Turkish Constitutional Referendum – Commentary by Marcus Alexander Templar, Former U.S. Army Cryptologic Linguist and All-Source Intelligence Analyst of the Defense Intelligence Agency, 12 April 2017

by on April 19, 2017

Turkish Constitutional Referendum
Marcus Alexander Templar
Former U.S. Army Cryptologic Linguist and All-Source Intelligence Analyst of the Defense Intelligence Agency
12 April 2017

Marta Murzanska (M.M.): Welcome back to ERPIC. Today I’ve got with me Mr. Marcus Alexander Templar. Mr. Templar is a retired U.S. army cryptologic linguist and intelligence analyst of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. He is also an expert on the Balkans and on the Middle East. Marcus, thank you very much for being with us again.

Marcus Templar (M.T.): Thank you very much Marta. It’s my privilege to be here with you.

M.M.: Marcus, this Sunday the Turks will be voting in the constitutional referendum which might grant sweeping powers to President Erdoğan. Is this drift towards authoritarianism a distinctive feature of Erdoğan’s Islamist regime, or is it a deeply rooted, integral part of the Turkish political culture in general? What is your take on it?

M.T.: I would say that is more Erdoğan than the political culture. Erdoğan is a megalomaniac in my opinion and he wants more power. Actually, if I consider everything he has done so far, he’s seeking not just political power, but also religious power. If he could, he would be the next caliph, like a pope, in a way, for the Roman Catholics, or the Ecumenical Patriarch for the Orthodox. That’s what he’s looking for. He’s a combination, I would say, his beliefs are a combination of politics – disregarding any laws, any constitution, because he is the top lawmaker in a way, and everybody has to abide by his wishes. This kind of a personality he has. I’m not a psychologists, but to me he probably wants to be a dictator. That’s all I see right now and he would try after, if the referendum gives him the power – because I do not know exactly what is going to happen, nobody does – he will seek to somehow through force and intimidation be considered as the caliph, the one that Kemal Atatürk had abolished. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. But it is him more than anything else.

M.M.: What do you think are his chances of becoming, well, a leader of the Muslim world? I mean, is he really that popular in the Sunni Muslim world in order to become a caliph?

M.T.: Well, let me go back a little bit. Turks were originally Shia, because they took Islam from the Persians who are Shia. And then when they expanded their kingdom – sultanate – they realized that most of the, I would say, their subjects were Sunni. So the sultan changed from Shia to Sunni and made all the Turks to be Sunni instead of Shia. But I believe they still have that old tendency to be Shia in a way. And that’s why Erdoğan praised Ali a few years ago, I remember. He said he loves Ali very much and so on. And Ali actually was the leader of the Shia, because he is the Muhammad’s descendent.

I don’t know, I doubt if he will, because he might have the desire but he has no means. There is a discrepancy between the desires of the politicians in Turkey and the means of enforcing anything by the military. Never mind what they show that they do. If we take as an example the coup that took place, to me it was not an attempted coup that failed. To me it was a coup Erdoğan wanted it to be. I believe he was behind it. And many people fell as victims, I would say, to his will. In this way first he cleaned everyone he didn’t like and then he started throwing to prison journalists and all the courts and everyone that he thought would be dangerous to his wishes. And now he gets the referendum to become – by the vote of the Turkish people to become the next dictator of Turkey.

But the failed coup show to me, if that was a good coup, I mean the real one that failed, then the Turkish military has a lot of problems. Because, number one, you never start a coup in the evening, then change it to the afternoon – the coup should be done about two in the morning, three in the morning, that time. And the evening that people are not out having fun. So even two o’clock in the morning you shouldn’t have people on the streets drunk and so on. And that’s another thing. A good Muslim doesn’t drink, and a good Muslim does not gamble. And Turks do both.

Now, coming back to the military. The planning of the coup lack operational implementation. If that was a real coup, good coup, then the Turkish generals do not know how to plan, how to
implement tactics which requires a good operational plan. There are three plans when you do anything: it’s the strategic, then the tactical, and then you join those two with the operational plan – what do you need to take care of what you have planned. And this way the coup has failed, militarily at least. That’s my view.

M.M.: Let me go back for a second to this issue of Turkish political culture. Why is it so difficult for democracy to take roots in Turkey?

M.T.: It seems to me that Turks are… because of their education. Since even before the Kemal in order to educate yourself within the Turkish Empire you had to study in Turkish. I remember a few years back in 2003 I was in California studying in Turkish, actually. And I met a couple of people who had a restaurant in Pacific Grove. They were Arabs from a town north of Amman in Jordan. And I happen to know somebody who was from there and they knew my friend. Anyway, we talked a little bit and they told me that they hated the Turks, because even if the whole area was Muslim, still the Turks wanted them to study in Turkish do become Turks. So that’s a tendency, that’s a culture of Turkish – they want everybody to become Turk. And with this notion Kemal put together the Kurds and the Turks as all of them being Turks. So the whole education of Turkey is to make everyone Turk and everyone to be a soldier. It goes back to the Mongolian invasions of Europe – this kind of a thing. That’s the education that makes them like that.

Now, it seems to me that although individually the Turks are very nice people, when it comes to Turkey, again, because of the education, because of the history, because of the pride they have for being such a huge sultanate, they still want to go back to become as great as they used to be. So the whole thing is, it’s a mixed, I would say, cultural thing. On one hand they want to become, they have a tendency to go back to what it used to be, and on the other hand they find assistance in the way through the education. So the education feeds that nationalism. It’s a circle. That’s my view.

M.M.: The pro-Erdoğan narrative of the referendum portrays Europe and the West as an enemy of Turkey and the Muslim world in general. Is this need for inventing external enemy a constant theme in Turkish politics?

M.T.: Well, inventing enemies he’s not just in Turkish politics, in every politics, and that’s the bad side of the whole thing. Unfortunately, many people who are weak, actually, and they want to show how strong they are, they invent external enemies. And in this way they, I would say, they root nationalism, they rally people around them. Turkey is a very good example of this. They always find enemies everywhere and that’s to me paranoia. But that’s another story. And they always, whenever they do, they try to find a weak, in their opinion, country to do that. For example, they always want to take on Greece, because in their opinion the Greeks are weak, only because the Christians do not respond to what the Turks want to do. They try to do the same thing with Syria in the south and Erdoğan really wants to destroy the country, because he had to feel that these are the enemies. Anything bad that comes to Turkey is not because of himself and his bad governance, but because of the people of the countries around him. So it is, I would say, something that every dictator needs in order to rally people around him, and forget the problems they have internally. Hitler did the same thing. They attacked the Poles to take, supposedly, all territories of Prussia, they attacked the Czechs, and then they found the Jews as being the root of the problem.

M.M: But what about Europe? I mean, Turkey is a candidate for the European Union and it looks like it’s becoming more and more hostile towards Europe. Where does this come from?

M.T.: Well, I think the reason for this is dual. Number one, the way I have seen the reaction of Erdoğan, also to former president Gül, their reaction was as if Europe wanted to join Turkey instead of Turkey joining Europe. That was one of them. The other thing is that Erdoğan wants Europe to do whatever Erdoğan wants, and for that he’s trying to rally the Turkish citizens or Turks in origin in Western Europe to give the feeling to the European leaders that if they don’t do what Erdoğan wants, Erdoğan is in a position to destabilize their country anytime he wants. So one is the destabilization, and the other through destabilization is that he wants to govern Europe, as if Europe was to join Turkey and not Turkey Europe. That’s why they do not change anything.

I was talking to a Turkish officer that time, now he is a lieutenant colonel of the Turkish army. And he said to me – I was talking about the European Union – he said to me back in 2004 that there is no way that Turkey is going to change in order to join the European Union. So Turks want to become members of the European Union without changing at all, which is impossible, you know very well.

M.M.: Marcus, thank you very much for giving us your time and for being with us again. Thank you very much.

M.T.: Thank You Martha