Friday, June 26, 2009

Staying on Iran's Good Side

I have an analysis piece up on the Eurasianet website looking at Turkey's muted response to the contested elections in Iran. From the article:
Mustafa Kibaroglu, a professor of international relations at Ankara’s Bilkent University and an expert on Turkey-Iran relations, disputed the notion that Ankara’s actions in the wake of the Iranian elections reflected a lack of awareness.

"I found it [the response] consistent with Turkey’s foreign policy behavior, in general, and AKP’s 'zero conflict’ foreign policy for the last six or seven years," Kibarolglu said. "Turkey has always, at least on paper, promoted the principle that no country should interfere with another country’s affairs."

At the same time, Kibaroglu says, Ankara does not want to alienate Tehran. "Turkey needs to sustain and build the trust that is has developed in Iran," he says. "Turkey, especially with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, only has one option, and that is the diplomatic option. Turkey thinks it may have a significant role, at some point, not at mediation, but maybe facilitating [discussions] between Iran and others."

He added that "Turkey still needs to be [seen as] an honest broker. If Turkey criticized the elections, it would raise serious questions in the minds of the Iranians if Turkey is still a friend."

Still, some critics of the government’s actions say its current Iranian policy, as realistic as it may be, may come at a cost. "There is no point to needlessly offending the Iranian powers-that-be since the safest bet is that they will manage to nip the green revolution at its roots," Andrew Finkel, a columnist for the English-language newspaper Today’s Zaman, recently wrote. "At the same time, for the Turkish government to engage in such naked power politics is not a good investment for the future."
You can read the full piece here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Genuine Fake?

To follow up on yesterday's post, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have announced that a document that outlines an alleged military plan to undermine the government and the Gulen movement is not the genuine article (Hurriyet story here, Today's Zaman here). According to a military investigation, the document in question -- first exposed by the Taraf newspaper -- did not originate in the military. Furthermore, it seems like nobody seems to have an original copy of the explosive document. So far, the only version anyone has seen is a (much easier to forge) photocopied version.

So what's going on? The military investigation could be a whitewash. The document could turn out to be a forgery. Who really knows at this point? The TSK has announced that top general Ilker Basbug will give a press conference tomorrow, where he is expected to talk about the document affair, which might give some more clues about the whole thing (at least in terms of how the military intends to move this thing forward). At this point, I get the sense that rather than being on the defensive, the military is going on the offensive, which is probably not the position those who leaked the document were expecting the generals to be at this point.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another Day, Another Coup Plot?

I have a briefing up on the World Politics Review website about the latest political crisis to grip Turkey, this one surrounding a document -- allegedly written by the military -- which puts forward a plan to discredit and destabilize the government (as well as the pro-government Gulen movement, Turkey's most influential Islamic brotherhood).

From the piece:
Allegations that elements of the Turkish military may have been hatching a plot to discredit or even topple the government of the liberal Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) are threatening to raise military-civilian tensions in Turkey and further widen the country's deep political divide. At the same time, the allegations are also raising questions about how the plot against the AKP fits into an ongoing investigation into another coup attempt, known as Ergenekon.

This latest Turkish political crisis was sparked when Taraf -- a hard-hitting liberal daily that has been severely critical of the military in the past -- published a document on June 12 entitled, "Plan to Combat Islamic Fundamentalism." The four-page document, allegedly signed by a colonel in the military's psychological warfare unit, outlined ways in which the AKP government could be weakened. Among them, the document suggested "mobilizing" moles within the party and stoking anti-Armenian and anti-Greek sentiments in order to strengthen the nationalist opposition.

The plan also called for discrediting the pro-government Gulen movement, Turkey's largest and most powerful Islamic brotherhood, by planting weapons and ammunition in its members' homes and even linking it to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)….

…The possibility of the leaked document being a forgery has not been discounted, at least not among members of the secularist press and Turkey's political opposition. Some observers have suggested that what's really being played out here is not a confrontation between the military and the AKP, but rather one between the generals and the influential Gulen movement. Media outlets affiliated with the movement have been among the quickest to accuse the military of being up to no good in this current crisis.

"Let's push aside whether the document is real and get into the deep," Ismet Berkan, editor of Radikal, a liberal daily owned by the pro-secularist Dogan Group, recently wrote in a column. "Everything we witness is in fact a psychological war. The Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, is on one side, and the Gulen movement on the other."

Ultimately, regardless of who actually wrote the contested document, the affair is another reminder of how deeply polarized Turkish politics and society are right now. Opponents and supporters of the AKP are unable to find common ground on most issues, with each side quick to accuse the other of wrongdoing. As an example, several pro-government papers recently reported that investigators were almost completely certain that the document in question is genuine. Some pro-secularist papers, meanwhile, reported that investigators were almost completely certain the same document is a fake. Ultimately, this kind of split does not bode well for Turkey's political stability.
You can read the full briefing here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Further Divining Davutoglu

Der Spiegel recently sat down for an interview with Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's new foreign minister and the chief architect of the country's reengagement with its Middle Eastern neighbors. A large part of the interview covers the recent trouble in Iran, and gives a good insight into Davutoglu's thinking about what's taking place there and how Turkey should approach it. From the interview (the full version, which is worth reading, is here):
SPIEGEL: Minister Davutoglu, Iran, Turkey's neighbor, is in the midst of the worst unrest since the Islamic Revolution 30 years ago. After having served for many years as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's foreign policy advisor, you are very familiar with Iran. What is your assessment of the situation?

Davutoglu: Turkey and Iran share a very long common history. We know our neighbor -- and have for more than 1,000 years. No one should underestimate or misunderstand this proud country. The political atmosphere there is incredibly dynamic, as is Iranian society. It is very complex and multifaceted.

SPIEGEL: Did you expect political developments in Iran to take such an explosive turn?

Davutoglu: Yes, absolutely. As a country with very close relations with Iran, we knew how dynamic both the society and the political culture there are. I noticed two particularities in this election. First, there was the extremely animated and fiercely contested campaign phase, and then there was the high election turnout. This led to the emergence of very different interpretations of results after the election. I think that we should take this as a sign that the political process in Iran is very healthy.

SPIEGEL: But it is precisely the result that all of the president's challengers are calling into question. According to the opposition, this election was seriously manipulated.

Davutoglu: We must leave the discussion of the issue to the Iranians. We cannot intervene from the outside.

SPIEGEL: Is there not much more at stake here, namely a struggle for democracy?

Davutoglu: That may be true, in the sense that the Iranian masses want to be heard. The people are unwilling to leave politics solely to the state, and they are very passionate. But I am not prepared to pass judgment as to whether or not the elections were properly carried out.

SPIEGEL: Have you congratulated Iranian President Ahmadinejad on his victory?

Davutoglu: Of course. This is standard procedure between two nations with friendly relations.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps you will have to congratulate a new Iranian president once again in the coming weeks.

Davutoglu: In any case, we will respect the outcome of the political conflict in Iran.

SPIEGEL: Then perhaps you could help us to better understand your neighbor Iran. Have we in the West underestimated the "green movement" of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi?

Davutoglu: It isn't just about Mousavi. I believe that the West generally has a simplified view of the situation. The West is still dominated by a Cold War-like logic when it comes to Iran. This results in a black-and-white image of the country. The true picture is far more complex. Iran also has a system of checks and balances, and it has more than one center of power. And there are various competing movements and individuals. This "human factor" in Iranian politics is often overlooked in the West.

SPIEGEL: Let's talk about President Ahmadinejad, who visited Turkey in the summer of 2008. Doesn't the alleged victory of hardliner Ahmadinejad have to be described as a political step backward for the peace process in the Middle East?

Davutoglu: I don't believe that the ideological division into so-called hardliners or moderates is helpful. As far as relations with other countries are concerned, it is more important to look at a politician's pragmatism. It is in the interest of all parties in the Middle East that we achieve peace and stability, and that we transform our region into a shared zone of prosperity.

SPIEGEL: But Mousavi's "green movement" already enjoys significantly more sympathy abroad than the Ahmadinejad camp.

Davutoglu: Do you think this political color theory is really useful? Let's not talk about colors. The Iranians are proud people. All of us want to see them bring their own dispute to an end. We hope that these developments will end positively, in line with a participatory political culture.
Davutoglu's foreign policy has, for the most part, been highly successful, which would seem to indicate that his judgement regarding Turkey's neighbors has been perceptive. But I was struck by his statement that he sees the emergence of two very different interpretations of the results of the recent Iranian elections as a "sign that the political process in Iran is very healthy." Clearly, based on the growing indications that the election was riddled with fraud and the massive number of Iranians who have decided to protest the regime, the political process in Iran is far from "healthy."

The interview gives me a clearer sense of what Turkey's position is regarding what's happening in Iran (very cautious, and I can see the logic in that). What I'm still trying to figure out is what role Turkey, as a regional actor, sees for itself regarding the unfolding crisis there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Does Partnership Have its Privileges?

With the arrival of summer, it appears that the discussion over Turkey's troubled European Union membership bid and the possibility of offering Ankara a "privileged partnership" with the bloc is heating up. Hurriyet Daily News has an interview today with Pierre Ménat, director of EU affairs for the French foreign ministry, who urges Turkey to "see the reality" and accept that it will have to settle for something other than full membership.

From the interview:
"Calling it a ’privileged partnership’ is wrong. Turkey is already in a customs union with us. What we seek is a relationship that would make Turkey associated as much as possible with the EU," Pierre Ménat, director of EU affairs for the French foreign ministry, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview conducted last week in Paris.

"It would be much better if we could discuss it. But it’s not possible, as the Turkish authorities are too emotional on this issue. If we can see the reality, then we can have better relations," he said....

....Many conservative and far-right politicians exploited the issue during the elections for the European Parliament, stirring disappointment and anger in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has suggested the possibility of canceling France’s "Turkey Season," a nine-month-long campaign initiated by Paris to promote Turkey in all its facets.

"We have worked a lot for this project. We knew we had to be careful about the dates - I mean the European elections," Ménat said. "Actually there was nothing new that has been said during the campaign. But those who were talking once in a year spoke every day. And we have talked about it with the Turkish authorities. It would have been a pity if it would have been annulled.

"Having said so, France, during its EU term presidency, did not hinder the negotiations," he said.
You can read the full article here.

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group has just posted a piece on its website, arguing that "Privileged Partnership Offers Turkey neither Privilege nor Partnership." From the article, written by Hugh Pope, ICG's Turkey analyst:

In short, "privileged partnership" offers no obvious new privileges to Turkey, even though it is a member of almost all pan-European organizations from the Council of Europe to soccer leagues, and is in many ways closer to the EU than any other non-member. Nor does it offer real new partnership, since the main goal appears to be either to control Turkey or to exclude it from the decision-making that would make it a true partner. Already, the EU happily concludes free trade deals with third parties that supposedly urge them to open their markets to Turkey. But these third countries are under no obligation and are reluctant to do so.

There is a downside to "privileged partnership" as well. European states have formally contracted with Turkey that it is in a process leading to full accession to the Union, if and when it satisfies all the criteria. Reversing this obligation for transparent reasons of domestic politics sends a message that Europe cannot be trusted. There is an element of dishonesty, too. Politicians and commentators present the accession talks as if a poorer, over-populated Turkey was about to join tomorrow. In fact, the process will take a decade or even two, by which time the relative positions of fast-growing Turkey and a more stagnant Europe will doubtless be much changed. Fears of a flood of Turkish migrants are exaggerated - free movement of Turkish labour will likely not be allowed for many further years, if ever. Even then, Turkey's accession can ultimately be vetoed by any government....

....In the circumstances, talk of "privileged partnership" thus looks more and more like a scapegoat for popular European fears about jobs, immigration and Islam. Blaming the EU-Turkey accession process does not just build up problems for the EU-Turkey relationship -- with all the lost opportunities that this implies for future cooperation between the EU and NATO, European energy security and cooperation with the Muslim world -- but it also delays an honest appraisal of the true causes of these fears in European states themselves.
You can read the full piece here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Uprising? What Uprising?

Call me old fashioned, but I believe a major political crisis and confrontation that happens next door to you should be well covered. That's why I find the Turkish media's basic non-coverage (or, perhaps more accurately, anti-coverage) of what's happening in Iran to be very strange. Despite being neighbors, I think most Turks probably didn't have a clear idea of what makes Iran tick before the recent events there. But the Turkish media is certainly not helping anyone get a better handle of what's happening now.

Over at the Kamil Pasha blog, Jenny White takes a look at the Turkish press's dismal performance:
The secularist newspapers have some coverage, but it is either odd or not Turkish. Milliyet, for instance, today has a photo gallery ‘Being a Woman in Iran’ with no dates or captions, showing Iranian women marching in formation, doing sports, shooting rifles in Wild-West-like scenes, playing piano, etc. There is a short piece on yesterday’s events in Iran, but taken mainly from official Iranian sources. While the article acknowledges this, it doesn’t give that statement enough context for the reader to know that official Iranian sources provide disinformation and instead presents it as news. Radikal today completely outsourced responsibility for news reporting and instead presented two “opinions”, one by Patrick Cockburn writing for The Independent, the other by Abdulvehhab El Efendi writing for the London-based Arabic-language Kuds ül Arabi. Both pieces were originally published two days ago, so given what has happened since then, are not really evaluations of the “news”.

The most disgusting coverage has been by the Islam-leaning Zaman newspaper that has blatantly printed misinformation, calling the protestors “terrorists” and focusing exclusively on the damage they supposedly have caused. The header? Quoting Iranian television, Zaman reports that clashes between terrorist groups and the police have left 13 dead. An earlier header: Masked attackers with truncheons torch a mosque, burning people inside alive; many wounded were brought to hospitals. (Another state-run Iranian television station showed only a broken window and mentioned three wounded, but this discrepancy didn’t make it into Zaman’s article). The only other item of “news” in the article was a claim attributed to Press TV (Iranian state English-language TV) that the demonstrators had set a gas station on fire in Tehran. I picture the Zaman reporter, feet up on the coffee table, flipping channels on the TV looking for something to write that didn’t make the “terrorists” look justified. Must have been a hard task.

That’s it. That’s all the news you need to know.
You can read her full post here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Twitter Revolution?

I have a piece up on the Christian Science Monitor website looking at how the repressive conditions in Iran, particularly regarding internet censorship, have made the country ripe for a new-media driven protest movement. The piece also tries to get a handle on just how much of what's happening in Iran can be placed on Twitter and other social media applications.

From the article:
Before Iran, there was Moldova, which had its own (unsuccessful) "Twitter Revolution" back in April, when young activists used online tools to coordinate protests against the country's dubiously reelected Communist government. In Egypt, meanwhile, a new generation of activists has come to embrace Facebook and Internet-based social networking applications to protest (again, mostly unsuccessfully) their repressive government.

But new-media experts say that Iran's civil resistance movement is unique because the government's tight control of media and the Internet has spawned a generation adept at circumventing cyber roadblocks, making the country ripe for a technology–driven protest movement.

"This is a country where you have tens of thousands of bloggers, and these bloggers have been in a situation where the Internet has been filtered since 2004. Anyone worth their salt knows how to find an open proxy [to get around government firewalls and filters], knows how to work around censorship," says Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge, Mass. "The Iranian government, by filtering the Internet for so long, has actually trained a cadre of people who really know who to get around censorship."

As the government has cracked down on everything from cellphone service to Facebook, Twitter has emerged as the most powerful way to disseminate photos, organize protests, and describe street scenes in the aftermath of the contested June 12 election. Iranians' reliance on the social-networking tool has elevated it from a banal way to update one's friends in 140-character bursts to an agent for historic changes in the Islamic Republic.

Iran exercises strict control of both the Internet and the mainstream media. In its 2007 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 166th of 169 countries, worse than authoritarian regimes such as Burma and Cuba, and only better than Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea.

And while 35 percent of Iranians use the Internet – considerably higher than the Middle East average of 26 percent – the Iranian government operates what has been described as one of the most extensive filtering systems in the world....

....Some experts, though, warn about overstating the role that new media and technology can play in organizing a successful protest movement.

In the Molodovan case, although Twitter and other new-media technologies might have helped in organizing protests against the country's rulers, the movement fizzled quickly. On the other hand, although the successful 2004 Orange Revolution was helped along by the use of the Internet and mobile phone text messaging, a Berkman Center study found that: "the Orange Revolution was largely made possible by savvy activists and journalists willing to take risks to improve their country."

"You have to be careful about not being too enamored about technology," says Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington. "It's sexy and it's fun and we can relate to it, but unless there's a strategy for creating loyalty shifts to the other side ... and a set of goals everyone can unify around, you're not going to get to where you need to be."

But while he cautions that it would be incorrect to credit Twitter and other new media with sparking the mass protests in Iran, Ackerman does see them as playing an enabling role to a movement that he says could ultimately be successful – particularly as it moves outside Tehran.
You can read the whole article here.

(A woman using her cell phone in Tehran on Tuesday -- photo by Reuters)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mapping the Iranian Blogosphere

Erkan Saka directs readers to an interesting report about the Iranian blogosphere published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. Although written last year, the report, entitled "Mapping Iranʼs Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere" and part of the Center's "Internet and Democracy Case Studies" series, offers some good background on the events taking place now in Iran. From the report (pdf version here):

....the question at hand is not whether the Iranian blogosphere provides a Samizdat to the regime’s Politburo, but whether the new infrastructure of the social nervous system, which is changing politics in the US and around the world, will also change politics in Iran, and perhaps move its hybrid authoritarian/democratic system in a direction that is more liberal in the sense of modes of public discourse, if not necessarily in a direction that is more liberal in the sense of political ideology.

[UPDATE -- The OpenNet Initiative, a project run by the Berkman Center and a few other university-based research centers studying the internet, has just published a new study about internet censorship in Iran. The study is available here.]

Pulled Out of a Hat

My Christian Science Monitor colleague Scott Peterson, who's been covering Iran for years, has an interesting article up on the Monitor website, offering good information about the validity of the recent election in Iran. From his piece:

Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii, whose decades of studying Iran has included poring over data from Iranian elections, says the result was "pulled out of a hat." Here's why.

Ms. Farhi: My personal feeling is that Ahmadinejad could not have gotten anything more than 10 million. And I really do have the data from previous elections, each district, how they voted, each province, to make comparisons with these numbers that the Ministry of Interior have come out.

I am convinced that they just pulled it out of their hats. They certainly didn't pull it out of ballot [boxes] or even stuffed ballots, they just made up numbers and are putting it out. It just doesn't make sense.

I do take the numbers of the Interior Ministry very seriously. I pore over them every election. I did it last time in the parliamentary election, to determine the orientations and what they mean. I always do that.

In this election, I am not even going to spend time on this, because of all the [problems].


Farhi: There were party monitors, and the boxes were all counted, and there were records made, and the information was relayed to the Interior Ministry on a piecemeal basis.

But at one point, immediately after the polls were closed, a very few people, without the presence of any monitoring mechanism, started giving out these numbers. And that's why I think this was brazen manipulation.

It wasn't that they only wanted Ahmadinejad to win. They also wanted to make a case that we can do anything we want to do. And they were, I argue, very much interested in demoralizing this 20 to 30 percent extra voters that are coming in.

They simply are not interested in these people continuing to be interested in politics in Iran. The want them to become demoralized and cynical, because their participation in the Iranian electoral process is extremely destructive for the [Islamic] system ...

What they have not counted on, of course, is a group of people that they essentially think of, for lack of a better word, Westernized wishy-washy liberals, who never stand for anything, would actually be upset that this election was stolen in such a brazen way.

They assumed: 'Ah, you know, we go into the streets, we yell at them, and a couple of shots and they go home and close their doors.'

They knew that they were a minority, and that's why they tried to pull this off. They thought they could bully people, through violence. And they may ultimately be correct. But it seems they have underestimated, not only the crowds, but Mr. Mousavi.
You can read the full article here.

"Turkey Opts for Ahmadinejad"

Barcin Yinanc, a foreign affairs columnist for Hurriyet Daily News, has a column in today's paper about the Turkish government's take on the disputed Iranian elections. Although the Turkish foreign ministry has yet to make an official statement about the elections or the subsequent events in Iran, foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this on Monday: "The election disputes are an internal matter for Iran. The hope of all of us is that these disputes will be resolved in a healthy way and that the deep relations between Turkey and Iran will continue in the same fashion." It also turns out both Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul called Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on Sunday to congratulate him on his being "re-elected" (something that was barely reported in Turkey).

From Yinanc's column, entitled "Turkey Opts for Ahmadinejad":
While EU foreign ministers expressed serious concerns and called for an inquiry into the election, Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not wait long to congratulate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who claimed victory in his country’s recent polls. Both Turkish leaders called Ahmadinejad separately on Sunday, as his rivals were challenging the election results.

This apparently stems from the fact that:

First, prior to the Iranian elections, Ankara predicted a victory for Ahmadinejad over his rival Mir Hossein Mousavi; and

Second, although there have been irregularities, the prevailing view holds that allegations of serious fraud to the point of stealing the elections from Mousavi, as his supporters claim, are exaggerated.

Although Western countries had hopes that the advent of a moderate leader might have opened the way for reconciliation, some Turkish decision-makers are of the view that Ahmadinejad’s victory is not bad news. To the contrary, officials familiar with Iran believe that normalization of relations between Iran and the West can be achieved more easily with Ahmadinejad than Mousavi.

"Had Mousavi come to the government, his job would have been very difficult. The conservative, anti-American mullahs would have tied his hands and made it very tough for him to engage in dialogue with the United States," said one official, who asked to remain anonymous. The same official reminded me that the main supporters of Mousavi, who formed the camp of moderates for former presidents Hashimi Rafsancani and Mohammad Khatami, ruled the country in the past, but failed to bring about change, adding, "Those who thought that Mousavi would have changed Iran’s nuclear policy are mistaken."

Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has strengthened his hand after the election, which will make it easier for him to challenge the radical clerics in case he needs to. It is no secret that Ahmadinejad has the backing of radical clerics, including the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamanei. But he is less radical, and more open to reconciliation and dialogue, than his supporters, some Turkish experts say.

....As far as Turkish-Iranian relations are concerned, the Turkish government seems content to have Ahmadinejad at the head of the Iranian government. Ahmedinejad is said to enjoy excellent relations with both President Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan. In fact, he is known to be an admirer of Erdoğan, especially of his style - perhaps even more so after Erdoğan walked off the stage during a meeting in Davos at which he had a harsh exchange of words with Israeli President Shimon Peres. But personal issues aside, Turkish officials believe the two countries enjoyed good relations during Ahmadinejad’s first term in office.
You can read the full column here.

If Yinanc's column accurately reflects the thinking in Ankara on Iran, Ahmadinejad and the recent elections there, I think Turkey could find itself on the wrong side of this developing story. Some clarification about Ankara's position is definitely in order.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Iranian Elections: The View from Turkey

Busy with domestic issues, the Turkish press hasn’t commented much on the disputed elections in Iran. Perhaps that commentary is coming, since I think the unfolding events in Iran are extremely significant for Turkey on numerous levels.

Ankara, of course, has been one of the main proponents of engagement with the regime in Iran, offering itself on several occasions as a mediator between Tehran and the West (Washington, in particular). As part of its “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy, Ankara has dramatically improved its relations with Tehran in recent years, with trade, military cooperation and diplomatic contacts all improving significantly. But the developments in next-door Iran could pose a challenge for Turkey and its engagement with the country. How should Ankara respond to the serious allegations of electoral fraud in Iran (Turkey has yet to really say anything about the elections one way or another)? How does Ankara respond to an Iranian regime that may turn towards greater repression in order to maintain its hold on power? (Perhaps a Davos style lecture by Turkish PM Erdogan to Iranian president Ahmedinejad about the futility of violence?) What does Turkey – which, ultimately, is as concerned about a nuclear Iran as anyone else – do about an Iran which may take an even more defiant tone regarding the nuclear issue? It’s one thing to have “zero problems” with neighbors, but what does Turkey do about a neighbor – one that, like Turkey, sees itself as a regional heavyweight – that might become increasingly problematic? Depending on how things shake out in Iran, Ankara and newly-installed foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, creator of the “zero problems” policy, might be forced to make some tough decisions and to confront the limits of its aspirations to be a regional mediator and power broker.

(Photo -- Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad during a May, 2006 meeting in Tehran.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Truth on Trial?

Ogun Samast, the youngster accused of murdering Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, faces 20 years in prison if convicted. Nedim Sener, a journalist with the Turkish daily Milliyet, could face 28 years in jail for writing a book that details the the police negligence and intelligence failures that led to Dink's murder.

From Hurriyet:
Milliyet daily reporter Nedim Şener’s book "Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies" focused on the intelligence deficiencies by security agencies before and after Dink was shot dead, leading to a police officer and three senior Police Department intelligence chiefs filing complaints against him....

....After the book’s release in January of this year, Muhittin Zenit, a police officer working at the intelligence division at Trabzon at the time Dink was assassinated, filed a criminal complaint about Şener for "targeting personnel in service of fighting terrorism, obtaining secret documents, disclosing secret documents, violating the secrecy of communication and attempting to influence fair trial" through his book.

After the investigation’s end, Prosecutor Selim Berna Altay charged Şener with "making targets of the personnel in service of fighting terrorism, and obtaining and declaring secret information that is forbidden to be declared," asking for a prison term of 20 years. Since they do not fall under his authority, Altay sent the dossier on "violation of the secrecy of communication" and "attempting to influence fair trial" to theIstanbul Second Court. In the meantime, it was also claimed the book contained the offense of "insulting governmental institutions," and that too was added to the second investigation. Prosecutor İsmail Onaran handled this investigation and filed a second case against Şener asking for his imprisonment for three to eight years.

There is another case ongoing in a Trabzon court against eight personnel from the Trabzon Gendarmerie Command who are accused neglecting their duties regarding Dink’s death. The accused are facing up to two years in prison if found guilty.

"Some of the security personnel that sued me are under investigation for neglecting their duty for Dink’s murder. They want to punish the journalist writing about the responsibilities of those people," said Şener.
In his defense, Şener has noted that the information in his book was already in the public domain and easily found online. (Take a look at this Bianet article for a bit more on the case.)

Although Şener may not be convicted, the fact that a prosecutor decided to press ahead with the case is very troubling, the message of the prosecution appearing to be that even publishing the truth can be a punishable offense. The case also serves as another indication that, despite training programs for prosecutors and judges and efforts at reform, Turkey's judiciary main concern remains protecting the state and its institutions, rather than safeguarding the rights of individuals.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Iranian Elections Special: The Other Iran

I've been following the Iranian elections through Rasmus Christian Elling's great posts on Cuminet, a group blog about Islam and the Middle East coming out of Copenhagen University (and which I added to the "links" section a few weeks ago, since they also cover Turkey). Through the blog, I learned about Sasy Mankan -- "Sasy the Model," in Persian -- a 22-year-old engineering student (real name Sasan Yafte) who is one of the stars of the Iranian underground hip-hop scene. According to a recent post on the blog, Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Karubi, the Iranian 72-year old conservative cleric and presidential candidate, recently held a meeting with a group of Iranian pop stars, Sasy Makan among them, as a way of cozying up to young voters.

There's isn't too much online (in English, at least) about Sasy. An official website is here. His Facebook page can be found here. Below is a fun video for a song called "Ninash Nash," which an Iranian friend says is a hard to translate slang expression for "dancing and having fun." (Follow this link if you can't access YouTube.)

I don't have enough of a handle on Iranian politics and youth/pop culture to know how Sasy and his crew fit into Iran's political scene. But as far as I can tell from the images that I've seen from Iran, the young supporters of reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi, main challenger to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have a definite "Ninash Nash" vibe to them. Is more "dancing and having fun" in Iran's future? Tomorrow will tell.

(Photo -- the many faces of Sasy Mankan, Iranian underground hip hop star)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For Turkey, A Domestic Violence Case with International Implications

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has issued a historic ruling in a case brought forth by a Turkish woman whose mother was killed by her abusive ex-husband. From the Wall Street Journal's article about the court's ruling:
The case is a landmark ruling for Europe. For the first time, it classifies such cases as gender discrimination, giving the Strasbourg court jurisdiction in cases of domestic violence.

Andrea Coombers, legal practice director at the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights in London, said describing gender-based violence as discrimination "is what the rest of the world has thought for at least a decade. It is a significant step in the right direction by the European Union."

Mesut Bestas, the lawyer for Ms. Opuz, added: "European legislation on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and right to life is clear, but when it comes to the issue of women's rights, the legal framework is murky. ... This trial begins to shed light on that murkiness."

Nahide Opuz, a woman living in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, brought her case to the court in Strasbourg, France, after exhausting avenues in Turkey. As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is subject to the Council's human-rights court.

Ms. Opuz, now in hiding, started complaining to Turkish police in 1995 that her stepfather and his son -- her husband -- repeatedly assaulted and threatened her and her mother.

Her husband, Huseyin Opuz, was convicted of trying to run over Ms. Opuz and her mother in a car, but his three-month sentence was later commuted to a fine. Mr. Opuz was also fined for stabbing his wife in 2001.

On March 11, 2002, Mr. Opuz shot and killed his mother-in-law as she and her daughter were loading furniture on a truck to flee the area. He was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life imprisonment, but the sentence was reduced. He was freed from jail having served several years, taking into account that the offense was a result of "provocation by the deceased."

On Thursday, a judge in Strasbourg demanded the Turkish state pay Ms. Opuz €30,000 ($41,700) in damages. The court ruling criticized "the overall unresponsiveness of the judicial system and impunity enjoyed by the aggressors" in Turkey.
(Take a look at this Bianet article for a good rundown on the history of Opuz's case.)

Turkey's record on dealing with domestic violence has been fairly dismal. Statistics have shown that nearly 50 percent of Turkish women have faced some from of family violence. There is a severe lack of shelters for abused women and the judiciary and police often don't take seriously the complaints made by threatened women. For some background on the issue, take a look at this article I wrote several years back. Unfortunately, the information is essentially still up-to-date.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Divining Davutoglu

Perhaps the most important part of Turkey's recent cabinet reshuffle was the appointment of Ahmet Davutoglu as the country's foreign minister. As a senior advisor to both prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and president and former foreign minister Abdullah Gul, Davutoglu has largely been responsible for the impressive strides Turkey has made in terms of foreign affairs. In many ways, the AKP's greatest success has been in terms of its foreign affairs, where it has managed to radically change the way it relates to its neighbors and to dramatically raise its regional profile. By appointing Davutoglu to be foreign minister (replacing the mostly powerless Ali Babacan), Erdogan has now brought the wizard out from behind the curtain, something which raises some significant questions about which way Turkish foreign policy might go from here.

In a new analysis for the German Marshall Fund, Soli Ozel -- a professor at Istanbul's Bilgi University and one of the sharper commentators in Turkey -- takes a look at what Davutoglu's appointment might bring, particularly regarding Turkey-EU relations. From his piece:
By making this exceptional appointment, (Davutoğlu is not a member of Parliament and extra-Parliamentary appointments are rare in Turkey in normal times) Erdoğan put Davutoğlu in a position whereby he will have to bear the political responsibility of the policies he devises and implements....

....Turkey seeks to be surrounded by regions that are stable. Beyond the obvious reason of not wanting to face violent conflicts on its borders, this desire for stability reflects the primacy of economic interests in the making of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey regards the neighboring countries as potential trade partners and any deepening of economic interdependence is seen both as beneficial for Turkish businesses as well as enhancing political stability. To this end, the preference in foreign policy choices is for engagement with all plausible actors. I have also contended that Turkey’s relations with the West would be dominated by its links to the United States so long as the sclerosis of the European Union and the comatose nature of the relations between Turkey and the European Union continue. Such a situation presents problems for Turkey’s domestic reform process though, since, in the absence of the disciplining impact of EU accession, Turkey moves too slowly on deepening its democratization.

Such was the context in which Davutoğlu was appointed and the most serious question raised about his term concerned relations with the European Union. EU relations are not solely a foreign policy matter for Turkey and reflect the inclinations and intentions of the government in general, not just the foreign minister. However, Davutoğlu’s earlier, dismissive assess¬ment of the accession process, relegating this to just technical developments in negotiations, led to speculations about the future of the relations under his stewardship.

Davutoğlu responded to the doubts and criticisms with a broad statement to EU ambassadors on Europe Day in which he presented his most comprehensive understanding of Turkey-EU relations to date. He argued that Turkey’s relations with Europe date back to the 11th century and that relations with the EU are just the latest episode of a long-standing engagement. Just as the Ottoman Empire reacted swiftly to epoch-changing developments in Europe (including the Treaty of Westphalia, the Vienna Conference, and World War I), and engaged in transformative political and social reforms, Republican Turkey is responding to the epochal changes of the post-Cold War era. As such, Turkey-EU relations are not conjectural and the goal of integration remains the mainstay of Turkish foreign policy. In his view, Europe’s vision and Turkey’s vision were complementary and the synergy that would come out of these relations would place Europe in an influential position in world affairs. Such a role for Europe, he added, was something that the world needed.
You can read the full piece here (pdf).