Turkey is facing a serious crisis – although this is nothing new. Political logic dictates that the end of an authoritarian leader begins the moment he shows signs of moderation and retreat in reaction to any kind of pressure or advice. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is obviously aware of this.
What those banking on his defeat fail to realize, however, is that he has shown flexibility, not toward the Kemalists, but toward the Kurds, in whose areas things remain calm. Abdullah Ocalan is the “informal” partner of the Turkish prime minister, something which cannot be erased given the insignificant numbers of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members taking part in the protests across the country.
During Ottoman rule, the Kurdish element acted as a shield against Iran’s Shiites on the eastern border. Kurds rallied around Mustafa Kemal Ataturk against Greek forces in Asia Minor, though their “services” went unrecognized by the Kemalists once they had prevailed.
Erdogan’s strategy against the Kurds has substantially altered the internal balance of power and has proven successful to a great extent, for the time being at least. Keeping this portion of the country – which is highly experienced in warfare – inactive makes the handling of Kemalist protesters a complicated, but not impossible, process.
The Turkish premier is pitting the Kemalist elite against the hordes of his own supporters, who he is encouraging. His power lies in the support of the Islamic masses and the discrediting of the old establishment comprising the justice system and the armed forces – something which he systematically planned over the last three years.
What happens within Turkey, however, is not really the point. The question is Greece’s ongoing helplessness against a massive Turkey and the undiscussed illusion of an imminent Turkish collapse, which seems to be taking quite a while.
The problem is timeless. When Greeks threw their support behind the Young Turks movement in 1908, their hopes were crushed. Following the collapse of the “Megali Idea” in Asia Minor, the myth of a Greek-Turkish friendship between Ataturk and Eleftherios Venizelos was dispelled following the persecution of the Greeks of Istanbul in 1955. Next came the Cyprus invasion in 1974, planned by the Kemalist – albeit of Kurdish decent – Bulent Ecevit. Fresh illusions were nurtured following a meeting between Andreas Papandreou and Turgut Ozal in Davos in 1988, while Erdogan’s victory over the Kemalists felt like love at first sight.
The farce of illusion every time a new face emerges or exits the Turkish political scene must stop. It’s time we realized that whatever change takes place within Turkey will not solve Greece’s issues with its neighbor. Greece should not worry about the Kemalists or the Islamists, but about its own inability to act as a structured country.