Semih İdiz

A New Era in Turkish Kurdish ties

20 Mart 2009
Relations between Turkey and northern Iraqi Kurds have come a long way. So much so that the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, has gone on record saying that they no longer fear Turkey; indicating instead that they are looking favorably on the prospect of increased relations with Ankara. There is a big change on the Turkish side also. The "Kurdish taboo" is seen to be melting away as Ankara increases its ties with the Kurdish leadership and Erbil, the capital of the KRG. The steps being taken within Turkey to address the question of Kurdish rights cannot be overlooked either.

24 hour TV broadcasts in Kurdish may not seem much to an outsider, but for those who know what has been going on in this country over the past decades understand full well the significance of such steps, which are apparently set to increase.

In the meantime President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, who is of Kurdish origin, was in Turkey this week where he held high level contacts, starting with President Gul. While here he said things about the PKK terrorist organization that comes as music to Turkish ears.

The bottom line for President Talabani is that the PKK is an anachronistic group that is incapable of seeing that the way to solve problems does not involve the use of guns. These remarks are a clear indication that the Iraqi Kurds are not going to sit on the fence anymore as far as this group is concerned.

It also seems from media reports that the KRG is preparing to convene a conference of Kurdish parties in northern Iraq, at the end of April or early May, which will issue a call to the PKK to lay down its arms. All of this makes sense from the Iraqi Kurdish perspective, of course.

The PKK has brought them nothing but trouble, starting off with the excuse it has provided the Turkish armed forces, and hard line nationalist politicians in Turkey, to strike at northern Iraq and interfere in its domestic affairs.

Interestingly enough it is the initially tacit, and subsequently overt, acceptance by the Iraqi Kurds of the military’s operations in northern Iraq against the PKK that has disarmed the hardliners in Turkey - for whom even the mention of "Kurds" or "Kurdish rights" has been an anathema.

These hardliners have always used the PKK as an excuse to demean the Iraqi Kurds, who they have claimed are behind this group, and to clamor for military operations against the region.

It is no secret that the military has also promoted this view, ostensibly because of the need to fight terrorists, but in fact to also apply pressure against the Kurds with a view to stifling their political and cultural aspirations.

Once these military operations began, with assistance from the Unite States Ğ which is much hated by the hardliners Ğ and the Iraqi Kurds were seen to be going along even if they were not extremely pleased about them, the hard-line arguments were, as we indicated, "disarmed."

Such operations also strengthened the hand of the Erdogan government, enabling it to take some bold steps in terms of Kurdish rights; given that the military’s overt argument has been that "it is not against Kurds per se, but against Kurdish terrorism." It is noteworthy in this context that the military has in fact endorsed TV broadcasts in Kurdish now, something that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

All of this, of course, leaves the DTP, which is generally considered the political wing of the PKK in something of a relationship similar to the one that existed at the time between the IRA and Sinn Fein in Ireland. It will be interesting, for example, to see if this party will attend the conference that news reports say will be held in Erbil and which will call on the PKK to lay down its arms. Doing so would clearly leave it in a difficult position vis a vis this terrorist group with which it has shared roots, even if it denies these.

It is no surprise that some observers claim that the best thing that could happen to the DTP, which has deputies in the Turkish Parliament, would be to be closed down by the Constitutional Court, where there is an ongoing closure case against it.

This would clearly shroud it with the mantle of martyrdom and help it out of a difficult situation. The bottom of the line appears to be, however, that just as hardliners on the Turkish side are being gradually "tamed" by developments; it is more than likely that the same will eventually happen with the DTP.

At any rate, we are dealing with an ongoing situation in terms of Turkish-Kurdish ties, and even President Abdullah Gul has referred to the prospect of "great things on the way" with respect to this issue.
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The TÜBİTAK scandal should be an eye opener

13 Mart 2009
Those following Turkey closely in Europe have no doubt noted the TÜBITAK scandal, the Turkish Scientific and Technical Board, with great consternation, while asking themselves the question, "where is Turkey headed?" For a government appointee, a supposed "scientist" himself to boot, to censor the board’s magazine "Bilim ve Teknik" because its editor put Darwin on the cover, in commemoration of the 200th birthday of the father of the theory of evolution, is so elemental an indication of a warped mentality that it can not be easily overlooked.

For him, in addition to that, to fire the editor is even more concerning. He and the minister involved are of course denying that this happened but the lady concerned is adamant that she was told verbally that she no longer had her job. Under these circumstances her account is of course more convincing, even if there was a stepping down on this score by the authorities because of the public outcry caused by this scandal.

Neither is this the first misdemeanor of this administration in this respect. Some will recall how, two years ago, the Minster for Education himself came out with a suggestion that the creation theory should be placed in biology books as the "alternative view."

It is not surprising therefore that a senior European diplomat should have told us, immediately after the TÜBITAK scandal broke out, that this shows the direction that Turkey would go if the government, which has taken hold of the administration, also got hold of real power in this country.

The fact that each administration has filled key institutions of the state and other organizations attached to the state with its own people is nothing new in Turkey. A look at the past reveals this to be the rule and not the exception. Therefore one may in all innocence say: "So why blame the present government. It is only doing what everyone else has done in the past."

But there is a naivety in this assertion which has to be highlighted. In the past this process took place along party lines. In other words it represented the currying of favor on the basis of partisanship. If we take TÜBITAK, for example, it would mean that one party’s favored scientist would go, and another party’s favored scientist would take his place.

It would not mean, however, that the scientists that replaced each other had different views on basic scientific tenets or laws. Even if there were ideological differences on political lines because one was a leftist and the other a rightist, it would not represent an attempt at a systemic change.

What has transpired in TÜBITAK now, however, differs fundamentally from this. It represents an attempt to change the basic system of scientific thought, with all that this denotes in term of the political domain, and as such points to a very different type of system which is clearly not democratic and certainly not secular.

Therefore to take this scandal lightly, and suggest that it is no different to what all previous administrations did, is to miss the whole point of what some in Turkey are attempting to do, and no doubt would get away with if the administration had absolute and unchecked power in its hands.

It seems now that two members of the European Parliament, Marco Cappato and Marco Pannella have asked the European Commission to "evaluate the consequences of the violation of fundamental rights, in this case the right to freedom of expression and freedom of scientific research, on the cooperation between Turkey and the EU on scientific issues."

Emma Bonnino, the deputy head of the Italian Senate has also issue a stern statement on the subject expressing her hope that a clear warning will be issued by the EU on this subject.

We have also noted that there is growing discomfort among some European diplomats in Ankara about the relative leniency with which the European Commission has been approaching some of the misdemeanors of the present government.

The hope now is that the scandal in TÜBITAK will be a true eye opener for all. The EU clearly has a very important role to play in keeping this government in line vis a vis democratic and secular principles. The sorry state of the opposition makes this role even more important and vital for Turkey if she is to remain on the path of modernity.

As one European diplomat told us, the government does not have the right to claim interference in Turkey’s domestic politics in this case. If it is genuine about EU membership then it has to accept such interference as being part of the rules of the game. If it is not serious, on the other hand, then it has to come out and say this openly.

At any rate it is a fact that some of the steps taken by this government, whether in domestic or foreign policy, are being followed closely and with concern in the West. This is why it is incumbent on friends of Turkey to issue the correct warnings at the appropriate time.

As for those who are not friends of Turkey and would like to keep her away from Europe, they must be following all this with glee.
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Turkey says no to Rasmussen for top NATO job

6 Mart 2009
Despite the headline, let me make two things clear at the outset. Firstly it is not clear that Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is eyeing the job of NATO secretary general after he leaves his office. He himself has been quoted in the international media as saying he is not. Whether this is due to the fact that he sees the going difficult, and therefore feels compelled to say so, or whether he is genuine in saying this is an open question. The second thing is that if there is an overwhelming desire in the alliance to see Mr. Rasmussen as NATO secretary general, it is clear that Ankara will find it extremely difficult to veto his candidacy, no matter what serious misgivings it has about him. But whether such support will emerge is an open question also, even if reports from Brussels suggest that he is a "favored candidate." For this commentator, at least, such support is unlikely due to objective factors, which shall be explained below. Now to come to the details of the matter.

I was interviewed by Danish Radio earlier this week, and while the whole subject has not hit any major headlines in Turkey, it appears that it has become something of a topic back in Copenhagen. This being the case I felt it necessary to "sound out Ankara" and found that much of what came to my mind initially on the topic is not off the mark. I would like to recall at this stage a conference I was invited to in Copenhagen, as the "caricature crisis" was raging, organized by the "Free Press Society," headed by a gentleman named Lars Hedegaard Jensen, and supported by the right-wing Danish People’s Party.

Just to put things in perspective it might be useful to mention that Hedegaard Jensen is currently supporting Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician and rabidly anti-Islamic crusader, on his "world tour" to promote his provocative film "Fitna," a hate-filled piece of work that is bound to make an already difficult situation in the world worse. As it was my fellow Daily News columnists Yusuf Kanli and Burak Bekdil felt during the conference that we had been invited there to receive a "serious dressing down from the representatives of the civilized world," being curiously considered (given who we are and what our world view is) representatives of the Islamic world.

I explained during my presentation there that if Denmark wants to play an international role on key issues of importance to the world, then the government had to cultivate a more subtle and nuanced attitude in the face of a crisis, such as the one that was raging internationally as a result of the caricatures published in the daily Jyllands-Posten. "If not," I said, "then there is not a problem." But I suggested that to assume that there would be no diplomatic fall-out for the government, and Prime Minister Rasmussen, if Denmark values its international role, then that would be naive.

Having said this let us turn to Ankara’s position on this matter. Foreign Minister Babacan has already spoken on the matter, in the most diplomatic of terms, saying Ğ in the first instance Ğ that the new NATO secretary general "should share the vision and principles of the alliance," and in the second, "that he is not aware that Mr. Rasmussen is a candidate anyway." Reading between the lines, this means that as far as Turkey is concerned Mr. Rasmussen has a different conception as to what constitutes "support for terrorism," not just for Turkey but also a number of NATO countries that believe that the PKK funded Roj TV’s broadcasting freely out of Denmark constitutes "support for terrorism."

The reason they believe this is obvious. Firstly this channel is not just a mouthpiece and propaganda outlet for the PKK, considered by the EU and the United States a "terrorist organization," but intelligence reports also maintain that it is the means by which PKK operatives in Europe send coded messages to their militants in the field. At any rate, Denmark is the only country in Europe where Roj TV has found a safe haven to operate without any encumbrance. Given this situation, it is unlikely that Turkey would want to see a Dane at the helm of NATO, and this is not simply out of "spite," as some back in Denmark are no doubt suggesting, but out of "principle."

But there is an even greater problem than this involved if a Dane were to head NATO, and Ğ despite reports from Brussels that Mr. Rasmussen is a "favored candidate" Ğ there can be no doubt that other NATO members, starting from the United States, have to take this into consideration. NATO today is engaged in a fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. In many ways it has staked its honor and credibility on this. This also involves a very delicate situation for the alliance, which knows it must not in anyway give the impression that it is fighting against Islam.

In addition to this, it is clear that the bulk of NATO’s engagements in the near future will have to keep this perspective in mind, given that its foreseeable roles will be in places like the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than in Europe. It would make no sense for the alliance, therefore, to select a Secretary General from a country that has seriously compromised itself in the eyes of the Islamic world. Especially at a time when the new administration in Washington is trying to extend a hand of friendship to this world based on the principle of respect for the sensitivities of others.

Just imagine, for example, Mr. Rasmussen, as secretary general of NATO, traveling to Afghanistan or Pakistan to hold meetings with the leadership in those countries on issues pertaining to the war against terrorism. Which of those leaders could afford to be seen with him Ğ given that his effigies were being burned in the streets of those countries only two years ago Ğ and not incur some kind of a cost domestically?

My interviewer from Danish Radio the other day appeared to be very perturbed when I put these ideas of mine openly on the line. But these are issues that any country in the alliance will have to consider in selecting the next secretary general of NATO, given the current international environment. As I said during the conference in Copenhagen, unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world. It is a big bad world out there, and people in administration have to have the capacity to balance their ideals, in a highly nuanced way, with the ugly realities of this world, while also keeping their national interests in focus, which at the end of the day is what really matters from most countries.

Mr. Rasmussen clearly did not display much aptitude with respect to this. Therefore, if he has it in his heart-of-hearts to be NATO secretary general, then unfortunately we will have to quote a Turkish saying, namely that "He is saying amen to a prayer that has little hope of being realized." But if not, and he says so himself, then there is no problem. All there is in that case is some food for thought for Danes.
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Benefit of the doubt, but to what extent?

27 Şubat 2009
One can understand the European Union wanting to give Prime Minister Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, the benefit of the doubt. He is after all at the helm and has - in many ways - been a better interlocutor for Europe than might have been expected back in 2002, when there was serious concern about the election of what was considered then to be an Islamist government. In the interim, the main opposition Republican People’s Party, the CHP, has to a great extent, at least until the recent visit of its leader Deniz Baykal to Brussels, shunned Turkey’s EU perspective, appearing not in any way interested in this matter. It remains to be seen, even today, whether the CHP will alter this stance from now on.

Clearly it is because of this that Erdogan is getting much less criticism from Europe these days than he deserves, despite some glaring problems which should not pass scrutiny by those in the EU who are closely concerned with Turkey. It might therefore be useful to provide a quick check-list of what has been going on during his watch as prime minister.

1- Unauthorized phone tappings, the transcripts of which are then quickly leaked to the elements of the media that support the government by various means. The government tries to clear itself by maintaining it is aware that this is illegal, and yet is not seen to be pursuing this matter legally with any enthusiasm.

2 Ğ Selective tax auditing has turned into a tool of intimidation against a key element of the Turkish media that is critical of the government, and it is an open secret that businessmen who may not be close to the AKP, and may even oppose it, are wary of this weapon being used against them at any given time, should they speak out about it.

3- Calls to boycott the media that is critical of the government by the prime minister have become a regular, almost ordinary, event in a way that questions the sincerity of the government when it claims to respect the freedom of expression and the press.

4- A key government minister, namely the Minister of Justice, comes out and openly threatens the electorate, by indicating that if anyone votes for the opposition in the upcoming municipal elections, then it is unlikely that those non AKP municipalities will get any help from the government in the future. This is a serious threat given that all municipalities in Turkey need government help in providing services to the public.

5- Serious legal irregularities taking place in the Ergenekon case Ğ even though this case is important and must be pursued to the end Ğ during this government’s watch, while some cases involving corruption, and which cast a shadow over the government, are scrutinized with less enthusiasm by regulatory bodies.

In addition to this one can add an extremely vitriolic and bellicose attitude by Prime Minister Erdogan, who has gone so far as to accuse the president of another country at a public forum of being a killer, and who has also openly insulted a columnist who happens to be critical of him, and is at the same time a dog-lover - incapable of doing anything but sleep with his dogs.

Given such a list one can not help but wonder to what extent the benefit of the doubt can be extended to this government, and to when someone in Europe will start questioning what is going on in Turkey, the way they have questioned so many other issues concerning this country in the past without any prompting.
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Press freedom attacked

20 Şubat 2009
If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck then it is a duck. The same might be said of the campaign of intimidation being spearheaded by Prime Minister Erdoğan against those elements of the media that he does not like.

Now the Doğan Group, to which we belong, and which is the prime minister’s apparent nemesis for its hard hitting reporting on corruption cases that concern his ruling party closely, is being pressured in ways that should make observers of Turkey concerned about where press freedom in this country is headed.

An auditor has slapped an exorbitant penalty on the Doğgan Group for alleged tax evasion. The facts of the story are to be found in yesterday’s edition of our paper. The explanation given by the Doğan Group, concerning its business transaction with the Axel Springer group - from whence the tax evasion allegation stems - indicates that the Group is standing on firm ground.

Put another way, the reasons given by the auditor in question for the incredible penalty of 826 million Turkish liras do not stand up to scrutiny. The matter will now go to the courts and it remains to be seen what the outcome is. Most believe the Doğan group will be exonerated given the auditors shaky argument.

Daily Milliyet’s principle columnist, Fikret Bila, who is an expert by training on tax issues, wrote what is on everyone’s mind anyway (you will read in this page). He indicated that the auditor in question was "either instructed to do what he has done" or was "trying to curry favor with someone."

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The CHP’s EU opening

13 Şubat 2009
The rediscovery by the main opposition Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, of the European Union can be approached cynically. "Well hello, where have you been!?" may be a way to greet this new development. But we have always believed that Turkey’s EU perspective should be above party consideration, seeing as it concerns the interests of the country as a whole. This is why we feel that CHP Leader Deniz Baykal’s visit to Brussels this week, five years late though it may be, is a positive development. We also believe that the messages he gave to his interlocutors there were useful, as there is a belief that the CHP is more of a hindrance when it comes to Turkey’s bid for membership than a help.  

As it is, diplomatic sources in Ankara inform us that EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barrosso, as well as Commissioner for Enlargement Ollie Rehn, where highly pleased to see Mr. Baykal in Brussels and to hold talks with him on current issues of interest to both sides.

Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent visit, after a four-year absence, to Brussels, when he was accompanied not just by Foreign Minister Babacan, but also by the newly appointed Chief EU Negotiator, State Minister Egemen Bagis, had gone a long way in dispelling some doubts in Europe as to whether Ankara was truly serious about its EU perspective.

Even if he may have complained in Brussels that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is distancing Turkey from the West, a contention that is open to debate, Mr. Baykal’s visit to Brussels has also contributed to reinforcing confidence on the EU side.

Put briefly, the fact that the EU perspective has become valuable for politicians again, whether they are in power or in the opposition, is a welcome development for those in Europe who are concerned with and supportive of Turkey’s membership bid.

EU officials make no secret of the fact that if Turkey can secure a national consensus on its membership bid, this will strengthen not only its hand in Brussels, but also those who are supportive of her EU perspective in Europe.

This is why we believe that the Nationalist Action Party, or MHP, should also enter the equation. MHP Leader Devlet Bahceli is not someone you see too often outside of Turkey. But he has also said in the past Ñ despite his party’s ultra-nationalist outlook Ñ that EU membership is a "state project," implying indirectly that they are not against the EU in principle.

Supporters of the MHP have to understand that for their party to start concerning itself with the EU does not mean that you have to be pro-EU.

A party can be concerned with the topic and be anti-EU at the same time. There are parties that are doing precisely this in Europe today and have even sent members to the European Parliament.

Put another way the MHP should not look on any contact with the EU as anathema. Quite the opposite, it should see these contacts as a means to explain to European officials the topics that it is sensitive about.

We happen to believe that the bottom line is that EU membership is good for Turkey, and that the standards that come with the legal infrastructure adopted as a result of this perspective will raise standards in this country.

The average Turk must be made to understand that EU membership does not imply that we become like the French or the Germans, or anyone else for that matter. Turkey has a long history behind it, a strong sense of its identity and a vast culture to complement this. It is clear that Turkey has much to contribute to Europe with its culture and this is already seen to be happening today.

We also happen to believe rather strongly that the EU provides an anchor for Turkey’s democratic and secular system, seeing as the basic principles that run this system originate from Europe. Put another way, a Turkey that turns its back on Europe is unlikely to be able to maintain its democracy and secularism in the long run, as such a turning-back will make it harder to maintain European values.

This is where the CHP’s "EU opening" can be of great value, seeing as this party is in a position to explain to the public just what Turkey’s EU perspective means, and thus dispel some mistaken notions that it may have contributed to in the past.

Therefore, while it is easy to be cynical about Mr. Baykal’s trip to Brussels, as we said at the outset, we prefer to pass on this and welcome this development.
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PM Erdoğan’s Darfur contradiction

6 Şubat 2009
Prime Minister Erdogan has brought the roof down in the name of humanity over Gaza, at the price of endangering Turkey’s traditionally overly cautious foreign policy administration. But we do not see the same sensitivity in the name of "humanity" on his part when it comes to the human tragedy in the Darfur region of Sudan. Not only this but the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has also seen it fit to invite Sudanese leader Omar Al Bashir to Turkey twice, even though International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has accused him of committing "genocide" and asked that an arrest warrant be issued for his arrest.

This is of course a glaring double standard for which the government has little explanation. Let alone explaining this, Erdogan appears comfortable in maintaining this double standard seeing as he hosted Al Basher’s principle assistant, some would say head henchman, Ali Osman Muhammed Taha in Ankara this week.

Had this visit not taken place immediately after Erdogan’s "Davos tirade," when he lashed out at Israeli President Shimon Peres Ñ in response to the latter's admittedly harsh outburst Ñ accusing him, and through him the Israeli people, of being child killers, it might not have attracted so much attention. It was inevitable, however, under present circumstances that Taha’s visit should not only attract attention, but also be commented on in a way that highlights Erdogan’s contradictory stance. Perhaps this is the reason why the Prime Ministry tried its best to ensure that this visit got minimal exposure.

There is more than sufficient material on the Internet for those who are not aware of what has been going on in Darfur these past six years or so. Suffice it to say here that members of armed Muslim militia have killed up to 180,000 people, according to the United Nations, many of them women and children. Some put the number of non-Muslim African’s killed as high as 400,000. The number of people chased from their lands in the process is put at somewhere between 2 million and 2.5 million. The Sudanese regime has been perpetrating these atrocities in the name of fighting terrorism, with reference to groups like the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army, or SPLA. As can be expected these non-Arab African groups are considered by the Al Bashir regime as "terrorist." The groups themselves, on the other hand, argue, like Hamas, that they are defending their people against oppression.

It is nevertheless interesting to note that Prime Minister Erdogan has hardly had any words of sympathy for those killed in Darfur, preferring a conciliatory and supportive position on Al Bashir and his regime. It is clear that the tens of thousands of children killed in this case do not move his sense of humanity as the deaths of the children of Palestine do. Why? This is the crucial question which brings some not so pleasant thoughts to mind. Is Erdogan’s approach based on the fact that the oppressor in this case is not just a Muslim but also a fundamentalist one at that. As long as the insensitivity of Erdogan and his supporters on Darfur continues, this question will stay on the table waiting for an answer. Because there is no other way to explain this glaring inconsistency. The second thing that comes to mind is this. If Erdogan’s reaction on Gaza, and lack of reaction on Darfur, can be interpreted as an expression of "Mujahideen solidarity" then how are we to respond to those who say that Turkey’s foreign policy priority is not shifting from its traditional ground.

Of course there are those in Turkey who try to explain the inhumanity in Darfur as "the result of imperialist machinations" and try in this way to exonerate the Al Bashir regime. But this is generally the response of those who do not like the pressure put on an Islamic country by the West. The fact is, however, if our subject is "humanity" then whatever the background argument may be, what has to be concentrated on in the first instance is the death of innocent women and children. Erdogan’s is trying to fudge this simple fact with his lack of interest in the people of Darfur.

In this case one wonders if the demonstrations on the streets of Sudan, ostensibly over Erdogan’s position on Gaza, are not actually motivated by the fact that he has shown support for people accused of committing genocide. A question worth pondering.
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Trying to decipher PM Erdoğan

30 Ocak 2009
Prime Minister Erdoğan’s rather strong and forceful criticism of Israel, while speaking up for Hamas, who he has not even once cautioned against using terror tactics, has left many wondering what is motivating him. What makes it even more intriguing is that he is utilizing this strong language as the prime minister of a country that has to conduct its foreign policy in a "minefield" given the crises that surround it. This is a fact of life that has always dictated caution to Ankara in its foreign policy statements.

So what is driving him?

This is what Svante E. Cornell, the director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program; a joint center affiliated with Johns Hopkins University had to say in a recent article in the Jerusalem Post on January 14:

"Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's words Ğ that Israel's actions will be punished by God and help lead it to self-destruction Ğ are too significant to be taken lightly. (In fact he did not say it that way, but uttered words interpreted in this way by the Israeli media. S.I.) Indeed, they are part of the trend of a Turkish government guided more by Islamic solidarity and anti-Western sentiment than by pragmatic calculations of interest. Indeed, Turkey's international behavior suggests that its attachment to the West is tenuous at best Ğ and eroding."

Sedat Ergin, the Editor in Chief of Milliyet, for his part, reminded us, in a long opinion piece, that Prime Minister Erdoğan was until the year 2000 very firmly attached to the Islamist leader and former prime minister Necmettin Erbakan, whose "Milli Görüş" or "National view" ideology was based on being anti-Western in general and anti-Israel in particular.

While moderating this approach after his party was elected in 2002, and even driving Turkey closer to the EU Ğ a fact that enabled him to be attributed with "leadership qualities" by the international community Ğ his anti-Israeli and pro-Hamas stance is now leading many to believe that Erdoğan’s "Milli Görüş" past is never far from the surface.

Mr. Erdoğan himself points out that his anger over Israel’s Gaza operating stems from the fact that he is also a father and therefore can not stand to see innocent children being killed. This of course is a natural human reaction and Israel is being almost universally condemned over this.

But those who criticize Erdoğan have been quick to point out that "humane concerns" are indivisible, meaning that you can not feel outraged in one incident and remain selectively silent on another.

What is meant here is that Prime Minister Erdoğan has not only displayed scant humane concern over the children that have lost and are still loosing their lives in Darfur, but has even hosted the alleged perpetrator of these crimes, the leader of Sudan, in Turkey twice.

This attitude has left many asking cynically is if Erdoğan’s concern over the Palestinians in Gaza is because of the close affinity he feels with the Islamist Hamas Ğ even if it is on international lists of terrorist organization Ğ while he conveniently chooses to overlook the accusations against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir because he is an Islamist.

If this is true, and there is circumstantial evidence to convince some that it is, then it puts him, and consequently Turkey, seeing as he is the PM, on the side of the radical camp in the region. This brings us to another related issue.

There is commentary appearing in the European media that Turkey’s regional role has increased and that Ankara’s closeness to Hamas is an advantage in this respect.

No doubt there is such an advantage but the matter has to be put in perspective because AKP sources are utilizing such commentary to justify Erdogan’s angry outbursts against Israel.

The bottom line here is the increasing influence Ankara clearly has over Hamas. The most important advantage that accrues from this is that Turkey is in a position to pressure Hamas to accept terms that will ease the general situation. These include, primarily, repudiating terrorism and accepting the right of Israel to exist.

Turkey’s role will not, however, be one of trying to get Israel or the international community to accept Hamas terms. Ankara is not in a position to play the role of intermediary in this respect given that it has made its pro-Hamas stance apparent. Put bluntly, Turkey’s role in all this is to basically "tame Hamas" and to bring it to a line.

This is undeniably an advantage for those concerned with the Middle East, and no one at this stage would want Turkey to stop playing this role.

But there is the diplomatic cost on the other side of the coin in terms of the concern that Erdoğan’s pro-Hamas stance has caused among some key Arab administrations in the region that are wary of fundamentalist movements.

This is the point at which President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan came into the picture recently. Palestinian President Abbas called Gül last week to try and understand what was going on in Ankara. He could not, after all, have been too pleased about Erdogan’s remarks to the effect that Hamas was not elected back in 2006 to please him.

A bottom line in the written statement on behalf of Gül after his phone conversation with his Palestinian counterpart was that Turkey acknowledges the authority of Abbas, and expects Palestinians to unite under him and work for a solution to the Middle East problem, to which Ankara is willing to make all the necessary contribution.

Then came Foreign Minister Babacan’s remarks to prominent journalists, on his way to Brussels for a meeting on the Gaza crisis, in which he indicated clearly that Hamas has to decide whether it will be the gun, or politics.

Gül's, and Babacan’s remarks were, of course, relieving for those who have increasing doubts about Turkey’s direction. These remarks were also judged within the context of Erdogan’s remarks and generally considered as being an attempt at trying to bring Turkey back inline as far as its general Middle East policy is concerned.

If so this points to radically different approaches between the Prime Minister and his own foreign minister, let alone the President. This leaves us with the following three options in trying to understand Erdogan, to come back to the main question asked above. These are as follows:

1- Not withstanding his position on Darfur, Erdoğan feels genuine and humane sympathy for Palestinian suffering in Gaza which has hit our TV screens on a nightly basis.

2-Erdoğan’s "Milli Görüş" background has come to the surface once again here and his attitude basically reflects Islamic solidarity and shows that he has not changed in this respect when push comes to shove.

3-Erdoğan is playing to the domestic gallery, prior to the upcoming local elections, given that the Turkish public is incensed at Israel over Gaza and is therefore generally happy with his angry remarks aimed at this country.

It’s really up to those who have been following these events to decide which option they like in trying to decipher Prime Minister Erdoğan.
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