• Caroline Floam

What Turkey’s Authoritarian Shift Means for the Rest of the World

Updated: May 2

Note: This article's original publication was November 5, 2018.


On June 24, 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was re-elected. However, the terms

“president” and “re-elected” are used loosely in discussions of the nation’s current state of affairs.

Erdoğan, through his sixteen years in office, has gradually transformed the Turkish government

into an entity where these terms do not, or soon may not, exist.

To understand this power shift, one must look at Turkey’s recent history. As a result of the

assassination attempt and military coup of 2016, the president has tightened his grip on power in

numerous arenas to ensure that an event such as this will never occur again. Erdoğan’s

techniques to substantially increase his power include his unjust imprisonment of

thousands of journalists, bureaucrats, scholars, and citizens allegedly involved in the

coup. He has also since de-legalized homeschooling, implemented a highly religious

and nationalistic curriculum, published scores of his Justice and Development Party

(AKP) propaganda, and mandated the use of “Geliyoo,” a national Turkish search

engine funded by the government as a substitute for Google. These efforts not only

undo the pro-democracy measures of past leaders, but have also informally shifted the

parliamentary republic to a proto-fascist government.


Erdoğan’s grand plan of authoritarian transition was met with considerable blowback, for

obvious reasons. Attempting to garner the most public support he can, the president is

pressuring, and possibly even threatening, the governor of the Central Bank of the Republic

of Turkey, the TCMB, to keep interest rates, specifically the one-week repo rate, as low as

possible, which has resulted in Turkey’s current dismal economic situation.


As a consequence of the artificial and inappropriately low interest rates, the lira crashed

less than two months after the election, which Erdoğan himself pushed up more than a year

to ensure a victory before the opposition grew too strong. The nation’s currency is

presently equal to .18 USD and .16 EUR. This hyperinflation brings about its own host of

consequences; government, corporate, and household debt, the cost of living, unemployment,

and importing costs are skyrocketing while real GDP (already smaller than the bankrupted

state of Illinois), purchasing power, government tax revenue, and foreign direct investment are

plummeting.


As unfortunate as this is for Turkish citizens, a significant portion of whom are fleeing to nations

such as Germany and Spain, what does this mean for the rest of the world, not only economically

but also politically?


This rampant hyperinflation has significant repercussions for other countries’ export markets.

The United States, Germany, and Russia produce the majority of Turkey’s imports, including

scrap metal used as inputs in manufactured goods, vehicle parts, and refined petroleum,

respectively. Erdoğan finally noticed the large loss of export revenue in these countries

brought about by the extreme weakness of the lira only recently. Although he has a tendency to

shift the blame for any economic, or political, trouble to anyone but him, in an effort to repair

trade relations, the president visited Germany on 27 September 2018. Protestors gave him a


less than warm welcome, lining the tarmac and demanding the release of detained

journalists and academics. Trade relations and the effect of “Erdoganomics” were barely

discussed at talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, where he instead urged the German

government to classify Fethullah Gulen, the man who Erdoğan believes plotted the

2016 coup, as a terrorist and also proudly displayed his plans for a new mosque on

German soil. Merkel as well as German citizens were none too pleased with these meetings due

to Erdoğan’s refusal to discuss human rights issues and his nationalistic agenda.


Like Germany, other nations and international organizations are now looking upon his ways

with extreme disdain and relationships with Turkey are crumbling. A prime example of this is

the Andrew Brunson situation and America’s response. After the unjust imprisonment of the

American Presbyterian minister in 2016, who, like thousands of others, Erdoğan charged with

involvement in the coup, the Trump administration threatened, and later imposed, sanctions on

high-ranking members of the Turkish government and tariffs on Turkey’s exported steel and

aluminum. These tariffs heavily contributed to the destruction of the lira, as President Trump

hoped. When Erdoğan called for their repeal, Trump argued that the Turkish president’s own

unjust displays of power landed him in this position in the first place. Seeing the pastor’s case

as a bargaining opportunity, Erdoğan offered the release of Brunson in exchange for the ease of

tariffs. Although the pastor was released in mid-October of this year and President Trump

claims that relations with Turkey are on the path to being “good, perhaps great,” Erdoğan,

given precedent, will most likely continue his authoritarian demonstrations at the

expense of innocent individuals.


Further, given the Brunson case, Erdoğan’s past human rights violations, and other

questionable political moves, NATO and Turkey are currently at odds. Turkey possesses the

alliance’s second largest armed forces and is also strategically located as a link between the East

and the West, but NATO could only turn a blind eye to his practices for so long. This limit was

reached when NATO gained knowledge of Erdoğan’s planned purchase of S-400 air defense

systems from Russia, as it is widely believed within the alliance that the president is too

unpredictable to handle the missiles responsibly. Moreover, NATO and Erdoğan have conflicting

interests in Syria; Turkey does not support the Kurdish fighters while various other members do.


Additionally, within the past year, more than 400 Turkish military envoys to NATO were

forcibly removed from their positions under suspicion of holding pro-Western views, which

Erdoğan translates into disloyalty within his new system of governance. These envoys were

replaced by less educated and less experienced Erdoğan loyalists, who, via presidential

command, are hostile to the alliance and difficult to work with. NATO officials, including the

Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Curtis Scaparrotti, have since grown

frustrated with the Turkish delegation’s decline in quality and willingness to cooperate.

To further his anti-West agenda, Erdoğan has developed his personal relationship with

Russian President Vladimir Putin. This friendship is Erdoğan’s demonstration to NATO that his

nation can find an ally elsewhere, and Putin admires this gall, as it pushes his own anti-NATO

and anti-West agenda. Because of this friendship, it is likely that Erdoğan will adhere to Putin’s

list of disliked nations, and the international community, especially NATO, cannot predict what

consequences this will bring about.


Moreover, Turkey’s dream to gain accession to the European Union, which it applied for in

1999, has died. Earlier in October of this year, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok addressed the

progress of Turkey’s bid in light of the authoritarian shift. He argued that Erdoğan must restore

the rule of law and reverse the large-scale human rights issues brought about by this shift for the

Union to take his accession bid seriously again. However, Erdoğan continues to violate the

rule of law and human rights, indicating that he has accepted that his country will not gain entry

into the Union. This is a further move away from Western democratic ideals and provides him

yet another reason to cozy up to Putin. As previously noted, this could bring about a plethora of

consequences, especially for those nations which already have less than adequate relations with

Russia, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Japan, Germany, and Poland.


Erdoğan has some serious rethinking to do if he wants to turn Turkey into the superpower he

hopes for. This is only possible through accountability, restoration of the rule of law, bolstering

of democratic ideals, and restored relationships with other powerful nations and NATO. If he

continues his current demonstrations, lives will be threatened and lost, the rule of law will

become nonexistent, and Turkey’s democracy that is cherished so much by its citizens will

become a thing of the past. If this becomes reality, other nations, especially Western nations, will

most definitely get sucked into Erdoğan’s drama and will be forced to deal with the

consequences of Turkey’s instability and unpredictability more so than they already have.