Erdogan’s Turkey

Both Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have changed significantly over the past few years. First of all, they exude a sense of confidence that has been lacking since the administration of Turgut Ozal in the 1980s. Turkish entrepreneurs who have expanded their activities into Russia, China and, of course, the Balkans speak as though they are representing a major emergent force. If you listen hard enough, you may even hear a hint of sarcasm about Greece’s predicament after a long spell during which Athens led the race. That same dynamic and confidence is also apparent on the streets of Turkey, specifically in the streets of Ankara, which have come alive with young people. New airports, skyscrapers where shantytowns once sprawled and mushrooming malls provide the sense of an economy on the go. It is even more interesting to see how much Erdogan has changed. I remember meeting him for the first time in his party headquarters in a run-down apartment block. His HQ today looks like a Ritz-Carlton hotel on the outside while inside it is resplendent with rich drapes and massive chandeliers. It too is an example of the new wealth that has been amassed during Erdogan’s tenure. At the same time, however, it also sends a message about the Turkish status quo, especially if compared to the old Soviet-style buildings that house the military and state services. Erdogan has also changed within himself. I remember him at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, back in 2001, as a scared parochial politician who sat in a corner and didn’t say a word. Now it is obvious that he feels like the leader of an important power. When he began talking about Israel and its premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, his anger was evident, but at the same time he also put across a sense that he was completely unfazed by Israel’s potential reaction. This stance may be about attracting votes in the next parliamentary elections, but there is still a sense that Erdogan knows that he is now an important player in a major international game, and he is enjoying it. Beyond his newfound confidence, it is also impressive, however, to see the toll his new role has taken on him. We see a man surrounded by staff and advisers, but also a leader who has experienced intolerable pressure from his clash with the deep Turkish state.

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