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Şimshaken, Not Stirred
It’s half support group, half comic relief – pretty much like this newsletter.
Speaking of, don’t miss Paul Benjamin Osterlund’s look back at the Gezi protests and their meaning for Turkey’s opposition 10 years later.
Following a swear-in ceremony for Parliament Friday, and Pres. Erdoğan's inauguration the next day, the Turkish leader announced his reshuffled cabinet, in which only two ministers kept their posts.
Key new names include: Mehmet Şimşek as Finance Minister (sorry Bilge), former spy chief Hakan Fidan will head the Foreign Ministry and previous spox İbrahim Kalın will take over Fidan’s old job as head of intelligence agency, MİT.
Out are: Interior Min. Süleyman Soylu, Defense Min. Hulusi Akar and Foreign Min. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (now pronounced Ciaovuşoğlu), although all three were elected as MPs and are expected to head parliamentary committees in fields relevant to their previous posts.
During his speech after the first cabinet meeting, Erdoğan pledged to focus on stability and security, before implicitly lashing out at LGBT people, saying his coalition would present a constitutional amendment proposal that protects the family from “deviant currents”.
The main questions now are what do these appointments mean and did the handover between former Finance Min. Nureddin Nebati and Şimşek actually play out like this meme?
We may never know the latter, but MEI’s Gönül Tol told Al-Monitor Erdoğan is trying signal a moderate and constructive phase is unfolding. Chatham House’s Galip Dalay expects a continued Turkey-centric approach in pursuing autonomy, but adds “the new cabinet signals an attempt at managing differences and disputes more skillfully.”
Taking a slightly different tone, the cabinet reshuffling is “fundamentally cosmetic”, according to Howard Eissenstat, assoc. prof. of MENA history at St. Lawrence University. Instead of a reset, or a U-turn, he phrases the new cabinet as a “rebranding”.
“Rebranding doesn't necessarily mean longstanding policy differences and changes, because in the end, Erdoğan is the person who really matters,” he told Turkey recap.
“We're talking about a highly personalized government centered around President Erdoğan. Because institutions matter so little, in the end, what we're engaging in is the Turkish version of Kremlinology,” Eissenstat said.
Notably, Şimşek and his vow to return to “rational” economic policy raised cautious optimism among investors. Though some argue it will take more time to win back trust, many are now waiting to see how much agency Şimşek and a possible new Central Bank governor will have, especially considering a return to orthodoxy will cause economic pain in the short term.
Economist Selva Demiralp notes many questions remain about Şimşek’s appointment. Will the so-called ‘new economic model’ return? And will this be season two of the Naci Ağbal-Lütfi Elvan scenario, she asks, referring to two former officials that had initially brought back orthodox economic policies, but were removed soon after.
"That the government would quietly abandon and make a U-turn on the policies that it defended and deemed successful up until a week ago rings hollow to me. Even if they were to attempt it, the success of such a policy shift is still dubious,” she writes.
Weighing in on the matter, Eissenstat also questions Erdoğan’s ability or intention to maintain long-term orthodoxy.
“Orthodoxy comes from institutions, which Turkey is sorely lacking,” he said. “Can they do something about interest rates? Yes, of course. Can they do something about corruption, about transparency, about clientelism? No, that's the structure of the state itself.”
– Ingrid Woudwijk
Spring has flung
Turkey’s opposition parties, which appear ready to go separate ways, have been taking stock of their election performance. Some 25 million voters who supported them are also waiting for a bit of transparency, accountability or maybe just some self-reflection.
For starters, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has yet to concede to Erdoğan. Meanwhile, all 17 CHP board members resigned last week, and İYİ Party blamed “CHP’s wrong policies and political mistakes” for the outcome. İYİ Party also announced the termination of the Nation Alliance with the elections coming to an end.
“The Table of Six wasted too much energy on deciding the joint candidate. They had unrealistic expectations of defeating Erdoğan. DEVA and Gelecek virtually did not bring anything to the opposition alliance while İYİ and HDP underperformed, as well,” Asst. Prof. Orçun Selçuk told Turkey recap.
And so, once allied parties are now back to being rivals, though it might not be for long as rumors indicate that DEVA and Gelecek, both led by former AKP bureaucrats, are on the verge of merging. The two parties have a total of 25 seats through the common MP list with CHP, and according to journalist Saygı Öztürk, they are also expected to welcome Saadet Party to their new venture.
Change is also brewing in the pro-Kurdish HDP/YSP, which lost six parliamentary seats compared to the last term. “There’s a desire for change in society,” said party co-chairs Mithat Sancar and Pervin Buldan during a TV appeal, signaling they would resign during the party’s upcoming congress due to the underwhelming election performance.
Though somehow no changes are in sight for the CHP, despite some deputies and voters pushing for KK to step down and take accountability for the election loss.
İstanbul Mayor İmamoğlu is among them, issuing warnings against making “the mistake of walking the same road” as he reportedly asked from KK to “pioneer the change”, which was interpreted as İmamoğlu’s intention to take the helm at the party and renew its management.
Turning a deaf ear to the criticism while quelling any in-house and voter discontent, Kılıçdaroğlu’s currently expected to keep leading the CHP at least until the March 2024 local elections.
“This refusal denies the opportunity to introduce a new generation of politicians who could potentially invigorate the party’s appeal beyond its current 25 percent mark,” political scientist Tezcan Gümüş told Turkey recap.
He added, KK’s reluctance to forfeit power is contradictory to the democratic values he and his party sought to stand for.
On the contrary, KK appointed new board members last weekend and consolidated his power over local party organizations by giving himself direct control, a maneuver which Gümüş described as “authoritarian”:
“It diminishes the autonomy and decision-making power of these local branches. It also hinders healthy participation of the grassroots in shaping the party’s policies and directions … the changes merely involve replacing individuals loyal to him with another set of loyalists, thereby preserving his control over the party.”
The Good, the Bad and the Ulfy
In NATO news, Turkey sent troops to Kosovo and requests for more concrete measures to Swedish PM Ulf Kristersson, whose government is seeking a breakthrough in its long-stalled NATO accession bid before an alliance summit in July.
Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse Sweden’s entry, and time is of the essence as Hungarian parliament goes on summer recess June 15, and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is organizing the next Turkey-Sweden-Finland meeting on the matter for next week.
With Stockholm aiming to finalize the process asap, two Swedish trials involving Turkish citizens have drawn special attention, as they’re the first such court cases to be heard after the nation’s new anti-terrorism laws came into effect June 1 in effort to address Ankara’s security concerns.
But the new laws may not apply in one case, and neither case may satisfy Ankara’s requests for greater anti-terrorism cooperation from Stockholm, said Michael Sahlin, former Swedish ambassador to Turkey and distinguished associate fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
“My guess is both these cases may express the government’s wish to underline that we are doing things here and we are on the right track to show understanding of Turkey’s security concerns, and they will no doubt be referred to by Stoltenberg and others who are working on our [accession] case,” Sahlin told Turkey recap.
“The question is: Are these two cases at all relevant to the Turkish government?” he asked.
Sweden's Supreme Court Tuesday gave the green light for the government to extradite a man to Turkey to serve out a drug-related sentence. Turkish authorities said the man expressed support for the PKK, but it does not appear he was on the extradition request lists Ankara sent to Stockholm last year.
That said, the extradition may or may not be interpreted as a much sought after “concrete step” in Turkey-Sweden negotiations, and ongoing protests with PKK symbols in Sweden can always add pressure to the process.
“The worst case is that the situation is now back to square one, with positions fixed as they were back in February-March,” Sahlin said. “On the other hand, we now have the elections behind us, we have Erdoğan in the driver’s seat and the question is: Will his maximalist position remain or will he now feel more free to have an open bargain?”
“It’s unknown, I think, what the real Turkish position is on this, and I guess it’s linked to the broader questions of where Turkey is headed now,” he added.
The week’s other big IR topic was Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan’s attendance of Erdoğan’s inauguration Saturday.
The visit underlines broader power shifts in the South Caucasus after the 2020 Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict, as Pashinyan strikes a new tone over long-contested areas, hinting he is ready to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan (according to Russian media), along with another exclave called Karki (which, yes, we just learned about, too).
Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan, said Pashinyan’s Turkey visit was the latest positive sign in Armenia-Turkey “normalization”, noting the process was propelled by “earthquake diplomacy”, in which Yerevan dispatched emergency teams and humanitarian aid to Turkey after the Feb. 6 tremors.
“There was also notably more positive media coverage of Armenian aid, which elevated the domestic political discourse in Turkey – despite the polarized pre-election mood – and made normalization much less sensitive or toxic in Turkish public opinion,” Giragosian told Turkey recap.
Adding normalization does not mean reconciliation and the current objectives remain modest, like re-opening closed borders and establishing diplomatic relations, Giragosian said Yerevan-Ankara negotiations could be further accelerated by economic pressures on Ankara.
“[Economic pressures] only enhances the importance of trade restoration and cross-border commerce, with Armenia more attractive as a platform for Turkish exports beyond and to new markets.”
He continued, “At the same time, the likely conclusion of an Armenia-Azerbaijan “peace treaty” can be expected as a critical turning point and is expected to fulfill a new Turkish-imposed pre-condition to the implementation of normalization with Armenia.”
Now it’s just a matter of getting Azerbaijan’s press on board, which in this recent piece portrayed Pashinyan as “sobering up” to the “high the authority of Turkiye and Azerbaijan in the world.”
In other foreign news, there’s a fresh uproar about Schengen visas after the head of a Turkish travel agency association falsely claimed EU nations were rejecting 50 percent of applications from Turkish citizens.
We asked around and the Dutch ambassador to Turkey said his nation’s rejection rate for Turkish citizens was 13 percent, while a diplomat from another large EU nation said their rejection rate was 15 percent, and often due to incomplete applications, stressing “it’s not a political decision”.
European missions in Turkey are now actively countering false visa narratives, with the German embassy tweeting Germany currently issues more visas to Turkish nationals than any other citizens in the world.
"Happy devaluations," a Turkey recap mom greeted her daughter Wednesday as a collapsing lira was the new expected-but-still-shocking reality of post-election Turkey.
"I just sat in front of the TV all day and lost almost one-tenth of my pension," she said. "The worst part is I know it won't stop." –Yes, her words reminded us of this evergreen-off meme about Turkey, too.
The Turkish lira has lost almost 15 percent of its value since May 28, nosediving 7 percent on June 7. Trading at 23.37 per USD at 2 pm Turkey time, the currency has depreciated for 13 days in a row, the longest losing streak since 1996.
And there’s more to go. Analysts expect the lira to slide to 28 against the dollar in 12 months.
So why now? Bloomberg reports Şimşek asked the CBRT to ease off interventions (though a new report may contradict this). In a Reuters article, several traders had also noted the decline in central bank's forex and gold reserves had stopped as of last week.
"It smells like the beginning of a lira crisis," Ulricht Leuchtmann, head of FX research at Commerzbank, told the agency, and an executive at a Turkish bank described what's happening to Financial Times as an "intentional devaluation."
"Significant front-loaded rate hikes would be advisable, but we see it as unlikely that Mr. Şimşek's team can deliver more than a marginal dent in the negative real policy rate," Erik Meyersson, chief EM strategist with SEB Bank, wrote in a note and warned about the possible effects of the upcoming local elections on the financial policies of the country.
No one blocked a polygamist from joining parliament.
There’s a conspiracy theory suggesting the new FM is a thought-to-be dead ultranationalist criminal.
North Cyprus learned you don’t need to be an internationally-recognized state to get promoted in the New York Times real estate section.
Workers' Party launches nationwide protests, demands release of imprisoned MP (Bianet)
İstanbul wants to make urban data available to everybody (Bloomberg)
Turkey’s beleaguered Kurds weigh new strategies after Erdoğan’s win (Al-Monitor)
ECHR once again finds rights violation in case of Demirtaş, Yüksekdağ (Duvar)
Turkish court acquits former local Amnesty head, others of terrorism charges (Reuters)
Greece seeks assistance from rival Turkey over migration spike along border river (AP)
UK provided £3m to Turkish border forces to stop migrants, FOI reveals (Guardian)
Russia and Ukraine say ammonia pipeline was damaged, in potential blow to grain deal (Reuters)
Why Turkish pollsters didn’t foresee Erdoğan’s win (FP)
The Question of Erdoğan’s Succession
Posing two approaches for considering Erdoğan’s successor, analyst Selim Koru writes: “It would be grossly reductive to say that the “New Turkey” regime will only live as long as its founder. Its emotional and institutional reach goes far beyond Erdoğan’s charisma.” (FPRI)
How Erdoğan Managed Victory Despite Kurdish Opposition
Reviewing the potential reasons for the lower Kurdish voter turnout last month, pollster Roj Girasun concludes: “It was both unrealistic and disappointing to ignore the security concerns of Kurds while still expecting them to be the saviors of democracy.” (FPRI)
Erdoğan’s Syria Policy: Continuation of the Status Quo?
Arguing Turkey has no easy exit from Syria, analyst Sinem Adar writes: “In its negotiations with Assad, Ankara aims that any possible new arrangement ensures that the fragile balance in Idlib is not shaken, a reasonable portion of the Syrian refugees go back to Syria, and Kurdish autonomy is prevented.” (FPRI)
How the European Union Contributes to Turkey’s Anti-Refugee Rhetoric
Sociologist Gülay Türkmen argues the EU-Turkey deal’s de-democratizing effect is no longer confined to the ruling bloc, writing one can only hope this serves as “a wake-up call for the European Union to finally stop externalizing human suffering and come up with a more sustainable and fair solution for the protection of refugees.” (FPRI)
For further reading, see the Foreign Policy Research Institute's full set of essays.
Jun 8 Columbia Global Centers İstanbul hosts a webinar titled "From Earthquakes to Elections: International Media Coverage of Turkey in 2023" at 1500 GMT
Jun 9 Trial of journalist Mehmet Baransu resumes in İstanbul
Jun 12 Representatives from Turkey, Finland and Sweden will meet to discuss Sweden's NATO membership
Jun 12 Trial of various journalists linked to the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper resumes in İstanbul
Jun 13 Trial of authors Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Yakup Şimşek, Fevzi Yazıcı resumes in İstanbul
Jun 14Trial of Danish journalist Madds Anneberg resumes in Edirne
Diego Cupolo, co-founder + editor @diegocupolo
Gonca Tokyol, freelance journalist @goncatokyol
Ingrid Woudwijk, freelance journalist @deingrid
Verda Uyar, freelance journalist @verdauyar
Gökalp Badak, editorial intern @gklpbdk