Category Archives: Turkey

TURKEY’S NEW TASK: LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS

Daniella Kuzmanovic

The reactions of the Turkish government following the tragic events in the territorial waters off Gaza have a range of domestic and international ramifications. Right now one significant international emphasis is on the worsened bilateral relations with what was just ten years ago its closest ally in the region, Israel. But what could very well become more significance in the years to come, are the kind of expectations the Turkish government’s responses to the Gaza situation since late 2008, and particularly the rhetoric of the government in the past few days invariably produce in the Arab Middle East and beyond. Not only has the Turkish government been fierce and outspoken in their critique of the Israeli government, its policies and its actions throughout the past days, and threatened with various responses. The government has also, through their critique and actions, taken on the role as the voice of the critical international community with regard to the Gaza issue in specific and the Palestinian issue in general. Turkey now speaks for the world, at least for that part of the world that sees injustice being done. Not least in the Arab Middle East Turkish reactions most likely leads to increased expectations of Turkey being able to deliver on the issue and hence do the almost impossible: somehow contribute to a revitalization of the peace process. Other countries, like Iran, may have articulated themselves in similar terms as the government. However, as opposed to such countries, which have no legitimacy in the international stage, Turkey’s international position and alliances hold other promises. The Turkish government may therefore slam down on its Israeli counterpart as we speak. But if pressure on Turkey to live up to such expectations rises, they may rather quickly find themselves having to improve relations with Israel once again to succeed.

Turkish prime minister Erdoğan has spent the past days threatening a severe Turkish response to the Gaza incident, where a number of Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli soldiers during the attempt of the latter to take control of a ship attempting to bring aid to Gaza. No doubt Erdoğan will have to deliver on his promise to the Turkish public, who are for the most part outraged by Israel’s Gaza policies. Pictures of the Israeli bombings of Gaza in late 2008 left quite an impression on most Turks. It resulted in a number of solidarity demonstrations, a fierce critique of Israel and its imperialist friends, and a sincere wish to help those who suffered and were victims of such policies in Gaza. Among other, this heartfelt outrage and indignation revolving round a sense of great injustice being done, was a driving force behind the ‘one minute’ incident in Davos. Here prime minister Erdoğan managed to tell Shimon Peres that Israelis know well how to kill, before he got up and left the session infuriated because he as opposed to the Israeli representative was only allotted a couple of minutes to speak. Since then what the Turks deemed a downright humiliation of the Turkish ambassador to Israel, and a Turkish TV series dealing with life in the Palestinian territories have contributed to remind Turks of their sincerely felt indignation. Should Erdoğan fail to deliver with regard to the Gaza incident it could cost the AKP a number of votes in the national elections, which are to be held next year at the latest. It would simply make Erdoğan and the AKP seem untrustworthy and would make them vulnerable to critique.

But the implicit built-up in expectations, which is somehow part of the way in which Turkey has publically lashed out at Israel, is not just taking place with regard to a domestic audience. If not before then definitely now Turkish government starts to look like someone who will take on the role of ring leader in that part of the international community who oppose Israeli policies and push for a solution to the Palestinian issue. In other words it seems as if a range of Arab Middle East countries now actually begin to see Turkey as a state who will possibly be able to revive the peace process through their pressure on Israel. In that sense the stakes are gradually getting much higher for Turkey. The government may quickly find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place as they aim to produce international results with regard to the Palestinian issue, while they also need to hammer away on the Israeli government. No doubt, the Turkish government has no ambition to return to the warm relationship with Israel of for example the 1990ies. This is not in line with the foreign political vision of the AKP. Nor does it serve the security interests of Turkey any longer, on the contrary. Yet there may be a high price to pay if Israel mistrusts Turkey to the extent where Turkey has no role to play with regard to attempts to revitalize the peace process. This has already been seen in relation to Turkey’s attempts to revitalize the Israel-Syria rapprochement, but here the stakes were much lower than in the present Gaza related case. If Turkey fails to live up to its expectations and disappoints the raising expectations in the Arab Middle East, the centre-stage role the current Turkish government envisions for Turkey with regard to peace efforts in the region and with regard to positioning Turkey as a major regional (and global) power may soon prove to be far from reality.

As stated the current Gaza incident has multiple domestic and international ramifications, and only a few have been touched upon in this analysis. Significantly though, as sketched above, the Gaza incident may just prove to be the event that provides the Turkish government with the opportunity to live out their foreign policy visions, including the role of Turkey as regional power, problem solver and peace promoter in the wider Middle East. But if they cannot live up to the expectations and deliver the results that supposedly should come with such a role as ring leader, Gaza could also bring the downfall of the AKP’s ambitious foreign political visions for Turkey once the enthusiasm of the Arab Middle East withers and disillusionment sets in. Stakes have always been high for those who take up the Palestinian issue. Turkey is no exception in this regard.

SPEAKING OF RULE OF LAW AND A GRAND MASTER PLAN

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

The current crisis will be solved within the framework of the constitutional order and the frameworks of the laws. This was the bottom line of the statement from the presidency after the crisis management meeting Thursday the 25th of February in Ankara between President Abdullah Gül, prime minister Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan and chief of general staff İlker Başbuğ. Considering the serious political crises and the way it has rubbed off on the financial markets, it was about high time to send the message that people in and outside Turkey must trust in the political and legal institutions of the country to be able to deal with the crisis. Needless to say that a repetition of the February 21, 2001 incident, where former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer quarreled with then prime minister Bülent Ecevit in the National Security Council  thereby more than adding to a severe financial crises Turkey if not directly setting it off, must be avoided at all costs. This is seemingly recognized by all parties in the political conflict.

 

That the statement centered round the issue of the workings of rule of law and the institutional checks and balances in Turkey should come as no surprise. Not just due to the recent historical experience of 2001. Rather one has to understand how the judiciary is for better and worse the gravity point of the crisis. The question of whose ideological outlook dominates within the judiciary is a key concern by supporters as well as adversaries of the AKP government. The former explains how the judiciary has traditionally been in alignment with the Kemalist etatist elite including the military. The rulings of the Kemalist stong-hold par excellence, the Constitutional court, serve as prime examples. The closure case against AKP and DTP in 2008, and the recent overruling / annulment in January 2010 of the reform package passed by parliament in July 2009, which would among other have allowed civilian courts to prosecute military personnel. Even though this overruling has had limited practical effects, military personnel do in fact face trial by civilian courts in the on-going Ergenekon-Sledgehammer investigations, it has been seen as a strong symbolic support to the conceptualization of some people in Turkey as being above the law in the interest of the nation-state. Hence, they argue that what is in fact going on is democratization and strengthening of rule of law in Turkey. Those adversaries with a more conservative Kemalist leaning lament, how the whole Ergenekon-Sledgehammer case is nothing but a politically initiated witch hunt on behalf of the current government, thus revealing how the AKP has succeeded in a civilian take-over of not only the bureaucracy but also the judiciary. In this context the problematic structuring of the HSYK (Supreme Board of judges and prosecutors) where the minister of justice among other has a seat is presented as one of many examples of the ways in which government can somehow pressure the judiciary.

 

The current case of prosecutor Ilhan Cihaner really shows the intricacies of these relations (intricacies which can barely be disclosed in the brief section that follows but nevertheless). In mid Feburary 2010 Cihaner was arrested and interrogated as part of the Ergenekon case. The arrest was warranted by another prosecutor, Osman Şanal, with special authorities. Cihaner had launched an investigation into an Islamic religious sect in 2007 and later in 2009 attempted to launch an investigation into the Gülen movement. These acts had put him squarely in the secular Kemalist camp who are fighting what they believe is an anti-secular AKP government. Immediately following upon the arrest the HSYK (Supreme Board of judges and prosecutors) removed the special powers of the prosecutor who had had Cihaner arrested. In the light of HSYK being seen as a Kemalist stronghold, this removal was interpreted as the secular Kemalist elite showing its muscle, an opinion among other aired by the ministry of justice. Yet the very same ministry of justice was accused by critics of intervening in order to slow down the removal of Şanal, something which gave him time to forward the investigation file on Cihaner to the courthouse. Meanwhile AKP critics also saw the detainment of Cihaner in the first place as an attempt on behalf of the government to stop any investigations relating to Islamic religious networks. The underlying assumption is of course that such investigations might hurt the ruling party since they have close relations to the Gülen movement and (excuse the expression) God only knows who else.

 

It is easy to get caught up on either side of the polarized debate. There are however also those observers in Turkey who argue for the necessity of once and for all ridding Turkish politics of the legacy of military influence, while simultaneously criticizing the AKP for replacing military tutelage with civilian tutelage. AKP may say that they are acting in the name of democratization but they are not themselves acting as true democrats. On the contrary they are using the existing rules and regulation aimed at state control with civilian politics to consolidate their own power. Upholding the 10 percent threshold in national elections is but one example of this. In this sense AKP follows in the footsteps of a long and by no democratic standards glorious political party tradition in Turkey. It is also in this context that one can hear speculations as to the extent to which government is able to affect the judiciary. Of course there are problematic areas for example regarding the HSYK. But does this simply mean that the continued politicization of the judiciary is the only reasonable explanation to everything that is going on including the arrest of military personnel, or could it be that part of the explanation has to do with circles in the judiciary who are tired of accusations of lack of independence, and tired of a reputation as somebody’s lapdog? Could it be that there are in fact people in the judiciary who act as they do because they pursue a strengthening of rule of law and the separation of powers?

 

Why is it, one may now ask, that this latter seems as such a naïve idea in a Turkish context? This I believe has partly to be explained by how the current tensions and political struggles between various elites have reasserted the prominent and popular notion that all acts are part of a larger master plan. Be it the plan of etatist elements or the AKP, the notion that acts are symbolic representations of a larger strategy and initiated by somebody for some higher purpose is by now the dominant lense through which all things must be interpreted and understood. As if there are not enough threats against the development of a democratic culture in Turkey, this is for sure one more problem to add to a long list.

A secular cartoon crises?

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

Needless to say that visual portrayals of the founding of father of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, are object of scrutiny. Any portryal which may seem insensitive to the national sentiments of Turks, or disrespectful and degrading to the memory of Atatürk is obviously met with resentment and anger by many Turks. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Turks in the Netherlands have reacted to the use of the iconography of Atatürk in relation to an advertisement for a travel agency.

http://www.milliyet.com.tr/bu-goruntu-gurbetcileri-ayaga-kaldirdi/dunya/sondakika/21.01.2010/1188775/default.htm?ver=30

The picture used in the poster, which according to the newspaper is to be found in a variety of public spaces and can for example be observed while waiting for the bus, shows a Turkisk Lira bill (featuring the picture of Atatürk in the middle). Below the bill is a pair of hald covered women’s breasts. The poster is put togteher so as to look like the head and shoulders of Atatürk continues into the full bosommed woman. Let’s hope this is not the beginning of a secular cartoon crises….

EU Progress Report and Civic Culture In Turkey

by Daniella Kuzmanovic.

Wednesday, October 14th, it was once again time for the yearly assessment of Turkish efforts to meet the political and economic criteria in relation to the EU membership negotiations (http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2009/tr_rapport_2009_en.pdf). With regard to the political criteria all the usual critical issues are, as could be expected, mentioned in the report: Minority issues, the Kurdish problem, human rights, equality with regard to gender, sexual orientation and disabled people, children’s rights, labor and union rights, the role of the military in politics, administrative structural problems in the bureaucracy, anti-corruption initiatives, the structure and functioning of the judiciary, the Ergenekon case, freedom of expression, and the lack of action with regard to the Cyprus issue and the question of opening Turkish ports for Cypriotic vessels. This year, in the light of the on-going tax case against the Doğan media group, and the accompanying verbalized attacks against the group’s media and journalists from members of the ruling party, concerns regarding freedom of speech were, as could also be expected, particularly emphasized.

My attention, though, was immediately drawn to a couple of smaller sections of the assessment report (page 20) dealing with civil society. This should perhaps not come as a surprise, since civil society in Turkey has been my object of research for some years. The role of civil society and input from civil society is frequently mentioned in the report. But on page 20 there are a couple of paragraphs that deal with some of the many challenges civil society faces in Turkey. One deals with the issue of funding, another with the issue of state – civil society relations:

“Some legal provisions place an undue burden on the operations of associations. There are high fines or severe punishments for failing to comply with the Law on Associations [note 23 inserted: In the event of failure to keep the necessary records of an association, the executives of the association are liable to imprisonment of between three months and one year.] The legal obligation to notify authorities before receiving financial support from abroad places a burden on associations. Negative portrayal in certain media and at times disproportionate inspections of NGOs receiving funds from abroad, including EC funds, remain a further cause for concern.”

[…]

“There is a growing awareness in public institutions and in the public at large about the crucial role played by civil society organisations, including in the accession process. However, some difficulties encountered with the consultation procedures reflect the lack of trust between State institutions and civil society organisations. The legal framework for collection of donations and tax exemptions for NGOs needs to be strengthened, in line with EU good practice, to improve NGOs’ financial sustainability.”

To take up the latter first, for sure one of the main obstacles with regard to an enhanced role for civil society in Turkey is the lack of trust between state authorities and particular sections of civil society. That is to say those sections which have traditionally perceived themselves as being in opposition to the statist elite and the authoritarian state tradition in Turkey, and which have used the idiom of civil society to express this opposition from the mid 1980ies onwards. Having stated this, I have also stated that the lack of trust, among other, has to be understood with reference to the events of September 12, 1980 (i.e. the military coup) and the subsequent clamp down of state authorities on a range of civic political and intellectual forces, but particularly leftists. The result of the 1980 coup were also a number of highly restrictive laws with regard to associations (dernek) and foundations (vakıf), associations being more heavily controlled than foundations, though, since associations were associated with leftist activities. In addition the lack of trust must also be understood with reference to the events of February 28, 1997 (the so-called postmodern coup) particularly aimed at pro-Islamic forces. These two sections are in fact two prominent sections of that part of civil society in Turkey, which aims to influence the political developments and decision-making processes. Many of the NGO’s that have the attention of the EU are indeed part of a broader leftist tradition.

The restrictive laws on associations and foundations have in recent years finally been revised. However, building trust between state authorities and civil society takes more than legal revisions and strengthening of procedures. Yet the wording in the progress report makes it sound as if the issue of trust is a technical issue, rather than stemming from those broader historical experiences of the past decades that still influences state- civil society relations. The EU does in fact support trust-building measures with regard to state-civil society relations in Turkey, but the report fails to mention this.

The first of the quoted paragraphs touching upon the issue of funds from abroad for civic activities, deals with the way in which the influx of foreign support for civic activities is perceived in Turkey by state authorities and by “certain media”. As a matter of fact, foreign funding for civic activities is also a major issue of debate among civic activists themselves. For several reasons accepting foreign funds is viewed with suspicion by some segments of civil society, and those organizations that do receive funds from the EU, the Soros Foundations or alike thus make themselves a liable target for critique from various other segments of civil society. One of the main aspects of this critique pertains to a firm belief that funds do not come with ‘no strings attached.’ They are part of a political-ideological ambition (or plot as some would prefer) to establish ideological and economic dominance in Turkey. Not least US funding has been read with such a perspective in mind, the Soros Foundation being seen as a prominent example of how a US neo-liberal, pro-Israeli segment is gaining influence in Turkey. A book entitled ”Project democracy”: Sivil örümceğin ağında (Project democracy: In the web of the civil spider) (Ankara: Ulus Dağı Yayınları) is a prime example of such thinking. Other aspects of the critique pertain to a desire among civic activists to dissociate themselves from western values and influence more generally speaking, in order to state that their organization does not adhere to such values.

The issue taken up in this section of the progress report is in fact a complex issue pertaining yet again to the way in which various historical experiences form part of civic activism in Turkey. One pertains to the question of Turkish sovereignty, which is close to the heart of both traditional Kemalist civil society organizations that hold on to the notion of Turkey as ‘threatened’ by foreign powers, as well as to those leftists who see themselves as involved in a global anti-imperialist struggle. Another pertains to the struggle between western modernity including political values, and what not least a number of pro-Islamic organizations perceive as ‘local’ (read: authentic) forms of civic activism. That was just to mention a few of the aspects of the issue. Again the report barely hints at the variety of historical experiences, which are involved in constituting the critique in certain media and the general suspicious attitude towards foreign funds. I stress the importance of this outlook and sensitivity towards the historical experiences in play in order to underline how technical solutions aimed at transparency, alterations of legal structures and bureaucratic procedures is only one aspect of supporting civic culture in Turkey. This has also been pointed to in numerous reports on civic culture in Turkey, such as those from TÜSEV. I just wish, the sections in the EU progress report had also shown even greater sensitivity towards the issues at stake.

Questions about the crisis in Iran, pt. 3

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

How does the region react to the unrest?
According to Rami Khoury, the Arab world has reacted in a mixed way – but mostly with ‘forlorn envy’:

”[O]rdinary Arabs would feel jealous were the demonstrators in Iran able to topple their regime for the second time in 30 years –because this would highlight the chronic passivity and powerlessness of Arab citizens who must suffer permanent subjugation in their own long-running autocratic systems without being able to do anything about it.”

However, the unrest may also inspire Arab populations. In the words of Jamal Dajani:

“Those leaders and others may have a lot to worry about as Iran’s demonstrations have caused many in the Arab world ask to themselves why they cannot do the same. This might not be evident in the media, but all you have to do is talk privately to some of the youth and read the blogs. Although Iran failed to penetrate the Arab world with its 1979 revolution, it may have succeeded with the recent popular uprising.”

By the way, Dajani also asks a very important rhetorical question (which may be unrelated to the Iran crisis itself but important for the discussion of how Western media have portrayed the events – a topic to which I will return):

“Now here is a question to all those “brave, fair and balanced” journalists, pundits, bloggers and analysts in the U.S. who have been using strong terms to condemn the Basij and the Iranian government’s crackdown on demonstrations, such terms as brutality, murder and horror: why can’t you use the same language when you watch and film Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian children in the town of Bil’in, or when they evict a helpless widow from her ancestral home and throw her out to the cold? Why?”

As one could expect, pro-Iranian organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and various Iraqi groups, have congratulated Ahmadinejad on the victory. Furthermore, the Lebanese Hezbollah has accused ‘the West’ of ‘fomenting Iran turmoil’.

According to this article from NY Times, US-aligned Arab states, on the other hand, ‘savor turmoil in Iran’:

“The good-news thinking goes like this: With Mr. Ahmadinejad remaining in office, there is less chance of substantially improved relations between Tehran and Washington, something America’s Arab allies feared would undermine their interests. At the same time, the electoral conflict may have weakened Iran’s leadership at home and abroad, forcing it to focus more on domestic stability, political analysts and former officials said.”

More on the Arab world:
On Bitter Lemons, four experts reflect on how Arabs are reacting; and Josie Delop and Lane Green’s observations are to be found here.

In Turkey, reports Yigal Schleifer, the unrest has presented Ankara with a ‘diplomatic challenge’:

“The Turkish public has greeted the crisis in Iran with a mix of indifference and confusion, while on the official side, Ankara is treading with extreme caution. Not wanting to possibly strain bilateral ties, Turkish officials are refraining from criticizing Iranian hardliners, or questioning the results of the country’s recent contested elections.”

In Afghanistan, Afghans are also ‘tracking Tehran power struggle’.

Finally insights into the judicial culture in Turkey

By Daniella Kuzmanovic

The judiciary in Turkey tends to have a statist, Kemalist bias. The judiciary in Turkey has traditionally never been considered objective by the Turkish public at large. Rather they have been viewed as representatives of particular perspectives, outlooks and worldviews, most notably that of the statist, Kemalist elite but also to some extent of right-wing nationalists. Two highly interesting reports came out yesterday from Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), which substantiate such claims. The first report analyses data from 51 qualitative interviews with judges and prosecutors (12 women and 39 men) from four various provinces in Turkey (Ankara, Istanbul, Diyarbakır and Trabzon). This report illustrates how people within the system are inclined to articulate and also rule on the basis of the worldview of the statist elite. The second report analyses data from 59 qualitative interviews with people from 20 provinces in Turkey (18 of the respondents are from Kars, though, and many other provinces are only represented by a single or two respondents) about their views on and possible experiences with the judiciary. One of the main conclusions of this report is that people perceive the judiciary as if it is a government agency, and that the courts do not display equal treatment for all citizens.

The reason for the reports is of course that public trust in the integrity, independence and impartiality of the judiciary is a backbone with regard to the development of a democratic culture in Turkey. At present, however, controversial cases and rulings are always debatable by reference to the political outlook of the prosecutors and judges, who have been involved in the case. Every time a case is discussed in public the key question being asked is always who is handling the case – meaning who as in what are the supposed political ideological stances of the particular persons involved, what segment do they belong to? High profiled cases are politicized from the outset. The on-going Ergenekon investigation is a case in point. The accused and their political supporters claim that the Ergenekon network is pure fantasy, a case initiated by the AKP government in order to clamp down on its ideological enemies within the statist elite. On the other hand, other segments of Turkish society welcome the attempts of the judiciary to confront those within the statist elite who think they have the right to act outside the boundaries of the law in the interest of the nation. Another spectacular case from recent times is the Şemdinli bombing case – that is the case investigating the bombing of a Kurdish bookstore in 2005, where it turned out that it had been carried out by persons associated with the Turkish gendarmerie special unit although they had attempted to make it look as if the bombing was done by PKK. During the investigation, as the prosecutor attempted to investigate how high up the system the order had come from hence implicating senior security personnel, he was suddenly suspended from his duty and later fired. On top of that are closure cases against political parties, prosecutions against civic actors, intellectuals, journalists and so forth.

The first of the two reports dealing with the outlook of the judges and prosecutors, among other, emphasizes two aspects of the prevalent outlook. One is that judges and prosecutors tend to be in line with the traditional Kemalist, statist elite regarding the idea that their prime obligation is the protection of the interests of the state, i.e. downplaying the rights of the citizen as the pivotal point of the justice system. The other is a ‘nationalist reflex’ to express suspicion towards Turkish integration with the outside world, here expressed through a fear of what the prevalence given to international law due to a change in article 90 of the Turkish constitution implies to the legal system in Turkey and the ability to protect national interests. The judges even seem to express reluctance to abide to the present article’s underlining of how international law must be given prevalence. Here one only has to recall the former President of the republic, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. He, if any, embodied the kind of outlook which the report from TESEV concerns itself with. Sezer was chief justice of the Constitutional Court before he became president in 2000. While residing in Çankaya, the official residence of the president in Ankara, Sezer went out of his way to defend the secular order of Turkey, which implied constant clashes with the AKP government. He indeed perceived himself as protecting the Turkish state and state principles. In a similar vein he also expressed the classic fear of the statist elite of undermining Turkish national sovereignty if the integration with the outside world is not strictly controlled. Sezer, among other, was known to be skeptical of the extent of privatizations of state owned companies taking place in Turkey and the increased role of foreign capital investments.

http://www.tesev.org.tr/UD_OBJS/PDF/DEMP/Yargi1_07_05_09WEB.pdf

http://www.tesev.org.tr/UD_OBJS/PDF/DEMP/Yargi2_SON_web07_05_09.pdf

Turkey and the Durban II conference: Above all there is silence

By Daniella Kuzmanovic

While my fellow bloggers have called attention to the Iranian and Arab reactions to the Durban II conference in Geneva, I have refrained from writing anything on Turkey. The reason is obvious: The Durban II conference has been bypassed in almost complete silence by the Turkish press at large, by columnists, as well as by Turkish politicians. Apart from reporting on the speech by Iranian president Ahmedinejad and the reactions it caused, the Durban II conference has simply been a non-issue. One column by pro-Islamic writer and thinker Ali Bulaç in Zaman 24.4.09 (http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=173358) seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Instead, other domestic policy related issues including among other a speech by the Commander in chief, economic crisis, Turkish-Armenian relations, Ergenekon related weapon finds, Northern Cyprus elections, and a possible reshuffle of the cabinet are obviously of more pressing concern.

Considering that Turkish government, including prime minister Erdoğan himself, has put some effort into becoming the new best friend of the Muslim world, the lack of comments on the Durban II conference by Turkish political establishment deserves a few notes, though. One of two issues at the centre of the Durban II conference is the Palestinian question and the possibilities of a critique of Israel. Most probably recall the showdown in Davos earlier this year, where prime minister Erdoğan walked out during a session on the Gaza situation after having called the Israelis ‘killers’, and having complained that he was only allowed a few minutes for comments while the Israeli representative, president Peres, was able to speak for a lot longer. Subsequently Erdoğan was hailed as a hero at home and in a range of Arab countries. Moreover, Erdoğan also articulated the sentiments of a range of Muslim countries when Turkey displayed strong concerns regarding the choice of Mr. Rasmussen as general secretary of NATO.

Turkey, alongside most UN countries apart from Iran, has only been represented by their diplomatic UN staff at the Durban II conference. In addition to this, it has not gone unnoticed in Turkey that the OIC secretary-general, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (a Turk!), would be attending the Durban II conference. One could suggest several reasons why the Durban II conference is not really given much attention by Turkish policy makers and thus not by the Turkish press either:

-          Turkey, more specifically prime minister Erdoğan, is one of two founders of the UN supported Alliance of Civilizations initiative, and would rather that this is the forum in which issues concerning the Muslim world, freedom of speech and of religion is debated

-          Turkey is at present member of the UN Security Council and see little benefit in creating further tensions by profiling themselves in a forum which is much less significant and boycotted by among other the US. Not least since the new US president is seemingly interested in making Turkey a key ally in a new, dialogue-oriented foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asian regions.

-          If Turkey were to stand out with critical remarks at the Durban II conference they would be associated with the outbursts of president Ahmedinejad, which would damage their image as oriented towards dialogue and building bridges rather than burning them. The grand ole man of Turkish pro-Islamism, and the one who AKP has broken away from, Necmettin Erbakan, actually visited Ahmedinejad only days before the Durban II conference started. The AKP will probably make an effort to avoid this kind of association

More reasons could surely be listed. Feel free to add…

Where are Turkish swing voters to swing to?

by Daniella Kuzmanovic.

Local elections in Turkey, which were held on Sunday the 29th of March, brought about some interesting results and indications, also concerning the future national political landscape of Turkey. Many of these have already been scrutinized in detail by Turkish press, and I have no intention of repeating their insights in this comment. However, I did find one particular insight from political scientist Doğu Ergil regarding the current character of the centre-right in Turkey worth an additional comment, since it reveals one of the central problems in Turkish party politics today.

In his column ‘Lessons of the elections’ in Today’s Zaman on April 1 Ergil rightly points out that the results reflect how the AKP has become (or at least has become perceived as) a centre-right party. Hence, they stand out in the eyes of a segment of their voters as that which they have always themselves claimed to be, namely a conservative democratic party. Ergil’s analysis is backed by the observation that the right-wing nationalist party (MHP) and the conservative pro-Islamic party (SP) won back some of the more nationalist and religious conservative voters respectively from the AKP. In others words those voters further to the right went back to their roots. As furthermore rightly pointed out by Ergil, this shift must imply that the AKP now fine-tune their agenda in order to meet the expectations of the voters, which did vote for the AKP. Otherwise these votes may be lost by the next general election in 2011.

Centre-right has traditionally been significant in relation to Turkish national politics, since two thirds of Turkish voters have a tendency to vote for parties right of centre and on the far right. One naturally has to be careful with such terms as left and right of centre in Turkish politics. Here it does have some relevance, though. If one goes back to the 1990ies it created huge problems in national politics throughout the decade that the two dominant centre-right parties at the time, The right path party (DYP now DP) and the Motherland party (ANAP), were not able to cooperate, among other due to personal animosities between the respective leaders of the parties, Tansu Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz.

The two parties became hugely discredited throughout the 1990ies due to, among other, corruption and embezzlement charges, inability to carry out effective economic policies, personal animosities. The parties were among the biggest losers in the general election in 2002, when the AKP came to power. Neither DYP nor ANAP were able to pass the 10 percent threshold. Their loss was confirmed in the 2007 national election. The parties formed an election alliance in order to attract voters to the traditional centre-right, but received less than 6 percent of the votes, and were unable to enter parliament. The story of the success of the AKP is thus also the story of the decline of traditional centre-right parties.

This decline of the traditional centre-right was reaffirmed in the local elections yesterday as well. Looking at the results (http://secim2009.ntvmsnbc.com/default.htm) DP (former DYP) continued their downwards slide with regard to total number of voters (local election 2004: 9,97 %, national elections 2007: 5,42 %, local election 2009: 3,72 %). This was also the case for ANAP (local elections 2004: 2,5 %, local elections 2009: 0,76 %).

What does this then tell us, in addition to Ergil’s analysis of the shift towards MHP and SP and the consolidation of AKP as the new centre-right? As I see it, it reminds us that the Turkish voters simultaneously continue to concentrate around a limited number of dominant parties. This should come as no surprise given that the campaign budget and media exposure of parties outside parliament is limited. Never the less we should keep in mind that this voter concentration centers round the very parties, which have not only monopolized but also polarized Turkish political life throughout the past seven years.
One must hope that the level of political tension and polarization in Turkey lessens during the years to come, and that the current party in power seeks to contribute effectively to this. However, where are the centre-right voters to go if the AKP and the opposition parties do not? As seen from previous elections Turkish party politics is highly volatile. Large blocks of voters can, indeed, swing from one party to others in any given election. But with the current condition of the centre-right, and for that matter also the centre-left, in Turkey who are these voters to swing to when only currently four parties remain standing?

Turkey is, as the local elections unfortunately also revealed, still badly in need of new political parties, new political programs, and new politicians.

Lack of coordination in Turkish foreign policy?

Lack of coordination in Turkish foreign policy, or the revival of a familiar division of labor?

by Daniella Kuzmanovic.

Friday the 27th of March brought to the fore two contrasting answers to the question of the Turkish stance on the issue of whether Danish Prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is to become general secretary of NATO.

First, President Abdullah Gül used his visit to Brussels to express that Turkey had no particular objections to any of the persons mentioned in relation to the NATO post, and that Mr. Rasmussen had served well as prime minister of Denmark. President Gül, hence, gave the impression that the reluctances, previously expressed by both anonymous Turkish officials and by senior AKP official Suat Kiniklioglu, were no longer standing in the way of Mr. Rasmussen taking up the NATO post. In other words Gül gave the clear impression that Turkey was now ready to fall in line with all other NATO allies, and support Mr. Rasmussen.

Later in the evening, however, prime minister Erdoğan came out on Turkish news channel NTV and claimed that he would have great difficulties telling his fellow countrymen how come Mr. Rasmussen would be such a good candidate, given his lack of diplomacy during the cartoon crises and given the inability of the Danish authorities to deal with ROJ TV, which Turkey accuses of supporting PKK terror. Erdoğan, thus, gave the impression that the Turkish government is still considering a veto against Mr. Rasmussen, is he to announce his candidature, and that the party in office has not at all decided whether they will fall in line.

What are we to make of these two contradicting statements? Does it simply reveal a complete lack of foreign political coordination between the office of the prime minister and that of the president? Or could there perhaps be some sort of explanation for these various statements? Even though Abdullah Gül is now president of the republic, and hence no longer officially part of the AKP, one must assume there to be some sort of communication between the president and the prime minister. Not least given that these two persons have been key figures and worked closely together with regard to the establishment of the AKP, and with regard to shaping AKP policies.

From 2002, when AKP took office, until 2007, Gül was foreign minister for AKP and thus the face of the party in office on the international stage. During those years an interesting division of labor could be observed on several occasions. Erdoğan would primarily concentrate on what he does best, namely domestic policies and voter mobilization in Turkey, whereas Gül would concentrate on what he is good at, namely international diplomacy. The two men each has his characteristic political personality and qualities. Erdoğan is the populist able to rally support in large sections of Turkish society, Gül is rather the diplomat able to cater and communicate to Western audiences.

An example of this division of labor could be seen during the Turkish attempt to achieve access negotiations with the EU in the period 2002-2004. Erdoğan was the one telling international diplomacy how the EU clearly had double-standards with regard to Turkey, and was the one up on the barricades when too much was demanded of Turkey from the EU. Gül was the one who then smoothed things over, when Erdoğan had stirred things up and upset the European countries.

This kind of double signaling was also an attempt to cater to various political audiences. At home AKP could not be seen as simply putting their heels together and accepting whatever demand the EU made. This would upset a number of skeptical voters and the opposition, who would accuse the AKP of not being able to look out for national interest and of looking weak vis-a-vis the European countries. As AKP was simultaneously attempting to develop ties with a number of Muslim countries in order to play a role as a moderator between the West and the Muslim world, display of weakness and a too-eager-to-please stance could also make Turkey look too Western and much too less Muslim. At the same time, however, Turkey still needed to remain on good foot with both the European countries and the US. They also needed to show to the various European publics that Turkey belonged in the European realm by mastering the art of diplomacy and compromising. In such a context the Erdoğan-Gül combination of hard talk and diplomatic soothing had some effect.

With this in mind, one could ask if Erdoğan and Gül are attempting to do something similar in relation to the issue of who is to be general secretary of NATO. At least, one could claim, Turkey is facing equally many and diverse political audiences with stakes in this issue. At home simply falling in line and not looking out for national interest is never popular. Moreover, a majority of Turks were indeed insulted by what they believe to be Mr. Rasmussen’s lack of diplomatic skills when it came to handling the Cartoon crisis.

Turkey, it must be said, is heading towards local elections (to be held on 29th of March). The campaign, though, has been much more related to issues pertaining to the national political agenda rather than concerned with local questions, and Erdoğan has moreover put himself centre stage in the campaign in order to duplicate the success of the national elections in 2007, where AKP received 47 percent of the votes. In order to repeat the 2007 success he has to keep his voters mobilized. A critical stance towards Mr. Rasmussen in the current situation helps in this regard.

At the same time a critical stance towards Mr. Rasmussen, as I have written in an earlier article on this blog, is crucial in order for the AKP to maintain a good reputation in the Muslim world, where Mr. Rasmussen is not particularly popular. At the same time, however, Turkey still has to remain on good terms with their Western allies including the US, particularly if they envision an entrusted role for themselves as moderator and facilitator between the West and the Muslim world. They therefore must at the same time display willingness to be part of international diplomacy and the culture of compromises.

In other words, one could ask whether a familiar division of labor between Erdoğan and Gül is being revived in order to cater to the many political audiences listening in on the ongoing debates over who is to be the next general secretary of NATO.

Even ‘Wheel of Fortune’ spins into politics

by Daniella Kuzmanovic

One of Turkey’s most well-known celebrities and host on the Turkish edition of the popular game show Wheel of Fortune (Çarkıfelek), Mehmet Ali Erbil, used Monday evening’s show on Fox TV to display his dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs with regard to politics in Turkey. Allegedly for the first time ever Erbil voiced his own political opinion live on TV. ‘Oh, these are small things, but they are filling our bellies my friends. Will we go back to the one-party period, I wonder? Well if you become like sheep, we will go back, I swear it depends on this. Not everyone can tell this, I mean squeeze a little, squeeze and squeeze. But we know, my brother. We respect the laws. We fear Allah. The important thing is that everyone has to have such feelings inside. You will respect the laws. You will respect the rights of others, but unfortunately look at how it is. Hard days awaits this country’

Erbil’s warning was clearly aimed at the current ruling party, the AKP. His warning stemmed from a recent experience during a weekend outing to the Turkish ski resort Uludağ near the town of Bursa. He and his family went by ferry. On board they soon discovered that Kanal 24 was the only available channel on the TV set. Kanal 24 is known for its pro-AKP stance and has previously been warned on several occasions by the national TV and Radio board for broadcasting what was considered to be pro-AKP broadcasts in the period leading up to the national elections in 2007. Not even TRT could be picked up on the ferry, Erbil added, not to mention any of the popular, major TV-channels in the country. TRT is the state-sponsored TV in Turkey, seen as synonymous with the outlook of a Kemalist statist elite, and hence just as biased as Kanal 24 only serving another master. Many Turks can still remember a time when only TRT was available to the Turkish audiences. But even TRT would, if one is to believe Erbil, have been preferable to the mouthpiece of the AKP.

Things then seemed only to turn from bad to worse during the Erbil family outing. The ferry departed 20 minutes late. The reason for the delay, Erbil tells, was that the ferry awaited the arrival of the AKP election campaign bus. Local elections are to be held at March 29, and campaigning is right now intense from all parties. ‘Was this multi-party democracy?’ Erbil asks, and then goes on to wonder if (human) rights are shaped so as to fit the needs of the AKP, or if the ferry will also wait for the MHP (right wing nationalist party) campaign bus? ‘I ask you’, he continued, thus urging the audience to reflect upon the current state of affairs, and whether things like the occurrences on the ferry should indeed be a normal state of affairs, something acceptable.

Since the 2007 elections, in which the AKP was re-elected with 47 percent of the Turkish votes, the party has increasingly been criticized for behaving as if they had been granted imperial rights to rule. One cannot help but to think back upon the 1950ies experience of the Democratic Party (DP). This was the party, which broke the power monopoly of the Republican Peoples Party (CHP), the ruling party during the one-party period that Erbil warns his audience of. But DP was also the party that became increasingly anti-democratic, repressive and authoritarian throughout the 1950ies, and was in the end removed by the Turkish Military in the first coup in modern Turkish history on May 27 1960. No doubt DP, due to their large electoral victories during the 1950ies, believed that the public had to an extent given them a mandate to act the way they did. How members of the current ruling party in Turkey then perceives their room for maneuver, given the 47 percent mandate they received, is what is observed and evaluated at present.

What Erbil sees, and openly criticized, is the AKP’s attempts at a gradual establishment of a propaganda and power monopoly in Turkey. Erbil’s motives for voicing his opinion are unclear, though. It very much depends on who you ask in an increasingly polarized country. What we do know is that it was time for him to spin the wheel.