As the last week of June, 2022, set in, two sets of images arrived on my desk. They are hashtagged: “#WeLoveErdogan”. The first is a collage of six pictures — four in the upper and two in the lower strip. Off the cuff, I recognize them all except one. Controversial Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, commonly referred to his MBS acronym, is recurrent – the common denominator in elementary Mathematics.
The others are his Beijing, Moscow, (former) Washington and Ankara counterparts, Xi Ping, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It’s all-smiles with Xi Ping and Putin; no clear message from Trump’s side elevation camera focus but mutual distrust is clearly read on faces of Erdogan and MBS two prints. And, maybe, that is why both shots are from the same occasion – to deliver the hashtag message.
The second set comprises just one executive, full protocol-packed picture of MBS and Erdogan, flanked by their countries’ national flags. The pic ostensibly conveys a sort of “work-done-at-last” message and is well spiced with smiles from MBS and a shake of hands (definitely not handshake in the two countries’ relations). Erdogan puts on a tacit ‘satisfied face’ worth his thumbs up and MBS really poses for a memorable picture, hopefully opening new and fresh ties as opposed to what can be read between warehouse stock bin card numbers when fresh arrivals may not necessarily be new.
These two sets of images sent my memory back to the late 1950s and early 1960s when a German father and son – Bernhard and Michael Grzimek – left their country for former Deutsch Ost-Afrika Tanganyika colony under British trusteeship, to fulfill their ambition of alarming the world on wildlife conservation threats. They wrote a book titled: “Serengeti darf nitcht sterben” – which, out of the ordinary for publications, went by two English translations of “Serengeti Shall Not Die” and “Serengeti Shall Never Die”. English-speaking translators, somewhere, must have failed to get the German language cultural feeling of or touch about conservation, which is not an issue here.
Ambitions are really a cost
Michael, who also wrote a script for an accompanying documentary, died in a crash involving a small plane he was piloting and was laid to final rest in the Serengeti wilderness. For loss of words, the documentary was simply referred to as “Serengeti”. This ambition cost the family an irreversible loss of life. Thereafter, Michael would no longer appear in a family photograph. Ambitions, whatever and wherever, are really a cost.
To round off the “#WeLoveErdogan” collage message, my mind wished there were even an inset file picture of the equally controversial late Saudi Arabian journalist, columnist, editor, managing director, editor-in-chief and, above all, ‘dissident’ Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi. From the sight of MBS and Erdogan ‘shaking hands’, I asked myself: “Where is the Khashoggi picture? How come that Erdogan and MBS have found themselves comfortable with such a friendly atmosphere in the background of Jamal Khashoggi’s spine chilling murder in Istanbul? What happened to create room for that to take place?”
I don’t know where Jamal Khashoggi learned his journalism. But he made an ethical practice error of drawing himself in the Saudi Arabia royal circles when his pen was very critical. He also made a dangerous step by slipping into his country’s intelligence arena and befriending Arab tycoons. He felt comfortable in Turkey as a friend of Erdogan. Except for the use of force as a peace negotiating tool, both shared some sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood. Khashoggi held special concerns for democracy and human rights issues and used ‘the pen’ to further this ambition.
The Khashoggi story changed on 2- October, 2018, when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again. What befell him is also not the subject of this analysis. It only suffices to say that according to official Turkish officials, a Saudi forensic expert equipped with a bone saw dismembered Khashoggi’s body after being killed. There are also reports that his remains were chemically disposed of.
Erdogan condemned the killing, which attracted global condemnations. I think, as an exceptional strategist, he saw that he had no choice. The world could not understand him. He ordered a probe leading to prosecution of suspects in absentia, leading to the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Kingdom.
Putin caution on Erdogan character
As Putin once said that when making an agreement with Erdogan one had to know perfectly the sort of person one is dealing with. Erdogan can do anything once convinced that the course of action was beneficial to Turkey, He did not touch the personal benefit. As it is lightly observed in the African Swahili culture, Erdogan, so to say, is the type of a leader who would not hesitate ‘deserting you on the traffic lights’.
In the face of economic crisis on the domestic front, Erdogan trashed the Khashoggi killing trial in an Istanbul court confirmation of halting the process and transferring it to Riyadh, triggering anger among human rights groups across the globe. On his way to Mecca, Erdogan met MBS, who also later visited Ankara closing the lid over the Khashoggi murder case.
Labouring to put the facts straight, President Erdogan’s aid, Ibrahim Kalin, said Turkey did all it could. “We did not initiate any contacts with Saudi Arabia for three years. Turkey reacted very harshly; it did what it could. Sometimes the rulings handed down in the courts fail to satisfy the public’s desire for justice. We did not have very serious problems with Saudi Arabia until the Khashoggi murder created a big trauma. I think Turkey did the most it could at the time.”
With or without the Khashoggi murder in respect of which Erdogan had chance to say the “highest levels” of the Saudi government ordered the killing and subsequently ordered investigations against which it kept the global media posted, the Saudi response was pressurizing the Turkish economy by boycotting imports.
And now the Khashoggi affair is a dead issue between Riyadh and Ankara. Turkey’s economy state and the forthcoming electoral prospects are more important than holding on to Khashoggi’s right to live. Putin could be very right. The story reads like that of the Grzimek’s Serengeti. The Erdogan character shall not or never die.
Shedding crocodile tears?
Erdogan has literally shed (crocodile?) tears in the United Nations General Assembly sessions for the fate of Palestinian children but denied the Ahmets of his own country free cancer treatment because of his differences with their parents perceived as pro-Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen living in exile in the United States or Hizmet Movement followers.
A proclaimed anti-terrorism leader, Erdogan has proven contacts with terror groups in the Middle East and North and West African countries. Implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have laid the Erdogan character bear. He blames the action but does not agree with measures. A supplier of drones which Ukraine uses to down the aggressor (Russian) missiles, Erdogan still offers himself as a peace broker through dialogue. To the NATO alliance, Erdogan’s character is more than a nightmare. An alarm maker about Turkey’s territorial sovereignty, Erdogan has not hesitated to conduct cross border bombings in Iraq and Syria but also plotting across continents dissident kidnappings.
All said, the question remains: “Shall the Erdogan character not or never die?” Or is it like “the bad meat”, which, the African indigenous knowledge concedes, “is difficult to exhaust from the barbeque stick?”