Friday, June 25, 2010

The priorities have changed

The dramatic escalation of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) violence and its emotional aftermath has changed the country’s priorities.
The graph of optimism, expectations and openness related to the Kurdish initiative has been constantly downhill since late last autumn.
All the parties involved have their share of blame for the situation today:
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for its failure to prepare a clear roadmap and for the lack of not being (able to be) inclusive of the (high) judiciary in the agreement it has reached with the top command on various aspects of the initiative.
The local bureaucracy for its slow and uncoordinated efforts to engage Kurds in various provinces in dialogue and debate.
The army for not making it fully clear that it will not be “too enthusiastic” in sweep operations unless there are provocations.
The prosecutors and judges for acting as if the Kurdish initiative had not been launched and for ignoring the fact that extreme interpretations of the law which aim to prosecute local Kurdish personalities and semi-legal networks work against it. And, last but not the least, the legal political parties and their leadership (the Democratic Society Party [DTP] and the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP]) as well as Kurdish NGOs and intellectuals for resorting to acts and words in praise or open support of the PKK, which infuriates the Turkish segments of society.

The Kurdish initiative is now firmly nailed in its coffin, with little hope of revival. Not all is lost, but for the government, already under strain due to huge tensions with the high judiciary and the opposition and on the international scene, the work will be much harder, the risks much higher.

The mindset of the PKK is one of victory. In recent interviews with Cemil Bayık, a leading figure (“field commander”) in the organization, published by the Fırat news agency, one can easily detect a sense that things are developing to a point at which the PKK will be much more strongly in control of the process. Making more arguments on the PKK’s side, Bayık moves ahead to the apparent widespread disappointment amongst the Kurds and openly issues threats of going further ahead with declaring a “democratic confederal autonomy” -- a murky term signaling a separation of BDP-run municipalities away from the administrative network of Ankara. At the same time, he leaves the doors open for negotiations with the PKK. The upper hand which the “commanders” in the Kandil Mountains think they now have also means that the influence of the elected BDP has decreased, forcing it into subordination.

The declaration by the prime minister on continued engagement with the Kurdish initiative may be less convincing with regard to the new parameters the escalation pushed forth. Yet it should be fully supported by the civilian society and the media.

But the priority has shifted to the dimension of security. The government is at the same crossroads as its predecessors in the ‘90s. Hardening the fight against terror at this stage will certainly strengthen the position of the PKK and may also lead to more intense unease in the mainly Kurdish provinces. Even if increased military pressure on northern Iraq and a greater flow of intelligence by the Americans and local Iraqi sources may help, the domestic scene is a different story altogether. The widespread sympathy for the PKK among the rural and urban Kurds has solidified even further and opened paths to all sorts of actions with the aim of provoking large-scale social unrest.

The second, more moderate path for Erdoğan to choose would be seeking new means of silencing the weapons and bombs -- at least temporarily. If the Kurdish initiative has to be reset, breathing room is necessary. A (temporary) cease-fire can only be achieved if the army and security forces call off the operations from the mountains and remote villages and if the PKK is persuaded to do the same, with direct or indirect contacts. This is a tough task, if chosen, because trust has been damaged and because of the legal actions taken against the local Kurdish figures and those who returned unarmed from the PKK camps to Turkey.

Once the guns are silent again, the next step should be to establish a national consulting process with the participation of all the parties in Parliament -- the presence of the pro-Kurdish BDP is a must in this context -- and full-scale engagement of NGOs, experts, academics and opinion leaders into the process. A precondition for even limited success is whether the (high) judiciary will stop acting as a stumbling block or not.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Response to Thomas Friedman and his 'letters' from Istanbul

Does one need to go by the name Thomas Friedman to be such a superficial “analyst,” to be a writer of columns that glisten with shallowness? This is the question that arises, inevitably, when one reads his two recent articles titled “Letter From İstanbul,” published by The New York Times on June 15 and 18.

Hastily -- if not sloppily -- written (after a visit to Turkey of about 48 hours), both articles apparently aim -– with the help of feeding clichés and myth-building -- to influence and manipulate the decision-makers in Washington, D.C., rather than to understand and explain the underlying motives of the complex political and social undercurrents of Turkey, and to elaborate on what lies beneath the changes in Ankara's foreign policy.

Taking the growing unease between Turkey and the US as the point of departure, Friedman's sourcing is as equally problematic as is his generous use of stereotypes.

Calling the current Turkish government “Islamist,” Friedman claims it strives for “leadership in the Arab world,” wants us to believe that Ankara abandoned its EU vocation altogether in order to “join the Arab League” instead, that the “secular elite” live in constant fear of voicing its critical viewpoints, that Erdoğan must be compared to Chavez or Putin, that “the [Turkish] media is rampantly self-censored” and so on and so forth.

The grain of intellectual honesty detectable in those articles is that Friedman feels obliged to admit that “he exaggerates, but not that much.” Well, this should be called “being too fair to oneself” because being a star columnist at a serious paper imposes a certain level of responsibility, however little time he may have for having a wider and just perspective. One would expect, at least, a “Turkey admirer” like Friedman to read some analysis (from varying, even opposing, points of view) on the airplane, flying to İstanbul.

He apparently did not bother. What is reflected in the article is some selective quotes (certainly not in favor of the government, but not in an explanatory manner, either) and some silly questions such as “Is it true, as Prime Minister Erdoğan believes, that Israel is behind the attacks by the Kurdish terrorist group P.K.K. on Turkey?” which he refers to his constantly anonymous sources. (In fact, the paper he works for has a strict policy on the use of anonymous sources, but perhaps they don't apply to star columnists like him.)

Let us go through some of Friedman's remarkable clichés and findings. He uses the label “Islamist” when describing the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its government. Is this a correct description, or simply meant to feed the growing American dismay about its policies and rhetoric?

It is clear that the AKP is, to a large extent, composed of devout Muslims, but to paste an “Islamist” label on it one needs to have an idea of whether or not it drives and implements an “Islamist” agenda. Had Friedman chosen to be sincere, he would have read successive progress reports by the EU and found no reason to “exaggerate a little.” The AKP is a post-Islamist, conservative party that has not abandoned a liberal agenda on reform (even if its failures overshadow its achievements) and has successfully driven a globalist economic policy -- a fact even Friedman admits.

Friedman is a well-known staunch “friend of Israel.” There is nothing wrong with that: I am a friend of Israel, too. But the problem starts when one lets the pro-Israeli bias become the guiding light to claim that the AKP has its eyes on the leadership of the Arab world.

This is, to say the least, myth-building.

Even a regional connoisseur like Friedman knows that none of the influential Arab powers would even come close to the idea. Moreover, it is obvious that Friedman never gave a thought to the fact that the Tehran agreement with the Ahmadinejad regime and the “no” vote has caused irritation among and threatens to alienate some of the Arab states in the Gulf and elsewhere.

One cannot be a leader of the Arab world by warming up the dialogue to new levels with Tehran. What Turkey is after, simply, is to expand economically and culturally in the region and conduct an assertive conflict resolution and security policy in accordance with its financial might.

As Hugh Pope, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, wrote for Haaretz some days ago: “[Erdoğan's policy on] Stability and prosperity through free travel, economic integration, and policy coordination looks more like the EU's recipe for conflict resolution. Also, other beneficiaries of this policy have been Russia, Serbia and Greece. Turkey's ties to Europe and the U.S. may have become less dominant, but that doesn't mean Turkey has changed its fundamental direction. More than half of Turkey's exports go to Europe, EU states account for 90 percent of foreign investment in Turkey, and more than four million Turks already live in Europe; in contrast, Middle East states take less than a quarter of Turkey's exports, account for just 10 percent of its tourists and employ only 110,000 Turkish immigrant workers.”

Friedman's analysis of the domestic scene shines also with its oversimplification. He writes, “The secular opposition parties have been in disarray most of the decade, the army has been cowed by wiretaps and the press has been increasingly intimidated into self-censorship because of government pressures.”

This is a Mickey Mouse description of a hugely complicated country and even more complicated transition process it has had to experience in the past decade. Friedman certainly knows that the current government has operated under the constant threat of the disruption of democracy, by successive, unsuccessful (due to disagreements of the high command) attempts at an overthrow, with at least 10 (unpublished) assassination attempts against the prime minister. The army has been subjected to several legal investigations -- on atrocities, violations of human rights and coup plots -- and the “opposition in disarray” has not only been apathetic to the openly undemocratic threats to the legislative body but has also been eagerly instrumental in doing everything to stop the reform process, with the Republican People's Party (CHP) taking more than 50 reforms successfully to the Constitutional Court.

Friedman's claim that the Turkish media is “rampantly self-censored” is another example of exaggeration. Daily Sözcü, for example, has been increasing its circulation dramatically due to its fierce, fearless anti-government line. Major outlets affiliated with Doğan media or daily Habertürk constantly criticize AKP policies, as well as independent dailies such as Taraf and NTV channel.

If Friedman had bothered to look carefully and objectively at dailies like Todays Zaman or its rival, the Hürriyet Daily News, he would easily understand why he should not only be a sounding board for some columnists he met in İstanbul -- affiliated with Doğan media or Habertürk -- and rely on his judgment.

It is true that (as I wrote in a recent column) there is now a growing number of cases against journalists (and the Internet bans are shameful), but the majority of verdicts apply to coverage of the Kurdish issue and the judiciary. If Friedman had varied his journalistic sources and dug further about the real causes of self-censorship, he would perhaps get this correct answer: “Yes, there is rather widespread self-censorship in Turkey; it is strictly observed by media owners in areas of coverage related to their economic interests.”

Instead, he claims that the State vs. Doğan Media Group tax evasion case is a simple, clear-cut case of freedom of the press, in which he describes -- as he was apparently told -- Doğan news outlets as “the most influential -- and most critical.”

Friedman is certainly right: The leading newspapers and TV channels affiliated with Doğan have been very influential in helping lay stones on the path that led to the assassination of our Armenian-Turkish colleague Hrant Dink as well as the systematic conduct of character assassinations and witch hunts against the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and a large number of Turkish and Kurdish intellectuals and dissidents. Yes, Doğan is the most “critical” media group – “critical” if and as long as the ownership's economic interests have not been “met” by those of the government. It is apparent Friedman's intent is to create a myth of Erdoğan and the AKP as the enemies of freedom, a viewpoint rejected by, for example, the EU Commission and a large part of the European Parliament.

Friedman stretches his arguments even further by drawing comparisons between Erdoğan and Putin and Chavez. This may sound attractive but lacks depth. The latter two have shown to be ruthless against the media, and the world watches with concern when Venezuelan media is silenced by concrete measures and when in Russia journalists are murdered or handcuffed and taken to prison. It is true that Turkey's prime minister has a problem with anger management, but a simple look at the tumultuous past eight years of politics show Turkey,with its puzzling fight for power between the conservative elite and democracy striving society, is neither Venezuela nor Russia.

Friedman stretches it even further: “Who defines Turkey will determine a lot about whether we end up in a war of civilizations.” Wow. One certainly hopes that it will not be he who does that. The common denominator with Friedman and some other old-type thinkers is that they tend to disregard the sociology, the layers of undercurrents that exist in a transitional country like Turkey.

The issue is not simply whether Turkey will comply with the policies of its allies; it is at the point of seeking and ascertaining the balances with which it will contribute its experiences to the new global policies shaped by them. It is a world where social engineering from above does not work, where the dosage of religion in political life is defining and the war of civilizations can only be avoided by dialogue.

At one point I agree with my colleague: It is the EU that should understand how important it is to revive the negotiation process with Turkey, if we all want the democrats here to continue to speed up democratization. It is our fight, as well as theirs.

Erdoğan’s choice

Almost all of those killed by Israeli soldiers during the raid on the Mavi Marmara were Kurds. This should not be a negligible detail.

It gives us clues about the state of mind of the young Kurds -- their urge to be engaged politically -- and the choices they stand before. They are, willingly, on the frontline, careless about the option of death, with almost nothing to lose.
Turkey’s Kurdish problem is in its fourth generation. The first three had to live a life under extraordinarily tough circumstances -- emergency rule (OHAL).

Forced to leave their habitat in the countryside, over 2 million Kurds (official figures talk about 400,000) settled in ghettoes in the mainly unwelcoming cities of Mersin, Adana, İzmir, etc. Unemployment peaked among the younger ones, who had to accept being treated as second-class workers in daily or seasonal jobs. The children became easy targets for gangs and were used in illegal activities in the big cities, while others, completely unsuccessful in school, drifted aimlessly, seeking a meaning for their existence. Hungry for a powerful language and hopes for a future, they fell prey to the authority of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or religious radicalism.

They have grown up with a growing hatred for the state and for Ankara, which they blame for making their life conditions worse, for ill-treatment, for the humiliation of their (grand)parents and for extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the elderly, parents and their parents, continue to be politicized, waiting, but also seeking a way out.

And the reminder, more than 80 percent of those killed (a figure that now stands above 40,000) during the bloody conflict with the PKK, have mainly been young Kurds, angry “recruits” or desperate “volunteers.”

Anyone with even a minimal knowledge of Turkey’s burning Kurdish problem is also aware of its large scope, which makes it almost incomparable to similar problems related to terrorism, such as that of the IRA or the ETA. The base on which the PKK operates is growingly fertile because of the immobility and hesitation of Turkey’s governments. Turkey is on the brink of losing (the faith of) its Kurds altogether, and the escalating violence, now spreading to the west and to the big cities, may be the final alarm bell.

The next step might be -- as was signaled by some local Kurdish politicians -- that municipalities in mainly Kurdish provinces may sometime soon jointly declare the area “autonomous,” breaking ties with the central administration in Ankara. That Turkey suddenly may face a situation like Kosovo is a chilling alternative not loudly talked about but silently reflected upon in the capital.

If the alarm bells are final, something more has to be done than tightening security measures and deploying the military in areas of conflict. The wisdom of civilian security forces is clear: Turkey’s denial of the social and political aspects of the problem, its refusal to see any link between the PKK and the Kurdish issue and focusing solely on military aspects of a solution have only made it worse. But there is still mental resistance: Some parts of the bureaucracy and the opposition are keen on reviving a blame game on Iraq, its Kurdish leaders, America and Israel.

The prime minister is at a crossroads. His address to Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies yesterday shows that he will not easily give up on the “Kurdish initiative,” but he fails to conceal the concern that time is working against him. A continued flow of violence may leave his government helpless, and pull it into a swirl of tougher measures.

The problem he faces is multifold: Undemocratic elements, mainly found in the bureaucracy, may not be very eager to cooperate for a civilian solution, as dialogue President Abdullah Gül initiated between political parties may end up in another impasse. It should not be forgotten that one of the main obstacles for the government to move ahead with legal reforms in the Kurdish initiative -- along with the maximalist stance of Democratic Society Party (DTP)-PKK circles -- has been the main actor, who in general resisted change over the past five years: the high judiciary. It closed a pro-Kurdish party, launched trials against local Kurdish politicians and served PKK members who returned home -- despite promises of immunity -- with harsh prison charges. The AKP’s hesitation, as seen over the past months, to advance legislation may also be explained by the fear that new laws expanding freedom and granting rights to Kurds may be rejected by the top courts.

If it means serious business with reforms -- in defiance of the violence -- Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has two choices now: He will have to seek dialogue with the BDP in Parliament or, challenging the entire political web knit by the juristocracy, slowly built to fully paralyze his government, declare early elections in the fall.

Country of misfortune, land of misdeed

The “hot summer” which I forecast in my article on June 14 has arrived. One can dwell upon the technical and security aspects of the dramatically escalating warfare between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the army units, mourn the casualties and scrutinize the armed forces’ efficiency and its possible mistakes. But this will be of no use.
The escalation marks an end to the so-called Kurdish initiative, pulling Turkey again into a maelstrom of more hatred, sharper nationalism, polarity and mistrust -- into a possible deadlock in politics. What is worse, the severe increase of the bloody PKK attacks come in an already venomous atmosphere in which the domestic crisis between the government and the high judiciary is climbing to its peak, the prospects for further reform are uncertain and the developing rift between Israel and Turkey raises alarm signals.
The opposition, bloodthirsty as always in the aftermath of the casualties here and there in the Southeast, cries, “Turkey has become politically unmanageable.” In the land of misdeed, politics in general has remained a fruitless shouting match, in which cynicism has turned every problem and disagreement into a weapon. In the land of misdeed, the government has showed hesitation in the major, critical moments and caused concern for its occasional erratic or distracted behavior in crucial matters, while the entire opposition has used every opportunity for overreacting in an attempt to get rid of it, not showing any concern at all for the fact that the undemocratic forces within the bureaucracy, having regrouped, continue to undermine legislative processes for reform and change.

The spilling of blood means we return to the real agenda. What went wrong with the Kurdish initiative, people ask. Well, many things. When it was announced last August by the government, it was saluted as a groundbreaking moment and it not only raised the expectations of the violence-weary Kurds and Turks to new heights but the seemingly synched announcement of dealing with non-Muslim minority issues did the same.

But the latter is a relatively minor matter compared with the Kurdish issue, which burns with its urgency. So, as the non-Muslims were left alone with their silent patience, the “Kurdish process” was delicately followed. The reactions of the opposition were predictable and therefore it was presumed that the government had calculated its moves carefully and would show true resolve.

But, as the road map of the process proved to be rather blurred (because soon the process turned into a series of search conferences and meetings), the behavior of the Kurdish politicians became less than promising. The Democratic Society Party (DTP), the political wing of the PKK, showed serious cracks at the top and as precious time was lost during the fall, the maximalist viewpoints of the PKK line -- such as direct negotiations with Abdullah Öcalan or “commanders of the PKK” -- dominated the party line. DTP deputies en masse openly praised the violence of the PKK and declared it sublime -- while the poorly coordinated return of some PKK militants as “victorious war heroes” through the Habur gate provoked the fury of the Turks in the West, presenting the opposition great momentum.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) started to hesitate, as the polls showed some considerable losses of support. A severe blow added to the hesitation at the end of last year, when the top courts closed the DTP and banned two of its moderate leaders -- Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk -- from political activity. Kurds have chosen, gradually, to take to the streets. Stone-throwing children turned into a huge legal problem.

The rhetoric of the DTP’s successor party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), has become harsher and even more openly pro-PKK. Disappointments crystallized when the judiciary started to take a hard-line: Freedom of expression became an issue, as the massive Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) operation led to arrests and a harsh indictment against already detained local Kurdish politicians. The final blow was a trial started against those militants who had returned from the Kandil Mountains and were promised immunity before they re-entered Turkey. Meanwhile, some wise Kurdish politicians such as Orhan Miroğlu warned that the PKK meant serious business when it issued threats of an “all-out war.”

Turks and Kurds, some of whom apparently still have not had enough of war and human tragedy, may be to blame, whether they are politicians or not, and certainly the PKK, which now wages a meaningless war which only serves to paralyze an already-damaged politics in Turkey. If or when a new emergency law is introduced, the only winners will be the PKK and those deep in Ankara who work to keep the status quo. Freedom will suffer and the upcoming elections will be a feast for those who enjoy ultra-nationalist rhetoric.

Has Turkey lost its Kurds? Not yet, but it is coming closer and closer to that point. It may be reversed only when the politicians -- the government -- realize that delaying bold decisions and postponing the problems are not options. It will bury the misfortune which darkens this country.

Freedom on razor’s edge

It is a high ideal to be the standard-bearer of human rights, but it requires consistency and resolve. Missions require solid care and attention to those issues at home as well as abroad. Unless “at home” part is taken care of, the latter loses its impact.
Turkey -- this great scene of struggle for transition to democracy and rule of law -- is entering the second half of 2010 with a rather thick portfolio of human rights concerns. There have been an increasing number of lawsuits filed against journalists, as Namık Durukan (with Milliyet) and Mehmet Baransu (with Taraf) and others have found. Recently İrfan Aktan, a reporter with the periodical “Express,” was sentenced to 15 months in prison for an analysis on the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] problem.” The verdict is a sort of judicial parody. Our colleague was found guilty because he had included quotes by a couple of PKK members in his article.
The Aktan case and the lawsuit on Durukan (a veteran Kurdish reporter with a record of high-quality reporting on Kurdish issues) imply that the trend of using the problematic Anti-Terror Law against the spirit of freedom of expression and “the right of the public to be informed” is becoming the norm again. It is deeply worrisome, since it brings to mind the ‘90s, when the courts systematically curbed press freedom.

Another cause of concern is inherent in the case of Baransu, an award-winning reporter who had successfully revealed cases of abuse and coup plots within the army. He was charged with “revealing state secrets” (carrying a sentence of five-10 years in prison) because of two articles printed in Taraf last year and an investigation has been launched on possible charges of breaching the secrecy of police investigations into his recent book about the army, titled “The Headquarters” (Karargah). Another reporter, Nedim Şener, has been acquitted in a case over his book on the Hrant Dink murder on the same charges, but since there is no precedent regarding protecting journalists in such cases (of weighing the favor of public interest), the number of similar cases may multiply.

Media owners and executives are also adding to their bad track record of intolerance of freedom of expression. I would like to bring up the case of Ersin Kalkan, a reporter and expert on non-Muslim minorities in İstanbul, who was fired last week from his job at Hürriyet. Kalkan had recently given an interview to Armenian-Turkish weekly Agos where he castigated Hürriyet’s editor, some of the paper’s columnists and its reporters for editorially paving the path that led to Dink’s assassination (by defaming Dink as some sort of public enemy). Kalkan is certain about the real motive behind his firing and there is little doubt about it among his colleagues (I am adding this case to my article because some journalist organizations affiliated with the Doğan media group never mention happenings at Doğan in the context of press freedom breaches in Turkey).

The bans wildly and often ignorantly implemented on the Internet are another cause for concern -- and certainly a shame for Turkey. The problem of the YouTube ban remains; and the government’s battle with Google displays signs of arrogance rather than enhancing the domain of freedom on the Internet. The most significant part of the problem is this: At the moment, it is impossible to access data on the number of banned websites because the supervising authority, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB), refuses to share it with the public. The estimated number of banned sites is around 6,000-7,000. It is perplexing that the government, which needs the Internet if it wants to expand its public diplomacy on the international front after issues such as the off-Gaza incident and Iran, prefers to shoot itself in the foot instead. The only leader who shows signs of concern in this matter is President Abdullah Gül, but he has no power to change the problematic law.

The more eastward one moves, the more troublesome the picture. The recently started march from İstanbul to Ankara by the “mothers of Saturday” is a strong reminder of the painful memory of all the (mainly Kurdish) families who have lost their loved ones to what they see as “state-sponsored terror” during the ‘90s. The march to the capital will bear the message of at least 1,300 “missing” people and demand justice. Some of the families say that it has become a cause of the third generation and complain of the indifferences of politicians (both from the Justice and Development Party [AKP] and the opposition) and the media: “They were right in reacting to what happened in Gaza, but to remain silent when it comes to their own people? This is not right.” If we remember that almost all of those killed by the Israelis off Gaza were Kurds, they may have even a stronger point.

The recent lawsuits against those PKK members who returned to Turkey last year through the Habur border gate with promises of prosecutorial immunity as well as the tough indictment in the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) case, demanding heavy prison sentences for local Kurdish politicians, also feed the increasing concerns that Turkey may be dragged into an atmosphere of fear and radicalization. Is the government aware that “freedoms are on a razor’s edge” and they’ve become the number-one issue for the summer of 2010? We have yet to hear an answer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

At full speed into another ‘hot’ summer

Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy is a mixture of rights and wrongs, self-esteem and hesitation, and swings between slowing down and speeding up.

When it slows down, a lot of valuable time is wasted to speed it up; but when that happens, it faces a multitude of risks that push it to slow down from over the speed limit. This picture is exciting, but tiresome. Unless a reasonable and acceptable level of predictability is achieved, speculation will get mixed in with wild theories.
Turkey’s ride, often along the cliff’s edge, has its worrisome moments. It has, for example, to do with Erdoğan’s over-the-top rhetoric. The latest exhibit of threatening behavior was noted the other day, when he fiercely lashed out at certain segments of the media for what he sees as “pro-Israeli behavior.” Certainly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be much more subtle about Israel’s press, and Erdoğan should be warned that he is doing damage, rather than good, for the democratic atmosphere he pledges to strengthen. The press should be left alone to do its job freely and without fear. Honesty in the case of press freedom is not the same as loyalty.

The greatest dilemma for Turkey, its troubled judiciary and its government as of the summer of 2010 is how to get the house in order so that there will be a sort of positive symmetry between the driven foreign policy and the stalled domestic scene. Even if the latest moves on Israel and Iran help Ankara gain some positive points in the region, uncertainty looms over the issues of political reforms in general and the Kurdish issue in particular. They threaten, much more than the raised eyebrows across the Atlantic, the credibility, image and efficiency of the country before crucial political and economic actors.

Erdoğan is right in criticizing (some cynical actors of) the EU for turning its back on Turkey. The critical argument -- raised in this column as well on more than one occasion -- should be put in the context of the EU deliberately not shaping a firm “axis” on its eastern policies in order to make it understandable that what Turkey is allegedly “moving away from” has not really been there to begin with. As long as the EU is unwilling or unable to give a clear roadmap with a timetable for Ankara and remains distant to being inclusive of Turkey in its policy shaping vis-a-vis the Middle East and the Caucasus, there is very little point in whining about it acting as an independent actor with its face turned east.

But, President Abdullah Gül is also right when he pointed out that, although the EU is to blame for the “coma” in relations between Turkey and the EU, it is the primary duty of the Turkish Parliament to continue on the path of reform, with an unchanged perspective in sight -- full membership in the union. The fact that the EU is increasingly silent and Turkey louder and louder still about the stalemate is not helpful at all.

The domestic picture is very bleak. For the first time in the brief history of Turkish-EU negotiations, a six-month period is now steering to an end (under Spanish leadership) without any chapters having been opened.

Erdoğan’s government has been too distracted because of the strained relationship between itself and the defensive high judiciary, which means a lot of time was spent on the thorny process of taking parts of the military-tailored Constitution to a referendum. As a result, the reform process on the lawmaking level suffered deeply. Adding to the unfocused activities of the governing party to move ahead, the CHP remains unchanged. This week, the Constitutional Court, deliberating over the filing of an objection by the main opposition (on the basis that the new law is against the spirit of the Lausanne Treaty dating to 1924), will issue its verdict on the Law of Foundations. Lawyers of non-Muslim minorities expect a serious backlash.

As attention also focuses on the fate of the referendum, due to be handled by the top court in July, the increasing warfare of the southeastern provinces poses an escalating threat to social and political stability. It may be fair to say that the so-called “Kurdish initiative” is, despite claims to the contrary by the minister of the interior, dead -- at least temporarily. The closure of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) helped pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Kurds be more firmly entrenched around it successor, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The Kurdish initiative, whose level was lowered, was damaged further by the open support (including praise of violence) of the PKK by Kurdish politicians. The operation against the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), a local PKK network, and the recent, sizeable indictment of some 150 local Kurdish figures, 140 of whom face at least 15 years of imprisonment, are perceived by the Kurds as salt added to the wound. Meanwhile, a draft law softening the legal treatment of “stone throwing minors” is in Parliament, but its potential efficacy is also under question.

Increased PKK attacks -- following PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s new declaration of war starting on June 1 -- led to the deaths of security forces and may be seen as the PKK waging a desperate, meaningless battle, but there is much more at stake. The apparent failure of the government to deal with the Kurdish initiative now seems to serve a path to the “status quo ante.” It means we are close to a severe blow to all expectations raised last autumn.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What Israel and Iran have in common

Now it’s done. The UN Security Council approved new sanctions against Iran over its suspected nuclear program. The White House must be satisfied, as it was able to gather the Permanent Five together on what it sees as a crucial resolution. Whether it is strong enough to have an effect is open to debate.

The resolution fell short of the symbolic weight of a unanimous vote. After some heavy telephone traffic and diplomatic contacts, Turkey and Brazil remained resilient and said no. Equally significant of the delicacy of the matter, Lebanon abstained, averting a national crisis.

The “no” votes follow the bloody incident off Gaza and will be viewed against that background. From now on, much of the debate on Turkey, in particular in the US capital, will be on whether to paint Turkey as some sort of scapegoat, by fuelling alarmism and panic on the basis of the “changing the axis” thesis.

Remnants of neocons in the administration, as well as the Israeli lobby and the sworn enemies of the current government -- mainly grouped in papers such as The Wall Street Journal -- will doubtlessly whip up the frustration. Most of the anti-Turkish propaganda will be based on the utterly problematic assumption that the alliance with the US should mean compliance with its policies without conditions. Although these views may be intense and widespread, it does not mean they are valid.

Let me try to broaden the perspective, as much as I can, after listening to what Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had to say hours after the UN vote. Ankara was not happy that the Vienna Group’s negative response to the Tehran agreement came just hours before the vote, and Davutoğlu said that the objection of Turkey must be read as a “yes” to continued diplomatic efforts on the same path as the agreement reached in Tehran recently. (Doubtlessly, Ankara will comply with the sanctions.) So far, both Obama and Clinton’s calls for further talks with Iran is tacit approval of the joint Turkish-Brazilian efforts to reach a reasonable settlement.

Would it not be better for its relations with the US if Turkey abstained? Well, one may argue for or against, but Ankara’s choice is obviously based on maintaining its credibility with the Tehran regime, particularly because Ankara, as Davutoğlu reminded, had made its full commitment to a peaceful settlement clear.

Davutoğlu may be right when he said in the aftermath of the resolution that it does not take the complex reality of the region into account. Turkish leaders, he said, were also busy talking with Lebanese leaders, who were undecided but inclined to a “no.” Turkey advised them to abstain in order not to lead the country into a deep political rift. Furthermore, as Davutoğlu pointed out, Iraq is suffering from the absence of a new government, and if the crisis with Iran deepens it may lead to worrisome consequences there because Teheran is the second most powerful player in that fragile country.

After the off-Gaza incident and the UN resolution, we have entered a period of high intensity, which should make debating whether or not Turkey has been changing its axis completely redundant. Israel and Turkey are now engaged in domestic soul-searching -- albeit at a low level -- and Egypt has opened its Gaza border permanently, putting a hole in the unsustainable Gaza blockade imposed by Israel.

US President Barack Obama, after meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, declared two things: There will be American aid to Gaza, and a “new approach” is needed for Israel’s policies on Palestinians. Turkey plans to continue its talks with both Hamas and Fatah in order to achieve Palestinian unity.

It is neither the fault of the Obama administration nor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government if the increasing complexities of the world are rejected by the circles I mentioned earlier, in Washington.

They refuse to see the following big picture (and will continue to be part of the problem as long as they do): There are two rogue powers in the region, Israel and Iran, which are theocracies (the real source of the problems they produce) with varying degree of pluralism and democracy. Both the Jewish state and the Shiite state are, unfortunately, governed by extremists.

Their defiance to the world on globally vital issues are interrelated, since both threaten, equally, the stability and security of not only the Middle East, but the world. Both undermine the interests of powers such as the US and the EU in achieving peace, fighting poverty and terror and promoting democracy.

When one is able to see the big picture, it is easier to understand Turkey as the third power; benevolent, democratic and secular, attempting to maintain the value of diplomatic talks, economic interdependency and coexistence based on respect and trust.

As long as Turkey is part of the regional processes, the prospects for peaceful solutions will remain high. The White House and the Pentagon know that, and one hopes the ill-intentioned others can, one day, as well. Let me help the latter with a hidden clue: My sources tell me that it was Ankara which helped encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to vote “yes” in Tuesday’s UN vote, with the notion of stability in the Balkans.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Israel lobby’s worldview is closer to Bush than Obama

Certainly, much of it has to do with perceptions and denial. Just as the majority of Greeks still do not seem to understand the true meaning and impact of the economic crisis, the majority of the Israeli people show the same pattern.

They are unable to grasp the fact that the current Gaza blockade has become unsustainable and that their government’s systematically invasive policies of dealing with the Palestinian issue are undermining the West’s vital interests in the region.

Societies take their own time to change their minds. Let us leave them alone for more reflection and turn to the ongoing blame game and propaganda activities at the diplomatic level.

As predicted, the ball is in Washington’s court. With the dust settling after the violence at sea, the frustration is now turning against the Turkish government, apparently in an effort to force the Obama administration to make a choice between Israel and Turkey for their strategic cooperation in the region. Some voices from Europe -- although tiny -- blame Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ahmet Davutoğlu for their fiery rhetoric and choices of phrasing such as, “It is our Sept. 11” and “Hamas is not a terrorist organization.”
Reports and private discussions we have had with sources all indicate that the anti-Turkish mood in the US capital is gaining strength. Nobody should deny that the powerful Israeli lobby -- despite visible splits because of the Gaza incident -- is doing its best to persuade the Obama administration not to change its Gaza policies, to continue its full support of the Israeli government and “make the Turkish government pay” for what it believes is a "criminal act" - of letting civilian aid ships move towards Gaza.

The vitriolic mood was also clearly reflected by The Washington Post in an editorial dated June 5 (although it was nuanced by a more “friendly” editorial three days later asking Israel to soften its Gaza policies).

As these attempts to exert influence in the White House go on, nuances should be enriched to understand the full picture, to understand what really is taking place.

Some Europeans have expressed concern about the Turkish government’s actions in the past week. Turkey was an easy tool in the Cold War.

It no longer is a passive actor.

Currently the 16th largest economy in the world, and aspiring to be among the top 10 in five or 10 years, it is keen on translating its economic power to political might on the world stage. Any country of such size would refuse to be treated like an infant.

If there is any party to blame for refusing to predict or see this fact, it is the several sizeable EU member states which have alienated Turkey, since 2005, on its path to full EU membership. The more Turks felt frustrated, the more they sought to expand the impact of their economic success story to the East. Their policy remains unchanged: the deeper and wider the economic interdependence is, the more stability, security and democracy in the region. While this is happening -- with Syria and Iraq, for example -- the EU is just watching.

As Turkey seeks to expand its presence (economically and culturally) in the region, Israel stands out more and more as an old-fashioned power which is becoming a security risk due to its unwillingness to actively, honestly seek peace.
One can project many negative reflections and labels onto Erdoğan and feel some satisfaction, but even his staunchest adversaries acknowledge one element of his character (which stems from the poor neighborhood he comes from): He deeply despises dishonesty and cheating and hardly ever forgets.

What lies beneath his anger with Israel dates back to the Gaza invasion by Israel a couple of years ago. A week or so before the incident, he had hosted then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and talked at length with him about ways of building peace. He called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the meeting. And soon after Olmert returned to Israel, Erdoğan was given the news that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had launched an attack into Gaza. He felt cheated and publicly projected his fury in Davos to President Shimon Peres.
Now the two adversaries, having declared a sort of cold war on each other, stand eye to eye. My colleague Cengiz Çandar wrote (in Radikal) that one of the governments has to go in order to break the stalemate. But this does not have to happen. The Israeli government -- whose policies clearly undermine American efforts to gain ground and credibility in the Middle East -- can think deeper and help the US to take on a more constructive role.

And a final point for Americans to reflect upon: For decades, those who fought for freedom and human rights in Turkey (leftists, liberals, moderate Muslims, Kurds, etc.) felt, over and over, let down by the US because its choices at the end of the day helped the suppressors to keep their power. President Barack Obama came to power partly as a reaction to global wrongs and human rights abuses. The Israeli lobby might think of Turkey as a liability. What Turkey stands for and what it says demands a deeper understanding.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Diversions, splits, disagreements

After the bloody incident at sea in the eastern Mediterranean, it is now time for reflection. Time spent lambasting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his continuous roaring about the government of Israel (much more than anything else) could be better spent on analyzing what is happening in terms of rethinking relations between Israel, Turkey and the US.
Splits within the Israeli government, based on internal critique of the massacre, are a fact and, in the long run, may signal its collapse. Erdoğan, fully aware of the grave mistake in conduct by the Netanyahu cabinet, is keen on inflicting wounds on it in order to demolish whatever is left of its credibility. He aims either to force it revise its policies regarding Gaza or expose its stubbornness to the eyes of the world.
It is part of his strategy, disguised by a loud, angry voice.
Does this work internationally? According to the analysis of Hélène Flautre, the co-chairperson of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, published yesterday in this paper, it does echo well within the EU, at least.
“With this policy, Turkey is not steering away from the EU or the West. With this new foreign policy, Turkey is exhibiting an effective foreign policy that cherishes our common values. The alternative to this policy is to remain silent to the inhumane policy applied to Palestinians and to go on with Bush’s Iraq policy. This policy, glorified by Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman, has failed, and lost the support of Europe and even of the US. I advise readers to closely scrutinize the position of the journalists who suggest an axis shift for Turkey as well as the policies they advocate. They will realize that this “axis shift” thesis, which is not popular in the EU, is in the arsenal of certain groups in the US and the zealous proponents of Bush’s Iraq policy,” she writes.
But there is certainly more behind Erdoğan’s rhetoric.
When the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), the much-debated Islamist aid organization, showed serious signs that it would carry out its intentions to approach Gaza through Israel’s naval borders, and as soon as it became clear that the İHH would not listen to advice from Ankara not to do it the way it did, the issue before the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) became twofold (and it still is). First, how to utilize an inevitable clash with Israeli forces into further popularity. Second, how to get possible mass-hysteria under control.
The crucial element in this context has to do with which political actor in Turkey the İHH identifies itself most closely with. A mixture of various deeply conservative Sunni elements (in terms of sects), the İHH is a social flank of the Felicity Party (SP). It is the child of the famous “Milli Görüş” (National View), founded and still controlled by Necmettin Erbakan, a former prime minister known for his anti-Western, anti-Semitic views.
The AKP has enjoyed some support from that segment over the years, and is keen on not lose it fully to a non-globalist Islamist movement such as the SP, which is at least sympathetic to radical views. This also means not losing other segments who justifiably were infuriated over the incident.
Erdoğan’s outbursts, therefore, need to be explained not only due to the Israeli folly, but also due to the tense emotions which has penetrated his party. But, as the story developed, the emotions had a somewhat spiraling effect. When remarks watering down the violent and defiant character of Hamas continued to pour, and when President Abdullah Gül declared (wrongly) that Israeli-Turkish relations would never be the same as before, and when there has been remarkable scrutiny of the İHH, some eyebrows were raised.
Fethullah Gülen’s comments which followed, and broadened the debate, must be seen in this context. They were first of all a reminder that there have been aid operations conducted by other Islamic movements with the cooperation of Israel. They called for reflection on whether everything was done to avoid such a tragic outcome.
But, there was much more to them in their aftermath. Soon after, Bülent Arınç, the second most powerful man in the AKP agreed fully with Gülen’s remarks at a party meeting and was met with powerful applause. This has brought two things to the surface. The first is that, as is rather well-known, there have been splits and conflicting views in the AKP about the İHH’s methods, that its would be foolish to see the AKP as a monolithic political actor and that Arınç made it clear that the reactions should not lead to further mistakes and an escalation of fury.
But the second conclusion is even more important: Islamic movements in Turkey are very diverse and do dare to disagree, even on the most binding, moral issues and do it in the heat of the moment. It signals that diversity, a very meaningful element for the continued path of the AKP, might not only help it to make necessary, sound adjustments in its major policies, but also that it should calm strong suspicions abroad down that Turkish society is leaving the axis of common sense. It is simply not true.
Civic adjustments and self-scrutiny within the societies of both Turkey and Israel will help both to stop radicalizing each other.

Friday, June 04, 2010

After the blame game: What should the US do?

Let us begin with sticking a pin into one balloon of myth: There is no ground for claiming that the Turkish government sanctioned the whole or part of the flotilla heading towards Gaza.

On the contrary, my sources in Ankara have told me -- anonymously because it goes against the prevailing emotional state in the capital -- on more than one occasion that the organizers were “advised politely” not to take the journey. This was as much as it could have done.
It is more than obvious that it is a war of propaganda. While the sworn enemies of Israel use the massacre to pump up anti-Semitic hysteria, the other side has chosen the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) -- an Islamist charity organization -- as the real villain.

As much as the first, the latter is a deeply immoral, shameful choice. Civilian ships were violently boarded in international waters by the security forces of a state, using armed weapons, and nine people were killed. Those killed were not Israeli soldiers; all were civilians. This act of ultra-violence should by no means be watered down. States and their forces are expected to act responsibly, and Israel completely failed.

“Israel’s government and its military have now put themselves into a corner,” stated a prominent foreign minister of the EU in a conversation yesterday. “This is a very dangerous situation because the more attacked it feels, the more aggressive and desperate it may become. We must change the cycle and think of ways to solve the problem on various levels.”

As Israel’s policy of siege in Gaza now seems to have come to an end, it is obvious that the bloody incident and its aftermath may lead to a pattern of sending similar flotillas to break the Gaza blockade. This may bring the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean to the brink of a lethal confrontation.

One of the first tasks must be to lay on the table a well-prepared proposal to open a transport line between the Port of Ashdot and Gaza, preferably under UN supervision. It would be easy to reach an international consensus since the alternative is a pattern which will anger “the cat in the corner.” If the UN can manage to set up such a mechanism for the controlled flow of aid into Gaza, it could also set the stage for lifting the blockade with the consent of all sides involved.

But, in the long term, the ball is in the White House’s court.

As Michael Young from the Daily Star (of Lebanon) writes: “As the United States watches this shipwreck, it seems helpless to prevent it and has no backup plan to defend its own aims in the region. Palestinian-Israeli peace is desirable, and President Barack Obama was right to explore ways to restart negotiations; but now is the time to reassess, events in recent days bringing home the reason why. What is Obama’s Plan B? Israel is becoming more isolated internationally by the day; America’s Arab allies, particularly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are weaker than ever; and even the United States itself is losing its primacy in the Middle East by pursuing an elusive victory in Afghanistan and abandoning a rare success in Iraq. … If one had to wager on the shape of the region in the coming years, it would be reasonable to put money on America’s enemies. Iran, Syria, armed Islamist groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas, even American allies such as Turkey that have chosen to fundamentally overhaul their connection with Washington and Israel, are showing themselves to be far more adept at playing to Middle Eastern vicissitudes than the Obama administration. A new regional order is taking shape, and Washington is still using weapons from the old order.”

Old approach, indeed. But the fresh signs coming from Washington (as reported by The New York Times yesterday) are promising, although they are extremely cautious. It is one of those times that demand full-scale realism and what the Obama administration officials hint as a “shift of policy” (a new approach, as one official put it) may come as a product of urgency -- simply because there were civilian deaths in an unjustified act of violence.

How realistic is it, then, for Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to demand an immediate lifting of the blockade? Well, every actor -- including those in Ankara knows -- that lifting the blockade cannot take place without persuading Israelis to sit at a table and discuss their three main concerns: the security dimension related with Hamas attacks on Israeli soil; the political dimension linked with Hamas refusing to negotiate with Israel under any circumstances; and the demand, which has been on the table for a long time, that Hamas release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

However damaged the relations between Israel and Turkey may be, there is much room for every state involved to turn the crisis into an opportunity. The contribution of Turkey in having captive British soldiers released from Iran has been widely appreciated, and even if Ankara feels outraged over the Israeli killings and the overall brutality, it may conduct positive, pro-solution efforts through cooperation with the White House, partly because it has now gained bigger respect from Hamas, which means being a more powerful influence that may be able to help change their obstinate policies.

But let us repeat: It must be a wake-up call for Washington, and politicians there must reset their thinking about a changing region and work much harder to persuade mentally deadlocked colleagues in Israel out of the dark corner they have pushed themselves into.

Eclipsed by madness

I had ended my previous column on the regionalization of global politics and the seemingly inevitable rise of new powers such as Brazil, India, Turkey, etc., with a rhetorical question on a crumbling democracy in a key region -- Israel -- and whether it will insist on being part of the problem rather than otherwise in a critically changing world.
As if to prove the latter, the Israeli government managed, in an extremely violent interception of the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the isolated Gaza Strip, to cause international outrage as never seen before. In an action marked by despicable arrogance and inhumanity, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacked civilian ships far outside the country’s naval borders and killed defenseless people, reminiscent of Somali pirates’ barbaric nature.
Such is the logic of madness. Whenever irrational forces hijack a state, the path to radicalizing everything in sight is very short, and inevitable. In recent years the same state succeeded in its ruthless objective of radicalizing the Palestinians, under the mantra of “divide, denigrate and punish.” The more radicalized the Palestinians have become in miserable Gaza, the more justified the Israeli government -- and the surrounding militarist mentality backing it -- has imagined itself in its shift toward inhumane behavior. The result is that Gaza has become an open-air prison for 1.5. million of people kept under gunpoint without any basic needs met, struggling for bare survival.

The unacceptable siege of Gaza would inevitably lead to phase two of the Israeli folly. With its disproportionate violence against the civilian ships carrying citizens of 33 nations and its breaches of international law, Israel has now managed to spread outrage to the world. The image of Israel in the outside world will never be the same.

Such madness makes any state -- however democratic and historically legitimate it claims to be -- fall into the same league of rogue states it has fought to distance itself from and fight against in the name of peace and security. With Monday morning’s brutal action, Israel is now in the same league as those states -- and it has its own senseless, adventurist government to blame.

“It seemed no one could resist the temptation to show the IDF’s strength in a place the IDF should not have been in the first place. Because the question was not who would win the confrontation, but who would win more public opinion points. In this test, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government failed completely. Israel let its policy of maintaining the siege on Gaza become an existential matter. This policy boomeranged and cost Israel its international legitimacy,” the independent Haaretz daily wrote in its editorial yesterday.

It concluded that “the decision-makers’ negligence is threatening the security of Israelis and Israel’s global status. Someone must be held responsible for this disgraceful failure. There is no way to convince Israel’s citizens and its friends around the world that Israel regrets the confrontation and its results, and is learning from its errors, other than setting up a state inquiry committee to investigate the decision-making process and to decide who should pay for this dangerous policy.”

Although the UN Security Council’s resolution may be perceived as yet another whisper by Netanyahu and his political thugs, the cost to Jerusalem will be much higher than before. As its relations with Turkey will enter a “cold war” period, public opinion in the EU and the US will no longer bear open sympathies for the current management of the Israeli state.

Predicting an ongoing global firestorm, George Friedman from Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) writes: “Public opinion matters where issues are not of fundamental interest to a nation. Israel is not a fundamental interest to other nations. The ability to generate public antipathy to Israel can therefore reshape Israeli relations with countries critical to Israel. For example, a redefinition of US-Israeli relations will have much less effect on the United States than on Israel. The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now see a shift in US public opinion that will open the way to a new US-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel.”

However the demanded international pressure in any form might be of little value in the case of the current Israel. The primary contribution the ongoing diplomacy will have will be on whether or not the Netanyahu government has run its course. And the change, as with any democracy, must come from within Israel to end the madness. The critical question is therefore whether the large, silent, civilized segments of Israeli society will raise their voices for change.

Brave third world

Ever since the election of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as a single majority political movement into the position of political decision making, i.e., the government, one of the sharpest readers of the major shift taking place in terms of the foreign policy paradigm was, without a doubt, Brazil.

Seemingly low key and humble, but equally clear minded and resolute, the two foreign ministers of this country -- Abdullah Gül and now, Ahmet Davutoğlu -- redefined the role of Turkey as a proactive regional power, seeking a larger share of global policy making. This new vision was certainly accelerated by the successful economic policies which now place Turkey somewhere between 15 and 17th position in that league.
One of the key elements that has brought Turkey and Brazil closer was the background and level of popularity of their leaders, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Rising from poor quarters and having matured in a tough political struggle, both are the driving forces for establishing their respective countries as part of what some observers call the Brave New Third World.

At the moment, perhaps much more than the debated nuclear swap deal that has been signed between Iran, Turkey and Brazil, the issue of an emerging new global deal for the reshuffling of cards has come to the fore. Doubtlessly, we are witnessing the early but strong signs of a turning point in the global scene, where economically solid, and politically ambitious, rising democracies will come to claim a stronger say in macro matters than ever before.

In a recent analysis in the World Politics Review, Dr. Daniel Kliman outlines five new actors that have become visible. China is not one of them, because it is not to be counted as a democracy. The common denominator of the new five is that they are all run by “representative governance.” I would add that they all stand out as rapidly growing economies as they continuously and aggressively open up to the globe.

They are, Kliman points out, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa.

“As these five democracies rapidly emerge as full-fledged powers with far-flung influence, their rise is cause for optimism about the future. Why? To be sure, shared values do not guarantee a complete congruence of interests. The United States, Europe, and Japan will not always see eye to eye with these arriviste democracies, as is already evidenced by differences over climate change, trade, and Iran. However, the fact that an overwhelming majority of rising powers are democracies has strongly positive implications for the nature of the global order that is coming into existence,” he concludes. He argues that the new five will be predictable, satisfyingly transparent and flexible in reshaping their policies through exchanges in lobbying and by allowing pressure from civilian groups.

This constructive presence in the reshaping global order, it is worth noting, is not categorically objected to by the US; it has only stirred up some confusion. James Traub, an analyst with Foreign Policy, seeks to help avert down negative reflexes in a fresh article titled “Whoa There, Rising Powers!” He expects President Barack Obama to recognize the values of the shift.

“There’s no question that Brazil’s interests, or Turkey’s, overlap in many places with those of the U.S. and Europe; Turkey seeks nothing more ardently than full EU membership, for instance. But in many other places, interests diverge, and the middle powers are inclined to view the current world order as an instrument to advance Western designs, not theirs. Why should they have to accept a system that permits India, Israel, and Pakistan -- non-signatories of the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] who happen to be American allies -- to have nuclear weapons while they have bound themselves not to? Why, for that matter, should they have to accept an American running the World Bank, and a Frenchman running the IMF?” asks Traub.

Global diplomacy has been increasingly strained by the complexities of issues, and in the new choreography (of what Davutoğlu calls “rhythmic diplomacy”) there will be flexible role playing by the new five (or additional others), rather than forming new blocs, simply because the new issues that challenge the world defy the existence of such blocs.

But, does that truly bother Obama? The new National Security Strategy should dispel the fears based on old thinking. It emphasizes “working to build deeper and more effective partnerships with … increasingly influential nations such as Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia -- so that we can cooperate on issues of bilateral and global concern, with the recognition that power, in an interconnected world, is no longer a zero sum game.” The report further pledges that the US “will remain dedicated to advancing stability and democracy in the Balkans and to resolving conflicts in the Caucasus and in Cyprus” and “will continue to engage with Turkey on a broad range of mutual goals, especially with regard to pursuit of stability in its region.”

As we see the “new five” promising to be a “shadow” to the “permanent five” in the new global order, as pro-solution models, a key question will be where Israel’s place and role will be. Pro-solution or pro-problem?

‘Turkey’s military problem’ (1)

“At least 51 percent of stocks in this company called Turkey have always been owned by its military…” This analogy, once expressed by a prominent Turkish businessman and banker, could be very helpful to understanding the decades-long battle and ensuing suffering for democracy in the country.
As a matter of fact, the old businessman had told his son, who is now a successful boss and owner of a media company, in order to caution him, to “not be too forward for liberal rights and democracy.” This unspoken fact set a pattern of obedience and fear among all segments of society. These sentiments were almost always coupled with helplessness. I recall a long dinner in Stockholm (where I was a resident journalist) in the mid-1980s with a group of leftist dissidents and exiles -- Turks and Kurds who had fled for their lives and sought refugee in Scandinavia. It was with confusion and dismissal that they assessed the reforms carefully launched at the time by Turgut Özal.
He was, of course, a neo-liberal; his project was to be rejected categorically by the dinner guests. I argued that the army systematically acted as if it was a political party with some half a million armed members, and only by endorsing economic stability and enhanced prosperity would its role be eventually subject to criticism and opposition. Only one of them agreed. The rest were still hopeful that the “progressive” parts of the army would rise up one day to lay the groundwork for the end of socialism.

This would, of course, never happen. A crushed and disappointed left (center or marginal) needed decades to understand that even its freedom was linked to prospective civilian control of the armed forces.

At the time, I served as a correspondent for the Cumhuriyet daily, covering Sweden, Finland and (later) the Baltic states. The newspaper was a center for the fight for human rights and freedom; it operated under severe pressure by the military authorities, but its staunch commitment to high journalistic standards helped make it very solid and trustworthy. It was all thanks to Hasan Cemal, who had managed to transform the newspaper -- with the help of a hugely intellectual group of editors and liberal-minded columnists -- into a quality daily. The success story went on till 1991, when a deep rift from within -- between rigid Kemalists and liberals -- tore the institution apart, with the latter leaving the paper.

Cemal (65), a columnist for the Sabah and Milliyet mass dailies ever since, is arguably the most experienced, knowledgeable and sharp-minded analyst in this country. His personal history is, in a sense, a metaphor for the entire critical history of Turkey since the early ‘60s. One can detect the changes, and progress, swinging between hope and gloom, self-scrutiny in all his daily work -- and even more so in his books -- all this synced with changes in this turbulent country.

He wrote one book about the coup in 1980, later a self-critical book about himself (how he gradually changed from a “violence-promoting revolutionary” in the ‘60s to a liberal democrat), a voluminous work simply titled “Kurds” and, now, a book called “Turkey’s Military Problem.” Its subtitle lays out the premise Cemal is working on: “Officer, take your hands off politics!”

In over 500 pages, backed with journal entries and notes and written in a lucid style, one which marks his career, Cemal analyzes the causes, reasoning and actions of the powerful Turkish military, mainly focusing on the past 50 years, which included three coups, direct interventions and several coup attempts. His line is clear: The military problem is the mother of all problems in Turkey.

As Cemal seeks the root causes of a one-time backwardness, of poverty and the low level of the rule of law and of a political life turned, under the tutelage of the military, into a “stop and go” democracy, he discloses the following: “In this country, the definitions on the most fundamental issues were made by the military, which has established criteria that were later imposed on the political system. And these criteria formed the basis of the robotic discourse of the state. And whenever the military decided that the criteria were breached and became indefensible under a pluralist regime, it threw its sword on the table [i.e., intervened]. This is the military’s concept of “guardianship,” and this lays the basis for military tutelage.”

He quotes key figures in Turkish politics. The late Bülent Ecevit speaks privately about “the military playing politics in a ruthless manner.” Süleyman Demirel tells him: “I was beaten twice by the army. One cannot do anything without them.” When Mesut Yılmaz wanted to discuss national security issues with the then chief of General Staff, Hüseyin Kıvrıkoğlu, he received the following response: “You [the government] just take care of the economy; leave the rest to us, it is all our business.”

Cemal’s book is one of the most valuable contributions to the ever-growing debate about the enormous transformation in Turkey. Through a dark journey on intrigue, plotting and, by taking snapshots of a fragile civilian democracy kept constantly at gunpoint, the reader (re)visits not only the dark corridors of “real” power in Ankara, but also Cyprus, Kurds, summary killings, dirty warfare and seemingly endless, illegitimate political and social engineering.

In my upcoming articles this week I intend to highlight some parts of Cemal’s work.

‘Turkey’s military problem’ (2)

When the newsflash hit the screens that the top command had issued a memo against the elected government of Turkey, it was late at night on April 27, 2007. I was, at that moment in a live TV chat with columnists Mehmet Altan and Ayşe Önal about the issue of political ethics.

We were all stunned, perplexed. The wording of the text left no doubt about who the “targets” were: primarily, it was Abdullah Gül, then the foreign minister, and the entire Cabinet. The military had -- as usual -- rattled its sword, and nobody had any idea about what sort of consequences it would have on the election of the president.
I called Ankara immediately, which seemed to be in profound confusion, and a colleague of mine in Washington, D.C. She had not heard about the development and swiftly proceeded to ask her high placed sources at the State Department and the Pentagon. In about 10 minutes, she was back on the line. Nobody had heard in the American capital that the military was “on the move” again. She quoted an unnamed source as saying: “Damn, they always choose Fridays for such things!”

As we were trying to make sense of it all in our TV chat, the news had hit the residence of the Foreign Ministry. In his new book, “Turkey and Its Military Problem,” veteran colleague Hasan Cemal takes us all on a walk through what happened behind closed doors there. At that late hour Gül was surfing the Internet, while his wife, Hayrünnisa Gül, was watching a nostalgic TV series, with a lot of political undertones. The episode also contained a depiction of Adnan Menderes and his two ministers being hanged in 1961, after a military coup.

In tears, Madame Gül joined her husband, who by then had seen the newsflashes of the military memo, in part humiliating and targeting him. “Oh my God!” she sighed. “Will we once again go through all the things in the TV series? Will history repeat itself again?” With his wife crying and in shock, Gül walked upstairs, got dressed and came back. He told his wife to be ready for anything, including arrest, even death. He called a dear friend and told him, “If something happens to me, please protect my family.”

The general mood amongst the leaders of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was “not to run away from the scene like Süleyman Demirel, or ‘shake’ like Necmettin Erbakan. There would be resistance, as much as possible. One would not leave quietly.”

Hasan Cemal’s book reveals, powerfully, how close Turkey was to an overthrow that day. Parts of the right-wing opposition were “frightened” enough not to join a crucial first round of elections, making it impossible for Gül to be elected. The CHP would then take the vote to the Constitutional Court for the annulment of the entire process.

But something very unusual happened the day after. The government issued a toughly worded statement, rejecting the content of the memo, and declared a firm commitment to the democratic process.

Turkey had entered a new era, challenging the decades-long interventionist, arrogant and at times violent policies of the country’s democracy-skeptic “big brother” -- the military.

April 27 had marked a critical breakthrough in the chronically problematic civilian–military relations, but it had not simply popped up as a result of a disagreement over the presidential election. It was the result of seemingly endless, successive coup plotting and institutional harassment against the single majority party.

Cemal argues that the General Staff, which had engineered a “soft coup” in 1997 resulting in the Çiller-Erbakan coalition dissolving under severe threats, was mainly discontented that the project was not “fully completed” at that time. So when the AK Party came to power with over 34 percent of the vote in November 2002, some powerful four-star generals found themselves face-to-face with some political figures whom they had tried to chase away from politics. Without doubt, the higher ranks of the military felt as if they had been defeated.

To be able to lucidly portray the period from November 2002 onwards, Cemal constructed the main parts of the book by juxtaposing two key documents whose authenticity has been proven by court judges as evidence. It is with amazement that the reader realizes how the diaries written by Özden Örnek, an ex-navy commander, and the diaries by Mustafa Balbay, a journalist accused of being an accomplice to the coup plotting, overlap so precisely.

The book concludes with various points during this time span: a) Turkey proceeded into the end of this decade under the constant threat of a military-generated disruption of politics; b) despite the severe mistrust of and contempt for the AK Party government, some key generals, although they kept plotting one coup after another, could never establish a full consensus amongst themselves, but, like a relay race, they kept on going; c) a majority of the commanders outside Ankara were reluctant about an intervention; d) a critical number of the undemocratic civilian elite from academia, business and the media were flocking around the military as collaborators and provocateurs; e) the most crucial figure who defined the democratic course was Hilmi Özkök, the then-top commander, who managed to stand firm on legalistic grounds.

‘Turkey’s military problem’ (3)

One of the most striking episodes in Hasan Cemal’s new book, with the same title as my column, is about how the military command, disappointed and infuriated by what it saw as “remnant fundamentalist elements” coming back to power with a constitutional majority in Parliament, used the Cyprus referendum process to weaken it and derail Turkey from the path of European Union membership.
In minute detail, Cemal chronicles a day-by-day account of a tug-of-war between Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül on one side and Rauf Denktaş and the generals in Ankara on the other.
Without a careful reading of that chapter of recent Turkish history, one is not able to understand the essence of civilian-military relations here, nor is it possible for EU politicians to realize how unfairly they have treated Turkish Cypriots all along. I will leave it at that.

Towards the end of his voluminous writings, Cemal takes us to the crucial question, “Has Turkey’s regime of military tutelage come to the end?” and, while elaborating on that, fires critical missives to what he describes as the “confused foreign press.”

When the daily Taraf, a key figure in the past eight-year power struggle between the elected government and the appointed high command, reported extensively on the so-called “Sledgehammer” case (a 5,000-page document revealing how the 1st Army in İstanbul eagerly departed from its regular duty of war games to a simulation of a coup using real-life names of politicians as targets), something out of the ordinary happened in Turkish politics early this year: after only four weeks of fierce debate, the judiciary moved in and conducted a large sweep of arrests. In one day, a total of 26 mid- and high-ranking officers, including 17 retired generals, were arrested. Never in living memory had a Turkish newspaper been so successful in accomplishing such sensational results simply by reporting.

This was, according to Cemal, “a breaking point.” The tight grip of military tutelage had come to the point of “normalization” on Feb. 22, 2010, the day of the arrests. Cemal has no doubts that “Sledgehammer” was a very serious threat to the elected Parliament. He comes back to a key element, as written in journalist Mustafa Balbay’s diaries, which clearly describes a lunch with Şenkal Atasagun, then-head of the (civilian) National Intelligence Organization (MİT). At one point, Atasagun tells Balbay and other guests: “Keep your eyes on the 1st Army; something is being cooked up there. They are preparing for a coup!” (Atasagun has so far not denied this).

Change had come; Turkey had started to go through its own 1989, Cemal argues. But, another key question was whether the foreign press was able to “read into” what was taking place. As a journalist with 41 years of experience, starting in Ankara in the mid ‘70s, Cemal is the right person to ask and comment about it.

He writes the following: “While the historic significance of the results of the Sledgehammer over the political regime was understood, there was confusion in the comments. … The Western press, which could easily understand the ‘opposition’ and the role of what it calls dissidents in, for example, Eastern Europe, was having difficulty analyzing the essence of the opposition to the regime -- or the system. In that context, the role played by Israel, the Israel lobby in the US and the remnants of the neo-cons must be underlined. Because, in the eyes of those circles, the important point was not the demolishing of the wall erected before of democracy, but “the continued existence of the ultra-secularist ‘Sledgehammer generals’.” But others in Ankara agreed with the “1989 argument.” Cemal quotes an anonymous bureaucrat, who towards the end of 2009 tells him: “Our Soviet Union is finally collapsing!”

According to Cemal, the inability to lucidly “read into” the developments in Turkey “today” by some serious parts of the foreign press (he gives examples of articles by the New York Times and Financial Times in early March) has led, in general, to the wrong focus: Instead of highlighting the significance of today, some of them became affected by blurred vision, and when attempting to emphasize “tomorrow,” became victims of exaggeration and external manipulations.

In his conclusions, Cemal points to another direction. Leave the fear mongering of Islamization and Putinization and the like aside, he says, and ask yourselves whether Erdoğan will be able to “surrender” to those who want to keep Turkey and its society under the grip of tutelage. Because, he says, what his predecessors did, by “surrendering” to the generals (like Demirel, Yılmaz, Çiller…), is tell us that there is also a “civilian side to Turkey’s military problem.” That is why what the Justice and Development Party (AKP) under Erdoğan does and will do is crucial for breaking the chains.