10 Temmuz 2009
Developments in China’s restive region of Xinjiang are causing a stir in Turkey, where pressure is mounting on the government of Prime Minister Erdoğan to do something about Beijing’s brutal suppression of the Uighurs; a close relative of the Turks who speak a language close to Turkish. The pressure is understandable given that many Uighurs fleeing from Chinese oppression have taken refuge in Turkey over the years and that these refugees are in close touch with ultra-nationalist and Pan-Turkic groups capable of creating serious political unrest the country.
Already, demonstrators earlier this week scuffled with police outside the Chinese embassy, and such public outpourings of sympathy can be expected to continue in the coming days and weeks depending on how the situation unfolds. Chinese brutality is of course well known around the world, particularly after the events that transpired in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, when government tanks were sent to crush unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators, most of them young students.
China’s record in Tibet is also a known fact. That particular problem also made international news headlines again not so long ago during the Beijing Olympics. Now it is the Uighurs that have come in the international spotlight following the recent bloody events in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region.
It seems that rather than try and prevent further violence between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese, Beijing is throwing its weight behind the Chinese, and thus stoking further ethnic hatred and harming its own international reputation. Given the pressure from the public and the opposition --which as usual sees a golden opportunity here to strike a blow against the government-- Prime Minister Erdoğan said on Wednesday that Turkey would ask the UN Security Council to discuss the events in Xinjiang. Turkey is presently a non-permanent member of the Security Council.
In the meantime, the Chinese Charge d’Affaires was earlier this week called to the foreign ministry to provide the Turkish side with information concerning the events. However, a statement issued after the meeting indicates that no formal protest was lodged by Ankara.
Many question just how far Ankara will go, given that there is an economic giant and a potential, if not actual, superpower at the other end of the dispute here, namely China. It is also interesting to note that Russia has come out in support of Beijing, accusing "separatists" Ğ meaning the Uighurs Ğ of sparking the events, and saying that this is "China’s domestic issue," a warning to outsiders not to interfere.
Moscow’s position is understandable, given the fact that it too has restive regions that are predominantly Islamic and therefore amenable to "outside interference." With Russia and China as permanent members of the Security Council, it is unlikely that any Turkish initiative, if it embarks on one, will result in a condemnation of China. It is still unclear as to how the violence in Xinjiang started, despite a history of Chinese oppression in the region. Reports suggest that the ethnic violence left scores of innocent people dead on both sides, inflaming calls for vengeance the ethnic communities.
There is also the fact that China is using the terms "separatism" and "fundamentalism" as cornerstones for its explanation of the events in Xinjiang. If Turkey were to go beyond calls to respect human rights in the region, and appear to be supporting Uighur separatism, it is clear that this will rebound with China referring to the Kurdish issue and minority rights in this country.
Then there is the growing Turkish-Chinese common interest, especially in the economics, and this was exemplified by President Gül’s high profile official visit to that country recently. Another factor affectig how much anger the government can inject into its rhetoric in support of the Uighurs.
It is noteworthy in this context that Ankara apparently recently twice refused to issue a visa to Uighur activistand US resident, Rabia Kader, who is seen by Beijing as the person behind all the trouble.Kader herself confirmed the view to broadcaster NTV.
Clearly Ankara was not prepared to upset China in the past and if Kader is, however, issued a visa now, China will likely see it as an act of defiance. The question is if Ankara is ready for such an act of defiance at this time.
Given the conditions, Turkey will likely remain in the "We are deeply concerned and call for restraint" mode, rather than embark on an all out diplomatic campaign against China.
The government, however, will have to ward off widespread domestic criticism given that opponents of the Justice and Development Part, or AKP, are already using the issue with great relish. Whatever happened to spark the start of the events in Xinjiang, it is clear that Prime Minister Erdoğan and his party could have done without this crisis at an already difficult time in terms of domestic politics.
3 Temmuz 2009
Turkey’s top general, Chief of General Staff İlker Başbuğ, may have declared the document in which an plot against the government is allegedly spelled out a "fake." He may have rested this claim - made during a press conference at which he was flanked by 36 top generals - on the findings of military prosecutors, going on to belittle the alleged document as just a "piece of paper." But neither Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, nor his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, appear intent on letting the matter rest, even though the original version of the alleged document has never been found since its contents were published by daily Taraf.
That leaves the whole acrimonious debate centered on a photocopy purportedly carrying the signature of a certain Col. Dursun Çiçek from GHQ.
Meanwhile, AKP officials have filed a formal complaint about the alleged document, and Prime Minister Erdoğan, speaking a day after Gen. Başbuğ’s press conference, has backed this move.
Although the inquiry by the military prosecutor may have been concluded, Erdoğan said the civilian judiciary would be conducting its own investigation now, a clear position of defiance given that past rulings by the military judiciary have rarely been questioned in this manner. The debate surrounding this document/piece of paper is not the only indication, however, of the cat-and-mouse game going on between the military and the AKP, a game that is progressively leading to more tension between the two sides and their supporters.
A pair of developments in this respect happened just as the National Security Council, or MGK, was due to meet in order to discuss the document/piece of paper as one of its main agenda items.
In the first of these, the Parliament - in which the AKP has an overbearing presence - passed legislation that will enable military personnel to be tried in civilian courts, rather than military ones, during peacetime. In addition, the same legislation ensures that civilians will not be tried by military courts.
The government argues that this move is aimed at meeting EU criteria.
But critics point to the timing of this legislation and said that while the EU demands less military intervention in politics, it has no criteria concerning military courts - though many European countries have such courts - other than that these courts subscribe to relevant European conventions.
It is inevitable, therefore, that this move should have been interpreted within the context of the struggle between the military and the AKP, rather than as an attempt to harmonize with EU legislation.
The other significant development, as the MGK was preparing to deliberate the latest developments, was the surprise arrest of Col. Dursun Çiçek as a suspect in the "Ergenekon terrorist organization case," as AKP supporters have come to see it.
The prosecutor in that case alleges a plot to overthrow the AKP government by means of violent acts aimed at destabilizing society, making a military intervention inevitable.
What was interesting in the case of Col. Çiçek was that he was invited in by the civilian prosecutor of the Ergenekon case to answer some questions, whereupon he was unexpectedly arrested and put in prison as a suspect. What confused the matter further was that he was released by another court less than 24 hours later, even though the case initiated against him will continue.
An addendum to all this is the fact that the government is now trying to change the constitution in a manner that could allow the perpetrators of the 1980 coup, including Gen. Kenan Evren, who went on to become president, to be tried.
It seems the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, may not be totally averse to this, seeing as it was at the head of the list of parties that suffered in 1980.
Not to anyone’s surprise, these developments have further split Turkish society - which is already divided along a host of fault lines - and have led to mounting anger on all sides. It is clear that old ghosts in Turkey’s closet are coming out to haunt the country in a way that has the potential to cause serious political instability.
It is obviously a good thing that the Turkish military’s role in a modern society is being increasingly defined as a result of these developments. All the indications are that its political influence is being whittled away in a serious and unprecedented manner.
But there are aspects to how this is being done that lead one to question just how sincere the government and its supporters in the judiciary are - and it is difficult, given recent developments, to argue that the judiciary is impartial.
Using the notion of "EU criteria" in this way, while doing hardly anything in terms of the reforms that must be enacted in order to move Turkey’s membership talks along, does appear less than sincere.
What is also worrying is that simply because the government is hitting at the military in this way, some European officials and media organs that are looking at the matter superficially appear pleased over all of this. Because of this, they are suspending their judgment and refusing to ask some questions they should be asking.
At any rate, signs are emerging that even the government is now concerned about where all of this may lead. It has agreed to a commission that will take up all these matters and ensure that the tensions between vital organs of the state do not increase further. The coming days and weeks will show whether or not this is possible.
26 Haziran 2009
Addressing the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament for the first time since he assumed office, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was reported by the press as saying on Wednesday: "Draw a circle and put Turkey in the center. Anything that happens a thousand kilometers away from us concerns us."
This of course fits with the grand vision that Davutoğlu has for Turkey as a major player, not just regionally but also globally. In addition to this Davutoğlu has of course been billed as a "Middle East expert," a designation that he too is fond of.
But, events in Iran force us to question these two assumptions. Let alone a thousand kilometers away, we are left wondering how concerned Turkey was with its next door neighbor Iran, given its mixed response to the events there.
Put another way, we are left wondering whether Ankara was following developments there as closely as it should have been, because if it had been, it should have foreseen the potential for a political crisis that would interest the whole of the international community. What makes it more surprising is the fact that Davutoğlu is said to be an expert on Middle Eastern affairs.
Iran on the other hand is a country that Ankara should be following the closest, not just because it is a source of international tension on our borders, but because anything major that happens in that country has always had spillover effects for Turkey.
The thing that makes us, and many diplomats in Ankara, question Turkey’s stance here is the immediate and almost knee-jerk response it had to the outcome of the elections in Iran, even though it became clear only hours after the announcement of the results that there would be trouble on the streets.
Overlooking the very serious potential for disturbances Ğ most likely because they were not aware of it, or underestimated it Ğ both President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, immediately congratulated Ahmedinejad over the phone and wished him well during his second term.
In the meantime, the Foreign Ministry remained silent for days on end as events of world importance in Iran began to unfold, and it became increasingly uncertain where all of this would lead. History has shown that such developments can end up taking unexpected turns, which makes it doubly important that they are followed closely.
The hurried congratulatory messages sent to Ahmadinejad are interesting for another reason. Turkey is known for its excessive caution in its statements about matters of international importance. It usually prefers to listen to what other are saying, and then finds a middle road for itself in the statement it makes on the particular topic in hand.
Preference for Ahmadinejad?
This sense of caution was, however, noticeably lacking in the warm messages from President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan to Ahmadinejad .
One would have expected Foreign Minister Davutoglu to advise the president and the prime Minister to take such a line.
Some analysts suggest that what was in fact happening in Ankara was a subconscious preference for Ahmadinejad , given the ruling Justice and Development Party’s, or AKP, Islamic leanings.
Put another way, it is suggested that the same tendency that pushes the AKP close to Hamas and the regime in Sudan, and which forced Prime Minister Erdoğan to explode against Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, was in operation here.
If this line of argumentation is indeed true, then there is a serious contradiction vis-a-vis Davutoğlu’s vision for Turkey as a grand regional player.
The reason is that a country with such a large pretension has to not only develop its grand strategy on the basis of a host of likely scenarios, but in doing so it has to also maintain a strong element of impartiality.
The fact that the AKP administration is struggling in terms of the second of these, namely impartiality, is already seen from reports in influential Israeli papers which are now indicating that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want Turkey to mediate between Israel and Syria.
The reason is said to be the AKP’s pro Hamas and anti-Israeli stance, a position that came to a head in Davos.
Turkey did of course issue an official statement on Iran eventually.
This came Wednesday and had a different tone to the initial warm congratulatory messages sent to Ahmadinejad .
In his statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin expressed Ankara’s desire that "the channels for seeking rights remain open in Iran."
He also said that Turkey has confidence in Iran’s ability to find solutions to its internal debates by means of these channels.
Ozugergin went on to add Ankara’s desire that the present events will contribute to the development of democratic institutions and rules in Iran.
These are, of course, diplomatically phrased remarks of caution to the regime in Teheran to refrain from anti-democratic actions. The fact that the regime in Iran is going precisely the way of anti-democratic actions, however Ğ with police brutality, censoring of the media, and attempting to find foreign scapegoats for the troubles Ğ makes in unlikely that Tehran will be too pleased with this statement from Ankara.
This statement has nevertheless shown that Ankara, which is claiming a place for itself as an important regional player, remains reactive rather than proactive in the face of major events.
19 Haziran 2009
Turkey’s "post-modern civil war" continues unabated. This time a document allegedly signed by a military officer has stirred the cauldron, pitting the military against the government again. The document Ğ whose authenticity is still being questioned - was published in daily Taraf, a newspaper that is building a reputation for sensational political revelations that keep the public occupied for weeks on end. This document, said to have been drawn up by an officer in the General Staff’s office, reveals a blueprint for a conspiracy from within the military aimed at discrediting the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in power, as well as the "Fetullah Group," whose leader in the United States, Fetullah Gülen, is considered by hard-line secularists in this country as their archenemy.
Authentic or not, news of the document was enough to send Prime Minister Erdoğan reeling with anger and lambasting those who are targeting his party in this way. The AKP wants prosecutors to act on the news in Taraf and apprehend the culprits and punish them.
What has added credence to the document’s authenticity for the AKP is that it was found among papers seized from a defendant in the famous Ergenekon case. How the document came to be in the hands of this defendant, and why it was subsequently leaked to the press, rather than being acted on by the legal authorities is not clear.
Conspiracy theories abound on this score also. One says that the prosecutor did not understand the seriousness of this document. Another says that some pro-Islamic people in the prosecutor’s office, or the police force, wanted to intentionally create a crisis between the government and the military.
If this is true, it means there are people on both sides of the divide in this post-modern civil war who are prepared to create a crisis in order to further their aims. The military has of course vehemently denied that such a document was prepared in the General Staff’s Office within the chain of command.
Military prosecutors are now investigating whether there are those in GHQ who acted on their own initiatives and prepared an outline for a conspiracy to discredit the government by unlawful means.
We still await the outcome of this investigation. Gen. Başbuğ, the chief of the General Staff, has promised publicly that if it were established that this document was prepared by people attached to his office, those responsible will receive severe penalties.
But what adds to the muddle is the fact that it does not matter at this stage whether the document is authentic or not. If it is, this means there are still minds in the military who feel that they can get away with such plans after all that has happened in Turkey over these past few years.
If not, on the other hand, it means that there are people out there who are prepared to go to these lengths to fabricate documents in order to stir domestic trouble in Turkey. Either way there is a criminal attempt whose perpetrators must be revealed.
What makes the whole thing more interesting is that this is all happening against the backdrop of relatively good ties between the military and the government at the present time. Some analysts maintain that this is a bother for hardliners on both sides of the secularist-Islamist divide in Turkey.
Another glaring inconsistency has to do with Prime Minister Erdoğan’s reaction to the initial report in daily Taraf. This reaction showed he was immediately convinced about the authenticity of the document the paper reported on.
In other words, he chose not to say something cautious and responsible like, "This is just a press report at this stage. We are investigating the matter together with the military and will let you know of the outcome."
This is the same Erdoğan, however, that immediately chews the head of journalists and calls on boycotting media organs that correctly report on corruption cases that may or may not have connections with the AKP.
The bottom line appears to be that the political situation in Turkey, which is messy and confusing enough as it is, is set to get messier and even more confusing in the coming days and weeks, since there are clearly those who are prepared to stir the cauldron in this way.
Given such a divided society, a gullible public and highly touchy political interest in this country, their job is mere child’s play of course.
13 Haziran 2009
The fact that the government is stalling on Turkey’s reform process is something EU officials are bringing up on a daily basis today. But it is not just that the reform process has stalled. There are also signs of serious regressions taking place, which should be of great concern for those who believe in democracy and the importance of the freedom of expression for this country. The case involving government intimidation of the Dogan Media Group is well known at this stage.
It took some time for EU officials to come around to understanding the gravity of the matter, but this issue, which raises questions about just how serious the government is concerning a seminal matter like the freedom of the press, is now under scrutiny by the EU Commission.
The latest case that shows just how badly Turkey is regressing as far as the question of freedom of the press is concerned involves a journalist from the influential daily Milliyet.
Nedim Şener, a highly successful investigative journalist from the paper, is now facing two trials in which prosecutors are seeking a total of 28 years in prison for a book he wrote.
The book titled "The Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies" concerns the killing of Hrant Dink, the editor of the Armenian language newspaper Agos. In the book, Şener highlights serious negligence by the intelligence officers of the police force in Trabzon, where Dink’s killer, Ogun Samast, is from.
Şener is being charged, on the instigation of the intelligence officers he names in his book, with "targeting persons who have taken part in the fight against terrorism, revealing secret information, and trying to divert the course of justice."
The prosecutor is seeking a total of 20 years for these charges. In addition to this case, another case has been brought against him on the grounds that he has "insulted organs of the state," and the prosecutor is seeking an additional eight years for this.
The grotesque irony here is that the total sentence being sought for Şener is more than the 20 years that is being asked for Ogun Samast, who is accused with the murder of Dink.
But the irony does not end there in this Kafkaesque case, where the state is showing its teeth, in a blatant attempt to "protect its own" and coming down with the full force of its weight on a journalist in a manner that belies every claim that Turkey has made great strides in the area of the freedom of the press.
An official report prepared and presented to Prime Minister Erdoğan, by a group of investigators attached to his office, also corroborates Şener’s claims.
According to this report the officers in question were seriously negligent since they had sufficient intelligence to act on in order to try and prevent the murder of Dink.
But no charges have been brought against these officers for this. They are merely the subjects of an internal investigation by the Interior Ministry, even though there is enough evidence to merit a case of criminal negligence.
In the meantime eight gendarmerie policemen from Trabzon are being tried for negligence, and the prosecutor wants a mere two years in prison for them.
Put another way, the intelligence officers Ğ who could have prevented this murder had they done their job properly Ğ appear to enjoy legal immunity, even though an official report from the Prime Minister’s own office indicates that they were negligent.
On the other hand a journalist who said the same thing as the official Prime Ministry report in a book he published is facing nearly 30 years in prison, not because be maligned or slandered anyone, but because he wrote the truth.
And then there are government officials going to Europe and explaining to their interlocutors there that Turkey has made great strides in the area of the freedom of the press. Who they hope to convince remains a mystery.
5 Haziran 2009
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has a vision of Turkey as a "leader country." By this he means a country that commands respect in the international community, and whose advice and assistance is sought over difficult issues. There are few Turks who would not share this vision. But whether they all understand the prerequisites for this is another question. The leading prerequisite is of course to have a society that is at peace with the world. A survey conducted under Professor Yılmaz Esmer from Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul, and supported by the British Foreign Office, however, paints a woeful picture in this respect. One that belies many assumptions Turks like to have about themselves.
Without going into details, the results of the survey show the Turks as a nation that despises foreigners and which has no tolerance whatsoever for people of other faiths, lifestyles or appearances.
For example, of the nearly 2,000 people surveyed across 34 provinces most said they would not like an American, an Israeli or a Christian for a neighbor. Neither should it be assumed that Turks are only intolerant towards Westerners or Western orientated societies. Other surveys in the past have indicated that Iranians and Arabs are also among the least liked people in this country.
Intolerance is of course something you find in all societies. Western societies are certainly not exempt from this social disease. We see this from the currently ongoing elections for the European Parliament, where Turks have become the targets of right-wing xenophobes across Europe.
In the case of Europe, however, this seems to be more of a fringe rather than a mainstream phenomenon. This is natural for a continent that has been to hell and back in this respect in its recent history.
But research is increasingly showing the case in Turkey to be almost pathological, with a prevalent suspicion of all things foreign and the seeming inbred prejudice that the West is basically out to destroy this country.
As an aside here, it must be questioned under these circumstances whether Turks actually like themselves, let alone anyone else. We are nor referring to selfishness or egoism here either. The reference is to something more philosophical.
The fact is that for human beings to like others, they first have to learn to like themselves. Put another way, those who expect sympathy have to first learn the meaning of empathy. Reading Turkish daily papers, however, is usually enough to show where Turks stand with respect to this.
What we have is a society at war with itself. Put another way, Turks as a nation want to be loved, but without having to love in return. They then go on to question why Turkey is not loved.
To return to the survey in question, 76 percent of those questioned said that the European Union aims to divide and dismantle Turkey. We see irresponsible politicians, academics and columnist who feed this misperception every day.
No one appears bothered to sit back and consider who or what this "treacherous EU," that has been anthropomorphized in this way, actually is. The fact that the EU represents a collection of states that have come together with their free will, to legally and economically unite for the sake of increasing the well being of their people, and contribute to peace is never considered.
Listening to these people you would assume that 27 independent countries have come together merely for the sake of destroying Turkey. There is however ample evidence to show that Turks are not just paranoid but also schizophrenic.
When asked whether they support EU membership 55 percent also say they are in favor of this. On the other hand, if it is suggested that Turkey is not European, as the Sarkozy and Merkel’s of this world are doing, most people in this country react adversely.
Put another way, we are dealing with a nation that does not appear to know what is wants.
With all respect to Foreign Minister Davutoğlu and those who think like him, this is not the material from which a "leading country" can be produced.
For that to happen there is the need for a serious reform process, starting from the education system and a tangible social transformation. Otherwise we are dealing with a country that basically condemns itself, despite its vast potential and in spite of its political pretensions, to being a second rate power.
29 Mayıs 2009
Prime Minister Erdoğan has a peculiar habit. He sets high targets with his various initiatives, outbursts or statements and then fails to meet those targets himself. We have seen this in Ankara’s efforts at rapprochement with Armenia, as well as his angry remarks against Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos. In the first of these examples it only took a display of Azeri ire and for Baku to activate nationalist forces in Turkey for Erdoğan to step down on efforts to normalize ties with Yerevan. So much so that one wondered why his government put so much effort into this process over a period of time it was so fragile.
As for the second example cited above, it took even less time for him to step down when he said, within hours of his reaction at Davos, that his anger was not aimed at Mr. Peres but at the moderator conducting the debate.
But it was to Mr. Peres that he had leveled his strong accusation when he said, "You know very well how to kill," with reference to the Israeli operation in Gaza.
Not being able to stand behind his government’s initiatives, or his own words (even if these are unnecessarily harsh, as they were at Davos), one is left wondering what to make of his latest remarks about the expulsion of non-Muslim minorities from Turkey, and his reference to these events as the product of a "fascist mentality."
The same applies to his castigation - in the same speech - of those who criticize business dealings with Israel, indicating these people to be narrow minded and out of touch with the realities that govern the world.
He was in this instance referring to the strong criticism of his government for planning to give a mine clearance contract on Turkey’s border with Syria to an Israeli company, and of leasing these lands for agricultural purposes to Israeli companies.
No one can doubt that these are positive statements that require courage in the present political atmosphere that prevails in Turkey. Therefore, one should, under normal circumstances, compliment Prime Minister Erdoğan for saying these things. But what is confusing people is the fact that it was the same Erdoğan, only a few days before, who in an indirect way, brought to the fore the notion of expelling 40,000 Armenians who are working illegally in Turkey.
More than this though, if the expulsion or the driving away by various means of the members of Turkey’s Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities in the past was bad, as indeed it was, then he is the one at the helm of government, and therefore the one to work out some restitution in this regard, for example by returning seized property that belongs to the Orthodox church in Turkey.
This is also what many commentators have been saying after his remarks uttered at a regional congress of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in the town of Düzce a few days ago.
And no doubt these questions will continue to be asked in the coming days.
But there is another matter that has not been highlighted sufficiently in Turkey, and which also provides a test of consistency as far as Erdoğan is concerned. During the recently held Eurasian Islamic Council meeting in Istanbul, Erdogan, in what were also brave remarks, questioned for the first time why it was that Muslims today are associated with violence, and suggested that the Islamic world should engage in self-criticism with regard to this issue.We also felt at the time that Erdoğan’s anger at Israel over the Gaza operation was justified, and reflected a general sentiment around the world. But we felt nevertheless that he had gone overboard in Davos with his remarks aimed at President Peres (who admittedly was not that diplomatic himself), given that such situations call for those at the head of governments in serious countries to be a little more delicate.
But his outrage over the images of dead Palestinian children, which any civilized person must share, also requires, for the sake of consistency, that he show similar outrage when Hamas or groups like it carry out acts of terrorism, which provide us with similar inhuman images.
We do not, however, recall such an expression of outrage from Prime Minister Erdoğan on those occasions. But is there no connection between the fact that the world thinks of violence, when it thinks of Muslims - as Erdoğan himself put it - and the lack of, or low-key response, in the face of acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam or by Islamic groups?
If Prime Minister Erdoğan, is serious in questioning these things, and in opening the doors to self-criticism, something that Turks are not very good at, then he has to keep asking these questions in a consistent manner and try to find answers. If he does this, then it is clear that he will increase his credibility in Turkey and abroad.
Otherwise he merely ends up confusing people by first saying these things and then going on to either step down or say something that contradicts his initial remarks.
All that he achieves in the end is to have more questions asked about his seriousness and credibility. This is why we don’t know what to make of these recent remarks of his, which, as we indicated, are positive and are expressions of the truth.
22 Mayıs 2009
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent address to the parliament in Azerbaijan seems to have set the record straight as far as the Azeri side is concerned. The dark clouds that were gathering over Turkish-Azerbaijani ties have disappeared for now. Baku is apparently satisfied after Erdoğan’s remarks that Ankara will not take any steps to normalize ties with Yerevan until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been resolved (to Azerbaijan’s advantage, one assumes).
This, however, raises a couple of serious questions. What then is to become of the so-called "road map" announced by Turkey and Armenia, which was ostensibly designed to lead both countries to normalized relations? Especially now that there is a "Karabakh condition" attached by Turkey? Also, why did the Erdoğan government bother to get involved in this matter of trying to normalize ties with Armenia in the first place, if it was not going to see it through to the end?
The first answer that comes to mind to the latter question is that Ankara either underestimated the reaction that would come from Azerbaijan, or it overestimated its own capacity to keep Baku in line with a "big brother" approach. The bottom line, however, is that it has now been revealed for all to see that Azerbaijan has more of a hold over Turkey than was assumed in some quarters.
Put another way, Baku holds in its hands a great ability to play the "Turkish nationalist card" within Turkey, against Armenia and against those trying to achieve a rapprochement between the two countries.
One only has to note the way the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, jumped instantly on this bandwagon, using the opening Baku provided to hit at the government.
Put even more bluntly, Turkey is not as independent in determining its policies for the southern Caucasus as it may have assumed it was in the past.
Azerbaijan, however, has shown that it has a freer hand with respect to pursuing its own national interests, as exemplified by the fact that it has refused so far to establish official relations with northern Cyprus, despite its kinship ties with Turkish Cypriots.
This situation is bound to have consequences as far as Ankara’s foreign-policy administration is concerned, not just in terms of the region, but also in terms of Turkey’s ties with the West, where there is a great desire to see a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. Western diplomats are already saying that while they may be parallel processes, there is no link between the Turkey-Armenia negotiations and the efforts to solve the Karabakh conflict.
The link with the ’g’ word
The cynical view is that Ankara announced the road map with Armenia to ensure that U.S. President Barack Obama did not use the "g" word (genocide) in his April 24 message commemorating the tragedy that befell the Armenians in Anatolia in 1915.
What reinforces this view is the fact that Prime Minister Erdoğan had already said, prior to the announcement of the road map Ğ and in response to the anger from Baku, that there would be no normalization with Armenia before the Karabakh problem was resolved.
But it seemed at the time that he said that simply to appease the Azerbaijanis, while really eyeing Washington and Obama’s statement. This is the way it was also apparently interpreted in Baku, where Erdoğan’s words were not sufficient to quiet the unrest, requiring him to visit in person.
President Obama did not, of course, utter the "g" word, but went on to describe the historical events as no U.S. president had done before, angering Ankara and providing opponents of rapprochement with Armenia the ammunition they needed.
The road map, according to the cynical interpretation, in this way turned out to be a kind of one-off shot in the dark, which under these circumstances will not be followed through Ğ not, that is, unless there is a breakthrough on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
No such breakthrough appears to be in the making, as the sides are firmly entrenched in their positions. Neither is the secret rivalry between Russia and the U.S. vis-?-vis the region helping much, especially given Moscow’s proven ability Ğ demonstrated by the events in Georgia last summer Ğ to use such problems to divide and conquer. This, then, indicates that there will be no early rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan given the Karabakh condition placed by Prime Minister Erdoğan.
The Karabakh condition
Even Bernard Fassier, France’s envoy to the Minsk Group, which is trying to solve the Karabakh problem, had to admit while talking to journalists in Ankara this week that while there is light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel nevertheless appears to be a long one.
Diplomatic sources on the Turkish side are now trying to save the day by highlighting various nuances of the "Karabakh condition" set by Prime Minister Erdoğan. They say that when Armenian forces start evacuating some of the seven occupied regions outside of Karabakh, and inside Azerbaijan proper, the road map will be viable again.
They also suggest that such an evacuation plan is currently being worked on within the Minsk Group.
But this appears to be speculative, to say the least, judging by the statements from Armenia and Azerbaijan.
It is also not clear whether this is what Prime Minister Erdoğan meant when he established the Karabakh condition. Many in Azerbaijan, for example, have interpreted his words as meaning a full evacuation by the Armenians of the Karabakh enclave itself. It is clear that the public in Turkey also believes this to be the case.
Given this overall picture, it looks more and more as if this attempt at normalization with Armenia is fated to be stillborn.