The final countdown: Turkey is on a knife-edge

‘Kilicdaroglu’ is a pronunciation nightmare for the non-Turkish. Yet after this Sunday’s presidential elections, international news presenters, who have struggled for 20 years with President Erdogan’s soft ‘g’, might have to work harder to articulate the name of the social democrat leader of opposition. ‘You may call him Mr Kemal [his first name] until he wins,’ I’ve been saying to journalist friends. It’s the kind of simplification that people from complex, non-western countries are self-trained to give so our maddening realities can be better understood: ‘To feel Turkey, imagine the acute polarisation during the Brexit referendum continuing for 20 years. Add to that a far more ruthless Trump with political

Has a Quran-burning protest ended Sweden’s Nato dream?

A crowd gathered outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm on Saturday afternoon to watch far-right politician Rasmus Paludan burn the Quran. Paludan, who leads the anti-Islam ‘Hard Line’ Danish party, was watched by dozens of photographers, police officers and bemused passers-by. Paludan is no stranger to controversy: he has previously been convicted under racism and defamation law. This latest stunt was called to show his party’s opposition to immigration and, he says, to stand up for free speech. Now, though, the stunt has become a diplomatic crisis for Sweden – and there are fears that its bid to join Nato could go up in smoke. Sweden is in the middle of trying to end

Erdogan’s plan for war, and peace

There are ‘global issues that we both have on our plates’, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, mysteriously, when he met with his Turkish counterpart last week. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, standing by Blinken’s side, thought the same. ‘We will focus on areas of partnership in bilateral and regional issues.’ Diplomacy as usual, then. Behind the boring platitudes lies a serious rift between Turkey and the United States. In late December, Syrian and Turkish defence ministers met in Moscow in the first proper meeting between the two governments in a decade. There are plans for another meeting between foreign ministers that could lead to a direct meeting between Turkey’s

Turkey’s dilemma: whose side is Erdogan on?

Istanbul Vladimir Putin’s ill-conceived blitzkrieg in Ukraine has failed thanks, first and foremost, to the guts of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. British and US-supplied anti-tank weapons have played a crucial role, too. But it’s Ukraine’s Turkish–made TB2 Bayraktar drones that have been the war’s most unexpectedly effective weapon. Unexpected not just because of their battlefield killing power but because the father-in-law of the TB2’s inventor and manufacturer is Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the only European leader to have once described himself as a friend of Vladimir Putin. Erdogan, with a foot in the East and West, has emerged as the war’s key power-broker – and his loyalty is being actively

Erdogan’s Covid crisis

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that the country will be heading into its first full lockdown. An early success story, this time last year Turkey was being hailed as a model for its swift actions that ensured the country saw a relatively small death-toll, relative to its size (39,000 people in Turkey have died so far in the course of the pandemic). Now infections are surging: Turkey recorded a total of 61,028 daily cases of Covid-19 and 346 deaths last Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic began. And Erdogan is panicking. There was some hubris in Erdogan’s early declarations of victory against the virus last year. The ‘common view both domestically

The empty promise of Turkey’s charm offensive

On Thursday, Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will land in Brussels to meet with European Union officials to start to ‘build Turkey’s future in Europe’. Next week, Turkey is expected to resume talks with Greece to resolve their maritime disputes after a five-year hiatus. The clash in the eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Athens has brought the two states to the brink of war and is one of a long list of reasons why Turkey has so far failed to ‘build’ that ‘future in Europe’. Speaking to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier this month, Erdogan vowed to ‘turn a new page’ in relations with the EU,

Why Erdogan is relishing making life difficult for Saudi’s crown prince

Jamal Khashoggi’s murder has been dissected by the world’s press, perhaps none more so than in Turkey, where the journalist met his grisly fate. Fresh information is still being leaked about his final moments inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. In a recording of his murder, Khashoggi can be heard putting up a fight. He orders his killers to release him and warns they’ll be brought to account. But will they? Or are there bigger fish to fry? And what is Erdogan hoping to achieve by making life uncomfortable for Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Khashoggi has been described by some as a Saudi dissident. Turkish media say he

Erdogan’s victory means Turkey’s future is far from certain

Many people I know woke up yesterday morning with a knot in their stomachs. ‘Another five years,’ I heard one person mutter. They were referring of course to the victory secured by President Erdogan in Turkey. He won nearly 53 per cent of the votes in an election that many had hoped would see him defeated, especially as his regular ‘Ace’ card, the economy, has been rather rocky these past few years. The result showed his main rival wasn’t even close: Muharrem Ince garnered a little shy of 31 per cent in the poll. The 64-year-old president thanked the country for putting their faith in him once again. He told

What common ground will Theresa May find with President Erdogan?

When Turkey’s President Erdogan visits Theresa May in Downing Street on Tuesday, he will no doubt be on his best behaviour and control his baser instincts. Otherwise, as he will be met by a Free Turkey Media demonstration organised by English PEN, he could do as he has done earlier – as in Washington and Ecuador – and call on his bodyguards to beat up demonstrators. Of course, if it had been Turkey, they wouldn’t have been allowed to demonstrate, but if they had, they would not only have been beaten up but also incarcerated. Remember the Gezi Park uprising five years ago when over 8,000 were injured, 8 killed

President Erdogan’s Syrian dilemma

Istanbul It is a bad time to have an ally on the fence. With US military action in Syria looking more likely by the minute, and the West’s frosty relations with Russia in danger of deepening into a new Cold War, Washington is eyeing the actions of Turkey’s President Erdogan with concern. Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, the ally with the second biggest army and the only one to share a border with Syria, has spent the past two years cosying up to Russia. Ankara is part of the Astana troika alongside Moscow and Tehran – an initiative that has snatched the peace-broking lead in Syria from the UN

The political similarities between Erdogan and Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn’s loyalists might howl at the suggestion that his style is similar to President Erdogan’s. But they would do well to pay heed to the parallels. The Turkish strongman, like the Labour leader, puts great effort into polishing his image as a pluralist and an ally of the minorities. On Friday he sent his customary Passover message to Turkey’s Jewish community, telling them that he regards them as ‘an inseparable part’ of the country. He did the same for Turkey’s Christians as they celebrated Easter on Saturday, adding that ‘(our) diversity is our treasure’. A day later, though, Erdogan stood in front of a crowd of his faithful and

Trump and Erdogan: the new populists

Istanbul The most dramatic part of President Erdogan’s visit to Washington this week was the punch-up between his security guards and Kurdish demonstrators on the lawn outside the Turkish embassy.  The protest was nothing unusual for a president who seems to provoke adoration and disgust in equal measure wherever he goes. Neither was the violent scuffle a surprise; Erdogan’s bodyguards did the same last time he was in the States. The news barely touched the Turkish press, and not only because there are few titles left on the news stands which offer opposition to Erdogan. When similar fights break out in the Turkish parliament, as they have done regularly over the past

Portrait of the week | 20 April 2017

Home Theresa May, the Prime Minister, having repeatedly said that there would be no election until 2020, surprised the nation by suddenly standing at a lectern in Downing Street, while the wind ruffled her hair, and saying that she sought a general election on 8 June. ‘Britain is leaving the EU and there can be no turning back,’ she said. ‘The country is coming together but Westminster is not.’ She said later that she had taken the decision after a walking holiday in Wales, and had spoken to the Queen on Easter Monday. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, passed in 2011, required a two-thirds majority of all MPs (or a motion

Turkish democracy has just died; Europe could not have saved it

Well farewell then Turkey.  Or at least, farewell the Turkey of Kemal Ataturk.  It’s a shame.  Ataturk-ism nearly made its own centenary. But the nation that he founded, which believed broadly in progressive notions such as a separation of mosque and state, has just been formally snuffed out.  President Erdogan’s success in the referendum to award himself Caliph-like powers for life finally sees the end of Turkey’s secular and democratic experiment. Perhaps the poll which gave him victory was rigged.  Perhaps it wasn’t.  In the same way that perhaps the ‘coup’ last summer was real.  Or perhaps it wasn’t.  Either way, it’s all worked out very well for the man

Will Turkey dare to vote ‘No’ in Erdogan’s referendum?

Istanbul The Istanbul skyline is famous for being punctuated by mosques. Great domes of worship, with minarets reaching towards the heavens. The most famous is the mesmerising Blue Mosque. Built under the reign of Sultan Ahmet I, it was used as a symbol to reassert Ottoman power. Most people gasp in awe at its ornate ceiling, but I’ve always been fascinated by another feature; its minarets. There are six in total and in Turkey that’s unique, or at least it was. A few miles up the milky blue waters of the Bosphorus, another now stands to equal it. On the hills of Camlica on the Asian side, President Erdogan has

President Erdogan’s nationalist game plan

Ask any two Turkish nationalists how they will vote in their country’s upcoming referendum, and you’re likely to get two different answers. In just under a month, Turks will vote on a constitutional amendment that, if passed, will usher in the biggest political revolution since Kemal Ataturk founded the modern republic. It would shift the country from parliamentary democracy to executive presidency. This weekend I called round my contacts from Turkey’s various nationalist groups and asked them how they will vote. Exactly half said they will tick the box supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his bid to become executive president with almost unchallenged power, and a potential mandate until 2029. The

Europe’s elite rightly feel extinction breathing down their necks

Allahu Akbar! Greetings from Samsun, where Turkish protestors — their eyeballs spinning in orgasmic Islamic rage — tried to set fire to the Dutch flag while chanting the usual ‘Allah’s dead good’ stuff. They used cigarette lighters and some lighter fuel and up it went — and was then jubilantly trampled on by the inflamed, howling masses. Except that it wasn’t the Dutch flag — they had got hold of the French flag by mistake. I wonder if any of the similarly inflamed Turkish protestors in the Netherlands would have noticed? My guess is most of those demonstrating in Rotterdam had spent their entire lives in the Netherlands, but possibly

Europe’s politicians rightly feel extinction breathing down their necks

Allahu Akbar! Greetings from Samsun, where Turkish protestors — their eyeballs spinning in orgasmic Islamic rage — tried to set fire to the Dutch flag while chanting the usual ‘Allah’s dead good’ stuff. They used cigarette lighters and some lighter fuel and up it went — and was then jubilantly trampled on by the inflamed, howling masses. Except that it wasn’t the Dutch flag — they had got hold of the French flag by mistake. I wonder if any of the similarly inflamed Turkish protestors in the Netherlands would have noticed? My guess is most of those demonstrating in Rotterdam had spent their entire lives in the Netherlands, but possibly

How Erdogan used the Dutch as political pawns

Rotterdam What started as a minor disagreement between Turkey and the Netherlands has now expanded into an unprecedented diplomatic spat. Turkish attempts to hold rallies in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have been blocked – and President Erdogan is now using this to his advantage. In April, Erdogan will hold a referendum on changes to constitutional powers in Turkey. This has been his goal for a long time. Even the slight possibility of losing terrifies him. In Turkey the electorate has effectively been told they are ‘terrorists’ if they vote against the motion. Yet despite that, polls showed until recently that the vote was still split. That’s why Turkish ministers were on a campaign across Europe

How the Turkey question could swing the Dutch vote

Douglas Murray and Melle Garschagen, UK and Ireland correspondent for NRC, discuss the Dutch election: The Dutch public go to the polls tomorrow, and the question of Turkey is on the menu. This past weekend the Dutch government forbade a plane containing the Turkish Foreign minister from landing in the country.  The Turkish minister had been due to address a crowd in Rotterdam.  Another Turkish minister – the hijabi Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, due to attend a similar rally – was prevented from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam.  All of which led the Turkish government to dismiss the Dutch people (and then the Germans as well) as ‘Nazis’. Last night,