First, some clarification regarding my previous post on the issue. My problem with the debate on the demining issue is not that the opposition is questioning the details of the legislation that the Turkish government is trying to pass in parliament, which would allow foreign companies to bid on a contract that would allow them to clear the mines and then get a 44-year lease on the cleared area and use it for agricultural purposes (organic farming, supposedly). I wish they were questioning the specifics of the legislation, since -- like so many other bills that have been approved by parliament in recent years -- it contains some serious flaws.
[UPDATE -- Hurriyet is now reporting that bill has been withdrawn from debate and sent back to commission.]
What disturbs about the way the issue is being discussed, both by opposition politicians and in the parts of the press, is the nationalist tone that's being used. Here's what Deniz Baykal, leader of the main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) had to say in parliament the other day: "It does not suit Turkey to allow a foreign company to clear its mines." Similar stuff comes from Devlet Bahceli, head of the hardline Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who had this to say recently: “We don't object to clearing borders of mines or opening demined territories to agriculture. What we are objecting to is the government's insistence on granting foreign companies the right to open these territories to agriculture.”
Lurking beneath what both are saying is the fact that Israeli companies are expected to bid on the tender to clear the mines (and stand a good chance of winning the job). Writing in the daily Aksam, columnist Husnu Mahalli had this to say on the Israeli angle:
No matter what kind of precautions Turkey takes, Israelis who are equipped with the latest technological means may share all the information regarding Turkey's security during the time they work in the region and they may engage in dangerous acts. The Israelis, who will possibly come from a military background, will collect information for Mossad and perform special studies not only on Turkey, but also Syria, Iran, Iraq and the Kurds. We should not forget the fact that the Israeli state commissions nearly all of its citizens who go abroad, including Israeli tourists, with special tasks. So the Israelis who will be working along the Turkish-Syrian border will first lead to damage in Turkish-Syrian relations.As far as I can tell, the "special tasks" the Israeli state commissions its citizens with doing while abroad is to shop like crazy, but it seems like Mahalli is worried about other, more nefarious things. That a column like this appears in a mainstream, mass-circulation daily certainly raises a host of troubling questions.
Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has certainly done his part to stir up anti-Israel sentiment in Turkey, is now playing the role of fireman, telling the opposition to cool it. "It is easy to say 'you are selling our land to Israel', but do not forget that it is Turkish people who will be working for the company responsible for the project," he said a few days ago. President Abdullah Gul has also stepped into the debate, warning against "taking the issue to extreme points." It might be too late for that.