Ex-admirals' declaration turning point for Turkey's Erdoğan - analyst

The declaration signed by 103 retired admirals last Saturday was “a big deal”, and signaled a turning point for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, analyst Steven Cook said on Thursday.

How government circles framed the narrative as an attempted coup in the aftermath of the declaration could be “the moment when Erdogan, at least in domestic politics, got his groove back”, the senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said in his article published on Foreign Policy.

Saturday’s declaration denounced discussions on whether Turkey would withdraw from the 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates military activity through the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits, and warned against Islamisation in the Turkish armed forces over a leaked photograph of an active-duty officer posing with the leader of an Islamic cult.

Whatever the admirals aimed to achieve with the declaration, whether it was to signal to like-minded officers still on active duty or to just voice grievances, it ended up working in the president’s favour, Cook said.

Erdoğan is using it to shore up political support as he seeks to secure a victory for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2023 elections, he said.

To that end, the president sought to appeal to the anti-LGBT sensibilities of his conservative base twice in recent months: First during the protests against his rector appointment to the prestigious Boğaziçi University, and then during protests against his taking Turkey out of the Istanbul Convention, aimed at combating violence against women.

One day before the withdrawal, Erdoğan appointed Şahap Kavcıoğlu as governor to Turkey’s central bank, replacing Naci Ağbal (who had been appointed in November) for raising interest rates “in a reflection of sane monetary policy”, Cook said.

The third major development was the chief prosecutor at Turkey’s top court filing an indictment to shut down the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which, “has a broader appeal”, Cook said, “even though it is routinely described in the press as ‘Kurdish-based’.”

HDP is accused of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed organisation fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey for four decades.

In 2015, HDP won 13 percent of the vote and 79 seats in parliament, leaving the AKP unable to form a government. Erdoğan at the time sabotaged efforts for a coalition government, Cook said, and forced a re-run in November. “Since then, Erdogan has sought to decapitate the HDP,” he added.

HDP’s popular former leader Selahattin Demirtaş has been in prison since Nov. 2016, over what the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has called politically motivated charges, alongside his co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ and several HDP deputies. Earlier this month, another high-profile HDP deputy, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, was stripped of his immunity and sent to prison to serve a sentence for terrorist propaganda over years-old tweets.

“Clearly, the Turkish leader is worried about the HDP and its ability to draw enough votes to once again deny the AKP a parliamentary majority in 2023,” Cook said.

Recent polls have shown support for the AKP and its far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) decline to below 50 percent. While Erdoğan has sought “every possible advantage”, Cook said, it didn’t appear to be working, until the admirals’ declaration came “like a gift from God”.

At this point, the two options in Turkey will be either to stand with Erdoğan, or “with coup plotters”, Cook said.