By Barry Rubin
On Sunday, June 12, Turkey will hold what might well be its most important elections in modern history. It may also be the worst thing that’s happened to the country in modern history. If the current regime is reelected—and it could do so, given Turkey’s electoral system, with less than thirty percent of the vote, the emboldened Islamist regime will hit the accelerator in transforming Turkey into as much of an Islamist state as possible.
The ruling AK Party has been cautious, concealing its aims and pretending to be a “center-right” reform party. Many Turks have also accepted this notion. Roughly only 12 percent want an Islamist state and around 30 percent will also vote for the current regime in the belief that it won’t give that to them.
Yet as the AK has entrenched itself in power, put its cadre into institutions, undermined democracy, and paid virtually no international cost for doing so it has become more confident. One might better say, arrogant. This election could well be the last straw pushing Turkey over the edge of the cliff.
Whether or not anyone in the U.S. government recognizes it now, that development will spell the end of a U.S.-Turkish alliance that has endured 55 years. Turkey, arguably the Muslim-majority country with the most advanced infrastructure and greatest military capability in the world, will be in the enemy camp.
Already, the Turkey-Israel alliance is long over and will not return under this regime in Ankara. The Turkish government supports Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah. The regime officially sponsors antisemitic hatred. The hatred of the regime for Israel and Jews is pathological. Nothing like it has been seen in Turkey during all of the centuries since the Turks arrived in Anatolia. Many Jews are leaving or are getting prepared to do so.
If the regime gets a big enough majority it will rewrite the Turkish constitution. Turkey, as we have known it, a secular democratic state since the 1920s, will no longer exist. Of course, not everything will be obvious and happen overnight, but the repression we have already seen will increase. The courts, the armed forces, and other institutions will be taken over by this Islamist government.
It will be a disaster for Western interests. And coupled with the same thing happening in Egypt, these events will catapult the region back a half-century or more into strife.
Meanwhile, the West snores on. Western media coverage of the Turkish regime is glowing. Yet if one actually looks at what’s happening in the country, reading the Turkish-language media and talking to the many Turks horrified by these developments, the picture is horrifying.
Here is an example of life in contemporary Turkey. The town of Hopa received a visit from Prime Minister Erdogan. Opposition banners are removed by the police. When local people resisted, the police attacked. A retired teacher who had been trying to negotiate with the police died.
Scores of journalists have been arrested and thrown into jail. One-third of the media has been bought up by the regime; much of the rest intimidated. Military officers, college professors, union leaders, activists, and peaceful critics of every description are thrown into jail on trumped up charges and kept there for months, years. The waiting time for a trial during which people are jailed is now three years. Yes, three years without proof of any wrongdoing.
A respected investigative journalist is arrested and accused of terrorism. His crime? Writing a critical book on Fathi Gulen, Turkey’s leading Islamist cleric. All of the copies of the manuscript are confiscated. Gulen controls the police.
Two other journalists are arrested. Their crime? Saying that they were about to publish documentation showing that the government’s claims of conspiracy, used to arrest so many, are bogus. Gareth Jenkins, a serious scholar, has gone through thousands of pages of court documents and shown that the hundreds of people imprisoned have not even been accused of any specific act. I know of a half-dozen journalists fired for daring to criticize the government. There are many more.
How to intimidate the media? Tax officials arrive and take over offices, going through all of the documents trying to find some technicality on which to bring charges. The largest media group in Turkey, the Dogan Group, was told that it owed $2.5 billion in penalties. That is not a typographical error. It is several times the worth of the entire company. The government demanded that they pay the fines first and then if they wanted they could go to court. To provide a partial payment and bank guarantees, the Dogan Group had to sell two newspapers.
People feel that they are watched, wire-tapped, and spied on. Turkey was never a perfect democracy. Yet this atmosphere is closer to that of a country under Communism than the Turkey they have known all their lives.
As a Turkish professor writes to me:
“There has been an air of terror where people are afraid to talk anymore, in public or over the phone or even behind closed doors against the government or Gulen movement. Who knows [whether] your words will be used against you in the future?”
Four prominent parliamentarians of the MHP party, the nationalist opposition, were forced to withdraw their candidacies in the forthcoming election after a mysterious website published video and audio of their involvement in illicit sexual activity. America has had its scandals recently. But the government using its intelligence assets to destroy its opponents systematically is something quite different.
Actually, since the process has not advanced so far, one can read about all of these things and more in some Turkish newspapers or be told of events by credible sources. The campaign of anti-Americanism is in the open. The daily preaching of hatred against Jews and Israel is in the open. The tightening links with Islamist movements and regimes is in the open.
As we know from leaks, the U.S. embassy in Turkey has reported many of the kinds of arguments and analysis I’m making. Yet the White House and the president are blind. On that reporting, check out Okan Altiparmak and Claire Berlinski, “The Wikileaks Cables on Turkey: 20/20 Tunnel Vision,” MERIA Journal, Vol. 14, No.4 (December 2010).
I don’t want to overstate the threat so feel free to assume I’m exaggerating. Subtract the proportion you want, take another look, and you’ll still see a great deal to be alarmed about.
The View from the White House
Perception of this revolutionary Islamist threat by Obama White House: Close to zero.
Actions taken by the Obama White House to counter it: Zero.
Principal enemy according to White House: Al-Qaida, which rules no population.
Main problem in the Middle East according to White House: Israel’s presence on part of the West Bank, ruling about 30,000 Palestinians directly (in Hebron) and the existence of settlements with about 300,000 Israeli settlers.
The View from the Middle East
Egypt has 82 million people; Iran has 78 million people. Turkey has 79 million people. Total: By the end of this year, almost 240 million people in those three countries alone will live under Islamist or radical anti-American regimes allied to them. Adding in the Gaza Strip, those under Hizballah control in Lebanon, and Syria brings the total to about 250 million. One-quarter of a billion people are going to be—many of them involuntarily–in the enemy camp. Call it the Crescent Curtain if you wish.
These countries and groups will not work together in every respect but they will work against the West, stability, democracy, and Israel’s existence.
The loss of Turkey—yes, I said it, loss—would be a tragedy of tremendous proportions to the West and, of course, the loss of liberty and democracy in Turkey would be most of all a tragedy for the Turkish people.
The event would be a tragedy; the failure to see what’s happening is shameful. In policy and analytical terms, it is the equivalent of criminal.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/ His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/.