Erdogan acts predictably after ambassador's assassination

In the first hour after Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş assassinated Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov, I said that the motives of the killer might prove elusive, but I predicted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would find a way to use it to his advantage in his quest achieve total power.

No matter the explanation, I’d expect the result will be the same. I can easily picture this being a situation where Erdogan figures out a way to blame it on the Kurds and it would serve as yet another excuse for him to crack down on them, round up dissidents and start executing people to show his new friends in Moscow how seriously he’s taking the attack. And if a possible external threat from Russia as a response is played up in the media, Erdogan could further solidify public support for his purge.

All I can say is, sometimes I really hate being right. Erdogan moved immediately to arrest thirteen people, but most of them were relatives or close associates of Altıntaş. The investigation is ongoing, but it didn’t take long for the President to take to the airwaves and claim that the assassin was somehow tied to Cleric Fethullah Gulen, currently residing in Pennsylvania.

The assassin of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov was related to a movement led by U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed late on Dec. 21.

“Where he grew up and all connections reveal connections to FETÖ [the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization] membership.”

Erdoğan said the assassin’s international links were being investigated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

I’d initially thought that Erdogan would pin the blame directly on the Kurds, but the first evidence emerging after the attack apparently couldn’t support the proposal. But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t going to find a way to connect the dots sooner rather than later. Erdogan’s claims this week that the plot originated with Gulen and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization ties in nicely with an overarching theme he’s been pushing for quite a while now. Shortly after the coup earlier this year, Erdogan gave a speech where he claimed that Gulen, the Kurds and even ISIS were all in league together trying to bring down his presidency.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he sees no difference between the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), Kurdish separatist groups and the supporters of his rival Fethullah Gulen, the Daily Sabah reported.

Erdogan is in the process of restructuring the armed forces after a shock coup attempt last month saw violence spark on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, killing 265. He blamed Gulen’s supporters for organizing the coup, although Gulen, who lives in the U.S., has denied having anything to do with the unsuccessful putsch.

For his part, Gulen hasn’t done himself any favors in terms of drawing a distinction between his supporters and the Kurds. During this interview which he gave in 2014, he spoke of the need for peace and even potential cooperation between his followers and the PKK.

Unfortunately, the tragedy of the Russian ambassador’s death is being completely overshadowed by the complex politics surrounding Erdogan and his budding relationship with Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian regimes around the world. Not long after the murder, Putin and Erdogan were promising to work together to bring those responsible to justice and some analysts were already speculating that rather than driving a wedge between the two nations, the killing could actually bring the leaders closer together. This report from the Wall Street Journal details how Erdogan has used the recent terror attacks and the assassination as justification to gin up public support for the pending constitutional changes which could make him president for life with nearly absolute dictatorial powers.

There’s a tried and true saying about never letting a perfectly good crisis go to waste. Erdogan is no fool and he’s playing every card in his hand for maximum effect. It’s sad to watch, because at one point Turkey was beginning to look as if it had truly moved into a 21st century, westernized mode of operations. But looking over the landscape today it’s not outlandish to believe that true democracy in that nation is already pretty much dead.