Interview conducted by Mr. Seymur Mammadov and published in Russian here:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that early presidential and parliamentary elections would be held in the country on June 24. Why did Erdogan decide to hold early elections? What’s happening?
After the failed coup attempt of July 2016, Erdoğan has used and abused the system on all levels. He executed his massive purges that impacted all those who are openly against him or suspected of being against him: the army then the Gülen Movement, the supporters of the latter and those in contact directly or indirectly with the Movement. Erdoğan also attacked Kurdish independence activists (including the pacifist’s ones), Kemalists, and opponents of all kinds. He wiped out the media, public administration, universities, and the civil society in general while maintaining a state of emergency in the country. More than 150,000 people have been suspended from their duties in the public service, the military, and the private sector. More than 50,000 people were arrested in July 2017 while censorship of the Internet and social media continues to tighten more and more.
It is in this context that Meral Akşener funded the İYİ Party on October 25, 2017. Seizing the opportunity offered to her, namely the fragmentation of the opposition and the erosion of Erdoğan’s popularity, Meral Akşener shares a conservative base with the Turkish President and presents herself as a unifying alternative of the Turks. She counts on her charisma and uses a speech which, while being part of the Kemalist modernist tradition, embraces the tolerant cultural values of Islam, on top of her devotion which is only an illustration of her political attitude.
That said, on April 17, 2018, the state of emergency is extended for three months for the seventh time since the failed coup attempt. The next day, 55,000 people were imprisoned while snap elections were announced. These elections are an attempt to limit the damage caused by the rise of İYİ Party at the expense of the AKP. The popularity of Erdoğan is not what it was, hence his attempt to stop the rise of the competition by calling the elections early.
In your opinion, will Erdogan be re-elected as President of Turkey? How do you assess his chances of winning? Will he retain his power?
A parallel can be made here with Japan with Shinzō Abe and Yuriko Koiko. On September 24, 2017, Abe announced snap elections at a time when Yuriko Koiko, who shares the same conservative ideological basis, had created the Party of Hope (Kibō no Tō) just hours before Abe announced his election. During the following month, she had momentum in her favor, but at the end, Abe won. This will be the case for Erdoğan as well. He will be re-elected, that’s for sure. However, with which majority? That is the one-million-dollar question! If Meral Akşener succeeds in converting her ascending popularity into a significant number of seats, she will be the real winner, and it will be a warning to Erdoğan that his authoritarian drifts have reached their limits.
How does Turkish society perceive President Erdogan? Do you think that most Turkish people support Erdogan and his foreign policy?
Turkish society is divided between a modern secular Kemalist society located mainly in major centers like Istanbul and Islamist conservative one in the rest of Anatolian Turkey. The first one considers Erdoğan as a dictator who is pushing back the country regarding human rights, democracy, and openness of the country. He is regarded as someone who is burying Turkey in conflicts that were contained and which had calmed down (the Kurds) and in others that have escalated over time (ISIS, Syria). The second one sees Erdoğan as a savior who led Turkey to economic success and restored her lost power. This category of society follows blindly Erdoğan (who is playing on this populist favor) and does not question any of his decisions.
Who can be an alternative to Erdogan within Turkish politicians? Is there an alternative to Erdogan?
In the current Turkish context in which the opposition has been either imprisoned, forced to remain in exile, or to be silent and weakened, the only credible alternative to Erdoğan is Meral Akşener. As previously stated, she shares the same conservative base while going after the Turkish Kemalist nationalists who value secularism, which has been a source of pride for the country for several decades and had made Turkey as an example to follow for the Muslim countries in the Middle East North Africa region. It is certain that Meral Akşener will not win the presidency, but she will shake the system and gain seats at the AKP’s expense… This will happen if Meral Akşener can run in the elections unless Erdoğan stops her from doing so by a fraudulent scheme.
The Central Bank of Turkey withdrew its gold reserve from the US Federal Reserve System. This is evidenced by the annual report of the bank, published on the official website of the organization. The document notes that, at the end of 2016, the gold reserve of the Central Bank of Turkey, stored in the US Federal Reserve, was 28,689 tons while, at the end of 2017, the corresponding column is marked with a dash. Why did Turkey withdraw its gold reserve? What is the reason for this? What goals is Turkey pursuing?
When a country withdraws its gold reserve from the US Federal Reserve, the question what is the destination of this gold and the aim is a moot point. Is it to create more money? Or is it to invest it? For a country, withdrawing its gold to repatriate it at home is a sovereign act designed to give more weight to its currency. In the case of Turkey, the value of the Turkish lira continues to plummet against the US dollar and the euro.
Turkey is not the only one to have withdrawn its gold reserve, Germany and Holland (for example) have also done the same. It is a gesture to signal that countries want to escape the dollar’s omnipotence. Having gold in one’s vaults is reassuring for a country that fears inflation, which is the case for Turkey where inflation is over 10 percent.
A fear that gold ETFs are oversubscribed (hence the fear of not having enough gold to cover the amount of all traded ETFs) combined with a mistrust of the current financial system make it a legitimate reason to repatriate gold. It is a gesture that is more an economic one thana political one.
Officially, Iran switched from the dollar to the euro in international settlements. Can Turkey abandon the dollar formally? If it cannot, then why?
Just as we are nowadays living in a multipolar political world, we are also living in a multipolar economic world. Turkey will not officially abandon the US dollar in favor of the euro. It will not go against the US to counterbalance the ‘hatred’ of Europeans. Indeed, Turkish-European relations have always been tumultuous with ups and downs for centuries. It will not be today that they will get off to a good start: therefore, the use of the euro will not happen, and since there is no other serious alternative to the US dollar, business in this currency will continue as usual.
Relations between Turkey and the US have intensified against the background of US support to Syrian Kurds, which Ankara considers a terrorist group. Turkey, as you know, supported a missile attack on Syria. How will the relationship between the US and Turkey develop in the future?
The current state of Turkish-American relations is a remnant of Bush’s war in the region, which has opened wounds, an example is the Kurdish problem. Turkey can control the bordering Syrian territory manu militari. However, the solution cannot be a military one. It can only be a negotiated one: a new Sykes-Picot agreement is in order.
That said, Turkey is the keystone for the US to open up Central Asia and the Middle East. The US needs countries that offer strategic support (Egypt, Israel, Japan, Morocco, South Korea, and Turkey). With two populist leaders leading the two countries, relations between the US and Turkey will sail according to their respective agenda. They will continue to have ups and downs depending on the issues (cooperation to fight terrorism, confrontation with regards to the Kurdish problem, tensions regarding Fethullah Gülen’s extradition, etc.). And even if the relations between the two countries continue to deteriorate, they cannot be entirely broken because of the geostrategic place of Turkey for the United States… unless the Trump effect scrambles everything!