Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees enemies everywhere: Assad, Kurds, but not the murderous Islamist radical group just across the border in Syria.
ISTANBUL — It is often mentioned that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an obsessive man. Do not think of the term obsessive solely in the negative sense; it also can be of great benefit for him. For example, he is obsessive with becoming an alaturca president — something like an elected sultan. But you would not be mistaken if, when you hear about his obsessions, the first thing that comes to mind is his animosity towards others.
Erdogan is multi-obsessive on this front. It follows him on a daily basis and to a range of people, all of whom share one trait: not bowing down to him — journalists, bureaucrats, businesspeople, judges and magistrates, the "parallels" (Erdogan's name for the Hizmet Movement led by cleric Fethullah Gulen), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ... the list goes on.
Right now, I will focus on his foreign policy obsessions only.
Erdogan gets particularly angry at those who used to be his friends. Back in the day, we must remember, Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma used to take vacations with the president and his wife Emine.
No, the Turkish leader does not forgive his former allies. But he has two reasons for being obsessed with Assad today. The smaller reason is psychological in nature. Assad stopped listening to Erdogan after March 2011 when his priority became maintaining power — as well as his head — in Damascus. And so he watched Assad suddenly change from travel companion into bloody dictator.
The bigger reason, however, is more ideological. Assad is a representative of Ba'athism — an Arab nationalist ideology — which stood in the way of political Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) from taking power in Syria. His AKP party, the Turkish branch of the Ikhwan, would have it easy if not for Assad.
When the Arab Spring exploded, Erdogan had high hopes that Ikhwan would rise to power everywhere and hold sway over the masses. These hopes were derailed. The regime in Tunisia turned out to be too moderate for the Brotherhood's standards. Libya was no good for anyone. And Mohamed Morsi got toppled when he played the game too boldly in Egypt. The basic reason Erdogan curses Morsi's successor, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and constantly challenges Egypt, the Middle East's natural leader, can be explained by this ideological disappointment — and the obsession it fuels.
Autonomy for local governments is the only solution that would make the Kurds commit to Turkey (and genuinely democratize the country), but Erdogan has no intention of doing that. Instead, even as he is negotiating with the Kurds and asking for their imprisoned leader's help in stopping street riots, he does whatever evil he can to their Kurdish brothers from across the border in Syria. We watched the ISIS murderers slaughtering Kurds during Eid from this side of the border, but still did not open the frontier. What can be worse than that?
Turkish nationalism is the second reason for Erdogan's animosity against the Syrian Kurds. As he keeps the Kurds in Turkey hanging on to the peace process with a two-year-long ceasefire, the Syrian Kurds became a "bad example" by declaring autonomy in three cantons. Now, we are waiting patiently for ISIS to destroy the Kurds in the Syrian city of Kobani so that the Turkish Kurds we are negotiating with would not get stronger.
This time, we are talking about the type of obsession I mentioned in the first paragraph: the obsession of protecting and looking after ISIS. Erdogan's "Enemies List" has Assad in the top spot, followed by the Syrian Kurds. And ISIS? Even though he was forced to call the group a terrorist organization after intense international pressure, ISIS is nowhere to be found on the Turkish president's list of enemies.
Erdogan has been arming, provoking and aiding the jihadists against Assad for years. The Turkish president denied it and called the people who say these things "traitors" if they cannot prove it.
Erdogan's AKP and ISIS have the same roots in Islamism and violence. Emrullah Isler, an AKP parliamentary deputy and a professor of theology, tweeted: "ISIS kills but at least doesn't torture."
Violence, of course, can be carried out by a terrorist organization, but also by a state. Let us remember some recent examples from the AKP:
Interior Minister Efkan Ala on the recent civil unrest: "Violence will be met with violence;" Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu commenting on the news that suspects in a recent attack that killed two policemen and wounded another two were captured dead: "Terrorists responsible for this attack were punished within one or two hours, all necessary measures taken;" President Erdogan on civil unrest: "What will our police do in response to them the protesters? Will they hold riot shields against them? Sorry, let no one give us advice. It is no longer possible for our police and soldiers to stop them with riot shields. Both the police and soldiers will do what is necessary;" Prime Minister Davutoglu on the police tanks called TOMA: "For each TOMA water cannon set on fire, five to ten more TOMAs will be bought."
With such signs of violence on the rise, the AKP is bringing back the 1980s coup regime it had largely abolished.