Turkey: splitting the baby?

So, a happy surprise: Turkey’s Supreme Court didn’t outlaw the governing party. But it did rap them sharply across the knuckles, cut their funding and put them on notice.

At first glance, this looks like a good outcome. Maybe a very good outcome. The Court saves its face and dignity, but doesn’t thwart the democratic will of the electorate, nor provoke a potentially disastrous confrontation. AKP survives, but gets a painful warning. Everyone can claim a win.

At first glance… but I know just enough about Turkish politics to know how little I know. Any more informed commenters want to jump in?

Dreams of empire (plus bleg for our Turkish readers)

Via Dutch weblog Sargasso. Somebody in Turkey posted the following video to YouTube:

This was picked up by Sargasso and one of their Dutch readers posted the following response:

Totally inane, of course, but I think it is rather amusing.

And now my bleg for our Turkish readers. Is the YouTube video Great Türkic State a spoof or is there something more serious, as in juvenile fantasies, behind it? Unfortunately, I cannot read the comments to the vid, hence the question. I know of Turkish nationalism, but I cannot believe this would extend to… China.

By the way, please do not forget to scroll down on our main page and read the latest episode of Douglas Muir’s excellent Frozen Conflicts series.

Update: Huib Riethof has an interesting background article that explains the Dutch video response.

The author of the video doesn’t explain him(her)self. I presume, that he/she followed the same fantasy as the young princess Wilhelmina (born 1880) did during the nineties of the 19th century, when she drew a Dutch imperium over most of Northern Europe, and adding all (former) Dutch possessions in the world (see above).

Turkish prosecutor arrested

This doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of attention, but Kemal Kerencsiz was arrested last month.

Kemal Kerincsiz is a Turkish lawyer. He’s also the guy who tried to prosecute Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink, and several other writers for “insulting Turkishness”. And he’s been arrested — along with 32 others, including several military men — for being part of a massive conspiracy to commit violent acts against enemies of the state. The conspiracy is called “Ergenekon”, and the story is still coming out.
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Turkey: Kurds Voting For Christmas?

Despite having read mountains (appropriately) of reporting on the Turkish-Kurdish-Iraqi crisis, I haven’t read anyone who has tried to answer the big question – why do the PKK seem to be doing everything possible to provoke the Turks into invading Iraq after them?

You’d think this was a pretty vital issue; who wants to be blitzed, after all? Fortunately, Handelsblatt does journalism; Gerd Hoehler reviews the history of the Kurdish movement and concludes that the PKK does indeed want Turkey to hit me as hard as you can. Why? It would set Turkey’s relations with essentially everyone in a state of chaos, it would probably upend the Turkish economy, and it would outrage the Turkish Kurds, to say nothing of all the others.

But it probably wouldn’t achieve strategic-level damage to the PKK; however, Turkey’s slow progress towards the EU and its (much faster) economic development have threatened to do so. The AK got an absolute majority of votes in most of Kurdistan at the last elections. So, the PKK needs an explosion; something that would reverse EU integration, wreck the economy, and whip everyone into a frenzy of rage.

Fortunately, as when this happened in 2003 and 2005, the Turkish government has been very good at moving towards war very slowly indeed and with immense ceremony; thus allowing the pressure to build for a resolution without an actual war. Hoehler, however, reports on a worrying degree of war fever – there’s been a surge of volunteers for the Turkish army, 4,200 in a week, and people are stopping cars on the highway with guns to make the drivers join in singing war songs. That has a nasty sound of August, 1914 about it; this would not be a good moment for losing control.

Early Elections in Turkey

So Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he’ll call for early elections, either on June 24 or July 1.

This would be early, but not greatly so. Turkey’s Parliament runs on a five-year term, and the last one was elected in November 2002, so he’d have to call elections within a few months anyway.

What’s interesting here is the precipitating incident. Turkey’s Presidency comes open in a few weeks. The President is elected for a single seven-year term, and the current President entered office in May 2000. So it’s time to appoint a new one. The President is appointed by Parliament, but Parliament needs a two-thirds majority to elect. The Prime Minister’s ruling party is just a few votes short of the needed majority, and the opposition parties — in a rare show of unity — boycotted the vote, denying them even a quorum. (There are some constitutional and legal wrangles here, which can be elided.)

What’s the problem? Well, Erdogan’s chosen President is his current Finance Minister, Abdulah Gul. Both Erdogan and Gul are members of the Justice and Development Party, which is an “Islamist” party. The meaning of “Islamist” is fiercely debated. Erdogan and Gul say it’s just like being a Christian Democrat party in Europe. Their critics (and some party members) say there’s more to it than that, and that the party’s Islamism extends to imposing religious values on Turkish society. This is a huge deal in Turkey, which is an Islamic country but which is also fiercely proud of its secular political tradition. Much of this is about symbolism — Gul’s wife wears a headscarf! — but symbolism matters.

So Erdogan is going for a snap vote, presumably hoping to pick up a few more seats. Could happen. On the other hand, if he loses seats, there’d be pressure to appoint a different, less overtly Islamic candidate. Continue reading

Hrant Dink shot dead

Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist who won fame and notoriety for challenging Turkish nationalism, was shot dead in Istanbul yesterday.

If you’re not following events in Turkey closely, you might not have heard of Hrant Dink. Briefly: he was an ethnic Armenian but born and raised in Turkey. The genocide didn’t kill or expel all of Turkey’s Armenians, quite; there are still about 50,000 of them, mostly living in or around Istanbul. Dink was the editor of the Armenian community’s newspaper, Agos, and also its most prominent public intellectual.

Dink got into trouble with Turkish authorities for two things: he insisted on the reality of the Armenian Genocide, and he openly discussed the ambiguous position of ethnic and religious minorities in the Turkish state. Dink wrote about how, as a boy, he had to sing the Turkish national anthem every day in school: “I am a Turk, I am hard working and honest… happy is he who calls himself a Turk… great is our race.” It made him think, he wrote: who am I? If not a Turk, then what?

“As a child, I didn’t know what it meant to be Turkish or Armenian. At Armenian boarding school in Istanbul, I recited the Turkish credo every morning, but I was also told I should preserve my Armenian identity. I never came across my own name in school books – only Turkish names. As an adolescent, I heard the word ‘Armenian’ used as a swearword. As a Turkish citizen, I saw high-court decisions that referred to Armenians as ‘foreigners living in Turkey’. The Armenian orphanage that I worked so hard to establish was confiscated by the state.”

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Who Lost Turkey?

That’s the question on the cover of this week’s European edition of Newsweek, and it’s a good one.

The rift isn’t formal yet, as the EU will likely opt for only a face-saving partial suspension of negotiations after a deadlock on Cyprus failed to be resolved last week. But it takes no special reading between the lines to see that a fundamental tipping point has been reached. Late last week Cyprus threatened to “veto” Turkey’s entire bid. French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, kicking off his campaign, also called for the suspension of further talks. “Turkey’s place is not in the EU,” said he.

Long experience with the EU and its predecessors warns against saying never and assuming that anything is ever completely settled. On the other hand, Turkey first signed an Association Agreement with the European Community before the Beatles had a #1 hit in America. That’s now longer than the entire lifespan of East Germany.

There are reasons why Turkish membership will take time, and why membership will be difficult for all concerned. But frankly, I can’t see how Europe’s interests are served by a definitive rejection. An important opportunity is slipping away.

Meanwhile in an EU Candidate State

From Lebanon’s Daily Star:

Turkey on Monday appointed a general who is expected to adopt a tougher line toward EU negotiations to replace the head the country’s powerful military, who was widely considered a moderate. The change in leadership, which was widely anticipated, comes as Turkey is insisting that Washington do more to crack down on Turkish Kurdish rebels operating out of bases in northern Iraq…

Buyukanit raised eyebrows this year by praising a soldier subsequently jailed for a bombing believed to be aimed at stirring up unrest in the mainly Kurdish southeast. The bombing triggered riots in the region and a parliamentary inquiry.

Analysts say Buyukanit’s no-nonsense views have been shaped by the time he spent in the southeast during the 1990s, heyday of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is now seen as weakened but far from defeated.

“Buyukanit is more pro-American, more security-minded than Ozkok. He is not against the Europeanization of Turkey but he is more influenced by nationalist tendencies,” said Hussein Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.

“He will be much tougher in the fight against the PKK.”

Hmm…

Security-minded is what one would usually expect a general to be, but the key question will be how broadly he defines the interests of Turkish society. Has he kept up with changes, or will he try to turn the clock back?

I’m not at all sure that “no-nonsense” is the proper way to describe someone who advocates purely military solutions to Kurdish issues in Turkey. In fact, that view is full of nonsense, as much of the 1980s and 1990s demonstrate.

And just what a “tougher line toward the EU” means is another question. The EU line (and the NATO line, for that matter) is that civilian governments control the national military, full stop. The fact that the political views of a Turkish general are a matter of interest is itself a sign of the distance still to go for Turkey. Questions like this are a normal part of accession — Greece’s military junta ended its rule just seven years before that country joined the EC; there were worries early on about Poland’s military (a legacy of Col. Pilsudski in the inter-war era); Spain and Portugal probably had to address the issue as well, given Franco and Salazar.

Bears watching.

Hardliner new Turkish chief of staff

The Daily Star – Politics – Ankara picks hard-line general to replace armed forces’ outgoing chief of staff

Turkey on Monday appointed a general who is expected to adopt a tougher line toward EU negotiations to replace the head the country’s powerful military, who was widely considered a moderate. The change in leadership, which was widely anticipated, comes as Turkey is insisting that Washington do more to crack down on Turkish Kurdish rebels operating out of bases in northern Iraq…

Buyukanit raised eyebrows this year by praising a soldier subsequently jailed for a bombing believed to be aimed at stirring up unrest in the mainly Kurdish southeast. The bombing triggered riots in the region and a parliamentary inquiry.

Analysts say Buyukanit’s no-nonsense views have been shaped by the time he spent in the southeast during the 1990s, heyday of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is now seen as weakened but far from defeated.

“Buyukanit is more pro-American, more security-minded than Ozkok. He is not against the Europeanization of Turkey but he is more influenced by nationalist tendencies,” said Hussein Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.

“He will be much tougher in the fight against the PKK.”