What is up with President Erdogan?


French president Emmanuel Macron isn’t sure of how to deal with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A French magazine writer recently praised Mr. Macron for his “cool” job only to have his president snarl, “I am the one who has to talk with Erdogan every ten days.”

A Kurdish columnist promptly quipped: “Erdogan is indeed irritating and insufferable.  If President Macron can’t stand him for 10 minutes in 10 days, he should try to understand Kurds who have had to put up with him for the last 15 years.”

To be sure, the years have had their toll on Kurds and Turks alike, but you couldn’t have predicted that by watching Erdogan’s early career. When he was mayor of Istanbul between 1994-98, he was known as “Mr. Clean”—at least to some of the Turks. Some Kurds, later, were grateful to him for allowing our first and only Kurdish television station to launch in Turkish Kurdistan.

Indeed, the goodwill that Mr. Erdogan generated at home in those early years also resonated abroad. Graham Fuller, a CIA operative with stints in Turkey once praised him for providing an alternative to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran in a popularity contest for the youth of the Middle East.

And yet this paragon of clean government and one-time regional role model has now become a skunk thumping his nose at the American legal system for daring to prosecute his wayward bodyguards. Erdogan’s career may be compared to Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran.

In September 1987, an Albanian draftee of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) went on a killing spree targeting his fellow soldiers. He was mentally disturbed. But for the young Slobodan Milosevic, the crime was a “God-sent” deed.

He used it to fan the flames of predatory Serbian nationalism at the expense of Croats, Bosnians, and Kosovars, causing the death of 133,000 civilians and combatants. Thirteen years later, he paid for his intransigence as a war criminal in The Hague, Netherlands.

In July 2016, rogue elements in the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) rebelled against the established government in Turkey. They failed. President Erdogan quickly called their undertaking a “gift from God.”

He has since suspended the Turkish constitution and now rules by executive decree.  As many as 150,000 civil servants have lost their jobs, and close to 50,000 of his perceived opponents are behind bars. Eleven billion dollars’ worth of private property has been confiscated. Turkey has now become the world’s number one jailer of journalists.

His no-holds-barred war against the Kurdish rebels in Turkey, with occasional forays into Syria and Iraq, eerily resembles what Slobodan Milosevic did in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

In 1971, the last Shah of Iran decided to have an out of the blue party in Persepolis for heads of states to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. The ceremonies included soldiers dressed in comical historical costumes parading before foreign dignitaries. Addressing Cyrus the Great’s tomb, the Shah noted, “O Cyrus, rest in peace, for we are awake, and we will always stay awake.”

The “we” before the tomb included the Shah, his wife, his son and the members of his court. There were no ordinary Persians present. Ayatollah Khomeini was happy to court them and later, permanently ousted the Shah from Iran.

In 2017, the President of Turkey flew to Mus, in the Kurdish area of Turkey, and celebrated the 946th anniversary of the Turkish victory over the Byzantine Empire at Manzikert. Like the Persian celebration, it came out of nowhere. Unlike it, there were no heads of states in the audience at Mus, but lots of Turkish soldiers in funny clothes with bows and arrows impersonating the invaders.

A pompous Erdogan, like the clueless Shah, told the assembled crowd, “Are we ready to wear the shroud of burial? Can we walk in the footsteps of our ancestors?”

“Our ancestors,” he went on, “had expanded into four continents under the banner of the Ottomans. At the cost of death, they had kept their independence and their honor.”

Did that mean we Kurds who inhabited the region 946 years ago as well as today lacked “honor” for siding with Turks? Is insulting and assaulting Kurds part of President Erdogan’s job?

As Euripides once wrote, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”

The trouble with madness when it comes to a head of state is that it usually spells the death of many innocent lives.  I pray nothing happens to Mr. Erdogan’s Turkish, Kurdish and American hostages.

Kani Xulam is a political activist based in Washington D.C. He runs the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan24, any related institutions, or organizations.