Subscribe to FDD

Summary: Erdogan’s Turkey: A Downward Spiral?

Return to Summary



  • Eric Edelman, Senior Advisor, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • Aykan Erdemir, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  • John Hannah, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

FDD’s Washington Forum opened with a penetrating discussion, led by FDD senior counsel John Hannah, on the degeneration of Turkey under President Erdogan.  “It’s a title … stated in the form of a question,” began Hannah, “but let me break the suspense and say, and answer definitively yes, Turkey is in a downward spiral and the only real question is how deep, how severe, the implications will be for the United States, and then what if anything America can do to help mitigate some of the damage and to preserve U.S. interests.”

Hannah was joined by FDD Senior Fellow Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish Member of Parliament, and Eric Edelman, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey.

On Domestic Trends inside Turkey: 

Aykan Erdemir: “Anyone who witnessed or read about Erdogan’s D.C. visit just two weeks ago probably knows firsthand what the problems are. Journalists were insulted, harassed, kicked out of the Brookings [Institution] event, protestors were attacked physically and verbally and that was very symbolic of the kind of problems Turkey is living through.”

“Under [Erdogan’s] 13-year rule, what we see is a systematic majoritarian authoritarian rule strategy being put to action, that is, Erdogan, who is committed to Muslim Brotherhood goals, is taking Turkey down the wrong path. Turkey is a very important NATO member since 1952, a very important partner of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, is I think, not only moving away from the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, but also Western values, secular liberal democracy.”

“Just two years ago, President Erdogan, at a public event, told Putin to allow Turkey to join Shanghai Cooperation Organization to allow Turkey to say farewell to the European Union. Now he seems to have changed his opinion on that after the downing of the Russian jet, but this shows the kind of drifting away Turkey’s in, the double play, the very tactical, pragmatic U-turns. But ultimately the facts speak for themselves.” 

“President Erdogan would like, either through snap elections or through forcing through a constitutional amendment, would like to bring in a system where he would have full control of judiciary, legislative and executive branches. The media, we already know is under government control, so when you add all these up, neither looks good for Turkey’s democracy, nor for the Trans-Atlantic alliance.”

On the Kurdish Issue: “Let me start by praising President Erdogan, and this doesn’t happen often so this is a historical moment: he did initiate the Kurdish peace process, the way he did it was not sustainable, but nevertheless it was a brave and important step.”

“But now there seems to be a U-turn vis a vis Turkey’s own Kurds. The Kurdish peace process …seems to be over. There is all out fighting …you will see almost civil war proportions …more importantly you will see Turkey losing a generation of its Kurds. The Kurdish youth being completely disengaged from Turkish politics and probably see a future within the Turkish republic.”

Edelman: Emphasized that Turkey has “a party and a government and a leader who when they arrived on the scene 14 years ago, were greeted …as potentially reformers who could undo some of the …who could accomplish some of the unfinished business of Turkish modernization.” But they have “turned away from that agenda, and have gone in the unfortunate directions that Aykan has described so well.”

“People now in Washington see the situation a little more clearly,” he said, even President Obama, who had a “virtual bromance” with President Erdogan for the first five years of his presidency, has now admitted that Erdogan is “a disappointment, a failure, and an authoritarian.”

The U.S. is now, “called upon to do something very difficult,” for any nation in diplomacy, but particularly for a “vibrant democracy” is to “have a very serious strategic dialogue which we have not had for five or six years, really since the civil war in Syria broke out.”

The U.S. must convey to Turkey that they “really are listening” to their security concerns, and that they are “prepared to undertake a safe zone, a no fly zone …along the Turkish border, that will help staunch flow of refugees, that will help people deal with refugee crisis,” that will in turn make it easier for Turkey to “give us a space from which we can actually train an alternative force to the forces that are tearing the country apart now.”