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What on earth has gone wrong in Turkey?

Published 12 May 2017

Professor Greg Barton is a leading Australian scholar on Islam and its role as both a constructive and destructive force. He has a deep commitment to building understanding in Australia of Islam and Muslim society. Accompanied by one of Sydney’s leading moderate Muslims, Ahmet Polat from the Islamic group Affinity Intercultural Foundation, Greg came to Glover Cottages on Tuesday 9 May 2017 to talk about Turkey.

Greg observed that the Arab Spring encouraged initial optimism that liberality and even democracy would take hold across the Muslim world. They did not, and the latest disappointment has been Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stripped the Parliament of all its powers and become a virtual dictator since the failed alleged military coup of 15 July 2016. He has purged 150,000 people and detained another 100,000 without charge. Among them are half of the military’s flag officers, one third of the judiciary and most of the country’s journalists. An ever fiercer crackdown is taking place among dissidents and ethnic Kurds.

Greg recalls that Erdogan and his right-wing AKP Party won four elections from 2002 until 2014 when his term as Prime Minister expired. He then determined to become President, and a hands-on executive president at that. The excuse of an alleged military coup was his chance to tighten his grip on power. He then subjugated the moderately leftist HDP Peoples Democratic Party to his will, seized $20 billion in assets from Turkish businesses, and closed almost all previously independent Turkish newspapers. He banned Wikipedia. He also tried hard to co-opt the Gülen Islamic transnational movement begun by the expatriate moderate Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, but without success, at least outside Turkey. Gülen resides in the United States.

According to Greg, Turkey is now at the bottom of the International Rule of Law Index of 13 countries in its region, and is 99th out of 130 countries surveyed internationally. Meanwhile, Erdogan continues his purge among overseas Turks where he can get at them, and this depends on finding complicit countries. Malaysia is one of them. Saudi Arabia is another. Others are compliant.

Turkey’s relations with its neighbours remain unstable, particularly Iraq and Syria, where Erdogan has made military incursions to fight local Kurds. Relations with Russia were also bad, exacerbated by the shooting down of a Russian Su 34 fighter which momentarily crossed Turkish airspace in 2016. Russian-Turkish relations have recently improved with the sale of some Russian military equipment to Turkey, but fear and suspicion remain on both sides, and relations could deteriorate again at any time. It used to be said that Turkey had no enemies, but now it is said that it has no friends.

In this grim context, it is worth remembering that Turkey remains a member of NATO, and maintains the Organisation’s second largest military force. It was formerly a secular force, but is now completely under Erdogan’s control.


Richard Broinowski