Turkey: Erdogan Abides


June 2, 2023: In the run-off election held May 28 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won an estimated 52 percent of the vote. He and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) defeated opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the Nation Alliance coalition’s candidate. Erdogan’s narrow victory means at the end of his new five-year term Erdogan will have held Turkey’s most powerful office for 25 years. Erdogan was elected prime minister in 2003, when prime minister was the most powerful position. After pushing legislation to increase presidential powers, in 2014 he ran for president and was elected. In 2017, he promoted and won a constitutional referendum that transformed Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential system – a very powerful executive. The new law took effect in 2018. Erdogan has global aspirations for Turkey and for himself. Internationally he pursues a policy the media have called “soft balancing.” Erdogan will cooperate with Russia and other authoritarian regimes but keep Turkey in NATO. NATO’s Article 5 deters any aggressor nation and Erdogan knows that has value. That’s a balancing act. However, Erdogan also thinks a multi-polar world has emerged in the last 20 years. Turkey can play an independent role – be a miniature Great Power, where he is the great leader. At a victory celebration in Ankara after his election, Erdogan promised “to build the century of Turkey.” However, economic analysts see continued inflation, with Erdogan’s loose economic policies the main reason. Financial markets aren’t pleased with Erdogan’s re-election. Today the value of the Turkish lira hit a new all-time low: 20.75 to the U.S. dollar. (Austin Bay)

May 30, 2023: Now that the national election is over won, the U.S. and Great Britain are urging the Turkish government to vote to admit Sweden to NATO. The Swedish government is implementing new anti-terrorism laws that prohibit membership in a terrorist organization. The laws are designed to meet Turkey’s demands that members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), other anti-Turk secessionist groups and anti-Turk terrorist organizations be arrested and tried. Turkey has also demanded that certain terrorists be extradited to Turkey for trial. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said he hopes Turkey’s parliament will vote to admit Sweden prior to the July NATO summit. Meanwhile, the U.S. has yet to approve the sale of new F-16s to Turkey.

May 29, 2023: According to Turkish media, educators and journalists are concerned that Erdogan’s May 28 re-election will lead to more restrictions on free speech. Erdogan is notoriously thin-skinned and has called opposition critics “criminals” for disparaging him. Educators fear he will crack down on teachers who oppose him politically. After 2016’s unusual coup, Erdogan’s government fired over 150,000 people. That figure included almost 9,000 university professors and administrators. Critics called it a political purge.

May 28, 2023: In Turkey, president Recep Erdogan won another five year term, extending his rule of Turkey to 25 years. This was a surprise outside Turkey, where Turkish economic and corruption problems as well as a unified opposition seemed to doom Erdogan’s reelection hopes. Erdogan remaining in power is bad news for NATO and encouraging to Vladimir Putin. Erdogan and Putin often cooperate, despite the fact that NATO was formed to protect members from Russian aggression.

May 27, 2023: Turkey is the main reason North African nation Libya remains divided and deadlocked. This is a problem Egypt, and to a lesser extent Israel, have been dealing with for a long time. Currently Libya has two main ruling factions, one in the east based in Tobruk and another in Tripoli, in the west. The UN backs the Tripoli faction, as do local Islamic militias and Turkish troops and their mercenaries. The eastern faction controls most of the oil and export ports. The Russian Wagner Group mercenaries are based in the east but now see themselves as peacekeepers and work with the Turks to maintain a ceasefire. This allows Russian oil firms to operate in Libya and do work for the Libyan national oil company. Both factions support national elections to unite the country but neither faction trusts the others enough to proceed with elections. Russia and the Turks refuse to withdraw their troops from Libya until they receive guarantees that their interests in Libya are respected. The UN and NATO oppose that because the Tripoli faction wants to legitimize an illegal treaty signed by the Tripoli faction in 2019 granting Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey that ignores existing, and internationally recognized, claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government. Many people in both factions do not want to be stuck with a treaty that the UN and NATO consider illegal. Russia is no friend of NATO and is currently at war with NATO in Ukraine. Turkey is also a NATO member but most other NATO members would like to expel the Turks from NATO and there is no legal mechanism for that. Turks and Russians are troublemakers in Europe and Libya is a the North African branch of that mischief.

May 25, 2023: A legal dispute continues to block the flow of oil through the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline. The pipeline can carry about 450,000 barrels a day from northern Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The flow stopped March 25 after an arbitration court ruled that Turkey violated the 1973 pipeline transit agreement and now owes Iraq around $1.5 billion.

May 22, 2023: Sinan Ogan, who received 5.2 percent of votes in the May 14 presidential election and finished third, announced he will support Erdogan in the May 28 run-off.

May 19, 2023: In a major press interview, President Erdogan touted Turkey’s relationship with Russia and his own personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He stated that Turkey will not impose harsh sanctions on Russia. He noted that Turkey had played a central role in negotiating the Black Sea Grain Corridor Initiative which permits Ukrainian grain exports despite Russia’s blockade. Erdogan argued that deal was possible because of Turkey’s relationship with Putin. Erdogan frequently contends that his “balancing” foreign policy pays off. However, some balancing also positions Erdogan as a rogue and penalizes Turkey. He insisted Turkey purchase Russian-made S-400 surface to air missiles. Perhaps that pleased Putin but the U.S. and other major NATO nations feared the S-400 would give the Kremlin an “intelligence window” on NATO air operations and even compromise NATO’s stealthy aircraft. Turkey’s purchase triggered sanctions authorized by the U.S. Congress Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The sanctions included kicking Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter program. (Austin Bay)

May 16, 2023: In northern Iraq (Sinjar in Nineveh province) a Turkish UAV used a missile to kill three members of a local pro-PKK (Turkish Kurd separatists) group. Turkey regularly carries out attacks like this in northern Iraq, especially around Sinjar.

May 14, 2023: The national elections held today were indecisive. No candidate won 50 percent of the vote. Erdogan got an estimated 48 percent, around 44 percent. Minor candidates divided up the rest. A run-off is scheduled for May 28.

May 12, 2023: Opposition political leaders are betting the national outrage at the government’s slow response to the February earthquakes will lead to President Erdogan’s defeat. There’s also the issue of corruption. In 2018 Erdogan relaxed building standards in order to spur housing development in central Turkey. The quakes devastated several cities where substandard buildings were constructed. Kahramanmaras was particularly hard hit.

May 11, 2023: Opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused Russia of interfering in Turkey’s presidential election. Kilicdaroglu claimed Russian operatives are behind “deep fake content,” slander and conspiratorial claims that are marring the election.

Iraq requested that Turkey allow Kurdish oil to resume using a pipeline through Turkey for exporting oil. This comes after Iraq won an International Court of arbitration ruling in March that declared it illegal for Turkey to allow 370,000 barrels of oil a day to move through a Turkish pipeline to a port where the oil can be sold to export customers and finance the autonomous Kurd government. Turkey gets a transit fee for use of the pipeline. Without the oil income the Kurds will have to surrender some of their autonomy to the Arab dominated Iraqi government. The Iraqi Arabs have never treated the Kurds well and under Saddam, the Kurds were constantly being attacked, in one case with chemical weapons. The Iraqi government and the Kurds worked out a new deal.

May 10, 2023: Southern neighbor Lebanon has started registering and attempting to deport Syrian refugees. The nearly two million Sunni Arab Syrian refugees that fled to Lebanon since 2012, radically changing the demography of Lebanon. Before 2011 the Lebanese population was only five million. Since nearly all those refugees are Sunni Moslems, it radically changes the religious mix of Lebanon from 27 percent Shia, 27 percent Sunni, and 46 percent Christian (and other religions) to a more volatile combination. With the refugee influx there were now seven million people in Lebanon and 47 percent were Sunni, 19 percent Shia and 34 percent Christian (and others). This put the Hezbollah militia in a bad situation. Their better armed and trained fighters have been able to dominate the other minorities since the 1980s. That was possible because of Iranian cash, weapons and advisors. But the Iranian help and better organization is no longer enough when the Sunnis are nearly half the population and out for blood because of the slaughter the Iran backed Shia Syrian government inflicted on Syrian Sunnis. Lebanon does not want another civil war over this and it was becoming difficult to contain the anger. Hezbollah and Iran have had some success attracting non-Shia factions (especially Christians) to be part of the Shia coalition. This is traditional Lebanese politics, with the Christians surviving by forming a coalition with non-Christian groups. Now even these Christian factions are backing away from Hezbollah. By 2023 Lebanon felt itself capable of dealing with the refugee crisis, especially since large-scale violence in Syria has largely disappeared. There are 5.5 million refugees in neighboring countries. Turkey has 3.6 million, Lebanon two million and 250,000 in Iraq. There are also several million Syrians in Saudi Arabia, who are considered part of the large (over six million foreigners) expatriate workforce. About a third of those workers are Syrians. While many fled to Saudi Arabia because of the war in Syria, they were not treated like refugees and have jobs and status in Saudi Arabia. Countries bordering Syria want their refugees to go home. That cannot happen without the cooperation of the Assads. Syria needs a lot of those refugees to revive the economy and the Arab League is willing to allow Syria to rejoin if they reduce their cooperation with Iran. That has always been a dangerous option for the Assads because the Iranians have enough armed operatives inside Syria to threaten the lives of key Assad clan members. Currently, Iranian power is unusually weak inside Iran and inside Syria. Now is a good time for the Assads to make a break from Iran, especially if he has the support of the Arab League and assurances that the League will help, not hinder Assad use of force to maintain their rule in Syria. Turkey does not belong to the Arab League but is eager to send its Syrian refugee’s home. The Assad offer is acceptable if it will finally get those Syrians out of Turkey. The Assad’s appear to have decided in favor of the Arab League. That outcome of that decision will become known and put into effect sometime this year.

May 9, 2023: Turkey’s deputy minister of defense said Turkey’s poor economy prevents the government from fully supplying the military with new equipment and weapons. In 2022 Turkey spent $10.6 billion on its military. That was a decrease of 26 percent 2021 expenditures.

May 7, 2023: Several opposition political leaders say they fear election meddling by Erdogan and AKP operatives. They point to the 2014 mayoral race in Istanbul. In that election ballot counting suddenly stopped with the opposition candidate in the lead. When counting re-started, the AKP candidate was ahead. Erdogan now controls the national election process and the agencies running the election.

May 3, 2023: Here’s an election stunt. The head of the Turkish Natural Gas Distributors Association announced private homes and places of worship will not have to pay for natural gas for one month. For the next 11 months the first 25 cubic meters will be free to individual citizens.

May 2, 2023: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) now ranks Turkey in 165th place on its World Press Freedom Index. In 2022 it was 149th. The index ranks 180 countries. RSF estimates that 90 percent of Turkish media is under government control.

May 1, 2023: President Erdogan claimed Turkish forces in Syria killed a senior Islamic State leader. Erdogan identified him as Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi.

President Erdogan participated in the roll-out ceremony of Turkey’s new domestically-manufactured fighter jet. Known as TF-X, it will be called the KAAN (khan, as in Turkic and Mongol rulers). The twin-engine jet is 21-meters-long and can reach speeds up to Mach 1.8. The government calls the plane a fifth-generation fighter. However, defense sources in Turkey acknowledge sanctions and export restrictions imposed on Turkey have limited its ability to develop sophisticated military equipment. Still Turkey is attempting to “indigenously modernize” its F-16 Block-30 aircraft. That means upgrading using domestically-made avionics and weapons.

April 30, 2023: Opposition presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the nominee of the six-party Nation Alliance coalition, announced a program for his administration’s first 100 days in office, should he win the election. The most important promise is to return Turkey to a parliamentary system. He will reinstate the position of prime minister, which was eliminated in 2018. A president will be limited to only one seven-year term. His administration will also lower inflation and return Turkey to the F-35 fighter consortium.

April 26, 2023: The Turkish Navy continues to show off its new amphibious assault ship, the TCG Anadolu. The Turkish people are proud of a first-class naval vessel designed and built in Turkey. However, the press coverage suggests the government is using the ship as an advertisement for Turkish-made military equipment, especially the TB-3 armed drone and the Kizilelma combat Unmanned Aerial Vehicle it carries. The 27,500 ton, 231 meters in length assault ship is the navy’s largest vessel. The ship can carry a battalion of naval infantry (approximately 1,200 troops), eight to nine helicopters and several drones. The vessel can also carry over 100 vehicles (including main battle tanks). The ship’s deck can handle short takeoff-vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft like the F-35B or the Harrier. However, Turkey is no longer in the F-35 consortium.

April 25, 2023: Defense ministers from Iran, Russia, Syria and Turkey met in Turkey to discuss ways to improve relations between Turkey and the Iran-backed Assad government in Syria. Russia also seeks to resolve problems it is having in Syria with Turkey and Iran. These discussions also discussed the withdrawal of Iranian and Turkish forces from Syria and economic aid to rebuild the shattered Syrian economy. Another meeting is planned for May and held in Russia.

April 24, 2023: The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) estimated that between February 2022 and February 23, food prices in Turkey rose 69 percent.

April 22, 2023: Analysis of the February earthquakes continues. There were three separate quakes. They are being referred to as the Kahramanmaras Earthquake Sequence. The quakes killed 50,783 people in Turkey and 8,476 in Syria. 107,204 Turks were injured. Financial analysts estimate the quakes cost the insurance and reinsurance industry from $4.5 to $5.3 billion.


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