Is Erdogan Losing His Marbles? Editorial Board, 21 January 2011

Listening to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s words in the past year one wonders whether he is delusional or suffering from an unfounded and overweening hubris.

Last June, in Davos, he threw a nursery-class temper tantrum at an international gathering and insulted Israeli President Simon Peres, a long-time friend of Turkey.

Erdogan later defended the Sudanese dictator against charges of genocide because, according to Erdogan, “Moslems don’t commit genocide.” The mind reels at the denialism, hypocrisy and ignorance.

Following the Israeli commando attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla, Erdogan repeatedly renounced Israel, although he knew too well that the United States and his own chaffing army leaders are allies of Israel. To add insult to injury (to the U.S), Turkey has nominated itself as interlocutor on behalf of Iran, which calls America “Great Satan.”

A few weeks ago a reckless Erdogan called on Israel to remove its foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberaman, calling him an obstacle to Middle East peace. The demand is probably unprecedented in the annals of international diplomacy. He then said, “Israelis must rid themselves [ofLieberman] and that is surely their duty and not ours.” For good measure, in the same interview with Al-Jazeera, Erdogan added, “Netanyahu’s government is the worst or the least fortunate in the history of Israel.” Israel’s Deputy Prime minister Silvan Shalom, bending backwards not to make waves, said that Erdogan’s words were inappropriate.

Ten days ago, while touring Kars, Erdogan called for the demolition of a local monument designed to promote reconciliation between Armenia and Turkey. The statue, comprised of two 30-metre concrete figures reaching out to each other, was, said Erdogan, a “freak.” The statue was erected by the city’s mayor who is a member of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice & Development (AKP–Adelet ve Kalkinma Party). On an earlier trip to the city, Erdogan had ordered the destruction of a fountain which featured bare-breasted nymphs.

A few days ago Erdogan called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to apologize for blaming the Turkish side for the impasse in the Cyprus talks. Tossing diplomatic etiquette aside, the Turkish leadership accused Merkel of bias and lack of historic knowledge on Cyprus. In an address to the regional leaders of AKP, the voluble prime minister of Turkey said of Merkel, “These comments and attitudes do not give the impression of a leader who is far-sighted and visionary. We expect Merkel to apologize to the Turkish side.”

The man is on a binge.

Earlier this month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, on a peace mission to Turkey, complained about violations by Turkish fighter jets of Greek air space barely a few days before his arrival to Turkey. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s grandiose mouthpiece, Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, was singing his “Zero problems with neighbours” jingle.

Turkey is strong; Turkey is big; Turkey is important; Turkey is key to East-West/North-South peace; Turkey is a democracy; Turkey is the new rising power; the 21st century belongs to Turkey… Who utters this nonesense? Why? Turkey, of course. The self-hypnosis might persuade Erdogan and his two buddies (Davutoglu and President Abdulla Gul) that Turkey is a player because they say so. For the rest of the world, except, of course, Azerbaijan, the Turkish self-advertisements are just that.

Why is Turkey important? etc. Because Turkey is a peace-maker. Turkey is a peace maker although it failed to arrange peace between Israel and Syria and despite giving up, a few days ago, its peace-making mission in Lebanon.

Erdogan’s Turkey is strong. Why? Because it has an army of one million. Forget that there is doubt about the loyalty of that army’s Kemalist leaders to Islamist Erdogan. And forget that the much-vaunted army would collapse without the help of the United States—the country Erdogan seems to enjoy bear-baiting.

Turkey is a big country, with a population of 75 million. If one deducts 20 million or so persecuted Kurds, the countless and discriminated Alevis in addition to other mistreated minorities, Turkey would have a population of less than 40 million Turks.

Then there is Turkey’s ambition in the Arab World. In a blatant and bizarre move, Erdogan and his foreign minister have launched dreams of New Ottomanism. No, Erdogan will not become the new Caliph-Sultan of the Sublime Porte, nor would Davutoglu become his Grand Vizier. The Dynamic Duo merely wants to dominate the Arabs, although there already are three (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran) long-time contenders for the position. In other words, the moment Saudi Arabia and Iran sense Turkey is getting too big for its breeches, they will make sure Turks pull back from Arab lands faster than their Ottoman grandfathers did.

The other “pillar” of Turkish adventurism is its relatively healthy economy. A few years of rising GDP and voila, Ankara thinks it’s the second Frankfurt. But that economic house of cards could be on the edge of collapse. According to Turkey-friendly Wall-Street Journal, Turkey’s mushrooming current account deficit is becoming a serious threat to the country’s economy. “Turkey’s statistics agency reported that the deficit more than trebled in November versus a year ago to a hit and fresh record of 5.93 billion, outpacing economists’ expectations and again spotlighting the key weakness of the economy,” said Joe Parkinson of Wall-Street Journal on Jan. 11. The deficit is the widest since records began to be kept in 1984. Import growth rose more than 10 times faster than export gains, which slowed to just 3%, said WSJ.

A few days ago Saban Kardas wrote in Today’s Zaman, “…realizing Turkey’s objective of reconfiguring the global order is likely to face many challenges; not the least, the question of having sufficient resources and a suitable political environment to sustain multifaceted global commitments.”

Kardas went on to say, “There is an obvious mismatch between the objectives Davutoglu set for Turkey and the country’s current reality. For instance, despite his visions of advocating the cause of less developed countries, Turkey itself still ranks 83rd in the United Nations human development index.”

And what about the drum beat of “Zero problems with neighbours”? Ask Armenia. Ask Cyprus? Ask Israel? Ask Greece.

Oh Erdogan; Oh Erdogan’s Brave New Turkey, whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad. And “pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

A country doesn’t become great because it says it is great. If that was the case, Lilliput would be a super power. Delusion, grandiose versions of one’s self, exceptionalism, self-importance, and inane hauteur will result in egg—if not worse—on Erdogan’s face.

  1. A Fox Rather Than a Spoiled Toddler

    I do not share the central theme of this editorial because I cannot dismiss Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan as someone who has "lost his marbles".
    I am afraid that Turkish diplomatic foxiness is in full display rather than Erdogan’s "nursery-class temper tantrum". Erdogan’s insulting the Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davros and his staged walking away outright won Erdogan the Arab street in a way that no other public gesture could possibly have done. It was a calculated staging at the right time and at the right place to catapult Erdogan into the Arab cause.
    The prime minister’s stand against Israel is pushing the dark days of the Ottoman rule over Arabia into oblivion and a new-found friend to the Arab cause is emerging.
    "All politics is local" is attributed to Tip O’Neil, although some claim that it’s a quote that was passed on to him. Let us be wary of Erdogan. He is more of a fox who is looking to stake a larger political claim. 
    1. Erdogan losing his marbles

      I don’t see how a ragining bull (Erdogan in Davos) can be described as a fox. A prime minister who bad-mouths the leaders of long-time and valuable allies (Germany and Israel) is no fox. A clumsy prime minister who says Moslems (Sudan) don’t commit genocide is no fox. Erdogan is a crow who is pasting peacock feathers to his back. A drizzle would take care of those colorful feathers.

      Winning the Arab street is a pointless strategy. Despite the Tunisian uprising, the Arab street is a nebulous, incoherent and powerless mass. Witness 21 Arab countries which are essentially one-man rules. Arab leaders will not allow Turkey to make meaningul inroads into their turf. The recent Turkish rapprochement with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan is not a significant development: Threatened by Turkey, Syria had no chocie; Lebanon is permanent bedlam; Jordan, thanks to long-time marital ties of the royal famiy to Turkey, has always been friendly with Ankara. However, this latter fact doesn’t mean the Hashemites would be eager to see Mr. Attilas, Mr.Turans and Mr. Seljuks become Jordanian Idols.

  2. Good Politician

    Erdogan is a very good politican and Ankara has the world thinking Turkey is split between Kemalists and Islamists.

    I hope people realize that Erdogan has appointed the current top military leaders while Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu gives lectures to the top brass in the war academy, and every officer has a copy of his book titled "Strategic Depth". Just because Erdogan/Davutoglu pray, it doesn’t make they are Islamist. They are as nationalistic and secular as Kemalist, if not more so. Fighting for control of government does not change Turkish foreign policy or ambitions. The objective for regional control is similar to Pan-Turkism and Neo-Ottomanism…no matter which one works.

    The flotilla incident was a Turkish "Trojan Horse". The mission of the selected crew of that ship was to provoke Israelis into using deadly force. Palestinians now think Turkey is their saviour.

  3. Agree with Vahe

    I fully agree with Vahe. We, Armenians, especially those who rule and speak on behalf of Armenian nation and the Republic of Armenia, must be cautious, open-minded, all-ears to learn "before" (not "by") doing, and be on the alert in relation to everything happening in and around Turkey, without panic, hysteria and conceit. In this manner we can become, if not winners, then at least not losers.

    It is no shame to watch your enemy and learn from him "play chess". Our genes may not allow us to ascertain all the moves Turks are masters at, but at least we can protect ourselves and not get caught in their traps. Let us be calm like a lion and take smart actions (such as building a civil society and a strong economy) while watching fox(es) chase around.

    1. Let us be calm like a lion

      Yes.  I do agree with this.  Turkey is notoriously duplicitous – like smoke in mirrors.  Let us take smart and concrete actions – baby steps if necessary – and build a civil society and strong economy.  In the contest of history, this is the only way to make friends in high places and claim victory on moral grounds.
  4. Erdogan’s Turkey

    Those of you who have not lived in Turkey do not know that this grand standing is not new. Since the establishment of Turkish republic  the forces of  social, historical revisionism have painted a  Grand Turkey. It is so much so that the day a Turk is born he/she is subject to a mass indoctrination of Turkish greatness. from cradle, primary, secondary schools and thru his whole life.This greatness is manifested in their infamous "SUN THEORY" claiming  that everybody in this world has a Turkish origin.

    Having said that , is it surprising that Turks see themselves as a leader in the Middle East.? How soon Wall Street forgets that a few years ago the inflation was 70% in Turkey.

    Therefore, when Turks say they are great they truly believe that they are great. This reminds me a Turkish saying  " kendi soyler, kendi oynar" meaning he./she sings alone and dances alone. Only Turks believe they are great and they belive it like the lone singer.

  5. How About a Little Opposition ?

    Everybody seems overly-interested in Turkey. Why do you spurn everything? If you think Turkey is proud but has not achieved anything, why are you so focused on every news item about Turkey? If Turkey is still a loser, you should not watch everything about it so carefully and commented on it so much.

    You can ask me, why a Turk like me keeps looking at this website. As I previously said, I have Armenian blood on my maternal side. But this doesn’t make me pro- or anti- Armenian, rather interested in the Armenian world.

    We do not play to the Arab street. That’s only your opinion. Playing means we do not care about the Palestinians, Egyptians, Yemenis, etc. and do not plan to solve their problems… and all we are doing is for show. This is not accurate: Everybody in Turkey, including Erdogan, is worried about the Palestinians and Arab people living under dictatorship. They are fellow Muslims–innocent, oppressed and in need of help in our Turkish eyes. If you think all this sorrow is fake, you accuse us with what you have in your mind.

    As to the Ottoman Empire, we live in a democratic and comunication age, which makes old empires impossible. It is not logical. But a loose union, like the European Union, may be applied to the Middle East in fields like the Erasmus project, Schengen, financal support, etc.

    This is the worst dream of those who demonize Muslims–in the media and everywhere. They just can’t believe that Turks, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, Algerians, Yemenis can live together in peace and prosperity, without the intrusion of America and Europe, which have become duller than ever.

    However, if popular support for Erdogan pushes him to be the spokesman or a leader of the Muslim world (he is always loved by the masses, even beyond his country), he will do his job successfully. He was incredibly succesful during his mayoralship in Istanbul. You should read about what he achieved in Istanbul. As an Istanbul resident, I witnessed all this change. Under his leadership the country has acheived success in economy, democratic rule, foreign policy, agriculture, social security, ecological issues which can’t be compared with any other leader in the world.

    A comment above says, "Build a civil society and strong economy. In the contest of history, this is the only way to make friends in high places and claim victory on moral grounds." This is the biggest mistake the Armenian Diaspora makes. You should win the hearts of the Turkish public, the ordinary people and not bribe or talk to friends in high positions. It will never solve problems. Stupid parliamentary decisions are igorned by people. History is not written by parliaments. Politicians who vote are stupid people who want more votes. They have no ability to decide what has happened in the past.

    So what should the Armenians do? They should reach to an agreement with the Erdogan government. If you can’t agree with him, you will not be able to do so with anyone else. Historians’ committee, which Erdogan suggested, makes you look more confident in your testimony, in the eyes of Turkish people. It would be a great step. If a historic agreement is reached, economic, political, and social obstacles with Armenia will be reduced. Then Armenians, who live in stupid, dull, boring countries like the United States, Canada, France, Argentina should press for their return to their homeland–charming, noble lands like Muş, Maraş, Antep, Harput, etc. I am sure Erdoğan will agree to their return. You will not lose anything if you do what I say. Based on what you have achieved so far, you will go nowhere.

    I am sure Armenians will never be happy again without coming back to these old lands. But they should learn to share all this land and wealth with others– Turks, Kurds, Arabs, etc.

    Erdoğan is a powerful and succesfull leader, but he is also a merciful and open-minded. He may extend his hand to you. If you refuse, he will lose nothing. You should choose now.




  6. Don’t Take Erdogan Seriously

    The guy [PM Erdogan] is an idiot and will soon go together with his team. He is not normal. He lost the plot. He is not a politician of international calibre. It is about time for everyone to drop the immature Turkish nationalist and religious pride. It just doesn’t work in this day and age. Time to grow up and learn kind and beneficial thoughts for everyone in the world and act accordingly. Turks are not exempt from world rules. 

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