How badly has Erdoğan blundered?

One of the most disturbing aspects of yesterday’s murder of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, particularly from Turkey’s point of view, is this:

The gunman has been identified as Mevlut Mert Altintas, a police officer at Ankara’s riot police. It is not clear if he acted alone or had links to any group;

Had the assassin been an outsider who sneaked over the border, or was a foreign student, or even a Turk who ran a yogurt stall and was posing as a policeman in order to get close to his target, then things would be bad enough.  But this guy was Turkish and a sworn police officer, which raises the immediate and very worrying question of how many others are out there in uniform.  There are two possibilities: either radical Islamists are joining the Turkish police forces and going undetected, or serving officers are being targeted and radicalised.  I’m not sure which one is worse.

It’s hard to imagine this happening ten or twenty years ago, but things have changed in Turkey.  Recep Erdoğan has deliberately taken Turkey away from the secular principles established by Ataturk and towards a more Islamist state, and has enjoyed substantial support from certain sections of Turkish society in the process.  Apparently, this is what a lot of Turks want although Lord knows why.  It would be bad enough if Turkey lurches Islam-ward to become a version of Iran, but this latest incident has me wondering if things might go catastrophically wrong.  For all of Erdoğan’s beating of the Islamic drum and waving his Islamic credentials, there will be plenty of people in the region who consider him an apostate, about as much a true Muslim as a Whirling Dervish.  In the past, Turkey was able to identify the fanatical Islamists and keep them from causing trouble, either by chucking them in prison, booting them out of office at the end of a gun, or by browbeating Ataturk’s secular principles into the population over and over again.

Unfortunately, Erdoğan got rid of Turkey’s capability to do this and trampled all over Ataturk’s principles so he could attain and hold onto power himself.  He’s neutered the army, making sure it can never again intervene to stop Turkey becoming too Islamist for Ataturk’s liking, and the recent coup saw Erdoğan’s supporters engaging in some pretty radical behaviour against hapless conscripts followed by a thorough purging of all state and influential private institutions of anyone who wasn’t on board with Erdoğan’s plan to make Turkey more Islamic.

What must now be causing Erdoğan to break out in a cold sweat is whether by neutralising all threats from the secualrists in Turkey he has overlooked the threats posed by extremists, who are now seeing opportunities to make inroads into that country which didn’t exist before.  It’s all very well him chucking secular journalists in jail and kicking professors out of universities, but this isn’t going to make Erdoğan any more secure if Turkey’s riot police has been infiltrated by ISIS.  And what about the army?  Who replaced all those secular officers that were purged?  Officers who were on board with Erdoğan’s programmes, presumably.  But were they screened for extremism?  I doubt it.

I hope I’m wrong about this, but Erdoğan may well have made the mistake moderate left wingers made time and time again: they purged the opposition of right-wingers but failed to notice the hardcore Communists sneaking up on their left flank, and by the time they realised the danger they were being stood against a brick wall facing a machine gun.  In his hurry to neuter his political opponents and boost his support, Erdoğan may have done away with the very people he now needs to tackle extremism within Turkey and allowed extremists elements to infiltrate those institutions on which the survival of the Republic depends.  If things go down this route he will make Mugabe and Chavez look like Benjamin Franklin.


14 thoughts on “How badly has Erdoğan blundered?

  1. Its a pity that instead of “neutralising” this holed up pistol wielding maniac assassin his fellow coppers did not instead try to negotiate with him to surrender, overpower him, tear gas him, shock him or shoot his legs off at least then we might have got to know a little bit more about him.

  2. Once again proving the fact that you can’t be a bit ‘Islamist’. Once you start that process you can’t stop it part of the way at the place you want. You have blown up the dam and are being swept along in the torrent

  3. @Bardon,

    “Neutralising” is SOP for dealing with people brandishing guns. They might hurt more people and you want to stop that.

  4. I would imagine that Mr. Erdogan has also been taking a few “interesting” calls from Moscow this morning.

    One cannot imagine Putin not finding a way to capitalise on this outrage.

  5. Indeed. It couldn’t have gone better for Putin if he had planned and instigated it himself!

  6. I saw somewhere this morning the suggestion that the assassin had been dismissed from the police force as part of the purge after the recent failed coup attempt. If true that adds to the range of possible motives. As ever you do have to wonder whether it was a plot ending with his being killed to keep his mouth shut. After all, if Lee Harvey Oswald had not been gunned down, there would presumably have been much less conspiracy theorising about the Kennedy assassination.

    I just hope that Trump is being particularly careful to stay alive. After all, the bastards are clearly after him.

  7. By the way, is there photographic evidence that all this wasn’t just Hollywood? Are there bullet-holes anywhere, blood spills, …. ?

  8. One of the many, though perhaps the most forceful of, arguments why we should leave the EU was that the organisation wanted Turkey in as a member. As Erdogan and his henchmen want an aggressive pro-Islam way of life then it would be yet another bit of bad news for the west.

    Europe still hasn’t worked out why importing so many muslims is a good idea and until they do, it would be best to step away from the club.

  9. “What must now be causing Erdoğan to break out in a cold sweat is whether by neutralising all threats from the secularists in Turkey he has overlooked the threats posed by extremists… I hope I’m wrong about this, but Erdoğan may well have made the mistake moderate left wingers made time and time again”
    This tends to assume that Erdogan is in any sense a ‘moderate’ and that he isn’t in fact the head of the extremists. If he were an extremist (though a cunning one), would he have done anything differently to this point?

  10. If he were an extremist (though a cunning one), would he have done anything differently to this point?


  11. @Stephenk If he were an extremist (though a cunning one), would he have done anything differently to this point?

    Less than one month ago he said this:

    The Turkish military launched its operations in Syria to end the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Nov. 29.

    I think he has now switched posture from attack to diplomacy, most probably to do with Trump winning (pro Putin) and if he was going to do anything militarily in Syria it would have to have happened by now or during the last days of the Aleppo siege. God only knows what may have went down if Clinton had won.

    If you look at the current incumbents of the Security Council, Putin has the majority of support with China and the new US now on side. If France goes nationalist Le Pen and May does not Brexit and the UK goes to election and a Farage type gets in then he will have complete support.

    Erodgan knows this.

    Assad does however remain a stated enemy of his.

    His cunning approach may well be to now push even harder for his nations to get a seat at the big UN table.

    “Erdoğan also said the U.N. could not provide justice with its current structure, suggesting that all continents and all belief groups around the world should be represented at the Security Council apart from the five permanent members. The president has constantly voiced his criticism on the structure of the Security Council, saying “the world is bigger than five,” referring to the number of permanent members.”

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