TURKEY – A TIME BOMB WITH A DELAYED IGNITION
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Massimo Introvign, a professor of sociology and religion at the Papal Salesian University, and an author of a book ‘Turkey and Europe’ and essays about the Party of Justice and Development of President Erdogan, about the complicated situation in Turkey and the role of this country in the international arena
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - Professor, we met together in 2014, before the visit of pope Francis in Turkey, in order to talk about this large country which is the member of NATO and is aspiring to enter the EU. In the recent time the situation in the country governed in a more and more authoritative way by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is undergoing sudden changes. What is happening in Turkey?
PROF. MASSIMO INTROVIGNE: - I think that we should base our opinion on facts. The president Erdogan has been suggesting political Islam for years, which was symbolically characterized with such aspects as a woman’s veil and education, but it was also opened up to a dialogue with the West and was for acknowledging, although the incomplete one, of rights of religious minorities and women’s rights. He thought that in this way he would become a model for the Islamic world and will also bring Turkey to the European Union. He was supported in it by the so-called three Bs – Bush, Blair and Berlusconi. Italy is the second economic partner of Turkey, and Berlusconi was a witness at a wedding of Erdogan’s son. However, this strategy was not successful. Political Islam is dominated by the extremists who consider Erdogan as a traitor and this is why they are committing terroristic assassinations also in Turkey. Erdogan felt deceived by Europe, as he realized the fact that no matter what new concessions are, Turkey would never enter the European Union, because the European public opinion opposes to it and it would punish those politicians in the election who are for accessing of this country to the EU. Especially that the trio Bush – Blair – Berlusconi, sponsors of Erdogan, are far from politics. In addition, there is a serious crisis of emigrants and a problem which is hardly ever understandable outside Turkey, that is, in this country we do not deal with a conflict between Islamic and secular groups.
– So, what kind of conflict is it?
– It is a conflict inside the very Turkish political Islam and the world of Islamic brotherhoods, to which Erdogan belongs, a conflict between a government and Fethullah Gulen, an influential Turkish preacher residing in the USA, who controls a real economic, media and educational empire in Turkey and who became a sworn enemy of the president.
– Erdogan is closing down newspapers’ editorial offices, TV stations and news agencies, which have critical attitudes towards his policy, and journalists get to prisons for unmasking such facts, like engaging Turkish special services in weapon smuggling for Islamic fighters in Syria. The president dismissed also the prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, because he was ‘too weak’ towards the West. Is Turkey still a democratic country?
– Erdogan reacted in an authoritative way to difficulties caused by a failure of the most important elements of his policy – hegemony in political Islam and accession to the EU, the failure which also had an influence on the election (AKP – Justice and Development Party is still winning, but these are victories more and more uncertain) and economy (it is still very strong, but we are far from the times of economic boom). He also became distrustful towards Europe as he felt humiliated, which is significant psychologically not only for somebody who considers himself as a heir of Turkish-Mongol – imperial tradition, which used to have an influence on territories much bigger than the current European Union. Unfortunately, in many western media an excessive accent is put onto an attitude of the secular opposition, which is closer to the western mentality, but had not got a big significance in the very Turkey, where the opposition which is really respected, is the inner one, in political Islam. Besides that Erdogan is compared to al-Asad or as-Sisi, which is ridiculous. The government is surely pursuing a police and authoritative policy towards judges and journalists, who are righteously criticized, but elections in Turkey are honest in fact; if most citizens vote against the AKP, this party will move to the opposition according to the logics of democratic change of the authority about which we cannot say in the case of Egypt or Syria.
– Maurizio Molinari, a director of an influential Italian journal ‘La Stampa’, summarized the aspirations of Turkey of Erdogan in the following way: ‘Ankara wants to overthrow al-Asada, in order to change Syria into a Sunnite country governed by Islamic groups referring to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which converges, to a large extent, with the ideology of Erdogan’s AKP party, in order to create Ottoman influences in Near East, stigmatized with a collapse of the Arabic countries. Shortly speaking, it concerns placing the fundament under the sultanate of Erdogan in the region’. Does Professor agree with this analysis?
– From the beginning of the Ottoman empire Turkey, also being governed by laic military men, has always aiming at regional hegemony. Therefore it considered it unbearable that in Syria, the former Ottoman province, the Sunnites who are a majority of population, are, to a large extent, moved away from political authority by the Alawites minority which is not even 15 per cent of population. These issues have always been important for Turkey, but became a key matter now, during the war in Syria, migration of refugees, and also distrust towards Europe.
– Turkey has been a guarantee of stability and safety for the European Union for a long time in the whole region. But the situation changed when Erdogan’s Turkey was supporting the Jihadists from the so-called Islamic State in the beginning and allowed for weapon and fighters transit, was purchasing petroleum from smugglers from ISIS. Now it is blackmailing Europe with refugees escaping from the war, for which it is partly responsible. Did Turkey become a problem for Europe?
– Yes, it did but before that Europe had been a problem for Turkey. Europe has brought this problem itself. Indeed it could have accepted Turkey in the EU or made the Turkish aware that the opposition of the European public opinion causes a situation that it is impossible. There were important reasons for choosing one or another opposition. But the another one was chosen – it was repeated in Turkey that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, during 5 or 10 years it might enter the European Union on particular conditions, while it was known that it was not true. It was so for many years that the Turkish were kept in uncertainty, but, finally, they started being irritated by it.
– It looks that Turkey, instead of fighting with ISIS, is more interested in fighting the Kurds on its territory (PKK), in Syria and in Iraq. It leads to tensions in relations with the United States which provide the Kurds with weapon who are fighting with the Islamists. What significance has the ‘Kurdish problem’ got in the conflict in Near East?
– Turkey will never accept the Kurdish country. In this respect the laic opposition whose reference point are still some sectors of the army, is much ‘harder’ than Erdogan’s party. Moreover, it will never accept maintaining the authority by al-Asad. In these two issues 90 per cent of the Turkish (not including Turkish Kurds) agree to it regardless of their political beliefs. If one does not consider it, it will be impossible to understand the Turkish attitude towards ISIS. Erdogan is considered by ISIS as a traitor but he himself considers ISIS as a lesser evil in comparison to the Kurdish nationalism and dictatorship of the Alawites of al-Asad in Syria. And I say it again: including the majority of the Turkish – even those who demonstrate their opinions against Erdogan – agree with him.
– In return for controlling the wave of migrants Turkey wants milliards euro and demands (although it is a blackmail) a visa-free entrance of its citizens to the EU. Can Europe allow for opening its borders for 79 million Turkish Muslims?
– Theoretically, it cannot. However, in practice, Europe has got limited possibilities to take a step, or it may resort to the only way which is inhibiting the waves of migrants and overcoming ISIS and bringing peace in Syria and Iraq.
– Turkey remains a candidate for entering the EU. But shouldn’t these authoritative changes and strong islamization of this country force us to reflect on what the Union is in fact, which is called ‘European’?
– Maybe. But such reflections should have been undertaken before making promises to Turkey, knowing that they would not be kept. Deceiving the Turkish seemed a cunning procedure but it turned out that it had been a real ‘time bomb’ which has exploded today and caused a lot of destructions.