Turkey after the Referendum: Ankara Directs its Sailboat to "Rough Sea": Experts
As a result of establishing the presidential system in Turkey based on the constitutional changes through a referendum, the level of unpredictability of the state policies led by Erdogan in foreign and domestic dimensions will dramatically increase.

As a result of the referendum on constitutional reforms in Turkey held on April 16, Turkey made a transition to the presidential system of governance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's initiative received 51.2 percent of votes of referendum participants, 48.8 percent voted against it. Erdogan will have a direct impact on the army, the general staff, and members of the government. The institution of the prime minister will be removed and the president will become the de facto head of the government. He will solely manage the state budget. Moreover, the institute of impeachment was removed, and Erdogan will have a chance to be president until 2029 theoretically.

“The results of the referendum showed that the Turkish society is polarized. About the half of the society who mostly live in the megalopolises, seaside developed regions and the territories inhabited by the Kurds voted against the expansion of the president’s powers. The provincial part of Turkey, residents of small towns and communities voted for the amendments as they have fairly explicit religious and nationalist moods,” Levon Hovsepyan, Expert of the Turkish Studies, said, meaning that the referendum was the victory of the Turkish province over megalopolises.  

At the same time, nationalist and religious sentiments strengthen within Turkey as a result of the policy led by Erdogan, in other words, nationalism and Islam become a serious political factor. “This directly affects the state's foreign policy. Turkey is becoming more unpredictable and to distract people from domestic problems and to consolidate the society, he can be more aggressive in a foreign policy, both in the case of South Caucasus and the Middle East,” Bagrat Estukyan, editor of the Armenian section of "Agos" newspaper, said.  

Levon Hovsepyan, Bagrat Estukyan from Istanbul via video call and Diana Yayloyan, Associate Researcher at Foreign Policy Department of The Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), from Ankara via video call, participated in the discussion entitled “What domestic and foreign political consequences will the Turkish referendum results have?” at Media Center on April 18.

Estukian said that the ruling party "Justice and Development" led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is directing its sailboat to the rough sea. "Furthermore, if a referendum is held on the European integration in Turkey, the society will say “NO” because of the policy of the authorities," he said, adding that despite the sharp rhetoric between the EU and Turkey, the "divorce" will not succeed easily because the Turkish economy is linked to the EU.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already announced that the next referendum will be on the termination of the EU accession process of Turkey. Experts say this is more of a threat to get dividends for a new relationship with the EU. “The Turkish President takes such actions to win various dividends. This is a political style that Turkey has particularly in the relationship with the EU. This is just a threat,” Diana Yayloyan said.

At the same time, Bagrat Estukyan believes that Turkey-EU relations are endangered now more than ever. The European Parliament even adopted a resolution on the suspension of accession talks with Turkey. “Now the system is in danger, investors have become more cautious, the investment flows have dimmed, and tourism is not in its best time. Moreover, Erdogan's power has doubled as a result of the referendum,” Estukian said.

Referring to Turkey's regional policy, Levon Hovsepyan said that all the arguments are in favor of its toughening and becoming more aggressive. “Ankara's foreign policy is largely determined by the logic of internal policies and interests. So when the political Islam and nationalism strengthen there, then this will directly affect its policy in the region,” he said, in this context, adding that Turkey's anti-Armenian policy will continue, and there are no grounds to talk about the prospects of normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations.

“Previous attempts to normalize relations left no grounds. Turkey's anti-Armenian rhetoric will continue. It will not only remain but will possibly deepen, especially in terms of support to Azerbaijan in the context of Artsakh,” Levon Hovsepyan said.

Mr. Estukian said that under these conditions the absence of relations with Turkey is better for Armenia. “This is the first time I think it is more positive. Of course, since Armenia's independence, it would have been better to have normal relations between the two countries. But as it is not the case, it is better to have no relationship. And let it remain as it is now,” he said, adding that Turkey now became a center of regional instability and the threat from Ankara is great. “Turkey together with the Saudi Arabia is the major force to destabilize the Middle East. Ankara in running the petrol in its hand and is stirring up the fire of the war in Syria. Under these conditions, when the borders are closed, the threat for Armenia decreases,” Estukian explains.

Diana Yayloyan considered Armenian-Turkish relations in the context of Russian-Turkish relations. According to her, it is clear that Turkey's cannot simply ignore the interests of Russia in the regional policy and we cannot say for sure that Turkey will conduct an aggressive policy to Armenia. “Russia has great ambitions and broad economic interests in Turkey. In the context of the improvement of Russian-Turkish relations I do not rule out that even under these conditions, normalization trends can be possible in the Armenian-Turkish relations. It was no accident that recently Lavrov said in an interview that Russia is ready to support the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations. This took place in the background of the normalization of Russian-Turkish relations,” Yayloyan concluded.

Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”

To contact the author please send an email to arshaluismghdesyan@pjc.am.

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