In Europe - West, Turkey / Türkiye

By Spiegel staff, Der Spiegel (Spiegel Online International), April 7, 2016

The EU has placed its fate in the hands of Turkish President Erdogan. But the man who is to help solve the refugee crisis has recently shown more clearly than ever that he prefers autocracy to democracy. He is the price Europe must pay for failure. By SPIEGEL Staff

Part 1: Erdogan’s Assault on Freedom and Democracy
Part 2: ‘Blackmailed by Turkey’
Part 3: All or Nothing

Part one

Celil Sagir doesn’t have much left to lose. On March 28, he was fired, shoved aside. Now, he can talk about what is currently happening in Turkey and describe what it looks like when one man subordinates an entire country.

Sagir was managing editor of Today’s Zaman, the English-language offshoot of the country’s largest opposition newspaper. But on March 4, police stormed the paper’s editorial offices in Istanbul. Anti-terror specialists took part in the raid, as did several burly men in riot gear to put down protests. In their wake came the so-called trustees, sent to monitor the paper on behalf of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The police searched the editorial offices and supervised the journalists as they prepared the next issue for print. Anyone wanting to enter the building was forced to pass through police checkpoints. Several journalists who were trying to get to their desks were fired by the police, told that their contracts had been terminated and that they should get lost. The rest of the editorial team was instructed to continue their work.

How, though, was that possible? The first issues of Zaman and Today’s Zaman printed after the takeover lacked the critical stance and uncomfortable stories the publications were famous for. Such texts were either thrown out or rewritten. Zaman appeared with an amicably smiling president on the front page, prominently placed above the fold. When Sagir complained, “the trustee responsible told me: There are authorities above the trustees.” He thinks “that somebody close to the president decided what would be published.”

“Press freedom isn’t only about free speech, it’s more about democracy,” says Sagir. Many of those opposition activists able to leave the country, he says, have now done so: academics, intellectuals and business people. They were afraid of raids and of being arrested, he says. Afraid of being prosecuted as terrorists and traitors.

“I would go too if I could,” Sagir says, but he has three sons. He tried to keep working because he didn’t want his newspaper to die and because he wanted to demonstrate to his children that he wasn’t giving up. But he has given up his hope for an open, modern Turkey — because it looks as though things are turning out just as Erdogan himself once said they would. “Democracy is like a train,” he said. “You get off once you have reached your destination.”

Making a fool out of Merkel

Erdogan’s modus operandi became even clearer last week in the absurd diplomatic dust-up over a satirical video aired by German public broadcaster NDR on its Extra 3 show. The clip, a rather harmless critique of Erdogan’s heavy-handed ways, is only about two minutes long — but it triggered an unhinged tantrum from the “Boss of the Bosporus”, as NDR called him. His aides fumed, the German ambassador was summoned and the government in Berlin, after initial caution, grudgingly issued a statement. Erdogan wanted the video to disappear — a position that clearly reveals his view of the state. It is that of a sultan, not that of a democrat. And it is definitely not the view of a leader who belongs in Europe.

Yet of all people, the Turkish president has become one of the most important politicians for Europe. Perhaps the most important. The dispute over the video served to demonstrate just how dependent on Erdogan the European Union has become. His reaction made a fool out of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU. He can toy with the EU, provoke it and use it to tighten his own grip on power.

The reason is clear. Without Erdogan’s Turkey, the refugee compromise would fail and the EU wouldn’t know how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people heading north from Syria and Africa. Even more border fences would be built and borders closed. Europe, as a free continent, as an open community of nations, would be in danger.

Since the deal with Turkey was negotiated, Erdogan has made it clear just how much power he wields. The German ambassador was first summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara on Feb. 19. Ambassador Martin Erdmann had to answer questions pertaining to a handout about genocide given to teachers in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The handout dealt extensively with the massacre of the Armenians during World War I, which Ankara denies. Included is a caricature showing Erdogan walking on the skulls of the victims.

Then came the satire affair. Erdogan was actually only the third choice of targets for the NDR satirists. They first considered doing a song about the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany, and then thought Social Democratic Party leader Sigmar Gabriel might make a good target. In the end, though, they came up with the idea of transforming an old Nena hit into an anti-Erdogan ditty.

The resulting video is much less caustic than many of Extra 3’s satirical treatments of other politicians. One of the authors says that he has rarely produced a satire with so little exaggeration. “Actually, we just sang about reality, one-to-one,” he says. Erdogan’s war on the Kurds, his approach to the opposition, equal rights for women: All such issues were addressed.

A tweet and a scandal

But on March 22, just a few days after the piece was broadcast, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Erdmann again. Initially, the summons was not made public, with Erdmann preferring to keep it under wraps.

On Good Friday, though, he told the story to Left Party parliamentarian Sevim Dagdelen. She is her party’s spokesperson for international affairs and she had traveled to Istanbul to monitor the beginning of a trial against two journalists from the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. She met with Erdmann while there.

The diplomat told her that he was grilled about the video by a Foreign Ministry division head for a full hour. In preparation for the meeting, he had brought along a Turkish-language version of the German constitution and a few unflattering caricatures of Angela Merkel, hoping to use the material to elucidate Germany’s understanding of freedom of the press.

That Sunday morning, Dagdelen wrote a tweet with a link to the satirical song: “This fantastic video from @extra3 has angered #Erdogan so much that he summoned the German ambassador in Ankara.” The story was out.

In response, Extra 3 received myriad expressions of solidarity while Erdogan became a target of derision. The editors of the “heute show,” aired by public broadcaster ZDF, joked that Erdogan had summoned the full moon “for insulting the Turkish flag.” Twitter users began sending around unflattering photo compositions featuring the Turkish leader and the staff of “extra 3” chose Erdogan as “Employee of the Month.”

The German Foreign Ministry suddenly found itself in an awkward situation. Normally, the country that summons an ambassador is responsible for making the incident public. But Turkey had said nothing. How should the German government now react? The Foreign Ministry in Berlin decided to simply confirm that the summons had taken place.

Still, the issue quickly became a source of diplomatic friction, and not least because of the German media’s extensive coverage of it. The Turkish side didn’t let it drop either. Last Tuesday, exactly a week later, Erdmann was again summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry. This time, the issue was his participation in the trial against the Cumhuriyet journalists.

Given that Erdogan himself had commented, it was not a summons that could easily be ignored. “This is not your country. This is Turkey,” he said in reference to Western diplomats who had observed the trial. “Who are you? What were you doing there?” Nowhere, though, is it written that diplomats are not allowed to observe trials.

Part two

Markus Ederer, state secretary in the Foreign Ministry, called his Turkish counterpart to explain to him Germany’s approach to freedom of opinion. One day later, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier made an unusually strong statement. “I believe that we should be able to expect that a European Union partner country … shares our common European values,” he said.

Still, he avoided direct criticism of Erdogan. As such, the statement is unlikely to assuage those in Merkel’s governing coalition who would like to see a tougher approach to Turkey. “Almost every day, Turkey is providing yet more evidence for why the easing of visa requirements and the acceleration of EU accession negotiations should be viewed critically,” says Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt, a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU. “Europe cannot allow itself to be blackmailed by Turkey.”

Erika Steinbach, human rights spokesperson for the conservatives in parliament, agrees with him. “I view the actions of Mr. Erdogan as a targeted provocation.” She believes the Turkish president wants to demonstrate that he is indispensable for Europe and can do what he wants as a result. “We cannot remain silent,” she says.

CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer says: “The Extra 3 case shows that Erdogan’s attack on press freedoms is an attack on our constitution.” Turkey, he continues, has distanced itself ever further from EU values in recent years. “This deficit must be clearly criticized by all democrats.”

Erdogan in recent months has lost a significant amount of respect in Washington as well. A week ago Tuesday, he flew to the U.S. capital to take part in the Nuclear Security Summit and received a markedly cool reception. Prior to his visit, Erdogan had inquired as to whether U.S. President Barack Obama was interested in accompanying him to the opening of a mosque in Maryland, but was turned down, with the White House blaming unfortunate scheduling problems.

Ultimately, Obama did meet for one hour with his Turkish counterpart to discuss cooperation on issues of regional security, counter-terrorism efforts and migration.” During the dinner, the two also discussed efforts to combat the Islamic State. Still, the protocol surrounding the event underscored simmering tensions between Washington and its NATO partner Turkey: the White House refused to have a joint photo taken of the two leaders as normally would have been done.

The U.S. government is upset by current developments in Turkey, particularly by Erdogan’s attacks on the opposition and the raids on the Zaman newspaper. Erdogan, it seems, overestimated his importance to the US, despite the fact that the Americans need him too. They use bases in Turkey to fly airstrikes against IS targets in Syria.

‘Instincts of a street fighter’

Erdogan’s cool reception in Washington isn’t likely to rein him in. On the contrary, at an off-the-record dinner with political advisers in Washington, he badmouthed Obama’s Syria policies and U.S. support for the Kurds in the country.

Years ago, a U.S. diplomat said: “Erdogan has the instincts of a street fighter.” Indeed, combat would seem to be Erdogan’s elixir of life. He needs enemies and has always worked against others on his climb to the top. His entire career has been based on a defeat that he transformed into victory. It came in spring 1998. At the time, he was the mayor of Istanbul, but his popularity was suffering due to accusations of corruption, and his party, the Islamist Refah, was banned.

The military government took him to court, in part because he had quoted verses in a speech a few months prior that seemed to prosecutors to be Islamist: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

In the end, he only spent four months in prison, separated from the general prison population and in a cell with carpeting, freshly painted walls, a television and a refrigerator. Faithful Muslims have since honored him. They see Erdogan as a man who stood up to the military for the good of the country, as a defender of Muslims and as a hero.

In contrast to many high-ranking politicians, Erdogan is not a child of the secular establishment, but the son of a blue-collar worker. He grew up in the rough dockland neighborhood of Kasimpasa, with his family sharing an apartment in a wooden barracks with relatives.

His father Ahmet shipped goods across the Bosporus and raised Tayyip, his sister and three brothers as devout Muslims. Erdogan later said that his father once hung him up by the legs in punishment and he still today tells the story of how he used to kiss his mother’s feet. “My mother demurred, but I always told her, mother, that is the fragrance of heaven.”

Erdogan learned early on how to get his way, with force if necessary. As a child, he sold sesame rings on the street to earn money and elderly customers of a tearoom in Kasimpasa remember an angry young man. “Tayyip never turned away from a fight. He would climb up onto the roof of the mosque and recite verses from the Koran.” He played striker for Erokspor, a local soccer club and his friends called him “Imam Beckenbauer,” after the famous German footballer. His father, though, rejected the sport as un-Islamic because of the shorts they wore and sent his son to a religious Imam Hatip school.

Never back down

The Istanbul bourgeoisie looked down on people like Erdogan, with new arrivals from Anatolia, like his family, being referred to as “black Turks.” Erdogan used the contempt as motivation. He studied business administration at Marmara University in Istanbul, joined the conservative Naksibendi fraternity and became involved in the Islamist political party of Necmetin Erbakan, who would later become prime minister.

Erdogan’s origins have molded his political style. If you want respect in Kasimpasa, you can never show weakness and never back down. There are only friends and enemies, black and white. Such are the rules of the street and the laws of the docklands. Still today, Erdogan views criticism as a personal affront, and when he feels insulted, he goes on the attack. His quick temper is feared.

After he was released from prison, he leveraged his rebel image into a political career. Just one year after its founding in 2002, he led his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to a surprising election victory, after which he put down the opposition and withstood overthrow attempts by the military and the judiciary.

Erdogan has now personified Turkey for more than 13 years, first as prime minister and then, since 2014, as president. He had a Sultan’s palace built for him in Ankara with 1,000 rooms. Yet he still presents himself to the electorate as an outsider, as the representative of oppressed, conservative Muslims.

Erdogan and his supporters have long felt excluded from Europe, and not without cause. For years, Turkey has been kept at arm’s length by the EU, with Germany at the forefront. Despite Turkey’s membership aspirations, Merkel only wanted to offer the country a “privileged partnership” at most. Now, Erdogan is no doubt gratified that Merkel needs him. Humiliation is one of the tools of the street.

The summoning of the German ambassador and the tirades against foreign media are not just expressions of Erdogan’s character; they are also the product of political calculation. Erdogan has never been one for political trade-offs and he likewise has no interest in placating the population of his country. He seeks to divide and provoke. He wants to win.

Which is why the Extra 3 video came at an opportune time. Erdogan is not so naive to believe that he could get Germany to censor the video. More than anything, his attacks carry a message for voters in Turkey: A man like Erdogan doesn’t bow down to anybody.

Erdogan is strong because Europe is weak. Because EU leaders were unable to reach agreement on the best way to confront the refugee crisis, they — and Merkel most of all — need him. Europe should have been able to establish joint control of its external borders and quotas for the distribution of refugees. But because it couldn’t, the EU needs somebody to do the dirty work: to fend off the refugees and send them back. Erdogan is that person. And people who take care of the dirty work tend not to be particularly refined.

Official equivocation

That is Europe’s and Merkel’s dilemma. She has delivered the EU into the hands of a man who often behaves like a thug, a man who oppresses the opposition and who is establishing an autocracy. He is a politician who has launched a bloody war against the Kurds, in part to win an election.

In exchange for his stopping the refugees, Turkey isn’t just receiving billions in funding from the EU, but also visa relief and even the prospect of EU membership. That is the price of Europe’s failure.

Last Wednesday, the German government had but a single goal: that of not further antagonizing the wild man from the Bosporus. German officials were long silent about the summoning of the German ambassador. But then came the government press conference.

“There are diplomatic channels the German government used to expound on and make clear its stance on freedom of opinion,” muttered Merkel’s government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz. And it was only after repeated questions that Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli was prepared to admit that the German ambassador had not simply dropped by for a cup of tea, but that he had been formally summoned. “It was a blunter method for indicating the need for dialogue, let’s put it that way,” she said.

The spokeswoman’s equivocating clearly shows the consequences of Merkel’s failed refugee policies. It was the chancellor who pushed through the deal with Turkey against opposition from her EU partners — it was her solution to the refugee crisis. While Eastern Europe and Austria have focused on closing the Balkan Route, Merkel views the deal with Turkey as the only effective way to limit the numbers of refugees.

Her idea makes a certain amount of sense: Instead of rolling out the barbed-wire, she wanted Turkey to ensure that refugees ceased crossing the Aegean Sea to the Greek islands. For months, Merkel negotiated with Turkey and her EU allies in an effort to find agreement and it was finally reached on March 18. Turkey said it was prepared to take back all refugees who managed to make it across the Aegean, but in return, the EU has opened the door to an increasingly autocratic Turkey.

It is part of the chancellor’s job, of course, to talk to shady characters and even to make deals with them if needed. All of Merkel’s predecessors have done the same. But the consequence of Merkel’s plan has been that the EU has become completely dependent on Erdogan; he was the key to her solution to the refugee crisis. That was her mistake.

There are, to be sure, no morally unimpeachable answers. The closure of the Balkan Route has led to thousands of refugees being stuck in the miserable camp in Idomeni, the Greek town on the border with Macedonia. But the decision by the Balkan countries and Austria to close their borders also prevented complete dependence on Erdogan.

No checks and balances

The Turkish president is fully aware of the trump card the refugee crisis has handed him and has done little to conceal his willingness to use it. Last November, he threatened European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker by saying: “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses.”

This sort of friend-or-foe logic has helped Erdogan survive even the most difficult crises in Turkey. But it has also divided Turkish society. The country is now dominated by an isolated man who stubbornly follows his own rules and who is slowly losing his grip on reality. That may be the result of having no one left in his circle who dares to contradict him or warn him of political miscalculations. It is a system that he himself has created — but it is one without checks and balances.

Former AKP deputy head Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat says that Erdogan has complete control over his party. The president, he says, appoints every single parliamentarian from his party and every governor. Erdogan’s son-in-law recently became a cabinet minister and his former chauffer is now a member of parliament.

Erdogan demands obedience and loyalty and those who disappoint him are punished and persecuted. There is a whole list of former companions who have broken with the president, and loyal yes-men have replaced able advisors. Some parliamentarians and even cabinet ministers complain that they can no longer even get an audience with the president.

Erdogan once campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption and nepotism, but he now views the country as his own property, complains parliamentarian Ayse Danisoglu. Were Turkey to join the EU, it would immediately become the union’s second-most corrupt country after Bulgaria, according to Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perception Index.

In the cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010, U.S. diplomats wrote about corruption at all levels in the country. They make it clear that the U.S. suspected Erdogan of having enriched himself via the privatization of a state-owned oil refinery, for example. Prime minister at the time, he was said to have control over eight Swiss bank accounts. He has denied the accusations and said merely that he had received gifts. But three years later, a corruption scandal plunged the AKP into its deepest crisis to date. AKP politicians and sons of three government ministers were accused of, among other things, accepting millions of euros in bribes and setting up illegal oil deals with Iran. At the home of the general director of the state-owned Halkbank, investigators found $4.5 million in a shoe box.

Erdogan’s own son Bilal has been accused of fraudulently obtaining preferred treatment in the awarding of property and construction rights — accusations that he has vehemently denied. Opposition politicians have also accused Bilal of setting up illegal oil deals with Islamic State. In one alleged phone conversation, Erdogan reportedly ordered his son to remove illicit funds from the house. Erdogan has said the recordings were a conspiracy, accusing opponents of having created a “shameless montage,” and police and public prosecutors who dealt with the case were fired or transferred.

But in Italy, public prosecutors have now initiated proceedings against Bilal Erdogan on suspicions of money laundering. In the US, a businessman confidant of Erdogan’s was arrested in mid-March for allegedly having set up illegal deals with Iran.

Part three

The upshot is that Erdogan’s motivation for remaining in office goes beyond merely wanting to hold onto power. Opposition politicians have said that, should Erdogan ever be voted out of office, the corruption cases would be restarted. The president and his family members could quickly end up behind bars.

That’s yet another reason that he keeps such a tight grip on the country: For him, it’s all or nothing. He is omnipresent in Turkish television. No matter when one channel surfs, it is always possible to find Erdogan delivering an address somewhere. Every day. He talks about how he envisions the role of the Turkish woman, he discusses the latest monumental project he has undertaken or he insults his opponents. Since he has been president, he has also taken to inviting even the most unimportant regional leaders from remote areas of Anatolia to Ankara. During such visits, the president holds forth at length while his audience feels honored at the opportunity.

The personality cult surrounding Erdogan has begun to take on increasingly absurd contours. Recently, a young Istanbul politician published a photo on Twitter of a water glass on a lectern. He wrote: “This is the glass our president drank from while delivering his speech.” It was as though the water glass was a relic and Erdogan was the saint.

According to the Osman understanding of politics, the sultan must be kept happy. Because when “Baba,” the father of the nation, is doing well, he will do things that are beneficial to his subjects. In such a system, many Turks are willing to forgive their ruler his errors, whether it be corruption or his volatile temper. The danger, however, is that the ruler will begin to feel unassailable.

Erdogan governs as though the entire world were Kasimpasa. When someone makes trouble, violence is the answer. The president sees himself as the embodiment of Turkey. Those who criticize him, are “acting against Turkey and against the Turkish people,” he says.

His power is also supported by devout Muslims who were discriminated against for decades in secular Turkey. Women in headscarves were not allowed to enroll in university and were shut out of state jobs.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, violently installed secularism at the beginning of the 1920s. He also replaced Arabic writing with the Latin alphabet and banned Osman dress. Atatürk and his followers, the Kemalists, believed they could implement Western culture, Western lifestyle and secularism in Turkey in just a few years.

Two pillars of success

Under Erdogan, the Muslim faithful once again feel respected. He himself is considered devout, even if some critics accuse him of simply using Islam as an instrument of power.

Erdogan’s success is based primarily on two pillars: Religion and economic growth. Before he rose to power, both politics and economics were firmly in the hands of the Kemalists. Islam and economic success, it seemed at the time, were incompatible. To his credit, Erdogan has disproven this preconception and under his leadership, large state-owned companies have been privatized, including ports, airports and energy sector conglomerates.

New industries have arisen and exports have grown. In the initial years of his rule, Turkey’s gross domestic product grew by up to 9 percent annually: It was Erdogan’s economic miracle. A new god-fearing middle class developed, one which has Erdogan to thank and supports him as a consequence. They are businesspeople like the steel and iron manufacturer Mahmut Hicilmaz, a friendly, bespectacled gentleman. As head of the chamber of commerce of Kayseri in central Anatolia, he represents the interests of around 17,000 companies, many of which wouldn’t exist without Erdogan.

A gold-framed calligraphy of the word “Allah” and a photo of him with Erdogan hang in Hicilmaz’s office. The people of Kayseri are religious, he says, which is also the secret to their success: “For religious reasons, it is important to us to work hard.” Erdogan and the AKP, he says, have brought the country forward and given the Turks a new self-confidence. They have invested in infrastructure, building streets and bridges that have connected cities and made trade easier.

Erdogan’s origins in the world of workers and the faithful could explain his aversion to intellectuals. When academics demanded an end to the violence in southeastern Turkey three months ago, Erdogan insulted them as a “dark, ignorant mob” and “traitors.” Disciplinary proceedings were launched against 109 scientists and 15 of them lost their jobs. Thirty-six were arrested.

Journalists who write critical stories, by contrast, tend first to be overwhelmed with threats. Then, like Can Dündar, editor-in-chief and capital bureau chief of the government-critical daily Cumhuriyet, they land in court — charged with spying, which can be penalized with a sentence of life in prison.

Insulting the president

In the case of Cumhuriyet, the paper published photos and videos supporting accusations that the Turkish secret service had delivered weapons and munitions to Muslim extremists in Syria. Erdogan personally filed the complaint against the journalists. They were released provisionally in late February after the country’s constitutional court ruled that their pre-trial detention violated their “right to personal freedom and security.” But Erdogan raged: “I will say this openly and clearly, I don’t accept the decision nor will I obey it.” Should such rulings be repeated, he threatened, it would call into question the legitimacy of the court.

There are some 2,000 cases pending against people accused of insulting the president. Bloggers have been prosecuted and writers threatened. Spiegel correspondent Hasnain Kazim also became intimately acquainted with the president’s rage. Back in 2014, he began receiving threats from Erdogan’s followers, with hostile messages coming via email, Facebook and Twitter, including such threats as: “If we see you on the street, we will cut your throat.”

Two years later, the Turkish government declined to renew Kazim’s journalist accreditation and residency permit. The documents of several German correspondents were delayed early this year, to the point that Chancellor Merkel got involved by repeatedly addressing the hold-ups. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu promised her several times that German correspondents would receive the accreditation, but Kazim’s wait was in vain. In mid-March, he and his family were forced to leave Turkey.

The laws of the street, the rules of the docklands, the thinking in terms of friend and foe have likewise led Erdogan astray in the two significant conflicts in the region: In Syria and in the Kurdish regions.

To get the best of his enemy, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Erdogan long threw his support behind Islamist rebel groups, even including Islamic State. Even as rebels and Kurds in Syria had long since begun fighting side-by-side against IS out of sheer necessity, Turkish security officials continued to ignore the IS extremists traveling through their own country. They would fly in from all over the world to Istanbul before crossing the border unchallenged into Syria. They even put down roots in Turkey itself.

Erdogan the savior

Erdogan’s reversal on his approach to the Kurds has likewise been destructive. In the winter of 2012, his government began negotiating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with the aim of establishing peace in southeastern Turkey. Erdogan himself launched the peace process and the two sides were making progress — until the elections in June 2015, when the moderate Kurdish party HDP won 13 percent of the vote and Erdogan lost his absolute majority. He promptly put an end to the peace process and the country slid into chaos and unrest. Yet Erdogan’s risky strategy bore fruit once again. After months of unrest, including terror attacks in Suruc and Ankara, he was able to present himself as the savior.

He promised that the AKP would bring back peace and security and blocked the creation of a new government with HDP. When new elections were held last November, he got his absolute majority back. It was a ruthless maneuver, but it was effective.

Now, the army and police force are once again fighting the Kurds and the senseless civil war has proven beneficial to Erdogan. The state has imposed curfews in several cities in the region and heavily armed soldiers have surrounded city quarters or entire villages, such as the Syrian border town of Nusaybin. Anyone who is seen on the street during the curfew is considered a terrorist. According to the president’s logic, that means they may be killed.

In late March, Erdogan said that 300 members of the security forces had thus far fallen victim to the fight, but added that the number of enemy deaths was at least 10 times as high. The opposition Kurdish party HDP says that hundreds of civilians have been killed since the beginning of the military operation.

Erdogan said last year that he intends to annihilate the PKK and fight until the “region is cleared of all terrorists.” He has also noted in recent months that no European governments are doing anything to stop him from doing so. And he knows that Merkel is keeping quiet because she needs his help in the refugee crisis.

“Erdogan has a plan to destroy everything,” says an HDP parliamentarian. The opposition, he says, has no chance to intervene politically. Although the HDP won almost 11 percent of the vote in the new elections and has a robust faction in parliament, capriciousness and repression have almost completely paralyzed the party. Erdogan accuses the HDP of being the political arm of the PKK.

And he says: “The anti-terror operations will continue with resolve.” It is once again his approach from early in life, it is the law of the streets of Kasimpasi: friend and foe, black and white. You can hit hard, but you can never yield an inch.

By Onur Burçak Belli, Markus Brauck, Clemens Höges, Hasnain Kazim, Katrin Kuntz, Ralf Neukirch, Ann-Katrin Nezik, René Pfister, Maximilian Popp, Gordon Repinski, Christoph Reuter, Christoph Schult and Samiha Shafy.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

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