During the victory parade in Baku on December 10, 2020, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey stood on the dais as a hero next to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, as he extolled the memory of Enver Pasha, one of the planners of the Armenian Genocide, and declared, “We are here to realize the dreams of our ancestors,” meaning to bring the century-old genocidal policy to its logical conclusion.

Today, Mr. Erdogan wishes to project a different, more benevolent image, that of a peacemaker. Some of his friends have even suggested he should be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Has Mr. Erdogan repented for his murderous ways and sought absolution for his sins? Certainly not. The key is the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey. They are scheduled to take place on June 18, but there is talk to move up that date for the convenience of the president.

Despite all appearances, Mr. Erdogan is not a statesman who shoots from the hip. His moves are calculated and far reaching. Thus far, he has been successful in spinning his web of international politics. During his rule, he has managed to shape Turkey’s political life in his own image and intends to further his control for another decade.

But the next election poses many challenges for him and for his country; the polls indicate that if the elections were held today, Mr. Erdogan would not win.

Erdogan wants to turn the year 2023 into a year of celebrations marking the centennial of the founding of the Republic of Turkey by Ataturk and anointing himself as his heir, or better yet, the second Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. He has planned to inaugurate mega projects such as the second canal across the Dardanelles and an atomic power plant at Akkuyu and many other similar grand developments.

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One of the challenges for his reelection is his poor record in human rights, while the other one is the country’s crumbling economy and runaway inflation (42 percent according to Reuters, with a stagnant GDP growth) and last but not least, his problematic relations in the region and with major world powers.

That is why Mr. Erdogan is in the process of a facelift.

A few months ago, Turkey’s economy was in a free fall (80-percent inflation) but Russia’s President Vladimir Putin came to the rescue, in return for Erdogan’s favors. Indeed, Turkey, a NATO member, decided not to join the West in sanctions against Russia and was rewarded with a Ukrainian wheat deal with Russia and a contract with Moscow assigning Turkey as a major gas hub.

Turkey is working to ease all tensions in its international relations. Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu is scheduled to visit Washington on January 17 to resolve some of the outstanding problems of the country with the US (although a story in Bloomberg suggests many Western powers are done with Erdogan).

Upon his return, Çavusoglu will fly to Moscow for a trilateral foreign minsters’ negotiation with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov and their Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, to work on a peace deal with Syria and plan a meeting between Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar Assad, his archenemy. A few months ago, Erdogan was planning to occupy 30 square kilometers in Syria when he received a hard no from Moscow and Washington. Now, the talk is about reconciliation with Syria and the removal of some Turkish forces from Syrian territory.

Mr. Erdogan’s peace initiative has come to impact Armenian-Turkish relations; it was first felt in Armenian community life in Turkey. For many years, the Turkish government did not allow the churches and the Armenian charities (vakfs) to hold elections, despite the fact that many officers on those committees had resigned, retired or passed away and the management was left to some elderly members. Their pleas to the Turkish government to hold new elections were lost in the Byzantine web of Turkish laws and regulations. Yet, on the eve of the national elections, the Justice Department suddenly granted them that permission and the board elections were held recently.

The tight control of the government extends to the seizure of many properties. One such property is the Sanasarian Han Building, in Istanbul, which had been confiscated in 1930. In 2011, the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul began legal proceedings to recover that valuable piece of property. After many setbacks, the Constitutional Court decided to return the property to the community in December, just in time for Mr. Erdogan’s election gambit.

In another move, members of the Turkish football Federation this week visited the Armenian Patriarchate to invite the patriarch to a football match on March 25 between the Armenian and Turkish national teams.

Some positive movements were recorded on the state level with Armenia. On January 6, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Turkey had lifted the ban on direct cargo flights with Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan characterized this initiative as a “positive move.”

The Armenian special negotiator Ruben Rubinyan and his Turkish counterpart, retired ambassador Serdar Kilic, have been meeting to improve relations between the two countries. They have met four times in the past year in different capitals. Now, they have decided to move these negotiations to Armenia and Turkey. As a result, agreements have been reached to open the border for the citizens of third countries. It is reported that technical work is in progress to open the land border between the two countries, although Mr. Erdogan had conditioned that move on the signing of the peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It seems that Turkey has temporarily relegated to Baku the task of harassing Armenia, in order to be able to emerge with an innocent face looking towards the world political community.

There is no reason to cheer Turkey’s moves, because any expression of gratitude may turn into a political tool in its hands to be presented to its partners as favors towards its victims.

Now it remains to be seen what Mr. Erdogan’s moves in the region and in world politics will be. The elections are not too far away and coalitions are forming at this time. Mr. Erdogan’s longtime nemesis has been Ekrem Imamoglu, Istanbul’s combative mayor, who challenged Erdogan’s’ AK Party in Istanbul’s mayoral elections in 2019 and won. Erdogan cancelled the results and called for a new one. This time around, in 2022, Imamoglu won with a larger margin. Although he has not announced his candidacy for president, Erdogan is fearing the prospect and has arrested, convicted and sentenced him to a two-year suspended prison term for “having insulted government officials.”

Another unannounced candidate is Ankara’s powerful mayor, Mansur Yavas.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the 75-year-old head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has been asking those two potential rivals to “clear my way. I will be the opposition candidate.”

At this time, Erdogan’s AK Party has formed the People’s Alliance with the National Movement Party (MHP), an extremist nationalist party known as “Gray Wolves.” The opposition has banded together in a coalition they call the “Table for Six,” with the largest party being Kilicdaroglu’s former Kemalist Party. These six parties have left the progressive People’s Democratic Party (HDP) out because of the latter’s pro-Kurdish leanings. (Armenian Member of Parliament Garo Paylan is a member of this party.) The party’s two leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksedag, have been stripped of the parliamentary immunity and been jailed on trumped-up charges for years.

Many intellectuals, academics and politicians have received long jail sentences and are awaiting the end of the Erdogan era to return the country into a democratic republic. The forthcoming elections will decide whether they will continue languishing in prison or see Mr. Erdogan retire.

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