Related to what I blogged here earlier about the (re-)emergence of Turkish (mainly soft) power in the Middle East in recent years, I just want to note:
- this blog post today from the experienced Turkish analyst and secularist democracy advocate Soli Özel, writing about the unraveling of the political power inside Turkey of its once all-powerful military; and
- this Huffpo piece by M.J. Rosenberg on how the pro-Israel lobby helped get a congressional committee to pass the resolution designating what the Ottoman authorities did to the Armenians in 1915 as a genocide.
- In the upcoming weeks and months, all observers of the Turkish political scene will have a lot to get used to: Fitful though it may be, the country’s political modernization is running apace and a new political architecture is being formed.
The recent television images of 49 retired and active duty officers (two force commanders and a deputy chief of staff among them) being removed from their homes by the police and taken into custody were quite a shock. Many of the detainees were arrested and will await trial possibly on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Turkish government in 2003 as part of an alleged plan named “Sledgehammer.”
The immediate reaction abroad was one of apprehension about the military’s possible retaliation. When all the generals and admirals of the Turkish military met the evening of the arrests, the level of anxiety only escalated. In the end, nothing much happened—a different story from other times, when the military called all the shots.
He runs through the key developments in the ever-continuing revelation of additional coup plots over recent years, and concludes thus:
- What is happening in Turkey is a transformation of the old order and a radical shift in the balance of power from the military towards the civilians. The military, until recently, provided the backbone for the Turkish political system, and it was the custodian of the existing order as well as the provider of its ideology. Urban middle classes for far too long relied on the military to fight their secularist battles for them and abdicated their responsibilities.
These days are over and the Turkish political system needs a new institutional arrangement and a new ideological framework. The fierceness of the battle reflects the magnitude of the stakes and the increasing mobilization of the civilian forces. This is no less than a battle for the soul and the identity of a new Turkish republic.
Turkey passed an important threshold in the great power shift from the military to civilian authorities that started at the beginning of the decade. Whether this deepening civilianization will lead, as expected, to a rule-based democratic consolidation and finally finish the “second transition” from democratic government to democratic regime remains to be seen.
His whole post there is definitely well worth reading. (And it has considerable relevance for the political dynamics throughout the Middle East, given the fact that the Turkish military were the lynchpin of the Israeli-Turkish relationship that got built in the 1990s; Turkey’s civilian political forces– far less so!)
For his part, Rosenberg draws attention to this piece published recently by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, which reported that,
- In the past, the pro-Israel community [i.e. the Israel lobby] , has lobbied hard against previous attempts to pass similar resolutions, citing warnings from Turkish officials that it could harm the alliance not only with the United States but with Israel — although Israel has always tried to avoid mentioning the World War I-era genocide.
In the last year or so, however, officials of American pro-Israel groups have said that while they will not support new resolutions, they will no longer oppose them, citing Turkey’s heightened rhetorical attacks on Israel and a flourishing of outright anti-Semitism the government has done little to stem.
That has lifted the fetters for lawmakers like Berman (Chairman Howard Berman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) , who had been loath to abet in the denial of a genocide; Berman and a host of other members of the House’s unofficial Jewish caucus have signed on as co-sponsors.”
Recalling the vehemence of the anti-Turkish actions taken by Netanyahu and various Israeli officials ever since Turkey’s civilian government dared to criticize Israel’s December 2008 assault on Gaza, Rosenberg writes,
- That battle is now being carried to Washington. The Israelis are trying to teach the Turks a lesson. If the Armenian resolution passes both houses and goes into effect, it will not be out of some newfound compassion for the victims of the Armenian genocide and their descendants, but to send a message to Turkey: if you mess with Israel, its lobby will make Turkey pay a price in Washington.
And, just maybe, the United States will pay it too.
Indeed, he’s right. At a time when NATO is deeply entangled in fighting in Afghanistan, and NATO’s only majority-Muslim member-state Turkey is generously contributing to that effort, the idea that a few Israel-influenced lawmakers in Washington might take actions that are almost certainly designed to rile Ankara is beyond belief.
What benefit do U.S. lawmakers, the people they represent– or come to that, the Armenians in Armenia, California, or anywhere else– actually gain by having the U.S. Congress pass this resolution? None, at all, except perhaps a momentary feeling of self-congratulation.
Meanwhile, on the ground in Armenia and Turkey, the two governments have been working hard together to find a way to address the misdeeds of the ancient past while also building a good working relationship going forward together. That, in line with the strategic approach of the country’s government and its brilliant foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, that Turkey should have “zero problems with the neighbors.” Thus, last October, the two countries signed a historic agreement to open their borders and to establish, too, a joint historical commission to examine the records of what happened in 1915.
Even Hillary Clinton went to the signing ceremony for the agreement, which was held in Zurich. (She jumped in at the last moment and was given a cameo role by the two governments, who wanted to secure her buy-in to it by letting her solve some of the agreement’s last details. Smart thinking there– especially in view of the strong opposition to the agreement that had been voiced inside much of the US’s well-organized Armenian community.)
And finally, some breaking news here, from the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman:
- Turkey warned the Obama administration on Friday of negative diplomatic consequences if it doesn’t impede a US resolution branding the World War I-era incidents as “genocide.”
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey, a key Muslim ally of the US, would assess what measures it would take, adding that the issue was a matter of “honor” for his country.
A US congressional committee approved the measure Thursday. The 23-22 vote sends the measure to the full House of Representatives, where prospects for passage are uncertain. Minutes after the vote, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the US.
Watch this space.