ErdoIan’s dangerous tango with the military

It is hard to deny that Turkey is once again engulfed in a vicious cycle of violence.
As the number of deaths steadily increases, the country is rapidly descending into a climate of war between the state and the Kurdistan Workersand’ Party (PKK). Behind this cycle of violence, however, there is something potentially more disturbing taking place. In the absence of a miraculous event putting an end to this pattern of violence, the single most important achievement of the last decade — the demilitarization of Turkish politics — is also becoming history. It is only a matter of logic: The return of war means the return of the military. And the return of the military means the end of civilian supremacy over generals. It did not have to be like this. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) had a golden opportunity to change the paradigm of military tutelage, war, conflict and polarization in Turkey. For a while, it even looked like it managed to do so. The days when generals made political statements and shaped the future the days when secularism and political Islam polarized the country the days when the Kurdish conflict killed young soldiers and young militants and the days when Turkey had constant conflicts with neighbors seemed finally behind us. Sadly, all this was an illusion. History is now back with a vengeance. Another lost decade looms ahead. With current trends of ethnic violence, political deadlock, economic decline and autocratic blindness, hubris and ambition at the top, the country will go back to times when the military called the shots. History may indeed tragically repeat itself. You may think such predictions are too alarmist. You may still think that Turkey is a country of democratic institutions that has come too far to go back to days of military tutelage and supremacy. Or even if you donand’t have much confidence in Turkeyand’s democratic institutions and political evolution, you may still think that somehow dialogue between party leaders or snap elections will show us a way out of this crisis. I certainly hope this will be the case. But I am no longer optimistic. Having witnessed how far Erdogan is determined to go in maintaining his solid grip on power, I believe he is ready to sacrifice everything — including peace with Kurds — for the survival of his regime. As he prepares the country for snap elections, the peace process has already become collateral damage. Having the military on his side is crucial for Erdogan. After all, this is a politician who knows well what happens when the military is out of civilian control. His reaction to what happened in Egypt when President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military was not because of his love affair with Egyptian democracy or simply a product of his affection for the Muslim Brotherhood. What happened in Egypt was too close to home. He saw in Morsi his own personal experience in the 1990s. The fact that Washington failed to strongly condemn the Egyptian coup was another disturbing sign for Erdogan. He understood he was on his own in case similar things were to happen at home. Say all you want about Erdogan, but there is no denying that he is a Machiavellian survivor. He knew he could not afford to alienate the military after the sudden change in the domestic and international political environment in 2013. As Erdoganand’s insecurity increased in the wake of the Gezi movement and the corruption investigations, so did his willingness to flirt with the military. After the military was tamed and emasculated by the Ergenekon process which he fully endorsed, we had a glimpse of how low Erdogan was ready to sink when he said that the military was andquotframedandquot by the Gandulenists. Now, with the war against the PKK unleashed, the alliance between Erdogan and the generals gains another dimension. This is a very risky path for what is left of Turkish democracy. Only time will tell where Erdoganand’s risky tango with the army will take the country.