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Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy leaves Turkey vulnerable to foreign intervention

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to still be in denial regarding the grave economic crisis that Turkey is currently undergoing. This is in spite of the fact that inflation in the country has skyrocketed to 24.52 percent in recent months and despite the fact that major construction firms, which are driving force of the Turkish economy, have applied for bankruptcy protection. Furthermore, the USA and other global powers are already taking advantage of the political and economic turmoil in Turkey as the country sells forests, rivers, and allowing more foreign military bases to be established in the country.

At the moment, Erdogan holds extraordinary power by controlling parliament, the judiciary, and the army for the first time in the country’s Republican history since the rule of former President Ataturk. Before the recent presidential election, Erdogan asked Turks to give him full authority to solve economic problems. Along with this, he blamed The Central Bank for increasing interest rates. According to Erdogan’s economic theory, high inflation rates cause inflation. Unfortunately, Erdogan appointed his son-in-law as Finance Minister and violated the sovereignty of the Central Bank, and accordingly, the Turkish lira continues to weaken against the US Dollar.

Erdogan is known as a leader who never takes any responsibility for poor governance or failed policies, even when there is significant evidence to attest to this. In the same way that he blamed “foreign powers and interest lobby” for the 2013 Gezi Park protests, he also blames “foreign powers” for waging an economic war on Turkey after the Lira’s historical fall. Of course, Turkey’s economic crisis deepened as Trump introduced economic sanctions and doubled tariffs on steel and aluminium, but it is clear that Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy around Pastor Andrew Brunson’s arrest caused an unbelievable economic burden on each and every Turkish citizen. The question here is whether it is really Trump’s sanctions that has brought Turkey to its knees?

Many analysts say that pragmatic Erdogan would have immediately arrested prosecutors, judges and police who carried out the operation against Brunson as he did in the 2013 corruption case against his inner circle.  Erdogan needs a scapegoat for the deep economic crises. It is time to pay back international loans as Erdogan’s AKP shut down many factories and instead of manufacturing, the ruling party has steered the country to investing in luxury mall and housing projects. Turkey’s budget deficit increased sharply since Erdogan came to power in 2003. Turkey’s gross external debt, both private and public stood at $453.2 billion at the end of 2017. The country’s central government budget balance posted a deficit of $11.4 billion from January to August this year. It is thus not feasible to blame Trump for all these foreign debts. Thanks to Erdogan’s media outfit in Turkey and English TRT WORLD , millions of people worldwide believe that Trump is the only cause of the economic crisis in Turkey. It is time to explain now, how can Trump punish Turkey?

Firstly, Erdogan owes his legitimacy to Trump as the US President invited him to the White House and posed for amicable photos with the Turkish leader while European leaders were questioning the Turkish election’s legitimacy as the OSCE reported that the 2017 referendum was not free and fair. Why has Erdogan now fallen out of favour with Trump? It is clear that Trump and Erdogan personalised Pastor Brunson’s arrest. As Turkey and the US are strategic allies since the Marshall Aids, and Ankara was the station of America during the Cold War against Russia, it is almost a certainty that both countries’ bureaucrats are not happy with this crisis.  Erdogan requested Trump’s intervention with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the release Turkish citizen, Ebru Ozkan, who was jailed in Jerusalem. Trump agreed and the woman was released. In return, Trump requested that Erdogan release Evangelical Pastor Brunson who has been incarcerated in Turkey over the last two years. In addition to the fact that Brunson is a US citizen, Trump’s rationale is likely that he needs the support of influential American Evangelicals in the upcoming election. Erdogan initially agreed to release Brunson but put forward further conditions to Trump, such as releasing Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank’s CEO Hakan Atilla and cancelling tens of billions of dollars in penalties owed by the Bank which was working with Iran to evade US sanctions. Trump retorted that Brunson was not involved in the coup and US will pay nothing to Turkey for the release of detained Pastor. Finally Erdogan ordered the court the release Brunson and  Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Cemal Enginyurt protested the AKP’s release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, demanding his iPhone, which he had smashed over the cleric’s case.

Since the December 2013 corruption case against Erdogan and his inner circle, the Turkish President took over many companies which were owned by Erdogan’s critics through the State Fund. Turkey’s famous journalist Can Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of Turkish Cumhuriyet Daily, produced a documentary on Erdogan’s phone call with his son Bilal Erdogan, in which the pair spoke of carrying millions of dollars in cash from his houses to other locations in anticipation of a police raid. Four ministers resigned as a result of  this corruption probe. Instead of answering the court, Erdogan and his circle destroyed the judiciary by introducing illegal one-judge “special punishment courts” to evade punishment. These courts arrested thousands of police officials, prosecutors and judges who were involved in the investigations around the corruption case against AKP leaders, including Erdogan’s family. The AKP covered up this corruption case but Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-born Turkish businessman who spent 70 days in jail Turkey, has been arrested in Florida on charges of conducting billions of dollars in financial transactions for the Iranian government and individuals to evade U.S. sanctions. Since property rights no longer exist since the corruption case, many international companies left Turkey such as HSBC, NBG, Total,  C&A, TopShop, River İsland, Aeropostale, La Senza, Baumax, , Leroy, Electro Word, EP Center, Best Buy, Satrun, Douglas, Toly’s R’us, Debenhams, Printemps ve Conforama and many others. To secure foreign direct investment, Erdogan met many CEO’s. Despite his personal war with Trump, Erdogan recently sat with US companies to secure their investment in Turkey.

When WWII victor Russian President Stalin sought to take over Turkey’s North-East cities and to establish military bases on Istanbul’s Bosphorus, Turkey secured the country with military support from the US. Turkey also benefited from the Marshall Funds of the US. Turkey’s staunch opposition to Syrian President Bassar Assad helped Russia to assert its presence in Syria. Erdogan’s coalition with Iran and Russia also angered the US and European powers. Washington and EU leaders continue to arm PKK and YPG which fight against Turkey for an independent Kurdish state.

It seems Erdogan’s short-sighted day-to-day foreign policy leaves Turkey under the risk of political and military intervention of foreign powers. More worrying are the challenges that this state of affairs has heaped on Turkish citizens on the ground – schools struggle to find papers and hospitals cancel crucial operations due to financial difficulties. Erdogan’s Presidential Palace, which boasts 1100 rooms costs Turkish taxpayers 300 000 USD daily. Turkey’s desperate finance minister Berat Albayrak signed an agreement with US consultancy firm MCKinsey but Erdogan cancelled the agreement after criticism from the opposition. The Ottoman Empire lost its sovereignty largely because of foreign debt, it remains to be seen how Erdogan and his cabinet will secure and preserve Turkey’s independence.

Turkmen Terzi is a South African-based Turkish journalist and he holds master’s degree in Philosophy from University of Johannesburg 

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Turkmen Terzi is a journalist, researcher and political commentator focusing on International Relations and Political Science based in South Africa.

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