Burak Bekdil

No to right wing parties in Europe, says the Turkish right

12 Haziran 2009
"Nazis came out of the elections in Europe!" That was the headline in an Islamic newspaper in the wake of center- and right-wing parties making visible gains in the European Parliament in last week’s election. Ironically, it was the same newspaper whose Islamist clientele had held out the infamous placard that read "Now I understand Hitler!" in several public rallies to protest the State of Israel. In further irony, it is the same state to whose president Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reminded in Davos that "when it comes to killing you know it too well." 

We can always find more ironies in such scenes of first class absurdity. Was it not Mr Erdoğan himself who always advocated "the will of the nation?" Yes, the election results were the will of European nations, just like July 22, 2007 was that of the Turks. Now a bitter Mr Erdoğan says the EU must honor its pledges for an eventual Turkish membership. Causing shy smiles in European capitals Mr Erdoğan argues that Turkey is fit for accession.

Singing a similar tune, Murat Mercan, chairman of parliament’s foreign relations committee and a senior figure in Mr Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has said that "the tendency in Europe toward the extreme right is worrisome." Why should the European nations’ will be worrisome, in the first place; and since when have the French UMP, the German CDU or the British Conservatives been cataloged as "extreme right?"

And who is complaining about extreme right? Let’s seeÉ According to a survey by Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, 81 percent of Turks believe that the EU’s goal is to spread Christianity. Research has also found that 52 percent of Turks would not wish to have Christian neighbors; and religion (Islam) is the most important thing for 62 percent of Turks Ğ while only 13 percent cited democracy as their sine qua non. Furthermore, 76 percent of Turks believe that the EU intends to divide their country. All that points to the trouble twins: religious and ethnic xenophobia.

Xenophobic Turks accusing Europe

And that’s exactly where the picture becomes complete black humor: Xenophobic Turks accusing Europeans of xenophobia! That, of course, does not mean that Europe is genuinely and wholly about the values it stands for. But at least we can empirically tell that democracy should be more important for the average European than religion.

According to the same survey, 57 percent of Turks still favor Turkish accession to the EU. Here the picture, ostensibly, gets a bit more complicated (ostensibly, because in reality it does not).

So we can conclude that a majority of Turks wish to join a club they believe aims to spread a religion they do not wish to Ğ physically Ğ co-habit with, a club which aims to divide their country. Do the Turks have a fetish for sleeping with snakes? They probably don’t.

The explanation is the anticipation of fat-salaried jobs and free travel and other potential benefits related to welfare suddenly pouring in after membership.

What are the other "alluring" features of "Turkey in the year 2009" that Mr Erdogan thinks make our country fit for membership? For example, the Global Peace Index puts Turkey 115th in a list of 144 countries. The EU member state that comes nearest to Turkey is Bulgaria which ranks 57th.

Any more Turkish jewels? Yes. The European Court of Human Rights has for the first time ruled against a state for failing to protect someone from domestic violence Ğ the ruling has said that Turkey denied a woman her "right to life" by failing to protect her murder by her son in law.

But the case of journalist Nedim Şener is darker than any black humor. Mr Şener wrote a book revealing with substantial evidence how the giant Turkish state apparatus toyed with events that eventually led to the murder of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. You might think Mr Şener’s book has been banned.

Here is a little bit more than that. The prosecutors are demanding a prison sentence of 20 years for the murderer, Ogün Samast, and 28 years for Mr Şener for writing a book that tells about the "darker side of the moon." Well, neither Nikolas Sarkozy nor Angela Merkel should worry. With another decade of political engineering under Islamist rule the Europeans will not have to think about a future Turkish membership with probably 90 percent of "neo-Ottoman Turks" favoring jihad against continental Europe.

No to right-wing parties in Europe, says the Turkish right
Yazının Devamını Oku

Enjoy ’Turkish Borat’ as your ’enlightened’ voter

10 Haziran 2009
Until this year the most successful production of the Turkish film industry was the 2006 release "Valley of the Wolves," which, experts and viewers agreed, was an excoriating condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a film that obviously tapped into rising anti-Americanism in Turkey at the time. In the same year, according to a PEW research, Turks with a favorable view of the United States was a mere 9 percent, the lowest among the 40 or so countries surveyed. This year the box office rankings changed, and "Valley of the Wolves" was defeated by Recep Ivedik, the story of a kind of "Turkish Borat." Millions of Turks rushed to theaters to watch the caricature of a loud-mouthed taxi-driver whose lewd and uncouth behavior has had them guffawing. According to The Guardian, Recep Ivedik is "rude, crude and prone to furious outbursts and threats of physical violence." Nevertheless, this character’s widespread appeal has made the film Turkey’s biggest movie success story.

The Guardian has commented, "Some [Turks] see him as emblematic of the socially conservative forces now breaking into Turkey’s previously undisturbed and refined secular middle classes."

There must be a reason why, of all choices available to the Turkish audience, those two products have become Turkey’s most stunning box office sensations. Why, for example, does another film that features the post-WWII tragedies of a non-Muslim family in Istanbul fail to lure a fraction of what any one of the "Valley of the Wolves" or Recep Ivedik achieved within a couple of weeks?

It is not surprising that a nation’s collective film choice reflects its behavioral patterns and predominant worldview. In 2006, Turks chose "Valley of the Wolves" and, having watched the film, returned home relieved for having ’expressed’ their feelings of anti-Americanism. Most viewed the film as if in real life a bunch of shadowy nationalist Turks had crippled the evil American empire. The film simply had their feelings surfaced.

In 2009, the Turks chose Recep Ivedik to enjoy the caricature of the man who in fact is the very man inside most of them. They laughed at and despised the totally unrefined Recep Ivedik without thinking there are millions of Recep Ivediks inside and/or around themselves. In a way, Recep Ivedik is merely a grotesque characterization of the average Turkish voter. A recent scientific study tells us nothing different. The research by Professor Yılmaz Esmer - who hold degrees from Yale and Stanford universities - has revealed, among others, that 75 percent of Turks would not like atheist neighbors; 72 percent neighbors who drink alcohol; 67 percent neighbors outside the wedlock; 64 percent Jewish neighbors; 52 percent Christian neighbors; and 43 percent American neighbors. We do not know how many of them would not like neighbors like Recep Ivedik, but I would guess the percentage would be a fraction of any of the above.

The same research also found that 86 percent of Turks believe the United States intends to divide Turkey, whereas 76 percent think the European Union has the same intentions. When asked of the most important single thing in their lives, 62 percent said religion (Islam) while 16 percent cited secularism and only 13 percent mentioned democracy. That’s a fair snapshot of Turkey’s socio-cultural picture as the country stands in 2009.

Ironically, on the same day those findings were made public I heard a listener commenting on NTV Radio. The big angry Turk first strongly claimed that xenophobia never existed in Turkey, only to argue seconds later that the research was a plot by the Western powers that aimed to divide Turkey. I did not know whether to laugh or feel sad.

As columnist Cüneyt Ülsever recently wrote, "[It’s bizarre]... that Turkey’s best Western ally is the same country 86 percent of Turks believe aims to divide their country, and that Turks want to join the club 76 percent of which think has the same wicked goal." Yes, Turks have confused minds, and that’s hardly a surprise. Neither the xenophobic nor the study’s conservative findings should surprise anyone who can read figures. In local elections about two months ago, four religiously and ethnically conservative parties (Justice and Development Party, Nationalist Movement Party, Felicity Party and Grand Unity Party) won a combined 62.4 percent of the vote, and that excludes those of splinter center-right parties.

Is it not funny that the Turks often complain of xenophobia against their kinship in Europe? Maybe we should ask that gentleman with the name Recep Ivedik, and he’ll tell us what he thinks about Europeans. The man is a fiction character? All right, just ask any conservative Turk instead. Great Turkish author Oğuz Atay (1934-1977) wrote in his diaries as early as 1970: "... we fake and there are even moments the West accepts us (like a rare football victory). And that childish pride of ours! We get offended when we are not appreciated. ...We are like the street kid among well-groomed children. ..."
Yazının Devamını Oku

Wet drinks for dry people

5 Haziran 2009
As we sit in a bar in the heart of London, my friend complains to me that "all this theoretical work, my dear, is really futile. Look at the war Turkey had been pulled into with the Kurdistan workers’ Party, or PKK, since 1983, what good has academia done to prevent the death of innocent civilians or young soldiers?" Knowing he would not be convinced by any words anytime soon and partly agreeing with him, I took a sip from my prosecco and watched his pain over the struggles of the land he - at a distance - and I belonged to. Listening to my friend, as painful as it is, made me reconsider each spring the similar scenarios being replayed in our lands... as the mountain snow melts and the valley flowers bloom, we start hearing the news of another wave of terrorist attacks with worrying numbers of casualties or damage. We also hear the talk of amnesty, captured or killed PKK men, abandoned villages, money changing hands with the sale of hip new small conventional weapons on the market, and the usual debates on whether increased liberties and economic opportunities will curtail further atrocities.

Each looking out his own window sees a different picture, my friend comments, of a martyr, or a terrorist; but one constant figure in each scene, I add, is that some mother’s son lies dead or amputated in a corner. Knowing that the main goal, as seen in every window, is to minimize, if not to prevent, another mother to witness the loss of her child, I contemplate whether the divisions between academia and policy makers is something of a shibboleth.

Policy makers often view theoretical abstractions and recently popular formal models with many mathematical equations as irrelevant to the day-to-day activities of the complex world of politics. Theories struggle to offer tools for handling real life situations, but most assumptions are seen as too "unrealistic" and conclusions as too "parsimonious" to apply in confidence. The gap between theory and practice remains troublesome, to say the least. However, as Lenin once said, "without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movements," without a theory behind it - however specifically or generally constructed - there can be no movement in politics.

The fight against terrorism for any country inevitably falls into murky waters: it is domestic politics for sure, but it also involves foreign actors. Different ministries’ - as well as different countries’ - communication, if not cooperation, is required for a successful war on terrorism. This, as all will probably accept, is a difficult, if not impossible, chore to sustain. Fighting against a state, the non-state actors gain the upper hand by having to deal with less red tape, more direct communications and a quicker set up for proposed actions.

Yet despite all cease-fires and different tracks of talks between official and unofficial figures of two or more parties involved in the turmoil, one fraction of the non-state actor might act to spoil an entire peace process. Long years of conflict in other parts of the world indicates that for some extremist factions "peace", or the "lack of struggle" means death - death of their mission, death of their raison d’etre. To prevent "the death," unfortunately, some groups may be tempted to further deadly ordeals. Hence the vicious cycle of violence.

There are no easy roads to curtail terrorist activities as deeply rooted as that of the PKK, with years of experience and regional as well as international support under their belt. That said, old and simple rules could still provide some guidelines to the issue. One is timing. That is for peace to come, time has to be ripe to open up the channels of communication, and that applies to both sides of the conflict. Both sides have to be convinced that the benefit of "talking" would be higher than that of fighting, or of "talking while fighting."

Next, who will be talking to whom? Here, the rule of thumb is to "divide and co-opt." We are talking about an organization which has endured almost three decades: no doubt the PKK has a structure that includes a political and a military wing - in this case the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, as the political wing, and the PKK as the military wing. "Talks" with the political wing through various channels must be kept open, and, ideally, the DTP should be able to recognize its role as a catalyst in the game of moral persuasion that the PKK should lay down arms for everyone’s interest.

It might not be possible to expect the DTP to exert full control over all PKK factions, but it would be all too well if this party maintained a better dialogue box with the state and ensured spillover benefits for its constituencies. The "carrots and sticks" as I would tell my friend should be utilized on time and in a balanced manner. The DTP surely cares deeply about the popular support it enjoys within the population they claim to represent. Any counterterrorism activity coordinated with the DTP should underline the fact that this party’s popular support will increase if only they fully cooperated with the state.

Last is the "audience cost," i.e., the more vocal the promises are the higher the stakes of re-nagging on one’s promise because the cost will be disturbingly high. It is understandable that the government must act in a swift yet cautious manner since this is a precarious issue for every household in this country. It is equally precarious for the DTP simple because if this ethnic Kurdish political grouping failed to control the military wing it might mean another political wing may emerge within the previous setup and the DTP’s credibility may come under scrutiny, if not disappears all together. Also, counter-terror responses should from now strive in coordination with other attempts, not to radicalize the Kurdish population so the support for extremist fractions can be lowered.

These were the thoughts running through my mind, as my friend took another sip from his drink and said: "Just like the prohibition era in America when people were forced to brew their own drinks and enter into the speakeasies with a password, we need peace, a peaceful setup in our relations."

I looked at his face and thought yes, we have all needs, food for the hungry, wet drinks for thirsty people...
Yazının Devamını Oku

Our judiciary is independent and I am a ballerina

3 Haziran 2009
A quick amount of research on the Internet will turn up hundreds of entries in which government bigwigs make the following clichŽ Ğ yet sensible Ğ statement when asked to comment on the Ergenekon investigation: "It would be wrong to comment on a court case in progress. Our judiciary is independent, and we must trust our judges." But do the government bigwigs themselves trust our independent judiciary? Sometimes.

When a senior judge recently ruled that President Abdullah Gül must stand trial for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars of public money that had gone into the vaults of his former political party, but then disappeared, the usual chorus of pro-government columnists came to his aid.

That was when the otherwise nice "let’s-trust-our-judges" rhetoric instantly disappeared, only to be replaced with allegations that the judge’s ruling was based on political (read: secular) motivations. Even Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented, "Unfortunately, sometimes the judges can make political verdicts."

So, the practical jurisprudence is clear: When a court rules against the ruling Islamists, it is politically motivated and we all can bash our judges. But when a court case targets the Islamists’ opponents, we should not comment and should trust our judges. The ruling elite may be good Muslims who never touch a drop of alcohol or let a piece of female hair be seen by men, but they should read about more essential Koranic teachings on subjects like justice, the equality of all and how big a sin it would be to treat us, the mere mortals, unfairly.

Has anyone ever seen a pro-Justice and Development Party, or AKP, columnist or a member of this party’s high and mighty suspect political bias in the court rulings that should otherwise be quite embarrassing for a country knocking on the European Union’s door for accession?

Has, for example, anyone in the powerful Islamic alliance of government and the media establishments ever complained of political bias because an Istanbul prosecutor asked for a court ban on three books due to obscenity, including Guillaume Apollinaire’s "The Exploits of a Young Don Juan?" Although the Turkish Penal Code explicitly says that works of art and literature cannot be tried for obscenity, an expert report from an Istanbul university (ironically, one that boasts of teaching "commerce") found all three books obscene.

In a separate case, the government has given the go-ahead to the "independent" judiciary to prosecute Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the chairman of the Diyarbakir Bar Association. Tanrıkulu faces a prison sentence of one to three years for distributing diaries "in both the Turkish and Kurdish languages."

Is there any political bias here? No. That decision falls into the "let’s-trust-our-judges" category.

An even more interesting courtroom battle also falls into the same category. Most Turks were shocked when the now infamous Islamist columnist Hüseyin Üzmez, 76, was arrested and brought to court for sexually harassing a 14-year-old girl, but Üzmez’s comrades rushed to his aid with theories linking the case to a secularist plot.

The Islamist "intellectual" became the man in the news and once a stadium full of football fans chanted "not-so-nice" slogans against him.

The "Üzmez affair" naturally became the theme of a popular television program hosted by four women known for their secular worldview: an actress, a former model, a famous novelist and a prominent journalist. After the broadcast, another Islamist columnist, Abdurrahman Dilipak (and, by the way, note that Dilipak means "clean tongue" in Turkish), thought he had to rush to Mr. Islamist-pedophile’s aid. This was what he wrote in his column about the four women:

"Éare these [ladies] not porn people? ... [They speak] as if they don’t belong to the ’Lolita’ bunchÉ who make group sex and get into incestuous relationsÉ"

What do you normally do if you are a person with fame and someone writes that you belong to a "Lolita" bunch (whatever that is) and accuses you of being incestuous, working in the porn industry and engaging in group sex?

The four women appealed to a court, demanding an apology and a correction in Dilipak’s column. The court turned down the request. They appealed to another court, and got another rejection.

As a last resort, the four women appealed to the Justice Ministry, only to get a third "sorry, but no."

Now they are on their way to the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, and the verdict is fairly predictable Ğ unless, of course, the ECHR this time listens to Erdoğan’s words from a few years earlier and seeks advice from the Ulema, or Islamic scholars.

We can safely predict the unpredictably terrible consequences if, for example, I wrote in this column the same lines about anyone from the AKP’s power circle. No, I am not going to volunteer for that little socio-political experiment.

I am sure such a trial would fall into the "let’s-trust-our-judges" category.
Yazının Devamını Oku

Me as just another traitor and more Greek than a Greek

29 Mayıs 2009
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was telling the truth when he bravely said that systematic efforts to force non-Muslim minorities (during and after WWII) out of Turkey constituted an act of fascism. Turkey would have been a better place if today its Greek, Armenian and Jewish populations amounted to hundreds - instead of tens - of thousands. Ironically, one could probably not find in these lands more than a few men who are pure Turks by DNA. This is - to put it mildly - an introvert culture, whether the dominant self-identification motive is religion or ethnicity. It is the same culture that produced and carried generation by generation idioms like, "selling snails in the Muslim neighborhood (to express poor chances of business success)," or "even a gavur won’t do that (to complain of bad behavior; gavur meaning non-Muslim, although it literally means an atheist)," or "am I Greek? (to express unfair treatment by someone else)." Interestingly, in both cases of Islamic or nationalist xenophobia the "otherness" is gauged by display criteria. For example, a Muslim who drinks alcohol or does not wear the Islamic turban can easily be tagged as an "infidel." Similarly, a Turk who condemns the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink can be catalogued as a "traitor." So just as many devout Muslim Turks are "display" Muslims, many Turkish nationalists are "display" nationalists, too.

A few years earlier a friend had come with a private request. The man was the provincial head of what everyone knows as Turkey’s "most nationalist" political party. His son was to be drafted, and he was wondering if I could "talk to a couple of generals and make sure the young man does his military service in Izmir." If that was not possible, could I make sure his son not to be sent to the Southeast? I told him I had done my service in the Southeast and remembered the same man proudly telling a gathering of "nationalist" youth only a few weeks earlier how proud he would be sending his son to "fight the enemies of the Turks (the PKK)."

My mind then went back to the otherwise pretty Aegean town where the local government has the habit of putting the national anthem on play through awfully bad speakers on every corner every Friday and where, as a self-forced tradition, everyone has to stand in respect or risk a fight with the locals. My brother told me he once had to freeze on top of a ladder trying to fix a roof when the anthem began. It was tragic-comic when two years ago the locals had beaten up a man for not respecting the national anthem because he kept on walking. Poor man appeared to be a Bulgarian tourist. I recalled all those sacrosanct display motives of a corrupted version of patriotism when I came across my name in a blog that specializes in the "Turkish defense industry" with the very nationalistic slogan "local defense industry for a fully independent Turkey." A blogger had introduced me as this paper’s defense editor, which is not correct. Thus he commented: "As I have read his articles I cannot decide whether he is Turkish or Greek. The man (myself) takes every pain to bash the Turkish (defense) industry no matter what the industry does (accomplishes). He can instantly get the job of the editor at Greekdefence (presumably a Greek publication)."

That blogger gave a link to a June 2008 article I wrote for the U.K.-based Royal United Services Institute, a think tank engaged in defense and security since it was founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington. The article, titled "Why Turkish efforts for ’indigenous development’ are too ambitious," was a critique of "national" weapons programs that are usually neither national nor realistic. Presumably having read that article, two more bloggers commented. According to the first one I was "just another traitor." The second one wrote that I was not only "a stronger royalist than the king, but also more Greek than a Greek."

None of all that is surprising for I have lived long enough in this country to know how manifest behavior can be important in politics. But is it not amazing that in 2009 a "good Muslim" is still the one who abstains alcohol and pork and never lets female hair be seen by others and not the one who abstains cheating, lies, unfairness; and a "nationalist Turk" is the one who freezes in respect for the national anthem, shoots in the air each time the national football team beats a rival squad and who thinks calling someone a "Greek" is an insult and not the one whose son does his military services like everyone else? It is amazing that this country can still amaze.
Yazının Devamını Oku

Bandwagoning Ñ or ’hakawati’ Ñ in Damascus

22 Mayıs 2009
In old town Damascus, there are coffee shops similar to those in Dolapdere of Istanbul, where men gather over coffee, cigarettes and nargile/shisha. They do not only socialize but do the usual men’s talk, too, be it football or politics, which in the latter case they embrace or resent their leaders’ choices. One difference between the old Damascus and Dolapdere is the old tradition of story telling, or "hakawati," that is still alive, and one wonders how the most recent tales of Turco-Syrian diplomacy will be reflected in the stories. It is amazing to reminisce that it was only a decade ago that Turkey was contemplating war with Syria over its support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. These days, both in Damascus and Istanbul, either the men will be asking for "bir kahve daha" Ğ one more coffee Ğ or calling "narah ya walad" Ğ more coal, boy Ğ for their nargiles, but their common concern is probably what the future will hold for their sons and grandsons.

Almost the same days as this column left the floor to two expatriate readers’ views on Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, we extensively read about President Abdullah Gül’s success stories of diplomacy in the Syrian capital. The general Ğ and increasingly unconvincing Ğ idea is based on the premise that in comparison to the Western powers Turkey possesses better skills and historic background to deal with the Middle East. The Turkish government, now with its own "Kissinger" at the helm of official policy-making, hopes that this situation entitles Turkey not only to be the mediator between two conflicting parties in the region, but also to act as liaison to Western interests.

According to President Gül’s account, "Syria is ’our friend and brother,’ and ’Turkey’s gateway to the Middle East’ and, in return, Turkey is ’Syria’s gateway to Europe.’" Gül believes that "whatever is in the best interest of the Turkish and Syrian people we will take it to that level in our relationships." But there are certainly many other angles of this mood of diplomatic romance. One is hope for increased Turkish investment in Syria.

This has long been in the waiting, but there still are no clear plans, although bilateral trade has increased significantly Ğ yet standing at insignificant sums of dollars. Tourism falls into the same category of topics. There is some Turkish investment into Syria’s shy but promising tourist industry, but it may take a long time before anyone can seriously talk about serious business across the border.

The punch line is that there is much rhetoric but not enough evidence to support good wishes.

In the meantime, it is estimated that the PKK has about 3,000-5,000 men of Syrian descent holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq. Could, therefore, Syria cooperate in bringing those men from the mountains to justice in one way or another? As the Kurds are spread over four countries Ğ Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey Ğ any Turkish-Syrian cooperation will affect Iraq and Iran as well. We can also safely guess that Turkish-Syrian talks do cover relations with regard to Iran and Iraq as well Ğ the third country dimension in the Ankara-Damascus axis.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still applauds the Turkish Parliament’s March 1, 2003, decision not to let the U.S. troops through the Turkish border into Iraq.

A significant part of political science is about decoding what the leaders mean beyond their words.

That is just like the way the hakawati tells one story: We as individual customers of the coffee shop retain different morals and so do the parts of the diplomatic world deduce different outcomes.

One has to understand what lies beyond the words. Does, for example, President al-Assad genuinely appreciate the Turkish decision for not cooperating with the Americans as a premise on "being a good ally with the Arabs" or as "acting in the best way that is fit for the Turkish interests?" When all is said and done, how does all that translate into the Turco-Syrian and even Turco-Syrian-Iranian cooperation against the PKK and other fractions of terrorist atrocities? The precarious question that the Turkish public wonders Ğ as much as the Syrian public might Ğ how will all this sweet talk translate into their real life acts?

This part of the world has always been full of bandwagoning, story-telling or both. Folkloric diplomacy in these lands has very rarely yielded collective benefits.

Will the Turco-Syrian diplomatic journey from the brink of war to hugs, kisses and romance make an exception? We can only hope it will.

But in today’s world where a common use of the Internet is to bet even on whether your next door neighbor will crash his car in the next three weeks, I personally would not put any money on anything combining the words "collective" and "benefit" in this part of the world.
Yazının Devamını Oku

You’ve got mail, Your Excellency! (II)

20 Mayıs 2009
Last week, this column was host to an expatriate reader’s widely "optimistic" comments on Turkey’s new (or, rather, newly formalized) foreign policy czar. Today, there is another expatriate guest, with rather more "cautious" comments on Ahmet Davutoğlu as our new foreign minister. So, here are the overseas lines that reminded me of a situation that could possibly be best described as the "old wine in a new bottle." "É I see too much expansion in places unrelated to main Turkish foreign policy goals: Do we really need to be involved in Pakistan-Israel talks while we have issues more urgent in Cyprus and regarding the Turcoman in northern Iraq?

Can the Justice and Development Party [AKP] ever commit properly for full EU membership while the leadership looks more to the East than the West?

"Davutoğlu chose to go to the International Islamic University in Malaysia, which is no longer given accreditation by the Higher Education Council in Turkey. Does the AKP really want to join the EU or is it riding the EU tide to enhance its own [political] interests and goals?

"Zero-problem-with-the-neighbors policy may sound good but it has not delivered many of its expected promises. Do we now have better relations with Azerbaijan? How about our inability to react promptly during the Georgian crisis of last August? Can the zero-problem policy be carried out without the blessings of the United States?

"Strategic depth assumes that Turkey can delve into the depth of knowledge and historic background in the lands where the Ottoman Empire reigned.

However, much has changed since that time, and how much of the empire’s political heritage has been left to the modern day Turkish diplomats? Has the whole premise of the modern day Turkish Republic not been about going against the ’Ottoman backwardness?’ If that is the case, how can we expect these diplomats to delve into a wealth of heritage they lack? What are the goals of peacemaking attempts?

"It is great that Turkey wants to be involved more and more in peace-making.

Yes, ’blessed are the peace-makers’ (Matthew 5:9). But what are the ultimate long- and medium-term goals of these peacemaking attempts?

It is not only the know-how, technocrats being invested but the Turkish Republic also spends quite a good sum of money on back-channeling, so the taxpayer should have a right to ask on what purpose do we spend this money?

"If Turkey is a side in a conflict, how can it hope to be the peacemaker? Can Professor Davutoğlu stand against the temper of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his short-term election of goals in his making of the foreign minister?

Are the payoffs of investing our precious resources in the Middle East and Africa worth for straying away from the EU track?

"Most importantly, if Professor Davutoğlu accepted this post because he was under much pressure from the prime minister Ğ who probably didn’t know whom else to appoint for this task Ğ would being on the forefront not mean a loss of ability to generate behind closed doors, quiet diplomacy where secrecy gives the freedom to generate successful agreements in the international forum? If Mr Davutoğlu is on the forefront, who will be the man behind the scene carrying the flag of ’peacemaking, intermediation’ for Turkey’s newly found roles in the Middle East?

"One should also consider the fact that starting with the attempt to bring peace to these rogue states Turkey has touched the bee hives long detested. Friends are not easy to make and if they are your permanent neighbors, good fences alone might not suffice for good relations. We do not get to choose our neighbors, but we should be able to shape the nature of our relationships.

Professor Davutoğlu has rightly pointed out that there might not have been ’positive’ peace, but the lack of conflict on its own is a major success at this time. É

"Another major criticism of the extrovert Turkish foreign minister: What benefits can neo-Ottomanism deliver? Some have commented that this is not even neo-Ottomanism because its range is wider than the Ottoman territories, i.e. Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan. É Someone might ask why should Turkey not focus on Cyprus but try to deal with the Arabs.

"These are all valid questions and should be properly answered. However, what matters most now is the fact that after years of staying ’unlinked,’ Professor Davutoğlu became the official face, coming under more scrutiny than before.

No one can run foreign policy alone. ’Career diplomats’ and the minister’s visions might not always be in line, and whether Mr. Davutoğlu can benefit from diverse ideas and visions is yet to be seen.

"In the meantime, we all know that the AKP will do its best to process the harmonization of the laws in accordance with its own best interests.

For anyone who can have the patience to study (please note that I do not say read) his book ’Strategic Depth: The International Position of Turkey (almost 600 pages), 2001,’ one of his many valuable publications, it should be clear that this is a man of not only knowledge but also a great vision. So, sure, he is qualified, but is he good enough?"

(Un)surprisingly, none of the two expatriate readers who "visited" this column with interesting comments on "Mr. Turkish Kissinger" did remind us of what he had to say upon an official ceremony in his honor with the Ottoman military band playing the warfare tunes from a few centuries ago.

The Ottoman military band, Mr. Davutoglu said, "is our soul." He may be right. The regular Ottoman tune was "two steps forward, one step backward."
Yazının Devamını Oku

You’ve got mail, your excellency! (I)

15 Mayıs 2009
"Foreign ministers are not, as a rule, the principal architects of foreign policy but they are, frequently, the principal foreign policy advisers in relation to the governmental decision process, hence strategically placed for exercising influence over that process." The quote belongs to prominent political scientist George Modelski (The World's Foreign Ministers: A Political Elite, Journal of Conflict Resolution).

Yes, we are all optimistic, or cautiously optimistic, about the "Turkish Kissinger." Part of the optimism comes from the fact that no one can possibly do worse than Ali Babacan. But let’s try not to be unfair to Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu. The new minister of foreign affairs has got a couple of letters from the Turkish diaspora. I shall leave the floor to both letters today and next week, hoping that it might be useful to lend an ear to these partially converging views.

Here we go:

"Since I am a member of the Turkish diaspora, I cannot comment in detail about other ministries but please allow me to make a couple of points with respect to Professor Davutoğlu’s appointment as the new foreign minister.

"It is always a pleasure to have a foreign minister who himself resided out of the country. Davutoğlu brings a great wealth of knowledge with him, and that on its own should be a source of pride for usÉ Has it not always been a source of criticism that our leaders lack proficiency in foreign languages? Or their educational credentials are lacking? Well, here we have found a professor of international relations with exceptionally fine colors, someone who can command more than one foreign language and who has excellent the academic credentials as wellÉ

"Mr Davutoğlu is no longer behind the doors. He is now officially associated with the Justice and Development Party (AKP)É Like anyone else involved in policy-making he has made mistakes and he has been under the spotlight for years now. But there is more than that about him:

"First is the fact that the Turkish foreign ministry for years followed a very ’reactionary’ approach, that is Turkey reacted whenever there was a problem. We saw signs of change under charismatic leaders, such as (Turgut) Özal, but until the last couple of years, we could not call the foreign ministry ’visionary.’ Behind the vague slogan of ’peace at home, peace in the world,’ Turkey played a low-key position in many regions in the hands of career diplomats Ğ whose main concern is to be accredited to posts in 'western' countries, and frequently changing rather insignificant foreign ministers. Survival as a foreign minister under coalition governments in the 1990s was not easy.

"One path Turkey focused on was the ’West’, even though not many people were sure about how to go west, or be a part of the West. One sincere concern of many ’secularists’ Ğ and maybe some career diplomats Ğ was that if the Islamists took over we would lose our Western orientation.

This has been much debated and will be debated in the next decade as well, so acknowledging but not dwelling on the question, one has to ask in the last six years of post-Islamist rule, how has the Turkish foreign ministry changed? I argue that the question of whether Turkey’s orientation towards the West has been altered or not is the wrong way to address the issue. With the West, what is meant is the institutions of the Western civilization, such as NATO and the EU.

Therefore, we can summarize this as relations with the United States and Europe. Our relations with the U.S., with its possible ups and downs, have been at best not drastically mismanaged. The same cannot be said for the EU. For many years the Turkish diaspora held similar hopes for an eventual accession. However, for those of us who know the voting procedure and the institutional structure of the EU, full membership, as it stands today, is not possible. We all would like to keep the audacity to hope alive, plus many believe that with the goal of becoming an EU member, ’harmonization’ of several laws might indeed benefit Turkey in the long-run. I have no qualms in trying to improve laws and the general well-being of Turkey, even if it is behind the veil of misguided hope; however, it is a rather dangerous game to keep attached to ’false hopes’ in the long run.

I believe Professor Davutoğlu and his team see the bottom line that Turkey will most likely not become a full EU member; therefore, we need to re-establish our identity. High expectations lead to major disappointments which can then generate social disillusionment. "This brings us to the reorientation of the foreign ministry towards other regions. Some refer to this as ’rediscovering’ our roots, Muslim identity, or other historic attachments, i.e. neo-Ottomanism.

Professor Davutoğlu has continuously struggled to emphasize that it is not mutually-exclusive, that one can have friends in the West and the East without necessarily being the ’bridge’ countryÉ

"Turkish attempts to broker peace proved to be a more challenging task than ever imagined; it also demonstrated major crevasses in our identity. When it comes to peace-making while making headlines all over the world at Davos, we discovered the fact that we are not Norway at equidistance to the two sides involved. That said, one has to applaud Mr Davutoğlu for his success with ’zero-problem-policy’ with our neighbors, particularly Syria and IranÉ

"We share definitely more than the same prophet and cooperation with our neighbors long forgotten (except in times of support of terrorist activities) can benefit Turkey on multiple levels.

Changing images and generating cooperation with countries we were almost on the brink of war only a decade ago is not easy in this region and we need to understand that even if Turkey does not become the ultimate ’mediator’ between Israel and Syria, even if both countries were to prefer the U.S. rather than Turkey, still for improved relations with Syria and Iran, Davutoğlu deserves kudos from his harshest critics."
Yazının Devamını Oku