I was surprised when my source from security and foreign affairs of the state told me that “Things are rather monotonous nowadays,” upon my question on recent issues. This would be the last expression I would use to tell about what’s up in Turkey. It was another day of a record-high number of deaths from Covid-19 virus. The Central Bank had already signaled a rate hike it announced today and opposing voices were rising from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Trade unions were on bargaining table with the government over minimum wage and 3,100 Turkish Liras (nearly $410) per month, a figure suggested by main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was the psychological threshold.
The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the case of Selahattin Demirtaş was political and demanded his release. President Tayyip Erdoğan was increasingly pressing hard on the opposition. The tense atmosphere in Ankara was reaching tangible levels. These were elements of a rather tense environment, not a monotonous one.
“Why monotonous?” I asked. The answer was even more surprising. Because “No new fronts were opening.” So, I said this was good because “We the citizens are tired of the constant conflict, we need a little peace.”
“Anyway,” he said. “We’re on hold anyway. The picture will become clearer once Joe Biden takes over the helm in the U.S.”
What is a ‘new front?’
When my source said “no new fronts are opening,” he was not speaking of a metaphoric one.
The situation in Syria is locked in Idlib with Russia. There was no movement other than sporadic clashes with the YPG. Vladimir Putin is waiting for Joe Biden to take over the U.S. to see if he could reach an agreement framework in Syria, as this is the case in many other issues.
Azerbaijan’s liberation of its territories under Armenian occupation did not prolong as Yerevan gave up sooner than expected, and the soldiers had left the field to diplomats.
The situation in Libya is similar. Following a scandal of search of a Turkish vessel after a five-hour wait to hear from it, headlines over the issue on the pro-government Turkish media vanished.
In the eastern Mediterranean, Germany has put its weight on the diplomatic process, just like it did Libya. President Erdoğan had to thank Angela Merkel for her assistance in resolving problems with Greece and the EU.
The EU threw the ball to the United States’ court in Turkey-related issues. It was announced clearly for the first time in the final statement of the EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Dec. 11 that the Turkey issue would be handled in coordination with the U.S.
Thus, there were no new fronts to focus on.
Erdogan raises his voice but…
Therefore, President Erdoğan and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, his partner, have no foreign issue to keep the support for their People’s Alliance alive. The economy is mined land to avoid. So all they have are domestic issues. However, their argument that Turkey is the best country in the struggle against the pandemic is no longer convince anyone. So what they can do to speak of the “CHP fascism” in 1940s and try to divide the CHP-Good Party alliance by putting pressure on the Peoples’ Democratic Party.
Erdoğan speaks loudly against the West, but without yielding results.
An example? The U.S. has already imposed an important sanction on Turkey when it left Ankara out of the F-35 fighter jet project and seized its jets, which were already paid for. On top of that, it announced new sanctions targeting the Defense Industry Presidency. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that the response would come when necessary. Erdoğan is on a tense standby. Because the “parallel relations” he has been trying to establish with Biden and the Democrats for almost two years have not yet brought what he expected. But he has not given up hope, so he manages the situation with tough speeches.
The limits of Erdoğan’s raising the stake
There are concrete reasons for the tense anticipation in Ankara, which touches Erdoğan’s nerve.
For the first time, the West reacted to Erdoğan and his AK Party’s policy of hostility with the West by escalating tensions, which started even before the military coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The Dec. 11 statement by the EU showed that French President Macron, as well as Merkel, waits for Biden to take a stance on Turkey.
Erdogan knows that these developments that might eventually leave Turkey alone with Russia will badly affect the economy.
The president constantly raises his hands in order to start 2021 debates with the West from the furthest point just to get less harm when he makes compromises for concessions. However, he also knows that there are limits to maintaining this game of power. At the first of such limits is the economy, which cannot be overcome only with the Central Bank printing more cash. But this is not everything.
Causing irreparable damage to the political, military and economic relations established with the West since World War II can have economic as well as political and military consequences.
The calendar that strains Ankara
The reasons for the nervous anticipation in Ankara and the regret for “not opening a new front” is a deadlock in the calendar.
Here is a schedule of foreign issues that will affect the economy as well as politics in Turkey in the first four months of 2021:
- Jan. 20: Biden will take over the U.S. presidency.
- Feb. 17: NATO Leaders Summit. Following the tensions between Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the ministerial meetings on Dec. 1 and 2, the nature of Turkey-U.S. and Turkey-NATO relations will be crucial.
- March 25, 26: EU leaders will discuss Turkey with the new form of Turkey-U.S. relations in mind.
- April 24: The “Armenian genocide bill”, which has always a problem in relations with the U.S., is a bit different this time. Because until now, the U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, have returned the Congress demands that would put Turkey in a difficult position. However, Biden who has lead such drafts so far will be the president this time, and the Israel lobby will work against Turkey if no reconciliation is reached with Tel Aviv.
President Erdogan reflects his anger on the opposition, but these are not issues that can be solved by pressuring the opposition. The situation is serious.