Saving Russian-Turkish ties from being hostage to PKK terrorism

The fundamental transformation of Turkish-Russian relations over the last two decades from being former Cold War foes to being strategic partners is quite a leap forward for students of international politics. The growing partnership between Turkey under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia reached a peak, especially in economic interests, with the lifting of visa requirements for the nationals of both countries.

Turkey and Russia see eye-to-eye on most regional issues, albeit with some differences on how to handle them. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, both countries do not want the EU taking charge to solve outstanding issues in this very fragile country without the involvement of either Russia or Turkey. Bosnian Muslims feel more comfortable with Turkey engaged in the process while Russian involvement would cut back the uneasiness felt by Bosnian Serbs. On the Syrian front, both countries want no interference from outside powers either.

The ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey, Vladimir Ivanovskiy, with whom I spoke earlier this month, shares this conclusion. He even admits that the progress of bilateral relations has exceeded his expectations. The veteran diplomat sounded upbeat when it comes to the future relations of the two countries. “When I report to my leadership on Russia and Turkey, I always say that in 10 to 15 years, I see more issues that will bring the two countries further together,” he said, stressing that Russia strongly shares this view.

In view of these developments, I think the time has come for Russia to act on the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has claimed the lives of 30,000 people over the last three decades. It looks awkward for Russia to drag its feet in recognizing the PKK as a terrorist organization while both the US and the EU label the vicious organization a “terrorist group.” Turkey has raised the PKK issue on bilateral talks with Russia in the past but failed to secure a strong commitment from Moscow. The thorny issue needs to be dealt with and thereby taken off the agenda of Turkish and Russian officials.

US Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone has been successfully exploiting the cooperation between Washington and Ankara on PKK terrorism, appearing in the press with talking points specifically targeting Turkish public opinion. He said last week that Turkey and the US were cooperating in diplomacy, law and intelligence to combat PKK terrorism and called on third countries to put pressure on the terrorist organization. Russia might want to take a hint from Ricciardone’s call on the “third countries” to take a tougher stance against the PKK.

Ricciardone underlined that the US has incurred around $400 million in annual costs, or about $1 million a day, assisting Turkey to help fight terrorism. The US ambassador noted that the US has designated five leaders of the outlawed PKK as drug traffickers, adding them to a sanctions list that already covers the terrorist group more generally. The US Department of the Treasury announced in April that Cemil Bayık, Duran Kalkan, Remzi Kartal, Sabri Ok and Adem Uzun were named “specially designated narcotics traffickers” pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

As PKK terrorism threatens the economic cooperation between Turkey and Russia, especially on energy cooperation, Moscow may want to reconsider its position with regard to the terrorist organization. The PKK has in the past sabotaged not only the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which carries Azerbaijani crude oil to Western markets, but the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which carries Iraqi crude to the West as well. It will pose a threat to the proposed Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline, which will carry Russian and Kazakh oil from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean oil terminal in Ceyhan. Alarmed by the treat, Russia has already proposed to Turkey a special security team to eliminate threats along this route.

At this stage, the proposal forwarded to his Russian counterpart by Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek, who went to St. Petersburg to attend the 12th Ministerial Session of the EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement in September 2010, becomes very important. This might pave the way for a candid debate on the challenges PKK terrorism brings to Turkish-Russian relations.

Intelligence reports indicate some 80 percent of the arms the PKK uses are made in Russia. General Staff data confirm the majority of weapons seized from PKK terrorists or from their bases was of Russian origin. Russia is by far the largest source of sniper rifles used by the PKK as well as in the supply of anti-tank mines and rocket launchers. Eighty-eight percent of the mines and 85 percent of the launchers used by the PKK were of Russian origin. This does not, of course, mean the Russian government is directly providing arms to the PKK because arms dealers may very well use the black market to supply the PKK through routes cutting across Armenia and Iran.

Nevertheless, arms smuggling to the PKK puts Moscow in a very bad position. Added to that, the unwillingness of the Russian government to recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization raises further suspicions in Turkish public opinion. Turks still remember that Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, went to Russia twice after leaving Syria in 1999 to seek refuge in the country. Even the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, once attempted to recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. There were speculations that a PKK training camp had existed close to the Russian capital during the Cold War.

I think it is now time to let bygones be bygones and start a new chapter in Turkish-Russian relations on cooperating against terrorism commensurate with the close ties in a number of other areas. Claiming that Russia’s official list of terrorist organizations was written in accordance with a court decision is not a convincing argument for Turks. It boosts the negative perception of Russia among Turkish public opinion and gives credibility to an argument that the Russians have not shown the sensitivity Turks expect.

I for one am a strong advocate of close Turkish and Russian ties and believe they will bring immense benefit to both sides. This is a mutual benefit and requires mutual trust as well. Current attitudes towards PKK terrorism are a major impediment to building that trust.

Mr. ABdullah Bozkurt, TZ

Why Washington must look to Ankara

America has yet to figure out whether Turkey is friend or foe.

With conflicts in Libya and Afghanistan, and tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, Turkey’s generous military and aid contribution pleases Washington. With Armenia, Israel and Iran, however, Turkey spurns Washington for refusing the genocide label, stalling negotiations and opposing sanctions, respectively. Coupled with a co-mingling of political Islam and neoliberal economic policies, and you have Washington on alert, always angling this ambiguous ally, edging her to go west, instead of east.

While Washington speculates that Turkey benefits from this elusiveness, traders in Istanbul and politicos in Ankara beg to differ, citing unreliable relations and unpredictable policymaking – which inspires Turkic-American organisations to take members of Congress and their staff to Turkey to fact-find. Having returned recently myself from one such trip, it remains clear that on several fronts Turkey is poised to please.

The world’s 16th largest economy and sixth largest economy among EU countries, Turkey wants to be bigger, better and bolder, aiming to be a top ten economy by 2023. Operating under free-market fundamentals, with no trading partner exempt, it is tacking towards that goal. This need not scare the US (and which is also why Turkey wallpapers Washington’s billboards with western-friendly “Travel Turkey” advertisements and why Kobe Bryant and Kevin Costner are spokesmen for Turkish Airlines).

If Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is serious about its global aspirations, it needs to reassure sceptical westerners that political Islam and democracy are compatible. In doing so, Turkey will need to boost its low ranking on the Global Peace Index (126 out of 149), in which Economist Intelligence Unit data highlights Turkey’s organised conflict, disrespect for human rights, perceived criminality, violent crime and ease of access to small arms. To further this, in our meetings with AKP and the opposition Republican People’s party and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party, it was evident that while much political progress has been made in ten years, political freedoms need extending.

And as Turkey advances its goal of economic progress, it cannot view its workforce in such expendable terms. Among the OECD’s richest, the US and Turkey are nearly tied for the highest income inequality, which brings with it the worst rates of life expectancy, social mobility, violence, infant mortality, obesity, literacy, homicides, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction. In our meetings, Turkish government officials boasted a workforce that worked longer and for less than EU counterparts. This is not necessarily something to brag about. To Turkey’s credit, while corporate social and environmental responsibility is relatively new to Turkish technocrats, it is hosting the UN Global Compact this month, the UN’s agency focused on better business practices.

Social and political progress, as well as economic growth, are very achievable – and in the interests both of Turkey and the US. Among Turkey’s neighbours, the potential for Turkey to play a positive role in diplomatic partnership with the US is equally great – having already brokered negotiations, releases and ceasefire attempts in Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt and Libya.

Now, it’s time to go further. In the case of Iran, given that few interlocutors are left for forthcoming negotiations, Turkey remains uniquely positioned to keep open lines of communication, essential for preventing rogue regimes from radicalisation. From Islamic politics to gas imports (Iran provides one-third of Turkey’s total), Ankara’s contacts with Tehran should be encouraged by the US, not treated as a cause for excommunication. Another neighbour, Syria, needs Turkey’s sustained engagement, now more than ever. During our trip, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reopened talks with Damascus to encourage reform and underline discontent with unrest. Turkey’s history and proximity with Syria, as with Iran, affords it special envoy status; again, something to be capitalised on, not castigated.

So, if Turkey wants to be a regional mediator, the US should support this. Few parties are so well positioned to liaise between the western and Arab and Muslim worlds. While Qatar, Malaysia and others are keen arbiters, Turkey has unique leverage given its role and relations in the region.

With or without us, Turkey is moving forward – from economic innovation , such as Erdoğan’s proposed Canal Istanbul, to diplomatic intervention, such as the proposed roadmap for Libya. Given the continued likely rejection of its application for EU membership, Turkey is realising that flying solo may serve its interests best. But that only underlines the need for Washington’s attentive engagement.

Michael Shank – Guardian

Russia to train Turkish scientists in nuclear, space tech

Vladimir Ivanovskiy

Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey Vladimir Ivanovskiy has said Russia will not only build a planned nuclear plant but will also train and educate Turks since in time the project will need a substantial number of experts and qualified people to run it. He also says the plan is to further technology sharing in such other areas as space science.
The Turkish government’s zero-problem with neighbors policy has borne fruit with the Russian Federation as the two countries’ cooperation in a variety of areas has seen unprecedentedly high levels in recent years. The visa waiver decision, which went into effect last month and means that people from both sides for the first time are able to cross their respective borders without needing a visa, marks the pinnacle for such close cooperation between the two powerful neighbors in the region.

In an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman Ambassador Ivanovskiy said during the high-level negotiations in nuclear talks between Russia and Turkey that the idea of establishing nuclear and space science academies where Russians will educate Turkish scientists has emerged. “For the project to be a complete success we need hundreds of people who can speak both languages,” he says, adding that both Turkey and Russia should think in practical terms, economically and socially, in order to figure out how the two could engage further.

Ivanovskiy also said interest in learning Russian in Turkey is on the rise. According to the ambassador, in February, an intergovernmental Society Forum was established to promote cooperation in nine areas. One of them is education, he said. “Turkish and Russian universities can cooperate, and we can even establish faculties in either Russia or Turkey, operated jointly, to further our cooperation in the educational field,” he explained

According to Ivanovskiy, marriages between Turks and Russians are on the rise as well. Male spouses are mostly from Turkey and female spouses are from Russia in such marriages, he said, drawing attention to the increasing number of children from those marriages who can speak both languages fluently and who, according to Ivanovskiy, are the fundamental base for a mutual future for both countries.

‘I heard about the crazy project 15 years ago from Erdoğan’

“I heard about the project 15 years ago from then Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, when I was consul general of Russia in İstanbul,” Ivanovskiy said in response to a question about the canal project. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s “crazy project” of adding another strait to İstanbul seemed a bit far-fetched to the ambassador when he first heard about it back then. “I thought it was going to be a long time for Turkey in order for such projects to materialize, yet 15 years later Turkey has developed into a nation where such projects are now believable,” he says, adding that is has taught him to “never say never” when it comes to Turkey.

Ivanovskiy says further that people need to wait until all the details emerge in order to be able to make a comprehensive assessment of the project. He points to the fact that it has not only an economic aspect but also an international legal side. Economic feasibility and the implications of the Montreux Convention should all be taken into consideration carefully, he advises.

“Deep and thorough analyses need to be done by all parties who will be involved in it — transport actors, legal experts, military people, contractors, producers who might be involved in the project — so we need to collect all the information to provide a conclusion on it. This is not only the issue for the Black Sea littoral states but also for other parties who use the straits. For example, the companies who use the straits for oil and liquefied gas transportation, container and shipping companies, a lot of actors are involved, and we need time to collect all the necessary information to be able to give an accurate assessment of the project,” Ivanovskiy said.

When Today’s Zaman was the first newspaper to break the story several months ago, sources also told Today’s Zaman that even Russia was interested in building and operating this channel. Responding to this, Ivanovskiy says in all the negotiations he took part in on the transportation of Russian oil and gas via pipeline and rail, the idea of this channel as a means of oil and gas transportation was not on the agenda. “This is my frank confession to you,” the Russian ambassador admitted.

Regarding the safety concerns of the Turkish side about the Bosporus he says Russia also shares those concerns for safety. “In my youth I graduated from naval school, and I used to travel on tankers, and at that time at night in 1968 to reach the oceans of the world you needed to travel through straits and, of course, the Bosporus. And while passing [through] the straits we could hear the announcements on the side of the straits that here a vessel crashed at this time, here another vessel crashed at another time. Of course, there are dangers, and we realize the dangers. And, of course, we share the Turkish side’s concerns related to the safety of the straits.”

‘Economic cooperation fully corresponds with political one’

When Today’s Zaman mentioned the criticism of some media outlets concerning political cooperation that does not correspond to the economic cooperation between Russia and Turkey, Ambassador Ivanovskiy voiced disagreement. He explained that there is mutual cooperation in both the economic and political relationship, which are interrelated and influence each other positively.

“I would start with mutual trust between Russia and Turkey; we manage to build mutual trust, which was broken between the two countries for many decades. The next thing would be mutual respect for mutual interests. And even when I report to my leadership on Russia and Turkey I always say that I see it in the perspective of 10 to 15 years on issues which will bind for the two countries; of course, this view of mine is not only shared here in Turkey but in my country as well,” he noted.

The ambassador also mentioned a number of correlating issues both for Russia and Turkey on their respective agendas. The development of the region is one issue where the two sides have managed to organize seven meetings from January until June of this year alone at the level of high-ranking Foreign Ministry officials on consultations concerning regional issues. “Not to mention the meetings between the two ministers,” he said. According to Ivanovskiy, during such meetings wide-ranging discussions take place, from diplomacy to security issues.

‘Turkey and Russia do not want foreign intervention in Syria’

As a more specific example of close cooperation at the political level, Russian Ambassador Ivanovskiy says both Turkey and Russia are opposed to foreign intervention in Syria. He explains that there is constant information-sharing at all levels on the Syrian issue between Russia and Turkey.

The ambassador also indicated that the movements in Libya, Syria, the Middle East and North Africa might be motivated by internal dynamics, but he is worried that it might be hijacked by external powers, creating more instability and even leading to civil war. “I can say that all foreign attempts such as the color revolutions or twitter revolutions do not always lead to the wished-for results,” Ivanovskiy said.

Situation in the Balkans

When asked about the situation in the Balkans, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular, Ambassador Ivanovskiy says it is another area where Turkey and Russia are negotiating. He says the situation should be resolved within its natural course and not by outside intervention. Without a three-state formation and without taking into account the interests of all related parties there will be never peace in the region, and if the EU wants to get involved they can, but we should not impose anything on the parties, he explains.

Energy relationship

The energy relationship with Russia is another important area where Turkey and Russia could further relations. Russia is the number one natural gas supplier to Turkey, whose energy demand is on the rise in conjunction with its fast-growing economy. Ivanovskiy says Russia is fully aware of such needs and that they are willing to accommodate them fully. Speaking of the Blue Stream pipeline project, he says he was in Samsun 10 days ago and that they are working on utilizing the pipeline to its full capacity. According to Ivanovskiy, in two months there will be some test runs to try the pipelines at full capacity.

Regarding Nabucco, he said Russia does not see any problems. “Of course, there is always going to be competition that we cannot avoid; yet, we plan to meet demand through South Stream, and Nabucco has its own participants on the project,” he added. He also stated that Turkey would soon know all the details of the Blue Stream Project with regard to detailed layout map of the pipes n the seabed as well as environmental impact studies.

The huge trade deficit

According to data supplied by the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM), the trade volume between Russia and Turkey in 2010 was around $26.2 billion, and Turkey’s exports to Russia in the same year were $4.6 billion. Thus, there is a significant trade deficit for Turkey when it comes to trade with Russia.

However, Ambassador Ivanovskiy says this is not as bad as it seems, referring to 4 million Russian tourists visiting Turkey every year. According to the TİM report, this number is expected to go as high as 5 million in the near future with the end of visa requirements. Ivanovskiy added that the economic impact of those tourists for Turkey is huge and that this is not counted when it comes to calculating exports. He also reiterated the fact that there are a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from Turkey operating in Russia and remitting their earnings back to Turkey.

He also spoke about big Turkish enterprises such as Max Mara and LC Waikiki, whose number of stores in Russia has now reached more than the number of stores they have in Turkey. “So when you take all these [things] into account, it is not as bad as it seems at all for Turkey,” he says.
Istanbul – Todays Zaman

Turkey, Norway to cooperate in peacemaking efforts

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Norway have signed an accord on exchanging diplomats to facilitate mutual learning from each other’s experiences in peace mediation efforts.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Monday that Turkey wanted to work more closely with Norway in relation to developments in the Middle East, the Palestinian issue, Afghanistan and the Balkans.

“We will engage in joint efforts as much as possible, so that peace and stability dominate in these regions,” Davutoğlu said after the signing ceremony with his Norwegian counterpart, Jonas Gahr Store.

Davutoğlu hailed Turkey’s relations with Norway as “exceptional” and expressed his delight to cooperate with his counterpart in the international arena, who he said is “one of the most hard-working foreign ministers and particularly stands out with peace initiatives.”

The two foreign ministers discussed bilateral relations and regional developments and both countries are determined to increase bilateral trade volume, which currently stands at $1.1 billion.

Davutoğlu told reporters that he discussed the developments in Libya with Store and said he considers Norway’s mediation experience is quite valuable.

Store said Turkey is an important part of the agenda-making process in current regional and global matters, adding that despite vast historical, geographical and cultural differences, the two countries have complementary characteristics. Store said both countries have a different perspectives in regional stability and harmony and that there is a great potential for cooperation between the two countries.

Canadian Analyst: We’d be smart to start listening to the Turks

Scott Taylor is an author and the editor of Esprit de Corps magazine.

To date in the federal election campaign, there has been little discussion about Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.

The major combat commitment is due to end in July, but the Canadian army will continue to deploy up to 1,000 personnel to serve as trainers for the Afghan security forces until 2014.

When this three-year extension was first announced last November, the Harper government billed it as being a “behind-the-wire” training mission, and speculation was that the majority of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan would be based at some major complex in the vicinity of Kabul.

For those familiar with the deadly reality of Afghan insurgent tactics, it is already obvious that there is no such thing as a safe zone behind the wire.

As for the proposed location of the new Canadian mission, word has leaked out that most of our personnel will be in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, not Kabul.

It is true that this regional hub, located across the Hindu Kush mountain range from the volatile southern provinces, has not often been in the headlines over the past decade of NATO intervention. But on April 1, a protest in Mazar-e-Sharif denouncing a small Florida church’s burning of a Qur’an turned brutally violent. In the ensuing bloodbath, the angry mob overran the UN compound and hunted down and killed seven international aid workers.

Our soon to be deployed, lightly armed trainers will be heading into this complex and potentially volatile region of Afghanistan.

The good news is that we will not be alone. Already well-entrenched diplomatically in Mazar-e-Sharif is our NATO ally Turkey.

It’s important to note that of all NATO countries, Turkey is the only one that didn’t sever its ties to Afghanistan during the Taliban era.

In fact, since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proclaimed the modern Turkish republic in 1923, Turkey and Afghanistan have maintained an uninterrupted exchange of military, religious, cultural and diplomatic envoys. Few Canadians realize that since 2002, Turkey has deployed more troops to Afghanistan than we have, and has yet to suffer a single fatality as a result of hostile fire. (Two Turkish soldiers were killed in a traffic accident.)

The Turks also maintain two provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), compared with Canada’s one in Kandahar, and their annual commitment of aid and reconstruction dollars is also about double ours.

While some smug Canadian pundits might try to diminish Turkey’s success in Afghanistan as being a result of its forces getting a soft area to operate in, this is not the case. In fact, the Wardak province in which the Turks work is considered a Taliban stronghold.

From the outset, the Turkish approach has been to provide regional reconstruction aid to the local authorities, regardless of their religious (i.e., Taliban) affiliation.

When Canada first announced in 2005 that we would be relocating our troops from Kabul to Kandahar with the dual role of combating the Taliban and establishing a PRT, the Turkish ambassador in Ottawa predicted we would fail.

And of all the experts I have met over the years, Ambassador Aydemir Erman knows Afghanistan better than anyone. He was born in Kabul while his father, a Turkish army officer, was stationed there as a trainer with the Afghan army.

During the Taliban era, Erman was Turkey’s special envoy to the region. As such, he knew personally not only the various Northern Alliance warlords but also many of the top Taliban political leaders.

In Erman’s opinion, Canada’s Kandahar approach of conducting combat operations in the same area where we are trying reconstruction was doomed to fail.

While no one in Ottawa was prepared to accept the Turks’ advice back in 2005, maybe now that we are relocating into an area where Turkey has long exerted significant influence, Canadian officials will be more open to accepting their guidance.

Scott Taylor

Turkey Balances Its Ties With West and Islamic World in Libya Operation

Erdogan and Obama talking on the sidelines before a U.N. meeting.

Turkey’s position on the unfolding events in Libya has caused a great deal of confusion for observers of Turkish foreign policy. Despite its objections to the use of military force to solve the impending civil war, Turkey has eventually changed course, by agreeing to the transfer of the military operations to NATO command and taking part in non-combat military missions.

When the violence first broke out, Turkey was apparently caught unprepared to deal with a crisis that involved various issues. While the Turkish government had declared its support for the pro-democratic movements in the Middle East, it failed to offer unequivocal support to Libyan revolutionaries. Turkish construction firms’ multi-billion dollar investments and the presence of thousands of Turkish workers in the country constrained Turkey’s options. Consequently, Turkey gave timid responses to Gaddafi’s brutal use of force, which drew international criticism. Turkish leaders expressed vehement opposition to international sanctions or use of military force to stop Gaddafi’s aggression. Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, went as far as criticizing the motivations of the Western powers, arguing that they were after Libya’s natural resources (EDM, March 4).

Although Turkey successfully evacuated its citizens from Libya, it maintained the same rhetoric critical of the Western policy. One Turkish diplomat visiting Washington to explain Turkey’s position argued that Turkey had to tread cautiously considering the uncertainty over the future of Libya in a post-Gaddafi scenario (Anadolu Ajansi, March 3). However, the gains achieved by the rebel forces cast doubts over Turkey’s policy. Some commentators increasingly argued that by failing to side with the Libyan rebellion, Turkey might risk becoming the loser in the future determination of Libya’s political structure (Haberturk, March 13).

Another criticism of Turkey’s policy was raised on moral grounds, given that Turkey apparently offered no viable solution to halt Gaddafi’s atrocities other than to constantly counsel him to step down from power. This challenge became urgent, as the heavily armored Gaddafi forces repelled the rebel forces back to Benghazi. As international concern grew over Gaddafi’s use of force against civilians in the recaptured towns, the debate on the military option was reignited. Following UN Security Council Resolution 1973, authorizing a no fly zone, the Western powers led by the United States and France accelerated consultations for military operations.

Turkey still insisted that military intervention should be avoided and a negotiated settlement might be possible. Ankara even proposed observing a ceasefire, when Gaddafi announced that he would impose a unilateral ceasefire. Nonetheless, Turkey underlined that it would back an arms embargo, provision of humanitarian assistance and the no-fly zone, in line with the UN Security Council resolution (IHA, March 18).

However, the continuation of Libyan forces’ attacks and Gaddafi’s threats to enter Benghazi prompted the Western powers, joined by some Arab leaders, to act swiftly. France, leading the interventionist camp, gathered likeminded powers in Paris, to which Turkey was not invited (Anadolu Ajansi, March 19). When French aircraft started bombing Libyan military targets, Turkey continued its vocal criticism, calling for an immediate halt to operations, so that the destruction of Libyan infrastructure and killing of civilians could be prevented. Also angered by France’s sidelining of Turkey, Erdogan argued that by acting recklessly against Libya, Sarkozy was only interested in his political career, not the wellbeing of the Libyan people (Zaman, March 22).

The lack of consensus within the pro-intervention camp as to how to handle the operations and what command and control roles NATO should play again brought Turkey to the forefront. Erdogan listed some conditions that needed to be met if NATO was to be given such a role. When the NATO Council met in Brussels, Ankara raised objections to the use of NATO beyond the enforcement of an arms embargo. It took President Barack Obama to telephone Erdogan before Ankara dropped its objections to the transfer of the operation to NATO (Anadolu Ajansi, March 23).

On March 25, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, announced that Turkey’s concerns and demands had been met. Meanwhile, the Turkish parliament also authorized a motion that permitted the Turkish military to participate in the international force in Libya and allowed the government to undertake a multi-dimensional contribution. According to the deal, it was reported that the NATO base in Turkey’s Aegean town of Izmir might be one of the operational centers for the NATO mission in Libya. Also, though not providing combat forces, Turkey would continue to contribute five warships and a submarine to operations for use solely for humanitarian purposes (Hurriyet, March 25).

Pro-government media sources heralded this development as a major achievement for Turkish diplomacy. Also, Western powers’ decision to invite Turkey to the London conference on March 29, unlike the Paris summit, was viewed as a victory over France. Erdogan said that by transferring operations to NATO’s command Paris would be sidelined. Also, Turkish sources later explained that they insisted on a broad-based participation in the London Conference so that the operations would not be perceived as exclusively Western (, March 25).

Attending the London Conference on Tuesday, where an agreement to continue operations was reached, Davutoglu reiterated Turkey’s position. Turkey would not participate in combat operations or airstrikes but it would take a role in the provision of humanitarian assistance and the enforcement of an arms embargo (, March 29). Earlier, Erdogan announced that Turkey would also take control of Benghazi airport to ensure the delivery of aid. Erdogan called for an end to military operations and asked for an immediate ceasefire. Arguing that Turkey maintained communication with not only the Gaddafi regime but also the rebel forces, he added that Ankara could mediate a ceasefire (Anadolu Ajansi, March 28).

As Erdogan emphasized repeatedly in his justification of Turkish policy, he is against placing the country in a position where it would be forced to take military action against another Muslim nation. Here, he constantly refers to the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, where miscalculated US interventions resulted in the destruction of the country and killing of innocent civilians, and Turkey’s decoupling from US policy gained him popularity at home and abroad. Turkey’s removal of its objections to NATO’s involvement also shows that it still values its partnership with the West and can prioritize Alliance unity. Ankara took seriously the intervention by President Obama and as in other crises with NATO it did not abandon its ally altogether.

Saban Kardas, The Jamestown Fountadion

Turkey, its neighbours and Europe

“I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is for me to be in two of my favorite places at the same time. Istanbul and Wilton Park. I’ve been here many times, most recently in 2009, and am always very grateful for the warm words of welcome I receive when I am here.

I’m particularly happy to be here attending a conference hosted by Wilton Park and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I should explain Wilton Park’s close relationship with the Foreign Office and its ability to act as a neutral space for broad and open dialogue is a valuable force for progress on many of today’s global issues. Wilton Park’s role now, is as innovative as it was when it began over 60 years ago after the Second World War as an initiative of Sir Winston Churchill.  So I really am  grateful for the invitation from Wilton Park to speak with you today.

This conference entitled ‘Turkey’s policies for engagement in the contemporary world,’ It would be hard to think of a more relevant and timely title. Particularly at this time of great change in Turkey’s neighbourhood, when new voices, that were previously silent, begin to be heard across the region in North Africa and the Middle East.  

I am delighted that Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu will visit London next week, for important consultations in these fast moving times.  I am also looking forward to attending the UK / Turkey Energy Dialogue with Energy Minister Taner Yildiz, which will also take place in London.

Turkey: Europe’s emerging power

At this time of regional turmoil – indeed global crisis – I want to share some thoughts with you today about the way we in Britain see Turkey, its neighbours and Europe. There can be no doubt Turkey is already a key global power. Turkey is an important force and an influential actor with a multi-dimensional foreign policy and  immense “soft power” in the region – and beyond. One of Turkey’s great strengths is  its position as a strategic hub for both Europe and Asia.  In North Africa, Turkey has clearly demonstrated the value of  its geo-strategic position, which I suggest is never more important than now.

Turkey’s role in Libya and North Africa

Turkey has been  deeply involved in the international effort to address the Libya crisis, and a key NATO ally. Turkey’s crucial contribution to the NATO arms embargo mission is deeply valued.  Working together, with a broad and strong coalition, towards implementing UN Resolution 1973, we are undertaking a  necessary international responsibility to protect the Libyan people from being brutalized by Qadhafi and his forces.  The UN resolution is necessary, legal and right. That is why there is such backing for the resolution. And it is not only our  obvious duty to intervene, but also for the collective region’s national interest.  An unstable Libya, on the fringes of the Mediterranean, is a risk for us all. Not just for us in Europe, in Turkey but also in Asia and Africa.

And we are extremely grateful that turkey has agreed to represent the UK’s interests in Libya whilst our Embassy in Triploi has suspended its operations.

At a time of such momentous change in the surrounding neighbourhood, it is impossible not to remark on the central role that turkey can provide as an example of an Islamic country working within a democratic framework. The recent events in North Africa and the Middle East have demonstrated to all the need of every country to respond to the political and economic aspirations of their people; the natural human right desire for freedom and democracy and fundamental human rights is universal. Turkey, as a predominantly Muslim country, in which democracy and political pluralism operate, is increasingly becoming a source of inspiration, and an example of good governance for states throughout the region and the world. Turkey could share invaluable advice and form practical partnerships with its Arab neighbours to modernize and reform political systems. Although we need to remember that each country is individual and different.

Turkey and its neighbours in the wider region

Away from vital co-operation in North Africa, Turkey has significant ecomonic and political interests and influence throughout its wider region.  It has used this growing power proactively, including with its flagship “zero problems with the neighbours” policy. For example, Turkey is important both politically and economically in Iraq and has made an important contribution to stabilization there. Turkey is an integral part of NATO’s effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, running two Provincial Reconstruction Teams and committing $200 million in development support over the last three years,which is highly significant and much valued.  Turkey also plays a particularly valuable role in developing the Afghan National Police Force, working closely with the UK, and the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

In the world of house sales we often hear the phrase location, location, location. Turkey’s location also means that it faces particular factors, different from those elsewhere in Europe, in handling relationships with its neighbours.  I know that Turkey, like everyone else, is deeply concerned about any prospect of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Turkey is implementing UN sanctions designed to encourage Iran to provide the international community with reassurance about its nuclear programme. But at the same time, we recognise Turkey must coexist with a geographical neighbour and is keen to develop other aspects of the relationship. We do understand that. But of course we, in turn also understandbly, are keen that Turkey should use its special influence and access to encourage the Iranian regime to cooperate with the international community on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Turkey also has the potential to build understanding between Israel and the Arab world. As we all know, the relationship between Turkey and Israel has faced difficulties. I hope very much that the two governments will be able to find an honourable and mutually acceptable way forward.   If they do the region as a whole will benefit.

Turkey can also play a useful role in fostering dialogue and encouraging stability in the Caucasus, with its close relationships with Azerbaijan and Georgia.  And despite the current challenges, I hope that the Governments of both Turkey and Armenia can work to take the normalisation process forward  this year for the benefit of both countries and the wider Caucasus region.

For all these geo-political reason, the UK regards Turkey as a friend and partner of increasing significance in the new global order. That is the geo-politics. But there are also powerful economic forces at work which are binding us increasingly together.

Turkey’s economic strength

It is not just Turkey’s engagement with its neighbours that has driven Turkey’s emergence as a global power.

Turkey is the world’s 15th and Europe’s 7th largest economy.  It is the EU’s 5th largest export and 7th largest import partner. Turkey’s potential is vast : the OECD predicts that Turkey will overtake India as the second fastest growing economy by 2017, and will be the second-largest economy in Europe by 2050.  With her good demographics, entrepreneurial spirit and increasing openness to international partnerships and investment, Turkey is Europe’s BRIC, as Prime Minister Cameron said when he was here last July, as well as stating the UK’s ambitions to grow our commercial relationship – what we see is doubling the value of our trade within five years.

Turkey: Europe’s energy hub

Turkey occupies a key position as not only a hub, but indeed a central player in ensuring the energy security of the whole of the EU. That will matter to all of us. Turkey will be the transit route for the proposed Southern Energy Corridor, bringing new Caspian gas, and potentially Iraqi gas, to the EU whilst Turkey will gain transit revenue and improve its own security of supply. We are moving into an age of predominance of gas, especially given present uncertainties on other sources of energy.

A first step for the Southern Corridor is to secure gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field.  The Memorandum of Understanding that Turkey and Azerbaijan signed off last year, agreeing the supply and transit of Azeri gas across Turkey to Europe, was an important first step.

It is now equally important that all parties keep the momentum going forwards by establishing commercial and governmental agreements and chosing a commercially viable pipeline option.

Britain’s commercial interest in Turkey’s energy sector is strong, and we will continue to encourage investment. Energy is included in our new Strategic Partnership which was signed by both Prime Ministers here last July.  The UK values its joint work with turkey on energy and work together through the annual UK-Turkey Energy Dialogue, which I have already mentioned Energy Minister Yildiz and I will attend next week in London.

EU Accession

Let me turn to EU accession and development. On the EU, my message is simple: It is the UK’s strong view that Turkey’s EU accession will be good for Turkey, good for Europe and good for the region. The case for turkey’s accession into the European Union can only get stronger. The UK believes Turkey’s accession into the EU is in the clear interest of both parties. And I emphasise for both parties. Now there is a need for Turkey to reform. There is also a need for the EU to reform. And our committed support for Turkey’s goal is backed by a number of factors. The geopolitical reasons I have already set out, make it clear why EU-Turkey co-operation on Foreign Policy is so important.

Economically, Turkish membership of the EU is in our mutual interest as we trade and invest our way out of the global economic crisis. Turkish business already employs half a million people across Europe. Turkey in the EU would create opportunities for exporters and investors as well as linking us to markets in Central Asia, the Near East and other areas where Turkish businesses are active. The EU is the world’s largest trading block, and Europe accounts for two thirds of Turkey’s Foreign Direct investment and more than half of Turkey’s exports.

Energy is another vital area of co-operation. We would like to see increased engagement between the EU and Turkey on energy that will be of mutual benefit, both in terms of energy security, and effective harmonisation of energy markets. Turkey would have a more secure supply of energy, including through countries that are interested in selling hydrocarbons to EU markets, and would benefit from a more stable and liberalized energy market that is more closely aligned with the EU’s market, which itself needs to become much more competitive and we are working hard to try and do that.

And finally, it is our view that Turkey’s accession into the EU and the benefits that it brings are not just geopolitical or economic. One of the EU’s great strength alongside it’s economic cohesion and common political institutions, is its shared values. Turkish accession is already generating a healthy debate within the EU about what our values mean in practice. Preaching and sermonizing is one thing – practical application of our values is another. Turkey is a secular and democratic state, and the EU is a secular organization which welcomes people of any faith or none.  Turkish membership would increase the EU’s diversity and we should welcome that with open arms.

Turkey’s accession will also be a turning point in the history of the EU. If Turkey were not finally to accede, it would be a historic mistake on the part of the EU, which I believe would damage and limit the capacities of the EU in the eyes of the world.

Challenges to Turkey’s accession process

But of course in spite of all the benefits to both the EU and Turkey of her accession, there are obstacles and challenges that must be addressed.

One of them is public opinion in the EU. Some of those who oppose Turkish accession may be largely unaware of the significant reforms that Turkey has already made. But there is no doubt that there is still work to be done, whether on freedom of expression, the rights of minorities or judicial reform. It is up to Turkey – with the support of its close friends in the EU – to keep up the pace of reform and persuade the skeptics that it can meet EU standards across the range of issues that the Accession process addresses.


I know that Turkey remains committed to supporting efforts to find a solution to the continued problem of Cyprus. We need to turn this goal into a reality, so that the 36 year division of the island can be brought to an end. It needs leaders on both sides in Cyprus to show statesmanship and courage in taking the next steps.  But the reward will be great: a settlement will bring enormous economic and security benefits not only to everyone on the island, but also to Turkey, the rest of the EU and the whole eastern Mediterranean region.

Turkey does not have to make a choice

Some commentators have pointed to Turkey’s renewed ties with its neighbours as evidence for Turkey turning away from its traditional alliances with the West.

As our Prime Minister said when he was in Ankara last year, Turkey doesn’t have to chose between East and West. It would be a mistake to think that Turkey engaging more closely with other neighbours means that it is not focused on the EU, or traditional alliances. It’s precisely because Turkey has chosen both, precisely because of Turkey’s unique position that it has such influence in the world far beyond  its borders.


In London we, like you, have been thinking hard about how we adjust and position our nation in this new international landscape. Like you we have old links to maintain, and new links to build up. Turkey is a NATO ally, member of the OSCE and Council of Europe, recent UNSC member, an important trade and energy partner, and has significant cultural and Diaspora links to Europe. It is playing a vital role in North Africa and the Middle East as events unfold there, one that we greatly appreciate and which is another example of the model role Turkey can play in this fast changing scene.

In our view, a confident, democratic, and stable Turkey is good for Europe and the region in the twenty first century. Turkey’s improving ties with its neighbours, its influential foreign policy, its economic strength, and its energy hub role benefit Europe, just as its ties to Europe benefit the region. We salute and encourage Turkish commitment to the goal of EU accession and you should remember that Turkey has many friends in Europe, none more so than the UK who support that goal. But we also salute and seek to work ever more closely with Turkey as it adapts to new world conditions and takes its full place as a great and responsible nation. In facing the many tasks ahead we, the UK and Turkey, look forward to working  as partners side by side.

Arab Revolt Makes Turkey a Regional Power

One of the unexpected consequences of the unrest in the Middle East is the elevation of Turkey’s role in the Middle East, making Ankara a potential regional power.

On Feb. 8, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Ashraf Abdel Ghaffar, said in Istanbul that he was taking refuge in Turkey, where he will remain until the demonstrations to remove Mubarak from power succeed. Mr. Abdel Ghaffar then praised Turkey, referring to the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, political role, and said that his movement considers the AKP to be a model for Egypt after Mubarak. And on Feb. 10, Turkish media quoted Abdel Ghaffar as saying that “there might be dialogue” between the Muslim Brotherhood and the AKP.
These developments and the AKP’s recent comments against Mubarak make Ankara a de facto protector of the Muslim Brotherhood, a potential powerbroker in post-Mubarak Cairo. More importantly, it provides Turkey with access to hitherto unimaginable power in the Egyptian capital.

Since the AKP came to power in Turkey in 2002, a debate has formed over whether the party’s Middle East-focused foreign policy has made Turkey a regional power with influence in Middle East capitals. Until the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, this did not seem to be the case. The AKP’s foreign policy line, for instance, which defends Hamas and Iran’s nuclear program, fell on deaf ears in most Arab capitals where regimes were worried about Hamas-related instability and Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East.

Now, while the Muslim Brotherhood is emerging as a key player in Egyptian politics, the AKP, as an advocate for this movement, has found an ally and voice in Cairo. The same also applies to Tunis, where the local Muslim Brotherhood has emerged from the shadows since the fall of Tunisia’s dictator. Moreover, if unrest in other Arab countries were to topple more dictatorships a la Tunis, or force them to recognize the opposition a la Egypt, the AKP would gain additional allies in more Arab capitals.

The Arab Winter of 2011 has created a new Middle East landscape in which the AKP’s Turkey, which has positioned itself as the defender of the Muslim Brotherhood and popular uprisings — Ankara has voiced the strongest support for the Egyptian demonstrators, calling for Mubarak’s departure before any country did so — is a regional power to be reckoned with.

The proximity between the AKP and the Muslim Brotherhood goes beyond contemporary political support. In past years, leading AKP politicians, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, broke their political teeth in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Turkish versions. This included the Islamist Welfare Party, or RP, in the 1990s, its predecessor and even more radically, the Islamist, National Salvation Party, or MSP, in the 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood, RP and MSP shared political goals, such as a desire to make a narrowly defined conservative brand of religion the moral compass of their respective societies, as well as a strong dislike of secular democracy and the United States.

Such political hobnobbing, akin to the socialists’ networking for a common cause in the Socialist International during the 20th century, lasted for decades, bringing together AKP and Muslim Brotherhood members and allowing for the development of mutually supportive political and personal friendships. This history affords the AKP power in the Arab capitals in the new Middle East.

For example, whether or not the Egyptian regime falls, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is, for all practical purposes, a force in politics in that country. It is likely to take part in the transition process after Mubarak and perhaps join the government. Throughout this process, the AKP will defend the Muslim Brotherhood as an ally and strive to maximize its role in Egyptian politics. The Muslim Brotherhood will, in return, seek to provide its foreign policy vision, shared by the AKP, with leverage in Cairo.

This is the effective end of Turkey’s decades-long policy of strategic isolation from the Middle East. The secular parties that ran Turkey until 2002 chose to coordinate Middle East policy with the West. After 2002, AKP supporters argued that the party’s new Middle East-focused foreign policy would make Turkey a regional power, especially since the party did not seek concert with the West. Until the Arab Winter of 2011, this approach did not produce results. Not only did the AKP fail to wield influence in Arab capitals, but it also alienated the country’s traditional Western partners, for it often broke ranks with the West on Middle East issues. In other words, the AKP could neither have its cake, nor eat it.

Now, the AKP can at least eat its cake. The party will not only continue to break rank with the West on issues such as Sudan and Hamas, but it will also have the benefit of a receptive audience and powers to support such policies in Cairo and elsewhere. After nearly a decade of disappointments, the AKP’s Turkey is now emerging as a regional power, thanks to the Arab Winter of 2011.

Soner Cagaptay/HDN

Turkey and the Restoration of the Caliphate

Turkey, the supposed bridge between East and West, was, until recently, showcased as a model democratic and secular exception in the Muslim world.  Since the days of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk — founder of the modern Turkish state in the 1920s — the Turkish military and courts were assumed to be effectively moderating against the theocratic and ideological hold of Islam evident in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. 

However, closer inspection reveals that this has not been the case, especially in the last half century.  Instead, what actually exists is the veneer of a democratic republic overlaying an insidious, percolating revival of the Ottoman Empire by way of dormant Islamic fundamentalism and Turkish nationalism.  Using financial and political clout on a global scale, Turkey and one of its premier Islamic leaders, Fetullah Gulen, have steadily gathered allies, including even in the United States, to pursue their dream of a global caliphate.

The fight against modernization and secularization never really ended in Turkey, particularly among that country’s rural population, according to author and commentator Andrew Bostom.  Bostom reviewed the scholarship of former Hebrew University professor Uriel Heyd, PhD. (1913-1968) who 43 years ago wrote regretfully of his belated recognition of Turkey’s re-Islamization.  Dr. Heyd decried as shortsighted the view that the secular state had expunged Islam as a vital force in Turkish life.  He traced re-Islamization efforts to the late 1930s and cited the dramatic rise of religious instruction in schools, the proliferation of mosques, Muslim supremacist views of Turkishness — only Muslims could be real Turks — and the return of the five-times-daily public call to prayer in Arabic following the Democratic Party victory in 1950. 

Thus, contrary to the current media view, the rise of Islam in Turkey is not a recent phenomenon attributable to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).  But the movement toward an Islamic theocracy has indeed accelerated since the 2002 formation of a single-party government with a two-thirds parliament majority and Erdogan’s subsequent election in 2003.

United States and Turkey

Since the end of World War I when the German-allied Ottoman Empire was defeated and the sultanate and caliphate were replaced by the Republic of Turkey, Turkey has been an important U.S. ally because of its size, strategic location and profitable business opportunities for American companies.  Although designated a “neutral” country during World War II, Turkey supplied the Germans with substantial quantities of chromites,  essential minerals which harden steel for armor.  The Turks didn’t declare war against Germany until 1945, ostensibly to be a party to final negotiations at war’s end. That same year, Turkey became a United Nations charter member and, as part of the U.N. command,  participated in the Korean War, thereby earning a much desired place in NATO in 1952.  The United States and Turkey enjoyed close bilateral relations through the post-Cold war period.

Today the government in Turkey has moved away from the West, particularly the United States and Israel, and toward Iran and Syria, effectively changing the balance of power in the Middle East and across the globe.  Turkey is actively and more openly pushing for Islamization and an expanded role for the Muslim Brotherhood.  In 2007 on Turkish television, Erdogan admonished Westerners’ use of the term “moderate Islam,” by declaring, “These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” 

That should have set off alarms in the West and extinguished any fantasies of Turkey’s role as a pillar of “moderate” Islam.  Erdogan had made earlier alarming statements, similarly ignored as in 1994, while mayor of Istanbul, when he avowed, “Thank God Almighty, I am a servant of the Shariah.”  Further confirming his strategy in 1996 after he was dismissed as mayor, the future Prime Minister stated, “Democracy is like a streetcar.  You ride it until you arrive at your destination and then you step off.”  Since 2002, the Turkish government has been pursuing a version of Islam closely aligned with the Wahhabi extremist Islam of the Saudis. 

Islamization and Turkey

The Erdogan government publicly claims to be democratizing Turkey but has curtailed freedom of the press, jailed and sued journalists for criticizing the government and confiscated newspapers and sold them to AKP sympathizers.  AKP supporters have infiltrated the military and are suspected of wiretapping and evidence fabrication against retired military officers.  Erdogan lowered the age for judgeships in order to replace nearly half of all judges with his younger AKP sympathizers.  He also removed banking regulatory board members and replaced them with Islamic banking officials and is reported to have received significant financing from Saudi Arabia, including a known Al Qaeda financier.

Anti-Semitism and attacks against Christians and Catholics have increased in Turkey. Expressions of Armenian heritage and culture have been denied, church property has been confiscated, Armenian instruction has been limited to two hours per week (although Sunni Islam classes are required in Turkish public schools) and it is illegal to discuss the Armenian Genocide.  Although Turkey previously enjoyed good relations with Israel, the Jewish state is now declared an enemy of Turkey and the media has promoted an anti-Semitic TV series and several anti-Semitic films.  Last year, instead of sending aid through legal channels to Gaza and despite Israel’s appeals to the government to stop the action, AKP officials openly supported the Gaza flotilla in partnership with the Global Muslim Brotherhood network.  Turkey facilitated the purchase and departure from Turkish ports of the lead flotilla ship, the MV Mavi Marmara.  Further, the AKP is closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood whose spiritual leader — Yusuf al-Qaradawi — calls for Islamic domination of Europe. That Turkey, a NATO member, should have such alliances is quite concerning.

In 2010, Erdogan received a human rights award from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and recently refused to impose sanctions on Gaddafi’s regime, even as Gaddafi has used fighter jets to kill his own people. 

Just this past week, Erdogan visited Germany and told an audience of 10,000 Turkish Germans (of three million in Germany) not to assimilate but to remain part of Turkey.   Turkey has used Germany as a strategic base in Europe and sends young Turks, who have fulfilled their military service, into Germany through the extremist Islamic Society of Milli Gorus (IGMG).  IGMG members with German-born daughters are encouraged to marry off their daughter to these Turkish males so that they can obtain permanent residency status and create a fifth column of Turkish Islamists.  Trade between Turkey and Iran increased by more than 86% last year and Turkey has been supplying Iran’s missile program.  In return, Iran has agreed to contribute $25 million to the AKP for the upcoming election in June. 

Meanwhile, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai recently announced in a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that he would be pleased to see Taliban officials setting up an office in Turkey as part of a “new phase” of building bridges and integrating the extremist group.

Fetullah Gulen and Turkey

A significant component and AKP ally in the changing face of Turkey has been the influential Gulenist Movement led by Fetullah Gulen, a powerful force in Turkey for over four decades. Gulen began a grassroots movement in the 1970’s with the Islamist political party, Milli Gorus, a worldwide Islamist movement with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. AKP emerged from Milli Gorus to restore Islamic religion and culture. 

The foundation of Gulen’s teachings is that state and religion should be reconnected and the country re-emerge as part of a pan-Turkic regional power. A 2009 article in the Middle East Quarterly by Rachel Sharon-Krespin titled “Fethullah Gulen’s Grand Ambition” quotes sermons delivered by Gulen on Turkish television in 1999 which provide insights into his methods.

“You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers … until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere, like in the tragedies in Algeria, like in 1982 [in] Syria … like in the yearly disasters and tragedies in Egypt. The time is not yet right. You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it … You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey … Until that time, any step taken would be too early-like breaking an egg without waiting the full forty days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside. The work to be done is [in] confronting the world. Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all-in confidence … trusting your loyalty and secrecy. I know that when you leave here-[just] as you discard your empty juice boxes, you must discard the thoughts and the feelings that I expressed here.”

Beginning in the 1970’s, Gulen began establishing a worldwide network to promote Islam and Turkish nationalism. His followers have since established hundreds of schools in over 110 countries.  Gulenists operate an Islamic bank with over $5 billion in assets and own significant print and broadcast media properties, NGOs, think tanks and a publishing company. Gulen recruits Turkish youth by providing housing and education and grooms them for careers in the legal, political and academic professions.  In recent years, the AKP passed legislation allowing graduates of Islamic high schools entry into Turkey’s universities, guaranteeing Islamist leadership in the future.  Gulen controls the majority of schools, universities and dormitories throughout Turkey.  His followers remain loyal and donate up to one-third of their income to the movement.  In Turkey, Gulen and the AKP together control the police, the intelligence services and the media and actively recruit diplomats for their utility as foreign intelligence satellites. Overall, the holdings are valued at up to $50 billion.

Members of the Gulen movement extend Turkey’s influence across the globe and occupy important positions running several media outlets and controlling multiple organizations that facilitate the dissemination of their message worldwide.  A visit to a Gulen interfaith and cultural center in Houston illustrates the politically attuned nature of the movement.  Signed photographs of local and state politicians and other prominent people are strategically placed at the building’s entry way, implying acceptance of the center’s activities and giving the impression that the center is an integral and respectable part of the community. 

In 1998,Gule n was convicted (since acquitted in 2006 by Erdogan’s AKP government) by the Turkish government for “trying to undermine the country’s secular institutions, concealing his methods behind a democratic and moderate image” and went into voluntary exile in the United States.  Outside of Turkey, Gulen’s goal has been to educate a foreign leadership sympathetic to an Islamist Turkey.  But his schools are prohibited in Russia and Uzbekistan banned his madrasas and arrested eight Gulenist journalists for involvement in extremist organizations.  In the Netherlands, the movement is being investigated for suspicion of being an Islamist fundamentalist network.

Gulen, Turkey and the United States

In the United States, Gulen operates the largest charter school network in America and enjoys the cooperation and protection of the U.S. government. His schools stress intercultural dialogue and tolerance.  They include a curriculum that teaches the Golden Age of Turkey or the period of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish language, dance, culture, cooking and Islam, all financed by American taxpayers.

Meanwhile, his worldwide network reaches into U.S. politics through aggressive lobbying, political donations and paid trips to Turkey for members of Congress and their staffs.  The Gulen Movement in the United States represents itself as a multi-faith global organization designed to bring together businesses, educators, religious leaders, journalists and others. Gulen has placed many of his followers in large U.S. engineering firms, NASA, the White House, universities and Hollywood. Through his U.S. State Department contacts, he has procured H1-B visas to staff his schools with Turkish followers.

Turkey through Gulen wields considerable power in American politics and is actively involved in lobbying Congress to promote its interests in Washington.  Gulen was recently honored under Texas State Resolution No. 85, which recognized his contributions and promotion of world peace, with the Texas legislature describing the Gulen movement as fostering intercultural understanding and tolerance.  During the 2008 election cycle, a Turkish-American couple, Yalcin and Serpil Ayasli — founders of Hittite Microwave, a U.S. military contractor — gave more money, $424,050, to politicians and political action groups than anyone else in the United States.  In subsequent years, the Ayaslis have ranked among the country’s top 20 donors.  The couple’s donations have been geared specifically toward advancing U.S. relations with Turkey and promoting Turkish interests, including stopping the Armenian Genocide Resolution. On this issue alone, “Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker”, a service that tracks lobbyist interactions with government officials, reported that Turkey lobbied Congress on the Armenian Genocide Resolution and hired foreign agents to work with influential people outside of the government, spending $3.5 million and logging over 2,200 total contacts, including 100 with the executive branch.

Until recently, Turkey presented its foreign policy as pro-Western.  Before the 2002 elections in Turkey, Gulen secured an invitation for Erdogan to the White House, which was construed by the Turkish electorate as a U.S. endorsement. Although the United States has an air base in the country, in 2003, Turkey blocked the use of its bases for U.S. ground troops in the lead up to the war in Iraq. 

In 2005, Turkey became the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), a 57 shariah law-endorsing permanent delegation to the U.N. whose mission is to safeguard the interests of the Muslim world.  This OIC post strengthened Turkey’s Islamic agenda as well as the AKP’s stature.  Assumption of anti-U.S. and anti-Israel positions has increased Turkey’s credibility and stature in the Arab Muslim world as it has moved closer to Syria and Iran. 

In 2009, Erdogan visited Iran and voiced support for Tehran’s nuclear program and refused to support economic sanctions imposed by the West.  The Turkish-Iranian-Syrian alliance provides a hedge against the possibility of an independent Kurdish state, offers significant economic opportunities, enhances Iran’s power in the region, empowers Hezbollah and Hamas, puts pressure on pro-Western Arab countries and represents a serious threat to Israel. 

Current Middle East Turmoil and Turkey

The current Middle East turmoil is an opportunity for Turkey and Iran to shift the region toward radical Islamist rule and elevate Turkey’s role as a regional power. The AKP government expects to play a significant role in the evolving Middle East political re-orientation.  Turkey was one of the first countries to advise Mubarak to step down and world leaders, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, are turning to Turkish leadership to assist the transitional government.  Recently, Hamad Al Khalifa, the prince of Bahrain, sought Turkish intervention with Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood has extolled the virtues of Turkey providing the AKP with leverage in the Egyptian situation.

When the Islamist AKP took over the Turkish government, the Saudis, who were fearful of the threat presented by Iran and mindful of their own lack of power, saw an opportunity to exert influence on the new government and to revive the caliphate. President Gul had worked at the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) in Saudi Arabia for eight years in preparation for the Islamization of Turkey under the Wahhabis.  In 1991, he was sent back to Turkey to launch the Islamist movement under Necmettin Erbakan (1926 – 2011), Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister, and, later, the AKP. 

Under the Ottomans, Muslim power reached its zenith and the Caliph was transferred from Mecca to Istanbul, home of the Holy Relics and Caliphate Seal today, coveted by the Wahhabis since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.  As Turkey is strong militarily, economically and its people are more nationalistic than Arab Muslim countries, the Saudis believed they could benefit from the alliance.  With 100 million Islamicized Turks and Saudi funding of aggressive mosque building and dawa (proselytizing) in Europe, the resurgence of the caliphate could be a reality.  The Saudis, who are motivated by the resurgence of the Sunni Caliphate, have played a significant role in Turkey’s rise in the Muslim world. 

Erdogan in partnership with Fetullah Gulen has made a concerted effort to target the military, take control of  the media and stack the courts in order to realize the dream of Neo-Ottomanism — a return to Turkey’s Muslim imperialist past.  In their long-term campaign to subordinate the army, the guardian of Turkey’s secular democracy, show trials have been held in which high-ranking military officers and political opponents have been arrested and detained without bail. The defendants stand accused of attempting to overthrow the AKP government.  The AKP instigated demands by the European Left to curtail military activity as a condition for Turkey’s E.U. membership, although there is speculation that this was just a pretext for weakening the military and Turkey does not intend to join the E.U.  Academics and journalists are also on trial for trying to bring down the government.  In 2003, Erdogan used a constitutional amendment to target the courts and the military and secure the AKP’s rule in the country.  Erdogan then selected Islamist judge replacements and President Gul appointed pro-Islamic generals and military officers.

Turkey’s move away from the West, its renewed alliances with Islamist regimes and its disavowal of secular reforms in favor of theocratic rule under shariah could precipitate a precarious shift in the balance of power in the world.  A portentous event could have been when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month hosted Nureddin Surin, a Hizbollah-activist and the delegation leader of the MV Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship captured by Israeli as it tried to run the Gaza blockade. Surin used the occasion to declare, “We are here today with the longing and the determination to build a Middle East without Israel and America, and to refresh our pledge to continue on the path of the Mavi Marmara shahids (martyrs)…..” 

The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took the opportunity to thank the Turkish Muslims for their fight on behalf of  Islam.  Given the strength of this alliance combined with Saudi largesse and a changing picture in the Middle East, a global caliphate under shariah law could become a reality.

Janet Levy/American Thinker

Turkey asserts its role in the Middle East

As violence escalates in the Middle East, one bold regional voice stands out — Turkey. It is taking on the role of regional model, mediator and leader But its ambition of being a regional model and leader is tampered by its patchy human rights record and tension between the East and West, writes Christopher Torchia.  

As Egypt erupted a few weeks ago, one fellow Muslim country insistently urged president Hosni Mubarak to respond to popular demands. That country was Turkey.

The call was a sign of Turkey’s growing confidence and stature in the Middle East and beyond. Hobbled by economic and political chaos just a decade ago, Turkey is increasingly taking on the role of regional model, mediator and leader, with a solid economy and an evolving democracy. It has sought to balance many of the forces that shape, and shake, the region: the East and the West, Israel and Iran, religion and secularism.

Turkey still aspires to join the European Union, but that once-strong vision appears to have dimmed.

“This dream of a rosy-pink Europe, once so powerful that even our most anti-Western thinkers and politicians secretly believed in it, has now faded,” Turkey’s Nobel laureate, author Orhan Pamuk, wrote in an essay published in The Guardian newspaper in December. “This may be because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was. Or it could be because it is no longer a peasant society ruled by its army, but a dynamic nation with a strong civil society.”

A key question is to what extent Islam will change a society with a strong secular tradition, imposed by war hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he founded the country in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

For example, the government recently imposed new restrictions on the sale and advertisement of alcohol, forcing sports clubs to stop putting beer ads on the jerseys of their players and ending the sale of alcohol on highways. But in facing a barrage of criticism from pro-secular circles, the government said the curbs protect young people and have nothing to do with religious sentiment.

Canan Sahin, 31, reflects the tightrope Turkey walks between the East and the West. Sahin’s family migrated to Istanbul from the provinces in the 1970s, and lived for years on the outskirts. One of seven children, she graduated from an Islamic high school and wears an Islamic headscarf.

“Turkey is moving toward the East, and I approve it,” Sahin said. Yet she also supports the European bid: “In terms of human rights and economics, it can propel Turkey forward.”

Some commentators think Turkey, which is shedding military involvement in politics, should be a transition model for Egypt, where the military says it will rule until elections are held. In a Feb 1 speech to ruling party lawmakers, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government had always stood up for democracy and urged Egypt’s to do the same.

“We will all die and be questioned for what we left behind. We will all go into two square metres of land,” he said, alluding to a burial plot.

“Therefore, I’m asking you to listen to the people’s voice and their uttermost humane demands. Welcome the will of the nation for change without any hesitation.”

They were lofty words, but critics see inconsistency in Turkey’s embrace of Iran, a major source of energy, despite its poor human rights record. On a visit to Iran a week ago, Turkey appeared to depart from its relative silence on Iran’s repressive political system when Turkish President Abdullah Gul urged governments in the Middle East to listen to the demands of their people.

Turkey’s democracy has other flaws. The Kurdish minority has long suffered discrimination, and Kurdish rebels still hold out after taking up arms in 1984.

Also, activists complain of police abuse, long pretrial detention and the use of anti-terrorism laws to muzzle dissent.

One test was the Jan 15 inauguration of a 52,000-seat football stadium in Istanbul, meant to highlight Turkish know-how and spirit. Some fans heckled the prime minister, who left the state-funded arena in anger. Prosecutors opened an investigation, raising worries about threats to free expression.

“Since when is booing a prime minister a crime?” said Evrim Erdogus, a 30-year-old electrical engineer who plans to vote for the main opposition party. “I don’t want to hear about how Turkey is becoming ‘democratic’.”

Ekrem Gozenman, 29, an operational manager for a trading firm, studied in the United States and plans to vote for the ruling party, despite what he said were its shortcomings.

Gozenman said: “I still believe that they paved the way for democratic reform in Turkey.”

Economic issues are far and away most often cited as the country’s top problem. Turkey’s economy grew nearly seven per cent last year, doubling its deficit as the country imported more raw material and fuel.

But the majority of Turkey’s 74 million people are young, and the unemployment rate in October for those between the ages of 15 and 24 was about 21 per cent — more than 10 percentage points higher than the average jobless rate, according to the government.

However, Turkey is democratic enough, with enough opportunities and outlets, that an Egypt-style uprising of the discontented is almost unthinkable.

The United States does little better than Europe in the eyes of Turks — 55 per cent hold an unfavourable view of the US and 49 per cent of President Barack Obama. Those negative views are likely due, at least in part, to the US-led invasion of Iraq, viewed by many in the region as a neo-imperial war against Muslims.

Turkey is a member of the G-20 group of major economies, and it recently had a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. But a failed attempt with Brazil to broker an Iranian nuclear deal, a move that irked Washington, show the limits of its international brokering. Similarly, its unique role as a Muslim ally of Israel, and possible interlocutor with the Jewish state’s Middle East foes, is on hold.

However, a US embassy cable last year released by WikiLeaks concludes that the Islamic hue of the Turkish government does not entail rejection of the West.

“At the end of the day we will have to live with a Turkey whose population is propelling much of what we see,” wrote James Jeffrey, then ambassador. “Turkey will remain a complicated blend of world class ‘Western’ institutions, competencies, and orientation, and Middle Eastern culture and religion.”