Turkey’s Erdogan administration and aligned media were fuming over the weekend after comments made to New York Times (NYT) editors by US presidential challenger Joe Biden, in which he referred to “autocrat” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resurfaced in a video.
Biden’s comments made him the most popular topic on Twitter in Turkey, where Erdogan has governed for 17 years. The former US vice president says in the video he is “very concerned” about Erdogan’s approach to Kurds in Turkey, his partial military cooperation with Russia and access to US airfields in Turkey, a Nato ally.
“What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership,” Biden added in the video, verified by a transcript published in January by the NYT.
“He has to pay a price,” Biden said at the time—last December 16 before he became the Democratic candidate selected to challenge Donald Trump in the upcoming November US presidential election—also saying that Washington should encourage Turkish opposition leaders “to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process”.
“Reflect games, interventionist approach”
Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun responded that Biden’s comments “reflect games and an interventionist approach towards Turkey” and were inconsistent with current diplomatic relations—Erdogan is seen as having a good relationship with Trump.
“Nobody can attack our nation’s will and democracy or question the legitimacy of our President, who was elected by popular vote,” Altun said on Twitter, noting the failed coup in Turkey in 2016.
“We believe that these unbecoming statements which have no place in diplomacy by a presidential candidate from our NATO ally, the United States, are unacceptable to the current administration too,” he added.
With the spotlight on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s attempts to maintain his elective dictatorship despite what appeared to be a clear defeat in his country’s presidential election, media commentators have been discussing how much of a democracy Turkey really is and how much of a dictator Erdogan has become.
“Bully and a menace”
The Observer carried a piece on August 16 by columnist Simon Tisdall, entitled “Erdogan is both a bully and a menace. Europe ignores him at its peril.”
“Anybody who doubts the ‘dictator’ tag need look no further than Erdogan’s repressive new social media law which replicates his evisceration of traditional independent media,” wrote Tisdall.
He added: “Wannabe strongman Donald Trump envies Erdogan his elective dictatorship. He has given him free rein. Joe Biden could apply the brakes.”
And, concluded Tisdall: “Head-in-the-sand European leaders must surely realise their Erdogan problem cannot be ignored, dodged, or downplayed indefinitely in the hope that he will eventually go away. Turkey turning rogue is a very real, immediate and dangerous prospect. Nobody seems to have an Erdogan containment plan. One is increasingly required.”