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.