WHITHER TURKEY? A NEW LOOK
Of the specific issues in our report, let me just pick out two which seem to be especially relevant these days. This is the Armenian issue, and this is the new role of Turkey in the region. Of course, Cyprus has the strongest and most direct impact on the accession process but there are ongoing talks between leaders of the two communities. We can only cross our fingers and hope they’ll be successful.
On the Armenian question, there are three interrelated issues. There is the question of the massacres on Armenians in 1915, the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the question of what nature these events were. There are the bilateral relations and the question of the border. As far as the massacres are concerned, up to a few years ago, this was a taboo in Turkey, one couldn't’t discuss it. There was however a remarkable change during the last few years. Today, an increasingly open debate on these events take place in Turkey, led by liberal intellectuals and historians, reflecting the more open atmosphere in Turkey, triggered by the accession process. We can say that Turkey has started to come to terms with its history, or at least this part of the Ottoman history. What we say in our report is that this is a matter that has to be dealt with by the Turkish society itself, and outside interference, like the so-called Genocide Resolution by foreign parliaments are just clearly counter-productive....
This is an extremely positive step, but we are not there yet. The protocols have to be ratified by both parliaments. In both countries there is strong opposition to these arrangements. On the Armenian side, it’s more the diaspora that is more radical than the locals. In Turkey, it is the radical nationalists and the influence of Azerbaijan, a country that is closely linked to Turkey linguistically and culturally, but also the important matter of oil and gas. We shall see, but we can hope that these protocols will indeed be ratified and implemented and this will be to the benefit of these two countries and certainly also to this very volatile region of the southern caucuses. The other aspect is the Turkish activities in the region. They are based on friendly relations with the neighbours, with all eight neighbours. You remember years ago, these relations in many cases were bad. Syria, Iran, Iraq. Today they are friendly. Relations have been established, and with regard to Armenia and Cyprus, there is hope. This enables Turkey to use its good offices to contribute to the search for peaceful solutions to major conflicts in the region. Turkey mediated talks between Syria and Israel, with Hamas during the Gaza crisis. It initiated a trilateral process with Pakistan and Afghanistan. It proposed a platform for stability and co-operation in the Caucuses. It participated in EU and NATO missions from Afghanistan to the Balkans....
In addition, Turkey has never lost its vital role as energy hub, particularly for Europe’s energy security. And the relations to Russia, which have been in the past difficult to say the least, are now quite normal. This new positive role of Turkey in the region, the respect which Turkey enjoys in the wider region does give it a great freedom of action beyond the traditional fixation on Europe. It also increases Turkey’s attractiveness for the European Union. These are our conclusions. First, because of Turkey’s importance and its weight, it is vital for Europe that Turkey continues the transformation into a genuinely open, modern, Western, country which shares our values and which combines democracy and Islam.
Second, we note that all positive developments in Turkey in the past 10 years, in particular the dramatic reforms of 2000-2005 which initiated a genuine transformation process of Turkish society, but also the progress in other areas which I have just mentioned, have been connected to the European perspective of Turkey.
Therefore, thirdly, it is essential that this process continues. The process will be long, the outcome is uncertain, and we should underline that it’s not about today’s Turkey joining today’s EU, but rather how will Turkey develop in the next 10 years or so? If it transforms, then Turkish membership will be of enormous benefit to the European Union. If it doesn’t, then it will not join. Ultimately the decision rests with the Turkish government and with the governments of the EU member states.
Fourth, what European member states should do is to stop negative statements on Turkey’s membership. They should stop the pursuit of alternative concepts, which were non-starters in any case, but offensive to Turkey. They should remove obstacles to the negotiations, and conduct the process in good faith like with any other candidate country. Anything else would be clearly in breach of the EU’s own decisions and commitments and would damage the EU’s credibility and hurt its long-term interests. Finally, Turkey must re-engage in the reform process and it must continue its transformation. This is essential not only for Turkish European ambitions, as a sign that it’s serious about accession, but also for Turkey itself, for its ability and prosperity.
Transcript of a Chatham House Talk: 'Turkey Next Steps', with Martti Ahtisaari & Albert Rohan, 19 October 2009, in www.Chathamhouse.org.uk/files
"'There is no doubt he is our friend,' Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even as he accuses Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of threatening to use nuclear weapons against Gaza. These outrageous assertions point to the profound change of orientation by Turkey's government - for six decades the West's closest Muslim ally - since Erdogan's AK party came to power in 2002.
Three events this past month reveal the extent of that change. The first came on October 11 with the news that the Turkish military - a long-time bastion of secularism and advocate of cooperation with Israel - abruptly asked Israeli forces not to participate in the annual "Anatolian Eagle" air force exercise.
Erdogan cited "diplomatic sensitivities" for the cancellation, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke of "sensitivity on Gaza, east Jerusalem and the al-Aksa Mosque." The Turks specifically rejected Israeli planes that may have attacked Hamas during last winter's Gaza Strip operation. While Damascus applauded the disinvitation, it prompted the US and Italian governments to withdraw their forces from Anatolian Eagle, which in turn meant canceling the international exercise.
As for the Israelis, this "sudden and unexpected" shift shook to the core their military alignment with Turkey, in place since 1996. Former air force chief Eitan Ben-Eliahu, for example, called the cancellation "a seriously worrying development." Jerusalem immediately responded by reviewing Israel's practice of supplying Turkey with advanced weapons, such as the recent $140 million sale to the Turkish air force of targeting pods. The idea also arose to stop helping the Turks defeat the Armenian genocide resolutions that regularly appear before the US Congress.
BARRY RUBIN of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya not only argues that "the Israel-Turkey alliance is over," but concludes that Turkey's armed forces no longer guard the secular republic and can no longer intervene if the government becomes too Islamist....
Bilateral relations have indeed been dramatically reversed from a decade earlier, when Ankara came perilously close to war with Syria. But improved ties with Damascus are only one part of a much larger effort by Ankara to enhance relations with regional and Muslim states - a strategy enunciated by Davutoglu in his influential 2000 book, Strategic Depth: Turkey's International Position.
In brief, Davutoglu envisions reduced conflict with neighbors and Turkey emerging as a regional power, a sort of modernized Ottoman Empire. Implicit in this strategy is a distancing of Turkey from the West in general and from Israel in particular. Although not presented in Islamist terms, "strategic depth" closely fits the AK party's Islamist world view.
As Barry Rubin notes, "The Turkish government is closer politically to Iran and Syria than to the United States and Israel." Caroline Glick, a Jerusalem Post columnist, goes further: Ankara has already "left the Western alliance and became a full member of the Iranian axis."
But officials in the West seem nearly oblivious to this momentous change in Turkey's allegiance, and its implications. The cost of this error will soon become evident.
Daniel Pipes, "Turkey: An ally no more," 27 October 2009, in www.jpost.com (By the way of Joshua Landis' Syria Comment).
The above two comments, encapsulate the differing approaches and views on contemporary Turkey. The first, represents, indeed is almost a parody of the bien- ensant, 'the great and the good', EU officialdom view of Turkey. Especially Turkey under its current 'Democratic' Islamic government of the AK Party of Prime Minister Erdogan. In which the ongoing process of Turkey becoming a future member of the European Union, is viewed in almost Leibnizian terms. The second, is one that has only very recently come into view. However, given its provenance, I anticipate that it will not be a long time before it becomes rather more prominent, especially in the USA. Mr. Pipes is of course, an academic expert on the Near East of longstanding. With very hardline, pro-Zionist views on the subject of Israel and its Arab neighbors. Id est., he is a parody by himself of the neo-conservative line on Near Eastern politics. And, especially what American policy should be in the same. As anyone who reads this journal will know, I am not in the least enamoured of the type of policies advocated by Professor Pipes, and, his ilk. However, it cannot be gainsay, that in this instance, he has hit nail exactly and correctly on the head: both about the obliviousness (nay one may say blindness) of Western officials concerning Ankara's changing allegiances in the Near and Middle East, as well as the fact that this error, will negatively impact 'Western' aims and policies in the region. Indeed, how could it not, since as the recent meetings between Erdogan and the leading officials of the Persian regime clearly show that Ankara will be a weak link, at best, in any concerted Western attempt at stymie Teheran's pursuit of nuclear power and weapons. A huge change indeed from the position that Ankara assumed in the region, say ten of fifteen years ago. And, let us be quite clear: while there are naive individuals who say that Ankara's change of face diplomatically speaking is a result of the EU not pandering to Turkey's pursuit of EU membership, the same can hardly be said for either the USA or Israel. Both of who have over the years, been steadfast in endeavoring to placate Ankara in almost every respect possible. With the possible exception of the American decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
So, to conclude: it seems to me that regardless of the gloss that some EU member states and officials will endeavor to employ to explain Ankara's new-found admiration for Syria, Hamas, Sudan, and Tehran (none of whom actually do very well on the democratic governance scale, by the bye...), the fact of the matter is that for reasons which I will judge to be primarily for internal Turkish politics, rather than for external reasons (der primat der innenpolitik, rather than primat der aussenpolitik), Turkey under the AK government is heading in a direction which can or should only cause shudders in Western chancelleries. The idea that an aspirant member of the EU can engage in a mutual admiration society with the likes of the current Persian leadership, much less that of the regime in Khartoum, is something which not only the Israelis, have to worry about.
As the Turkish emigre academic, Soner Cagaptay has recently and cogently written:
Many suggested that the AKP's rise to power presented Turkey with an opportunity to "go back to the Middle East" and adopt more of an Islamic identity. The hope was that such a shift would help "normalize" Turkey, recalibrating the secularizing and nationalist reforms of Kemal Atatürk, who turned Turkey to the West in the early twentieth century. The outcome, however, has not been so positive. Turkey's experience with the AKP proves that Islamism in the country's foreign policy may not be so compatible with the West, after all.
Soner Cagaptay, "Is Turkey Leaving the West?" 26 October 2009, in www.foreignaffairs.com