We have been hearing rumors that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at death’s door for many years. A decade ago in fact, if not more, an important Western official with an intrinsic knowledge of Turkey stated that the Turkish president was “gravely ill” and that his death was only a matter of time.
Every week, some “insider” will claim to have the latest scoop on Erdogan’s health. The ambassadors in Ankara find it amusing because people keep appearing to state with great certainty that they have a “cousin of a close friend, whose brother-in-law treated Erdogan after a large stroke.”
Yet Erdogan is still here. He is obviously worse for wear and dealing with some medical issues, but he is still here and continues to be the main player in Turkish affairs. More recent rumors and the resulting intrigues in the Grand Palace, however, indicate that we are moving towards a new era. Everyone, both inside and outs of the Grand Palace and its court, are preparing for the day after.
Erdogan has a critical challenge to deal with: He has no safe way to leave the stage. As is often remarked by a leader of a country in the Eastern Mediterranean, “he’s gotten up there, he’s arrogantly looking down at us, but he has no ladder to come down on.” In a normal country he could lose the next elections and quietly go home. In today’s Turkey that will be very difficult.
There is an important section of the population and the elite who have suffered and are out for revenge. Those who are currently in control of the deep state will not just hand over power nor will they allow others to trawl through folders, looking for skeletons in the closet. Erdogan, his family and those surrounding them are well aware of that. They will fight to survive until the elections of 2023, when and if they take place.
A stable and predictable Turkey is the best scenario for Greece, the one that serves Greek interests. Crises usually occur when one, or both, countries are going through a period of extended instability. We, paradoxically, are on a trajectory without obvious and difficult hurdles ahead.
There is a lot at stake in Ankara though. No one knows the exact decision-making process, the role that hardliner Defense Minister Hulusi Akar may play, or who could consider a crisis with Greece and Cyprus beneficial. There are experienced Greek diplomats who believe that Erdogan is going through a rough patch and it is an opportunity to strike a deal with him. And there are others, many more, who believe that it is impossible to negotiate with him anymore and urge caution for the next few months. Pick and choose.