World in View: Turkey’s president

June 2, 2023

From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters

by Eugene Walker

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after 20 years in power—first as Prime Minister, and then with a constitutional change as President—faced a challenging election and failed to receive a majority in the first round, before winning the second round runoff. Erdogan lost popularity in the most recent period for two central reasons: the devastating Feb. 6 earthquake that killed 50,000 in Turkey and Syria, mostly through the collapse of thousands of buildings because of shoddy construction; and the runaway inflation of 80% and more.


Unlike in Syria, official rescue teams from several organizations were quick to help earthquake victims in Turkey. Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid.

In the first few days when many more lives could have been saved, the government’s response to the earthquake was almost non-existent.

It was the people who had to dig by hand through the rubble, trying to save families and friends. While a “natural disaster,” the fact that so many buildings were destroyed with devastating loss of life was anything but natural. The construction of so many buildings lacking structural safety was the result of government corruption that led to safety standards being ignored during the construction boom of Erdoğan’s reign. You would think he would have learned something since he came to power after a major earthquake in 1999 that killed 17,000, claiming he would do better.

Recently, Erdoğan tried to tame inflation with the strange economic policy of lowering interest rates, which proceeded to set off more wild inflation.


He has consistently demonized the struggle of the Kurdish population in and out of Turkey as “terrorists,” rejecting any call for authentic self-determination and using precious resources to fight them in both Turkey and Syria. He is hostile to women’s and Gay liberation, doing what he can to destroy both.

Erdoğan consolidated his power following a 2016 attempted coup by the military. He abolished the office of prime minister in the presidential system; brought the military under closer civilian control; gave the president the power to draft the budget, choose judges and other top officials. Now the president appoints the head of the National Intelligence Agency, the Religious Affairs Directorate and the Central Bank.

While this election was important, the need to go beyond elections is compelling. Below we print a commentary from an Iranian exile:

Regarding Turkey’s elections, I find it sad that no analysis has emerged that could link the struggle of Kurds in Turkey with the struggle of Syrian, Afghan, Uyghur and other refugees, against Turkish fascism and nationalism…[A]s always, war-torn, occupied and colonized communities are forced to struggle in isolation…

The system forces communities to fight each other for mere survival…instead of standing with each other and forming a new social and political terrain of struggle outside of the confines of existing rotten politics…[S]ectarianism, racism and selective solidarity of the solidarity market defined by white allyhood—[are] all designed to keep movements fragmented, weak, powerless…

In the absence of radical solidarity that would connect, articulate and advance the interest of “all” oppressed Middle East/North Africa communities, we are doomed to repeat old mistakes…Our enemies are united while the oppressed remain fragmented and isolated…

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