Category Archives: Turkey

Turkey conf live-blog #2

Ibrahim Kalin, speaking in effortless, US-accented English.
He’s talking about the need for a “process analysis” as opposed to just looking at momentary snapshots.
Excerpts from his words:
During Cold War, choices were very stark and dyadic. Now they are much more complex.
Turkey is acting in its own interests, for example regarding the PKK: This has strengthened our relations with many other countries including the US as well as neighbors like Syria, Iraq, and Iran.
Noted, like Celik, that Turkey’s outreach to Syria, which used to be criticized by US officials, has now proven to be valuable and hopes the same will be the case regarding its relationship with Iran…

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Turkey conf live-blog #1

First substantial speaker up is Omer Celik. He’s speaking in Turkish, very rapidly.
Translation:
I was asked as I came what is purpose of visit to DC. I said it is not to soften or harden anyone’s views but only to explain Turkey’s position.
As the person in AK Party who’s in charge of foreign policy, I want to talk abt recent events w/ Israel and UN vote on Iran sanctions.
First, the hardening of Isr-Turkey relns dates back to Israeli op agt Gaza.

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Live-blogging DC conference on Turkey

Kudos to Washington’s venerable Middle East Institute which now (under female leadership) seems to be shaking off the dust of the ages and is organizing numerous pretty good public events. Up today is a v. timely day-long conference on Turkey, featuring, among other speakers, Dr. Ibrahim Kalin (more Kalin here), an adviser to PM Erdogan, and Omer Celik, deputy VP of the ruling AK Party.
I’m here in the room, where the 200 seats are filling up rapidly. Planning to live-blog. But I haven’t done that for a while so let’s see how it goes. Anyway, check back.

The return of geography: Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia

I realize I probably haven’t put anything on the blog yet that tells my ever-waiting readership (!) that last week I was in Syria. Well, I was. I went as part of a quiet, non-governmental effort to find ways to improve our country’s currently troubled relations with Syria. More info later, as appropriate.
Anyway, I’ve just finished writing a piece for another publication about Syria’s current diplomatic situation. Y’all will get the link when it is published.
Last night, as I was figuring how to frame the piece, I thought really the most significant thing that has happened for Syria’s situation in recent years was last year’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. Along with the excellent rapprochement that Damascus has made with Turkey over the earlier 5-6 years, those two new relationships with significant Middle Eastern powers strengthen Syria’s position considerably, compared with where it was in the dark days of 2003-04 when so many American neocons were confidently predicting that “after Baghdad, Syria will be the next to fall to U.S. power.”
These new relationships also give Syrians a valuable counterweight to the power and influence of Iran. It’s not that anyone in the present Syrian government wants to abandon the ties with Tehran that have been so important to their regime’s survival over the past 30 years. But at least now they can balance those ties with these other new relationships with Turkey and Saudi Arabia…
So this morning, I Googled “Syria Saudi Arabia Turkey” and guess what came up? This fascinating news item from today’s Hurriyet, reporting that,

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Greek-Turkish humanitarian project in Cyprus

The strategic stance of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has for some years now been one of “zero problems with our neighbors”. And since those neighbors include a number with which Turkey previously had longstanding quarrels and conflicts, the AKP government, in power since 2002, has worked hard to find ways to de-escalate and resolve those conflicts.
I’ve blogged quite a lot over the past 14 months about Turkey’s rapprochement with neighbor Syria. And more recently, that outreach has been extended even further, into the project for a visa-less free trade zone involving Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.
The present Turkish government has also been working to resolve Ankara’s longstanding tensions with Armenia, Greece, and Greek Cyprus. Today’s Zaman has an intriguing article on its website about the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, a project in which some 40 Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots work together to locate and exhume as many as possible of the 2,000 people who were killed or went missing during the 1974 war between the two sides. (That war also involved the Turkish military, which intervened after the island’s ethnic-Greek leaders unilaterally announced a Union– Enosis– with Greece.)
TZ also, today, carries this short item about Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu having recently visited graduation ceremonies in private Greek-language and Armenian-language elementary and high schools in Istanbul. The article said she was, “the first education minister to have paid a visit to an Armenian school in the history of the Turkish Republic.”
Regarding the work of the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) in Cyprus, that TZ feature article notes that the CMP’s work has been supported by the governments of both Turkey and Greece. The CMP has been able since 2006 to work on both sides of the line that has divided Cyprus since 1974.
The article gives these details:

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Flotilla: Crisis growing inside NATO?

The very well-informed Craig Murray has a great piece about this on his blog today. (HT: Mondoweiss.)
Murray’s bottom line:

    There are already deep misgivings, especially amongst the military, over the Afghan mission. There is no sign of a diminution in Afghan resistance attacks and no evidence of a clear gameplan. The military are not stupid and they can see that the Karzai government is deeply corrupt and the Afghan “national” army comprised almost exclusively of tribal enemies of the Pashtuns.
    You might be surprised by just how high in Nato scepticism runs at the line that in some way occupying Afghanistan helps protect the west, as opposed to stoking dangerous Islamic anger worldwide.
    So this is what is causing frost and stress inside NATO. The organisation is tied up in a massive, expensive and ill-defined mission in Afghanistan that many whisper is counter-productive in terms of the alliance aim of mutual defence. Every European military is facing financial problems as a public deficit financing crisis sweeps the continent. The only glue holding the Afghan mission together is loyalty to and support for the United States.
    But what kind of mutual support organisation is NATO when members must make decades long commitments, at huge expense and some loss of life, to support the United States, but cannot make even a gesture to support Turkey when Turkey is attacked by a non-member?
    Even the Eastern Europeans have not been backing the US line on the Israeli attack. The atmosphere in NATO on the issue has been very much the US against the rest, with the US attitude inside NATO described to me by a senior NATO officer as “amazingly arrogant – they don’t seem to think it matters what anybody else thinks”.

Flotilla: Names of victims starting to appear

One of the many inhumane aspects of Israel’s murderous raid on the aid flotilla Monday has been its tardiness in releasing the names of the killed and wounded and its holding of nearly all the kidnapped flotilla participants incommunicado in massive, specially organized temporary prisons. This has left family members of most participants in anguish, not knowing if their loved ones were among those killed and injured.
Turkey has now been able to extract from the Israelis the names of four Turkish flotilla participants who were killed Monday. They are:

    İbrahim Bilgen,
    Ali Haydar Bengi,
    Ali Ekber Yaratılmış and
    Muharrem Koçak.

RIP, friends Bilgen, Bengi, Yaratılmış, and Koçak, and my heartfelt condolences to your families.
By the way, that report in Today’s Zaman that i linked to there has a lot more information about the detained flotilla participants. Turkey has done an exemplary job of trying to protect the interests of those of its nationals who were participating in the flotilla. It would be great if all other governments, including my own, could do such a good job.
Though the Israeli authorities at first threatened to “prosecute” those flotilla participants whom it accused of having used violence against the soldiers who attacked the ships– and they were keeping all participants in detention on the pretext they needed to “screen” them regarding such charges– it now appears they have backed down completely, at least in the case of the Turkish participants.
As I wrote here yesterday, there is a powerful current in international law that holds that it is Turkey, as the nation that flagged the Mavi Marmara, that should have jurisdiction over any incidents of violence that occurred aboard the ship while it is in international waters… and of course, the assault against it by armed Israeli commandos is one such act of (great) violence that could and should be investigated and punished by Turkey.
Meanwhile, we should appeal to Israel and all other governments to get the names of those killed, injured, and detained released as soon as possible– and of course, to get all those persons immediately released from their illegal detention, as well.

Turkey shows the way

The Turkish government has successfully persuaded Israel to immediately release all Turkish nationals illegally captured by Israel on the high seas on Monday, and has sent civilian planes and military hospital planes to collect them. Turkey has also, obviously, insisted that Israel return the mortal remains of all Turkish citizens killed during the flotilla murders.
In addition, Turkey, which withdrew its ambassador from Israel following the murders, has now said it will restore normal ties with Israel only if Israel ends the blockade of Gaza.
Other governments of the world should reinforce this completely legitimate demand– made, as it happens, by a longtime member of NATO that is NATO’s only majority-Muslim member state.

Flotilla murders: The Turkish/NATO angle

The WaPo’s Glenn Kessler reported this about Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu , who’s been in Washington today:

    With anger and sarcasm, … Davutoglu lashed out Tuesday at Israel’s attack on a Gaza aid flotilla and by extension the Obama administration’s reluctance to immediately condemn the assault that left at least nine civilians dead.
    “Psychologically, this attack is like 9/11 for Turkey,” Davutoglu told reporters over breakfast in Washington before going to the State Department to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton…
    Davutoglu displayed a map showing that the attack took place 72 nautical miles off the coast of Israel, far beyond the 12-mile sovereign border.
    … he said that in Turkey’s view, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has full authority under [last night’s UNSC presidential statement] to order an international probe. He noted that the incident took place in international waters so Israel has no right to declare it can conduct its own inquiry.
    “We will not be silent about this,” he said. “We expect the United States to show solidarity with us. . . . I am not very happy with the statements from the United States yesterday.”

More from his meeting with Clinton soon, presumably.
Turkey is of course the only majority-Muslim member of NATO, and therefore plays an important role in the counsels of the military alliance, which is currently engaged in a complicated and dangerous shooting war in Afghanistan. Israel is notably not a member of NATO.
NATO this morning held an emergency meeting at its Brussels headquarters to discuss the raid, at Turkey’s request. Afterwards, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussens said in a statement that

    he condemns the acts “which have led to this tragedy” and offered condolence to families of the victims killed in the incident.
    “I add my voice to the calls by the United Nations and the European Union for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation into the incident,” he added.
    Rasmussen also called for “the immediate release of the detained civilians and ships held by Israel”.

In Turkey meanwhile, the excellent Turkish daily Today’s Zaman has lots of good reporting about the raid and its political fallout.
One Turkish woman who was on the Mavi Marmara, Nilüfer Çetin, was released and speedily returned to Turkey because she had a young child with her. (She’s the wife of the ship’s engineer.)
TZ reported that,

    “I was one of the first victims to be released because I had a child,” she told reporters, but “they confiscated everything, our telephones, laptops are all gone.” Her husband… is still being held by Israeli authorities.

That same article contains this:

    Greek peace activist Dimitris Gielalis, who had been with the flotilla, said: “They came up and used plastic bullets. We had beatings, we had electric shocks, any method you can think of, they used.” He said the boat’s captain was beaten for refusing to leave the wheel and had sustained non-life-threatening injuries, while a cameraman filming the raid was hit with a rifle butt in the eye.
    Mihalis Grigoropoulos told reporters at Athens International Airport that Israelis rappelled from helicopters and threw ropes from inflatable boats, climbing aboard, adding that there was teargas and live ammunition.
    “We did not resist at all; we couldn’t, even if we had wanted to. What could we have done against the commandos who climbed aboard? The only thing some people tried was to delay them from getting to the bridge, forming a human shield. They were fired upon with plastic bullets and were stunned with electric devices,” he said.

Interesting to have had Turkish and Greek activists working alongside each other on the Freedom Flotilla project, eh?
This TZ article is also really interesting. It contains a lot of excellent commentary from leading Turkish intellectuals into the political fallout the murders can be expected to have. Its headline? “Turkish Israeli-relations will never be the same.”
Among many significant quotes it contains are these:

    Soli Özel from Bilgi University says the worst-case scenario has come to pass and will lead to a revision of Turkish-Israeli relations, which were already strained by Israeli actions in Palestine over the years.
    “The power balances in the Middle East will never be the same again. Israel’s legitimacy was very weak anyway and now this legitimacy will be discussed even more. The world will react to that,” he told Today’s Zaman.

Fwiw, Ozel is one of Turkey’s most prominent Jewish intellectuals.
The piece ends with this:

    Professor İlter Turan from Bilgi University says Israel is in a panic and that this is why it has been engaging in controversial acts which are against international law. “Israel is most likely to tell the world that it was right. But, it is certain that there will be sharp international reactions directed at Israel. I think it will be hard for Israel to find support around the world,” he told Today’s Zaman.
    However, according to political scientist Doğu Ergil from Ankara University, so long as the US continues to see Israel’s acts as legitimate, Israel will continue to carry out such bloody acts. “Israel is now over in moral terms in the eyes of the people of the world. The world should oppose Israel’s inhumane acts,” he noted.
    İnal Batu, a retired ambassador, also questions the US’s stance on Israeli acts. “I wonder what kind of warnings the US delivered to Israel before this incident. Turkey should have influence on the US when it comes to this issue,” he said.

C. Murray: Raid not piracy but war

Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray makes a strong argument here that the Israeli commandos’ assault on a Turkish-flagged civilian vessel in the high seas was an act not of piracy but of war. (HT Issandr el-Amrani.)
Murray writes:

    To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.
    Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody’s territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.
    There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.
    Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.
    Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.
    In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

Murray also notes, interestingly, that the new (Conservative) British Foreign Minister, William Hague, has issued a statement on the massacre that is considerably stronger and better than anything one would ever have heard from “New” Labour.