Thursday, August 18, 2011

And speaking of attacks and counter-attacks

Things are hotting up around Turkey as well. As Xinhuan and Christian Science Monitor among others report, Turkey has launched a series of strikes on what they affirm to be PKK strongholds within Iraqi Kurdistan "after the deadly attack claimed by the PKK early Wednesday morning which killed seven Turkish soldiers and one security guard in Turkey's southeastern area of Hakkari".

We have had these events before and not just once. The one thing Erdogan's AKP government and the Turkish armed forces who seem to be losing the battle for influence agree on is their attitude to the PKK and, especially, the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region that appears to harbour and help them.

Turkish foreign policy has been discussed by various people recently. Hürriyet Daily News, that opposes the government and sees itself as the media organ that is still carrying the secularist torch, had an article a few days ago in which it quoted the leader of the main opposition party as saying that the government has lost its way in foreign policy. (Isn't that opposition leaders always say?)
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has failed in both of its top foreign policy priorities – “zero problems with neighbors” and membership talks with the European Union, main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said Thursday.

“The AKP’s foreign policy pillars were zero problems with neighbors and the European Union – today we have problems with all of our neighbors and relations with the European Union have frozen,” Kılıçdaroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.
Under Erdogan Turkey has certainly acquired problems with Israel over the Gaza flotilla, where stalemate has been reached. One can't say that Turkey's relations with Syria have become problematic since just about everybody's relations with Syria (excepting Lebanon) are problematic. In fact, Turkey has called for changes in Syria but not for Assad's resignation, voluntary or otherwise.
A statement published after a scheduled meeting of Turkey's national security council in Ankara said participants renewed calls for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, but they stopped short of following the example of the US and other major Western powers in demanding the resignation of Mr Assad.

The council said "democratic political change in line with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people … has to be implemented following a clearly stated timeframe". The meeting included a briefing by Omer Onhon, Turkey's ambassador in Syria, officials said. The council is chaired by Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, and includes top government officials as well as top commanders of the armed forces and intelligence chiefs.

Since the start of the Syrian uprising in March, Ankara has repeatedly called on Damascus to end the crackdown on protesters that has cost about 2,000 lives and to implement democratic reforms. Lately, Mr Erdogan's government has grown increasingly frustrated with what it sees as empty promises by the Syrian regime.
The same, as Mr Erdogan explained, happened with Libya - the calls for change and an ending to the bloodshed were ignored.

It so happens that Walter Russell Mead had an interesting piece on Turkey, her history and her new "idea" on American Interest yesterday. Under Erdogan Turkey, Professor Mead avers, has turned away from the Kemalist secularist path and has turned back to the old history of the country, drawing inspiration from the achievements of the Ottoman Empire. As it happens, the turning away is not complete. Erdogan may want Turkey to be the leader of the Muslim world, at least in the Middle East, but there seems to be no particular desire to acquire an empire.

Nor is the turning away from the Kemalist tradition complete. It seems that Erdogan and his party recognize Kema's great achievement and that is the creation of a modern Turkey that could stand up for itself in the dark and ruthless days of the post-World War I treaties.
For many Turks, a new arc of history now looks clear. The Turks under Atatürk and the Kemalists modernized; now they are returning to their Islamic roots with a unique blend of advanced technology and economic success. This is not about conquest or the restoration of an actual empire — the Turks are subtler than were the Greeks. Where the Ottomans ruled by fire and the sword, the modern Turks will lead Islam by example and inspiration; Turks have achieved while Arabs can only dream. Now Turkey, in this view, returns to lead the Arabs into the light and Turkey’s unique role and prestige among the Arabs will give it new power and stature in the west. One can see why many young Turks are optimistic about the most glorious prospects Turks have seen since Mehmed II (Mehmed the Conqueror) entered Constantinople in 1453.
How will this affect Turkey's relationship with the West? Will Turkey really turn to the East and ignore the position it has acquired under Atatürk and his successors?
For Erdogan’s government, the first stages of its “return to the east” were generally pleasant. Strong criticism of Israel’s attack on Gaza and his tough response to Israel’s attack on last year’s Gaza flotilla made Erdogan enormously popular in the Arab world. His reputation for opposing the US war in Iraq also raised his profile. Better commercial relations with Syria and Iran boosted Turkish exports and trade. His intervention into the Iranian nuclear issue had little effect on the course of the dispute but played well at home where voters saw Turkey emerging as a global leader on an issue that mattered to them.

More, Turkey’s role as the de facto head of western Sunnism looked promising. The state of the Sunni Arab world is deeply depressing. The fall of Saddam Hussein, the ever-tightening relationship of Syria and Iran, the growing Shi’a power in Lebanon and more recently Iran’s success (with Syrian help) at building its influence in Gaza, paint a disturbing picture of Sunni fecklessness and decline. Dominated by corrupt dinosaurs like former Egyptian president Mubarak or ruled by immensely wealthy and not particularly courageous or attractive royal families, the western Sunni world hungered for leadership that Turkey might be ready to provide.
The great idea of a return to the east was looking good.

But Atatürk’s instinct that Turkey needed to turn west was based on more than a sense that the west was where the power and the money could be found. It was also based on a sense that the east was a trap: full of danger and complications that could endanger Turkey’s stability if Turks were sucked into its quarrels.
In the end, despite the various problems and tensions, the Turkish-American relationship will survive Turkey's growing strength as a Middle Eastern power, rather than just a faithful ally against the Soviet Union, and may even be welcomed.

So far, despite criticisms from the opposition, Erdogan's government seems secure. In the June election it won a renewed mandate with a handsome majority though not with the two-thirds it wanted and needed to change the constitution. It is winning the battle against the military, many of whose senior officers have been arrested and are being put on trial on the rather dubious charges of "seeking to undermine the government". Rather chillingly:
Turkish daily newspaper Taraf has been at the forefront of exposing the plot, claiming that many of the country's institutions were involved.

"It's very important," said deputy editor Yasemin Congar, who believes the trials will lead to greater democracy and reduce corruption. "It's basically about digging out the dirt within the state and digging out all these secret institutions and secret organizations, which are allegedly behind many crimes in this country."

The case is the second trial in connection with the conspiracy. In December, 200 officers went on trial on similar charges.

Prosecutors say there was an elaborate plan to cause chaos in the country, including provoking a conflict with neighboring Greece and bombing mosques in Turkey.
One cannot help remembering other political systems when these vague accusations were made and people tried and sentenced for ill-defined crimes. (And no, I am not thinking about Senator McCarthy here.)
Political analyst and retired Brigadier General Haldun Solmazturk claimed this particular probe is a political witch hunt instigated by a government intent on consolidating its power.

"It's aiming for one-party rule. They don't like democracy," said Solmazturk. "Once they eliminate the army there is not any other power that can challenge one-party rule, one-party regime. That is why the government has been so adamant in supporting this unjust justice system."

Questions over the origin of the evidence against the accused are growing. Earlier this year the police were forced to admit that they had planted evidence on one of the accused officers.

Concern has been increasing, both domestically and internationally, over the duration of the investigations. They've gone on for four years now, but still there haven't been any convictions.

Along with army officers, many of those on trial include journalists and well-known critics of the government.

The head of the AKP's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Volkan Bozkir, has dismissed the idea that the investigations are politically motivated.

"The courts are independent in Turkey. It's the system which decides, and according to the constitution, the courts and the executive power and the parliamentary power are separate," he said.
Then came the mass resignation of senior Turkish officers, presumably as a gesture of defiance to the government. At the moment it looks like a wasted gesture as the government has been able to use it to strengthen its own control over the armed forces.

Interestingly enough, it was the EU that encouraged Erdogan to take on the army by insisting that the constitutional structure of Turkey must be changed and the army's special role as the guardian of secularism and Kemalism taken out of it or, as they prefer to call it, the army must be brought under civilian control. Erdogan's government is not as interested in joining the EU as its predecessor appeared to be but it is using the EU's insistence on that item to prosecute these dubious and, so far, inconclusive cases. Another great achievement by the EU.

Meanwhile, we have Turkish attacks on the PKK (as they say) or Kurdish areas (as the Kurdish media says) with the government showing its ability to take tough decisions against Turkey's enemies. Will this satisfy the Turkish military and are we going to see some kind of a rapprochement there?

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