Throughout his early political years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was viewed as a reformer who might balance a delicate triangle of political Islam, the powerful military and state institutions, and the safeguarding of Turkey’s Kurdish, Christian, Jewish, Assyrian and Yazidi minorities. This democratization would ensure freedom of speech, equality and protection of women and minorities, institutional transparency, and the rule of law. For more than 15 years, the West extended a helping hand to nurture this progress.
Perhaps the moment at Davos in 2009 when Mr. Erdogan threatened Israeli Prime Minister Peres in his relentless bellicosity against Israel and Turkey’s regional neighbors should have informed the West that he was possibly never interested in democracy.
The return of the UNESCO World Heritage Hagia Sophia Museum to a mosque appears designed to stoke a religious and cultural clash between Christianity and Islam, possibly to be used to more-openly attack the West while stifling Turkish people’s aspirations for democracy (July 25, “Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Opens as Mosque for Muslim Prayers”).
His authoritarian, Islamist adventure continues to bludgeon equality; religious, minority and cultural freedoms; and the rule of law. Indeed, women, minorities, writers, journalists, poets, artists, even the military can be capriciously jailed, without any due process, on the perception that “the president was insulted.”
If he chooses to listen to his people, Mr. Erdogan can yet realize “peace at home, peace in the world.” Whether he reverses the decree on Hagia Sophia is a matter for him and his government to decide. Stabilizing regional peace and co-existence, Mr. Erdogan will be celebrated as a visionary modern statesman who boldly chose to navigate very difficult waters to anchor Turkey safely away from ideologies and dreams that only divide and destroy.