Unresolved Kurdish issue may derail Russian efforts to stabilize Syria

Military alliance between U.S. and Kurdish-led SDF forces against IS has been a primary factor behind Russian efforts to lure the Kurds into the political dialogue with Assad by promising concessions in the issue of autonomy reserved for the ethnic minority in the predominantly Arab country. Today, extension of cooperation between Washington and Syrian Kurds in matters beyond fight against IS in the eastern Syria not only poses a serious threat to Russian plans and it may as well ultimately lead to confrontation between Russian and Iranian interests in near future.

For the last several years Russian stance on the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a leading political Kurdish force spearheading U.S. operations against IS in Syria, has been framed by the Kurds' successful military performance against terrorists and benevolent attitude towards Assad. Moscow was effectively enabled by the Kurds to concentrate its limited military resources on consolidation of the Syrian government's control over central and eastern provinces and promotion of de-escalation process in territories dominated by the Syrian armed opposition in Hama and Idlib.

But recent territorial gains of the U.S.-led SDF forces in Raqqa, occupation of oil-reach territories of the left side of the Euphrates and absence of any public statements of the U.S. officials concerning the future of relations between Washington and PYD after IS prompted Russian diplomacy to scrutinize its views on the Kurds.

While Moscow till recently has been tacitly acknowledging positive contribution of the Kurds to stability in the Kurdish-majority territories in the northern Syria, Russian officials were seemingly uneasy with the SDF forces successfully taking over a predominantly-Arab city or Raqqa and further expanding its control to the east of Syria.

Russian officials fear that Kurdish hold over a devastated Raqqa, control over resources necessary for future reconstruction projects under Assad supervision and creation of self-governance bodies in the non-Kurdish territories coupled with U.S. promises of military support against any attempts of the central Syrian government to push back the Kurds from occupied regions, - all these factors may derail Russian efforts to channel military conflict in Syria into a political process.

Attempts of the Russian diplomacy to court the Kurds by advocating their cause and demands for autonomy may be seen as an attempt to win the PYD over and make them stick to Russian plans of political transition. Constitutional draft presented by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier this year and Russian President Putin's recent idea to convene the Syrian Peoples' Congress are all public commitments to the Kurdish political forces to consider their demands during political process.

But Moscow in turn expects the Kurds to renounce their ties with the Americans. Continuation of political and military alliance between Kurds and U.S. may lead to further aggravation of a dialogue between Kurdish parties and Syrian regime. The worst case scenario would be a direct clash of the SDF and Iranian-led armed groups.

Main reason why Russia is disturbed by the possibility that Kurds inspirited by the U.S. commitments to defend Kurdish allies on the ground in their likely standoff with the Syrian government may eventually lead to consolidation of the Iranian influence in the Syrian military and, by extension, disintegration of framework of cease-fire agreements which would necessitate further Russian military involvement in the civil war.

Reluctance of the Kurdish leadership to compromise with the Syrian government and Assad decision to follow Iranian plans to resolve the Kurdish issue exclusively with military tools would lead to further complications in the western Syria. Turkey, who has long been opposing any idea of Kurdish policy, may start a long-preached offensive or alternatively use her Syrian proxies against the Kurdish-held Afrin once Ankara sees that U.S.-led Kurdish forces are attacked by the Syrian and Iranian forces in the eastern provinces. Operation against Afrin would effectively mean that Russia is deprived an effective tool to direct Turkish ambitions in a way concurrent with Russian plans in Syria.

Russia is aware that Syrian government is not ready to cease control to the Kurds and signals all relevant parties it is ready to engage the Kurds to retake Raqqa and oil-fields. Apparently, Syrian decision-makers are driven by Iranians who would like to expand their influence in conditions of political uncertainty. Possible confrontation with the Kurds would likely lead to further consolidation of the Iranian clout within the military apparatus. Expansion of Iranian influence within the military would likely be reinforced by Russia's reluctance to confront directly American assets and make further military commitments to the Syrian government.

It seems, however, that Russian efforts to mitigate a conflict between Kurds and Assad would require U.S. participation in bringing the conflict into purely political dimension. So far, to Russian regret U.S. declines to publicly outline its relations with the Kurds, it is speculated, moreover, that U.S. may be interested in limited cooperation with the PYD to aggravate relations between Iran and Russia and thus sabotage their coordinated efforts to end the civil war on conditions favorable for the Assad regime.

Moscow has intensified its diplomatic efforts to coordinate own moves with regional players. Synchronization of policies should prevent guarantor-states of the Astana mechanism from breaking out from a framework of agreements designed to increase predictability of the conflict. A prospect of clashes between Kurdish forces and Syrian government, if parties fail to solve Kurdish issue during political negotiations, urges Russia to follow every change in U.S. policy in Syria. All these issues make a task of solving the Syrian crisis daunting as never before.


Turkey’s options in Iraq may now range between bad and worse

Since 2002 the AKP government has managed to increase ten-fold its exports to the KRG, from $700 million to more than $8 billion. Turkey’s investments, however, were not limited to economy and trade. Military cooperation between the KRG and Turkey has for years been limiting PKK activity in the region. Until recently the Turkish leadership was happy to receive Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani in Ankara. Turkey got used to perceiving the Iraqi Kurds as their friends who would always pay due attention to Ankara’s opinions on matters that could concern both sides.

No wonder the Turkish government was frustrated to witness how the KRG leadership staunchly mobilized for an independence referendum this September. The KRG’s decision to hold a referendum despite Turkey’s strong objections and threats to sever the ties nourished for so many years were evidence of Turkey’s limited influence on the Iraqi Kurds. The sense of deep frustration and the realization that it had almost no effective means to dissuade the Kurds from this step ultimately pushed Turkey into more cooperation with Iraq and Iran.

When on October 16, 2017, Iraqi security forces launched a military operation against Kurdish held territories, Turkish officials thought it necessary to assist the efforts and decided to seal off national airspace for the KRG. Further moves involved imposition of customs limitations on the border. Clearly, the Turkish government had by then enough reasons to endorse these radical measures of the Iraqi central government. For Ankara, Kurdish withdrawal from disputed areas implies that Iraq’s territorial integrity is secured again, while demographic issues in oil-rich Kirkuk and the presence of the PKK on the Iraqi-Syrian border have a real chance to be properly addressed. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was lambasting Barzani for his reluctance to follow Turkey’s friendly advice to give up on the referendum and to return Kirkuk to Iraqi sovereignty, the main pro-government newspapers were exalted to witness the Kurds’ hopes for an independent state vanish under the advancing government forces.

The schadenfreude, however, may have obscured the real picture unfolding now in Iraq: almost every serious crisis in the Turkish neighborhood results in the increased influence of Iran, which is set to exploit every opportunity to fill the power vacuum. This may be relevant for the Kirkuk crisis as well, and could eventually mean that Turkey’s problems with the Iraqi Kurds shift into the realm of Turkey’s relations with Iraq and, by extension, Iran.

Resolving issues vital to Turkish national security and foreign policy not opposite the KRG, but rather with Iran, may be much harder for Turkish diplomats. All things on the ground indicate that Iran’s presence in Iraq’s political body and military bureaucracy as a result of the successful military campaign against the Kurds may be further cemented and even widened, effectively meaning that Turkish relations with Iraq will be conjoined with Iranian ambitions in the wider region. Turkey thus may find itself in a situation where it has to deal with an actor against which it has a limited scope of effective tools.

The issue of Turkish military presence in Bashiqa may now escalate anew, with both sides sliding into a much more severe crisis than Baghdad and Ankara experienced in 2016. One must remember that the Iran-led Popular Mobilization Forces during that crisis designated Turkish forces in Iraq a legitimate target. If Turkey fails to convince the Iraqi central government to allow its military base to stay, Ankara’s conflict with Baghdad and Tehran will be ethnic and sectarian and, by extension, will have broader implications for Turkey’s image in the region.

The Bashiqa military camp is an important asset in the Turkish strategy to prevent the PKK-PYD expansion. Iran may use Turkish concerns to extort further concessions in Syria, where Ankara is trying to hold its ground.

Another sensitive issue that may aggravate relations between Turkey and Iran is the trajectory of development of Iraqi identity. While Turkey has been defending an all-inclusive political nationalism in Iraq, with Sunnis, Shi’ites, Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs having distinct constitutional guarantees and mechanisms to address their concerns, Iran seems to be pushing a model of state government that consolidates power around the Shi’ite identity. With the Kurds after the defeat at Kirkuk drifting toward ethnic nationalism and the Sunnis having been marginalized for decades, Ankara doesn’t have reliable allies to resist Tehran’s encroachment in Iraq.

Looking at the situation within a broader picture, one can see that Turkey is trying to rebalance relations with Iran with efforts to improve economic ties and calibrate steps on related security issues. But Iran is driven by regional ambitions and Turkey is now seeking alternative channels to influence Iranian policies in the region. The Astana talks may be an example of such an attempt.

However, with souring relations with the West and rapid changes in its strategic environment Turkey may have realized that it is now in a much less favorable position vis-à-vis Iran.

It is hard to understand why Turkey was so pleased to see the Kurds, Ankara’s allies in many crucial issues, losing ground while witnessing the rising influence of Iran, with whom Ankara may have much more difficult relations. A possible reason may be the ongoing disintegration of strategic planning in Turkey. Uncertainty regarding the current government’s political future, Turkish political processes and the profound changes in Turkey’s bureaucratic institutions, together with the absence of a clear US strategy in the Middle East, especially toward Iran, may well have contributed to Ankara’s failing capacity to perceive the unfolding reality in the region clearly.


The West is preparing to isolate Erdogan? Is Russia ready?

Today, the Turkish president has enough reasons to closely monitor what is happening overseas. The special attention of the Turkish president is devoted to the case of Reza Zerrab, an Iranian-Turkish businessman suspected by the US authorities in organizing financial schemes, thanks to which Iran managed to circumvent a number of American sanctions, that has taken place in the USA since May 2016. The main element of the schemes is supposed to be the complicity of the Turkish government led by Erdogan. And, as evidenced by the recently issued order for the arrest of the former Minister of Finance of Turkey, the investigation is getting closer every day to proving that the current president of Turkey was directly involved in corrupt deals.

The alarm caused by the judicial process, which reigns in the presidential palace in Ankara, is strengthened by the fact that today the level of mutual distrust and discontent is growing among the Turkish and American elites every day. For Americans, the main reason for disagreements with Ankara is, first of all, the Turkish president himself. The need to take measures against the strengthening of the authoritarian regime in Turkey, as well as the existence of indirect evidence of the unscrupulousness of the political leadership of the country, gives a noticeable stimulus to the American elites to think about concrete steps aimed at isolating Erdogan and his further removal from power.

Over the past few years, the American political elite has accumulated enough claims against the Turkish leader. In foreign policy issues, the US was not entirely in agreement with the fact that Turkey has a fairly lengthy policy regarding radical jihadists operating since 2011 in Syria. Another point of disagreement was the rapprochement of Turkey with Russia and Iran — two states that challenge US interests. The anti-American propaganda of the Turkish authorities makes it difficult for the US to build effective policies in the region. The same rhetoric is used by the Turkish government and in domestic politics, where the regime is increasingly forced to rely on the themes of nationalism, anti-imperialism to preserve power. Fundamentally important for Americans, the principles of democracy and freedom of speech fell victim to the idea of ​​building a super-presidential republic in Turkey.

It is worth noting that the dissatisfaction of the American elites is observed within both parties. The Republican Party calls on the US President to pay attention to the suppression by the regime in Turkey of any form of political opposition. For the Democrats, Turkey, since the Obama administration, has become a big disappointment due to the swift roll of authoritarianism under the growing power of Erdogan. Interestingly, similar sentiments reign on the other side of the Atlantic.

It is important to understand that the essence of the problems in Turkish-American relations is not that Turkey becomes independent of the American foreign policy line, or that the country, sociologically speaking, becomes more Muslim. For a long time after 2002, before the Arab Spring, Turkey, led by the Justice and Development Party (when Erdogan’s power in the party and the country was still limited by the influence of his associates), the United States moved in the Middle East as a model of a functioning democracy with a Muslim majority.

The essence of the disagreements and the source of the crisis of relations between the US and Turkey, according to the American elites, is Recep Erdogan, who, in conditions of public polarization and growing discontent with the government, tries to keep in power, resorting to increasingly obvious authoritarian methods of government. Centralization of the decision-making process in Turkey leads to the fact that everything begins to depend on one person, and at the same time, becomes a victim of his shortcomings, desires, impulses, ambitions. Thus, Erdogan does not become part of the solution of emerging problems, but a source, and his prompt withdrawal from the presidency gives a chance for the restoration of relations between Ankara and Washington.

Radical steps aimed at changing the country’s leadership are limited by the geopolitical significance of Turkey itself. The US can not press on the leadership of Turkey due to the fact that American foreign policy in the Middle East depends on Turkey itself. This includes not only the factor of the Incirlik airbase, but also the plans of the US to contain Iranian expansion are being developed. On the other hand, it is important to understand that excessive pressure on the leadership of Turkey will make it increasingly drift towards Iran and Russia, questioning the relevance of Turkey’s presence in NATO. Finally, the destabilization of the political power of Turkey can increase public tensions in the country, which will make it difficult to form a new government in the medium term.

At the moment, American elites are getting more attracted to the idea of ​​gradual isolation of Erdogan in the international arena. One of the important points of the alleged sanctions is the introduction of a kind of list of persons close to the president, for which the US authorities are ready to take special measures . In addition, the latent sanctions measures are already being applied in a number of critical areas for Turkey. In the military sphere, the American elite lobbies the suspension of the transfer of military technologies, which is important for Ankara’s fight against terrorism. On the other hand, the US is in coordination with the European Union, the main trade partner of Ankara, are ready to exert pressure in the economic sphere as well. Finally, the US is willing to leniency toward oppositional voices criticizing Erdogan, as evidenced by the American authorities’ unwillingness to cooperate with Ankara in extraditing the Turkish preacher Gulen, who lives in the US and who was accused by the Turkish authorities of organizing the coup in July 2016.

It is interesting that Erdogan seems to realize that the patience of the Western partners is coming to an end and that sooner or later he will be driven into isolation in the West. Acting ahead Erdogan, on the one hand, turns the screws on political opposition inside Turkey, eliminating any source of serious political resistance; on the other hand, in any emerging conflict with the US or the EU, Turkish leader tries to position itself as part of the solution and as an integral element of Turkey’s stable cooperation with the West. At the same time, Erdogan, due to the threat of isolation, is developing relations with Russia, which is also trying to break out of the Western sanctions regime.

In view of this, Russia needs to understand several things. Turkey’s decision to get closer to Russia is largely forced upon and the ongoing cooperation in military and political realms does not have a sustainable basis. Today Turkey’s foreign policy is Erdogan’s foreign policy, and judging by the declining ratings of the ruling party and the growing discontent of the Turkish leader among the Western elites, Erdogan’s political future is in doubt. In this regard, Russia needs to develop relations not only with the Turkish government, but also with alternative centers of political influence, political groups, especially among the Turkish conservatives. Any arrangements with Turkey should be based on the influence of the foregoing.


Independence referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan: “Made in Turkey”

The results of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan hardly surprised anyone in terms of the victory of supporters of greater independence of the autonomous region from the central government in Baghdad. Despite loud statements and subsequent symbolic steps against the referendum, the Turkish government, through its focused policy of supporting Iraqi Kurdistan, contributed to the success of the Iraqi Kurds’ struggle for their political independence.

In a referendum on September 25, the bulletins printed in Kurdish, Turkish, Arabic and Assyrian languages ​​asked one question: “Do you want the Kurdish region and the Kurdish territories outside of it to become an independent state?” Most answered “yes.” The final figures will be announced on September 28.

On the eve of the referendum, Ankara made it clear to the Kurds that it does not approve and even opposes plans for voting in the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan. So, on September 22, the National Security Council headed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that the decision to hold a referendum poses a threat to the national security of Turkey. In the final statement of the Council, the leadership warned its Kurdish neighbors that, in the event of a vote, Ankara retains the right to take measures provided for by international treaties. If to read between the lines: Turkey hints at, allegedly, its right to introduce troops to restore the territorial unity of the Iraqi state.

The same day, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Turkey, the sanctions that the country can introduce against the rebellious Kurds in Iraq were discussed: the cessation of air traffic, the restriction of trade, the reduction of the volume of Kurdish oil delivered to the world markets through the Turkish territory, and sanctions against a number of firms related to the leadership Iraqi Kurdistan.

The leadership of the Iraqi Kurdistan did not start talking about plans to hold a referendum on independence yesterday. Public statements have sounded at least since 2014, but then the political crisis inside the autonomous region and the war against IGIL forced the Kurds to postpone the vote. Such an important decision was not taken in a hurry, and, moreover, could not be accepted by the Kurds without taking into account the opinions of the regional powers, above all Turkey, whose favors for many years depended on the fate of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is the long-term cooperation of Iraqi Kurds and Ankara that has instilled in the political elites of Kurdistan the confidence that the Kurds have a real opportunity to become independent, realizing the long-term aspiration of the whole people.

Turkey contributed to the strengthening of Iraqi Kurdistan as an independent region through mutually beneficial oil trade. Most of the income received by the Iraqi Kurdistan comes from the export of oil, which is delivered to world markets through the territory of Turkey through the pipeline. In addition, the Turkish leadership through a series of administrative measures has stimulated the Turkish business to invest in the region. According to recent reports, the volume of Turkish investments in Iraqi Kurdistan amounted to about $ 1 billion, in the region there are about 1500 Turkish firms. Through Kurdistan, the bulk of Turkey’s exports to Iraq (about $ 7 billion) passes.

Turkey is partly guilty of eroding Iraq’s sovereignty and weakening the central government in Baghdad. The above oil trade was carried out in violation of the Iraqi constitution. Turkey did not respond to the demands of the Iraqi leadership to direct revenues from the sale of oil to the federal budget, and not to the pockets of the autonomous Kurdistan. At the same time, the Turkish leadership in some cases openly demonstrated Iraq’s insolvency as an independent state. At the end of last year, a scandal erupted between Baghdad and Ankara about the status of Turkish military bases located on the territory of Iraq. The presence of the Turkish military had a vague legal status from the point of international law, and all the persistent requests of the government of Iraq to close the bases were ignored by Turkey. Ankara made concessions only after Iraq began to threaten to bring the matter to the discussions of the UN Security Council.

Finally, Turkey, in view of the growing military and political threats from international terrorism, has turned Iraqi Kurdistan into a wealthy political subject of international relations. Ankara not only invested heavily in training the military personnel of the Kurdish region, but also attracted the Iraqi Kurdistan to solve its political tasks outside Iraq: the Turks used the leadership of Kurdistan for a long time as a counterbalance to the political influence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in eastern Turkey and Syria. The expansion of the diplomatic presence of the region was largely due to the support of Ankara.

Even if the Turkish leadership, as we see it, supports the course of the Iraqi Kurds for independence, it can not speak about it openly. In Turkey, any statement by the ruling party on supporting Iraqi Kurdistan can be compared to a political suicide. The nationalist electorate of the ruling Justice and Development Party headed by Erdogan, like most Turks, is opposed to any Kurdish ambitions. The growing wave of nationalism and the polarization of the Turkish society do not leave much space to the country’s leadership for maneuvering over the referendum issue. Thus it turns out that despite the long-standing policy of Turkey’s support to the course of the Iraqi Kurds for independence from Baghdad and their own involvement in the success of this quest, in the public discourse Turkish leadership is compelled to react extremely negatively to the voting in the Kurdistan region.


Moscow ambiguity on Kurdistan independence hints at Russian power play

Although Moscow acknowledges Kurdish aspirations to independence, it nevertheless has been avoiding taking a clear stance on the issue of the referendum in the Kurdistan Region. Russian officials may have current dynamics within Iraq in view: Kurds have expanded their control over vast swaths of territories in the fight against ISIS, and their desire to legitimize status of these newly gained territories as a part of the Kurdish autonomy may be driving Erbil into holding a referendum.

But the absence of a clear stance on the issue of independence was a long-time policy of Russia. The ambiguity and argumentation of why Russia neither favors nor opposes Kurdistan’s independence bid tells a lot not only about Russian policy on the Kurds, but more importantly it may shed light on Russia’s vision for the whole Middle East.

First of all, when arguing against immediate measures of the Kurds to hold a referendum, Russia points at the possible political implications of such a step for the whole region, implying that any serious changes in Iraq may cause tectonic shifts in neighbouring Turkey, Iran, and Syria. On the other hand, Russia, since its involvement in the Syria civil war, has indicated on several occasions that it favors an idea of giving unspecified scope of autonomy to ethnic minorities, including, of course, Syrian Kurds. Moreover, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs at the peak of the diplomatic crisis between Moscow and Ankara brought up the problem of discrimination against the Kurdish minority in Turkey, thus further contributing to regionalization of the Kurdish issue.

Furthermore, when talking about the Kurds’ right to self-determination, Russia tends to underline supremacy of the constitutional order and prefers dealing with the central government in Baghdad. On the other hand, Russia rejects any attempts to compare the case of Iraqi Kurdistan with Crimea, South Ossetia or Abkhazia, where people decided their political future by challenging central authorities. The logical conclusion from these examples holds that Russian decision-makers believe that political order in the region may be shaped by world powers, who ultimately decide to what extent local societies should enjoy independence or autonomy. When political processes are shaped by bigger powers (in the manner of a stable bipolarity during the Cold War), instability can be minimized because global powers usually control more things that local polities would otherwise do and as a result can better handle and carry out necessary changes.

Secondly, despite the fact that Russia perceives itself as a global power which along with other powers should channel political processes in the Middle East, it finds the region less and less susceptible to outer influence and far less conductive to any long-term policies due to high unpredictability of events. This is the reason why Russian officials put forward a thesis of tragic implications of the referendum for the whole region. Fragmentation of the regional political space may lead to deeper instability and due to perplexed geopolitical interests around Iraq and Kurdish-majority regions any attempt to reconfigure political settings may lead to deterioration of the security situation and, as a result, to the establishment of an environment where a democratic government can’t thrive.

But still it is insecurity and absence of stable government that may contribute to rising influence of Russia in the Middle East. Rhetoric on the inherent instability and binary logic that puts human rights and democracy to the political instability opens opportunities for Russia to increase its influence by using what it can do best: offer diplomatic support to the central governments and provide help in strengthening security infrastructure by selling arms. Russia can’t rely on soft-power tools: it doesn’t have ideology and economic resources that could expand its influence in the region.

Among the reasons why Russia is reluctant to approve the Kurdish referendum one can also name realization of the limitedness of its own influence in the region and, as a result, its reliance on regional powers. By constantly reminding that any attempt to change the status of the Kurdish polity must proceed within dialogue with Baghdad, Russia signals that a central government has a bigger role in its vision of the Middle East. Today, good relations with Baghdad doesn’t only contribute to stable development of strategic relations with Iran, through Baghdad Russia can potentially reach the Arab world, who, as we know it, opposes any attempts of the Kurds to redefine the status-quo in Syria and Iraq.

Lack of Russian support for the Kurds’ unilateral initiatives to change Iraq’s borders can also be explained by how Russia really acknowledges Turkey’s and Iran’s influence in the region. It is not only about possible escalation of violence as a result of secession attempts, but more about Ankara’s and Tehran’s ability to spoil the game global powers are trying to play in the region. If Russia goes against concerns of them both, it can lose the balance in its own competition with the USA. To succeed against the global influence of the latter, Russia must act in the regions that are very critical to the American interests. It means Russia has to have a good level of predictability of the processes in the region and by nurturing good relations with regional trendsetters Russia tries to channel regional dynamics in its own favor.

It is worth noting that Russian policy in the Middle East is not stable and coherent as one might expect. Russia is a relatively new player in the region, it has lost many positions in the Middle East, many political ties were gone forever as the region was changing over the last 20 years. But in light of Kurdish ambitions, modern Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East does still reveal similarity with the Soviet vision: Moscow prefers dealing with the established state actors. It furthermore sees the world and the region from a state-centric perspective and thus treats any regional non-state actors with great suspicion.



Reality is twisted in Turkey to serve political ends

There are today hot debates in the academic circles on whether Turkey can be still considered a democracy. Some point out that although a current political regime still tries to get legitimacy through elections, it nevertheless resorts to non-democratic methods of securing its power, be it through deliberate politicization of state bureaucracy or oppression of dissent. Since elections are still regarded by a political regime in Turkey as an essential rule of the game, a ruling party is trying to influence voters’ opinion by limiting free flow of ideas and, with it, stifle any criticism that can potentially harm regime’s image in the long run. The major element of this policy is manipulation of facts and distortion of reality in the country.

Creating a suitable narrative based on a myth about foundation of a new Turkey is the primary goal behind Turkish regime’s current propagandistic efforts around judicial process on the coup attempt of July 15. Regime tries to persuade society in an idea that current political party was spearheading popular resistance against non-democratic elements, thus, presenting itself as a champion of Turkish democracy. Pro-government propaganda machine suspiciously avoids mentioning a long history of productive alliance with the would-be coup plotters between 2002–2012 with whom a current ruling party managed to suppress secular Kemalist opposition in the army and state bureaucracy using methods that are hard to consider democratic. To make a picture more surreal, political regime in Turkey accuses a main legal political opposition party of cooperation with forces behind the last year coup.

But regime’s efforts to manipulate reality are not limited exclusively to the past. Turkey’s ruling political party, having enjoyed since 2002 victories on several national elections, that are getting with each season less and less free and fair, managed to put under its influence major state institutions making them serve narrow political ends but not national interests. A glaring example of this is manipulation of statistical data on national economy’s performance: the Statistical Agency of Turkey has been demonstrating astonishing creativity in devising new methods of calculation of basic macroeconomic data, allegedly to conceal cases of malperfomance of the Turkish economy.

But is not only reality at home that gets distorted by the Turkish government. Ruling party purposely misrepresents how Turkey as a nation as treated on the international arena. Main focus of state propaganda is directed at the object of frustration in the Turkish national consciousness — Europe. When Turkish authorities arrest European human-rights advocates and get criticized for politically motivated and inappropriate application of anti-terrorism legislation — government officials don’t wait too long to portray criticism as an effort of Europe to meddle in domestic affairs of Turkey. Turkish government, however, often than not avoids mentioning the fact that Turkey is a candidate-country to the European Union and has certain obligations it has to fulfill like the ones concerning further liberalization, upholding human-rights and reviewing terrorism-related laws. In other words, besieged fortress mentality is fostered by authorities to secure own positions under heavy storm of criticism from the Western capitals.

Yet another interesting point to mention is how Turkish regime tries to create an image of a broad societal support by limiting any free space for political discussions and at the same time investing in government-friendly substitutes of opinion setters. Under emergency decrees issued by the Turkish President more than 560 foundations, 1125 associations and NGOs were closed. Existing institutions of a civil society struggle to survive and face permanent pressure from pro-government network of media.

Furthermore, many academicians critical of the current government were either suspended or fired as a result of the Turkish government’s radical policy to purge alleged pro-coup and pro-terrorist elements from academia. It is, however, difficult to say to what extent such radical measures are justified and whether they will result in producing more stability in the country since, as the July coup itself evidenced, Turkish judiciary is subjected to deep politization and loss of integrity.

The most profound effect of the post-coup policies of the Turkish regime was felt by dissent media: journalists get arrested and forced to wait to stand before the judge for many months. Though many cases take place in a framework of anti-terrorist legislation and the accused theoretically have a chance of an acquittal, the way how case are scrutinized produce a chilling effect on journalists who dare to criticize regime’s policies. Meanwhile pro-government media is gaining more relative weight in the informational environment letting the regime to control a critical flow of ideas.

Finally, there is a coordinated policy of fueling debates in the society on topics that are important, though don’t have prime importance in today’s Turkey who is facing slowing economic performance, souring relations with the West , increased political and military threats on its borders and corruption of democratic system of governance. Instead of addressing these problems, pro-government media seem to focus on an issue that has been always dividing Turkish society: a role of religion and its place in state policies, education and private lives of the Turks. No doubt, this issue needs to be discussed, but excessive attention to it seems to be provoked by the government to divert public eye from real problems.

There is no objective reality in Turkey. Facts are cherry-picked by the political regime, served and altered by pro-government media outlets and, finally, offered to broader public and potential voters. Though, it is natural and understandable that the regime is trying to manipulate reality to serve its political interests, it is however worrying that Turkey, who is living through profound changes after the coup, gets deprived a slightest chance for progress through sincere self-criticism and genuine self-reflection. Sooner or later current ruling political forces will be gone, but Turkish democracy will be still there, coping with the very same problems that it is facing today, if nothing is changed now.