See, Erdogan was, at least on paper, democratically elected. Sure, the election was partly rigged, in that he had conveniently removed most of the serious opposition to himself well in advance. Still, he wasn't supposed to be a dictator - at least not of the Kim type. Let's not succumb to populist temptations and media propaganda and try to view things a bit more impartially (which admittedly is not that easy, given the emotional charge of the current political situation). Erdogan is not exactly Satan, he may have some redeeming qualities, like his pragmatism (which may've remained in the past, granted - but more about that a bit further down). The one thing that sticks out about him is his determination, I'll have to give him that.
Also, he was, at least initially, a genuine reformist. By the way, and this is a little-known fact particularly in the West, he actually initially expanded women's rights - and for a time, the freedom of the press as well. As shocking as it may sound to those who've only been fed what the Western media deign to serve to us all. He also led Turkey towards the EU, he created a middle class where none existed, and he vastly improved the social system of his society. Those are all things that have hugely contributed to his success at home, and to his popularity. During his rule, the Turkish economy grew and expanded almost exponentially for many years in a row, where it had always lingered in the backstage before. We shouldn't ignore any of this if we want proper context about Turkey. Because when I'm reading most analyses these days, they all seem to have converged around the notion that he's a malevolent despot who's leading his country towards collapse.
So far so good. But the good news end there, I'm afraid. There's not much left of that pragmatic, albeit a bit autocratic, strong-hand leader any more. He has become much darker these days, as he has become more and more immersed in his own story of the great Neo-Ottoman Empire that he now sincerely believes is his mission to restore. If anyone still believes he'd somehow decide to get back to democratic ways sometime in the future, is fooling themselves. The Turkey of 2017 is not what it used to be - now it's a country full of fear. People are afraid they'd be stripped of their citizenship, or intimidated, or fired, or even jailed and made to disappear, for the mere act of thinking the wrong way - Allah forbid speaking the wrong way. Criticism of your own government is no longer considered the highest form of patriotism in Turkey, rather it's seen as treason - and this is now an official policy.
Erdogan has always been touchy. Very touchy - probably the same level of touchy as Trump. Except, he's been in power for much longer, and has had much more tools to take petty revenge against anyone who has slighted him over the years. Journalists included. Especially journalists. But also political opponents, civil activists, military people and now foreign diplomats and even entire countries.
His relations with the press have always been at war. Especially with the Kemalist press (the old establishment), which used to be very strong before he started taking the rug from under their feet. They were always very critical of him, and for a good reason. His political philosophy is fundamentally hostile and incompatible with anything the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustaffa Kemal Ataturk stood for. And they never spared him that fact. So now he's using his power to take revenge for that. It started from day one of his political career, back in the mid 90s when he was mayor of Istanbul. Back then, he used to constantly complain that whatever he said, it would be used by the mainstream Kemalist press. Sound familiar? In return, the press would always mock him for various things, including his poor origins (that's a mean thing to do, I admit). They mocked him for his wife and his daughters who all wore hijabs. That was wrong too, of course. But the fact is, Erdogan himself has always resented free speech - he was just compelled to tolerate it at the time. And for a long time, all he was able to do was to sue anyone who offended him. But now, after last year's failed coup attempt, he's had his hands completely untied, and he has snatched the opportunity to do a sweeping clean-up against everyone and everything that doesn't agree with him and doesn't obey him.
And now, so emboldened, he has taken a look at Europe, and has spotted a weakness, which he's now eager to exploit to further his Neo-Ottoman agenda. He has tested the tolerance of several countries, trying to provoke them by sending members of his government to various West European cities to rally the local Turkish diaspora in support for his planned referendum that would give him almost Sultan-like powers if it succeeds. Naturally, these countries have opposed those activities (although they've cited stupid excuses to block them, like "security concerns", etc - typically half-assed stance from the hypocrite West). Erdogan has responded with his typical bombastic rhetoric, equating that opposition to "Nazi methods" and "fascism" (coming from a guy like him, that's kind of rich). He's also threatening with serious retaliation, both diplomatic and economic. And Europe is hardening its stance further in response. Things are not going in a good direction, but will it escalate into something truly damaging, or it's just another episode of skillfully used PR strategy meant for distraction?
Well, given past experience, I'd bet on the latter. Erdogan's absurd accusations sound much in the same vein as his entire election (now: referendum) strategy. The internal unrest that now exists in some Western societies (Germany, especially) about their relations with Turkey (mostly because of the migrant card that Erdogan is constantly shoving into Europe's face for blackmail), is serving both Erdogan and the various xenophobic populists in Europe itself. The Sultan wants to impose a Dear Leader sort of "presidential" system at home, so he's hunting for voices in the right-wing corner of the political spectrum. He needs the European nationalists to get even louder in order to invigorate his own base in Turkey. Germany and the Netherlands have so far refrained from getting tricked into that trap. Whatever you may think about those leaders, they're not stupid or inexperienced, and they'll do their best to preserve a level head, and try to be civil and objective, but they should also name things with their true names, and tackle the issue head-on, and put a finger on the wound. Because any other course of action would only allow it to fester even further.
The wound I'm talking about? The dismantling of what's left of Turkish democracy. Europe should monitor the situation very closely and oppose any further persecution of other-thinkers with all means possible, wherever possible. Otherwise there'll come a time when the rule of law will count for nothing in our south-eastern neighbor, and having an Iran-style quasi-theocratic autocracy of that caliber just next door would inevitably pose an existential threat to Europe itself in the long run. Not to mention his uneasy, yet potentially very efficient partnership with the other Tzar in the East.