The issuing by the International Criminal Court of an arrest warrant for Sudanese leader Omar al Bashir has put Turkey in a tight spot. As part of Ankara’s push for improved relations with Muslim nations, as well as with African countries, Turkish-Sudanese relations have warmed up significantly over the last few years. Turkey hosted Bashir, now an international outlaw, twice last year, giving him the red carpet treatment each time. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself visited Sudan in 2006, making a quickie, government-arranged visit to Darfur, after which he ordered more Turkish aid to the region, but also claimed he saw no indication of genocide being committed there.
More recently, Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha made an official visit to Ankara in early Feb., meeting with Erdogan. On the agenda, according to Turkish reports, was Sudan’s request for Ankara’s help in keeping Bashir from being arrested by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Turkey is currently a rotating member of the United Nations’ Security Council, which might vote on a motion to delay the Sudanese president’s arrest.
From a report in Today’s Zaman:
Although officials are reserved in public comments, there are indications that Ankara leans towards demanding postponement of the charges against al-Bashir. The fact that al-Bashir has visited Turkey twice in the recent past amidst all the accusations of atrocities in Darfur is one clear sign that Ankara is not willing to toe the Western line and alienate the Sudanese leader. Turkey is also increasingly eager to expand business cooperation with Africa, which lures foreigners with its vast undeveloped resources, including agricultural areas and newly discovered oil reserves, and its hunger for infrastructure investment. In a sign of growing Turkish interest in Africa, Turkey declared 2005 "Africa Year" and an exchange of senior-level visits has followed since then, the most recent of which was President Abdullah Gül's tour of Tanzania and Kenya last month. Turkish trade with Africa rose from $9 billion in 2005 to $14 billion by end of 2007.Critics of the Turkish government have accused it of being hypocritical and applying a double standard regarding Sudan. While Erdogan was outspoken in his criticism of Israel’s recent war in Gaza, to the point of bringing Turkish-Israeli relations to the brink, little has been said about the violence committed in Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 have died, another 2 million displaced, and state-sponsored militia groups have been accused of systematic rape.
The African Union, whose members overwhelmingly voted for Turkey to win a seat on the UN Security Council in elections held last year, is lobbying for a one-year delay of the case against al-Bashir, saying African leaders appear to be the sole targets of the international court. During his Africa visit, Gül did not mention the warrant but promised that Turkey would be the "voice of Africa at the Security Council."
In a column in Sunday’s Today’s Zaman, columnist Andrew Finkel asks:
….if you are Turkey, a country with aspirations as a regional peacemaker and one that has only recently insisted on utter moral probity in condemning an ally for an assault on Gaza in which 1,300 people died, what should be your attitude [regarding Bashir’s arrest warrant]? Do you use the carrot or the stick? Do you:(For a particularly feeble defense of the AKP government’s position on Darfur, read columnist Abdulhamit Bilici’s recent column in Today’s Zaman, where he informs readers that: “Firsthand observations by the people who visited Darfur add fuel to suspicions about the facts of the incidents [in the region].”)
a) Lend your moral support to the court in hopes of bringing al-Bashir to justice?
b) Invite the Sudanese president for a photo opportunity in Ankara?
c) Use your influence as a temporary member of the UN Security Council to defer the actions of the court as the lesser of two evils in the hope that you can win time to maneuver the bloodstained president into a settlement?
d) And if the above (as seems to be the case), do you expect the world to take you seriously?
Turkey spent a lot of political capital to make sure it got its prestigious temporary seat on the Security Council. But playing a leading role in helping a leader accused of everything just short of genocide escape arrest may not be how Ankara envisioned itself making a mark on the council.
(Photo: Turkish PM Erdogan shaking hands with Sudanese president Bashir, during his Jan. 2008 visit to Ankara. Photo by AP)