Angela Merkel’s criticism of Turkey for its invasion of northern Syria and Ankara’s reaction to this show in the clearest way the limits of European leverage over Turkey and the totalitarian mentality of the Erdogan regime. This means that an already difficult relationship with our neighbor becomes ever more dangerous for Greece and Cyprus.
The Turkish president is in survival mode, knowing that he will keep the end at bay only by imposing his will on events and by maintaining at all costs the image of the great victor and protector of Muslims. He has yoked these tactics to traditional Turkish state modes of behavior and strategies. Among these are: taking hostage the citizens of other countries (including Americans, Germans and other Europeans, as well as the two Greek soldiers), suppressing every possible domestic challenge, waging war on the Kurds, moving toward taking parts of Syria and Iraq, challenging the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, and putting continual pressure on Greece.
Even as he undermines the heritage of Mustafa Kemal, with his restoring Islam to the center of political and social life, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is investing in the great currents that have driven Turkish nationalism for over a century. He managed to turn his own need into a national cause. And it is stunning to see how a whole, sophisticated nation has bent to his will with such ease. The news on Wednesday that the Dogan news group was being sold to a pro-Erdogan company signaled the fall of perhaps the last citadel of an elite that envisioned Turkey’s ever closer relationship with the West.
German Chancellor Merkel’s speech to the federal parliament on Wednesday was the strongest condemnation of Turkey’s invasion and occupation of Afrin, as the attack on the United States’ Kurdish allies who fought against the so-called Islamic State has generally been met with a deafening silence. The EU, the United States and the international community as a whole have very little leverage with Erdogan. The only possible pressure could come from Vladimir Putin, as the two strongmen find themselves in a shaky marriage of convenience. Russia’s relations with the West, too, are at their lowest point in decades, which means that any pressure Moscow puts on Ankara will serve its own interests and will not necessarily benefit third parties. As long as this situation continues, Turkey will be able to act as if in its own parallel universe – turning black to white, acting as it pleases, accusing Germany of supporting the positions of “terrorist organizations.”