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Cengiz Çandar - English

Mr. Prime Minister and ’overstepping bounds...’

20 Aralık 2008

Mr. Prime Minister has solely concentrated on the March elections and gave a start to election campaigns long ago. Erdoğan read the Constitutional Court’s decision not to close down his governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, as the "start" of the election campaign. In early September, with the offensive, so to speak, against the Doğan Holding owner, Aydın Doğan, at his party’s district centers, Erdoğan launched the election campaign. Since then, every step he takes and every word that comes out of his mouth, without giving into rage or anger, is planned and is all about the election campaign. Erdoğan having intentions to claim the center in politics is not concerned by the left. He is trying to secure the right and to keep votes against the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. And that urges him to beat the MHP in "nationalist remarks," as he always did in the previous election campaign trials. It is possible to see this in Erdoğan’s attitude against the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, during the budget talks or his remarks against the apology campaign run at www.ozurdiliyoruz.com. It is a fact that the DTP makes politics via the "Kurdish nationalism." Still, can you say that the elements of tension in politics are the DTP and its Turkish version the MHP? The real tension is between the AKP and the DTP. For the MHP is already wiped off in the Southeast as the DTP’s rival and in places where the MHP is relatively stronger the DTP doesn’t exist. On the other hand, two competitors in the Southeast are the AKP and the DTP. By adopting a "nationalist" discourse countrywide, Mr. Prime Minister is trying to "functionalize" the rivalry in the Southeast in favor of his party against the MHP. What about his statements during the budget talks: "...I agree with what Mr. Devlet Bahçeli said minutes ago. We cannot leave the 'concept of nation' concept somewhere down the line, cannot leave the concept of homeland and neither can we let others divide the country..." This is an ordinary, demagogic, cliche and low-level language that we used to hear from other politicians for years. Erdoğan is quite overstepping bounds with the "nationalist discourse" he adopted and put into work for election calculations. You may fiercely criticize the DTP, but is it understandable to make the "Nazi" accusations toward them? What about his remarks targeting the DTP? "...This is not the way to bring in democracy. Democracy comes in through the ballot box. You have to win the ballot box..."The DTP came out of the ballot box anyway. If they cannot come out as a party, then they will turn to you and say "Lower the 10 percent election threshold that has never been seen in any democracy."What will you say then? His remarks, to the more, about schools and hospitals built with the state budget were; "You cannot build any of these. By doing politics via the identity issue only, you can build neither schools nor hospitals anywhere in the country." Mr. Prime Minister’s statements are the reflection of an ill-minded democracy understanding. Democracies are a political arena for "identity politics" especially. What’s wrong with doing identity politics? Why is it wrong? Erdoğan’s remarks against the "apology campaign" are understandable from a "nationalist" perspective. But his way of expression and his words are not worth mentioning. How could you have a response to someone, even if he is a prime minister, who says "I think they committed such a crime so that they are apologizing now," to people including prominent intellectual figures of the country and successful professionals participating in the campaign that their number will reach 10,000 soon. The danger is the failure to send the monster coming out of the Aladdin’s Lamp by Erdoğan’s "nationalist discourse" back to the lamp again. The danger of "nationalism" may gobble down Erdoğan himself some day. Another problem with his negative attitude is his saying, "This will help nothing but to reverse the steps taken so far," about the campaign after he specified the steps taken toward Armenia. Such an understanding indicates that foreign politics is seen as a tool for blackmail rather than something to be built on "national interests," an act of cutting off nose to spite face. Ten thousand people in Turkey show sensitivity toward the incidents took place in our history 93 years ago and then Prime Minister Erdoğan gets angry and changes the Armenia policy. Mr. Prime Minister is mixing the apples with the oranges and everything. Ali Bayramoğlu, of daily Yeni Şafak, said, "The group that the Prime Minister is brushing over forms the 'intelligentsia' of the country. If so many names and signatures are seen at the bottom of the text, Mr. Prime Minister and the like should question the reason behind it." In fact the most beautiful answer to Erdoğan came from an Armenian-Turkish citizen, one of our counterparts, Markar Esaian. He wrote the following against Erdoğan’s remarks: "This emotional statement, however, has a problem: on one side you will say that the 1915 incidents are not the business of politicians but historians, and suggest to Armenia the formation of a joint history commission in order to shed light on the facts, yet, on the other hand, you will write history based on your personal conviction and say ’We have no such problem.’ The issue may be controversial for you. Then you should keep your opinions to conversations with friends for the sake of consistency. Besides, who did ask you to apologize?" Really, who wanted this? A similar mind of Mr. Prime Minister writes "If you are the intellectuals, I am not the one." Alright, but who did tell you that you are an intellect? The number of signatures reached 14,000 Thursday, including signatures of people abroad and people from different professions at any age group, workers, unemployed, farmer, technician. They did so because their "conscience" told them so. What will you say? Will you say, "If they have conscience, then I don’t have one?" Perhaps, this is the right thing to do...

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I apologize to Hrant

18 Aralık 2008

I remember that we talked about everything, but did not engage in any "genocide discussion." The most important thing for Hrant was "conscience." Therefore, we easily got along. Although we met once in a while and though I was not so very close to him, we were always good friends. So I seriously felt responsible for not being aware of the fact that he was approaching death step-by-step.

I had no contact whatsoever with Ogün Samast, Yasin Hayal, Kemal Kerinçsiz and Veli Küçük. I learned the names of the first two after Hrant was killed. I heard the name of Kerinçsiz through his provocations and criminal complaints he made during the court sessions while Hrant was on trial at the Şişli Courthouse. And I have known about Küçük since the Susurluk incident. The first two are in prison for the Hrant Dink murder case and the last two are under arrest for the Ergenekon crime gang case. Still, I am one of those who are responsible for Hrant’s death because I had never thought that he could be killed and for leaving him alone at his trials. I feel responsible because I couldn’t anticipate that he could be killed and didn’t try to convince him that it was better for him to leave the country, at least for a short while.

But the trials at the Şişli courthouse were transformed into a show of lynching. Kerinçsiz and his friends had turned the courthouse into some other place and he was supported by the pro-Ergenekon, including Veli Küçük. Two days ago, Küçük said at his plea allocution in the Ergenekon trial that he saw a crowd in Şişli while passing in his car, got out of the car and entered the courthouse. It means, Küçük was coincidentally and out of curiosity there as Hrant was on trial. Küçük happened to get into the courthouse as though he was entering a shopping mall, carrying a gun in his belt. We, as Hrant’s friends, were not at the Şişli Courthouse, not even coincidentally. When Hrant saw Küçük in the room, he told a friend "Now I am dead meat." At that moment, Hrant felt that he may be killed. "After my brother saw Küçük at the trial, he had seriously started to think that he could be killed. He was awfully disturbed by that," one of Hrant’s siblings told me after his death.

During the pathetic trials of the Hrant Dink murder case, we learned that almost everyone knew even a year before Hrant’s murder that he would be killed.

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Gül fortunately cannot go to Baghdad

17 Aralık 2008

A right decision to the point, it was; especially with respect to the Baghdad trip scheduled for Dec. 20 to 21. If Gül had gone, he would have gone to Baghdad not Iraq. What is the difference? Isn’t Baghdad the capital of Iraq? If he had a trip to Baghdad, wouldn’t this have counted as an official visit to Iraq? Although it seems that it makes no difference, yes, there is a difference. Gül’s Baghdad visit is not a historic visit because if it would have been realized, he would not have been the first Turkish president stepping into the Iraqi capital for the first time. Neither would he have been the first Turkish official visiting Baghdad since the war in 2003. For Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had already paid a one-day trip to Baghdad in July. Gül was not the first foreign head of the state to visit "new Iraq’s" capital in the post-war period. For the President of the United States George W. Bush, made his fourth visit to Baghdad two days ago. Even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad went to Baghdad. What could have made Gül’s visit meaningful were visits to other Iraqi cities including Kirkuk and Arbil in particular, in addition to Baghdad. But even if he had gone to Baghdad on Dec. 20 to 21, this could have been simply a Baghdad visit.

From this perspective, Gül’s Baghdad trip wouldn’t have been a "dramatic" one, similar to the one he made to the Armenian capital of Yerevan in September. However, the statement issued said Gül would visit Kirkuk together with his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani, while the Iraqi president was receiving Iraqi Türkmens during the days of Eid al Adha (The Festival of Sacrifice). Ankara was allegedly disturbed by the statement's inconsistence with Gül’s preparations for a Baghdad visit. Possibly during the New York meeting with Gül in late September, Talabani must have been encouraged by the silence when he suggested that he expected to see Gül in Baghdad and if Gül goes to the Iraqi capital, they could also visit Najaf, Kirkuk and Arbil together. On the day of the Gül-Talabani meeting in New York, I wrote the following in the Sept. 26 edition: "We are sitting with Talabani in front of a breath-taking New York landscape. The Statute of Liberty is right across us... ’I wonder if...’ he asks, ’Will Gül stop by in Arbil while visiting Baghdad? If he does, this could be a joyful event and he will be received very well...’ "The Arbil leg of Gül’s possible trip to Baghdad is a different story. Gül put his mark on the history as the 'first Turkish president to have visited Yerevan.' But he will not be the first one visiting Baghdad. If he stops by in Arbil during the Baghdad expedition, Gül may claim his place in history again. "I am saying this. "Will Talabani share the Arbil dimension of the Baghdad trip with Gül during a one-on-one meeting today? "I don’t know..." We learned it the next day, because Talabani did suggest Gül visit Arbil together with him and added other cities to the list, like the Shiite religious capital Najaf and like Kirkuk to which Turkey attributes a special meaning. What motivated Talabani must have been that he didn’t hear any objection to his suggestion. However, Ankara makes different calculations. Apparently, the Turkish capital doesn’t entertain the idea of Mr. President visiting other Iraqi cities besides Baghdad. Having a trip to Baghdad simply wouldn’t add anything special to this "ordinary" visit, even if Gül’s health condition doesn’t present a problem. For this reason, Gül’s health at this point fortunately cannot allow him to visit Baghdad. The postponement gives him time to think and prepare for Kirkuk and Arbil trips too. An Iraq expedition including Kirkuk and Arbil in addition to Baghdad will have historic meaning, a value, in terms of Turkey’s rapprochement policy toward Iraqi Kurds and in finding a solution model that Turkey can also adopt in the critical Kirkuk issue. Iraq is not a country which Turkey can have "routine visits" to. Gül’s stepping into Iraq should be a historic visit, a visit out of the ordinary to open a "new page" in Turkey’s internal and external politics. And that most certainly should be an Iraq expedition including the cities of Arbil and Kirkuk. Let’s not deceive ourselves: What makes Iraq "special" for Turkey is not its being an old Ottoman territory including the cities of Mosul and Basra. There are many other countries having similar characteristics. What makes Iraq "special" for Turkey is its direct relation with the "Kurdish issue" which has projections on Turkish internal politics...


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In the stalemate of the Clash of Civilizations

4 Aralık 2008
Since the "Big Depression" in 1929, the world is facing the biggest financial crisis. And Obama, as the "new CEO" of the "World Company" will perhaps have to tackle a large-scale international political crisis to shape up the course of the next century.

Obama made an interesting prediction and signaled that his foreign policy priority will be the Afghanistan-Pakistan axis rather than Iraq. He may not see, however, that the axis may expand to the entire subcontinent including the Kashmir issue. The last terror wave in the Indian city of Mumbai will affect the international community seriously enough to be compared with the 9/11.

Mumbai having Bollywood as the nemesis of Hollywood is the number one popular culture center and finance and trade center of India which is one of the superpower candidates of the 21st century together with China. Mumbai was purposely chosen for terror attacks. One can see that by looking at the targets hit including a Jewish center. Fingerprints of perpetrators reveal that the attack was orchestrated from Pakistan!

The slightest doubts there are that the attackers belong to the Lashker-e Taiba organization located in Kashmir, which has been the source of conflict between India and Pakistan since 1947. Lashker means "soldiers" and Taiba means "good." "Good Soldiers," it is. Their goodness is certainly in the religious sense. Ceysh-e Mohammed is their brother organization, carrying the name of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed. As Lashker-e Taiba has godly consent they are called "Good Soldiers."

Let put aside the semantic and etymological side of the story. It is known that these organizations were established in Kashmir and are working in coordination with Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda hides in the Waziristan region at the Pakistani side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But the real information is that Lashker-e Taiba was formed by the "deep state," I mean very strong military intelligence organization Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, of Pakistan in Kashmir where is entirely ruled by India except a little part under Pakistani control. Training and financial support of the organization is provided by ISI and some groups inside the ISI have close connection with al Qaeda. This is not a secret.

The husband of the slain Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the new President of Pakistan, Asef Ali Zardari, has nothing to do with these organizations. It is questionable though how strongly Zardari can control ISI.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India put the blame on Pakistan and says in a way, "Although you do not have responsibility directly, do what is necessary, crash these organization. Or I know what I will do."

Can the Zardari administration have enough power to meet India’s demand? There is almost a consensus over that they cannot.

There is a side of this tension that affects Pakistan’s internal politics and restricts the maneuverability of the Pakistani administration. But there is also another side that has reflections over India’s internal politics and can escalate the tension.

The Congress Party, or CP, government in India is laic and leftist and needs the support of a Muslim minority. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, on the other hand is Hindu nationalist. Muslim minority in India, with 150 million population which is about Pakistan’s entire population, is rising through the JP’s Hindu nationalism, in a period where Muslims do not trust the Indian state anymore.

The BJP accuses the CP of making concessions toward Muslims. But the CP government feels obliged to get tougher against Pakistan, in order to remain in power.

The difficulties are not stemming from political positions only. A mentality of "congregation" in Indian society takes the stage. Professor Suketu Mehta of New York University, a Mumbai native, writes in his New York Times article, "What they hate about Mumbai," as follows:

"Mumbai is a "soft target," the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai, it is impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there is an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it Ñ to help. Greater Mumbai takes in 1 million new residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshipped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

In subcontinent Asia, two big countries having nuclear power will engage in fight. We are facing the danger of a multidimensional and deep "Clash of Civilizations."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as the co-chair of the United Nations patented "Alliance of Civilizations" project is facing a difficult task, as difficult as the one Obama faces. Erdoğan may be expected to take a really serious action as part of the "Alliance of Civilizations" initiative together with his Spanish counterpart and the co-chair of the project, JosŽ Manuel Rodriguez Zapatero, in this India-Pakistan conflict, rather than delivering speeches at halls or hotels and cocktails in the European capitals.

Erdoğan can never do this alone; cooperation with United States is a must. Even if he tries it, Erdoğan must accurately diagnose the dimensions and depth of the problem.

He may be crashed under the issue; he may seek way out of this "task" or may take the burden. If he can do it, Erdoğan may take Turkey and himself to an upper level in the international arena.
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Mr Prime Minister, liberals and terror in Mumbai

3 Aralık 2008
Being targeted by a "Sept. 11-like" attack made eyes turn to India, or the subcontinent. When newly elected president of the United States, Barrack Obama, announced that his priority will be Islamic fundamentalist terror centers located along the Afghanistan-Pakistan axis. The subcontinent was giving the signal that it could leave the Middle East behind in terror-related incidents.

this reason, the place and timing of the terror in India and the "Pakistani finger prints" on it indicate that the subcontinent will be the center of world politics in the upcoming period.

In the meantime, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after an eight year interval, paid a visit to India just before the terror attacks. He became the second prime minister to visit India.

But the Turkish media did not pay attention to any "geopolitical" meanings and "strategic horizons" of Erdoğan’s trip. Turkey rather focused on his statements about a possible withdrawal from the party leadership if the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, becomes the second runner-up in the March 2009 elections.

Or we were kept busy with scenes from Erdoğan’s Taj Mahal trip or images of construction works at the Turkish Embassy in New Delhi. But if the real purpose of this was taken up together with the terror attacks in Mumbai, one can see the clues about Turkey’s political near future.

This "main side" of Erdoğan’s expedition signals the establishment of an "energy bridge" among Turkey, Israel and India. And such a connection definitely carries a political meaning.

In New Delhi, Erdoğan said during a speech at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, or FICCI, that the oil transfer from Russia to India takes about 39 days, but will be reduced to 16 days if the crude is carried through Turkey. The positive effect of this on freight price cannot be denied by any government, he added.

Before Erdoğan’s address at the FICCI, Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Güler, accompanying Erdoğan, gave a briefing about the energy transfer lines to be set between Israel and Turkey. The minister mentioned a plan to carry not only oil, but also natural gas, water, electric and data through fiber optic cables on these very same lines.

According to Güler, to transfer oil of the Caspian crude and Central Asian oil through the Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline will be possible in the future. The oil will be carried to big energy consumers in Asia, such as India, China, Japan and Malaysia, via Israel, he added. This assertive "strategic project" worth $6 billion will be led by a consortium to be formed with the partnership of Turkey, India and Israel.

Therefore, Erdoğan’s Indian expedition needs to be evaluated in the frame of these "strategic horizons." A large-scale and possibly Pakistani-origin terror incident in Mumbai likely brought a quite functional role to Mr. Prime Minister.

Edoğan had met his Pakistani counterpart in Ankara just a couple of days before his trip to India. He naturally got involved in "telephone diplomacy" upon the Mumbai terror attacks, in order to ease the tension between India and Pakistan.

If the international community evaluates Erdoğan’s functionality intelligently enough, he may have a chance to compensate an "erosion of prestige" spreading from inside to the world.

The impact of the articles published last week in the New York Times and the Economist that relations between Prime Minister Erdoğan and liberals are on the rocks, which may damage his international prestige severely, may be canceled out at least in the western administrative circles, if Erdoğan takes a soothing role approved by Israel in the India-Pakistan tension, as the prime conflict of the world.

The India-Pakistan tension is traveling on the classical "Clash of Civilizations" fault line due to the Islamist terror targeted Mumbai. Let us not forget that Erdoğan is a political figure perceived with his Islamic identity and he is the co-chair of the United Nation’s "Alliance of Civilizations" together with the Spanish Prime Minister José Louis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The intensity and dimensions of the India-Pakistan tension may crash Erdoğan if the "game" is not played accurately or not cleverly. But, if it is played subtly and masterfully Mr. Prime Minister’s "international image" may be polished more, even if there is no solution found.

In such a case, the "Erdoğan-Liberals conflict" may turn into a very local issue. Plus, it could give Erdoğan a "functional upper-hand."

It is known that he lands on his feet most of the time. The Mumbai attacks will contingently attest to this condition...
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Turkey-Armenia normalcy: Pragmatic and ethical

26 Kasım 2008
The Foreign Ministry building was right across the street from our hotel. In the hotel’s garden we witnessed that the lights in Nalbandian’s office were on until the late hours. In fact, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan left Nalbandian’s office around 2:00 a.m. and headed to the airport.

We were at the peak of a dizzying diplomacy shuttle started with the "football diplomacy." Turkey-Armenia relations were frozen due to the affect of the 1915 tragedy, as the most troublesome period of the common history Turks and Armenians shared. In early September 2008, the ice began to thaw with that dizzying diplomacy traffic.

As we were having lunch with Nalbandian in the room Babacan had left a few hours ago, we all focused on establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries and opening the border gate before the "window of the history" is closed.

Nalbandan had showed "prudent optimism" in the meeting. For a solid development in Turkish-Armenian relations, that is, the establishment of diplomatic ties and opening the border, progress is necessary on the Karabakh issue. For that means a space of maneuverability on account of Turkey in its relations with Armenia.

What paralyzed the Turkish-Armenian relations was neither the "genocide" issue, nor formation of "Joint History Commission," nor conclusion of relevant studies nor, as many think or claim in Turkey, amendments in the Armenian Constitution, nor the Armenian declaration recognizing the Kars Agreement of 1921 citing that Armenian accepts current borders and does not demand land from Turkey.

Normalcy in Turkish-Armenian relations and progress in this direction is contingent upon progress in the Upper Karabakh issue between Armenia and Azerbaijan expected after the Azerbaijani elections in mid-Oct. and upon normalcy in Azerbaijani-Armenian relations without putting Turkey in the middle. As I was listening to Nalbandian in Istanbul the other day, I realized his optimism, even more than he was while we heard him in Yerevan.

If everything goes well in the first quarter of 2009, we will see normalization in Turkish-Armenian relations, meaning that diplomatic ties will be established and the border will be opened.

What is new in these past two and a half months, since Gül’s visit to Yerevan in early September and the Babacan-Nalbandian meeting at midnight?

Babacan and Nalbandian had met two weeks after their meeting in Yerevan, but this time in New York and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Eldar Mametyarov was accompanying them. And they came together for a third meeting in Istanbul the other day. In the meantime, foreign ministry officials of two countries had continued with meetings in the Swiss city of Geneva.

But the real progress was made in early November when Azeri and Armenian presidents, İlham Aliyev and Serge Sarkisian, met the Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in the Russian capital Moscow. The parties issued a five-article solution declaration for the Karabakh issue.

After the Azeri and Armenian presidents met in the Russian city of St. Petersburg in June, 2008, and "left with contentment," the Moscow rendezvous allowed them to come up with a joint Karabakh declaration sealed by the Russia stamp of validity.

This progress, at the same time, signaled that the Azerbaijan contingency is being lifted for Turkey which is eager to take further equal steps towards both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Now, at the Dec. 4 summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, to be held in the Finnish capital Helsinki, presidents and foreign ministers of the Minsk Group countries that have impeded the Karabakh issue for so long, including the United States, Russia and France, in addition to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey will come together.

Prospective solution principles or a framework agreement on the Karabakh issue in Helsinki may lead to the establishment of diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia, the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border and the end of the Azerbaijan contingency on Turkey.

Normalcy of Turkey-Armenia relations on the other side will facilitate taking up the biggest shame in the history, the genocide issue, discretely, in a more sober way, with commonsense and more importantly with "conscience."

Many people are getting caught up by the damage in Turkish-American relations if the word "genocide" is uttered in the new U.S. President Barrack Obama’s speech on Apr. 24 or if it is legitimized in the Armenian bill to be passed at the U.S. Congress.

Normalcy in Turkish-Armenian relations may eliminate Turkey’s biggest concern about the Obama administration. The normalcy may stop the adoption of the "genocide bill," or Obama from uttering this word in April.

However, normalization in Turkish-Armenian relations is needed for "ethical" reasons, in terms of a "historic truce," rather than "pragmatic" reasons in foreign affairs.

Be it "deportation" or "tragedy" and claim that it was not "genocide;" the events of 1915 are defined by Rafael Lemkin, the creator of the "Genocide Convention," as the crime of genocide and the document was ratified by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 9, 1948.

The Genocide Convention is not a retroactive document; therefore not a threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity.

Since the issue is ethical and will pave the way for the "historic truce" between Turks and Armenians, it is "functional" as well. Besides, and mainly, normalcy in Turkey-Armenian relations for this reason is operational.
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Cards are re-shuffled in Iraq (and Turkey)

24 Kasım 2008

Galbraith, known as the closest figure in American politics to Iraqi Kurds and even known as one of their most feverish supporters, warned Barzani not to believe that the United States will never withdraw from Iraq, even if he is told so in Washington. Moreover, Galbraith said to Barzani that in case Barack Obama is elected as the president, the United States will certainly end its military existence in Iraq.

During our meeting in Washington, he told me that American authorities like Bush, Cheney and Rice had discussed Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, with an Iraqi Kurdish committee which included authorities of the central government such as Barham Salih, who carries the title “Iraq’s deputy prime minister,” in Baghdad.

I asked Galbraith what would happen if the SOFA was not signed and the United Nations Security Council failed to agree to a resolution. 
“Such a condition means that soldiers are free to kill a man by firing at any place, at any time,” he answered, smiling ironically. This was a condition that nobody wanted and the SOFA was signed at the beginning of the week.

In relation to the SOFA which was approved by all but one of the 28 cabinet members, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri el-Maliki’s spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, said, “We are constantly told this is not a perfect solution for Iraq and America. However, this is what (SOFA) conditions and needs have brought.”

Probably, Iraq’s parliament will accept the SOFA in the next week, and the agreement will come into effect as of Jan. 1, 2009 thanks to the signature of the presidency board composed of President Celal Talabani and his deputies Adil Abdülmehdi and Tarık el-Haşimi, in line with the Iraqi Constitution.

The SOFA has 30 articles. One of the most striking is its third article’s second clause. The clause foresees a withdrawal of American belligerent forces from villages and all settlement places by, at the latest, June 30, 2009. Since the effective date of the agreement covers three years, not even a single American soldier will remain in Iraqi territory by the end of 2011, the SOFA says.

If the new president, Obama, remains loyal to the timetable for withdrawal in 16 months as he had declared, the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq will not even be as late as the end of 2011 and rather, the United States will have entirely withdrawn by mid-2010. There is nothing in the agreement that says the opposite. 2011 is a final date and not an obstacle for an early withdrawal.

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