Resurgent Turkey may bring back the death penalty

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of the parliament in Ankara on November 13, 2012.
(AFP Photo / Adem Altan)
Prime Minister Erdogan has mooted restoring the death penalty and introducing a presidential system of government as the 2014 election looms nearer and he looks to boost Turkey’s status as a regional power.

­A decade after Ankara abolished capital punishment as part of reforms aimed at EU membership; Recep Erdogan has said Turkey should bring back the death penalty. 

Political commentators believe his announcement is an attempt to increase his popularity. 

“He is trying to put together some kind of domestic coalition that will propel him towards the presidential election of 2014,” Srdja Trifkovic, foreign affairs editor of the Chronicles Magazine, told RT.  

Erdogan has mentioned bringing back the death penalty several times this month and he said opinion polls show strong support for reintroducing it. “Probably the Premier’s staff, following the mood of the nation through frequent opinion polls, advised him that a pro-death penalty stance might help his presidential aspirations,” columnist Yusuf Kanli wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News. 

Erdogan has pointed to other countries which have the death penalty such as the US and believes that Turkey must review the situation. He has also suggested that families of murder victims and not the state should decide a killer’s fate. 

The last time a prisoner was executed in Turkey was in 1984, and in 1961 Prime Minster Adnan Menderes was executed after an army coup.
As a prerequisite for EU membership Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 during Erdogan’s first term as Prime Minister. 

In recent years Turkey’s progress towards joining the EU has ground to a halt, primarily because of concerns of Germany and France that Turkey is too different from Europe in terms of culture, political tradition and institutions. 

An old player makes a comeback

Erdogan’s comments come amid a dramatic worsening of relations with Assad’s Syria and increasing violence from Kurdish separatists. The 28-year conflict with the Kurds has killed more than 40,000 people. 

But his policy towards Syria is unpopular with Turks, 70% of whom are opposed to any kind of intervention into Syrian affairs.
“Erdogan is aware that he has overplayed his hand vis-à-vis Syria. The problem is his own making and his old policy of no problems with neighbors lies in tatters,” said Trifkovic. 

Assad has responded to Erdogan’s hostility by encouraging Kurdish guerillas in Turkey.  In north eastern Syria, which is home to a large Kurdish population, the Syrian army has all but pulled back and the Kurds have stepped into the power vacuum, leaving the Kurdish flag flying over most towns in the region.   

Trifkovich explained that Turkey is experiencing something of a resurgence since it lost its empire 100 years ago, “It is a rare example in history that a power makes the comeback of the kind that Erdogan has engineered over the past decade.”  

“Erdogan sees Turkey as a regional power in its own right and one that will not necessarily adjust its policies to the requirements or wishes of Brussels,” said Trifkovic. 

But Turkey’s resurgence has come at a price. It has used its NATO membership and alliance with America to become more influential in the region at the price of relations with Iran and Syria.