Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:
Portrait of a Backstabbing Pasha
By James Petras
December 15, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" -
Erdoğan began his ascent to power as a social reformer in opposition
to the power elite; he was a rabble-rouser for popular Islam and
social welfare. Once he takes political power he enriches his
family and the business elite and purges adversaries and rivals.
With political power and
economic connections, he amasses personal wealth through illicit
With political power
and personal wealth, he seeks prestige and status
among the Western elites by serving imperial interests: He shoots
down a Russian military jet over Syrian territory and thereby
threatens hundreds of Turkish businesses and loses a major source of
personal enrichment. When the Russians threaten to cut off energy
exports to Turkey, Erdoğan’s opponents suggest he heat his own
palace and villas with cow dung this winter.
The Two Faces
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a long and ignoble history of betraying
political associates, trading partners and military allies; of
pledging friendship and then bombing his
‘friends’ and murdering citizens; of negotiating ‘in good
faith’ and then killing rivals; of playing democrat
then behaving like an ordinary demagogic dictator.
to the plebian and austere values of the Anatolian provincial petty
bourgeoisie, while building the largest luxurious presidential
palace in the world – fit for a 21st century Pasha. He
repeatedly pronounces his fealty to the ‘Turkish Nation’,
while he robs the Turkish treasury by repeatedly accepting bribes
and pay-offs from building contractors who then double charge for
Erdogan claims to oppose terrorism and fight ISIS, while the major
Turkish and regional newspapers, journalists and most domestic
observers document the massive flow of illegal arms across the
Turkish-Syrian border to ISIS terrorists.
Relation’ with ISIS
supports ISIS by bombing the Syrian
Kurdish fighters who resist the jihadi mercenaries; by shooting down
a Russian military jet defending the Damascus government against the
terrorists; by smuggling and selling oil which ISIS had stolen from
Iraq and Syria; by providing medical assistance to wounded ISIS
fighters; and by training and arming ISIS terrorists in Turkish
There is a reciprocal
relationship: Erdoğan uses ISIS operatives to terrorize his own
domestic opposition, including terror bombing a gathering of Kurdish
‘socialist youth’ in the town of Suruç on July 20, 2015, which
killed 33 and the massive bombing in Ankara on
October 10 of a ‘peace and
justice’ march, which killed over 100, targeting trade unionists,
leaders of professional associations, community activists and
members of a democratic Kurdish electoral party and wounded many
legislative election of 2015 ISIS terrorists and thugs from
Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) attacked the offices,
meetings and candidates of the opposition parties, especially of the
Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), to ensure that Erdoğan
secured a super-majority.
In other words,
Erdoğan has three uses for ISIS serving his external and
(1) To attack and destroy secular Kurdish forces
resisting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, thus preventing the formation of
an independent Kurdish state on the Turkish border.
(2) To attack and destroy Syria’s independent
Baathist government under Bashar Al-Assad, dismantle the
multicultural secular state apparatus and install a Sunni Islamist
client in Damascus subordinate to Erdoğan’s AKP.
(3) To attack and terrorize the Turkish domestic
opposition, including the broad-based Kurdish HDP, and the leftist
trade union confederation (DISK).
Erdoğan has a
decade-long strategic alliance with the militant Wahhabi terrorists
who now make up ISIS. He intends to ‘remake’ the map of
the Middle East to serve his own expansionist ambitions. In part
this explains why Erdoğan has provided large-scale arms and material
to the terrorists, trained thousands of mercenaries and provided
medical aid to wounded ISIS fighters. It also explains why Erdoğan
took the unprecedented and extremely provocative step of shooting
down a Russian military jet over Syrian territory, which had been
bombing Erdoğan’s ISIS allies. Russian and Syrian Army successes
against ISIS have threatened his ambitions.
transformation from ‘Muslim democrat’ to bloody
authoritarian Islamist ruler with pretensions of becoming the
dominant Middle Eastern Pasha has to be seen in light of his rise to
power over the past 40 years.
Erdoğan, early on,
showed his affinity for extremist Islamist politics. In the 1970’s
he was head of the youth branch of the Islamist Salvation
Party (MSP), a virulent anti-communist, anti-secular party
committed to converting Turkey, a huge multi-ethnic secular state,
into a theocratic regime (along the lines of contemporary ISIS).
After the military
coup of 1980 the MSP was dissolved and reappeared as the
Welfare Party. Erdoğan became a leader of the new
(re-named) Islamist party.
Erdoğan and the
Welfare Party exploited Turkish mass discontent with the corrupt and
authoritarian military. The Welfare Party embraced a populist
social welfare program with Islamist religious undertones in order
to build a formidable grassroots organization in the working class
neighborhoods in Istanbul. Erdoğan was elected mayor of Turkey’s
largest city in 1994.
As Mayor, Erdoğan
over-reached his power by preaching militant Islamism and was
convicted in 1998 of sedition against the secular state. He served
4 months of a 10-month sentence.
Henceforth he changed
tactics: His Islamist fanaticism was disguised. He changed
the party name from Welfareto the modern sounding
Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdoğan then
launched a series of political maneuvers, in which he cleverly
manipulated adversaries to gain power and then… stabbed each of them
in the back.
Embrace and Back-Stab
Despite his earlier
conviction for sedition against the secular state, the ‘reformed’
Erdoğan allied with the Kemalist, secular Republican Peoples
Party (CHP) to overturn the military’s ban on his participation
in politics in 2002. He was elected Prime Minister in 2003. After
the AKP won the general election it cut its ties
with the CHP. Erdoğan was re-elected Prime Minister in 2007
Erdoğan allied with
the pro-US Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet
or Cemaat Movement, which was influential within the
judicial system, police and army. Together they launched a purge
against secular military and judicial officials, journalists and
The Erdoğan –
Gülenist state apparatus arrested and jailed 300 secular military
officers, judges and journalists and replaced them with Erdoğan and
Gülen loyalists – all Islamists.
Sledgehammer” the entire purge was based on fabricated charges of
treason and conspiracy. Yet it was described by the Western media
in terms that flattered Erdoğan’s democratic credentials, calling it
an ‘effort to consolidate democracy’ against the military.
It had nothing to do
with democracy: The purge consolidated Erdoğan’s personal power
and allowed him to pursue policies that were more overtly
neo-liberal and Islamist. The purge of the judiciary further
allowed Erdoğan to enrich crony capitalists and family members.
Birth of a Neoliberal Pasha
Erdoğan then embraced
an IMF-designed ‘stabilization and recovery’ program, which
reduced wages, salaries and pensions while privatizing public sector
enterprises and activities. This attracted a large inflow of
capital as foreign investors and cronies snapped up the goodies at
bargain prices. Most emblematic of this ‘free-for-all cronies’
approach to the economy was the Soma coal mine disaster in May 2014
when over 300 miners were killed in a previously state-owned mine,
which had suffered a breakdown of worker safety conditions after it
had been privatized to an Erdoğan-crony. Despite local and
international outrage, Recep ignored the scandal and unleashed
police on the demonstrating miners.
of Islam with brutal neo-liberalism attracted support from Brussels,
Wall Street and the City of London. Large inflows of speculative
foreign capital temporarily inflated Turkey’s GNP and Erdoğan’s
wealth and ego!
In the beginning of
his rule Erdoğan’s concessions, tax incentives, government contracts
to big capital were broadly distributed to most sectors, but
especially to his crony capitalists within the construction and real
As the capitalist
boom continued and his power increased, Erdoğan became more obsessed
with his role as thesavior of Turkey. By 2010, a serious
difference developed between Erdoğan and his Gülenist partners over
the division of power. Erdoğan moved rapidly and brutally. He
launched another massive purge of suspected ‘Gülenist officials’.
He arrested, fired, jailed and relocated Gülen sympathizers among
judges, police and civil servants despite the fact that these were
officials who had served him well during the earlier purge of the
Erdoğan is not
willing to share power with any other party, movement or group.
Pasha Recep wanted to monopolize power. He has attacked critical
newspapers, businesses and conglomerates claiming these were ‘Gülen
controlled’. Erdoğan ensured that only capitalists completely
loyal to him would receive regime patronage. In other words,
he strengthened the size, strength and importance of crony
capitalists: especially in the real estate and construction
Assault on Civil Society
Erdoğan’s absolute power, has seen a geometric increase in
corruption and mindless ‘development projects’, leading to
the degradation and usurpation of public spaces. His arbitrary and
destructive policies have provoked sustained civil society protests,
especially in the center of Istanbul – during the Gezi Park
demonstrations, which began in May 2013.
In response to civil
society demonstrations, Erdoğan shed all pretensions, ripping off
his ‘modern democratic’mask and brutally repressing the
peaceful protestors in the heart of Istanbul– resulting in 22
deaths, hundreds wounded and more arrested and sentenced to long
jail term. Erdoğan subsequently targeted liberal critics and
business leaders, who had criticized his brutal use of force.
2013, the year of the
Gezi Park Movement, was a turning point – Erdoğan and family members
were implicated in a $100 million-dollar corruption scandal while
liberal critics of the regime were purged.
from sectors of the elite as well as popular classes, Erdoğan became
more rabidly ‘Islamist’, chauvinistic and megalomaniacal –
In short order, he
re-launched his attack on the Turkish Kurds and increased his
support to the Islamist terrorists in Syria, including what would
become ISIS. These policies were designed to complement his ongoing
war against the secular Kurds in Iraq and Syria.
Backstabbing Secular Syria and “Best Friend” Russia
From the beginning of
his rule, Erdoğan cultivated the ‘best of relations’ with Syria’s
Bashar Al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He signed
dozens of trade agreements with Damascus and Moscow. Putin was
welcomed to Ankara and Erdoğan to Moscow where they signed
billion-dollar energy deals and mutual co-operative agreements.
Up to 3 million
Russian tourists visited Turkish resorts each year, a bonanza for
one of Turkey’s major industries.
Erdoğan’s regime was
ebullient, effusive, embracing Moscow and Damascus while
systematically preparing the ground for more backstabbing!
By 2011, Erdogan had
been deeply involved in preparing the ground for what would become
the bloody Islamist uprising in Syria. Early on, hundreds of armed
foreign Islamist terrorists crossed the Turkish border into Syria.
Their presence overwhelmed local Syrian dissidents. Armed
Islamists seized villages and towns brutally purging them of
Christians, Kurds, Alawites and secular Syrians. They took over the
oil fields. From one day to the next, Erdoğan was transformed from
loving friend to deadly foe of neighboring Syria demanding ‘regime
change’ through terrorist sectarian violence.
Erdoğan embraced the
most extreme, sectarian Wahhabi Islamist groups because they were
committed to undermining the nationalist aspirations of the Syrian
Kurds as well as overthrowing the secular Al-Assad government.
Erdoğan’s covert alliance with ISIS and other Islamist terrorist
groups was motivated by several strategic considerations, which are
1) The alliance
serves to prevent the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish enclave
on the Syrian-Turkish border in the event of a Damascus defeat,
which Erdoğan fears would then link armed Syrian Kurds with the huge
disaffected Kurdish population in southeastern Turkey and lead to
the formation of an autonomous secular Kurdish state.
alliance with jihadis in Syria has served Ankara’s ambition to
impose a puppet Sunni-Islamist regime in Damascus.
3) The ISIS
regime controlling the Syrian and Iraqi oil fields provides Turkey
with a source of cheap fuel and lucrative profits for the regime.
Recep’s son, Necmettin Bilal Erdoğan owns and operates the
BMZ Group which buys the contraband Syrian and Iraqi oil in
Turkey and sells it overseas (especially to Israel) earning nearly a
billion dollars a year for ‘the family’.
It is not surprise
that the Erdoğan family directly financed ISIS, which uses the cash
from contraband oil, pillaged antiquities and ‘tribute’ taxes, to
purchase heavy and light arms, military and transport vehicles and
communications equipment in Turkey and elsewhere to support its
terror campaign in Syria and Iraq. Well-informed Turkish observers
believe that Erdoğan’s intelligence officials are directly involved
in recruiting ISIS terrorists to operate within Turkey and attack
Erdoğan’s internal opposition, especially the Kurdish electoral
partyHDP and the broad-based Turkish left and trade
union movements. Observers claim Turkish intelligence operations
had a direct role in the ‘ISIS’ bomb attacks in Suruç and Ankara
this year, which killed and maimed hundreds of Erdoğan opponents and
civil society activists.
Erdoğan and ISIS
developed a co-dependent relation, one of mutual manipulation.
Each has publically declared their tactical enmity to the other,
while busily pursuing joint strategic aims.
Ankara uses the
pretext of fighting ISIS in order to bomb the Kurds in Syria
who are resisting the jihadis. ISIS uses the pretext of
opposing the NATO member Turkey in order to cover its massive
oil and weapons trade deals with Erdoğan’s family and crony business
Stabs the Bear and the Bear Bites Back – One Stab Too Many
effective aerial bombing campaign against the jihadi and ISIS
terrorist networks in Syria was in response to a formal request for
military intervention by the legitimate government of President
Bashar Al-Assad. Russia has long-standing ties to the Baathist
regime in Damascus. The intervention has threatened to undermine
Erdoğan’s regional power ambitions and illicit business operations
in Syria. First and foremost, it ended Erdoğan’s plan to annex a
large swathe of Northern Syria and call it a ‘no fly zone’.
The Turkish-controlled ‘no fly zone’ in Syria would expand Turkish
military training bases for ISIS and other jihadi terrorists and
secure the transport routes for ISIS oil shipments smuggled out of
Iraq and Syria.
Unlike the US, which
had rarely bombed the strategic Erdoğan-ISIS oil smuggling
operations, the Russians destroyed over a thousand oil trucks and
numerous ISIS oil depots and logistical centers in the first month
of its air campaign. By reducing the flow of smuggled oil, Russia
cut off the main source of massive profit for Bilal Erdoğan’s BMZ
Company as well as for Turkish arms dealers.
Erdoğan, his family and cronies have been immersed in massive
corrupt business activities at home and abroad; he can no longer
operate within the context of the larger interests of the Turkish
capitalist class with its $40 billion dollar annual trade and
investment relations with Russia. Erdoğan’s decision to shoot down
a Russian jet in Syrian territory, on November 24, 2015, was largely
motivated by his fury at Russia’s successful interruption of the
ISIS oil convoys. By protecting his own family interests,
Erdoğan stabbed more allies in the back: The Russians, as well as
large sections of the Turkish capitalist class!
Up until Erdoğan’s
act of war against Russia, he had publically embraced Putin as
an ally, friend and partner. The two leaders had cordial relations
for over a decade. The Turkish military was fully informed about
Russian military operations in Syria, including its flight paths.
Then suddenly in November 2015 he risked a total rupture in
relations and invited retaliation against Turkey from Russia by
shooting down a Russian jet.
responded by upgrading its most advanced weapons systems to defend
its operations and bases in Northern Syria and intensified
its bombing of the ISIS – Turkish oil operations.
Russia retaliated by
imposing visa restrictions and economic sanctions on Turkey,
adversely affecting the multi-billion dollar tourist business.
Strategic energy deals were terminated. Large-scale Turkish
construction contracts were ended. Turkish agricultural exports to
Russian markets virtually stopped.
Bites His own Tail
actions were clearly against the broad interests of Turkey’s large
export sector. From Gezi to Gülen, from one purge to
another, Erdoğan, the former ‘poster boy’ of neo-liberal
Turkish capital, has become a self-centered despot, acting on
behalf of a narrowing circle of corrupt family and crony
capitalists. Erdoğan set himself up as a modern day pasha
more in the image of the self-indulgent Ibrahim I (the Madman)
than the far-seeing Suleyman I (the Wise).
Once Erdoğan realized
the damage that his fit of egomaniac fury against the Russians had
provoked abroad and his growing isolation within Turkey, he rushed
to NATO on bended knee to beg for support. True to his
authoritarian personality, Recep Erdoğan crawls on his knees before
his ‘superiors’ (NATO-US) while grabbing the throats of his
‘inferiors’ (the Turkish people)!
Erdogan’s road to
absolutist power is strewn with indiscriminant purges, terror and
deceit; violence against environmental and liberal protestors in
Gezi Park and moderate Gülen Islamists; jail sentences and firing of
journalists and publishers, military officials and judges;
repression of workers and capitalists; terror bombing against
activists and democrats; and war against Kurds and Syrians.
and greed-driven vision of politics precludes any trust and stable
relations. He thinks he is very clever with his combination of
charm and broken promises, but he fools nobody. He reignites the
war against the Kurds in Turkey and Syria but they retaliate!
He attacks Russia and
provokes a very costly retaliation so far limited to the Turkish
He increases his
personal power, but undermines the interests of the Turkish
nation and its people. Erdoğan believes he is the rising regional
hegemon, indispensable to the West. He blackmails the EU for
billions of Euros to control the flood of refugees fleeing violence
in Syria and Iraq with his promises to warehouse desperate refugees
in Turkish concentration camps. But Europeans must know that their
money can never buy trust and loyalty from the Pasha.
His oil deals with
ISIS are in tatters. Russian bombs ensure that Erdoğan will have to
find other sources of illicit profit. Worst of all, Erdoğan’s
furious actions have lost markets, allies and domestic support. He
faces enemies from all sides – liberal professors, students, big
business owners and organized workers in Istanbul; small business
people in the tourist trade; construction and oil companies in
Ankara; farmers in Anatolia, and, above all, the coal miners in Soma
Who knows under what
circumstances Pasha Recep (the ‘Megalomaniac’) will be
James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus)
of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York.