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Erdogan's bad diplomatic math

Daniel Heinrich / gbAugust 16, 2015

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Turkey's strongman. He wants to turn his country into a kind of presidential democracy. Unfortunately, it's not working. And he's starting to annoy his allies, DW's Daniel Heinrich writes.

Türkei Rede Präsident Tayyip Erdogan
Image: Getty Images/G. Tan

It is not really a surprise that coalition talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP) broke down this week. Their political differences are too great - and their will to converge too small.

It was more of a political show when Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (AKP) and Kemal Kilicdaroglu (CHP) came together for talks on a possible government. Kilicdaroglu's analysis of the discussion was pretty sober. He wasn't even offered the chance of a coalition, he said.

Erdogan is apparently looking to turn his country into a presidential democracy. He, of course, would be up top. But, in order to make that happen, he would have to alter the constitution. And, in order for that to happen, his party need a two-thirds majority in parliament. And for that to happen there would have to be a fresh election.

Election bombs

Erdogan is dreaming of a coup d'etat. And this is why his military is bombing Kurdish militias in northern Iraq and Syria. His great adversary, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), is fighting back with terrorist attacks. The decadeslong conflict, which incidentally has cost the lives of tens of thousands, is once again on the political agenda despite a ceasefire agreed to by both sides in 2013. Polarization in Turkey, at least, appears not to have been thrown off track by the peace process.

Both sides, the nationalists and the Kurds, have a point, said Kristian Brakel, who is on the ground in Istanbul for the German Council on Foreign Relations.

"Without a doubt," Brakel said, "the PKK terminated the peace process."

But Turkey's government has overstepped the boundary as well, Brakel said: "The wave of arrests and the bombardments of PKK positions is a puffing up of a conflict abroad that is primarily an internal one."

No more Patriots

Erdogan is playing it risky. And his allies are starting to get annoyed. Berlin, for instance, is considering withdrawing the Patriot missiles it has set up on Turkey's border with Syria, as well as the 250 soldiers it has there. The German government offered these to NATO to help protect Turkey from attacks out of Syria.

The formal explanation from Berlin is that this "danger is no longer real."

It is far more likely that the Federal Republic doesn't want to get involved in a conflict that is exclusively between the Turkish government and the Kurds. Ultimately, the Kurds are an important ally in the fight against the "Islamic State."

Hard times for German-Turkish relations

Erdogan appears to be oblivious to such critical ideas.

Or he just doesn't care.

"Turkey is no Banana Republic," he said this weekend, addressing Berlin. The reason for his anger was that Zekeriya Öz, former Turkish prosecutor and member of the Gülen movement, was able to flee Turkey via Georgia and Armenia to Germany.

He announced that if Zekeriya weren't extradited, he wouldn't offer any more judicial assistance to Germany in future.

There was no response from Berlin.

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