It appears that, even if President Tayyip Erdoğan were to go ahead and bring the Moscow weapon show to Istanbul and for the exhibition of the Su-35s, Su-57s and s-400s to the international market through Turkey, just so he can stop Vladimir Putin’s actions in Syria, he will still not be able to prevent the Syrian army from taking Idlib back.
Bashar al-Assad is likely to visit the Idlib city soon. Erdoğan confirmed to Putin during their latest press conference, on August 27, that Turkey recognizes Syria’s territorial integrity; Idlib is Syrian territory and there won’t be much to do about it unless conflict with Syria and Russia is on the table. Al-Assad indeed looks like he will go to Idlib but where, in this case, will the “regime opposition” in Idlib go?
Erdoğan, too, worries that the answer might be Turkey; he has already expressed his qualms about yet another wave of migration in the August 27 press conference in Moscow with Putin. Anadolu Agency (AA) announced yesterday, on August 30, that masses of people from Syria coming into the Cilvegözü border gate, claiming they want to “pass onto either Turkey or Europe” have been “pushed back” by security forces. The AA also reported that demonstrators were protesting that “Russia won’t stop the Regime”. Videos of protesters shouting Allahuakbar and burning posters of Erdoğan following the Friday prayers in certain Idblib neighborhoods, leaked from the Arab social media into the Turkish one however were not mentioned by the AA and other Turkish news agencies.
Some “opposition forces” that have been stoked up by Turkey for years have allegedly taken Erdoğan’s joking around with Putin while they ate ice cream together as a sign that they have been “thrown under the bus”. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is now learning the hard way that the “Arab Street” that they have been going on about for years is among the most unsteady and unreliable realms in the world; all Turkish citizens may need to pay the price of that mistake.
The “regime opposition” in Idlib does not only include masses who have opposed the regime that has oppressed and silenced them with bloodshed. You may remember that around the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, while the Syrian Army was retrieving Aleppo, a good number of Salafi militants with ties to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, also fled to Idlib. For that matter, while Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was on his way to Moscow to take part in the Astana meetings on December 19, 2016, a Turkish police officer was protesting the developments in Aleppo with his broken Arabic just as he assassinated Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara.
But as Idlib passes onto Damascene control, these jihadists, some of whom are Russian, Uzbek, and even Chinese citizens, will suddenly have no place to go, which is why they have their eyes on Turkey. When asked, authorities say that those people will be kept in cross-border camps. But the region in question is Syrian territory and therefore such an arrangement can only be possible with Russia’s approval.
Erdoğan however, is putting forth an image of being open to any suggestions Putin could make just so he doesn’t have to pull back the 12 observation points, installed around Idlib supposedly to prevent terrorists from opening fire to the Syrian Army or cutting the Latakia-Idlib-Aleppo highway, following the September 2018 Sochi ceasefire. Because he knows that if he were to draw back the Turkish soldiers who remain as open targets to attacks by militia connected to Syria and al-Assad’s regime, the Turkish public would take that as a proof that the Syrian policy has gone bust.
Such a situation will weaken Ankara’s position in the ongoing procedures with the U.S. concerning the “Joint Task Force” in the East of Euphrates safe zone. Just as Putin watched in delight the erupting tension between Trump and Erdoğan in the S-400 and F-35 crisis, Trump must also be delighted to watch Erdoğan, who has suffered serious blows in domestic policy following the mayoral elections, being cornered by Putin about Syria.
This means that Trump, who will send his Minister of Commerce Wilbur Ross to Turkey with a $100 bln trade target, will be far more demanding in the compromises he asks of Erdoğan.
Still, as economics commentator Uğur Gürses points out, the fact that the Turkish Central Bank is rapidly increasing its gold stocks means that Erdoğan’s government is anxious about economic sanctions in their relations with the U.S.
There is the impression that the front which comes out of this wrangle having their bargaining powers with the U.S., with Russia and with Iran improved is the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); that is bad news to Erdoğan.
If we look inwards from here, we may come up with a piece of news that interests not only Erdoğan but also his undercover coalition partner and leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli: no one took to the streets against the government appointing trustees in lieu of the mayor elects of the Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin provinces on the Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) list. On the contrary, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), had a rather moderate reaction, urging the people not to rush to the streets in protest; he, however, showed his stance by receiving HDP executives in his party’s headquarters. In response, HDP’s Ahmet Türk, the dismissed mayor of Mardin stated that they do not consider any illegal means to deal with the situation, which isn’t exactly good news for the PKK; the majority of the Kurds in Turkey, whether they vote for AKP, HDP or (if any of them still are) CHP, wish to keep politics on the pluralist democratic field.
The decision to replace HDP mayors with government trustees has aggravated AKP’s problems. It is not in vain that Ahmet Davutoğlu, one of Turkey’s previous AKP Prime Ministers, who is now raising the banner of inner-party opposition, is bringing up the issue of the repeated elections on June 7 and November 1, 2015 and the “old books” of anti-terrorist struggle, right at this moment. He is opening up alternatives to the alienated Kurdish voters of the AKP who have shown their objection to AKP’s alliance with the MHP in the mayoral elections of March 31 and revote in Istanbul on June 23 2019. Yet another party in which the trustees’ issue is forming cracks is Good Party (GP); Ümit Özdağ, an ideologue of Turkish nationalism, is cornering Meral Akşener by critiquing her mass-party approach.
Ali Babacan, who has chosen to stay outside this tumultuous issue, is going his own way. Although, one can’t help but wonder whether Babacan can achieve his fresh targets with a team of old guards of the AKP who were sidelined by Erdoğan; still his quest to re-establish himself in Turkish politics carries on. He too, just like Davutoğlu, targets the dissatisfied within Erdoğan’s AKP.
As you can notice here, the bad news from Erdoğan and the bad news to Erdoğan are beginning to get tangled up.
A second raise fell onto gas prices on August 30; the price of natural gas has risen by 32 per cent only within the month of August – that’s a rise of one third effectuated by the government. The taxi fares rose by 25 per cent, along with the school transportation fees. The inflation rate announced by the Turkish Statistics Institution (TUIK) was 16.5 per cent in July – this didn’t include the natural gas raise. The salary raise given to officers by the government at 4 per cent; that given to workers is 8. How much longer could the slogan like “Turkey makes its word listened by the world” still work in such a context?
In this same context, there is also the so-called solution to murders of women and children in Turkey offered by MHP and backed by AKP as well as GP, which is to bring back the death penalty. And these conversations are happening, just as we’re awaiting investments, trade deals and visas from the European Union, is that really so?
We will get to that as well. Let’s stop here for now.