Erdoğan's (new) way

United States Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone probably knew that his unusually bitter remarks regarding the state of the rule of law in Turkey would lead to a reaction from Ankara.
During a visit to the Turkish Foreign Ministry he had to hear the dismay over what he had said about the flaws in the judicial system, which he blamed for keeping elected deputies, commanders, students, etc., in jail.

The point was, despite the sense of disappointment he had encountered, he knew that his was a widely shared view in the upper echelons of Ankara nowadays.

The irony of it all was the historic picture which was taken days after Ricciardone’s visit to the Foreign Ministry. It showed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan holding the hand of Ergin Saygun in hospital, a retired four-star general who had served as the number two in the military and as the commander of the İstanbul-based 1st Army. (He was amongst the key figures of the turbulent days when the Chief of General Staff in April 27, 2007, issued a harsh and threatening e-memo against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.)

When the jailed general, sentenced in Sledgehammer trial, had shown growing health problems, he was finally released (after repeated calls) for heart surgery, which went well.

The surprise followed immediately afterwards: Both President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan called him. However, as if to underline a change in position, the latter chose to show up by his bedside as well. The visit further emphasized Erdoğan’s repeatedly expressed complaints about the state of the judiciary — more or less in the same terms as those of Ricciardone.

These are the days, again, when all eyes turn on the prime minister of Turkey. Since the end of December he has been busy overloading Turkey’s political agenda, bombarding the field of politics with new elements, raising hopes as well as concerns. He has launched a new Kurdish initiative, declared a decisive stand on the completion of the draft constitution process, gave directives to pass the long overdue judicial reform package, did not refrain from openly criticizing the judiciary (in a manner perceived as undue interference by the executive power), expressed the will to cooperate with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) — the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — in order to take the draft constitution to referendum and underscored that he will do his utmost to change Turkey’s political system by initiating a presidential rule. Abroad, he keeps the European Union busy with his candid frustration and remarks on joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

What does he aim to do? “Erdoğan’s Way,” as I have tried to explain many times, is very peculiar. Those who ask the question end up in an analysis of a very complex political persona. The unusual part — the one that distinguishes him from the others in the global field — is his blend of a (misjudged) straightforwardness and a slippery pragmatism.

He has now become a fox of a politician and he has been placing priorities in consolidation of his own power as he often seeks benevolent paths to widen a political consensus between the poles of Turkey. This difficult search has now become more visible than ever.

His intent to resolve the decades-long armed conflict is genuine. He wants Turkey to cast aside the shackles that hinder it. Yet, if the others watch his latest moves with a grain of suspicion, they may also be given credit. In the course of one week, Erdoğan first extended a hand to the BDP as he deepened the talks with Öcalan and also held the hand of an army commander whom he had previously perceived as a culprit.

One may speculate and we shall have new signs to analyze further. At this stage, though, his game plan seems clear: Aware of the delicacy of the Kurdish issue, he is again in search mode — to test whether or not “easing the tension” in ongoing punitive measures (Kurdistan Communities Union [KCK] and Ergenekon-type trials), with mass releases of those who have been detained for far too long will be helpful to pass a constitution which might please all, as much as it can give him the type of presidency he so greatly desires. By doing this he raises the stakes, but also the risks. There will be more to come, from today on, for sure. Erdoğan will keep us busy, as he will be busy trying to unlock the deep code of Turkey, which has occupied him for more than a decade.


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