Even though he was not nominated, Turkey’s embattled president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s awkward dismissal of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize as being politically motivated reflects his desperate attempt to get away with helping out radical Islamist groups in Syria, Libya and other Muslim nations rather than his lifetime disappointment over not receiving one.
At a subconscious level, this was a revelation of the fear felt deeply by Erdoğan and his overzealous Islamist brethren who have effectively become international pariahs following years of ill-advised foreign policy and a utopian vision of establishing an obscured political Islamist network from North Africa to the Middle East, from Central Asia to Southeast Asia. Turkey’s ruling Islamist elites are quite uneasy because of growing world attention on what they have been doing by sending money, providing logistical support and political cover and even sending arms to radical Islamists nested in many countries.
This bizarre and unprecedented experiment went even as far as Europe and the United States, where Erdoğan set up political networks of Muslims to help advance his undeclared caliphate. They even attempted to lure Muslim leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean through the Religious Affairs Directorate, albeit with little success. Foreign governments, disturbed by the pattern Erdoğan and his associates had displayed in bilateral ties, were compelled to take countermeasures to prevent these clandestine activities and interference in their domestic affairs. Egypt, wholeheartedly supported by Erdoğan during the era of ousted president and former Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi, rolled back those incursions, expelled the Turkish ambassador and cut off all political contacts at the highest levels.
Syria perhaps represented the worst in Erdoğan’s botched dreams of mobilizing all Muslims under his leadership. A huge cache of arms was provided to opposition groups fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime without much distinction among the disparate and radical groups. Radical groups have continued to procure logistical supplies from drugs to bomb making material from Turkey without much hindrance from Turkish customs officials. In an interview with the Hürriyet daily published on Monday, former US Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, who had been intimately involved in discussions between Turkish and American officials on a coordinated response to the Syrian crisis, summarized Erdoğan’s policy very clearly: “They were ready to support everyone except [Bashar] Assad. We were not and still do not,” he said.
Not only did Erdoğan and his overzealous Islamist advisors support opposition groups in Syria, they also set up a network of clandestine traffickers to facilitate foreign fighters who descended into Syria from some 80 different countries. Without political cover, it would be almost impossible to run this highway to jihadist fighting ground in Syria and Iraq. One of the main topics raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her discussion with Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in İstanbul on Sunday was in fact the list of hundreds of German fighters who joined the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other groups in Syria. Many of them are of Turkish origin who reportedly turned into fighters by Erdoğan’s own intelligence network that runs parallel to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
Yet, Erdoğan failed to accomplish what he set out to do in the first place, and the whole world now sees through him and his sinister plans. Furthermore, the corruption scandals on the home front that implicated him and his family members, the ensuing harsh crackdown on the media, businesses and civic groups and the suspension of the rule of law have destroyed what was left of his credibility. Not coincidentally, in December 2013 when the largest corruption scandal ever in Turkish history was exposed, Erdoğan had also criticized the Nobel committee, saying it was biased in its decisions.
With his back to the wall with the growing international isolation and targeted disengagement, Erdoğan seems to be desperate to get out of the jam. The refugee crisis that sent tens of thousands to Europe starting this summer and Russia’s active military entanglement in Syria may have given him an opening in that respect. He is now playing with these to break the wall, but that does not seem to be enough. His protégée, Davutoğlu, recently inadvertently acknowledged while speaking to his party comrades in İstanbul that he and Erdoğan had been blacklisted from the world stage. His remarks came right after his visit to New York City where he had attended UN General Assembly meetings. Hence Erdoğan and his gang are in urgent need of international attention to gain legitimacy.
Perhaps looking at Merkel’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize this year over the chancellor’s role in the Ukraine crisis and later on refugee matters, Erdoğan must have questioned why he was left out. Maybe he was hoping to get a Nobel Prize for hosting 2.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Turkey, the country that is now officially home to the largest refugee population in the world. Yet, unlike Merkel, he was not even nominated. Speaking at a gathering of the Women 20 (W-20), an engagement group formed under the auspices of the G20, in İstanbul last week, he slammed the Nobel. “You know how the Nobel Prizes are given. They are given by orders [from outside the committee]. This means whether [the recipients] deserve it or not does not matter,” Erdoğan said.
Who knows, maybe he was anticipating that a Nobel Prize might be a ticket for him to evade serious charges such as financing terrorism in other countries. In other words, he was looking for “get-out-of-jail-free” card. When he became frustrated over not getting one, he lashed out at the award committee. He is actually being disingenuous because Turkish-American scientist Aziz Sancar, along with two others, won this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, becoming the second Turkish citizen to win a Nobel Prize after renowned novelist Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature on Oct. 12, 2006.
Erdoğan’s obsession with the Nobel Peace Prize is not new. Four months before Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize, Erdoğan met several members of Congress from the US House of Representatives in his office in the Turkish capital. During the discussion that went on longer than originally planned, Steny Hoyer, the congressman from Maryland and now House Minority Whip, raised the issue of Hamas’ ties with the Turkish government and government officials’ meetings with Khaled Meshaal. Hoyer was blunt in his remarks, saying Turkey’s ties were undercutting US efforts to convince Hamas to renounce terrorism.
Erdoğan’s response was that Yasser Arafat, the founder and leader of the Fatah political party and later the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and president of the Palestinian National Authority, was once called a terrorist but had received the Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps in his mind, Erdoğan was hoping to redeem himself by receiving a Nobel Prize after messing up so many things in Turkey and abroad. That is an elusive dream that will never come true for Erdoğan.
While he was the mayor of İstanbul, he gave an interview to the Milliyet daily on July 14, 1996 during which he said: “Democracy is like a train. We’ll go as far as we can and then we get off. Democracy is not a goal but the means.” I think he got off that democracy train a long time ago and won’t be getting back on it as the train has already left the station.