Turkey, its Regime, and Foreign Policy in the Middle East
Turkey is facing a departure from statesmanship and values
A “perverse triangle” has been formed between Turkey, Russia, and the United States
Turkey is currently being run by a competitive totalitarian regime
Turkish politics experts Kemal Kirisci, Evren Balta, and Koray Caliskan led the discussion in “Turkey, its Regime, and Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” an event sponsored by NYU’s International Relations program on April 6, 2019. The event was held at the Richard Ettinghausen Library in co-sponsorship with NYU’s Liberal Studies program and the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU. Following the ground-breaking results in which President Erdogan’s party lost much of its power in the local Turkish elections, the panelists shared their current and future analysis of politics within Turkey.
Kirisci led the discussion beginning with the relationship between domestic and foreign policy in Turkey.
Kirisci noted that Turkey has historically gone through three political phases in which it has departed from its statesmanship — the “zero problem phase,” the “zero neighbor phase” or “grand restoration,” and the “fall of the grand restoration.” The “zero problem phase” was a period in which Turkey experienced little to no turmoil in terms of its foreign policy; however, after the signing of the Adana Protocol between Turkey and Syria, the “grand restoration” phase began. The “grand restoration” was a period of isolation for the Turkish state, primarily caused by increasing tensions between Turkey and its neighbors Jordan and Syria. After a six hour talk at Damascus, two concepts came out that would define Turkey — “Grand Restoration” and the “Imperial Fantasy.” These two concepts, which were coined to help rebuild Turkey after its turbulent relationships with its neighbors, ultimately failed due to Pan-Islamist rhetoric, geopolitics, and domestic politics. It is mainly domestic policy that is causing trouble within Turkish politics.
Balta had more to say on Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. and Russia.
Balta used the term “perverse triangle” to define the relationship between the U.S., Turkey, and Russia. A major turning point within this relationship between the three nations was Turkey purchasing anti-aircraft weaponry from Russia. Balta marked this as a symbolic statement of Turkey turning its back on the West, as the U.S. had warned Turkey that the purchase of these weapons was not only a threat to the U.S. but NATO as well. Balta elaborated that the arms purchase was a way for Turkey to relay the message that, according to Erdogan, Turkey was no longer bound to the U.S. It showed that Turkey has entered an era of anti-western and anti-American ideals.
Caliskan provided insight to Turkey’s domestic functionality. He explained that Turkey has transitioned into a new “competitive totalitarianism,” which politicians such as Erdogan are using to secure their power within the state. Competitive totalitarianism is a nuanced form of totalitarianism that integrates small elements of democracy to tightly control the state. Caliskan cites that Turkey is perhaps one of the most efficient pioneers of competitive totalitarianism due to its acquaintance with democracy.
For some time, Turkey showed it had maintained a healthy balance of power between civilians and the military; however, between 2010 and 2017, Turkey transitioned into a totalitarian state tightly controlled by the military. From 2017 onwards, Turkey’s government began to merge both civilian and military rule to form a competitive totalitarian state. Such a state integrates democratic values such as local elections that serve as a cover for the totalitarian regime.
One attendee asked the panelists to elaborate on the Russian aircraft that was shot down by Turkey in 2015 and its implications for Balta’s “perverse triangle.” Balta said that following the shooting of the aircraft, Russia placed a year of sanctions on Turkey. It was only after the failed coup d’etat in 2016 when Erdogan issued a formal apology to Russia. But Balta added that the true repercussions of Turkey shooting down the Russian aircraft are unclear due to the lack of transparency within the Turkish government.
Caliskan detailed the optimistic and pessimist schools of thought regarding the future of Turkey. Optimists argue that Turkey will be forced to reform its institutions and rid itself of the corruption that runs within the state. Pessimists, on the other hand, argue that with the formation of Turkey’s new competitive totalitarianism, it is possible that Turkey’s leaders will continue to tightly control the state under the guise of democracy.
This report was compiled by Anabelle Ortiz on April 16, 2019 and edited by Jamin Chen.