Turkey in 2013: Will Erdogan shake up the region?
December 28th, 2012
02:16 PM ET

Turkey in 2013: Will Erdogan shake up the region?

By Güneş Murat Tezcür, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Güneş Murat Tezcür is an associate professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

It has been a decade since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey, and its achievements are certainly noteworthy. Since experiencing its worst economic crisis in recent history in 2001, Turkey has achieved sustainable, high growth rates. The AKP’s foreign policy, meanwhile, has been characterized by increasing activism, contributing to Turkey’s image as a rising regional power. The AKP has also dismantled the power of the military and judiciary, forces that frequently intervened in electoral politics. With the advent of the Arab uprisings, Turkey has promoted itself as a role model that combines democratic rule with Muslim piety.

Yet, the AKP democratizing agenda that was initially triggered by the EU accession process has gradually lost steam. As the AKP has consolidated its power, it has lost its appetite for addressing the demands of historically marginalized groups such as the Kurds and Alevis. Another casualty of the AKP’s overconfidence has been press freedom. In Reporters Without Borders’s Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranked 103th out of 173 countries in 2008. Now it is ranked 148th out of 179.

Still, the AKP will emerge victorious in 2014 local and presidential elections as long as it avoids a sharp economic downturn in 2013. Opposition parties lack the vision and resources to challenge the AKP’s political ascendancy even as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promotes some form of “presidentialism” to replace the current parliamentary system.

This year, the AKP faced two major challenges. The transformation of the Syrian uprising into a civil war symbolized the end of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s much touted “zero problems with the neighbors” policy. As the AKP put its weight behind the opposition, Turkey’s relations with Iran, Iraq and Russia came under increasing strain. Meanwhile, Kurdish insurgency-related violence has reached its highest levels since 1999. As the AKP adopted a more nationalist position, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), galvanized by the gains of the Syrian Kurds, intensified its attacks. These two issues – the violence in Syria and the Kurdish question – will continue to dominate Turkish politics in 2013.

While the al-Assad regime in Syria has lost control of large areas of Syria, the likelihood of an orderly transition of power there is slim. But the AKP’s real concern is the strong appeal of the PYD, a PKK affiliate, among the Syrian Kurds. The Syrian Kurds are dispersed and impoverished, and lack unity, international support and control over oil resources. Similar to the Iraqi Kurds, the Syrian Kurds are likely to seek Turkish patronage to counter Arab power. At the same time, the revitalization of Kurdish nationalism in Syria has galvanized Turkish Kurds, whose demands for greater rights and power continue to trouble the AKP government.

That said, despite this year’s spike in violence, the PKK is no position to militarily challenge the Turkish army in 2013, except in a few remote areas. But the government’s harsh law and order tactics, involving the imprisonment of thousands of Kurdish political activists, and an increasingly nationalistic discourse from Erdoğan, seem to be popular among large segments of the Turkish population. Indeed, Erdoğan seems to be content with a decline in support among Kurdish citizens as his nationalist credentials have bolstered his popularity among ethnic Turks. The AKP in 2013 will be hoping (unrealistically) that economic prosperity, newly offered cultural rights and repression of activism will decrease the appeal of Kurdish nationalism.

Looking ahead, a key aspect of the AKP’s Kurdish policy involves Turkey’s relations with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a plan to export Kurdish oil and gas via a new pipeline. Turkey has three objectives in mind with such a deal. First, the pipeline would help satisfy the fast growing energy needs of the Turkish economy. Second, it would make the KRG a de facto a protectorate of Turkey and further sever the links between the Kurdish nationalists in Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds. Finally, the AKP government hopes for greater prosperity from increased cooperation with the KRG to revitalize economic life in its Kurdish provinces.

This growing cooperation between Turkey and the KRG complicates the U.S. strategy in the region in 2013 and beyond. As Turkey openly sides with the KRG in the latter’s dispute with the al-Maliki government in Iraq, Iran emerges as the only regional state that enjoys good relations with Baghdad. This development, in turn, undermines the U.S. goal of isolating Iran in the region. Yet given the widespread anti-Americanism in the region, the U.S. has no interest in alienating Erdoğan, whose pragmatism and populist appeal more than compensates for his authoritarian tendencies and over-ambitious foreign policy initiatives.

How Erdogan’s government responds to changing regional realities next year could have far reaching consequences.

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Topics: 2013: What's Next? • Turkey

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Quigley

    If this clown Erdogan would only grant the Kurds their well deserved independence and quit taking orders from Washington D.C., he'll be truly a great man indeed. Unfortunately, I don't expect him to do either!

    December 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Good post, Quigley. In fact, you seem to be the person here to have said anything at all. All these other people here are just a bunch of morons who can't even think their way out of a wet paper bag!

      December 29, 2012 at 12:59 am | Reply
      • deniz boro

        Quigly voices opinions on shallow ground :) However I am glad that there is now a Turkish voice in the GPS. Good or bad, it is a voice.

        December 30, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Indeed, the Turkish leadership has to deal with the Kurdish issue carefully. Some 40,000 people have died in the 25-year conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK militant group, which waged a guerrilla campaign in south-east Turkey for the establishment of an ethnic homeland for the Kurdish people. No doubt the civil war in Syria and the autonomy unilaterally declared by the Syrian Kurds are of concern to Ankara.

        December 31, 2012 at 5:54 am |
  2. deniz boro

    If anything else, Turkey is well experianced in terrorist group activities (including but not limited to some Kurdish group actions. Not to mention Asala). Turkey is very well aware and experianced of the teritorial problems. Enough to estimate the consequences.
    Whereas other territories of the world was going through major events recently. While it was election in the USA, it was and is serious economic crisis in the EU. And I wander which one of the member of these different territories exercised any social, structural or economic improvement in the last year :)
    At this point I would like to remind you that Turkey had the chance to take a slice of the pie on offer eversince the first Gulf War. It did not. It is not the principle of the Rpublic of Turkey.
    As for the various Kurdish activists (I gave up trying to remember their names) who make up a living in between the borders of the states which are in trouble or the newly emerging Muslim Brothers....
    Well... there has always been such groups in the animal kingdom as well. One pack ends up fighting the other on the borders of civilization.
    Let them cook in their own juice, it brings up the flavour.
    But I recently wander if Turkey started to export or rather redirect or reexport the said terrorist or activists to where they belong :)

    December 28, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  3. deniz boro

    Say...Do you ever watch the Games of Thrones? It is rather similar to chess game. But is played by a privilaged group rather than the commonars. Stilll, it is more fun to watch the game of thrones rather than the succer coup.

    December 28, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  4. Ferhat Balkan

    It's amazing how the media portrays the Kurds as some sort of 'victims' of oppression, or how cruel the Turkish government is etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. Well, let me tell you... The Kurds already have a state in Northern Iraq and are all welcome to leave if they don't like living in Turkey. The fact is, they're far better off living in Turkey than anywhere else in the region and they know it. If Turkey was as cruel towards Kurds as the leftist Commie media portrays, Kurds would've been running across the border into Iraq right now (just like the Syrians running from Assad's butchering). What really needs to change is for the BDP to stop embracing the PKK terrorists and stop coming up with ridiculous excuses to blame the Turkish government. In light of current events in Syria, Turkey has be at the forefront of aiding innocent victims (including Kurds) all across the border while the rest of the world watches and does nothing! It is time for the PKK to lay down their arms and stop pursuing a Communist state within Turkey's borders through armed conflict. All that does is serve the purpose of other countries who seek to destabilize the region for their own benefit (Russia, Armenia, Greece to name a few). We Turks are a proud people and will never surrender or bow down to the likes of terrorists and those who seek to undermine our sovereignty.

    December 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Reply
    • omg

      kardeş ingilizceyi nerden öğrendin ana ağlatmışsın resmen

      December 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Reply
      • deniz boro

        To translate "org": "Mate/(sister/brother), where did you learn to speak English?..My! you realy did make the language cry out" .
        Complements of a commentor :))

        December 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • SAS

      Thank you for telling it like it is, Mr Balkan. Turkey needs courageous people like you to tell the world the Turkish side of the story. There are millions of ethnic Kurds in Turkey who do NOT use terrorism as a means of promoting their culture, it is just that their stories are completely obscured by the trouble making terrorists of the PKK.

      December 28, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Reply
      • deniz boro

        Thanks Balkan. I must admit that I sometimes get fedup with the same routin lines of this "grant the Kurds their well deserved independence" gibirish. And do a bit of aggresive talk me'self.

        December 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Tim

      As a proud Turkish citizen with Kurdish ethnicity, I do not agree with most of the comments using the Kurdish people to degrade Turkish government policies while I do not approve most of the government policies on other issues like religion.
      I am amazed how you portrait Kurdish people as an outsider on your comment instead of embracing them as a part of our nationality like all others, and calling them our sisters brothers, etc.

      December 30, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply
      • deniz boro

        Tim, you have to look up to my previous comments where I expressed how I am partly Kurdish too. There were no other moderate Turkish-Kurds than. Well there were rarely other Turks commenting. But other people keep on cooking up this "How Turkish state beat up Kurds" story just too often.
        I'll be just too glad to relax and leave these people to you to voice the opinion of the common Turkish people.

        December 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  5. S. Mavideniz

    So the smear campaign continues! Living in the west and following the news every day, I can precisely tell you when this campaign started. It started the day after Mr. Erdogan crossed the president of Israel at Davos in 2009. Speaking on the issue of Israeli aggression into Gaza , Mr. Erdogan told Mr. Peres during a panel discussion on Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Jan-2009 “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill, especially children.” So the campaign to smear Mr. Erdogan, and in his name the whole country, started then but mostly in the right-wing media and by Jewish lobby organizations. But shortly after that, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and alike jumped on the bandwagon. In the last year or so, slowly but surely, the so-called liberal media, BBC, Washington Post, CBS, and as we see here CNN joined the caravan. It has very little to do with what Turkey does with respect to the Kurds or to other minorities in Turkey. It’s mostly about the Middle East politics and why Turkey is not subservient to the Israeli interests as it used to be. Perhaps small but one other thing that I think also fueling this kind of articles is Turkey's impressive run in terms of economic growth; quadrupling its GDP output in 10 years (from $180B to 780B), especially when most of the world has been suffering from a persistent economic downturn. So I think there is a certain element of jealousy at play in these criticisms.

    About the Kurdish issue that the author and many others keep bringing up: These so-called journalists that have been taken into custody are accused of not just inciting violence but actually causing violence by their terrorist followers! If imprisoning them puts Turkey in 179th out of 179 countries, so be it! By reading these very biased articles, one would think that the Kurds in Turkey have been enslaved and have no rights in that country! The fact that Turkey has had Kurdish prime minister, numerous ministers, governors, prominent individuals in all levels of government, highly visible, highly popular professionals in all aspects of life in the country is a testimony that these allegations are all false! It is absurd that the government of Turkey is asked to extend olive branch to the terrorists! There have been some legitimate demands for more rights for the minorities and many of them have been granted. In fact, Mr. Erdogan’s government has done much more in the last 10 years in that regard than all previous governments in the history of the Turkish Republic!

    December 29, 2012 at 12:35 am | Reply
    • deniz boro

      S. Mavideniz,
      Yes there may be a smear campaign caused by 'some' jewish people. However I am totally against what you have written.
      1- CNN/GPS gives place to both sides of an issue and the free discussion and opinion of everyone (excluding legally banned ones)
      2- If you follow up carefully you will read the opinion of Israelit people or Jewish people who are opposed to the acts of their governments.
      3- About the Journalist, imprissioned in Turkey. I see no excuse for their long imprisonement. That is a disgrace for Turkish justice.
      May I suggest that you examine how CNN deals with the rights of information and communication before commenting on how Turkish journalists are prisonned and how CNN takes side in "only" an Israel related issue.
      You actually seem directed to a single issue to me.

      December 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Reply
      • S. Mavideniz

        deniz boro; I never used the term "jewish people" as I have no problem with people of Jewish faith. I used the term "Jewish lobby organizations" by which I mainly meant AIPAC and I used the term "Israeli interests" by which I meant interest of the state of Israel in the Middle East.. Please re-read my comments. You cannot convince me that this article is an unbiased article.

        December 31, 2012 at 1:52 am |
      • deniz boro

        http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/28/erdogans-troubling-shift-toward-repression/#comments.

        S/Mavideniz... Do compair the above to see biased opinion...And than consider how things work ;)

        January 2, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • deniz boro

        Sorry Mavideniz. I thought you were commenting on the immediate article rather than a general history of various articles on this issue.

        January 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  6. Joseph McCarthy

    I can't get over all these nincompoop dimwits here taking up for the Turks. This like reading the writings of a bunch of morons cheering on the British during our Revolutionary War(1775-1783). Anyone here who knows any American history at all will know what I'm driving at!

    December 29, 2012 at 1:11 am | Reply
    • deniz boro

      changed ur name?

      January 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  7. gok

    Turkish power, all up in your gut.

    December 29, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply
  8. deniz boro

    It has almost been a year since I started to comment on CNN-GPS. I thought Turkey was rather underrepresented in the global forum. And felt it was my duty as a Turkish citizen to voice the Turkish side of the issue and encourage other Turks to participate.
    I was shocked and happy when my first comment was actually published. But it made me see that it was possible.
    Now I am glad to see other Turkish citizens voicing their opinions on line.
    As it was once claimed, my comments were not supponsored, encouraged or paid by anybody. No governmental or other authority contacted me on the opinions I voiced.
    I just wanted Turkey to be included in public discussions on a Global Square ;)
    I see my work is done.
    Listening, expressing and emphaty may yet lead to a peace built by common people and not by obscure government deals.

    December 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  9. 72,000 CEVILAINS KILLED IN SYRIA,,,,,,,,/

    IT IS ABOUT 70,000 CEVILINAS ARE KILLED IN SYRIA BY THE IRANIANS BACK GOVERNMENT BACKED BY RUSSIA WEAPONS FROM IRAN AND IRAQ AND FIGHTERS FROM IRAQI SHIIA AND HEZBOLLAH THOSE EVIL TERROR SHIIA THUGS USE TAQEYA TO LIE TO USA.the number 70,000 is the correct number plus more than 54000 child women and old men died from hunger ,sickness illness related to war which is not count for, and more than 143000 prisoners all Sunni , kurds captured by the alwayet SHIIA cult 12% of the populations . while usa, France, NATO and UN doing nothing why Libya and Iraq were attacked for only 400 death!!!!!!!is it because there is not much oil in Syria!!!!shame on you OBAMA,,,...............

    January 2, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  10. deniz boro

    Middle East has been mentioned just too often in the recent decades. Middle East has only sand and oil to offer. It's religion has always been a different issue untill recently.
    Just look back to the times when people discovered whale oil. They consumed it within a century. And than oil was found. In about 1890's.
    So what is the difference between an Oil Whale and an Oil Producing country?

    January 7, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  11. deniz boro

    Turks as well as Brits, Goths, Visigoths, Greks, Galians and perhaps Summerians and Licians should learn to be updated and eventually global in this global world where news can not be hidden for long.

    April 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  12. deniz boro

    I refer to a passage in "the Little Prince" by Saint Exupery: It says in short " If you are to rule a land, you have to give comments that the public will follow".
    This is almost the same as what Ataturk said back in 1938: "If you are to educate a people go down to their level and start there."
    There is a slight difference. Between the words of RULING and EDUCATING. However these slight differences in opinion can be smoothed out.

    April 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  13. deniz boro

    I can not believe how Erdogan eventually did shake up Turkey....even Brasil. Turkey cannot stop shaking. Even if the people wishes that it will stop, Erdogan just can not stop shaking us all up. See what a talented leader can do when he puts his head to it. But I pitty the people in his party most.

    June 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Reply
  14. deniz boro

    It is now Feb 2014. Demented I say. But under a heavy censur. I must say like Ella Fitzgerald: " Can't know my hand from my glow"

    February 2, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Reply
  15. deniz boro

    NOW YOU KNOW.

    April 3, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  16. deniz boro

    It is hard to say how Turkey is like anymore. I know that those WHO were able to get to or by various mans reach the news (news were severly directed; and well other means were cut down) were somewhat informed. Or rather misinformed. This all happened in a "so called democracy"; elected by people. It was only the atterfall and shock of this SPRING THING.. PLS watch next time rather than applying files left from 1930's.

    April 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  17. deniz boro

    Too many people died.

    April 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Reply
  18. deniz boro

    Now I do believe the Armeians may get what thet ask for (whatever that was). Because our dear LEADER- unpresidented and the greatest IS SERVING this dish on the table. Meanwhile please keep the general balance of the whole World in mind. 'Unbalanced people' did cause trouble in the history so far. Using unbalanced people for your ends may be good in the short term ...Still you have to consider the risks in handling them.
    From this side of the World the guy is getting deep paranoid and rather magestic. Believes in it as well :;

    April 25, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Reply

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