The ‘Sole Person of the Year’ 2011
Who do you think the Person of the Year for 2011 is?
Prime ministers are always nominated for this question. This time around, however, things have changed. As you turn around and look back, you see that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stands out not merely as the person who made his mark on the year 2011, but also as the unrivaled “Sole Person of the Year.” Let us take a look at which factors have brought him to this point.
- Erdoğan won the elections for the third time around, boosting his support to around 50 percent at that. No one, including his party itself, had expected such results. He issued a message of stability by saying they were going to lead the country until 2023.
- He fundamentally altered the military-civilian balance and demonstrated his newly established control over the Turkish Armed Forces by presiding over the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) all by himself.
- He got the Turkish economy to post record growth rates despite the international financial crisis, reduced unemployment and maintained economic stability.
- When the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rejected the government’s Kurdish initiative and responded with violence, he played rough and struck major blows against the organization.
- The surgery he underwent boosted his popularity rating even among his fiercest opponents. The impression that internal stability would fall apart in case if the prime minister withdrew from politics grew more widespread.
Throughout the entire year, the prime minister remained at the forefront as the ultimate decision-maker on nearly every issue. He demonstrated his singularity via the manner in which he handled the order of the day, as well as by his disciplined management of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The year of the earthquakes
2011 was not an easy year. As if we’ve ever had an easy year.
The difference this time around, however, we witnessed the eruption of many unexpected incidents one after the other, the realization of which was previously thought to be impossible.
In the past, the resignation of the chief of the General Staff would be regarded as a most unsettling and unlikely development in Turkish politics. Add to that the resignation of three more force commanders, and it could be said the country was about to undergo a major political slump or earthquake. Such possibilities were unthinkable and regarded as being tantamount to a military coup.
We experienced this earthquake this year, but no tremors ensued.
The civilian-military balance shifted suddenly. The top commanders left, they were then replaced, and the prime minister sat all by himself at the helm of the YAŞ table. It was a historic move.
The earthquake that struck the eastern province of Van introduced Turkish society to the realities of the southeast. The country’s west, in turn, exhibited incredible solidarity.
The state also provided all the help it could muster, but it still failed to deliver itself from the disgrace of coordination problems regardless. Various ministers’ superfluous interventions and the inaptitude of the bureaucracy became obvious.
This time it was the PKK that got struck by a quake.
It rejected the Kurdish initiative in July and started its armed attacks, whereas the AKP government had already contacted both İmralı Island, where the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan is serving a life term, and Mount Kandil, a PKK stronghold, in addition to starting official talks for a solution to the conflict.
Once the guns went off blazing again, the state launched its Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) operations in response. It ignored the initiative by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is primarily focused on the Kurdish issue, to boycott Parliament. It cut off its contact with Mount Kandil and İmralı Island, and security forces engaged in a massive counter-offensive.
Though results still remain unclear, signals emanating from the PKK do not look good at all. Signs of internal turmoil and retreat are becoming more profuse.
Foreign policy goes topsy-turvy
We made a very exciting start in foreign policy this year.
The “zero problems with neighbors” policy went quite well in the beginning. Turkey was solving problems everywhere it laid its hands on. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was cherished.
This policy, in fact, was right. And it achieved success, too.
But few things in the Middle East seem the way they do on paper. Such storms were brewing and the Arab peoples eventually revolted.
Naturally, our “zero problems” policy also came to a halt as a consequence. Turkey began seeking a novel foreign policy in 2011.
A Middle East-centered approach gave way to rapprochement with the United States. The turmoil in Libya and Egypt still persists. The old coziness with Iran is no more. We are at daggers drawn with Syria. The only constant were relations with Israel. Turkey’s gaze has turned westward for the first time in a long while.