Friday, May 22, 2009

Borderline Nationalism

A proposal to clear the multitude of mines along the Turkey-Syria border has become a political minefield for the Turkish government and has given its opponents a chance to flex their nationalist muscles. 

Turkey has a serious mine problem; there are an estimated 600,000 anti-personnel mines buried along the border with Syria, and another 300,000 in other areas. After signing the 2003 Ottawa Convention on the destruction of anti-personnel mines (APM's), Turkey pledged to destroy its mines by 2014. Although the Turkish military had initially started doing some of this work already before 2003, it was determined that it lacks the equipment and expertise to finish the job. One solution, proposed by the government, was to subcontract the work to a private company that specializes in mine clearing. The proposal has a kind of beating mines into plowshares angle, with the subcontractor also getting a 44-year lease on the land to use it for organic farming.

But the possible involvement of foreign companies -- particularly Israeli ones -- in the project has complicated things. From a new report by the Jamestown Foundation:
The plan to sub-contract the clean-up project to private companies has long been featured on the government's agenda. The MHP and CHP opposition parties expressed concern that foreign companies, especially Israeli firms, might become involved in the project. An earlier tender was canceled by the council of state owing to such objections. The government has delayed parliamentary discussions on a revised bill, which is intended to provide a more solid legal framework to conduct the project (, March 17, 2008). Since it has also come under increasing pressure to meet the deadline set by the Ottawa Convention, the bill was finally presented to parliament last week, prompting heated discussion.

The opposition parties raised several objections. They claimed that allowing foreign companies to operate on Turkey's borders might pose a threat to its national security. Consequently, they demanded that the TSK should be given the sole responsibility for mine-clearing. Moreover, they alleged that the TSK also harbored reservations over the bill. In their defense, government officials referred to "classified" correspondence with the TSK in which the latter expressed a preference for sub-contracting to private companies. Equally, they noted the military's concerns had been incorporated into the draft bill. According to the government, land required for ensuring border security will not be leased to the contractor (Anadolu Ajansi, May 14). However, those statements failed to satisfy the opposition, who argued that the government had misled the public. One CHP representative invited the TSK to issue a statement clarifying its stance on the bill. He also called for its withdrawal, saying that if approved in parliament, the party will refer the issue to the constitutional court (Anadolu Ajansi, May 18).

Moreover, some opposition deputies claimed that the wording within the bill indicates it was drafted to favor awarding the tender to Israeli companies. They alleged that this proved the hypocrisy of the AKP's foreign policy, given Erdogan's earlier anti-Israeli rhetoric (ANKA, May 16)....

....Moreover, given the continued controversy over the possible involvement of Israeli firms, the conservative press favoring the AKP has also joined the rising criticism of the bill (Yeni Safak, May 20). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a hastily convened closed door meeting to allay the concerns of the AKP deputies. In a bid to reassure them that bill adequately protected Turkish national interests, Erdogan allegedly claimed that "the controversy was a product of the opposition parties, trying to wear us down through their unfair accusations" (Hurriyet Daily News, May 20).
You can read the full report here. Speaking to Today's Zaman, Mehmet Günal, a MHP MP from Antalya had this to say on the subject:
"Awarding the contract to a foreign company will threaten our national security. Demining is a matter of national security, not of agriculture," he said. Günal underlined that the problem was that the tenders for demining and for agriculture were to be simultaneously held.

"We suggest that agricultural use of such a big and strategic stretch of land should not be merged with the mine-clearing tender. If such merging is made, we see that Israeli companies are being described. It would be a big thing for the Turkish-Syrian border to be controlled by Israel for a period of 44 years. We have identified that out of 14 applicants, seven have ties with Israel. Three more have indirect connections with Israel. If demining is merged with agriculture, there is no other company to do this besides the Israel companies," he said. 
You can read the rest of the Today's Zaman article, which has some very good background on this story, here.

Ultimately, it seems like the demining issue has become hostage to a combination of nationalist reflexes and the ongoing power struggle between the AKP government and its opponents. "It’s turned into a mess, simply because of a kind of anachronistic, nationalistic approach," one Ankara-based analyst I spoke with told me. "They are diverting attention from the real problem of mines in the southeast."

(Photo from Today's Zaman)


Unknown said...

i think you are completely on the wrong track to link this issue with nationalist reflexes or even worse a political struggle between AKP and the opposition.

beside the fact that there is no sense in trying to link the demining process with aggriculture, the magnitude and the location of the mined lands are too critical to entrust to a third party. and even if these lands are indeed decided to be used for aggricultural purposes, there are tens of thousands of landless farmers in turkey who can benefit from those lands if a clever policy is managed.

the demining job can be handed over to a professional company, but just like in every transaction, the price is supposed to be reasonable. and if you think it is overpriced, you simply dont buy it.

Unknown said...

Love the heading.))
Jedlost; looks like there are no Turkish professioanl companies who can do this. In the mean while these land mines are still there...

Yigal Schleifer said...

Thanks for the comment, Jedilost. First of all, there would be a security zone established along the border as part of the demining, so it's hard to think of this as something compromises Turkey's (or Syria's) security. I think the question of if the demining should be linked to agriculture is a valid one, but that's not what seems to be bothering the MHP and CHP. Likewise, the question of whether this land should be given to the landless in the region is also an important one. Again, I haven't heard the MHP or CHP criticize the mine clearing legislation along these lines.

Unknown said...

Well Yigal, then i guess it is your bad then because i heard CHP critizing the legislation on behalf of the landless farmers. ok, i cannot talk for MHP, i dont really follow them, but this is absolutely not the case for CHP.

linking demining with aggriculture is of course valid. after all, those lands are supposed to be very fertile and it would be very unwise not to use them. but howevever, my question was regarding the demining companies. i mean, if they are going to clean it for a price, thats ok, but asking the lands for 44 years..? come on, does really make sense to you?

dear hans, with all my respect, your answer does not seem to contribute anything to the discussion. you only say the obvious but dont exactly say what you think about it.

Unknown said...

Dear JL,
I only know that the Turkish armed forces are not equiped with the right tools.
More important: Turkey signed the Ottowa mine treaty in 2004 and had the borders be cleared of mines by 2008. Of the appr. 1.000.000 mines only appr. 1.000 are removed.
Serbia haad more than 1.4 million mines in 2004, and all were removed by 2004. Turkey is in breach of another treaty, and doesn't have the time and luxury to sit down and watch how many more people are killed by mines; Turks, Kurds, militairy forces etc.
Regarding the nationalistic rhetoric, I leave it there.)

Unknown said...

Dear Hans,

i believe you are a victim of the extreme disinformation turkey has been suffering for a very long time, because it turns out that turkish army is capable of removing the mines.

this is not a matter of militarist action, this is a matter of political will and thats where lots of fishy things are going on.

well, i told it already, in order to solve a problem we should properly define it first.