15 Mayıs 2009
The upcoming elections to the European Parliament have opened the "Turkey shoot" season in Europe again. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel are again in the forefront leading the "No to Turkey in the EU" chorus. There are others who will no doubt jump on the bandwagon also as the elections near. As for the arguments, they are all too familiar at this stage.
However, there is something banal about it all this time. Most commentators seem to be able to see through what is going on now.
Put another way the "elections equals cheap populism equals easy targets equals hit at Turkey" approach is too transparent to be taken very seriously.
Of course, President Gül had to respond to Sarkozy and Merkel, regardless of this, when asked about it at a press conference during Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva’s visit to Ankara earlier this week. And, of course, he was correct in indicating that both lacked a vision for Europe.
Sarkozy’s attempt to offset this with a vision of a Mediterranean union, on the other hand, has come to nothing of significance. A year after it was launched, hardly anyone is talking about this project.
He is now taking another pitch with another "union" idea that somehow includes Russia and Turkey in a special relationship with the EU.
Clearly this will entail another stillbirth, even if it sounds good in an election environment to ears in France, where we are told 67 percent of the public oppose Turkey’s EU bid. As we said, there is something banal about it all at this stage.
The fact is that given the difficulties in the EU, which even the much publicized French presidency of the union failed to overcome, on one hand, and Turkey’s own problems, on the other, it means that we are talking about a 15-year period at best for Ankara’s EU bid to mature and become real.
Tony Barber's commentary, "Europe's line must take in Turkish sand," in yesterday’s Financial Times, spells out some of the problems on the economic side, and there is no point in being naive about these difficulties, which will clearly take time to sort out.
But Turkey is not a static country and the best gauge of this is to measure where it was two or three decades ago against where it is today, in order to make some extrapolations concerning where it might be two to three decades hence.
In the meantime, it is equally obvious that worlds can be destroyed and re-created during such a period. Put another way, it will be neither Sarkozy nor Merkel who decide whether Turkey will become a member of the EU, or Ğ for that matter Ğ whether it will become a special partner by its own choice, and not others.
Such questions will be decided by circumstance much more than by design. In other words, we have to see what happens in Europe, what kind of a turn the situation in Turkey takes, and what shapes up politically and economically on the global scale before we come up with fast and ready answers, as Sarkozy and Merkel are doing.
Barber, in his FT commentary, sets the picture right in the best possible manner when he says, "The EU can draw all the lines on maps it wants, but it should remember that Turkey can decide its destiny for itself Ğ possibly, in ways the EU would not like."
This is why, contrary to the impression that Sarkozy and Merkel are trying to create, there are more influential names in Europe than they would like to admit, who want to leave the door open to Turkey, not the least because of the unpredictability concerning Europe’s own future, and the dire consequences that might follow from alienating Turks at a time when there is no need to do so, other than the requirements of crass populism.
As an aside here we would like to suggest that Sarkozy and Merkel might like to read Walter Laquers latest book, "The Last Days of Europe" for a sobering account of the real problems that confront their continent and which require genuinely visionary leaders if the "Old Continent" is to overcome some of its very serious problems.
8 Mayıs 2009
The appointment of Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu as foreign minister can hardly have come as a surprise to diplomats in Ankara. The talk of the town for weeks has basically come true. Deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, were also telling their foreign interlocutors during this time that this appointment was imminent. Davutoğlu is not an unknown quantity, of course. His views, which have always had an academic perspective due to his training, have always attracted attention and been found interesting, even if one does not agree with him on all points. Especially in matters that have to do with the Middle East. His links in the region have also landed him in controversial situations on quite a few occasions. Davutoğlu’s close ties with Hamas are a case in point. He was the one said to be behind the unexpected visit to Ankara by Hamas’ leader in exile Khaled Mashal just days after this organization swept the Palestinian elections in 2006.
His continuing links with Hamas have led some to question how he is going to deal with Israel as foreign minister now. There is, however, the fact that Davutoğlu was also one of the key figures behind the indirect talks between Israel and Syria, which ended abruptly after the latest operation by the Israeli defense forces against Gaza. One might have thought that his connections to Hamas might also have been problematic in terms of ties with Washington. But Davutoğlu was in Washington recently, on what he himself termed to be a highly successful visit, which was aimed at establishing early bridges with the Obama administration.
At any rate, any coolness that might prevail between Ankara and Washington under his tenure is more likely to be because of the Armenian genocide issue rather that his contacts with elements in the Middle East, considered by the Americans to be unsavory. If anything, there is more talk in diplomatic circles that these contacts might even bring some advantages, given that the Obama administration is opting for the dialogue approach, rather than the ostracism and vilification approach of the Bush administration, as far as some of these elements are concerned. Naturally enough, there is great excitement in the Arab world over Davutoğlu’s appointment. This is basically seen as the continuation of what is believed to be the Erdoğan government’s pro-Arab and anti-Israeli approach to the region. But the rapid normalization of ties with Israel after Erdoğan’s now-famous Davos outburst against Israeli President Shimon Peres belies this expectation. If anything, Davutoğlu is going to have to tread cautiously vis a vis the Middle East given this perception. The ties he will have to conduct with Washington will also see to that.
What Davutoğlu is not known for dwelling on extensively are Turkey’s relations with the EU. This is not because he is a novice in terms of these relations. He is more than aware of the facts and figures and the intricacies involved. It is just that his personal interests have rested elsewhere. Government spokesman Cemil Çiçek, however, made it clear in his first press conference after last week’s Cabinet reshuffle that the EU remained one of the government’s top priorities. This will mean that Davutoğlu will have to get more involved with this subject, especially at a time when the widespread belief in Europe is that the AKP government has lost interest in the EU dimension.
The first challenge that Davutoğlu faces, however, has to do with the Caucasus and the delicate process of rapprochement under way with Armenia. He will have to continue with this process while also trying to regain some of the confidence in Turkey lost by Azerbaijan. This will require all his talents of diplomatic juggling. There is a belief that Davutoğlu is essentially an ideologue and strategist. He has been attributed with being the father of what is termed "Neo-Ottomanism." He has always vehemently denied this, and it is not quite clear what is meant by this tem anyway.
If it means increasing Turkey’s influence in the old geography of the Ottoman Empire, and the Middle East in particular, this is under way anyway due to objective reasons and not in any revanchist or irredentist way. The interest in the region in his appointment also attests to the fact that there is not much aversion to more involvement by Turkey in key regional issues. Broadly speaking, the fact is that Turkey’s foreign policy is more likely to veer toward Ankara’s traditional cautious middle of the road line under Davutoğlu, rather than moving in an adventurist direction as suggested by some of Erdoğan’s recent outbursts.
The general feeling among observers is that Erdoğan has learned by now that foreign policy administration is a complex matter best left to the professionals, even if he has made his dislike for professional diplomats apparent in the recent past. His Davos outburst brought him little in the end. As for his highly controversial opposition to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO secretary-general, this turned into a debacle for Turkey. One can expect him to follow Davutoğlu’s advice before taking the leap on important foreign policy issues from now on.
1 Mayıs 2009
President Barack Obama’s Armenian commemoration statement on April 24 appears to have brought an abrupt end to the honeymoon in Turkish-U.S. relations that started with his election and peaked with his recent high-level visit to Turkey. This development also makes short shrift of the elated remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief foreign-policy advisor, Ahmet Davutoğlu (soon to be foreign minister, if one believes the Ankara gossip.) During his recent visit to Washington, Davutoğlu said that Turkish-American ties were entering their best period ever with the advent of the Obama administration, a remark that now appears to have been premature.
Since President Obama’s statement has encouraged the Armenian lobby in the U.S. to push even harder for passage of the Armenian genocide-recognition bill introduced in Congress, relations could even be heading in the opposite direction.
In trying to please two opposing sides while serving his own country’s interests, President Obama was already faced with a thankless task. As it turned out, he failed to please either the Armenian or the Turkish side, and it is uncertain that he served the United States’ best interests either, if indeed those require that Washington improve the ties with Ankara that were spoiled under President George W. Bush.
Judging by the harsh Ğ and, as far as Turks are concerned, extremely biased Ğ remarks in his Armenian statement, it is clear that Obama’s advisors had told him he could say just about anything as long as he did not use the "g"-word. He thus went ahead and described the concept of genocide without actually using the word, apparently feeling Ğ misguidedly, it now seems in retrospect Ğ that this would be fine as far as Turkey was concerned. But the angry reactions emanating from throughout Turkish society, including those from President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Erdoğan and the opposition, clearly point to a serious miscalculation.
And thus, we are seeing a return to the loveless marriage between Ankara and Washington, one that continues based only on pragmatic considerations.
It is also clear that the positive atmosphere created by President Obama’s visit to Turkey, and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before him, which seemed to be dispelling the chronic anti-Americanism in this country, has also evaporated in one fell swoop. As one columnist suggested earlier in the week, Turkish-American ties are back to what they were under President Bush, albeit with a different color. All this is reminiscent of the Turkish saying, "Poking an eye out while trying to trim an eyebrow." This basically means ending up doing the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing. As noted, the ties between Ankara and Washington will, of course, remain. But it is clear that the Erdoğan government will have to keep a close eye on public opinion as specific issues of vital interest to Washington arise.
One can also expect that Ankara will be in no hurry to submit to pressure from Washington to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia and open its borders in the shortest possible time. The Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process will also continue, of course. But given the dissatisfaction it has created, both in Turkey and in Azerbaijan, the government will not have any sense of urgency on this issue either.
Meanwhile, the genocide bill in the U.S. Congress will continue to hang like the Sword of Damocles over the efforts at rapprochement. The negative approach taken to the rapprochement process by the Armenian diaspora and the ultra-nationalist Dashnak party in Armenia will also be used by Ankara to buy breathing space in its negotiations with Yerevan.
Put briefly, President Obama’s statement has, wittingly or unwittingly, put the Armenian issue at the center of Turkish-U.S. relations once again, and has ensured that this will remain a problematic topic for some time to come. Since it is expected that Obama cannot, under these circumstances, tone down his April 24 message next year, or take a determined stand against a genocide resolution in Congress when it comes up, either this year or next year, the problem will linger on as a serious hindrance to the two countries' ties.
24 Nisan 2009
The victory by the National Unity Party, or UBP, lead by former Prime Minister Dervis Eroğlu, in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC, clearly does not bode well for the settlement talks under way between Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Demetris Christofias. The problem is not that Eroğlu is objecting to a federal solution under one flag, and a single citizenship for the island.
His preference is for a loose confederation that basically amounts to independence for northern Cyprus. But he knows this is a formula that will not be accepted by the by the Greek side or the international community.
Eroğlu is therefore of the "no settlement in Cyprus is a settlement in itself" school of thought. Namely the one that says that the current situation is a settlement in itself that has to simply be made "de jure."
As we said, the problem is not that Eroğlu is of this mind. He was, at any rate, put in line by Ankara almost immediately after his electoral victory, which incidentally is a first for the TRNC bringing, as it did, a party to power on its own. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent him a harsh message Tuesday, telling him "not to be a spoiler" as far as the Cyprus talks are concerned.
President Abdullah Gül, for his part, in a separate statement, said that Ankara stands firmly behind President Mehmet Ali Talat, the Cyprus negotiator, thus also signaling to Eroğlu not to be obstructive. Eroğlu’s remarks after these statement, on the other hand, indicate that he got the message.
As matters stand, he has no other choice since the TRNC is dependent on finances from Turkey, over which the government has a say. It is clear therefore that Mr. Eroğlu is not going to be a "spoiler," regardless of what lies in his heart of hearts, given the fact that he has to work with Erdoğan and his government.
The bad news in all this, therefore, is not Eroğlu but the fact that Turkish Cypriots have thronged to his nationalist party that supports the loose confederation and the more organic ties with Turkey argument for northern Cyprus.
A main reason for this turnabout, which was unexpected given that the majority of Turkish Cypriots had supported the federated solution envisaged by the Annan Plan Ğ which was eventually scuttled by the Greek side Ğ is of course the sense of deep disappointment in and frustration with Europe.
After having said a resounding "yes" to the Annan Plan, which was supported by the EU as well, they ended up being the side that was punished, while the Greek Cypriots were rewarded with EU membership Ğ which also gave them a veto against Turkey Ğ even if they said a resounding "no" to the plan.
It is very unlikely, therefore, that Turkish Cypriots will have much confidence in the EU under these circumstances, given that their political and economic isolation has continued even if they did the right thing vis a vis the Annan Plan.
This should be bad news for Europe and Washington, signaling as it does that they have to come up with significant "carrots" to convince the Turkish Cypriots, and any stick they imagine they have against the TRNC is illusory.
What makes the sentiment of the average Turkish Cypriot even more important is that whatever settlement Talat and Christofias come up with, this will have to be submitted to a referendum. Having been taken for a ride once with the referendum for the Annan Plan, no one can tell how they will vote when that day comes.
There is obviously a message in all this for Europe, the U.S. as well as all other parties concerned with a settlement in Cyprus. Whether anyone is prepared to take note of this message is another question. But what is certain is that Turkish Cypriots are not taking anything for granted anymore.
17 Nisan 2009
The search for a rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan is a delicate matter and no one on either side has any doubts that this process will have to be conducted with the utmost care and delicacy. The reason is that there is a public opinion aspect that can not be overlooked. The Turkish public remains wary of things to do with the Armenians, as long as the international campaign for genocide recognition continues to be spearheaded by the Armenian diaspora and supported by the administration in Yerevan, and there are direct or indirect references in key Armenian documents smacking of "revanchism."
On the other hand the latest poll conducted by the Ararat Strategic Center in Yerevan indicates that 61 percent of the Armenian public is against the normalization of ties with Turkey. According the Armen Ayvazian, the director of the center, only 11 percent of those questioned supported the government’s efforts to seek rapprochement with Ankara. The Turkish side has also been aware of the sensitivities on the Azerbaijani side, given the unresolved dispute this country has with Armenia over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, which was occupied by Armenian forces shortly after the two countries gained independence from Moscow.
This is why Ankara has also been eyeing the so called "Minsk process," which is searching for a settlement to this seemingly intractable dispute, and which includes not just the U.S. and Russia, but also European powers such as France and Germany. Turkey is also part of the process, though on the fringes because of its close ties with Azerbaijan.
Given the sensitive nature of the issue, due to the factors cited above, Ankara and Yerevan have chosen the path of quiet diplomacy in their effort to overcome differences. The importance of this process increased after the Russian invasion and division of Georgia last summer, making the need for a normalization of ties between Turkey and Armenia even more necessary for a host of objective reasons - even if public opinion in both countries remains opposed to this.
On the Turkish side a stable situation in the Southern Caucasus is closely linked with Turkey’s long term strategic interests, mainly in terms of security for energy lines. It is also a fact that a rapprochement with Armenian disarms the Armenian Diaspora in the West to a large extent - in itself efforts to undermine Turkey - given that Ankara’s interests in the region overlap with those of Europe and the United States.
On the Armenian side, it is a fact that not having relations with Turkey has consolidated Armenia’s regional isolation, keeping it out of key energy and communication projects, and deepening the country’s continuing economic woes. While Yerevan looks to the diaspora for a host of reasons, it is also a fact that lack of ties with Turkey has prevented it establishing the concrete bridges it wants with the West, finding itself to be increasingly reliant on Russia instead.
Azerbaijan however has been the wild card in this search for rapprochement. This is why Ankara felt the need to inform Baku of the details of the process with Yerevan at the highest level in order to allay misunderstandings. This writer was personally with President Gul and Foreign Minister Babacan on their visits to Baku for this purpose.
It appears however that Turkish diplomacy underestimated the extent to which Baku is prepared to go to spoil a process that it sees as detrimental to its own interests, even if this is going to cast a shadow on its ties with the AKP government. Acting on the basis of press reports in the West, to the effect that Turkey is on the verge of opening its borders with Armenia (these were closed after the invasion of Karabakh - as well as Azerbaijani lands outside the enclave - by Armenian forces) Azerbaijani officials and politicians started a "Turkey is stabbing us in the back campaign."
There was of course a cynical calculation in this effort to hit below the belt because Baku knows full well it can mobilize ultranationalist sentiment in Turkey with such a campaign. It also knows that this campaign can be used by the opposition in Turkey to try and hurt the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and Prime Minister Erdogan.
As matters turned out Baku was successful in throwing the spanner in the works in this way, forcing Prime Minister Erdogan to say that there will be no normalization with Yerevan until the Karabakh issue is resolved. This basically means that there will be no normalization in the near future given that no one is expecting a miracle in terms of an early settlement to the Karabakh problem. This situation will in turn leave the Erdogan Government facing difficulties in its dealings with the West, given that much hope is invested in Europe and the United States in a normalization of ties between Ankara and Yerevan. It is also clear that the Armenian Diaspora will benefit from this outcome since it never liked the attempt at rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia anyway, seeing this as a mere ploy by Turkey to try and bury the genocide issue.
It is very unlikely that there will be much love lost between the AKP administration and Baku over this turn of events. What has irked the Erdogan government more than anything is that Azerbaijani diplomacy, no doubt acting on the left-over Machiavellian instincts from the Soviet era of high suspicion, decided to conduct its business on the basis of speculative press reports. rather than rely on its official contacts with Ankara. But the picture is not so clear as far as Azerbaijan is concerned. While it may be cozying up to Moscow now, in an apparent retaliatory move against Turkey and the US, it is unlikely that the Russians will ever allow it to realize its ambition of getting back Karabakh by force. Some Azerbaijanis may be deluding themselves now, but many recall the Russian involvement in the fall of Karabakh to the Armenians in the first place.
So, while Baku may have thrown the spanner in the works in a process which, had it displayed better diplomatic wisdom, might have brought it gains as well in terms of the talks over Nagorno Karabakh, it remains to be seen if it comes out of the situation it has created impulsively with any gains worth talking about.
10 Nisan 2009
President Barack Obama’s visit to Turkey earlier this week has opened a new chapter in relations between the two countries that were severely strained under the previous administration of President Bush. It was clear from the various remarks made by President Obama during his joint press conference with President Abdullah Gül, his address to the Turkish Parliament, and his meeting with a group of university students in Istanbul, that he had done his homework and studied Turkey and the Turks well.
For example, by underlining this country’s secular democracy on various occasions he openly signaled that the period of viewing Turkey as a moderately Islamic country was over for Washington. It will be recalled that that characterization by the Bush administration had angered the secular establishment in Turkey, which is highly sensitive over this issue, as well as many Turks. The new administration in Washington has now fine-tuned its approach, and is referring to Turkey to as "a secular country with a predominantly Islamic population," which is what most Turks want to hear.
It was also noteworthy that he did not refer to a "strategic relationship" in his various remarks, but talked instead about a "new model" for relations between Turkey and the United States, trying in this way to also signal that we are on the verge of a new period in ties which requires a new definition. His remarks on Turkey’s European Union bid, however, were among the most appreciated of his utterances. He had already said prior to coming to Ankara that Turkey should be accepted as a member by the EU. Although this seriously chagrinned French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel, President Obama’s insistence on this while in Turkey was noteworthy.
His remarks in this context to the effect that if Turkey is in NATO, and has been responsible for European security, then there is no reason why it should not be in the EU will no doubt have ruffled many feathers in Europe again. Especially in the wake of the "Rasmussen crisis" during last week’s NATO summit. But it touches on a basic truth that Turks will no doubt be referring to more in the coming days, as Turkey’s role in the alliance gains added importance.
President Obama also touched on the Armenian and Kurdish issues. But he did so in a delicate manner and by providing examples from the history of the United States, thus trying to allay any notion that Turkey was being singled out over these issues. Not everyone was happy about this and it did not take long for ultranationalist politicians and their supporters to lambaste the U.S. president over his remarks about facing up to the Armenian issue, as well as his reference to the Kurds as a "minority."
The subject is still being debated hotly in some circles, but it is unlikely that this debate will be able to overshadow the overall success of this visit. In the meantime, many, both in Turkey and the Islamic world, applauded his remarks to the effect that the United States was not, and would not, be at war against Islam. His reference to the fact that there were Muslims in his family also, a reference to his father, was also noteworthy given that there are those who will object to this in his own country. This is why they were not only taken as courageous, but also as a further indication of his genuine and honest approach.
Having said all this, it must be noted that the ways of the world are many and the issues that Turkey and the United States will have to confront in the future will require delicate handling. Heading the list of these issues are of course Iraq and Afghanistan. Put another way, there is no magic wand that will make thing perfect overnight. This is why Turkish American relations will have to continue to be worked on at every stage. President Obama’s visit has not only set a highly positive tone in this respect, but has established a new format for ties both in the bilateral and multilateral spheres.
Now the two countries will have to move in unison to take these ties further, and make them matter for the world, given their importance with respect to so many issues of global interest.
3 Nisan 2009
The results of Sunday’s local elections have left all political parties in the position of having to plan their next steps carefully. The reason is that the outcome of the voting left everyone surprised. Most people were expecting something of a landslide for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. This would have meant much of the same all around, a fact that would have relieved the leadership of the various parties from having to engage in forward planning at an early stage for the 2011 general elections. Unfortunately for them, though, the Turkish electorate decided that it should not be business as usual.
As it turned out, a decline to 39 percent of the vote for the AKP is a great disappointment for the party’s executive. The intensity of the blow is doubled because, together with many analysts, the party’s leadership expected a significant gain in these elections. Not only did this not happen but there was a further shock in store after the AKP lost key cities to the opposition, and barely won in Ankara and Istanbul. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan admitted his disappointment on the night of the elections when the general picture emerged. The figures, after all, reflected a situation that has been seen previously in Turkey. Namely that a party that has been riding high finds that such turning points in terms of a decline in support can very rarely be recovered from.
Many reasons are being attributed now to this relative decline in support for the AKP. Leading the list is the almost dismissive attitude of Prime Minister Erdoğan in the face of the global economic crisis, especially at a time when jobs were being lost by the thousands on a weekly basis in Turkey. Neither did his abrasive attitude toward the business community, indebted credit card holders or the media Ğ to mention only a few groups that help him much, bringing instead the opposite result of what he would have desired. Clearly more and more people are irked with his angry and acrimonious way of conducting politics.
The list of reasons being cited for Erdoğan’s losses range from the too little, too late work being done for the Kurds in the Southeast, to causing serious concerns in secularist circles on lifestyle issues as well as the general orientation for the country under the AKP. Many felt, in this respect, that his Davos outburst had in fact rebounded, increasing the concerns among liberals that Turkey may be moving toward a radically Islamic group of countries and organizations.
The fact that he lost the Mediterranean and Aegean provinces almost in total to the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, also left many commentators wondering whether this may also have been because of his Davos outburst against Israeli President Shimon Peres. After all, the coastal provinces in Turkey are dependent on tourism and Israeli tourists are an important element of this dependency.
These are just some of the reasons cited for the drop in support for the AKP. Other reasons include serious questions relating to the Ergenekon case, and the allegations of corruption against many figures either connected to the party, or close to it. Prime Minister Erdoğan has said that they will be evaluating the situation and drawing the right lessons from it. It remains to be seen what lessons will be drawn, but a Cabinet reshuffle that will get rid of some ministers Ğ whose districts performed woefully bad Ğ seems to be on the cards. However this will not be enough to convince the public, which clearly wants to see a new orientation from the government.
In the meantime, the pressure is also mounting for the CHP, whose leadership clearly did not expect this decline in support for the AKP. CHP leader Deniz Baykal had even taunted Erdoğan by saying if the AKP did not get 52 percent of the vote, this will be considered a failure for the government. In other words, even Baykal expected a vote for the AKP that could have gone as high as 52. It is also clear that whatever success the CHP returned in these elections, this was either due to the performance of individual candidates, or to other objective factors, rather than to any major contribution by the party’s present leadership.
This puts Mr. Baykal and his assistants in the uncomfortable situation of having to face up to the need to readjust the party’s overall position on key issues and to work hard in the period leading up to the 2011 elections. Baykal also knows, of course, that if they fail to do so, this will lead to calls for his resignation and replacement by a more dynamic person, for example Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who performed exceptionally well in the race for Istanbul mayor on Sunday, even if he lost it in the end by a relatively small margin.
Finally there is the increase in the vote for the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, whose support now stands at 16 percent of the electorate. This party will also work hard now to try and increase its support base in the lead up to 2011. Many consider it unlikely, however, that it could become the main opposition party, let alone the leading party, given its ultra nationalism and the ideological approach related to this.
The bottom line in all this is that the AKP’s magic has been spoiled now in a way that was not expected. Some are even speculating that the 47 percent it got in the last general elections was an artificial one, due to the anger people felt at the interference of the military in the political process in order to try and harm the AKP’s prospects. As it is, one of the lessons of Sunday’s local elections is that if the military does not interfere with the process, then the chances are that the Turkish electorate’s vote will reflect the situation on the ground much more objectively and realistically.
Many consider it good that the AKP’s magic has been spoiled in this way given the dictatorial tendencies that Prime Minister Erdoğan has started to display. The fear was that a landslide in these elections would have meant that there would be nothing left to hold him back. But the Turkish electorate brought him back down to earth, where he is now faced with serious decisions if the erosion of support for his party is not to continue. It is clear that the AKP did not loose these elections per se. But it is clear that there is no joy in this victory for party executives.
What makes matters worse for them is that Turkey is faced with serious social and economic problems as home, and major foreign policy problems abroad. A weaker mandate will make life much more difficult for Prime Minister Erdoğan and his ministers as they try and tackle these major problems. It is unlikely that they were bargaining for this.
27 Mart 2009
Those who are concerned with Turkey have to readjust their focus and follow developments much closer. There are spectacular developments that make this necessary. Turkey is changing at such a speed that those who insist on clich approaches are bound to miss the significance of the momentous events taking place. None of this frees the government from responsibility in terms of some of its misdemeanors, of course. The attempt to silence elements of the media it finds undesirable by various underhand means is a case in point. Carrot and stick political tactics, which came to the fore within the context of the local elections to be held on Sunday, is another example in this context.
Such matters must not be left to take their own course. It is incumbent on media organizations and all organizations concerned with the freedom of expression and the press, as well as fair representation in the political domain in this country, to continue applying pressure on the government in terms of such issues. Having said this, though, one cannot overlook some of the positive things that are taking place on this government’s watch, if one is to look at developments objectively. Some of these things are so reformist in terms of the realities that govern this country that they contain the seeds of a new Turkey. But first something has to be made clear here about the concept of "reform" as it is used with reference to Turkey in Europe and the United States. It is clear from various statements and reports that emanate from there that issues such as the restrictions on Christian minority foundations, or the fact that the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki remains closed, have been turned into "litmus tests" by which Turkey’s reformist record is judged.
While it is clear these have an important symbolic significance in themselves and are important issues within their own context, one must not get stuck on these clichs that, at any rate, cause sensitivity among Turks Ğ which any government in this country cannot afford to overlook. The basic fact is that even if the EU’s requirements vis-a-vis these issues were fulfilled tomorrow, the number of people that would in real terms be beneficiaries can be counted in the thousands, and not more. There are, however, reformist steps being taken that affect not thousands but millions of people, and these should not be overlooked.
The most important of these concern the Kurdish issue. Given the amount of blood that has been shed over this issue over the past quarter of a century, no one in Europe should underestimate the significance of the steps being taken now to reinforce Kurdish rights. There is of course much that has to be done yet, but even the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, which is considered to be the political wing of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, organization in the Turkish parliament, is admitting the value of these steps. The fact that we are on the verge of even discussing the highly touchy subject of amnesty for PKK members is an indication of how far we have come in this area.
But most significant in this regard is that we have senior retired generals who are openly admitting now that they were wrong in their denialist approach to the Kurdish question and are endorsing democratic means of approaching this subject. Having mentioned senior generals, this brings us to the other momentous example of spectacular developments taking place in Turkey. Namely, the fact that former and active ranking members of the military now find themselves being dragged in front of civilian courts.
They are being asked to answer charges of not just conducting a dirty war within the context of the Kurdish problem, but also of planning coups against the present democratically elected government, as well as other political parties in the Turkish Parliament. Such a thing was unthinkable only a few years ago when some members of the military felt they could act with impunity. Perhaps the most important thing here is that this weeding out process is being conducted with the help of the Turkish military itself, which is fulfilling all its responsibilities presently with regard to the rule of laws and the spirit of democracy. It is clear that all of this is happening as a result of Turkey’s own inner dynamics rather than pressure from abroad, although such pressure when applied appropriately and in a timely fashion is always helpful.
This goes once again to show that change, when it does come in this country, comes from within, and usually due to socio-political factors that are unique to Turkey. We clearly cannot go into the full details of what we have touched on here. But reading the Hurriyet Daily News should help the curious fill in the gaps.
To return to the original point made, however, getting stuck on a tree or two, that may be important in themselves but hardly of great significance in term of the big picture, will mean that one misses to point of what it going on in the forest itself. The bottom line is that Turkey has always been a much more complex country that some have assumed hitherto, and developments are proving this once again.