The article first published in on 04/16/2017.




On April 17, the Western world would wake up having to answer the urgent question: “Who lost Turkey? The day before that, Turkey would have completed its shocking transition from a long-term NATO ally and an imperfect democracy,  into an Islamist dictatorship that threatens the West and peace in the Middle East more than any other state actor, Russia included. There will be many answers, excuses and justifications for this sad state of affairs, but what’s not at issue is that Turkey is lost, perhaps for a long time, as a friend of the West.


In the run up to the Turkish referendum on the 16th there are still many pundits in the West who continue arguing that Turkey could go either way, implying that Erdogan could still lose the referendum, which is more a testimony of willful self-deception than of Turkish reality. And the reality is that Turkey stopped being a democracy  quite some time ago and to imagine that democratic elections could take place under these conditions is wishful thinking at best. Witness the following developments  just since the purported coup last July: lifting the immunity of duly elected parliamentarians and jailing them on bogus terrorism charges, arresting and jailing 85 elected Kurdish mayors, 1478 politicians, closing down hundreds of NGOs and media organizations and firing countless teachers, university professors and government officials. In yet another government crackdown reminiscent of the communist takeover of Eastern Europe after WWII, Erdogan confiscated no fewer that 600 private companies worth $10 billion and accused them of terrorism. Overall, 130,000  Turks have been dismissed from their government jobs and at least 45,000 have been arrested. However it is looked at, this is the largest political purge Europe has seen since Stalin’s purges in the 1930s or the communist takeover of Eastern Europe.


How did all of this come to pass with barely a notice, let alone disapproval by the democratic West? This would doubtlessly be the subject of numerous postmortems yet to come, but we can start by suggesting some obvious miscalculations. Though it was clear from the beginning that Erdogan was a died-in-the-wool Islamist and a self-proclaimed ‘servant of sharia,

this did not prevent those in the West ever hopeful of finding a democratic Islamist , like the Obama administration, to declare Erdogan’s Turkey a “strong, vibrant, secular democracy, ” while his secretary of state was admonishing other countries “to learn the lessons Turkey has learned and is applying every day.” These vapid testimonials were being offered by the United States, as Erdogan was arresting scores of journalists for criticizing his policies and throwing hundreds of  military top brass in jail on trumped up charges of plotting against the state. No wonder many secular Turks hold Washington complicit in the Islamization of their country. A Western miscalculation of more recent vintage came in the wake of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s catastrophic mistake of inviting millions of migrants to come to Europe in September 2015. Unwilling to admit her errors, she sought to fix the problem by relying on Erdogan to stem the migrant tide in exchange for money. This has predictably led to even greater European unwillingness to confront Turkish misdeeds, while convincing Erdogan that blackmailing Europe pays.


What losing Turkey means is yet to be seriously registered in both Washington and Brussels, but it will be and soon. For Turkey’s transformation from a reliable ally into a rogue Islamist state at the crossroads of Europe and Asia will have huge and likely unpredictable consequences far beyond its immediate neighborhood.


Some of these are already easy to see even if the West has been very reluctant to fess up to them. To begin with it will be very difficult if not impossible to defeat ISIS if Islamist Turkey is in the way. Western intelligence agencies have known for a long time that Erdogan’s enemies are the Kurds and not the jihadists from ISIS or Jabhat al Nusra, whom he has trained, supplied with weapons, transported and aided and abetted from the very beginning. What better proof of that than official Turkish ministry of justice information that in the past year and a half only seven ISIS members have been convicted and served jail terms in Turkey at a time when tens of thousands of Kurds and other Erdogan putative opponents are held on bogus terrorism charges.


There is yet another consequential aspect to Erdogan’s victory that has received much less than the attention it deserves and that is Turkey’s growing role as a purveyor and financier of radical Islam in Europe. Under the jurisdiction of the radicalized and greatly expanded Turkish Directorate of Religion (Diyanet), Turkey has cast an ever larger shadow over Islam in Europe. With a huge budget of over $2 billion and and army of 100,000 Islamist employees, Diyanet not only controls radical Islam in Turkey, but also in the Balkans and increasingly the huge network of Turkish mosques in Western Europe. Recently, information has come out implicating Diyanet-controlled organizations like DITIB and Milli Goerush in Germany in spying on suspected Erdogan opponents. While the influence of these radicalization efforts is difficult to assess, it is disturbing to note that in the last Turkish elections the radical Islamist Erdogan was more popular among the German Turks than in Turkey itself.


So which way will Turkey now turn? There is very little positive that could be expected in the near future and Turkey is certain to become more oppressive and less democratic. In the longer term, however, Erdogan and the Islamists will lose. There are two major reasons for that. Erdogan has essentially declared war not only on the Kurds, but also on the Alevis and the secular Turks that he cannot win. Secondly, and even more importantly, Turkey depends on Europe and the West for its economic well-being and will suffer grievous economic damage if not an outright collapse if Europe turns its back to it. There are unmistakable signs that this is already happening. 


Beyond that the Trump administration needs to take a close look at the unfortunate lessons of Turkey if it is serious about defeating ISIS and peace in the Middle East.


By Alex Alexiev

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