SUMMARY: Center for Global Policy Director of Digital Content Farrah Sheikh discusses Turkey with Mohammed Ayoob, author and senior fellow at CGP. Turkey’s policy shifts have led to an increase in violent extremism in the country, Ayoob says, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alienates Kurds and other groups. For a while, Ankara was thought to turn a blind eye to ISIS in Syria because the militants were fighting the Syrian regime and the Kurds. When Erdogan reversed that policy, striking against ISIS and allowing the United States to use the Incirlik airbase for operations in Syria, ISIS grew angry and began launching attacks in Turkey. Similarly, Erdogan had been working on a peace deal with Turkey’s autonomy-seeking Kurds, but changed his mind in an attempt to appeal to Turkish ultranationalists.
Ayoob says these policy changes, along with Erdogan’s political ambitions, have made Turkey unstable. Once it was a model Middle Eastern democracy, with civilian control over the military and the interests of a religious population reconciled with a secular state. However, Ayoob says, power has gone to Erdogan’s head and whatever policy decisions he makes, his main goal is to maintain his hold on power within the country.
Erdogan no longer holds European Union membership as a high priority, especially since the EU has lost its economic appeal, Ayoob says, adding that the criteria for joining would be unpalatable to Erdogan. Though U.S.-Turkish relations seemed to hinge on Turkish-Israeli relations for a while, Erdogan is looking abroad for allies as he finds himself more politically isolated within the region.