It is a tough economy, but if President Barack Obama has $2 to invest in Turkey, I would suggest that he put one buck into consolidating Turkey’s liberal democracy, and the other into moving forward the country’s European Union accession, for a non-European Turkey would be a big loss for Washington. No one in Washington doubts that Turkey should consolidate as a liberal democracy. But what does this process entail? Which tangibles of liberal democracy should President Obama promote? Turkey is already a democratic polity Ğ the country became a multi-party democracy in 1946 Ğ with all the trappings of a functioning democracy, from a parliament to a democratically elected government, to a constitutional judiciary. The three pillars of democracy are in place in Turkey, and in this regard, there is not much Mr. Obama can do to promote Turkish democracy. Mr. Obama can, however, help consolidate liberal democracy in Turkey by bolstering the fourth pillar: media and the accompanying freedoms.
Whenever Turkey goes through a political spasm, with tensions mounting over Islamism or nationalism, analysts start warning about the collapse of Turkish democracy. One need not be alarmed about Turkish democracy so long as Turkey has a vigorous media and its accompanying freedoms, such as the freedoms of assembly, association and expression. Turkey has democratically pulled through numerous crises in the past thanks to the balancing power of its fourth pillar and the checks and balances exerted by its growing civil society. Turkey will weather future storms and the current tensions between the government and its opponents if Mr. Obama helps maintain Turkey’s fourth pillar.
In the absence of a free media, Turkish democracy would likely turn into a sham. A case in point in this regard is Turkey’s northern neighbor, Russia. Like Turkey, Russia has the three pillars of democracy in place, from a democratically elected parliament to courts. However, unlike Turkey, Russia lacks the fourth estate, a free media, which makes all the difference between the two countries.
Since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in Turkey in 2002, Turkey’s media has been transformed for the worse. The government has used legal loopholes to confiscate ownership of independent media and sell it to its supporters. In 2002, pro-AKP businesses owned less than 20 percent of the Turkish media; today pro-government people own around 50 percent.
Not only has Turkey’s media ownership been transformed with a pro-government bent, but media freedoms have been eroded as well: according to Freedom House's freedom of press index reports, Turkish media is less free today than it was in 2002, slipping from 100 in 2002 to 103 in 2008. As Turkey ought to be moving toward the EU, its record on media freedoms should have improved significantly since 2002, not stagnated. Something is not right in Turkey today. Mr. Obama ought to put his money into Turkey’s free media since, without a free and independent media, as well as the accompanying freedoms, Turkey risks looking more like Russia, and nobody, neither the EU nor Mr. Obama, wants two Russias on Europe’s eastern frontier. This is why Mr. Obama should invest his second buck in Turkey’s EU membership Ğ it would serve the Europeans well to back him in this endeavor. For decades, the Turkish military, courts and secular businesses have acted as the arbiters of democracy, providing a moderating force, if occasionally an unappealing one. Today, these actors have only some of their power, and EU membership has become the strongest safety valve of liberal democracy in Turkey.
However, Turkey’s EU accession has hit a stalemate since membership negotiations started in 2005. Talks have slowed to such a grinding halt that the proverbial train of Turkish accession into the EU reminds one of a joke about the trains in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union: With the Soviet Union stagnating under Brezhnev, the trains did not move, the scenery did not change, but the people said "chu chu" to make believe. This is how Turkey’s EU accession looks, with everyone acting as if there is momentum where there is none or little.
It is not too late before the Turks realize that their train is not moving toward the EU, and subsequently decide to de-board.
That would be a disaster for the United States. If Turkey’s accession to the EU had been stalled in the pre-Sept. 11 world, I would have said "that is a real shame"; back then, there was room for Turkey to be outside of the EU but part of Europe and the West. Now, with the EU pushing its boundaries into the Balkans up to Turkey and with al-Qaeda clamoring that there is a war between the "Muslim world" and the West, there is no longer a grey area in which Turkey can position itself. Turkey will either become an EU member and part of the West, or fold into the "Muslim world," as per al-Qaeda’s vision. This is already a risk, with the number of Turks who identify as Western decreasing, especially among the youth. Mr. Obama ought to invest in Turkey’s EU accession in order to keep Turkey Western and to consolidate its liberal democracy. All it takes is two bucks from Obama’s wallet. Hard as times might be, this is not the time for Washington to lose Turkey, or let go an important ally.
Oftentimes, lecturing on Turkey to audiences across the United States, I find myself amiss, in need of a map to identify Turkey’s geographic location. In such cases, I resort to a virtual map, using my fingers to sketch Turkey’s surrounding regions: the Middle East, Europe, Black Sea, Mediterranean and Caucasus. However, this virtual map often further confuses my audience, leaving people wondering where Turkey really is. Then, I utter the magic word: Incirlik. This base in southern Turkey, one of the U.S. military’s most important airbases, often appears to be more important than Turkey.
People who do not know Turkey’s location know where Incirlik is and it is hard to find anyone in the U.S. military who has not stopped at Incirlik en route to a post.
Incirlik is a blessing, endowing Turkey with importance in policymakers’ eyes. But it is also a curse, reducing Turkey’s strategic importance to the number of flights that can be flown through the base.
This phenomenon, Incirlikization, is a pitfall for U.S. President Barack Obama. If President Obama reduces his Turkey policy to Incirlik, he would be repeating the mistakes of the past administration, setting up a short-term transactional relationship with Turkey at the expense of long-term, multi-faceted, and strategic cooperation with Ankara.
To be fair, Incirlik is important to the United States and Turkey. Aviation experts say that, as far as airbases go, Incirlik is as good as it gets.
Thanks to a confluence of topography, runway architecture, and weather conditions, Incirlik is a rare base that can accommodate any plane at any time and also nearly as many planes as one can imagine.
Seventy percent of all cargo going to Iraq and Afghanistan passes through Incirlik, and the base sits only minutes-flight away from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Israel.
Incirlik is an asset for Turkey as well, providing Ankara with a tangible possession to flaunt in Washington when needed.
Not a year goes by that yet another "Armenian Genocide" bill in the U.S. Congress is thwarted thanks to the "Incirlik factor," Washington’s fear that U.S. military access to Incirlik would be hampered if the United States offended Turkey.
All that is well and good, but Incirlikization Ğ focusing solely on the number of planes the United States can fly through Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan Ğ miscalculates Turkey’s strategic value to Washington. Turkey is militarily important for Washington, but that is a short-term and narrow vision. The country’s strategic value far exceeds what Incirlik provides.
Since the Iraq War, despite the efforts of Turkey specialists in the U.S. government, Incirlikization has been the leitmotiv of bilateral ties. U.S.-Turkish relations have focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, with the chief concern being Washington’s capacity to use Incirlik to fly planes to and from these countries. This development came at the expense of previous and vital U.S.-Turkish cooperation in the Caucasus, Black Sea, Central Asia, and within Europe and NATO.
President Obama has a grasp of this issue. In this regard, the new administration’s early policy review on Turkey is a useful effort to expand the foundation of the countries’ relationship beyond Incirlik and take full advantage of Turkey’s strategic value to the United States. But with Iraq and Afghanistan remaining major concerns for the Obama administration, Washington always faces an Incirlikization trap.
Incirlikization reduces the U.S.-Turkish relationship to a transaction, preventing the alliance from gaining its full potential as a values and interests-based relationship. Incirlikization also presents long-term challenges. For the moment, Washington can fly planes as it wishes through Incirlik, but if President Obama does not convert the U.S.-Turkish relationship from a transactional one into a strategic one, Incirlik might not be securely available for United States disposal in the long-term.
In this regard, Washington’s experience with Kyrgyzstan and the Manas base in that country ought to be telling.
After Sept. 11, U.S.-Kyrgyz ties were bolstered through U.S access to Kyrgyzstan’s Manas base for flights into Afghanistan.
In due course, Manas dominated the U.S.-Kyrgyz relationship.
Kyrgyzstan’s recent threat to expel the U.S. from Manas, subsequent to Russian lobbying, serves as a warning that, when reduced to a transactional nature, ties between the United States and other countries will face serious pressures from third countries.
What is good for the U.S.-Turkish relationship is also good for Incirlik. Only a strategic, multi-faceted relationship, supported by the Turkish public, will provide the United States with unhindered and long-term access to Incirlik.
Accordingly, the U.S. administration should be interested in Turkey not just through the lens of its capacity to use Incirlik, but also with an eye to a broader and sustainable strategic relationship.
Ensuring that Turkey’s European Union accession moves forward and that Turkey consolidates its liberal democratic political system, for instance, should be as important of goals as maintaining a steady flow of planes taking off and landing at Incirlik.
A non-European Turkey will be a half-hearted and irregular U.S. ally. President Obama would be better served in making sure that Turkey is not Incirlikized, yet again.
Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute and author of "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?" (2006)
Mass demonstrations in Iran protesting the election results have found a very receptive audience in Europe. European governments have said that the Iranian mullahs have stolen the elections, and voiced strong support for the demonstrators. In contrast, in the U.S, President Obama has been low key on Iran, only gradually increasing his support for the demonstrators. The demonstrations in Iran, the most significant political event in that country since the 1979 Islamist revolution, herald important repercussions for Mr. Obama’s policies. In Washington, two readings are emerging regarding Mr. Obama’s Iran policy. The first is that the President has prioritized talks on Iran’s nuclear weapons project. Accordingly, Obama does not want to antagonize the Iranian regime by voicing support for the demonstrators. Cold-hearted analysts would add that since the demonstrators will eventually lose out to the regime in Iran, Washington should not be betting on the wrong horse in Tehran by allying itself with the pro-democracy forces.
The second, more optimistic, reading is that Mr. Obama does not want to give the kiss of death to the demonstrations by supporting them from the get-go. Indeed, with a conspiratorial mindset prevalent in Iran, as in the rest of the Middle East, Mr. Obama’s strong support of the demonstrations from day one would have allowed conspiracy theoreticians in Iran to suggest that the protests are crafted by the United States. Such a perception would have been the mortal blow to the democracy movement in Iran. Whatever is the outcome of the demonstrations and whichever way Washington’s policy evolves, the Iranian demonstrations will have a seismic effect on Mr. Obama’s Middle East policy. Following the 1979 Islamist revolution in Iran, Washington’s assumption regarding the region has been that Islamists represent the 21st century in the Middle East. The political tsunami created by the Iranian revolution and the subsequent rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ihwan) and Salafists across the region, led analysts to conclude that the people of the region want Islamism. For realists, this conclusion meant that Washington was better served to work with the unstoppable and "natural" forces representing the ascendant polity of the Muslim Middle East. In due course, even liberals started to view the Islamists as the "natural" popular paradigm of the region to which one had to bow because it represented the people.
However, with their demonstrations the Iranians are illustrating that now the people do not want Islamism. The demonstrations are as much against the election results as they are a popular outburst against the Islamist regime. This is why demands by Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, the guardian of the Islamist regime, to stop the demonstrations have gone unheeded. Not only has the aura surrounding the regime been shattered, but the assumption that Islamism is the unchallengeable and popular political paradigm has come under fire. The message of the Iranian people is clear: Islamism belongs to the past and it is time to move on.
Accordingly, the Middle East is witnessing the birth of a new paradigm. Religion and modern political systems are like oil and water, and liberal democracy, not Islamism, represents the 21st century in the region. With their demonstrations, the Iranians are ending a trend they starred exactly thirty years ago when they made Islamism into the dominant model of the region. Whether or nor the demonstrators succeed this time, this paradigmatic shift will have an effect on Mr. Obama’s Middle East policy.
Since the Islamists do not represent the future of the region, political movements rooted in Islamism can now be seen as things of the past. Washington will finally have a chance to look beyond these movements into liberal political forces. Furthermore, the events have repercussions for Turkey. For so long after the Iranian revolution and more importantly following the attacks of September 11, Turkey was seen as representing the future of the Middle East. With its democratic polity and the rise of Islamist parties and the AKP within this polity, Turkey was viewed as epitomizing the region’s evolution. The Turkish experience showed that when and if other countries in the Muslim Middle East became democracies like Turkey, such countries would witness the natural rise of Islamist parties to power. The AKP, therefore, represented the established paradigm. Washington dealt with and, when needed, respected this paradigm.
The Iranians are challenging this old paradigm with their call for liberal democracy. If Iran evolves towards a democratic polity, shedding Islamist ideology, it will become the new popular, regional paradigm. The new Iran will represent the ascendant political forces in the region. Washington will deal with and, when necessary, respect and support this new paradigm. It is often said that Iran and Turkey are the two great rival political models of the Middle East. That is indeed the case, when one goes up; the other goes down.
In order to force French government to lift objections to EU membership, Turkey must tackle the misperception among French citizens. The French equate Turkey to the Maghreb. There is anxiety among the French that bringing Turkey into the EU would be akin to bringing the Maghreb, a poor area rife with violent Islamism, into communion with France Turkey’s European Union accession has hit a snag. France vehemently objects to Turkey’s entry into the union. So far, 22 countries have negotiated for EU membership, and all were ultimately offered accession.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to treat Turkey differently. Sarkozy is against Turkey’s membership regardless of the current accession talks with the EU.
The French public opposes Turkey’s EU entry and backs Sarkozy. The French veto is not a symbolic snag. Together with Germany, France is an "engine country" of the EU, pulling the union ahead, and Paris’ stance has frozen Turkey’s EU accession process. Turkey can break this impasse by implementing a multi-pronged strategy, reforming aggressively toward European norms and embarrassing Sarkozy to lift his objections to Turkey, and launching a public relations campaign to influence the French public. Here is what Ankara ought to do to make the French connection.
One part of the problem is in Ankara: In 2005 Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, lost interest in EU accession precisely as Turkey-EU accession talks began - the AKP declared that year to be the year of Africa, symbolically demonstrating its withering appetite for Europe. This was surprising as the AKP had pursued EU accession aggressively after coming to power in 2002 and had cast itself as a much loved pro-European party. However, just as accession talks started, the party’s populist instincts led it to conclude that the social and political reforms necessary to join would erode its popularity. In due course, the AKP dropped the reform process.
This only helped Sarkozy, France’s then new president, say no to Turkey. That, in return, led to an impasse in Turkey’s EU accession process. Turkey’s failure to reform assists Sarkozy in his stance against Turkey’s accession on grounds that Turkey is failing to become European.
And the more Sarkozy vetoes Turkey’s membership, the more Turks turn against the EU, thinking that the union will never grant it membership.
The AKP can break this impasse. The party should be interested in renewing its image of a pro-European party, and achieving a historic goal by making Turkey European. In this regard, the AKP has an ally in Washington: U.S. President Barack Obama unequivocally supports Turkey’s EU membership.
The AKP can help Mr. Obama by reforming aggressively and demonstrating that Turkey’s march toward liberal democratic European values is, once again, on. Sarkozy would indeed look bad to the point of being cast as racist if Ankara were to improve its record to qualify for the EU and he were to continue to say that Turkey does not belong in the EU.
Turkey cannot change France’s attitude, however, just by changing Sarkozy’s mind. Ankara faces objections to its European membership not only from Sarkozy, but also from French foreign policy bureaucrats and common citizens.
French foreign policy thinkers identify Turkey as a potential German ally and hence a counter-weight to France in the EU. Turkey has close ties with Germany, but not the kind the Quai d’Orsay imagines. French policymakers view Turkish-German ties to be similar to the relationship between France and the Arab Maghreb countries. No analogy could be farther from the truth.
France-Maghreb ties are shaped by the colonial legacy, while the Turkish-German relationship is one between historic equals. This fact is not apparent to French policymakers who fear that if Turkey were to enter the EU, it would join France and Germany as the union’s big three and that a Turco-German axis would alienate France. Ankara ought to change this image by demonstrating its independent stance on foreign policy issues, as well as closeness to France on crucial matters. This effort would require sustained exchanges and meetings between Turkish and French policymakers.
The halls of the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara better ring with the sound of French over the coming years.
Turkey must also tackle the misperception among French citizens. Like their Quai d’Orsay counterparts, the French equate Turkey to the Maghreb, France’s reference point for all Muslim issues.
There is anxiety among the French that bringing Turkey into the EU would be akin to bringing the Maghreb, a poor area rife with violent Islamism, into communion with France. Turkey’s aggressive public relations campaign must get the across the following message: Turkey is not a Maghreb country but is rather politically akin to France. When the founders of modern Turkey established the country in the 1920s, they looked to Europe, and especially France, for inspiration, creating modern Turkey in the image of secular, centralized and nationalist France. This fact, unknown to the French, has to be driven home by a public relations campaign.
As part of its public relations campaign, Turkey should take its Cannes Film Festival and Nobel Prize winners to France, together with its cello players and intellectuals, bringing to the French a relatively lesser-known face of Turkish society Ğ Turkey’s traditional business card in Europe are the Gastarbeiter, poor mostly illiterate Anatolian Turks who migrated to Western Europe in the 1960s in search of economic opportunities.
Turkey has to show France that not only are the Gastarbeiter a phenomenon of the past, but also that they do not represent the richness of Turkish society.
If Turkey is to enter the EU, this will take a multi-year, multi-pronged campaign targeting France. The French connection will either prevent Turkey from joining Europe or make it an EU member.
Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute and author of "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?" (2006)
Newsflash: Turkey has a pivotal opportunity in its battle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, the kind that only occurs once every thousand years. Since the PKK’s establishment in the 1970s, it has focused its operational strategy on Turkey, utilizing foreign countries and state sponsors of terror along the way. However, an integral node of the PKK’s success is about to fail, as the outfit is about to lose all of its foreign sanctuaries. If Ankara acts to alleviate the Kurdish problem at home through domestic social and political reforms, then Turkey has a historic opportunity to turn the PKK into a marginal group.
The PKK was established as a Marxist-Leninist group set to attack Turkey during the Cold War. Given its Soviet proscription and ties, the group enjoyed a safehaven in Syria. Moscow utilized the PKK as a tool against Turkey, with the hopes that it would force Turkish decisions and political leanings in Russia’s favor. However, even following the end of communism the PKK continued to thrive.
Syria viewed the group as leverage against its neighbor, Turkey. Damascus hoped the PKK could force Ankara to accept its territorial demands regarding the Turkish province of Hatay as well as demands on increased water rights from the Euphrates River. Given this support, the PKK thrived in Syria throughout the 1990s.
Iran, for its part, saw the PKK as a tool with which it could undermine Turkey following its Islamic revolution. Although Turkey and Iran are neighboring Muslims countries, they have diametrically opposed political systems: Iran is a theocratic autocracy, Turkey is a secular democracy. After 1979, Tehran provided support to the PKK to deter its political antidote.
In the 1990s, the PKK also established itself inside Iraq. Following the Gulf War, the United States established a no-go zone for Saddam in northern Iraq. Washington had intended this area to be a safe haven for the Iraqi Kurds; the PKK abused this vision by establishing itself in this political vacuum.
On June 4, U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver his long-anticipated international address to Muslims in Egypt. Pundits are already preparing to hail Obama's speech as a historic address to the "Muslim world." As well meaning as it sounds, the term "Muslim world" is a trap. The president should disown this term, which, in fact, depicts the divided world that Al Qaeda wants to create. President Obama is already moving along the right track. On April 6 in Ankara, he admirably addressed the Turkish people as proud democrats embedded in Europe.
He appealed to them as allies in the struggle against Islamist extremism while challenging them on sensitive issues including Armenia. At the tail end of the speech, however, he abandoned his conversation with Turks and addressed them as Muslims: "Let me repeat: the United States is not and will never be at war with the Islamic World." But what is the Islamic World. And who defines it? And how does the concept help or hurt in confronting Islamist ideology?
No one questions that a religion known as Islam exists or that many Muslims believe in their global community, the ummah. As a theological reference, however, the ummah is vaguely analogous to the belief that all Christians are part of the body of Christ in some mystical way. It is not felt as a visceral part of everyday identity. A Muslim in Turkey, for example, might define himself as an Istanbullu first, a Turk second, and a Muslim third, or the other way around, depending on his mood or even the time of day. (When Galatasaray plays soccer, however, he is only a fan!) No one would credibly argue that Guatemalans, Germans or Guineans are the same because they are Christians, and it's as nonsensical to lump Turks, Trinidadians, and Tunisians together simply because they also happen to be Muslim.
The term "Muslim world" unfairly and singularly assigns the world's Muslims into a hermeneutical ghetto. What is more, post-September 11, this term can charge Muslims politically, suggesting that they are members of a global community in deadly conflict with non-Muslims. This term is not only an analytical error, but also a critical public diplomacy mistake. Islamist ideologues are the only group that strongly advocates the belief that all Muslims belong to a politically united global community.
These same ideologues advocate for the replacement of the modern nation state with a new Caliphate ruled by Sharia law. Why do we legitimize that view by repeating it ourselves?
Thankfully, President Obama has a chance to get it right. On June 4, President Obama will give his promised speech in Egypt. He should choose to give it at the Alexandria Library or at a venue with similar humanitarian symbolism and standing.
Once there, Obama should accentuate the rich diversity of Muslim communities around the world, referencing the Sufis of Morocco, the Shiites of Iraq, and the Sunnis of Singapore. He should recognize their accomplishments within their communities while stressing other parts of their identities as well.
As he did with the Turks, Obama should not only praise but challenge.
There are deep problems within Muslim communities around the world, as long as Islamists continue their efforts to subvert British, Egyptian, Algerian, and Iraqi Muslims, among others, challenge the Islamists within their midst and take back their communities, the shadow of violent extremism will persist.
Thankfully, an increasing number of examples indicate where they are doing so. President Obama should praise the brave Muslims who faced down Al Qaeda in the name of Iraq or those Muslims who today are fighting their co-religionists in the Swat in the name of Pakistan.
A Muslim World is Al Qeada's conception. A pluralistic world of nations and communities at peace should be ours.
Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute and author of Islam Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk? (2006). Scott Carpenter is director of Project Fikra at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Previously, he served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. State Department
For so long, I have argued that the AKP’s foreign policy is Islamist. Well, I stand corrected: the AKP’s foreign policy does not have a generic Islamist tinge; rather the party is infatuated with Arab Islamist causes. In the past, Turkey’s foreign policy makers were educated in Western or secular Turkish schools, spoke European languages, and looked to Europe, especially France, for political inspiration and confirmation of Turkey’s Western and European identity. The infatuation of the secular and pro-Western Turks with Europe was powerful: they looked to Europe not only to build a society in the continent’s mold, but to receive affirmation from the Europeans by following a pro-European foreign policy.
The AKP suggests an end to this trend, with a new infatuation. The party’s political leadership is composed of people educated in Imam-Hatip schools in Turkey under non-secular curriculums. The Weltanschauung of the AKP elites is different than that of the secular Turkish elites. Some AKP leaders have degrees from universities in Arab and other Muslim countries. Most speak Arabic, and more importantly, the leadership looks towards the Arab countries for inspiration. Just as the secular Turkish elites sought European affirmation by following a pro-European foreign policy, the AKP elites seek Arab affirmation by following a pro-Arab foreign policy.
Due to the AKP’s Islamist pedigree, this pro-Arab slant comes with a powerful Islamist tinge. In other words, the AKP favors Arab Islamist causes over secular ones. For instance, publicly, and behind close doors, the AKP sides with Islamist Hamas against the secular Palestinian Authority and Fatah. This is since the party feels close to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Since 2002, Turkey has hosted many Hamas conferences in Istanbul. In the most recent meeting held in Istanbul in April, Turkey welcomed Rashid Gannushi, a prominent Tunisian Islamist leader who heads the outlawed and MB-affiliated Nahda movement in that country.
Furthermore, since coming to power in 2002, the AKP has developed close economic and political ties with the Islamist regimes in Sudan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. The same cannot be said of Turkish ties with secular and moderate Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt. The AKP does not like all Arab causes and entities; rather it empathizes only with those Arab causes and entities that are Islamist.
The AKP’s pro-Arab Islamist slant is an infatuation, in a way mirroring the secular Turks’ infatuation with Europe.
For decades, secular Turks put Turkey through painful tests to prove the country’s Europeanness.
For instance, Turkish soccer teams joined European competitions, losing miserably to powerful European teams. The Turks could have competed against the less professional Middle Eastern teams in Asian competitions, but this would have meant that Turkey was not European. Turkish soccer teams have improved recently, winning European cups.
The euphoria one witnesses every time Turkey wins a European championship is really joy over the validation of Turkey’s European identity.
In conversations about Turkey’s pro-Arab tilt in foreign policy, the AKP leadership suggests that these policies are "bearing fruit because Turkey is popular on the Arab street and since the Arabs now like Turkey." However, being popular on the Arab street is not necessarily an asset for Turkey, since in autocracies popularity on the street does not translate into soft power in the capitals.
Still, the AKP’s desire to be liked by the Arabs drives its pro-Arab Islamist foreign policy. Being popular on the Arab street is for the AKP what winning a European soccer cup is for the secular Turks.
In short, the AKP has a love affair with Arab Islamists and will take foreign policy steps to nurture this constituency’s sympathy, even if such steps do not necessarily serve Turkey’s interests.
For decades, pro-Western Turks thought that they were secular French Ğ they were not. Now the AKP elites think they are Islamist Arabs Ğ they are not.
Turkey’s vain love affairs with foreign role models continue.
Turkey is an elite project; historically, large elite groups, i.e., mega elites constituting sizeable portions of the society, have led Turkey toward their own societal values and foreign policy choices. This was the case during the Ottoman Empire, the Republican era, and, today, with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. In the Ottoman period, the dynasty and bureaucracy pulled the empire westward, adopting a constitution and joining the Concert of Europe in due course. After 1923, the Kemalists put Turkey on the path of a secular European state, promoting gender equality, allying with the United States in the Cold War, and making a bid for European Union membership.
The AKP represents Turkey’s new mega elite; it is supported by a large business community, directs domestic intelligence, and controls the executive and legislative branches. Former AKP member Abdullah Gül is now the Turkish president with the power to appoint judges to the high courts. In addition, around half of the media is now owned by pro-AKP businesses.
As the new mega elite, the AKP is shaping Turkish society in its own image. Domestically, the party is promoting social conservatism through administrative measures.
News stories often define the AKP as a movement that represents pious Muslims against religion-suppressing Kemalists. Turkey is more nuanced than this black and white picture. In fall 2008, I met a young woman in Istanbul. This woman, who had a distinctly Muslim name Ğ let’s call her Ayşe Ğ had just graduated from college with a degree in computer science. Ayşe, who hailed from Istanbul and was born to a Greek-Orthodox father and a Muslim mother, considered herself both Christian and Muslim in Istanbul’s urban tradition. After getting an IT degree in 2008, Ayşe applied to an AKP-run borough of Istanbul city government for a job. Ayşe’s resume is impressive, and the municipality invited her for an interview. At the end of the interview, the AKP officials told Ayşe that they liked her and would offer her a job if she would wear an Islamic-style headscarf to work.
Ayşe responded, "I am Muslim and a Christian." The AKP officials told her emphatically, "We do not want to you convert, just cover your head."
The AKP’s social vision is not about faith or religiosity; rather it is about a veneer of one-size-fits-all social conservatism that should blanket Turkish society. Therefore, it is not religiosity that is on the rise in Turkey Ğ attending mosque prayers during 2008 in Turkey, I realized that the number of people praying had not increased since the 1990s when I lived in Istanbul Ğ but rather it is government-infused social conservatism that is growing. Indications of social conservatism, such as disdain for alcohol and women in the workforce, or women wearing headscarves, are used as benchmarks to obtain government appointments, promotions and contracts. Social conservatism, however, is not in itself the problem, and a conservative Turkey can certainly be European.
The problem is that a government-led project of this type is incompatible with the idea of a liberal democracy. And given Turkey's nature as an elite project, AKP-led social conservatism is reshaping Turkish society. The new mega elite is also reshaping Turkish foreign policy.
In the past, Turkey's foreign policy paradigm centered on the promotion of national interests vested in the West. The Turks are a fence-sitting people between the West and the "Muslim world." What the Turks hear about the West and the "Muslim world" can shape their foreign policy views. In the past, the Turks supported a pro-Western foreign policy precisely because the Turkish leaders and pundits explained to the public that the country belonged to the West and that its interests were in the West.
Today, this view is shifting. The new mega elites’ foreign policy paradigm is different than those in the past: The AKP promotes a civilizational view of the world that sees a dichotomy between Muslims who "never do anything wrong" vs. others who are "always wrong" should they confront the Muslims. This civilizational view surfaces lucidly when one compares the AKP’s attitude to Israel’s Gaza war to Sudan’s Darfur campaign. In 2008, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan chided the Israeli president for killing Gazans. Erdoğan then returned to Ankara to host the Sudanese vice president. The AKP is upset not when Muslims kill Muslims, as in Darfur; or when Muslims kill non-Muslims Ğ Erdoğan denied that "Hamas' rockets are causing casualties in Israel during the Gaza War." The AKP cares only when non-Muslims kill Muslims.
This viewpoint is inherently anti-Western. Promoted by pundits and opinion-makers close to the AKP, this new anti-Western and anti-U.S. paradigm is molding Turkish hearts and minds, and is becoming pervasive across Turkish society.
The AKP shapes anti-Western opinion and in turn reacts to it, such as by hosting a pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood conference in Istanbul after the Gaza war. This vicious cycle will ultimately cost the United States because Turkey is a democracy in which public opinion matters. Sooner or later, the anti-Western views will cripple Turkey’s foreign policy partnership with the West, including the United States.
The Euro-Atlantic community’s only way to prevent Turkey’s slide away from the West and liberal democratic values is to treat Turkey as a Western country, emphasizing NATO’s role in Turkey’s ties with the West and advancing Ankara’s stalled EU accession talks. During the Cold War, NATO helped make Turkey Western. Today, Turkish foreign policy can remain Western only if it is tied to NATO. The EU is the second anchor tying Turkey to the West. Since Sept. 11, Turkey has been caught between Europe and the "Muslim world." If Turkey’s prospects to join the EU are exhausted, the country will inevitably fold into the "Muslim world."
Never before has Turkey been at such a crossroads, with its elites and the West pulling the country in different directions.
Soner Çağaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?" 2006.
As Turkey continues its soul search on what it means to be a liberal democracy, Turkish liberals have come to a crossroads. They threw their support behind the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in 2002 when it came to power.
At that time, the AKP renounced its illiberal Islamist roots, promising to consolidate Turkey’s liberal democracy. Seven years later, that promise awaits fulfillment, and the liberals have to decide where to go.
The liberal camp is split between liberals who see the AKP as not interested in furthering Turkey’s evolution towards a more liberal society, and neo-liberals who continue supporting the AKP in hope of throwing out the old Turkey and creating an entirely new liberal society. Which of these visions will move Turkey forward?
Initially after 2002, all liberals supported the AKP when the party pushed for European Union accession. Turkey’s EU accession is today stalled. To be fair, this problem is as much due to French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s veto against Turkish membership as it is due to the AKP’s loss of appetite for the EU. Still, just as Turkey began membership talks with the EU in October 2005, the party's drive for European membership waned. Populist instincts led the AKP to shy away from unpopular economic and social reforms needed to enter the EU.
More importantly, the AKP was upset by the European Court of Human Rights' November 2005 decision to uphold Turkey's ban on Islamic style headscarves on college campuses. The party had hoped that Europe would help it recalibrate Turkey's secularism, but the decision signaled that Europe was content with the status quo.
Though Turkey theoretically moved closer to the EU after 2005 by negotiating chapters on some technical issues like scientific research, it actually slipped away from European values including gender equality and freedom. According to the U.N.'s Development Programme gender empowerment index, in 2002 Turkey was ranked 63rd in the world. In 2008, it slipped to 90th place. Meanwhile, Freedom House, an independent U.S. non-governmental organization which campaigns for the spread of democracy, lowered Turkey’s ranking in its annual index measuring freedom of the press from 100th in 2002 to 103rd in 2008.
The liberal camp’s frustration with the AKP has been fed by the party’s harsh attitude to media criticism of its performance. This disenchantment reached new levels in April 2008, when several liberals, including women who promote education for poor girls, were arrested as part of the Ergenekon case, an alleged ultra-nationalist coup plot against the government.
Liberals now seem to be abandoning the AKP, though neo-liberals continue to support it. This split stems from divergent views that liberals and neo-liberals have on Turkey’s founding ideology, Kemalism. An old sage once said that liberals want to transform Kemalism because they love it, while neo-liberals want to destroy it because they hate it.
Liberals see Kemalism as a mixed bag. It has authoritarian and narodnik (for the people, despite the people) tendencies, yet it also promotes secular government, parliamentary democracy, and gender equality. Subsequently, the liberal take on Kemalism is akin to home-improvement: get rid of what cannot be fixed, improve what is outdated, cherish what is essential, and add what is needed. Liberals want to lose Kemalism’s authoritarianism, improve its democratic principles, cherish its secularism, and add liberalism to it. Today, the liberals feel that the AKP, which has problems with liberal values and democratic checks and balances such as media freedom, will not liberalize Kemalism. The liberal exodus from the AKP will continue unless and until the party reverts back to its 2001-2004 ideological antecedents.
Turkey and Armenia are getting closer and that is great. Washington has long wanted the two countries to overcome their differences, open their closed border and establish diplomatic ties Ğ and if all that happens, it would be wonderful news. Euphoria over Turkish-Armenian rapprochement should not, however, obfuscate the big strategic picture in the Caucasian energy circle. The thaw in Turkish-Armenian relations should not come at the expense of the East-West energy corridor, that is, the pipelines running from Azerbaijan to Turkey, which are a crucial strategic tool for Washington to decrease the West’s dependence on Middle East oil and gas by connecting the energy-rich Caspian basin and the Mediterranean.
Here is how the Caucasian energy circle works: The Caspian Sea countries of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are rich in oil and gas. Azerbaijan, lying to the west of the Caspian Sea, is the starting point for any energy lines emanating from the Caspian basin. Russia, to the north, wants to be the only buyer of oil and gas from the Caspian basin, so it can also be the only seller of these resources to the Western markets. Azerbaijan has so far worked not with Russia, but with the West to build pipelines. Turkey, lying to the west, closes the energy circle, providing an alternative to Russia for getting the Caspian region’s energy to Western markets.
In the 1990s, the United States joined the Caucasian circle, supporting the building of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, or BTC, oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey, successfully bypassing Russia.
The BTC is anathema to Russia, as it and its sister gas pipeline are the only ones that run from the Caspian basin to the West without going through Russia. The BTC was built in the 1990s when Russia was weak and ruled by the politically impotent President Boris Yeltsin. Today, Russia is a muscular country ruled by the politically savvy Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. If Putin had a magic wand, the first thing he would do is make the BTC go away.
Washington, for its part, wants to see the BTC flourish and to extend it eastward to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and westward towards Europe with new pipeline projects, including the Nabucco gas pipeline that would carry Caspian gas to Austria and the rest of Western Europe. In this endeavor, Turkey is a crucial transit country. However, Azerbaijan is the key country since it is where the pipelines begin. Azerbaijan connects the Caspian basin to the West, and without Azerbaijan, there could be no BTC or Nabucco. The East-West corridor would be a pipedream.
This is where the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement comes in. Azerbaijan has had a dispute with Armenia over the latter’s occupation of Azeri territory, including the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, since 1992. Turkey has long supported Azerbaijan, a fellow Turkic country, against the Armenian occupation, keeping its border with Armenia closed to force Yerevan to pull out of Azeri territory. This stance bonded Turkey and Azerbaijan in the 1990s and allowed the United States to work with both nations to make the BTC a reality.
Since summer 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia with little or no criticism from the West, Baku has already been feeling abandoned by the West. Azerbaijan is increasingly intimidated by Russia’s emergence as the region’s new bully. Abandoned by the West, and now by Turkey, Azerbaijan would certainly turn toward Russia as its new patron. And that would be the death knoll of the East-West corridor.
The United States can have its cake and eat it, too. The trick is to normalize Turkish-Armenian ties while keeping Turkey and Azerbaijan aligned. An Azerbaijani-Armenian-Turkish axis would a dream situation for Washington in the Caucasian circle. But such a dream would only become reality if the ongoing Turkish-Armenian rapprochement were accompanied by a guarantee from Armenia that it is ready to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. Washington should join the Caucasian circle in order to achieve this strategic end.
Turkey and Armenia have to move ahead and Washington should support this process. However, it would be sad if the United States won Armenia, but lost Azerbaijan. For then, the Caucasian energy circle between Azerbaijan and Turkey would be broken, and the United States would hit a dead-end in the Caucasus, losing an entire region and its energy resources to the circle’s new owner, Russia.
Soner Cağaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of the 2006 book "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who Is a Turk?". This article was originally published at Washingtonpost.com
U.S. President Barack Obama’s pre-election promise for change has galvanized public opinion around the world, including in Turkey. To what extent will he transform the United States domestically and revolutionize American foreign policy? And, what does Obama’s promise of change hold for Turkey? A study of Obama’s Cabinet members and close White House advisers casts light on how much America will change and where such change is likely to be most dramatic. Obama, in fact, has crafted two Cabinets: a "national security Cabinet" representing continuity and a "domestic issues Cabinet" composed of new faces and ideas in politics.
The domestic issues Cabinet, with fresh-faced 40somethings, is likely to introduce major change in American politics. This cabinet includes Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan. Members of the domestic issues Cabinet hail from outside the Washington beltway. Bringing expertise from outside of Washington’s circles, Obama has signaled that this portfolio of secretaries, namely housing, health, environment, education and labor, will witness dramatic change in the Obama administration.
Already Obama has supported these staffing decisions with policy changes. A first sign is his proposal for universal socialized health coverage for all Americans, a revolutionary proposal in the free enterprise and every-man-for-himself world of American politics. Other items at the top of this Cabinet’s agenda include Green America, bridging the gap between high-quality and low-quality education in American schools, and fighting poverty. Obama faces counter-veiling forces deeply rooted in America’s founding ethos of frontier mentality and individualism. Still, if he succeeds, America would be transformed significantly.
While the domestic issues Cabinet will be ushering in dramatic change, on the foreign policy side the trend seems to be evolution, not revolution. The national security Cabinet includes, among others, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Jim Jones, chief adviser on the National Security Council. This is an establishment crowd is in their 60s and boasts extensive experience in foreign affairs and Washington politics.
The policy tools and methods of the Obama national security Cabinet will differ from that of the Bush administration. However, long-standing U.S. goals, such as preventing Iran’s nuclearization, watching Russia, disarming North Korea, establishing Arab-Israeli peace, achieving stability in Iraq, and gaining the upper hand against al-Qaeda as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan will remain Washington’s cardinal foreign policy objectives. In other words, expect many new openings and gestures, but no revolutions in American foreign policy in the Obama age.
The openings will be rooted in multilateralism and dialogue. The United States has already started to extend olive branches to many countries, including Cuba, and will engage others, such as Iran. If not the goals, the tenor of American foreign policy will change in the Obama age.
Even bigger change will come in gestures: A challenge for the United States is winning hearts and minds, not just in Turkey, but also in leftist Europe and neo-leftist Latin America, as well as in Muslim Middle East and Africa. In this regard, Obama’s personal history is promising.
The new United States president has multiple identities that he carries with ease; he is black and white in the American context. This helps him bridge the racial divide in the United States but also around the world, including in Latin America Ğ no wonder Obama was received with open arms at the Summit of the Americas that was held in multi-racial Trinidad and Tobago on April 19.
Obama bridges global gaps as well. His parents are Swedish and Kenyan, making him a Southerner and a Northerner in the global context. What is more, Obama can bridge the Atlantic, charming Europeans and Americans alike with his left-leaning, yet pragmatic politics.
Last but not least, Obama has many faiths in his family, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as he highlighted it in his inauguration speech on Jan. 20, providing proof that religions co-exist.
At home in Washington, Nairobi, Port of Spain, Stockholm and Istanbul alike, Obama is America’s messenger to the world. This is good news for Turkey; like Obama, Turkey is a country with multiple identities. Since Sept. 11, Turkey has a hard time simultaneously being a European, Western and Muslim nation. It was almost as if Washington picked one of these identities to the detriment of the others.
Turkey can now flourish as a European country in the West that happens to be Muslim. Obama has already emphasized this vision in his speech to the Turkish parliament on April 6. This is indeed the biggest change the Obama administration has ushered for Turkey.
Soner Çagaptay is a senior fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
If U.S. President Barack Obama were using Google Earth to zoom into various geographic locations mentioned during his daily morning briefings on the state of world affairs, he is probably not zeroing into villages in Iraq’s Anbar province. Until recently considered to be the center of the geostrategic earth, Washington's foreign policy focus has shifted to the Durand Line, the tumultuous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A new, versatile term in Washington for these two countries, AfPak, demonstrates the interwoven nature of the United States’ challenges, namely persistent al-Qaeda operatives, resurgent Taliban, and instability in Kabul and Islamabad along the Durand Line. AfPak occupies most of Washington’s energy and is the new center of its geostrategic earth.
In his recent trip to Turkey, Obama highlighted areas of cooperation between Turkey and the United States. In Ankara’s view, maintaining stability in Iraq would appear to be the critical goal of Turkish-U.S. cooperation. As important as this issue is, it pales in immediacy to Washington’s most pressing concern: success in AfPak. Combating al-Qaeda and Taliban presence in the Pashtun highlands along the Durand Line, while achieving stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the center of the earth in American foreign policy.
As such, in it lies the real opportunity for Turkish-U.S. cooperation.
In the Obama age, Turkey has much to benefit from a close relationship with the United States. From cooperation along the East-West energy corridor to Washington’s ability to move Turkey’s European Union train along the accession tracks, a strong relationship with the U.S. is vital to Turkey. Even before Obama’s trip to Turkey, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government suggested that "U.S. and Turkish foreign policy agendas overlap completely." In this regard, if Turkish assistance to the United States to help withdraw troops from Iraq would win Ankara brownie points in Washington, then Turkish-U.S. cooperation in AfPak would take the cake.
There are three avenues for Turkish-U.S. cooperation in AfPak. First, Turkey can share with the United States its insight into fighting terror with velvet gloves in AfPak. For al-Qaeda and the Taliban to be defeated along the Durand Line, the Pashtun peasants there must be swayed away from supporting both organizations. In the hierarchy-driven and feudal Pashtun lands, such a shift will not occur unless the Pashtun elders decide in that direction.
This effort requires incentives for the elders, as well as benefits such as improved services and security that they can transfer to their peasants, and finally, trust-based communication with the elders. NATO can provide these incentives, improved services and security. As NATO’s only Muslim-majority country, not counting smaller Albania, which has just joined the alliance, Turkey could provide the communication bridge between NATO and the Pashtun elders.
Even if it were to win the Pashtun elders and peasants, NATO would still have to fight some al-Qaeda and Taliban elements, especially those who have come to the region from outside and are invested in these organizations’ political goals more than the local peasants.
The use of Turkish troops to support the United States in its fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban is a tricky business. This will happen only if Turkey feels that its own terror threat emanating from Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, presence in northern Iraq has abated. Lately, there have been several promising signs in this regard: The Iraqi Kurds seem more willing than before to help Turkey fight the PKK as they did in the 1990s when Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds together brought the PKK to its knees.
If the United States can align the Iraqi Kurds with Turkey toward paralyzing the PKK, and it should be mentioned that Washington is already giving Turkey intelligence to this end, this would alleviate Turkey’s threat concerns about PKK terrorism. Only then would Turkey consider increasing its troop presence in Afghanistan. At the moment, there are around 1,200 Turkish soldiers in the country. The key to NATO’s success in Kandahar perhaps goes through Erbil.
The third area of Turkish-U.S. cooperation would be through Ankara’s promotion of ties between ties Kabul and Islamabad who are, more often than not, at odds with each other. Since the AKP came to power in 2002, Turkey has followed an activist foreign policy in the Middle East, suggesting that it has the power to bring together countries in conflict such as Israel and Syria. That has not happened because Turkey is not always seen as an honest broker in Middle East issues.
However, in AfPak, Turkey is viewed an honest broker. Ankara has maintained historically good and close ties with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, and common Afghanis and Pakistanis have only nice things to say about Turks. To illustrate, there is an old saying that if a Turk were blindfolded and walked through the Middle East toward South Asia, he would know when he had arrived in Afghanistan or Pakistan when anti-Turkish jokes would end and he started to hear people praising the Turks.
Turkey has already taken steps toward acting as a bridge between Afghanistan and Pakistan through the initiative started by President Abdullah Gül to iron out the differences between the two countries. This initiative could be further promoted through the inclusion of the common Afghanis and Pakistanis. The Durand Line, drawn in the late 19th century, was named after Sir Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of the British Indian government.
Sir Durand had probably no idea that one day his name would stand for ground zero of American foreign policy. If I were in Ankara, I would zoom into the Durand Line; this is where Obama looks every morning.
Soner Cağaptay is a senior fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Recent talks between the Turkish government and Massoud Barzani, representing the Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, in northern Iraq are a positive development in many respects. These talks bridge the gap between two potential pro-western allies. Moreover, they offer an opportunity for Turkey to deal with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, terror threat emanating from northern Iraq. If Turkey and the KRG can devise a common strategy to tackle the PKK, a confidence would be constructed between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, creating a strategic partnership in a greatly necessary sphere. However, if this strategy fails, Turkish-KRG relations may become damaged beyond repair. The annals of counter-terrorism teach both sides lessons to avoid failure while successfully tackling the PKK.
A lesson in pitfalls, namely the debilitating effect terrorism can have on continuing negotiations; can be learnt from the past. The Oslo process exemplifies this extremely detrimental effect. Palestinian suicide attacks in 2000 during the apogee of the Oslo talks between the Israelis and Palestinians shattered the Israelis’ faith in negotiations. In due course, the bilateral talks collapsed irrevocably. The PKK violence now, when the KRG is negotiating with Turkey on the PKK issue, would provide a similar drawback in negotiations. More so, such violence would cast the PKK as a tool of the KRG. It would also portray the PKK and the KRG as parties deceptively interested in peace, creating resistance in Turkey against further talks with the KRG on the PKK issue, or any issue for that matter. Last but not least, unabated PKK violence would likely force the Turkish government to take the matter in its own hands, responding to the PKK presence in northern Iraq with an iron fist.
There is a great deal that the Iraqi Kurds and Barzani can do to inhibit such developments. Barzani holds influence over the PKK, as demonstrated by his ability to end the PKK violence when it rose in June 2007. Amid great concern that Turkey was to enter northern Iraq, the base of PKK operations, Barzani’s actions thwarted this potential escalation. Barzani holds the key today, as well. If he can prevent PKK violence, he will win Turkey’s friendship. If not, Turkey would view new PKK violence as Barzani’s doing, and Turkish-KRG relations would deteriorate beyond recognition.
The second lesson from the annals of counter-terrorism can be drawn from French cooperation with Spain against Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or ETA, presence in their country. In the 1980s and the 1990s, Spain and France successfully dealt with the ETA presence in France as a segway to tackling the ETA in Spain. The PKK is Turkey’s problem and Turkey needs to implement military as well as non-military measures domestically against this organization. However, PKK bases in northern Iraq support the group’s attacks on Turkey across the border. Therefore, as it deals with the PKK problem at home, Turkey must neutralize the PKK threat from northern Iraq. Just as Spain defused the ETA in southern France as a precursor to the marginalization of the ETA in Spain, if Turkey can tackle the PKK in northern Iraq, it can hope to marginalize the PKK in Turkey.
Until the 1980s, the ETA used bases in southern France to support attacks inside Spain. The French government was oblivious to the ETA’s presence in its territory and the ETA inflicted significant damage on Spain from France. After much Spanish insistence in 1980, Paris started to help Madrid combat the ETA, and between 1983-1987, Spanish Antiterrorist Liberation Groups, or GAL, became active in southern France against ETA’s members. Subsequently, ETA-caused casualties dropped significantly from 94 in 1980 to 18 in 1987. In 1992, France arrested the entire leadership of ETA in Bidart, France, causing the organization to become a marginal force and ETA-caused casualties dropped down to 2 in 2006.
Turkey can marginalize the PKK in the same fashion. Taking a note from Franco-Spanish strategy, KRG-Turkish cooperation in denying the PKK refuge in Iraq would open the path for the PKK’s marginalization in Turkey. Of course, the PKK would not disappear; rather, the extent of its threat would diminish, as the power of the ETA did following the French crackdown on their presence in its territory. To counter the PKK effectively, Turkey must continue to carry out domestic measures, in order to diminish the strength of the PKK from every angle. One such angle, and a pivotal piece to this strategy, would be the building and strengthening of a relationship between the Turkey and the KRG. Between this strategic partnership and its use of lessons from the annals of counter-terrorism, the threat of the PKK can be marginalized. and that would be the best thing to happen in the Middle East in a long time.
* Soner Çağaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, would like to thank Merve Demirel for her assistance with this article.
** The article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review.