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Our View: Struggle to find rational explanation for Erdogan’s rhetoric

file photo: turkish president tayyip erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling ak party during a meeting at the turkish parliament in ankara
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan

President Tayyip Erdogan has been behaving like a man out of control, constantly on the lookout for imaginary enemies of Turkey to attack. The broadsides against Greece, which followed Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ address to US Congress last month, by Erdogan and his ministers have been unrelenting, while the threats are also being stepped up.

He called off the high-level talks with Greece, declaring that Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him, because he had supposedly tried to block the purchase of F-16 fighter jets by Turkey from the US. Since then, the hostile rhetoric has been stepped up, Erdogan making claims on the Greek islands in the Aegean, accusing Greece of violating international treaties and alluding to the possibility of military conflict.

Cyprus has also been a target but here Erdogan takes action, knowing there would be no repercussions apart from the verbal condemnations by the government, which would report Turkey to the UN, as it has been doing for years without result. He has ordered the opening of another stretch of beachfront in the fenced off area of Varosha and announced plans to make Ercan (Tymbou) airport a Turkish domestic destination.

Cyprus and Greece have not been his only targets. He has also lashed out against Sweden and Finland for harbouring members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), which he considers a terrorist organisation, and followers of Fetullah Gulen. This was his main justification for blocking the entry of these countries into Nato; they had also slapped an embargo on the sales of arms to Turkey in 2019, after its incursion into Syria. He has also criticised Nato for its approach to Turkey and from time to time slams the EU for supporting Greece and Cyprus.

It is difficult to find a single rational explanation for his rhetoric, but authoritarian leaders often serve up foreign enemies and outside threats to rally domestic support, especially when things are not going well for them at home. Turkey’s economy has been in big trouble for some time now and things are getting worse. Inflation for May rose 73.5 per cent year on year while food prices rose by 91.6 per cent year on year. Instead of pushing up interest rates to control inflation, Erdogan has been lowering rates with devastating results. High energy and food prices have made a bad situation worse.

The Turkish lira remains, weak which means far less spending power for Turks as prices keep rising. Living standards are in decline, businesses are struggling and Erdogan has no control over the situation. Next year there will be presidential elections and if the Turkish economy does not show real signs of improvement, Erdogan may decide to put his hostile rhetoric into practice to win over unhappy voters.

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