Here is my last piece for Today’s Zaman in 2013:
What began exactly a year ago on Jan. 1 with the launch of the Kurdish peace process, a harbinger for an “annus mirabilis,” soon turned into an “annus horribilis” for the country’s single decision maker — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — after sharp twists and turns with urban protests and, as a grand finale, the latest graft probe.
Given all the cards (i.e. major issues) left spread across the table and unresolved under the 12 years of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, it was not a surprise at all.
For Erdoğan, it maybe was supposed to be a year when he would successfully test his third period of “mastership,” meaning he would put everything under his total control, Central Asian style.
It backfired. 2013 will now go down in history as Turkey’s response to that attempt. In other words, 2013 was the year a prime minister — despite being surrounded by incredible flunkeys and his immense voter backing — tested his limits in a very hard way.
In the ever-complex Turkey, domestic and foreign policy issues were more linked with each other than ever before. The Kurdish peace process had both to do with the mutual desire to end the decades-long bloodshed forever, and the rapid developments in Syria and Iraq, where the Kurdish awakening was accelerating.
But there was another dimension to Erdoğan’s policies: Without a clear road map ruling over the talks, he aimed only at weakening support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) through delays and unclear deadlines.
Last year started with hope on this key issue, and sadly ended with the same mistrusts. It also has brought higher risks, fueled by the situation in Syria.
2013 was the year that marked an end to Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy.
The policy’s challenges had already been made clear by the mismanaged Armenia rapprochement some years ago, but what terminated it was the way Ankara decided to deal with the Syrian crisis.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was very correctly condemned and isolated, but the critical deviation from the zero problems line was, besides Erdoğan’s tiresome and loud Assad-bashing on a daily basis, Turkey leaping to play the role of regime changer.
While the entire Western and Arab community adopted a cautious line and Israel kept its premeditated silence, Turkey stood out in the end as the sole power that wanted to topple Assad.
It did not seem to matter to Erdoğan that Assad’s regime had tons of chemical weapons and that Turkey’s soft underbelly was a prime target for attacks by the regime. Turkey’s border areas in Syria became a war laboratory for al-Qaeda offshoots. Terrorism started to spring up on Turkish soil, bringing fear, death and hatred.
The deal to decommission the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons, cut between the USA and Russia, came as a bitter reminder to Erdoğan of how erratic and dangerous his policy was of being a single power ready to destabilize an already destabilized region.
The nuclear deal with Iran also caused a blow to the Turkish policy and exposed its go-at-it-alone ways, quickly coined “precious loneliness,” which only means failure. Also, Erdoğan’s refusal to respond to Israel’s apology did more harm than good.
The July coup in Egypt, with all its ugliness, brutality and illegitimacy, was actually a good reminder to Erdoğan of how important the Turkish model has been: economic success, if coupled with inclusion, tolerance and decisive normalization show that Islam and democracy are compatible. But instead of analyzing the situation properly, he chose to side only with the Muslim Brotherhood. And he harmed a very valuable relationship with Egypt, hurting its people’s well-known pride.
And, I do not need to put much emphasis on the significance of Gezi Park and the prospective impact of the latest graft probe. Rather that those episodes themselves, it was Erdoğan’s way of reacting to them that caused such an awakening in society. He unveiled his dark side, and he seems eager to stand between Turkey and its well-deserved destination of democracy.
We shall see if he will survive; perhaps it is fair to say that 2013 could be known as the year his famous luck turned upside down.