Cuts like a knife

Cuts like a knife

While it has been the word on the street for more than a month, everybody looks like they are surprised to see PM Ahmet Davutoğlu leave office so smoothly. Has it been in the making all along? What was the main reason? There have been many other crises between the president and the prime minister, so what made it different this time?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s priorities were so different from Davutoğlu’s that there was little room to maneuver. Sources close to both sides posed one question that encapsulated the whole matter: “Who would run the state?” And by “the state,” one means the general security apparatus: the intelligence service, the military and the police. Erdoğan wanted the military to solely report to him and preferred to have a direct line of communication with intelligence chief Hakan Fidan. But under the current constitution, this would not be possible. So instead of changing the laws, why not change the person?

I asked my colleagues about similar cases in Turkey’s political history. Former Prime Minister Yıldırım Akbulut refused to be the “handyman” of late President Turgut Özal during the Gulf Crisis so he had to step down.

Former Premier Tansu Çiller’s covert operation to topple the president in Azerbaijan was uncovered by late President Süleyman Demirel, and they even say he threatened to “throw her out the window” if she attempted to do something similar again.

In both cases, what is described very vaguely as “the state” has intervened. What is it anyway? Ask one Ankara insider, and he/she would say that it is a mix of the judiciary, military, intelligence and intelligentsia, with the final two usually disagreeing on many issues. 

Davutoğlu’s EU negotiation tactics, as he told it, “were planned during the flight to Brussels.” The refugee-for-euros swap was probably thought over but not discussed in full detail in the Security Council meetings. Erdoğan and his team felt like they were left out of the bargaining role. Davutoğlu’s trip to Saudi Arabia and his impromptu statements about the military chief’s “regular and future participation in these kinds of trips” raised a lot of eyebrows. After all, the Turkish General Staff has its own rituals and traditions, and this was not one of them. 

The U.S. capital was most probably the place that was least surprised at these changes. During my term in Washington, I had the chance to observe firsthand how practically they approached Erdoğan’s policies. Yes, there were disagreements on principles; yes he and President Barack Obama are practically “friendly” to each other. But the entire Washington establishment saw Erdoğan as someone who is open and somewhat blunt. Despite the common language, Washington always felt uneasy about Davutoğlu’s long historical sermons. Hillary Clinton was not even diplomatic about the latter one. 

With a new system in force, foreign observers should also be ready to see a higher-profile military presence in the government. As the counter-terror operations in the southeast slowly wind down, they will be the ones that know the area house-by-house, street-by-street. A new peace initiative may be too distant at this time, but the removal of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies from parliament is not the state’s ideal scenario either. 

There was Gordion’s Knot to be undone, and someone cut it with a knife.