A national debate turned to international scandal on Thursday after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited Adolf Hitler’s Germany as the type of presidential system he would like to see established in Turkey. Now, the Turkish president’s office is claiming Erdogan’s comment was “distorted by the media.”
“Erdogan’s ‘Hitler’s Germany metaphor’ has been distorted by media outlets and has been used in the opposite sense,” the office of the presidency said in a statement Friday.
“No matter whether the system is a parliamentarian or a presidential one, corrupt governments may emerge once the system is abused just like in Hitler’s Germany. Neither the parliamentarian system nor the presidential system on its own can prevent such unfavorable outcomes,” the statement continued, calling it “unacceptable” for Erdogan to have been quoted as using Hitler as a favorable example for the presidential system he wishes to see established in Turkey. “Such a comparison [with Hitler’s Germany] is out of the question,” it argued.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Erdogan was asked about his push to change the Turkish government from a parliamentary to a presidential system, a move that many in Turkey have reacted warily to, eyeing it as a power grab on the part of the president. When asked if it was possible to keep a unitary system under a presidential government, Erdogan replied, “There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany. There are later examples in various other countries.”
In addition to the official statement from Erdogan’s office, an unidentified Turkish official echoed these sentiments to Reuters. “There are good and poor examples of presidential systems and the important thing is to put checks and balances in place. … Nazi Germany, lacking proper institutional arrangements, was obviously one of the most disgraceful examples in history,” he said.
Erdogan’s remarks appear to describe Hitler’s Germany as a successful implementation of a presidential system. Erdogan’s past is also riddled with anti-Semitic behavior, most outrageously, his participation in an anti-Semitic play. As Andrew Bostom notes:
Erdogan wrote, directed, and played the leading role in a theatrical play titled Maskomya, staged throughout Turkey during the 1970s. … “Mas-Kom-Ya” is a compound acronym for “Masons-Communists-Yahudi”–“Jews”–and the play focused on the evil nature of these three, whose common denominator was Judaism.
Nonetheless, Erdogan has followed up his Hitler remark with calls for closer diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel. “Israel needs a country like Turkey in the region. We need to accept that we also need Israel. This is a reality in the region,” Erdogan said on Saturday, calling for a “normalization” of relations between the two countries, who have not had close ties since a 2010 incident in which a Turkish flotilla heading for Gaza violated Israel’s sovereignty, triggering military action. Erdogan is demanding, among other things, “an end to the violations of the sanctity of the al-Aqsa Mosque” in exchange for diplomatic ties with Israel. The mosque is often the site of violent Palestinian attacks, forcing Israeli law enforcement to act to maintain public safety.
In addition to the clarification that “the media” are to blame for Erdogan’s statement on Hitler, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has also added to the controversy with statements made before Erdogan’s on the same topic. On Wednesday of the last week, Davutoglu cited Nazi Germany as an example of a parliamentary system.
“There are authoritarian structures coming out of parliamentary systems. Hitler’s Germany was born out of a parliamentary system,” he said in an interview. “We should, therefore, put taboos aside and look at the issues we agree on.”
Hurriyet columnist Mehmet Yilmaz notes that Davutoglu is correct that Hitler was elected in a parliamentary system, and Erdogan’s claim to it being a presidential system is wrong. Hitler later worked to consolidate power and erode the parliamentary system.
Erdogan’s proposal to change the Turkish Constitution has been widely unpopular with the nation’s other political parties. The push to consolidate executive power, some argue, caused Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win the June parliamentary elections by too small a margin to enact any change, surfacing as a plurality, but not one big enough to establish a government. Early in 2015, Erdogan had begun making alarming statements regarding his quest for a presidential system.
“I should be the one determining who I work with, but can’t do this under the present system because there are those, the judiciary for example, who prevent it. You can’t run a country, or a city in this way,” he said in January 2015, protesting that other branches of government limited his power. He also dismissed concerns that he was seeking to establish himself as an autocrat by using the United States as an example: “Is there a sultanate in the US? It’s not a sultanate if it is the US, Brazil, South Korea or Mexico. So why does it become a sultanate when the idea is advocated for Turkey?”