The Turkish President refuses to speak any further with the American ambassador to Ankara. The reason: a recent meeting between the diplomat and the leader of the Turkish opposition only a month and a half before the presidential election. Importantly though, this election will determine whether Turkey will continue its course towards Eurasianism, or revert back completely to the NATO bloc.
With the approach of the presidential election, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reacted strongly following the meeting that American ambassador Jeffry Flake had with the leader of the opposition pro-American Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
“Joe Biden spoke, and now you see what his ambassador here does. He visited (Kılıçdaroğlu). It is a shame. You are an ambassador, and you have to know how to act. You should be engaged with the President (not Kılıçdaroğlu),” Erdoğan said in Istanbul on April 2.
“I wonder if he will be ashamed to ask for an appointment from my office. But I tell him now. Our doors are closed to him from now on because he does not know his place. You should know how an ambassador should act,” he added.
Erdoğan’s outburst was instigated because it is evident that Flake, as head of the American diplomatic mission in Turkey, is endorsing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and the Alliance of the Nation coalition, which is made up of seven political parties.
“Ambassador Flake met with CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu today as part of continuing conversations with Turkish political parties on issues of mutual interest between our two countries. He expressed American solidarity and condolences for Türkiye’s earthquake losses,” the American Embassy wrote in a tweet on April 2.
The current president, Kılıçdaroğlu, and two other candidates, Sinan Oğan and Muharrem İnce, will face each other on May 14. At the surface level, the vote will determine who will be the President of Turkey for a five-year term, whilst at the same time the legislative elections will take place.
However, at a deeper level, Erdoğan represents Turkey’s slow pivot towards Eurasianism, where he believes a pan-Turkic world has its place, whilst Kılıçdaroğlu represents Ankara’s traditionally close ties with Washington and NATO. Effectively, Turkish citizens have a very deep ideological decision to make.
Respected Turkish public opinion research centre MetroPOLL conducted a survey with the participation of 2,046 people in 28 Turkish provinces between January 13 and March 14. The survey showed that 44.6% of respondents would vote for Kılıçdaroğlu, while Erdoğan would receive 42% of the votes. This makes the upcoming election one of the biggest challenges to the Turkish president’s long rule.
As this election will be close, the US is hoping that it can do its part to ensure that Kılıçdaroğlu wins. Although the US and Turkey are NATO allies, they have many outstanding issues, particularly relating to Washington's refusal to sell F-35 fighter jets, US support for the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, and Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defence system.
Tensions significantly escalated even before President Joe Biden entered the White House in 2020. “What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him [Erdoğan] now, making it clear that we support the opposition leadership,” Biden said in a New York Times interview, adding that Erdoğan had to pay the price.
The Kılıçdaroğlu-led opposition bloc has become the darling child of Western media recently, with more anti-Erdoğan coverage appearing on publications like The Economist. The Wall Street Journal, for their part, recently published an article by former US National Security Adviser and notorious warhawk John Bolton, who called on the US to support the opposition or force Turkey out of NATO if Erdoğan won the elections.
It is recalled that Flake had already angered Turkish officials after he shut down the US embassy last year over supposed “security concerns” that Turkey denied. Although the US did not shut down its consulate in Istanbul, it is noted that the mayor of Turkey’s largest city is the immensely popular Ekrem İmamoğlu of the CHP. This again is another signal that the US is backing the CHP in the elections.
But as Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu pointed out regarding Flake back in February: “Türkiye has the misfortune of having US ambassadors seeking to plot coups in our country. Every US ambassador has been engaged in efforts to harm Türkiye. They also try to dispel same advice to ambassadors of other countries.”
In this way, Turkish citizens have a generational choice to make - to continue with Erdoğan’s pursuit of sovereignty and balancing relations with the Great Powers, or a complete submission to Washington and a reversal of the many years of effort made by the Turkish president to achieve sovereignty.