The fiery and undiplomatic language used by the President and the senior members of the government have often caused awkwardness and tension in Turkey’s foreign relations.
Recently, it is the vitriolic and irredentist rhetoric of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that is starting to become an alarming trend.
Even though the MHP had suffered a serious blow in the last general election, losing nearly half of its seats in the Parliament, dropping down to the fourth place, its leader, Devlet Bahceli has ended up, arguably, the key player in Turkish politics.
By deciding to throw his full support behind Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Bahceli has not only facilitated the replacement of the country’s parliamentary system with an executive presidency, he also has gained considerable influence on the formulation of national security and foreign policy.
Turkey’s somewhat erratic foreign affairs and military moves in Iraq and Syria have much to do with the growing influence of Mr. Bahceli’s hard-line nationalist views regarding ethnic minorities, particularly the Kurds.
President Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu have ruffled many feathers lately by issuing unveiled threats to the the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government over their controversial independence referendum that took place on Sept. 25.
Despite strong objections from almost all their allies and neighbours, 92.7 percent of the Iraqi Kurds said “yes” to independence.
Having declared the result of the referendum “illegitimate” and developments in Iraq and Syria “directly linked to internal matters”, Turkey has threatened to take further steps.
Yet, so far, the pipeline from Iraq to Turkey is still flowing normally and the border crossing has not been closed.
Having been warned about possible loss of support among Turkey’s Kurdish population, for his Justice and Development Party, President Erdogan seems to have softened his tone.
It is his ally, Mr Bahceli, who is upping the ante, by whipping up nationalist sentiment among his supporters and raising tensions with Turkey’s Kurds.
Mr. Bahceli, who had earlier described the independence referendum “a cause for war”, did not take the hint from Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that the government would not wish to escalate things further.
Addressing his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Devlet Bahceli declared the territorial integrity of Iraq as “indispensable” for Turkey, adding that “Historically, Kirkuk was Turkish, it remains Turkish even now and will become one of the most glorious Turkish cities in the future.”
He did not stop there, either.
“When the conditions are right, when the history can no longer fit geography, nobody will stop us having Kirkuk and Mosul as our 82nd and 83rd provinces” he said.
He also repeated his much-criticized offer of sending at least five thousand nationalist civilian mercenaries to Iraq to defend Iraqi Turkomans.
Xenophobic, paranoid nationalism is deeply embedded in Turkish society, often fueling Kurdish nationalism in return.
President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party government have always exploited these sentiments to shore up support and they are not likely to give up such an effective instrument that appeals to their religious conservative base now.
However, even the most pragmatic and opportunist among them must be beginning to realize that Mr. Bahceli’s increasingly irredentist, polarizing and ill-informed rhetoric could be detrimental, not only for Turkey’s image, reputation and credibility but it also reflects unfavorably on their party, too.
This post is also available in: Turkish