It was a tough choice—write about Turkey’s latest mess with its ludicrous arrests of HDP parliamentarians or the U.S. election. Erdogan’s shenanigans won for two reasons: Some election results are still too close to call with many uncounted ballots remaining and inspired by the trend of recent developments, I noticed a pattern of Turkish history.
We might be witnessing the beginning of a third, and hopefully final/terminal, phase of Turkish dominance in Asia Minor, hence the “lav, pav, tzav” above. Presumably, you’ve be admonished with that Armenian saying in childhood when being naughty, translated as “OK, enough, pain.”
In 1299, the Ottoman Empire (OE) was founded, even though the 1453 fall of Constantinople to the Turks is perhaps more memorable, maybe even a better benchmark. Until 1699, the OE was ascendant. But its fortunes turned that year after losing the Battle of Vienna. Its subsequent two-plus century decline saw the turn of the Turkic invaders’ savagery inwards, culminating, of course in the 1915 Genocide.
In the last century of its life, various attempts to reform and save the OE failed. These were both top-down—by somewhat more enlightened Sultans, and nearer the end bottom up – by reformists and revolutionaries. In this last group were both liberal minded people as well as chauvinists. Ultimately, the latter won out in the form of the Enver, Jemal, Talaat triumvirate.
But after its collapse, the OE gave birth to the so-called “Republic” of Turkey (RoT), established, just like the OE, on the (natives’) blood soaked earth of Asia Minor. Once again, in its early years, the state was ascendant. Though the RoT was not expanding, it was consolidating control over its “hinterlands” (occupied Armenia and Kurdistan), once again through brutal means (Kurdish massacres in the 1920s and 1930s). But once again, decay set in. And that should have come as no surprise. What kind of life expectancy can a country/state/government have when it relies on brute force, intimidation, and terror to manage its affairs and people, especially in our modern era? The instability and coups d’etat of the 1960s and 1970s, followed by the advent of the Kurdish movement, are manifestations of this phenomenon.
Once again, a reformist inclination set in with democracy advocates and politically active religious people driving the rise to power of the AK Party. Yet, we now seem to be observing the authoritarian Erdogan consolidating power and pushing out other sectors of RoT’s polity that have a more democratic mindset. This looks a lot like what happened with the Ittihad ve Terakki (Union and Progress) Party just over a century ago.
Might we be witnessing the birth of the “third” Turkish state? If so, then it might also be the last. The bloody practices of the previous two Turkish states, coupled with the authoritarian, xenophobic, intolerant, fanatically religious, and possibly even expansionist (think of Turkey’s plays for territory in Syria and Iraq, not to mention the ongoing Cyprus occupation) are far less acceptable today than a century or eight centuries ago. The Turkish cycle of bloody ascendance, decay, collapse/rebirth seems to be accelerating. The first round lasted some seven centuries. The second round lasted only one. How long will this newly starting third round last?
The more important question is, what can we do to help Erdogan live the tzav (pain) of this third round by burying his own government? That might open the doors to justice for Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Kurds while enabling true democracy for all other people and nations that constitute the 75 million inhabitants of the RoT.