Turkey considering Saleh and Barzani
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with a visiting Iraqi Turkmen delegation before the Oct. 29 Republic Day reception in Ankara, which is apparently the reason why he came late to the reception.
According to my sources, this was the message he gave to the Turkmen delegation: “Develop your relations with Baghdad. Iran agreed to the joint operation but this could not be realized because of [Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar] al-Abadi’s attitude. Try to convince al-Abadi about the joint operation issue.”
Another subject discussed was who will replace departing Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani. It seems that Turkey sees Behram Salih and Nechirvan Barzani as the two prime contenders.
The weight seems to be on Salih. For the past two months, Barzani has wanted to come to Ankara, but Erdoğan – who in the past used to meet him even at short notice - has not given any appointment to him.
Erdoğan is unhappy because the KRG did not consult with him during the Barzani-led independence referendum process. “He discussed it with Israel but he did not discuss it with us,” Erdoğan says.
Early elections in 2018
Meanwhile, at the Oct. 29 Republic Day reception, members of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) were talking among themselves about the recent changes in municipal administrations, following the resignation of a number of AKP mayors.
“You write that there won’t be an early election,” one said. “But there are strong rumors that the presidential elections will be brought forward to be held before the local elections due in March 2019. July 15, 2018 has been mentioned as the possible date.”
The MP right next to us rejected this, saying that constitutional changes approved by the April referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system must be made. “The members of the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] and AK Party currently in parliament are enough for that,” they said.
I still believe elections will be held at the normal time because the likelihood of Erdoğan receiving 50-percent-plus-one votes in the first round must be secured.
Republic Day and the coup attempt
At the beginning of the Republic Day reception, an interesting visual projection was made linking to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
The theme of the projection was based on the notion that the nation that founded the Republic on Oct. 29, 1923 also protected democracy on the night of the coup attempt. They showed a political timeline starting from the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and passing to former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, former President Turgut Özal and current President Erdoğan.
I do not want to stir discussions about whether the AK Party has “discovered Atatürk.” But this time the emphasis on the Republic and Atatürk were certainly stronger.
Signs of returning to normal
Finally, when I was leaving the Republic Day reception, I saw Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül entering the room quickly with a file under his arm.
When I asked him whether I could carry the file for him, he only smiled at me in response. I could not understand the reason for his alacrity, but there are certainly important changes happening in Turkey’s justice system.
The climate seems to be changing with regard to the arrested journalists and intellectuals. “Normalization” steps are being taken. For now, I can only say this much.