Turkologist, Dean of Oriental Studies Faculty of Yerevan State University, Professor Ruben Melkonyan in an interview to ArmInfo comments on the results of presidential elections in Turkey, talks about their possible influence on Turkish regional policy, its relations with USA, the other allies in NATO, as well as with Israel and Armenia.
Can one state that on results of Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections Recep Erdogan has already become the most absolute leader of Turkey after Mustafa Kemal had come to power in 1923?
In fact, the presidential and parliamentary elections that took place simultaneously in Turkey became Erdogan’s real triumph, confirming his popularity among the majority of the population and strengthening the constitutional reforms he had initiated. Thus, heading now both the state and the ruling party, fully controlling the Cabinet, the military and the police, Erdogan has achieved his goal. On Sunday, he was elected for 5 years until 2023, while the revised Constitution gives him the right to be elected again. Thus, he can claim the presidency at least until 2028. Actually, this was his own plan as the current functions of president post were set by him to meet his own goals. I can say that in the history of Turkey, no president and even prime minister had such powerful mechanisms of governing the country as Erdogan endowed himself. And I assume that today he is fully able to manage these mechanisms. Moreover, the former Turkish prime minister, today the president, the leader of the ruling party, already now claims and has every chance of becoming a national leader.
As a result of Sunday's presidential elections, Erdogan won 52.59% of votes, while his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won only 41,85% of votes holding the first place in parliamentary elections. It is strange, isn’t it?
Actually, it is for the first time since the elections of 2002 that Erdogan's Party does not have 50%+1 votes in the parliament, having less than half of mandates-294. At a first glance Erdogan will not be able to form government with such a number of mandates. However, the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Erdogan has solved this problem prior to elections, by establishing electoral bloc between AKP and Nationalist Movement party, which gained 11% votes. Thus, currently there are no obstacles for Erdogan to form a coalition government. At the same time Erdogan alone won practically the same number of votes as the bloc of the two parties supporting him. The same electorate that supported Erdogan's candidacy supported his bloc consisting of two parties: 42% of his supporters voted for AKP, and more than 11% for Nationalist Movement Party. I want especially emphasize the growth of nationalistic moods in Turkey, which work for Erdogan's benefit. In my opinion this became especially evident after the results of the parliamentary elections were summarized, since both parties that emerged after the collapse of the once-united ''Nationalist Movement'' party-the ''Nationalist Movement'' and the ''Good Party'' passed a 10 percent barrier and entered the parliament. Thus, if earlier nationalists had 15% support of the society at best, now two nationalist parties are represented in the parliament with 22% of the mandate
Such a coincidence of results of presidential and parliamentary elections demonstrates that Erdogan in fact enjoys support of the majority of Turkey's population. Turkish mass media report that the administrative resource was used in unprecedented scale, was it done just to be safe?
In fact use of administrative resources in Sunday elections in Turkey on such a scale was observed for the first time. In my opinion, first of all this was considered by the importance of the task of ensuring for Erdogan 50 and more percent of the votes of the electorate in the first round. The fact is that the second round could substantially increase the level of involvement of the West, both in the electoral and mainly post-election processes in Turkey, and increase the level of support for the opposition from abroad, primarily from Europe. That is why, in order to prevent an extremely unfavorable second round Erdogan went to any length up to murders according to some estimates.
However, congratulations by allies in NATO, particularly Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, leaders of other leading European countries suggest the opposite…
You are absolutely right pointing at congratulations by NATO allies. One should consider that Turkey and the countries of the West have been serious allies for at least several decades since the end of the World War II. Periodically problems arise between these allies but those problems have never reached such a level that the US president would refrain from congratulating his Turkish counterpart. However, the fact that Trump did it with some delay also means something in the diplomatic language. This message is a kind of reflection of the current tension in US-Turkish relations, especially given Erdogan's rather specific pre-election slogan "Give me your votes and I will punish the West." Of course, this slogan referred not only to USA, but also to Europe. However, such a public tone in the dialogue with Western partners is part of Erdogan's internal image, which is not able to significantly influence relations with the West.
Are there any factors for significant changes in the perception of Turkey's international functions by the West in the foreseeable future?
I don’t see any yet. That is why I don’t think that Turkey can or will have serious problems with NATO allies in the near future. This is impossible if only because Turkey has the second military and not only military strength in the Alliance after the USA. Turkey is the only Middle Eastern player in NATO. Therefore, in my opinion misunderstandings and tensions between the two most powerful NATO countries will never reach such a level that could threaten the implementation of the Treaty’s tasks and even more the prospects. Of course, the inadequate rhetoric of Ankara in relations with the USА and NATO exists and will remain, but the level of cooperation and the main acquisitions of weapons by Turkey will remain the same. Claiming for the role of a beacon of democracy, the US, by the way, continues to forgive the very undemocratic Erdogan a lot: for example, the recent, extremely unrestrained behavior of his bodyguards in Washington. And the fact that Ankara manages to quite successfully maneuver between the USA and Russia in the issue of purchase of Russian S-400 - is another evidence of the important role this country has in the regional and even global politics and military strategy of the United States. Turkey's relations with Israel will develop in the likely manner. Further implementation of the key agreements between Jerusalem and Ankara testifies to this. Mutually intolerant rhetoric, regular discussions of bill on the Armenian Genocide recognition in the Knesset and Erdogan's counter threats will continue. However, as a result the deep relations between these countries will not suffer. It is fashionable to dislike Israel in the Muslim world and Erdogan, who is making Turkey islamic, will not benefit from withdrawing this policy.
Is Turkey's maneuvering between Russia and the United States a guarantee for further Turkish advance in Syria?
Yes it is. In this light, Turkey, with the tacit consent of Russia and the United States will continue in the foreseeable future its own progress in Syria. Moreover, not only in Syria but also in Iraq, taking into account the fact that Ankara has a serious strategic goal related to Mosul. Seizure of Mosul city of Iraq is important for Turkey in terms of the implementation of its ambitious neo-osmanistic plans and, of course, from the point of view of real politic - oil resources, etc. The recent rhetoric of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the evidence of such intentions, aimed at revising the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. Meanwhile, it was this agreement, which outlined the borders of modern Turkey, leaving Mosul outside of them. And these words are supported today by concrete actions of the Turkish army, slowly but surely moving towards Mosul. In this light, maneuvering between Moscow and Washington is a part of Ankara’s strategy.
Kurdish factor as part of the West’s strategy to restrain Turkey, continues to remain on the front page of the international agenda, doesn't it?
Тhe Kurdish factor has been used in the Middle East policy of the United States and other key players for decades and will continue to be used in the future as well. Kurds will be given promises, provided certain assistance, at some stage all this may be suspended on the basis of changes in the geopolitical situation. However, later as a result of the same changes assistance will again be renewed. In recent years alone we have seen such displays regularly, for example, related to the results of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. However, it is too soon to exclude Kurdish factor from relations with Turkey.
Will Erdogan's regular victory lead to further toughening of relations with Armenia? Velvet revolution in Armenia has at least resulted in change of rhetoric..
In general, Turkey has a common stance on the "Armenian Issue”. And it does not matter whether Erdogan holds power or an activist of liberal-democratic views. In this context I do not expect any special changes in Ankara's policy towards Armenia and the Armenian- Turkish problems. On the other hand, in Armenia there is a consolidation of the society around almost all the issues related to relations with Turkey. There are red lines related to the issue of recognition of the Genocide, and the recognition of Artsakh and, accordingly, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Turkey. I can state that these red lines will remain after the recent change of power in Armenia. And this continuity is a testament to the political and state maturity of our country. I think that in this issue the "football diplomacy", its omissions, mistakes and achievements, became a certain experience for the young state of Armenia. I hope that all this will become a kind of guidebook for our diplomats especially the young ones.