Expert sheds light on Erdogan's internal and external challenges and the future of the Kurds
In an interview with Kurdpress, James Carey, an expert on Turkey affairs, spoke about the external and internal challenges of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the upcoming elections in 2023 and his specific actions to address them, including the opposition's efforts to oust him, the future of Turkey Kurds, many other issues in Turkey and the war in Ukraine as well as the unprecedented confrontation between the West and Russia after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

Turkey's economic situation has reached a record low, with inflation hovering above 60 percent. In addition, Turkish opposition parties have been united to oust Erdogan from power. Of course, as always, the Kurds have no place beside either Erdogan or the opposition. Over the years, Erdogan has established good ties with both Russia and Ukraine, which are now embroiled in a bitter war, which has made it harder for Erdogan to manage those relations. But James Carey, an expert on Turkish issues and editor-in-chief of Geopolitical Alert, believes that Erdogan is using his own tactics to maintain his position in the face of these challenges, especially in winning the elections. He also noted Turkey Kurds have low chance to survive politically.

 

Turkey send drones to Ukraine and hosts meetings between Russia and Ukraine regarding peace talks simultaneously. How do you assess the behavior?

As always we are just seeing Erdogan be Erdogan. Regardless of what type of relationship Erdogan has with either the US or Russia, he is still out to secure his own position and wealth. 

Erdogan has been fostering ties with Ukraine pretty heavily in the past few years saying the two countries have common regional goals in shared sea spaces. That said, Erdogan has been pretty much frozen out by the US and has had to make deals with Russia in light of losing out on the F-35 as well as losing some of the licenses to manufacture and sell cheaper versions of NATO weapons. While I think Erdogan wants Turkey to appear willing to work with both nations, it is important to remember his usual domestic and personal motivations. 

Domestically, if a free election were held tomorrow I believe the AKP would be found to have bled supporters over the past 3-4 years. Erdogan obviously tries to prevent this loss of real support, usually by doing things like starting trouble in Syria or firing the head of the central bank. Once again, the supplying of drones to Ukraine benefits this image of Erdogan as a proactive leader and Turkey as a nation whose exports are in high demand. This nationalist prestige has always been crucial to Erdogan’s image at home. 

On top of that the main exporter of these drones is the company owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law. Despite this connection Erdogan is pretending these sales are done with little involvement from the state, presumably to allow Putin and himself to save face when they do meet again. Yet obviously the money from these sales, and the new sales that will likely come as a result of Turkish drones’ success in Ukraine. A lot of people in Turkey need this business right now, and although it likely won’t help most average Turks, you can bet Erdogan and family will be using the money for their personal causes. While not doing much in the grand scheme of things, Erdogan will definitely point to the drone sales as a point of national prestige and an industry that is doing well as the economy continues to tumble. 

 

According to the latest reports, the inflation rate has raising to over 60 percent in Turkey. Do you think that the economic crisis can help the opposition oust Erdogan?

I think this is definitely what most western policy makers are hoping for. With Turkey refusing to join in sanctioning Russia it’s clear Erdogan doesn’t plan to play the same role in this new Cold War that Turkey historically did in the first Cold War. With Turkey refusing to take a position on Russia, especially now, the economy is likely to continue suffering. I believe NATO state leaders hope this will bring Erdogan down and restore the CHP or some coalition led by them to eventually restore Turkey’s role in NATO. 

Whether that’s the case or not is still too hard to predict. We know Erdogan’s victory margin in the last national election was slim, and in regional elections the AKP made Istanbul vote twice because they didn’t like the results. So we know there is some level of fraud that is occurring but it doesn’t seem to be incredibly common since Erdogan only won the presidency by about 1% last time anyway. If you’re going to cheat and still only win by a point, you clearly weren’t hearing your hardest yet. Erdogan can’t possibly jail everyone who he figures will vote against him but I think we will see more fraud this election or perhaps Erdogan will just refuse to concede like Trump did here. If that’s the case I think the economy will only get worse as the US will likely move to isolate Turkey further and the country could be in for turnulent times should the US decide to quit waiting for Erdogan to leave and tries to force it witch sanctions, subversion, or violence instead.

 

Opposition meetings continue without the HDP and Turkey's parliament has lowered the threshold to enter the parliament as a party to 7 percent. How do you assess these developments considering HDP and, other parties' position in the 2023 elections?

Lowering the threshold is a part of the AKP’s preemptive cheating in my opinion. Despite their best efforts the AKP has been stuck in their coalition with the MHP for years now despite the MHP being an absolute dud that continues to lose votes. I think this is another sign that again, if a fair election were held today, the AKP would likely lose so they and their allies are scrambling to patch together a system that would deliver the most legitimate looking election victory. 

As for the HDP, I hope they can just manage to survive until the election. With the court case seeking the party’s closure and the insane amount of arrests over the past several weeks it seems Erdogan is intent on making sure there is no party come Election Day. Should Erdogan get his way and have hundreds of HDP members banned from politics, it could mean the end of the party (although a new Kurdish-majority party will likely emerge after it will be short of talent). The only way I see for the HDP to avoid this is if they do manage to put off the courts verdict, join into a coalition strong enough to form a government, and secure parliament and the presidency. If not, we already know Erdogan can and will simply remove fairly elected Kurdish politicians from their offices on bogus charges like he is doing right now.  

 

How do you see the current relationship between Ankara and Washington, considering the Kurdish issue in Turkey and Syria?

I highly doubt Turkey’s feelings on the Kurds are a concern to much of Washington right now. Supplying drones to Ukraine is probably more than the US initially expected out of Turkey right now. The US and Kurds seem to be continuing to make advances in Syria against the Syrian state. 

What I can see for the YPG and Turkey right now is them being integrated into the current tensions between Moscow and Washington. Russia essentially threatened this latest Turkish incursion into Syria during Russia’s negotiations with the YPG. When the YPG didn’t want to cooperate with Moscow, the Kremlin showed the nature of their relationship to Ankara where it concerns Syria. As many suspected, it appears Russia is just happy to point Turkish troops wherever work best for Damascus and themselves at the moment. Following the threat of allowing Turkish forces close to YPG positions, Damascus and Kurdish forces found ways to ease blockades at siege points. 

The US is considering sending more money and arms to the YPG but I’d say the fact that the Kurds are primarily negotiating with Russia to hold Turkey back shows just how little influence Washington now has in northern Syria. I don’t think the Biden administration really has a plan for Turkey but I think that’s ok with the foreign policy establishment for now. Syria ended up being a greater confrontation with Russia but that confrontation has moved into Ukraine, a more “European” country and the thought of a new Cold War has defense stock here booming as most manufacturers seem to be preparing to arm Europe against ground invasion again. Right now Turkey is likely an afterthought, although if this new Cold War unfolds like the last, eventually NATO will want to bring Ankara back in the club. Washington may try to trade off more attacks on the Kurds for this but I don’t see that ever being enough for Erdogan, so more likely the US is waiting for more pro-NATO forces to win in the next elections. However, if the opposition does win I see the attacks on the Kurds most likely being dialed back as attention in Turkey is focused back on Russia. Until then Russia is likely to continue to lean on Turkey to make sure the chaos never stops in northern Syria as they look to move veteran forces from the Levant back to Ukraine. 

 

Turkey severely bombs north of Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan by drones and F-16s. Is it an alternative for a ground operation against Kurdish forces in these areas?

I think this goes back to Russia. Right now Russia is still focused on Syria while also fighting in Ukraine. Turkey clearly takes some marching orders from Moscow. I don’t know whether these orders are followed as part of an agreement or out of fear by Erdogan (who likely knows the US won’t get heavily involved in anything to help the AKP) but it clearly works for Russia. With Russia acting as the negotiator between Damascus and the YPG I doubt Turkey has the ability or will to strike in a manner that could further risk relations with Russia. While much of this is speculation, there is one thing we do know and that is that the Turkish military is severely short on talent. During some recent operations we’ve actually seen Turkish military brass publicly complain about lack of resources or capable staff. We know the Turkish Air Force barely had pilots capable of flying the F-35 if they’d gotten it too. Ground invasions are likely becoming more difficult for Ankara as Erdogan continues to arrest every competent officer left free from 2016 and the supply and access to proxy fighters shrinks in places like Idlib. 

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