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The Assassination of the Russian Ambassador may be telling us about President Erdoğan’s Turkey.


The gunman gestures after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey. Photo credit to: BURHAN OZBILICI/AP. The assassin of the Russian ambassador was not a Syrian, but a twenty-two year old Turkish police officer named Mevlut Mert Altıntaş. Lest anyone be left in confusion as to whom Altıntaş meant by “we,” Altıntaş was clear. Upon gunning down the ambassador, he recited in Arabic “We are the one who pledged allegiance to Muhammad, to wage jihad,” gave a tekbir (a shout of Allahu Akbar, “God is Great”), and held aloft a single index finger, a gesture favored by Sunni Islamists to symbolize the unity of God (albeit with his left hand, as the preferred hand, the right, was grasping his pistol). “Do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria,” he exhorted his stunned audience. In short, Altıntaş identified as a Sunni Muslim, not as a servant of the Turkish state, and had taken it upon himself to exact revenge on Russia for its role in backing the Syrian government and Iranian forces in Syria.

The Assassination of the Russian Ambassador may be telling us about Erdoğan’s Turkey.  A great, and unfortunate, irony is that whereas just a few years ago Erdoğan sought to transcend the limitations of traditional Kemalism by building upon a shared Muslim identity to better incorporate Kurds into the republic and build stronger ties to Turkey’s Arab neighbors, today he finds himself embroiled in desperate struggles against the two great bugbears of Kemalism: Kurdish separatism and militant Islam. As he belatedly pursues a realpolitik gambit to shore up the Turkish Republic by cutting his losses in Syria and drawing closer to Russia so as to block further advances by the PKK (and Islamic State) inside Syria, Erdoğan may discover that under his rule over the past decade the institutional and ideational foundations of the republic have deteriorated to the point that far from being the president of a unified modern state with disciplined and effective institutions, he will soon be  more akin to a warlord at the head of a surly and unhappy tribe, the members of which he can never wholly trust. Read article here