Bedrosyan: What’s Next for Turkey?

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in Istanbul, March 11, 2017.

By Raffi Bedrosyan 

The April 16 referendum in Turkey—to revise the constitution and grant expanded powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—passed by a slim margin, as 51.3 percent of voters said “Yes” amid claims of significant illegal voting procedures.

Opposition parties have stated that the winning margin of 1.1 million votes was only achieved by the action of government election officials, allowing up to 2.5 million non-registered invalid “Yes” votes.

The election campaign itself was already deemed to be vastly unfair and uneven, with zero coverage and airtime allowed by the state controlled media and TV stations for the pro-Kurdish party, whose co-chairmen were in jail along with 13 other elected parliamentarians and thousands of party members for “supporting terrorism.”

Despite the crackdown on all propaganda of “No” supporters, the population of major cities, coastal regions, the Kurdish regions in the east and southeast, and generally urbanized and educated people, voted “No.” But the central regions of the country, generally less educated, rural people and the pro- Islamic masses, as well as thousands of Syrian Sunni refugees carried the day, with some help from the voting officials.

Nevertheless, by hook or crook, Erdogan— who now will have all executive, legislative, and judiciary powers in his control after abolishing the Prime Minister’s office and greatly reducing the role of the parliament—has already declared a victory. This concentration of power in one person has already been declared as the “death of democracy” in Turkey’ by European statesmen, who are now firmly convinced Turkey should never join the European Union.

In any case, trying to get into European Union is no longer an objective for Erdogan. He has called the European leaders Nazis and Crusaders because they prevented his ministers from campaigning to Turkish workers living in Europe.

One of Erdogan’s top priorities now is to bring back the death penalty, pushing Turkey further away from European norms. He wants the death penalty in order to execute the perpetrators of the failed coup of 2016. His need to avenge is apparent in every speech that he has made since that event, and put in effect in the continuing purge of hundreds of thousands of people fired from their jobs or tens of thousands of people put in jail, for suspicion of sympathizing with the alleged coup leader, exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Although Erdogan supporters blindly voted to place dictatorial powers in his hand, one wonders what will happen when Erdogan starts losing his grip on power. The steady economic growth from the earlier days of his government, which resulted in higher living standards for the masses helping his popularity, has now halted, with massive losses in tourism, manufacturing, export, and trade. Record numbers are unemployed and deemed “unemployable” as either Gulen or Kurdish movement supporters. There are grumblings and potential splinter groups forming even in Erdogan’s own ruling party.

In the short term, Erdogan seems invincible, but consider these scenarios for the longer term—sooner or later, when he loses an election, his all powerful post may be occupied by an anti-Erdogan individual. Perhaps not probable now, but an elected president may be a secular Kemalist, who will go after Erdogan, and all he stands for, especially if he is empowered with the death penalty. Perhaps even less probable, an elected president may be a pro-Kurdish politician, who will have the powers to grant local autonomy to the Kurdish regions, even paving the path toward Kurdish independence.

And perhaps the least probable scenario: an elected president may be a hidden Islamized Armenian politician, who may single-handedly decide to start facing historical truths and stop the denial of the Armenian Genocide with all its consequences.

Never say never in politics…