Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
1. What is your assessment of the swap agreement worked out between Turkey, Brazil and Iran?
In my opinion, the Joint Declaration signed and negotiated by Iran, Turkey and Brazil has little nonproliferation value and does little to slow Iran’s controversial nuclear program. I am convinced that Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Taip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had the best of intentions when negotiating the Declaration. Despite their best intentions, the document does not address, or limit Iran’s enrichment program. The Declaration fails to take into account Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 19.75 percent. The Declaration resulted from months of diplomatic negotiations, which were preceded by similar negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. The length of negotiations prompted prominent Arms Control and Nuclear Weapons Expert Jeffrey Lewis to call the Declaration the, “Zombie fuel swap” because it the initiative never seems to die.
The first iteration of the fuel swap appeared during negotiations in October 2009 between the P5 +1 and Iran. During these negotiations Iran agreed in principle to send 1,200 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France for fuel rod fabrication. The Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) – a small 5 MWt research reactor supplied by the United States to Iran in 1967 - is expected to run out of 19.7 percent enriched LEU fuel in 2010. Tehran’s dwindling supply of LEU fuel prompted the Iranian government to seek foreign suppliers, and signal its readiness to negotiate a fuel swap arrangement. Faced with the prospect of the TRR’s impending shutdown, Iranian ministers tentatively agreed with representatives of the P5+1 to this fuel swap arrangement at a meeting in October 2009. Despite the apparent diplomatic breakthrough, Iran backed off of its original agreement, proposing to ship out its LEU in 400 kg increments, and demanded that the transfer take place on the Iranian Gulf Island of Kish. The IAEA, the United States, and other members of the P5+1 rejected Iran’s counter proposal, claiming that it violated the spirit of the initial agreement, which called for the shipment of all 1,200 kg in one batch. The Obama administration and other members of the P5+1 were demanding that Iran ship all 1,200 kg LEU to France and Russia because, at the time, this would have left Iran without enough LEU for a nuclear weapon, should Iran choose to further enrich its LEU stockpile to weapons grade highly enriched uranium (HEU). At the time, the IAEA had reported that Iran had stockpiled 1,500 kg of LEU. If Iran were to have shipped all 1,200 kg of LEU, it would have taken Iran many months to replenish its LEU reserves, thus limiting its weapons break out capability.
The diplomatic impasse prompted Mohammed El-Baradei, the former director General Director of the IAEA, to step in and suggest Turkey as an alternative site for the fuel swap. El-Baradei believed that Turkey’s long standing participation in the NATO alliance and its close relations with the Islamic Republic made it an ideal place for the fuel swap to take place. Following the proposal, Ahmet Davutoglu indicated his country’s willingness to hold Iranian LEU. Thus, setting in motion Turkey’s participation in the Iran fuel swap negotiations.
Beginning in November, Ahmet Davutoglu and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehe Mottaki met a number of times to discuss the fuel swap arrangement. This culminated with the release of the Joint Declaration (for a full text of the Declaration please visit, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/julian-borger-global-security-blog/2010/may/17/iran-brazil-turkey-nuclear) indicating Iran’s willingness to ship 1,200 kg of LEU to Turkey within a month, if the Vienna Group (The United States, France, Russia and the United Nations) endorsed the declaration and specifically agreed to deliver LEU fuel rods to Iran for use at the TRR.
In its current form, the current Declaration has little non-proliferation value and does not address Iran’s nuclear breakout capability. Experts estimate that a country like Iran would need 1,200 kg of LEU to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, should Iran decide to enrich its LEU to 90 percent. When the Declaration was concluded, the IAEA had reported that Iran had accumulated 2,300 kg of LEU. The removal of 1,200 kg of LEU would allow Iran to replenish its LEU stockpile quickly, thus negating the non-proliferation benefits of the fuel swap arrangement.
In addition, the Declaration does not address other issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Since the Iranian rejection of the original fuel swap proposal in October 2009, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) decided to further enrich its stockpiled LEU to 19.7 percent for use in the TRR. In May 2010, the IAEA released its comprehensive Safeguard Report, which detailed Iran’s stockpile of 19.75 enriched uranium. As of November 2010, Iran has produced 21 kg of 19.75 percent enriched uranium. Perhaps the most glaring weakness of the Iran-Turkey-Brazil declaration is that Iranian enrichment issue is not addressed. The process to further enrich uranium is very complicated. It requires the disassembly and reassemble of centrifuge cascades, while ensuring that the machines will still function correctly. These recent developments, combined with Iran’s growing knowledge about centrifuge technology, has demonstrated Tehran’s ability to produce weapons grade uranium, should it choose to enrich its LEU.
2. Does the agreement bring anything new to the table?
The first iteration of the agreement had a lot of positive aspects and would have delayed Iran’s ability to further enrich LEU for a nuclear weapon, should it choose to do so. The original intention of the fuel swap was to limit Iran’s break out capability. The P5+1 believed that the removal of 1,200 kg of Iranian LEU would give the P5+1 and Iran time to negotiate a diplomatic settlement. The Obama administration’s original intention was to use this “window” to move negotiations along quickly and eventually conclude some sort of nuclear agreement with Iran.
The Declaration does not ascribe to the spirit of original agreement and most importantly, does not deal with any of the major issues that I outlined above – namely Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to twenty percent.
3. Turkey is arguing that the swap deal is useful as a confidence building measure with Iran, which could lay the groundwork for further deals with the country? Do you see any value in that argument?
Despite the tepid response from the P5+1, AK Party officials maintain that the fuel swap arrangement is an important confidence building measure. They argue that the Agreement is nearly identical to the October P5+1 proposal that Iran rejected in October. Despite Iran’s questionable LEU accounting, Iran’s willingness to ship 1,200 kg of LEU to Turkey, all at once and before receiving the reactor fuel from France and Russia, is a step in the right direction. In my opinion, there is some validity to Turkey’s argument.
For Iran-Turkey relations, the Agreement reaffirms the AK Party’s commitment to pursuing a negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear issue, despite heavy U.S. pressure to support the latest UN Sanction’s package. Turkey has proven that it is committed to strengthening its relations with Iran, despite pressure from its traditional allies. By doing so, Ankara may have proven itself to be a valuable intermediary between Iran and the West. It also reaffirms Ankara’s new independent minded foreign policy, and may signal to leaders in Tehran that Turkey acts in good faith when discussing its nuclear program.
In my opinion, any agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is a “diplomatic win” and should be pursued whole-heartedly. In the complex world of international relations, agreements and iterated interaction between two parties increases trust and cooperation. It breaks the cycle of negative reciprocity, and may lead to each side making concessions. In short, any effort to break the persistence and perseverance of “zero-sum” thinking can help move diplomatic processes forward and help contribute to an eventual agreement. Thus, the confidence building argument has some validity and I do not think critics of the Agreement shouldn’t dismiss Turkey’s diplomatic efforts.
However, non-one should believe that this Agreement, even if it were to be implemented, wasn’t politically motivated and served the interests of all of the parties involved, especially Iran.4. What's your take on the role Turkey has been playing in helping resolve the Iran nuclear issue?
Since the election of the AK Party in 2003, Turkey has set about changing the basic tenets of its foreign policy in the Middle East. AK Party’s foreign policy has been based on what Turkey’s current Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutogolu, calls “strategic depth”- a foreign policy seeking to balance Turkey’s relations with the West and its former Ottoman provinces in the South and East. Davutoglu promotes Turkish “soft power,” believing that friendly relations with all of Turkey’s neighbors will benefit Turkish economic and political interests in the region. The AK Party is opposed to further sanctions against Iran, arguing that they hurt Turkish economic interests, and that they serve as the first step towards the legitimization of war.
The statistics and evidence back Davutoglu’s arguments and Ankara’s Iran policy makes perfect sense. Iran is Turkey’s second largest provider of natural gas and bilateral trade between the countries topped 10 billion dollars in 2008. Thus, from an economic standpoint Turkey’s hesitation to support any new UNSC sanctions is perfectly logical. In addition, Turkey and Iran share a common threat from Kurdish separatist groups operating based in Northern Iraq. Since the formation of the Party for Freedom in Kurdistan (PJAK), a sister terrorist organization of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkey and Iran have increased counter-terrorism and military cooperation.
Furthermore, Turkey’s determination to conclude some sort of nuclear agreement with Iran reflects the AK Party’s thinking about foreign policy. Turkey’s negotiations with Iran can simply be seen as a manifestation of what Davutoglu and the AK Party have been saying all along. Namely, that while in power they would pursue an interest led foreign policy, promoting regional peace, while balancing Turkey’s relations with the East and West. Turkey’s recent actions smack of Realpolitique, a term and concept that should not be foreign to leaders in Washington, Paris and London.
5. There seems to be less concern in Turkey about a nuclear Iran than in Europe and the US. Why do you think that is?
Since the election of AK Party, one cannot go one week without reading a headline in some major American/European newspaper that asks “Is Turkey Turning East?” Reporters, security analysts, and foreign policy bloggers often point to Turkey’s religious government and its balanced foreign policy as proof of Ankara’s creeping “Islamization.” Frequently, these article are precipitated by a comment or speech made by Prime Minister Erdogan, where he says something about his country’s Iran policy. These fears are exacerbated by Turkey’s position on the Iranian nuclear issue and by its recent decision to vote “no” on the latest UNSC sanctions.
I believe that the difference between the West and Turkey’s position on the dangers posed by Iran’s nuclear program is driven by each country’s immediate and long-term security threats. The West views Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon as a threat because they believe that an Iranian nuclear weapon will upset regional stability and prompt the Sunni Arab states to build their own nuclear weapons. Needless to say, a nuclear arms race in the world’s oil producing nations would harm American and European security and economic interests.
Secondly, I don’t think that one can ignore the West’s discomfort with Islam and its immediate association with terrorism. Thus, there is a persuasive and pervasive discourse in American and European communities that believe Iran’s religious beliefs will exempt them from believing in the traditional concepts of deterrence.
Turkey and Iran, on the other hand, have a shared sense of national identity that stems from a common history of powerful empires that were usurped by imperialism. Both countries are home to historic Middle Eastern Empires that controlled large swaths of territory in the Middle East and Central Asia. The two former empires share a number of cultural and religious similarities and they have shared a common and un-changing border since the signing the Kasr-i Şırın Treaty in 1639. I believe that the long history of cordial relations has lessened Turkish threat perceptions.
Despite the similarities, there are differing perceptions within Turkey about the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran. In my opinion, Turkish thinking about the potential dangers posed by Iran’s nuclear program appear to correlate with an individuals interpretation of Turkey’s secularist principles – those that argue that Iran’s nuclear program is a major threat to tend to favor a rigid and strict interpretation of secularism, while those that favor a more loose interpretation of Ataturk’s secularist principles are generally less threatened by Iran’s nuclear program.
Thus, like all of Turkish politics there is an internal struggle over the direction of the country’s foreign policy. I think these divergent opinions can be traced back to the words of Ataturk who said “Peace at home, peace in the region.” Thus far, the AK party has flipped the meaning of these words and has come to believe that “peace in the region leads to peace at home.” The AK Party’s primary fear is an American or Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites. The resulting chaos, they believe, will upset Turkey’s economic growth and could contribute to terrorist activity in the Southeast. The specter of a nuclear Iran takes a back seat to Turkey’s immediate security interests, meaning that in the short term the prospect of an American/Israeli attack is more of a threat to Turkey’s security than a nuclear armed Iran. In the West, the opposite is true; officials argue that a nuclear-armed Iran will be the catalyst for regional upheaval and instability.
Thus, it seems that the two sides will continue to not see eye-to-eye on this important issue.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The documents now may provide interesting and entertaining reading on Turkey, and may be very upsetting for some people in the government, but they are not of “historic” caliber.
As for the frank and direct language in the cables, this may be something of a novelty for the layman, but the language in the diplomatic dispatches from Turkish embassies abroad – or any embassy for that matter - is probably not much different.
What these leaked cables have done, on the other hand, is confirm what has been talked about or speculated about on the basis of factual information or “educated guessing” among diplomats and diplomatic observers in Ankara for some time.
Despite their success and relative power, the Turks really can't compete on equal terms with either the US or regional "leaders" (EU in the Balkans, Russia in the Caucasus/Black Sea, Saudis, Egyptians and even Iranians in the ME). With Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources, to cut themselves in on the action the Turks have to "cheat" by finding an underdog (this also plays to Erdogan's own worldview), a Siladjcic, Mish'al, or Ahmadinejad, who will be happy to have the Turks take up his cause. The Turks then attempt to ram through revisions to at least the reigning "Western" position to the favor of their guy. Given, again, the questioning of Western policy and motives by much of the Turkish public and the AKP, such an approach provides a relatively low cost and popular tool to demonstrate influence, power, and the "we're back" slogan.
With an Israeli strike - across Turkish airspace - against targets in Iran a possibility, Erdogan decided he could not afford the political risk of being accused of training the forces which would carry out such a raid.
Erdogan is concerned that Turkey's participation might later give Israel protection from an Iranian counter-strike.
Sinirlioglu contended Turkey's diplomatic efforts are beginning to pull Syria out of Iran's orbit. He said a shared hatred for Saddam had been the original impetus for their unlikely alliance. "Now, their interests are diverging." Once again pitching Israel-Syria proximity talks, Sinirlioglu contended Israel's acceptance of Turkey as a mediator could break Syria free of Tehran's influence and further isolate Iran.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
What is it about Turks and winners of the Nobel prize for literature? Their own home-grown one, Orhan Pamuk, has more-or-less been hounded out of the country for alleged insults against the nation. And now V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidad-born 2001 winner of the prize, has been forced to cancel a speech he was to make in Turkey because of an uproar over alleged insults he made against Islam.
Nobel Prize-winning author Sir V.S. Naipaul has pulled out of a writers' conference in Istanbul that starts Thursday, pressured by religious conservative media in Turkey that objected to statements he has made on Islam.
The move sparked two Turkish authors to pull out of the event, its organizers said Wednesday.
Mr. Naipaul, author of some 30 books, had been due to give the opening speech at the European Parliament of Writers, a literary event organized here to mark Istanbul's status as a European Capital of Culture this year.
For the past week, however, religious conservative Turkish newspapers, including Yeni Safak and Zaman, have been campaigning against the decision to honor Mr. Naipaul, a 78-year-old Trinidadian of Indian origin. While some Turkish authors supported his right to attend the conference, defending him on grounds of free speech, others said they would boycott the event if he attended.
"How can our writers bear to sit by the same table with Naipaul, who has seen Muslims worthy of so many insults?" wrote poet and Zaman columnist Hilmi Yavuz, who initiated the planned boycott last week and described Mr. Naipaul as "an enemy of Islam" and "a colonialist."
Naipaul, like Turkey, contains unfathomable contradictions. (He does, after all, have a Pakistani wife.) Those Turks who opposed his entry might do well to ignore his provocations and read his powerful novels of inbetweeness.
The books raise but don't necessarily answer deep and vexing questions: Is secularism a precondition of tolerance? Does one necessarily have to abandon one's individual cultural and religious identity to become part of the West? Why do people willingly choose lives that restrict their intellectual freedom?
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
“In France, we call a cat a cat. We all know we are talking about Iran,” President Nicholas Sarkozy said after the NATO summit in Lisbon. Apparently, the French president dislikes verbal contortions surrounding the proposed missile defense architecture. “We, too, call a cat a cat,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan replied in Turkey, while vigorously avoiding calling a cat a cat.
Meanwhile, President Abdullah Gül was proud because Turkey’s efforts to not call a cat a cat had succeeded at the Lisbon summit. Now we have a cat at our east door, but neither we nor our NATO allies would call it a cat. All the same, Mssrs. Sarkozy and Erdoğan claim that they would call a cat a cat.
In September, NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had also called a cat a cat. The missile shield system, Mr. Rasmussen said, would be against possible attacks from rogue states. It was apparent that his definition of rogue states did not imply Singapore or New Zealand. The secretary general named Iran’s nuclear program as one of the reasons justifying the missile shield. The cat?!
....the approach to ballistic missile defense architecture, agreed in principle in Lisbon, suits Turkish security interests to a surprising degree. Turkey’s close political and commercial relations with Tehran, and Ankara’s “no” vote on UN Security Council sanctions, contributed to an atmo- sphere of friction with Western partners on Iran policy. Yet, beneath the differences on Iran diplomacy, Turkey shares — or should share — some concerns about Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. In a technical sense, Turkey is the most exposed member of the alliance when it comes to the growing reach of ballistic missile systems deployed or under development in the Middle East. Ankara may wish to keep an open line with Tehran, but the defense of Turkish territory, including key population centers, still matters.
....the Lisbon experience suggests that some aspects of Turkish foreign policy remain cautious and traditional, and the NATO connection still matters when it comes to working with Ankara.
The dynamics in Lisbon do not reverse recent trends in Turkish strategy, nor are they irrelevant to future prospects. For the United States and Europe, the Lisbon summit underscores the reality that Turkey’s foreign and security policy is increasingly diverse, in character as well as direction.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
Human Rights Watch has an excellent new report out that looks at the troubling use of anti-terror laws to imprison Kurdish protestors and stifle dissent in southeast Turkey.
....Over the past three years, courts have relied on broadly drafted terrorism laws introduced as provisions of the 2005 Turkish Penal Code, plus case law, to prosecute demonstrators. The courts have ruled that merely being present at a demonstration that the PKK encouraged people to attend amounts to acting under PKK orders. Demonstrators have been punished severely for acts of terrorism even if their offense was making a victory sign, clapping, shouting a PKK slogan, throwing a stone, or burning a tire........"When it comes to the Kurdish question, the courts in Turkey are all too quick to label political opposition as terrorism," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "When you close off the space for free speech and association, it has the counterproductive effect of making armed opposition more attractive."
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
- The post-Cold War order is unravelling. Rather than uniting under a single system, Europe’s big powers are moving apart. Tensions between them have made security systems dysfunctional: they failed to prevent war in Kosovo and Georgia, instability in Kyrgyzstan, disruption to Europe’s gas supplies, and solve frozen conflicts.
- The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions. Russia and Turkey may complain more, but the EU has the most to lose from the current peaceful disorder.
- A frustrated Turkey still wants to join the EU, but it is increasingly pursuing an independent foreign policy and looking for a larger role as a regional power. In the words of foreign minister Davutoglu, Turkey is now an ‘actor not an issue’. Its accession negotiations to the EU should be speeded up, and it must also be engaged as an important regional power.
- Russia never accepted the post-Cold War order. Moscow is now strong enough to openly challenge it, but its Westpolitik strategy also means that it is open to engagement – that is why Dmitri Medvedev suggested a new European security treaty a couple of years ago.
- Obama’s non-appearance at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the latest sign that the US is no longer focused on Europe’s internal security. Washington has its hands full dealing with Afghanistan, Iran and China and is no longer a European power.
- An informal ‘trialogue’ involving the EU, Turkey and Russia should be established, allowing cooperation over security to build from the ground up.
- In order to strengthen Turkey’s European identity, Ankara should be given a top-table seat at the trialogue, in parallel with enhanced EU accession negotiations. New chapters should be opened on CSDP and energy.
- The EU should be represented by the foreign affairs high representative, Catherine Ashton, institutionalising the EU as a security actor.
- A European security identity should be fostered by encouraging the involvement of Russia in projects like missile defence that focus on external threats to Europe.
- Russian resolve should be tested by a commitment to dealing with frozen conflicts and instability in the wider European area.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
In July of 2009, after dozens of Uighurs were killed or went missing in the wake of ethnic riots in western China's Xinjiang province, Turkish merchants were setting fire to Chinese-made products, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a "genocide" had been committed and a diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Beijing appeared to be brewing. (For more details, take a look at these previous posts.)
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The start of the academic year is always a good time to instill some wisdom and knowledge in the minds of young and impressionable students, which is just what Yusuf Ziya Ozcan, head of Turkey's Higher Board of Education (YOK), tried to do in a recent talk in front of students at Central Turkey's Nevsehir University.
The seeds of the tomatoes and wheat we grow in Turkey mostly come from abroad, because we don't have enough seeds of our own. They come from the US and Israel. As a Turkish intellectual, sometimes I feel very little.I mean, can't we produce our tomato seeds here in our country?.... And we don't know the consequences either. You're buying these tomato seeds. There is something called 'genetic programming.' They can implant a genetic mechanism into the tomatoes and we can eat it without even knowing. We can be infected with some diseases that we don't know anything about. In the meantime, you can destroy a whole nation. They can implant such things that people who eat these seeds die in the meantime. There are things like that and it is very dangerous. Therefore our universities need to help us in that matter.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
I have an article and photo essay up on the Eurasianet website about yesterday's historic mass at the Akdamar island Armenian church in eastern Turkey's Lake Van. It was the first time a mass had been held in the church in 95 years and the event saw the largest number of Armenians in the Van area since 1915, when they were either driven or wiped out by the Ottoman authorities.
As an Armenian growing up in Basra, Iraq, Vanuhi Ohannesian was always hearing about eastern Turkey’s Lake Van region, her grandparents’ birthplace and the place after which she is named.
Ohannesian’s grandparents were forced to leave the lakeside city of Van in 1915, when the Ottoman authorities drove out the region’s ethnic Armenians; her father was born during the family’s trek from Van to safety in Iraq.
“My father died two years ago and was always telling me to come to Van. He said this was our motherland,” said 68-year-old Ohannesian, who today lives in Los Angeles.
Some 95 years after her grandparents’ flight from Turkey, Ohannesian finds herself standing beside one of the Armenians’ most sacred sites, the 1,089-year-old church on Lake Van’s Akdamar Island. Closed since 1915, the island church was restored by the Turkish authorities between 2005 and 2007 and reopened as a museum.
On September 19, the authorities allowed a historic mass to be held on Akdamar, an event that drew several thousand visitors to the island throughout the day, including many Armenians from abroad, such as Ohannesian, who had never been to Turkey before.
“I never believed I would be coming here,” said Ohannesian, standing on a small hill that overlooks the church and holding a small bottle filled with lake water which she plans to bring back to Los Angeles and place at her father’s grave. “We believed people didn’t change, that if they did something once, they would do it again....”
....Cengiz Aktar, director of the European Studies Department at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, says the event may have been symbolic, but it also represents a deeper, more encouraging dynamic.
“It’s part of a slow but steady process of normalization regarding the non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and the glorious past of coexistence of religions in this land that was shattered by the emergence of the nation state,” said Aktar, who is active in civil society Turkish-Armenian reconciliation efforts.
“At the end of the day, there is a reality that is unearthed,” he continued. “This is what should prevail. At the end of the day, we are rediscovering the Armenian past in this region.”
Monday, September 13, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Damage to Turkey’s relations with Israel and suspicions in Western capitals about its relationship with Iran have dealt setbacks to Ankara’s “zero-problem” foreign policy. At the same time, there have been many misconceptions about Turkey’s new engagement in the Middle East, which aims to build regional peace and prosperity. From a Turkish perspective, Israel and Iran issues have separate dynamics and involve more collaboration and shared goals with Western partners than is usually acknowledged. Ankara’s share of the blame for the falling out with Western friends and Israel has been exaggerated, but there are problems in the government’s formulation and presentation of its foreign policy. These include short-sightedness, heated rhetoric, over-reach and distraction from Turkey’s core conflict-resolution challenges in its immediate neigh bourhood, including a Cyprus settlement, normalisation with Armenia, resolution of new Kurdish tensions and commitment to EU convergence....
....Turkey has changed greatly over the past two decades, becoming richer and more self-confident, no longer dependent on Washington or Brussels alone. While Ankara should not exaggerate its own importance or capacities, its Western partners should recognise its genuine significance in its region and beyond and spend more time talking to it quietly, constructively and at high-levels. To this end, Washington and Ankara in particular might usefully consider establishing new mechanisms for regular dialogue and better coordination on the full range of their shared foreign policy interests, including in the Middle East. Moreover, while Turkey remains committed to its EU path, France and Germany must keep its membership perspectives credible, if all are to take maximum advantage of their shared Middle East goals. These commonalities remain a strong basis for cooperating to increase stability and diminish conflicts in the region.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
The end of the Kurdish opening has also served to consolidate Kurdish attitudes toward the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the primary legal Kurdish political organization. The BDP has close ties to the PKK and increasingly sees itself as the Turkish equivalent of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
In the absence of political progress with the government, the BDP and Kurds in general are also beginning to put together the rudimentary institutional structures of self-governance in the southeastern provinces. The prosecution's 7,500-page indictment against members of the BDP, largely resting on conjecture and unsubstantiated allegations, nevertheless manages to sketch the contours of a parallel self-governance structure the Kurds have been attempting to put into place -- independent of Ankara.
For most activist Kurds, the PKK's armed insurrection is of secondary importance. The PKK, and especially its imprisoned leader Ocalan, is a symbolic force that they admire for raising the Kurdish issue to the forefront of Turkish politics. "Without the PKK, no one would be talking of Kurdish rights today," goes the refrain. At least in the southeastern provinces, Kurds now have an important advantage: control of the municipalities. This provides them with organizational capabilities to deepen their political struggle for recognition. Psychologically, the Turkish state may have already lost these provinces.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Constitutional reform is tricky business. Fortunately for the average Turk, who is being asked to vote on a constitutional reform package in a national referendum on Sept. 12, Turkey's political parties are making things simple. Rather than talking about what's in the package, they have turned the referendum into a vote of confidence on the ruling AKP government and boiled down the whole thing into a simple matter of "yes" versus "no." Like the government? vote "evet." Don't like the government? Vote "hayir."
In a nation already susceptible to polarization, who, one might ask, was the bright spark who came up with the idea of a political mechanism where the issues could only be decided with a nod or a shake of the head. It has already got to the point, the press reports, where brides and groom are falling out even before they leave the registry office over whether to take their vows with a government-leaning “yes” or the more contrary “I do.”
Friday, August 6, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
Meanwhile, there's some discreet grumbling among THY's Star Alliance partners about the airline's expansion and pricing strategy.
"Turkish seems to be the new Emirates—no-one wants to be in an alliance with Emirates because there is no room for a partner, the aim is to connect everything via Dubai," said an aviation official, who declined to be named. That could mean trouble for the future, the official said….
….There are concerns, too, about the speed of Turkish Airlines' growth. The crash of a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 as it approached Amsterdam airport last year, killing nine, revived memories of the airline's historically spotty safety record before it bought one of the world's newest fleets. Meanwhile, when fog blocked Ataturk Airport in November, the airport's systems crumbled. Just a few transit-desk computer terminals were available to change the flights of thousands of stranded passengers after passenger-information screens froze. At one point, passengers stormed over the transit desk and began pounding on the door of the office where frightened ground staff had retreated.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
The democratic initiative is not going anywhere. It has come to a halt, deviated even. We have an endless number of signs showing that we are back to the square one....
....The pre-1990 conditions settle in the Southeast again. We are going back to a state in which people are fed up with check points and barricades.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Analysts are warning that relations between Turkey and the United States may be heading for a period of volatility, particularly in the wake of the botched May 31 Israeli commando raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, along with Ankara’s recent decision to vote “no” in the United Nations Security Council on sanctions against Iran.
“There is a ceiling above which Turkish-American relations cannot improve, and there’s a floor which it can’t go below. But we are getting pretty close to the floor and the ability of the two countries to improve their relations really has a huge question mark over it. We are now talking about an undeclared crisis in the relations,” said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Indeed, in a recent interview with The Associated Press, Philip Gordon, the State Department’s top official for European and Eurasian affairs seemed to echo that assessment. Gordon suggested that Turkey needed to take demonstrable action to affirm its commitment to both the United States and the Atlantic Alliance.
Ankara, in recent years, has been plotting an increasingly independent and ambitious foreign policy course, one that sees an increased role for itself in regional and even global affairs. But observers say Turkey’s role in the Gaza flotilla incident and its subsequent harsh rhetoric against Israel, as well as its decision regarding the Iran sanctions vote, have brought into sharper relief some of the differences between Ankara’s and Washington’s approach on some key issues. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
“I think the administration realizes it has a problem with Turkey, but it’s not a major rift. It’s subtler than that. I think what they will do is start looking at Turkey at a more transactional level for a while, meaning ‘What are you doing for me?’ and ‘This is what I can do for you,’” said Henri Barkey, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “In the past we would have jumped through hoops for the Turks, but the Turks need to start being more sensitive to our concerns,” Barkey added.
On the other hand, things may be less subtle in Congress, Barkey warned. “The fact that the Hamas and Iran issues coincided within a week of each other have created a combustible situation on the Hill,” he said. “The Turks have a problem on the Hill.”
Speaking at a recent news conference, Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana considered to be a Congressional supporter of Turkey, told reporters: “There will be a cost, if Turkey stays on its present heading of growing closer to Iran and more antagonistic to the state of Israel. It will bear upon my view and I believe the view of many members of Congress on the state of the relationship with Turkey.”
Sensing trouble, the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) dispatched in mid-June a team of legislators and party members to Washington in order to engage in damage control. But the mission met with limited success. “The atmosphere in Washington was not the most cordial one,” says Suat Kiniklioglu, the AKP’s Deputy Chairman of External Affairs.
“Especially in the House, the atmosphere was fully demonstrating that American legislators have been convinced that the flotilla incident and the [Security Council sanctions] vote on Iran are part and parcel of the same thing,” Kiniklioglu said. “Turkey and the United States don’t disagree on the objectives when it comes to Iran. We disagree about how to get there. This is a point we tried to make clear.”
Kiniklioglu suggested that Turkey and the United States should “compartmentalize” its relations. “Just because we can’t agree on how to prevent a nuclear Iran, that does not mean a rupture in the whole relationship,” Kiniklioglu said. “There has to be some sanity about how the relationship is discussed.”
To a certain extent, tension between Ankara and Washington is nothing new. What is different now, noted Carnegie’s Barkey, is that Ankara’s independent foreign policy course creates more opportunities for Turkey and the United States to have policy disagreements.
“The Turkish-American relationship was always difficult. Let’s not kid ourselves. But on the other hand, the difference between then and now is that Turkish foreign policy used to be more self centered. Now, to their credit, they are playing a more global role, but that has meant that the points of friction have increased as a result,” he said.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Tomorrow marks the start of Sonisphere, a three-day metalfest in Istanbul that will bring together for the first time the "big four:" Metallica, Slayer, Megadeath and Anthrax. The powerpacked bill also includes German shock rockers Rammstein and a host of other big names. Needless to say, music lovers from across the region are rejoicing, with Iranian metalheads already arriving in Istanbul.
Turkish daily Vakit yesterday harshly criticized the festival and called for officials to cancel it. Defining the festival as “disgrace,” Vakit reported that Akbank, affiliated with Sabancı Holding, sponsored the festival, which is being organized by an Israeli company and will host Europe’s most scandalous music band, Rammstein.
According to Murat Alan’s story, while many festivals are cancelled in the country in order to mourn martyrs who died because of terrorist events, the Sonisphere Festival will poison young Turkish people for three days.
“The most striking name of the festival is a band named Rammstein, whose pornographic music videos are banned in many countries. The videos of the band air after midnight in European Union countries since they encourage violence, masochism, homosexuality and other perversities. The band will be on stage Friday at the İnönü Stadium. Also, there is no age limit for concerts and a ban on alcohol.”
The festival was organized by Israeli company Purple Concerts and the security will be provided by ICTS company, established by Israeli Mossad agents, according to the story. “This means to make fun of our citizens who lost their lives at the hands of the Israeli government as they carried humanitarian supplies to Gaza on the Mavi Marmara ship.”
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Reporter Thannasis Cambanis has a very interesting "Letter from Gaza" in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, which looks at Hamas's clever strategy for surviving -- both economically and diplomatically. The piece also gives some more insight into the Hamas-Turkey relationship and the role Hamas would like Ankara to play in its efforts to earn diplomatic legitimacy.