Ataturk International Airport – the 18th largest in the World in terms of passengers – was shut down this weekend. Within 48 hours its operations were transferred to Istanbul’s newly built Black Sea airport that will serve 90 million passengers a year.
The goal is to make this airport the largest in the world when it is expanded in 10 years, when it will be able to serve 200 million travelers annually.
It is a monument to the achievements of Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president, revealing the man’s ambitions for Turkey and his own place in history.
However, these immoderate ambitions are colliding, at least at the moment, with the new realities displayed by the country’s economy and his own political fortunes
As for the economy, the Turkish pound lost about 20% of its value in 2018 against the dollar.
And, inflation, that scourge that periodically afflicts Turkey and forces it to resort to the IMF’s protection, is again at very high levels, around 20%.
The problems in the economy, coupled with his ever more authoritarian actions, led last week to Erdogan’s first political defeats since 1994, when he launched himself into Turkish politics by winning the mayoralty of Constantinople before moving on to becoming prime minister (2003) and then to the presidency of his country.
His AKP party’s defeat in the recent municipal elections in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, as well as in the country’s commercial center and his personal base in Constantinople, on the one hand, likely saved democracy in Turkey.
On the other hand, they increased his anxiety about continuing his political dominance, possibly leading him to take even more risky actions than we have seen to date.
He long ago began a process of attempting to dominate Greece’s northern neighbors with substantial Moslem populations which were once part of the Ottoman Empire.
He is also sorely testing relations with the United States. Many analysts are already questioning whether Turkey continues to be a credible member of NATO after its decision to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia.( Today he met with Putin, over this issue.)
That is where Erdogan’s relationship with Greece comes in.
There are two main things that can lead to a clash between Turkey and Greece:
The first is an accident during one of the aerial dogfights that happen in the Aegean almost every day, with clashes possibly extending to the rest of the Armed Forces, especially the Navy.
And the second is a deliberate provocation or attack by Erdogan to distract Turkish public opinion from the country’s deep economic and political crises.
Both have rather low probabilities, but we are dealing with…Erdogan.