Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘Turkey

The solution to Greek debt

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This one’s been going around for at least two years now, but it still makes me chuckle:

Austrian head of Chamber of Commerce suggests selling Greek islands to Turks
Hürriyet; Feb. 22, 2012

Negative European attitude toward the Greek administration could be eased if Athens made the symbolic gesture of selling one of their islands to Turkey, according to the head of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, daily Milliyet reported on its website. 
“Greece will then show that they can give up some of their sovereignty, symbolically,” Christoph Leitl said in a recent interview with Profil magazine. “It would be significant in [expressing gratitude] for all the help they’ve received.”
When asked if he was serious, Leitl repeated his idea and added that it would help toward a solution in the Cyprus conflict as well. 
Leitl said that though the idea may seem insulting to Greece, it would have a positive impact on extremely right-wing people elsewhere in Europe. 
Greek Ambassador to Austria Themistoklis Dimidis, however, expressed “deep sadness” over the idea. “The statement sounds like a bad joke. Greece will never give up its borders.”

Written by M. James

February 22, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Iskandar on Turkey, Bahrain

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Though the following article is nothing spectacular, it haphazardly touches on some worthwhile points. First, there’s the pressure on Turkey to intervene in Syria, which I noted in a prior post (“Taşpınar prods Turkey”). Second, there’s the assertion that secularism—rather than democracy—is the reason the Turkish model is incompatible with Arab states. Finally, there’s the criticism of Al-Jazeera for not covering the protests in Bahrain—a valid criticism that AJE has apparently taken note of (I, II, III).

Turkey pushed over Syria
İpek Yezdani; Hürriyet; Feb. 20, 2012

Adel Iskandar, an Arab media scholar, says it is in the interest of a lot of countries to push Turkey to intervene in Syrian crisis, which rocks the country for nearly 1 year, a move that could be injurious to Turkey

Turkey is in a very difficult situation vis-à-vis Syria since many Western countries are pushing it to intervene in its southern neighbor, a prominent Arab media scholar has said, adding that such an attack would not benefit Ankara.

“A lot of countries are refraining from getting involved in Syria militarily, and it is in the interest of a lot of countries to push Turkey to intervene Syria. But the reality is, is that it might not be in Turkey’s best interest,” Adel Iskandar, a lecturer at Georgetown University, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

“The Syria case is a true tragedy in every sense of the term because the Syrian people are caught between two unfavorable situations: On one side, there is the authoritarian, bloody-minded regime of Bashar al-Assad and, on the other, there is the threat of foreign intervention which they don’t trust but they might need out of necessity,” Iskander told the Daily News on the sidelines of a conference he gave at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

A military intervention against Syria would not be “as easy as Libya,” he said. “Al-Assad still has some supporters. They will fight to the last minute. And this would lead to a full-fledged war between Syrians themselves. Turkey finds itself at the center of all of this. An attempt to stabilize Syria might destabilize Syria more.”

Turkish model unique

Iskandar also noted the importance of differences between Turkey and the Arab Spring countries.
“Holding up Turkey as an example to the Arab world is an oversimplification and not useful to anyone,” Iskandar said.

“The Turkish experiment is extremely unique, and its long history starts with the post-Ottoman area and [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk. Each country has to devise its own way toward democracy. [The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)] is not the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. And you are not going to be able to turn the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis into the AK Party in one night,” Iskandar said.

Iskandar said holding up Turkey as a model for the Arab Spring countries honored neither the Arab world nor Turkey. “Turkey is not an entirely Middle Eastern country. It is a cosmopolitan nation, it has its own particularities. And these particularities are completely different from Libya, for instance,” Iskandar said.
Iskandar drew attention to the fact that the “Turkish model is framed on the notion that secularism is an important part of the state structure.”

“However, the majority of the Arab world doesn’t have secularism in politics. Even [toppled Egyptian leader] Hosni Mubarak was not secular. The term ‘secular’ in the Arab world is considered an extremely negative term. You can’t call yourself ‘secular’ in the Arab world. Besides, people want religion to be a part of politics. It is in the opposite direction to Turkey’s state traditions. It has to be seen through a historical lens,” Iskandar said.

‘Al-Jazeera neglected Bahrain completely’

Iskandar, who has written one of the most prominent books on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera news network, also discussed how the channel has covered the ongoing Arab Spring.

“To a large extent, Al-Jazeera did the job they should be doing by covering the story that unfolded. At the end of the day, Al-Jazeera has made its bread and butter from political protests. So it was natural for Al-Jazeera to cover the protests,” he said.

However, Iskandar said there were some uprisings that the channel had completely neglected.

“Like in Bahrain. [In terms of the] percentage of the protestors, the Bahraini movement is the largest movement in the Arab Spring. However, the saddest situation is that while the Bahraini and Syrian revolts started at the same time of the year; one year after that Syrian is getting 99 percent of the coverage while Bahrain is only getting 0.01 percent of the coverage. This is going to hurt the network and its credibility in the eyes of the public,” Iskandar said.

Written by M. James

February 20, 2012 at 1:32 am

Taşpınar prods Turkey

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What follows is today’s column by Ömer Taşpınar, senior fellow at Washington D.C.’s Brookings Institution. It is, in essence, a childish jab at Turkish indecision regarding Syria.

Does this give us insight into Washington’s own [indecisive] position on Syria?

Time for Turkey to match words with deeds
Ömer Taşpınar; Today’s Zaman; Feb. 12, 2012

There comes a time in the life of a regional power when action on moral grounds becomes inevitable.

This is usually the time when deeds need to match words. This moment is usually when there is not much left to say. The human suffering on the ground speaks for itself. In such times, there emerges a consensus among democratic countries with informed public opinions. They want to see action and justice instead of more of a diplomatic stalemate. As a regional power that wants to be taken seriously, Turkey is fast approaching this moment in the Syrian crisis. All eyes are on Turkey because it is seen as the actor with the greatest capacity to act.

In a sense, Turkey is becoming the victim of its own success. When Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu repeatedly argued that his country is a central, key player that should lead in the effort to find “regional solutions to regional problems,” Washington listened and took him seriously. Perhaps more importantly, the Obama administration believed Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So when this opportunity to lead and to take action came with the crisis in Syria, Washington was more than willing to let Turkey do what Davutoğlu claimed his country was capable of.

The Syrian crisis became a litmus test for Turkish influence and regional credibility in the eyes of an American administration that wished to “lead from behind” as it did in Libya. In Libya, France and Britain took the lead to avoid a slaughter and massacre in Benghazi. Now a slaughter and massacre is happening in the Syrian city of Homs. Eight hundred people were killed in the last 10 days. The death toll has reached 6,000 since the beginning of the uprising. Many in Washington would love to see Turkey take the lead in Syria the way France and Britain did in Libya. No wonder the question “What is Turkey’s Syria strategy?” is now hotly debated in Washington policy circles. No one has a clear answer to that question.

Given the high hopes attached to Turkey’s ability to act, it is with some disappointment that American and European policy makers are now finding out that there is not much of a Turkish appetite to act. In fact, there is not even much of an appetite in Turkey to take the lead in Syria. This is why when asked what the Turkish strategy is, the Turkish answer seems to be to echo back the same question: What is the American strategy? What is clear is that the “regional” superpower, Turkey, doesn’t want to become a superpower that outsources work on its problems. This is also why the best Turkey can come up with now is the idea of an international conference. But to what end? To see once again that there is no consensus among Western democracies and authoritarian regimes — such as China, Iran and Russia — about what to do and what to say about Syria. In any case, the time for more words is coming to an end. We are fast approaching the time to take action.

Cynics will say that we should not underestimate the ability of regional and global superpowers to remain idle as mass slaughters take place. Yes, 6,000 people were killed in Syria. But what about Rwanda, where everyday 6,000 were slaughtered? A total of 800,000 were killed in the Rwandan genocide and today no one even remembers what happened. Cynics will also ask why it would be in Turkey’s national interest to act alone in Syria. Why should Turkey take the lead when America appears so reluctant to do so itself? To be sure, there are many logical factors explaining Turkey’s prudence. They range from Turkey’s Kurdish problem to a fear of the unknown once the Assad regime is gone. But the sad reality of Syria is that a peaceful transition is no longer in the cards. We are fast approaching the time for action, whether Turkey likes it or not. But Turkey has a choice. It can live up to its words by taking the lead or it can watch from the sidelines the emergence of a NATO “coalition of the willing” for military action. The time for more international conferences has passed. It is time for Turkey to live up to its words with deeds. Ankara can do so by reminding itself that it is a member of NATO, too.

Written by M. James

February 12, 2012 at 10:16 pm

The real logic behind BMD

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The true efficacy of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems is secondary to the significance of the physical military presence required by such systems. Though the following excerpt relates to Poland and Romania, the same could be said for Turkey, which plays host to NATO missile defense, purportedly against Iran. Or, if you ask Turkey, against nobody in particular.

From Stratfor:

Tensions between Moscow and Washington can be attributed to one primary issue: ballistic missile defense (BMD). The United States’ BMD systems are scheduled to become operational in Romania in 2015 and in Poland in 2018. It is not that Russia is concerned with the technical aspects of U.S.-led missile defense systems eroding or neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Rather, BMD means a physical U.S. military presence in the region, showing Washington’s security commitment to Central Europe against a strengthening Russia. The United States claimed that the systems are intended to counter the rising threat from Iran, so in response, Russia offered to integrate its BMD system with NATO’s system. According to Moscow, such integration would strengthen Western defenses across Eurasia — indeed, all the way to East Asia. However, Washington rejected the offer, thereby confirming Moscow’s suspicions that the BMD system is more about Russia than the Iranian threat.

Written by M. James

February 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

The best-laid “Plans” of Erdoğan

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It’s all happened so quickly:

The UN report on the Mavi Marmara incident was released, Israel didn’t apologize or make reparations, and Turkey promptly made good on its threats, putting into action “Plan B,” (which already demanded an end to the Gaza blockade) and now “Plan C.” Then Erdoğan ratcheted up the rhetoric, saying that the Israeli government is “the biggest obstacle against peace in the Middle East”  and that recognizing a Palestinian state in the UN is “not an option, [but] an obligation.” He said this in Cairo, of all places, at an Arab League summit. Quite a way to kick off his “‘Arab Spring’ tour.”

T-shirts and memorabilia available. But no concessions. (Reuters)

When Erdoğan was talking about having “Plans,” he wasn’t kidding. The plan for the last few weeks has clearly been drafted, redrafted, and drafted again. And Erdoğan has been executing it flawlessly. Israel is, all of a sudden, very alone as it faces the serious danger of a resentful (is that even the word?) Palestinian state springing up next door.

But how long, exactly, has this been in the works?

The following is from a post by Howard Eissenstat, Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern History at St. Lawrence University. He claims that the Islamic Turkish NGO,  The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İHH), has a very close working relationship with the AKP:

Despite claims that it had no role to play, there is little question that the Turkish government supported the flotilla, facilitating the IHH’s purchase of the Mavi Marmara ferryboat from the AKP-controlled Istanbul Municipal Government.

But why, oh why, would the Turkish government support the fateful voyage of the Mavi Marmara? Could it be that they knew exactly what they were doing?

Although the flotilla was certainly designed to prompt a confrontation that would embarrass Israel and weaken the embargo of Gaza, it seems unlikely that anybody had foreseen Israel’s clumsy attack on the flotilla, which left nine activists killed and dozens injured. Despite the high human costs, however, Turkey had the excuse it needed to finally end an awkward alliance with Israel, while its moral stature in the region was now unparalleled.

Before the Mavi Marmara even set sail from Antalya in May, 2010, the “Plans” were drawn up. And what ended up happening on May 31 was probably even better than Erdoğan could have hoped, a real (as real as it could have been) reason to start dropping some diplomatic dead weight. With Turkey’s former strategic relationship with Israel no longer in line with its own nebulous East-leaning agenda, it was time to stop pretending that cooperating with Israel was a possibility.

And as the vote for Palestinian statehood looms, we come to appreciate even more the well-orchestrated performance that Turkey has given us. Perfect timing—almost as if they… “Planned” it.

Autographs after the show. Rock on, Erdoğan.

Written by M. James

September 15, 2011 at 12:15 am

An “internal affair”

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Turn the clock back three months. From this post, here was my take on Turkish-Syrian relations:

If Turkey is to “trust the masses” and maintain its role as a supporter of the Arab Awakening, it cannot support a Syrian regime that appears to oppress its citizens, and it must sell al-Assad’s government short—in spite of recent amicability—to retain its legitimacy.

To be sure, Turkish-Syrian relations have had their sharp ups and downs between then and now, but the conclusion is still the same. And Turkey may have finally vocalized that real trouble is brewing for the Syrian regime:

“This is our final word to the Syrian authorities: Our first expectation is that these operations stop immediately and unconditionally,” Mr. Davutoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “If the operations do not end, there would be nothing more to discuss about steps that would be taken,” he said, without saying what that action might include.

And, given the extensive border between the two countries, Erdoğan has claimed that the happenings in Syria are—in fact—”internal affairs” for Turkey. Even more audacious:

“We have to listen to the voices from over there, we hear them, and of course we will act accordingly,” Mr Erdogan said.

But why the dilly-dallying so far? Because—Turkey has been strategically waiting for Aleppo and, ideally, Damascus, to join the unrest. Without Aleppo and/or Damascus supporting a Turkish invasion, the legitimacy of intervention is questionable. It would be an enormous risk for Turkey to intervene on a stalwart Assad with a peaceful Aleppo and Damascus, and with an indecisive (and apparently confused) international community as backup. And what about Turkey’s military capacity since the resignation of the generals? The word “demoralization” has been thrown around frequently since then. Can Turkey even project power with its military at the moment?

If Turkey chooses not to invade, though, Ankara’s bold words and professed morals will ring false in the ears of the world. Damascus will grin. Riyadh will frown. The West will continue its finger-wagging. Erdoğan knows this more than anyone.

So don’t be surprised if Turkey begins addressing its “internal affairs” in the near future.

Written by M. James

August 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Normalization, democratization, or Islamization?

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Friday’s resignation of Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner can be—and has been—interpreted in countless ways, ranging from hopeful to ominous.


Hürriyet (I, II)

NY Times

For the “ominous,” take a peek at the comments section on the Times article. Some are even worth a chuckle.

So, which is it? Normalization, democratization, or Islamization?

Well, why not all three?

Written by M. James

July 30, 2011 at 11:38 pm