The referendum in Turkey: what will be the impact ? Interview with Burak Bekdil

Last Sunday, April the 16th has marked a turning point in Turkish political history: the referendum for a Presidential system has been won with a popular support of 51%. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the so called "Reis" of Turkey is now in the position to become an absolute leader. While many observe that it has been a marginal victory, there is a sort of awareness that the current political trend will continue in the next future. How the situation would develop?

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave national flags as they wait for his arrival at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave national flags as they wait for his arrival at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas has asked to Burak Beksil, one of the most prominent and outspoken journalist in Turkey, who has been recently fired from his post after 29 years of career.

You are one of the most prominent and outspoken journalist in Turkey. As far as I know after many years of career in Hurriyet Daily News recently you have been dismissed, what is the main reason? Is that related to the current state of emergency and to the increasing control over the opponents of AKP?
As you said my column for Hurriyet Daily News was terminated in December after 29 years. The newspaper and its editors came under increasing pressure from pro-Erdogan media and their thugs since 2014 when Islamist newspapers started the habit of putting me into their front pages with stories full of hate speech and threats. In December a big pro-Erdogan newspaper did the same, this time putting a column I had written for Gatestone Institute (in New York) under the magnifier. The story reached Hurriyet’s big boss who then told my editors he does not want trouble - which meant I had to be fired. The government and troll terror / pressure on what remains of free press is rising and rising every new day. Remember, there are more than 150 journalists in prisons on flimsy charges of terror links. Many of them are awaiting indictment against themselves for several months. They do not even know what they are accused of.

How do you explain what is happening in Turkey in this historical moment with Erdogan as a sort of supreme leading figure in the Turkish political system?
The Turkish voters typically do not care much about civil liberties and liberal political values. The average voter is the man who does not get angry with a government that intimidates dissent but is rather happy with it especially when he gets subsidies from the central government, or when their leader revives their dreams of a return to their glorious Ottoman past. This is Turkey’s problem: The political culture that adores strongmen, not the strongmen.

According to your understanding what will be the impact of this referendum in the medium term, in other words is there any real risk of increasing islamization and/or authoritarianism in the Country? If the “hayir” option passes, how President Erdogan would react?
The referendum result is another national endorsement of Erdogan’s authoritarian policies, his Islamist agenda and his neo-Ottoman ambitions, despite the narrow winning margin. It will legitimise Erdogan’s future one-man rule with unchecked powers. The question is: If the majority of Turks are happy with all this insanity what could a small minority like us the other Turks could do? Not much. There will be further political tensions and the polarisation will deepen. Erdogan’s populism will not only give him new license to rule undemocratically but also further downgrade Turkey’s democratic standards.

What is the role of Turkey in Syria? We have seen a changing position: before as a member of the internationl coalition against Isis then Ankara got close to Moscow and Teheran and nowadays there is a sort of enthusiam for Trump's initiative in the region, what is the main reason of this volatile strategy?
Turkey’s priority in Syria is to prevent the formation of a “Kurdish belt” in the country’s north. Ankara is using ISIS as a pretext to prevent an autonomous Kurdish region which in the future may merge with Iraqi Kurdistan, and later with southeast Turkey. It’s the usual Turkish fear. The reason for Turkey’s zigzagging in policy over Syria is “helplessness.” There are no viable policy options to reach set policy goals in Syria: Turkey is too weak to challenge Russian (and Iranian) and American interests. See the punishing impact of Russian sanctions on the turkish economy after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 aircraft in November 2015. Turkey’s policy is not consistent. Its objectives are in contradiction with the policy objectives of other powerful state and non-state actors. Zigzagging is the only natural outcome of this.


Write a comment for the Article