Will Erdogan Send in Assassins to Kill Europe’s Leaders?

Michael Rubin
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This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is notoriously thin-skinned. He responds to even the slightest criticism, with outrage and repression.

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While the world may view Turkey’s leader as a moral midget, Erdogan sees himself as a giant on the world stage, deserving of the same respect in Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels that he demands in Istanbul and Ankara.

He simply cannot broker European disagreement with his pronouncements and policies, believing that dissent is an insult to his self-perceived infallibility, wisdom and position.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with his wife Emine greet supporters near Tarabya mansion in Istanbul, Turkey, April 16. Michael Rubin writes that Turkish nationalist Sedat Peker, often described by the Turkish press as a mafia leader, initially threatened to use the Turkish diaspora in Europe to destabilize host countries but, more recently, has suggested that Turkey should seek to assassinate the prime ministers and presidents of European countries that defy Erdogan. Murad Sezer/reuters

It is against this backdrop that European leaders should take the latest threat emerging from Turkey seriously. Turkish nationalist Sedat Peker, often described by the Turkish press as a mafia leader, initially threatened to use the Turkish diaspora in Europe to destabilize host countries but, more recently, has suggested that Turkey should seek to assassinate the prime ministers and presidents of European countries that defy Erdogan.

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Given Peker’s past convictions and established ties to the underworld, that’s not necessarily an idle threat, nor can European officials take it as bluster given Turkish espionage on Turkish Kurds, journalists and dissidents.

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Nor should Europe be alone in their concern. Wikileaks’ exposure of Erdogan’s son-in-law’s emails show Turkish organizations and paid agents have also engaged in such actions in the United States.

There is precedent here. A victory for the “yes” camp in Turkey’s referendum simply culminates Erdogan’s slow motion revolution to reorient Turkey away from the West and to close the door on the era of Ataturk, modern Turkey’s secular founder.

Simply put and without hyperbole, the shift of Turkey back to the unabashed Islamist camp would mark as much of a sea change as Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

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After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Iranian assassins traversed Europe hunting down those who opposed the new regime. Ayatollah Khomeini saw himself as God’s representative on Earth and could tolerate no dissent.

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There is no reason why Erdogan could not engage in the same behavior. Indeed, it appears Erdogan is considering such a move.

While the Erdogan regime cracked down on Peker for threatening a “bloodbath” against academics who signed a petition calling on security forces to stop targeting Kurds in Turkey’s southeast, Erdogan has been noticeably silent in restraining Peker’s threats to European leaders.

Nor do states take the risk to conduct surveillance on targets if they are not at least considering further action.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A former Pentagon official, his major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy.

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