The Sultan of Turkey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Yıldız Palace, Istanbul, October 2015
Tolga Bozoglu/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Yıldız Palace, Istanbul, October 2015

Ever since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, Turkish citizens have been living with the bitter consequences of their government’s involvement in the conflict. Along with the US, Turkey’s policy has been to get rid of the Assad regime, but this has not worked. Bashar al-Assad has been strongly defended by his Iranian and Russian backers, and he has cannily given up territory abutting Turkey to Syrian Kurds from the Democratic Union Party, called the PYD. As described by Jonathan Steele in a recent article in these pages, the Syrian Kurds have successfully resisted ISIS in the area on the Turkish border known as Rojava and inspired fellow Kurds on the other side of the border to assert their claims to self-determination.* Kurds are estimated to make up between 15 and 20 percent of Turkey’s population of 78 million, and anti-Kurdish sentiment is running very high.

Turkey has received, housed, and passed on many millions of Syrian refugees at great cost to itself, and its provisions for refugees have been more humane than those of other governments. But many in Turkey see the success of the Kurds in Rojava as a threat.

The policies of Turkey’s Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are the cause of many of his country’s failures in Syria. (Having first become prime minister in 2003, he was elected president in August 2014.) Still, when Turks went to the polls to elect a new government on November 1 of this year, they did not turn against Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Instead their vote suggested that they blamed themselves for having denied the AKP an overall parliamentary majority in an earlier election held on June 7.

That June election established a minority government, led by the AKP, which presided over a period of great violence and instability beginning on July 20 when a Kurdish suicide bomber killed thirty-three people, most of them Kurds, in the border town of Suruç. The violence reached a climax on October 10, when two other bombers (one of them the brother of the Suruç bomber) blew themselves up in the middle of a peace march in Ankara, killing 102 people. In both cases the carnage, generally believed to have been plotted by ISIS, was facilitated by official negligence in providing security. That did not stop the AKP from presenting the blasts as yet more evidence that the party should be given a mandate to rule on its own. On November 1 voters returned the AKP to power with a strong working majority. (Following the ISIS attacks against France on November 13, Erdoğan called for a “consensus of the international community against terrorism.”)

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