Turkey’s inexorable descent to extremism

A. Rahman
Published : 3 Dec 2015, 12:43 PM
Updated : 3 Dec 2015, 12:43 PM


  • + Under Ataturk, Turkey was set to become a secular nation nearly 80 years ago, but now sees changes away from those ideals
  • + The slow slide into Islamism and extremism is motivated by President Erdogan's alignments in the Syrian War
  • + Turkey's position in the conflict deteriorated in their recent shooting of a Russian warplane

Turkey may be viewed by the developing countries as well as by the Muslim world as an advanced industrialised country very much in line with the Western democratic system, but this perception is largely misplaced and very much out of date. The reality of Turkey's position is far from this perception.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a supremely enigmatic nationalist and visionary leader, picked up Turkey from its darkest hour in 1923 when Ottoman Sultanate was abolished and a modern, secular republic was born. He became the first president of the republic and ran the country as president until his death in 1938. He introduced a number of revolutionary reforms to this decrepit Islamic state, such as the abolition of all out-dated Islamic institutions, the emancipation of women, introduction of western education system, legal codes, dress and the replacement of Arabic script with Latin ones. Good cordial relations with neighbouring countries and collaboration with the West were the central planks of the foreign policy. It was not for nothing that he was accorded by his countrymen the title 'Ataturk' – Father of the Turks.

Fast forward to 2015, and you see Turkey in the exact reverse situation. Islamism is ripe in the country, women are in veils, Muslim Brotherhood running the country in all but name, and Islamic terrorists are patronised by the incumbent administration. Almost all the neighbouring states are at loggerheads with the present administration and the previous friendly states are keen to maintain their distances.

How did this severe and unprecedented reversal of Turkey's predicament take place, even though Kemal Ataturk is still revered and the country maintains a façade of western democracy? The answer lies solely with the mind set of the present president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who over the past 12 years or so has taken Turkey away from being a secular state and into the fold of Islamism. Erdogan, a semi-professional footballer in his early life, comes from an Islamist political background who founded the political party called AKP in 2001. As an aggressive and manipulative politician, he managed to become the prime minister within just two years in 2003 and remained in that position until 2014 when he became the president. Only a month ago, in a re-election, he managed to secure a majority in the parliament by duplicitous means, and now it is feared, that his autocratic streak will be unleashed to the full.

The Syrian war just across the border has pushed Erdogan's Turkey to the forefront of the conflict, similar to Pakistan in 1979 in the Afghan war. Whereas the Afghan war had only a limited number of protagonists – Islamists comprising Mujahedin supported by Pakistan, Arab States and America against the Afghan government supported by the then USSR – the Syrian conflict is infinitely more complex and convoluted. The number of protagonists is literally endless and alliances and adversities between them keep changing all the time.

Erdogan, with his natural propensity towards Muslim Brotherhood (MB), had sided right from the beginning of the Syrian war in the summer of 2011 with the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was nothing but a loose coalition of ragtag militia organisations. The main objective of FSA is to depose the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad. Erdogan's administration and Wahabi Arabs (both Sunni) share a visceral antipathy towards the Alawite Assad (Shia) and hence it can be said that the centuries old internecine Shia-Sunni conflict is being played out in Syria now. The Arabs and NATO member Turkey have managed to convince America that the dictator Assad should be replaced by a democratic leader (probably from the Sunni sect!).

Hardly does America realise that all of her Arab friends are vicious dictators themselves, vying out to spread virulent Wahabism under the disguise of democracy. When dictators like Saddam Hussain of Iraq or Col. Gaddafi of Libya were forcibly overthrown in the name of democracy, those countries descended into anarchy and Islamic extremism flourished.

When America and the West started supporting the FSA, the cheerleader Erdogan allowed Jihadists from across the globe and war materials from the Arab states to pass through his country undeterred. Only when ISIL/IS was spawned about two years ago, declaring their ambition to create an Islamic Caliphate covering not only Iraq and Syria but also Saudi Arabia and other smaller Arab States, did the Arabs realise that they have created a monster. Erdogan had nothing to fear from this but all to gain as IS are going to swallow the Kurds. The destruction of Arab heartland is nothing to Erdogan but collateral damage.

The arrival of Russia has changed the complexion of the Syrian conflict completely, to the detriment of Erdogan. Erdogan wants to destroy Assad and the Kurds and help IS, whereas Russia (and Iran) wants exactly the opposite. America and European Union want to demolish IS, but do not want to be seen in the company of Russia!

The downing of Russian bomber plane Su-24 on November 24, 2015 by Turkey under the direct order of Erdogan was nothing but a vicious step by him to provoke Russia into a direct conflict with the NATO and thereby let IS get respite from the Russian assault. The Russian plane was, even according to Turkish account of events, in Turkish territory for only 17 seconds and outside its border when it was shot down. It may be pointed out that this is the first time a Russian war plane has been shot down by a NATO Member State since the end of Korean War in early 1950s.

All the combatants in the Syrian conflict – America, Europe and Russia – had their primary goal to degrade and destroy IS, except Erdogan who is making all sorts of duplicitous moves to support IS. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, warned Erdogan of "significant consequences" for downing a Russian plane. But Erdogan bragged that he would do it all over again if Russian planes stray into Turkish territory. The Russian state news agency, Sputnik, warned, "The sick man of NATO, Erdogan's madness could provoke WWIII". Russia is taking all steps to terminate its economic links with Turkey. Last year four million Russians took holidays in Turkey and now there is a ban on selling any Turkish holiday in Russia.

This madcap Erdogan is taking Turkey backward, in what is a direct reversal of what Kemal Ataturk had created. Turkey's prospect of joining European Union is all but gone and its existence in the NATO is going to be severely questioned. There is also an uncanny similarity between the Turkey of today and Pakistan in the 1980s. Like Pakistan, Turkey will be the hotbed of Islamic terrorists and that will devour the whole country. It is sad to see an advanced Muslim State revert to primitive conditions only due to religious blockheadedness of a single person.