Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Anything but Turkey

“Turkey must also work to support a Cyprus settlement and open its ports to the Republic of Cyprus as it has committed to do. A Cyprus settlement would have benefits extending well beyond the island, from aviation safety to more efficient EU/NATO co-operation. Negotiations on a comprehensive settlement have now reached an intensive phase and we welcome the commitment of President Christofias and Dr. Eroğlu to work within the UN framework for a successful outcome.” This excerpt is from a joint statement titled “The EU and Turkey: steering a safer path through the storms.” Signed by foreign ministers of eleven EU member countries, including Germany, the lengthy text was otherwise filled with praise of Turkey's democratic progress and economic success. It looked apparent that it aimed to diffuse tension in Turkish-EU relations and weigh in with regard to the steady attempts by the (Greek) Republic of Cyprus to block “positive elements” -- as envisioned by the EU Commission -- aimed to improve the accession negotiations, currently in deep freeze. Mind the words “commitment of President Christofias and Dr. Eroğlu…” in the statement. After the tripartite meeting between the two in New York in late October, the world was given the “autopilot” information that all had gone well, an international conference was planned and progress had been noted, etc. When I asked about it to my reliable (i.e. “independent”) and extremely well-informed Greek Cypriot sources in Cyprus recently, all I heard was loud laughter. I was referred to reports that Christofias had assured his party comrades and others in the administration in closed door meetings, “You should not worry, nothing new will happen, I made no promises, we noted no progress at all.” “Commitment?” In a recent interview with Alithia newspaper, Nikos Rolandis, a former foreign and trade minister of (Greek) Cyprus, admitted that “by allowing things to become worse, we have now come to the threshold of final division (of the island).” “I do not wish to give you the bad news, “Rolandis added pessimistically, “but I believe that we missed the train. For the solution on the island and in order to stave off all the problems we should have called in Greece, Turkey and the UK [three guarantor powers] to assist because with the shuttling of Christofias back and forth in the negotiations, there will not be a solution even in a century.” Both Greek and Turk Cypriots who genuinely believe and fight for unification agree that Christofias simply plays the game of delays because he is politically afraid, and more importantly, he is content with the leverage his administration has in the EU. “Nothing will happen until (Greek) Cyprus takes over the presidency in July 2012; Greek Cypriots in their political blindness know no other thing than to push it to the limits,” a Greek Cypriot, deeply knowledgeable about the process told me. On the other hand, Turkey, as revealed by a Turk Cypriot, gave a free hand to Dr. Eroğlu, leader of North Cyprus, on all issues except one. “Ankara is only interested in security in all six key chapters,” he told me. “But they lost hope as well. It is an unfair game, it is very obvious.” (Greek) Cyprus and Greece recently blocked Turkey from taking part in the key discussions among the EU ministers on Syria. This took place while a top-level source in the foreign ministry in Ankara told me, “I have never experienced such intensity with my American counterparts these days; everybody there calls everybody at every level, ministers and all.” From this contrast, one can only draw the conclusion that a tiny EU member manages to obstruct a pivotal regional power from sharing its valuable data and ideas with the union, paralyzing its influence over crucial developments that might reshape the world. The same happens as you read this article. (Greek) Cyprus solely focuses on cleansing all the positive remarks from the EU statements referring to Turkey in blind intensity. Eleven EU minister certainly act in good will when they call on Turkey to “support a Cyprus settlement, and open its ports to the Republic of Cyprus as it has committed to do.” But, I am sure, they are also fully aware of the absurdity of the situation. Is it rational that Turkey opens its ports as long as the EU fails in its commitment to ease the sanctions over North Cyprus? Is it logical that Ankara recognizes Cyprus as it is before being sufficiently convinced that UN-led talks will soon enough come to a conclusion over the destiny of the island -- “divorce” or “marriage?” Can anything really happen, until the UN process becomes serious, with a strict (I mean, “strict”) deadline? These questions have clear answers, but they must be facing, more than others, France and Germany. How should this be played? How serious are they? Where is the endgame? Rolandis is right; the train has been missed. The issue of Cyprus is nothing other than a tool to keep Turkey out of the EU. Christofias is afraid but clever: He plays it gladly, by creating a new balance between the EU and (his old ally) Russia. Anything but Turkey… 2011-12-06

Despair in Cyprus

The Turkish Cypriot part of Nicosia looked completely deserted yesterday. It was because of the census, which kept everybody at home. A curfew was fully imposed, with police cars patrolling the streets. The objective of the census, the first in five years, is obviously to bring clarity on the “real population” of the northern side of the island, and particularly to learn how many “settlers” from Turkey have been living there, legally or illegally. Although a brief visitor, I was also counted, and found that it was a well-detailed questionnaire, approved and supervised by the UN. It took me a few minutes to reach the buffer zone, equally desolate since 1974. Only a hundred meters separate two communities, and in that tiny strip around the famous Ledra Palace, used by the UN peacekeeping force, the only new thing was a restaurant and a small meeting center. It faced the old “no man’s land facilities,” such as the Goethe Institute and the Fulbright Center. I was here during the weekend to meet colleagues and academics from Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. Organized and facilitated by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation of Germany, this is one of a series of meetings whose aim is to shed light on the Cyprus process and Greek-Turkish relations. Gloom prevailed at every session, with the exception of the one that dealt with Turkey. It was agreed that Turkey’s pivotal role in the future of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean was now proven, though the direction of Ankara’s “zero problems with neighbors” was questioned. Some preferred to declare it as finished, while others thought it needed some serious revision to merge its idealism with the tough reality. It was remarkable that some Greek (Cypriot) observers perceived (wrongly) that the policy was a “one-way street” aimed at imposing Turkey’s will on its neighbors. But all the disputes dispersed when the latest findings of the Brookings Poll on the Arab awakening was presented. Its rich data concluded that “Turkey is the biggest winner of the Arab Spring. In the five countries [Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, UAE] polled, Turkey is seen to have played the most constructive role in the Arab events. [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is the most admired among world leaders, and those who envision a new president for Egypt want the new president to look most like Erdoğan. Egyptians want their country to look more like Turkey than any of the other Muslim, Arab and other choices provided.” Greek-Turkish relations were discussed in light -- or, “under the shadow” of the Greek/European financial crisis, and all that was found for progress between Athens and Ankara was the lack of leadership in the former. Greece’s and Cyprus’s rapprochement with Israel was in a sharp remark declared as “emerging strategic partnership in depth,” which gave way to Israel and Greece “attempting to embrace each other in desperation,” giving the cynics a place in the frontline. Nobody knew whether it would be beneficiary for all the key players in the region. Would there be a game-changer with regard to Turco-Greek relations? Given the prospect of a nationalist right-wing coalition in Greece, led by New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras (ND) and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader Georgios Karatzaferis, after the early elections, there was no room for optimism either. The picture of the Cyprus talks was even gloomier. Negotiations between Derviş Eroğlu and Dimitris Christofias, leaders of the two communities, did not produce any results in a recent meeting in Long Island. An analysis of “behind the scenes” tells us that a stalemate is on the horizon, because Christofias would not “dare” to facilitate progress because of the prospects of political hostilities at home. Also, Eroğlu has become increasingly disinterested in the process. Opinion polls showed that up to 60 percent of Greek Cypriots were against reunification, while the undecided among the Turkish Cypriots was at its highest -- an indication of their despair with the policies of both the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and the Greek Cypriot administration. Small hopes were tied to a “soft deadline” given by the UN to the two leaders as Jan. 15 and an eventual conference thereafter, but, while Turkey does not show much willingness to open its ports to Cyprus, Christofias has relied much more heavily on the veto powers of Russia, an increasingly close financial partner, which hopes to use Cyprus for what it has been losing over Syria. Nobody in the meeting expected any progress in the UN talks and it seemed that the Republic of Cyprus was determined to enforce its presence and agenda during its presidency of the EU. Progress, if any, will be delayed until 2013, after the presidential elections in the south. I left the meeting with the clear notion that “reunification” has been dropped from the agenda of those who were pursuing it. In the previous meetings, Turkish Cypriots threw in the towel; now my Greek Cypriot colleagues, who were keeping hopes alive, told me they had given up. “When I see news on the Cyprus talks, I turn off the TV,” said a prominent colleague of mine. “For me, it is finished.” It all sounded like a friendly divorce is inevitable. 2011-12-04

New constitution sure to be postponed

With the first anniversary of the so-called Arab Spring slowly approaching and its progress being symbolized by a high turnout at the Egyptian elections, the spotlight is now on Ankara. Not only that. The expected pull-out of American troops from Iraq and an ugly escalation of the Syrian crisis -- now in defiance of the Arab League -- also add to attention being drawn to Turkey. Turkey's spectacular story over the past decade deserves this attention. In many aspects, the experiment that took shape under the single majority rule of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has been quite complex, but simple enough to become an inspiration for its southern Arab neighbors. It has also exposed elements of hypocrisy within the EU that seem to have been failing in its relationship with the predominantly Muslim nation to which it had pledged full accession. Nevertheless, we are in the midst of a developing story in a rapidly changing world. If Turkey truly deserves such a focus, then the series of meetings this week in Washington, D.C., organized by the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) are very timely. I was invited to elaborate on the issue of Turkey's perhaps most critical threshold in its ongoing but somewhat slowed democratization experiment: the constitutional process. In a heavily attended session at the hall at the Center for American Progress (CAP), I attempted to analyze the outlook from a humble and realistic perspective. What might that outlook for a new constitution be? Given that expectations were raised at home and abroad, would it be a “miscarriage” or a successful delivery? Here is what I, in a nutshell, conveyed at the session. The composition and methodology of the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, empowered to prepare the draft, is the key to all the clues we need to answer this. At first look it all appears to be fine; all political parties, irrespective of size, are represented on an equal basis, with three representatives from each. This should give us hope that a consensus can be reached. However, the methodology has traps and pitfalls. The most problematic principle is the condition of reaching a unanimous decision. There will be no progress in the commission's work unless each and every party agrees on each article being discussed. Even if it could be achieved there will have to be a full consensus (by unanimous vote) on the whole of the text, and if a disagreement emerges on whether or not the text is considered finalized, then the whole process can be discontinued. If a party is absent from three meetings or if it decides to pull out altogether, the commission's work will be disrupted without any further steps. The commission will cease to exist in practice. So, there is strong reason for feeling pessimistic here. There is no example in the political history of the world of cases of 100 percent consensus, except for drafts that have been imposed on people through the heavily controlled parliaments of oppressive, fascist or communist regimes. Wisdom that there should be “reasonable consensus” seems to have been ignored. Why would the AK Party agree to such a methodology if its pledges for a new constitution were genuine? Some argue that the AK Party and even the Republican People's Party (CHP) are content with the arrangement: the AK Party because the current constitution is something it can continue to live with, and the CHP because its core base and top echelons have been against a new constitution as they are staunchly against the revision of Kemalism. So, work on a new constitution might end up being postponed until after the next elections in 2015. Is there a way out? Optimists claim that the AK Party and the CHP can surprisingly find common ground. Together they make up 75 percent of Parliament. This should be in principle acceptable to as close to a consensus as possible. Some optimists also add that the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) may also agree on a reasonable definition of citizenship, and the recognition of Kurdish identity and others, by deleting references to Turkish identity from the current Constitution as well as some form of devolution/decentralization. I belong to the pessimist camp. Given the establishment of the commission and its methodology, the dream of a new constitution -- a step seen by so many as crucial to institutionalizing democratization and bringing Turkey into the same league as Western Europe -- is sadly, more distant than ever. Reformists may switch to demanding what is possible, such as all obstacles before free speech being lifted from various laws, as an entirely new constitution seems impossible at the moment. Obstacles in the current Constitution must be changed so that society can be allowed to develop the maturity to have further debates and prevent all the genies that have been let out of their bottles from leading to radicalization. There are many things this government and Parliament can do. 2011-11-29

‘Whose party’ is the CHP?

The ongoing Dersim row has given analysts new reasons to shed light on where the main opposition is and where it is going. This was inevitable. The Republican People's Party (CHP) has become a political synonym with constant crisis, which describes a party in a remarkably unproductive limbo. It has failed to rise in the eyes of the dismayed voters, and it has managed not to implode. Its seemingly chosen place in limbo perplexes foreign observers, particularly those who insist on seeing with the CHP something new and progressive as an alternative. The “Dersim row” may have helped them to reconsider. It is necessary, because Turkey's political actors have already set the course, with the brand new constitution as a destiny; and the CHP, which is the key among all the oppositional players, needs a proper scrutiny. This is necessary, because the CHP's “limbo” status is chiefly responsible for keeping Turkey in limbo and at the mercy of an unequivocally strong political force -- this being the AK Party -- in power. What does the Dersim row tell us about the CHP? That it has a leadership in crisis? That Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the son of the severely oppressed and ruthlessly savaged Dersim natives, is in profound, existential trauma? That it is a party speeding towards termination or a full confrontation with its own heritage? In a sense, it can be argued that the regional crisis that is pushing the Baathist legacy towards extermination would inevitably come to the doorstep of the very party that stood as the role model for all the oppressive regimes in the Arab world. With its personality cult, strong “statism,” elitism and corporativist tradition, it was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's very CHP that inspired nationalist Baathist systems that operated under strictly controlled parliaments. The drama of the CHP was that Turkey, luckily, had given way to free elections from 1946, and once the voter had the “sweet smell of free choice,” it was irreversible, despite three-and-a-half coups d'etat. But, even this objective fact was not enough to persuade the “role model” CHP to transform itself to a social democratic party, as its archrival, the conservative right of Turkey, managed to embrace the Muslim democrat identity. What is wrong today? Is the crisis in the CHP connected to its leader, its organization -- or those who continue vote for him? Perhaps, there is convergence between what Kılıçdaroğlu represents and what the voters expect of his party. A new survey by Ankara-based pollster MetroPOLL seeks to shed light on the latter, namely the current profile of the CHP voter and how s/he sees the party's policies. The overall picture depicts severely conflicting identities, a blend of confusion and discontent, and a high level of disappointment. Half of those who were asked find Kılıçdaroğlu unsuccessful and give this as the primary reason for the party's failure, while 41 percent of those asked do not approve of his “New CHP” motto. Over 50 percent believe that a leadership change will help the party, and Mustafa Sarıgül, mayor of Şişli, ranks highest among favorites. Interestingly, over 55 percent believe that the CHP does not represent “left” and “social democracy” strongly enough. Those who believe that the CHP is a Kemalist party are 82 percent, while those who expect the CHP to be a Kemalist party are 91 percent. Who is the CHP voter? Of those asked, 35 percent describe themselves as “Ataturkists,” while only 16.4 percent respond “I am a social democrat” and 11.5 percent declare “I am a nationalist.” There are more contrasts in the survey. While 72 percent say that Turkey needs a new constitution, 50 percent respond that they would prefer it to be based on Atatürk's principles rather than fundamental human rights and freedoms. Those who do not want any amendment in the first three articles of the current constitution go up to 69 percent (over 80 percent among the highly educated). Half of those asked say they do not believe the CHP will be able to solve the Kurdish problem. If the data presented are reliable, one can almost understand the dilemma of Kılıçdaroğlu. He personifies, as it were, all the confusion, anachronism and mistaken identity that define the voter profile of his party. One can find all those bits and pieces behind his zigzags and his Hamlet-like hesitations. Also, one can find all the obsession with the Kemalist dogma, which prolongs the trauma and fuels the mechanical discourse that defines the CHP's rhetoric. Overall, the case of the CHP is to feed further pessimism for all those who express anxiety for undue asymmetry in Turkey's politics. If any, one serious conclusion of this survey may be that the party's greatest concern is not the problem of leadership. It is hostage to its voters, who insist on the utopias and illusions of yesterday. They want to remain angry at today and resent tomorrow. They are far from hope. 2011-11-27

Erdoğan's way

I was reading a critical analysis in The Guardian by Jon Henley about German Chancellor Angela Merkel titled “Angela Merkel: Europe's savior -- or biggest problem?” (Nov. 22) when my attention was drawn to a man on the TV, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister of Turkey. He was addressing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies in Parliament. It was supposed to be one of those regular Tuesday addresses, but the more attention I paid the more it became apparent that here was a politician on the top of his game as a leader; he was extremely high spirited, completely in command of his verbal skills, hitting new heights in his oratory abilities, and this was all evident in his facial expressions and posture. Everything seemed to be in place. He was truly enjoying the moment, with masterful pausing and smashing punch lines. Within the space of half an hour, he managed to touch upon many critical domestic matters as well as global ones. He declared that the names of some dubious military figures (linked with crimes against humanity in the past) at major military barracks will be replaced with more ordinary “war heroes”; he demanded that Bashar al-Assad leave his post immediately; and he went into detail explaining a politically popular topic of the introduction of payment in lieu of compulsory military service. He went on further in the midst of loud applause to attack his most favorite and easiest target of all, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Referring to denials of the CHP's role in the 1936-39 massacre of Kurds in Dersim (which, no doubt, borders on genocide), he took enough time to ridicule CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and promised that within a day he would make public certain official documents proving the role of the one-party government of the period, the CHP. And he did. The very day he made the headlines in the international press for prompting Assad to step down, he also took an unprecedented step in the history of the Turkish Republic. He not only shared some key documents, proving the extermination of more than 13,000 Kurdish civilians in what is now Tunceli province but, to the bewilderment of the public, he apologized for the crimes against humanity. For such a delicate issue in a nation known for sweeping under the carpet many of the wrongs of the past, he was met with standing ovations. This was, objectively speaking, phenomenal. In a world where a lack of proper leadership, on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere, is visible, Erdoğan stands out with his qualities and abilities, which can be observed and analyzed carefully without bias. (His popularity remains unchanged at above 60-65 percent at the polls.) In domestic politics he is unchallenged and will be invincible for some time to come. The way the opposition acts and reacts, gives him all the space and time he needs to completely set the agenda, while they continue to drag behind. His main challenger, Kılıçdaroğlu, is now politically finished, dwarfed by his own denial of history and his inability to rule his own party. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the second largest opposition party, is marked by its own anachronistic manners before the world, and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), is unable to correct its relationship with violence. In that sense, “Erdoğan's Way” is wide open. Whether one approves of it or not, his way has been a crushing dynamic. It has been operating on its own qualifications to transform the old instruments of the Kemalist republic: The army is on the retreat towards a more professional role, and the judiciary, once heavily idealized by Kemalist dogma, is in the midst of restructuring itself, in an open-ended process (which can turn out to be correct or wrong). Now, this dynamic has started to shatter the Kemalism-obsessed CHP, which looks like a traffic jam at a roundabout where every car driver wants to drive to a different direction. But Erdoğan's Way is not without its traps and pitfalls. Now that the West finally realized that Turkey has not change its axis, we can discuss where the chances and risks are. Leave the good and likely story aside -- namely, of Erdoğan as the second transformer after Atatürk, who will by 2023 shape a modern, truly democratic, civilian, predictable world power. The risk is authoritarianism, benevolent or not. Apart from pushing this Turkish “glasnost” further, Erdoğan also hinted on erratic choices that come with the package; he lashed out at the German foundations with ungrounded accusations, openly defended Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) operations (trespassing on the territory of the judiciary), rejected conscientous objection and continued to cause concern that the line between terrorist activity or government critique and freedom of expression (he has been alienating dissidents in various camps for a while) is very thin in his mind. What's next? Apart from the challenges of the state of the global economy, he is hoping that the opposition will remain stuck and he is counting on the massive support, which is overwhelmingly pro-change, that he now enjoys. He is now at a point where the temptation to exert his single-man authority may distort his democratically mandated mission to enhance the civilian domain for a freer flow of ideas, encourage debate, boost tolerance and carry out speedier reforms. His journey continues to be exciting, with inherent risks. 2011-11-24