    But it’s not clear that there is a serious democratic alternative. It looks like Turkish elections are machine politics on a national scale, you get to choose which autocrat rules you. It sounds like for years the military provided the autocracy and the remainder of power was handled democratically. Now it looks like a choice between Erdogan and Gulen. Countries have emerged from messes like this (Taiwan and South Korea), but it’s not inevitable.

  • cammo99

    How much does the MB and sharia law advocates stand to gain if Erdagon leaves? Will this be another false front for an “Arab Spring” sic, they are Turks, that is just a phony propaganda invention for the west to hide the next likely Islamic Revolutionary state?

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  • Wayne Starlett

    Before I even read this, from having looked at the title, I’m presumming you think the elections will matter. Someone with his power can produce any result he wants..

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  • Enough Is Enough

    “… He came awfully close. He managed the economy relatively well, delivered a slew of new services in both health and education to citizens of modest means, and invested heavily in infrastructure, from transportation to utilities.” – It is quite obvious (at least for those who actually lived -no, survived- through the Erdogan dictatorship) that, with all due respect, Dr. Barkey has no clue about what Erdogan has (NOT) done over the past decade. And, even to compare him with Ataturk…

  • Basansarnic

    I don’t think it’s the end of the Erdogan I disagree with Zionist puppet Henry Barkey. Looks like this article written by Mossad and Mr Henry Barkey made some revision. Turkish revolution is just starting and we will see Mr Erdogan another 10 years
    Turkey will continue grow 5%-8% next 10 years and they will become most powerful country in middle east and Europe
    Turkey needs to do couple things urgently. First withdraw from NATO and EU membership application. There so many Zionist in USA . Their number jobs is screw American and Americans every single days for Israel. Almost every Zionist business owner in USA works for Israeli Mossad

  • kuala

    very accurate!

  • Guest

    The election results are out: Erdogan’s AKP took %45.5 of the votes, the highest local election result in the history of Turkey. Looking at the conclusion of the analysis and the result of the elections, some may argue that the author, Henri J. Barkey has “severely damaged his own brand. He is a diminished figure” as an analyst who writes about Turkish Politics?

    However, an analysis of this failure would be a very educational and enlightening read. I bet it would give us a much more accurate presentation of Erdogan and the politics in Turkey.

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