Erdoğan's interview with Charlie Rose

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan had an hour-long interview on Charlie Rose the other night. I found it pretty riveting.

Then again, my taste in entertainment isn't always so great.

A lot of the questions that Charlie asked him were pretty classic. The Kurds. The Armenians. A sleepy-looking Rose (did the slip him something beforehand?) perked up for a brief moment when he actually thought he might get Erdoğan to issue a sort of apology for the Armenian genocide on live TV. It didn't happen, but I was nevertheless surprised to see the Prime Minister indicate, after providing a series of qualifications, that he might be open to doing something like that in the future. 

Actually, when it comes to issues pertaining to Armenians and Kurds, the AKP provides a much more progressive face than either of the main opposition parties. The latter group has provided a lot of support to the AKP over the years--part of the reason why the party has managed to retain its hold on power for so long.

The most exciting moments of the interview, I think, came when the Prime Minister talked about his fallout with Fethullah Gülen. It was particularly amusing to listen to Erdoğan try to explain the supposed ideological origins of the conflict dispute to Rose.  
The AKP-Gülen dispute, in a nutshell
But then, the Prime Minister tacked unexpectedly. He began to channel the tough guy who took down the military and other enemies in the Ergenekon trials. He began referring to the Gülen cemaat in terms that were very similar to those used to describe the Ergenekon suspects. It sounded very much like the 'criminal gang' that had been planning a 'coup' over the previous decade, no?
Well, if I remember correctly there were plenty of folks in this country--including a number of people who write about Turkey professionally--who were perfectly willing to buy the 'organized criminal gang' spiel that Erdoğan was spinning just a few years ago in relation to the Ergenekon trials. So who could blame the Prime Minister for going back to that well again now? 

He's clearly feeling emboldened by the municipal elections, which confirmed his party as the biggest in Turkey, even if there were a number of charges of fraud. I don't think anyone seriously believes the opposition would have won much more of the vote nationwide, although certain races--like Ankara--have been bitterly contested even after the elections had ended.

All in all, I think Erdoğan feels like he's got his mojo back to where it was before Gezi. While he still probably has some concerns regarding a possible staging of Gezi II this summer--this is what's behind the big police presence on May Day--it seems like the PM is ready and raring to go after the Gülen cemaat. If Erdogan can get Gülen extradited, okay. But what the PM really wants is Gülen's assets.

Fighting a two-front war is hard, but Erdoğan seems to relish a street fight. Perhaps he assumes he's already beaten the Gezi types and won't need to deal with them this summer. He could well be right in that regard.

May Day, the events of last year are now perhaps viewed by the authorities as a precursor to Gezi, might provide a litmus tests of sorts for what the summer will be like. If May Day is mayhem, it could be a hot summer. If it's quiet, maybe that means something, too. We'll see. 

All in all, he seems like someone who's determined to be president in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic's establishment. 

Of course, there are little annoyances here and there: the PM's translator sounded truly indignant when discussing Twittergate. Erdogan himself seemed especially ticked off by the recent comments by the chairman of the constitutional court, who, Erdogan intoned gravely, will have to face 'consequences' for his recent criticism of Erdogan's government. Chilly, very chilly. 
Charlie Rose is really a softie--I can see why Erdoğan likes talking to him. The Prime Minister was able to repeat the same old stories regarding Gezi--that the protesters were attacking police, throwing molotov cocktails, and other misleading depictions--without being challenged. Other than when it came to the Armenians--a topic of apparent interest to Rose--there were few follow-up questions. Erdogan was allowed to say whatever he wanted. 

'We have documents to show,' Erdogan said, that Gezi was controlled from a 'center' somewhere, after 'a button was pushed.' Certain 'groups' in the US or in the west were behind it, implied the Prime Minister. When talking about foreign groups and their involvement in Turkey, Rose asked Erdogan to clarify if he was referring to the United States, and Erdoğan--who had given the entire interview in Turkish up to this point--responded quickly in English by saying 'yes, yes' (42:55).

The PM also became particularly engaged when talking about Syria. Once again, when nervous--asked about Russia's veto of UN measures against the Assad regime--Erdoğan responded 'yes, yes.' He's trying to maintain a balance between the US and Russia, and doesn't want to be seen as pointing fingers at either country, at least not right now. 

On Putin, Erdogan responded to Rose's question by saying: 'we respect and like each other.' Regarding Crimea, Erdoğan said he had told Putin that he 'did not agree' with what Russia did, but pretty much left things at that. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I think that's the extent of the support the Tatars are going to get from Erdogan in this regard.

The agent and the street-fighter

Erdoğan's no dummy--life in his neighborhood is dangerous enough. With so many difficulties on the country's borders, maintaining good relations with Russia is likely a high priority for his government right now.
By the end of the interview, I'd started to come around on Rose's handling of Erdogan. Maybe, when it comes to someone like Erdoğan, Rose's approach just might be best. Rather than getting into a shout-fest with the Prime Minister, it's more revealing to just let the man talk. You end up hearing a lot of different things--not all of which make a lot of sense--but you know it won't be boring.
Anyway, see it for yourself here.  
More links, commentary and other stuff can be found poolside at the Borderlands Lounge.

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