To avoid fighting multiple enemies at multiple fronts is an old military strategy. Particularly in the last five years, Turkey's Islamist rulers have chosen to do the opposite.
First, they deliberately polarized the society along pious-secular Muslim lines in order to reinforce their conservative voter base. In 2013, they brutally suppressed millions of demonstrators who took to the streets to protest the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). They accused Israel and the West (including Western media, a German airline and even "intergalactic forces") of masterminding the protests.
At the end of 2013, the AKP broke up with its long-time political ally, the Gülenists, named after Fethullah Gülen, an influential Muslim preacher living in self-exile in the United States. Turkey's National Security Council recently added the Gülen movement into the country's list of terror organizations. In the past year and a half, law enforcement authorities have expelled, arrested, indicted or purged thousands of police officers, prosecutors and judges believed to be "Gülenists."
Today, in addition to the Gülenist "terrorists" the Turkish government is fighting, a Marxist-Leninist terror organization, DHKP-C and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the armed wing of the Kurdish political movement, have been fighting for self-rule or autonomy in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. A ceasefire came in 2013, after nearly 40,000 people were killed in clashes since 1984.
However, recently violence renewed after a jihadist suicide bomber killed 32 people at a meeting of young pro-Kurdish humanitarian activists, in a small Turkish town on the Syrian border, on July 20. Since then, not a day has passed without clashes between the security forces and PKK militants. Hundreds have already been killed or injured in this new wave of violence. Similarly, Alevis, who practice an offshoot of Shia Islam, and are often viewed as heretics by the AKP's Sunni Islamists, are increasingly tense as they remain deprived of even official recognition of their houses of worship.
At home, the AKP is fighting tens of millions of secular Turks, atheists, Kurds, Alevis, the PKK, the DHKP-C and the clandestine network of Gülenists. Not a small list.
When Syria looked relatively stable, Ankara was fighting a cold war against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus. Now, four years later, in addition to Assad, the Turks are also fighting a cold war against Syrian Kurds who have carved out a Kurdish zone across much of Turkey's border with Syria, and Turkey has recently officially joined the allied campaign to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS), and an unknown number of al-Qaeda-linked groups operating in northern Syria. "How many different groups is Turkey fighting in Syria, in addition to Assad's regime? I wish I knew the answer," a senior security official told this author.
In its vicinity, Turkey has not had diplomatic relations with Cyprus since 1974, when Turkey invaded the northern third of the island; nor with Armenia since 1991, when it became independent during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In addition, Turkey does not have full ambassadorial-level diplomatic relations with Syria, Israel, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
On top of that, Turkey, which claims to be emerging as the leader of the Muslim world, has not held a political forum with the 22-nation Arab League since 2012, due to its political crisis with Egypt. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not recognize the legitimacy of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and insists that Egypt's legitimate president is Mohamed Morsi, the imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood leader.
On August 4, the Arab League condemned Turkey's air strikes against PKK strongholds in northern Iraq, and called on Ankara to recognize the sovereignty of Iraq.
Turkey looks like a crowded, noisy house sitting in a notoriously noisy, volatile and violent neighborhood. Half of the people living in the house tend to pick up fights with the other half on a daily basis. The house is often on fire because of the fighting. But the householders are also in feuds with most of the dangerous folks living in the neighborhood. Gang fighting and ambushes break out daily, with most crimes remaining "unsolved."
Yet the big angry people in the Turkish house still believe that they will one day be the toughest guys in the neighborhood whom everyone fears and respects. They do not even realize that often they are just the neighborhood's bad joke.
The big angry people in the Turkish house still believe that they will one day be the toughest guys in the neighborhood whom everyone fears and respects. They do not even realize that often they are just the neighborhood's bad joke. Pictured above, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and his political-ideological nemesis, Fethullah Gülen (right).
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.