Despite his tight grip on Turkey’s politics, state and media, Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be very lonely, in search of both friends and enemies. He is continually designating enemies at home and abroad, while trying to draw from every possible reservoir of support, even those who are frequent targets of his ire. His latest threat to Greece – “You will get to know the crazy Turks well” – reflects both tendencies at work at the same time. It reveals something of what is at play in Erdogan’s mind and in Turkish politics.
“These Crazy Turks” is a best-selling novel about the Turkish War of Independence, written by Turgut Ozakman. Published in 2005, three years after Erdogan’s AKP came to power, it sings the praises of the Turks’ achievements under the direst of circumstances, leading to their triumph with the establishment of the Turkish Republic. Described by an astute Turkish observer as a “Kemalist/secularist popular history manifesto,” its appropriation by Erdogan is an effort to attract support from secular nationalist voters of the CHP and IYIP opposition parties.
Up to now, Erdogan did not shrink from describing opposition leaders as terrorist sympathizers. Harking back to the War of Independence, in which Greece was a principal enemy, Erdogan is intensifying his effort to unite secular and Islamist nationalists. Agia Sophia’s reconversion into a mosque and recent military adventurism are aimed at this end, along with Erdogan’s cooperation with the extreme nationalist MHP.
Besides the almost comical aspect to Erdogan’s threat, though, his crass language against Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and French President Emmanuel Macron reveals frustration at the lack of progress that Turkey has made in its dealings with the United States and the European Union. The State Department’s unequivocal call yesterday for Ankara “to immediately release Osman Kavala from detention” shows that Washington is going to judge relations on the basis not only of the S-400 anti-aircraft system issue but also human rights.
Clearly, Erdogan will need all the friends he can get; and to do that he has to choose the right enemies. Because he is creating ever more problems for his people with his policies. Realizing that he will have to backtrack with regard to the US and the EU, what better tactic than to conjure up memories of a victorious war against the Greeks?
A wise response from the Greeks, directed at the Turkish people and Greece’s EU partners, would be that the war between the two nations ended a century ago, that the Treaty of Lausanne established the Turkish Republic and secured its future, and that only a fool or someone trying to hide his failures would seek to change this situation.