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Brookings Institution Examines Turkey’s Political Journey
May 24, 2010—No. 04 (202) 785-8430


Executive Director’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.

The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.

Brookings Institution Examines Turkey’s Political Journey

The Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe hosted a discussion titled “Turkey’s Political Journey: From Where to Where?” on April 20. The event featured Gareth Jenkins, nonresident senior fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, and Etyen Mahcupyan, director of the democratization program at the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV). Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Omer Taspinar provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.

The goal of the discussion was to go beyond the usual examination of the struggle between secularism and Islam in Turkey and instead focus on two dimensions: the civil-military aspect of the power struggle between authoritarianism and democracy, and second, the role of the judiciary in this political struggle.

In his presentation, Jenkins concluded that Turkey is not becoming more democratic. “There was a brief time when the AKP first came to power when certain subjects could discussed with greater freedom,” he said. “That era is now long past.”

Jenkins also concluded that the political influence of the military has been “undoubtedly” reduced but that this does not mean that authoritarianism has disappeared.

“The demilitarization of the Turkish political sphere is not the same as democratization of the Turkish military sphere,” he said. “Unfortunately what we've seen over the last two years in particular is the shift from one form of authoritarianism to another form of authoritarianism, the one which had the Kemalist establishment behind it, the one in which now it's the supporters of the government who are acting very authoritariangly (sic).”

In his presentation, Mahcupyan cited statistics to reflect the views of the Turkish people. According to polls conducted in April, 70 percent of the Turkish public believes Turkey needs judicial reform. Seventy percent also believe Turkey needs constitutional reform.

He also explored the existence of the Ergenekon and concluded that it is very difficult to deny its existence anymore because it has become “very transparent now.”

“For an organization to exist what do we need? We need members. We need some kind of hierarchy. We need a conversation system, a communication system. And we need to have some goals, a coherent structure that tries to succeed with some goals. We have all those things with Ergenekon so it's very difficult to say that it doesn't exist,” he said.

Mahcupyan identified that the military believes the main threat in Turkey is an internal one. It is not Greece, and it is not Russia now that the Cold War is over. “The real threat comes from within and this is the Kurds, this is the Muslims, this is the non-Muslims or whatever,” he said.

He also offered a theory that the Turkish military would want a coup d’état to avoid a series of events from occurring as if they are in a “vicious cycle.” These events include: joining the EU, which would provide closer ties to democratic and human rights; an enlarged public sphere, meaning more political actors and majority rule; an increased number of Muslims in government thanks to majority rule; and if the Muslims are pro-European, then this would lead to more democratic reforms; and then the cycle repeats.

“It [the cycle] has to be stopped,” according to Mahcupyan. “So the Army, the judiciary and all those people, the secularists in Turkey, they want to put an end to that vicious circle before it's too late.”

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Turkish Journalist Examines Turkey’s Foreign Policy at the Crossroads

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Southeast Europe Project hosted a policy forum titled, “Which Way Next? Turkish Foreign Policy at the Crossroads,” with guest speaker Leyla Tavsanoglu, columnist with Cumhuriyet and author of “Chess Game in the Middle East.” on April 15, 2010.

In her presentation, Tavsanoglu identified as a main problem in Turkey that politicians are constantly amending legislation or laws that best suit their four-year term in office instead of the nation. For example, the ruling AKP party is wants to perform a constitutional amendment where the high judiciary system has less power. The effect would make the judiciary system come under the control of one party, most likely that of the AKP, which in turn would increase its staying power.

When the focus turned to foreign policy, Tavsanoglu stated that Turkish President Abdullah Gul is actively seeking to strengthen ties in the Arab world, and she noted that Turkey has weakened its relations with Israel. In this regard, Turkey has been an “avid supporter” of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She also made the following observations about Turkish foreign policy:

  • Due to uncertainty with its EU path, Turkey is being pushed into the lap of the Muslim world.
  • Greece’s economic crisis is of concern to Turkey.
  • Turkey is asserting itself a lot more in other regions around the world (Africa and South America) with regard to business deals which has the possibility of leading to diplomatic relations.

With respect to Cyprus, and the issue of 40,000 Turkish troops on the island, Tavsanoglu stated that Turkey would not withdraw the troops because in its mind their removal would expose Turkey’s southern position. Tavasanoglu went on to describe U.S.-Turkish relations as “erratic” and also commented on other topics such as Turkey’s position in the UN and fundamental issues regarding Turkey’s EU path.

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Brookings Institution Hosts Discussion on Current State of Turkey-EU Relations and the Role of Cyprus

The Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe hosted a briefing titled “Turkey’s European Aspirations and its Cyprus Dilemma” on April 1, 2010. The event featured Author and Former Wall Street Journalist Foreign Correspondent Hugh Pope. Mr. Pope is the Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for the International Crisis Group. Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Omer Taspinar provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.

The aim of the event was to discuss the current state of Turkey-EU relations with a special focus on developments in Cyprus. At the time of the briefing, so-called “elections” were on the horizon in occupied northern Cyprus and the implications of the “elections,” especially if hardliner Dervis Eroglu would win (which he did), were discussed.

Pope observed an interesting new dynamic in the EU-Turkey process. He sees more Europeans speaking up for Turkey in domestic debates because of future rivalries with India, China, and Russia. Another change he has observed in Europe is the Europeans perspective about Istanbul.

“Istanbul has become a regional center, even perhaps an international hub, and it is changing the way Istanbul is perceived,” Pope said. “And I think if you ask most Europeans is Istanbul part of Europe they would say yes.”

Pope also believes there is a change in the debate in Turkey, and defended the rhetoric of the ruling party.

“And I think when you see some of that rather extravagant, flamboyant rhetoric from AKP leaders, particularly the prime minister, that appear to be supporting hard-line figures in the Middle East or attacking the West, it is a reaction to that sense of being pushed away,” he said.

Pope contends Turkey is becoming more internationalized and globalized. He cited that half of Turkey’s trade is with Europe and that 90 percent of foreign investment in Turkey came from the EU as examples that have changed the debate in Turkey about the EU. Pope also cited Turkish Airlines’ schedule to Europe with multiple flights to Munich, Geneva, and Zurich as another example for Turkey’s “European tendency.”

In his examination of the implications of the so-called “elections” in occupied Cyprus, Pope believed that if Mr. Talat was voted out of office, then the best recourse would be a multilateral process.

“And I think that if there can be a multilateral process involving everybody that’s going on soon, that will make any change of government in the Turkish Cypriot less damaging.”

AHI Questions Pope’s Contention of Turkey’s Supportive Role in Cyprus Peace Process

AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis questioned Mr. Pope about his notion that Turkey has played a positive role in the Cyprus peace process and Larigakis questioned the validity of the notion that Mr. Talat negotiates on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot community as opposed to the best interests of Ankara. In addition, Larigakis stated for the record the facts of Turkey’s second, more brutal invasion of Cyprus on August 14, 1974.

In response, Pope defended Mr. Talat’s work ethic, calling him the “lead partner” on negotiations.

“On a day-to-day basis I think it’s Mehmet Ali Talat,” Pope said. “On strategic direction, yes, Turkish Cypriots are isolated and small and don’t have many resources.”

Pope also questioned the amount of Turkish troops on the island as presented by the Republic of Cyprus, opting to call the Turkish side’s 21,000 more “realistic.” He added that he would be “astonished” if more than five officials in the Turkish foreign ministry were working on the Cyprus issue.


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AHI Meets with State Department, Foreign Affairs Legislator’s Office in April

In April, the American Hellenic Institute continued with its proactive campaign in Washington to meet with key policymakers.

On April 28, Executive Director Nick Larigakis and Legal Counsel Nick Karambelas attended a meeting at the Department of State with Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Tina S. Kaidanow, Jess Baily, director of Southern European Affairs, and Adam Scarlatelli, senior desk officer for Greece.

Also in April, AHI met with staff from the office of Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). Rep. Poe is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe.

AHI disseminates policy information to members of Congress and congressional staffers that relates to United States relations between Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey as it pertains to the best interest of the United States.





For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at