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Forum Analyzes Turkish Parliament’s Perspective of Turkey’s Transition
July 7, 2010—No. 05 (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.

Forum Analyzes Turkish Parliament’s Perspective of Turkey’s Transition

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Southeast Europe Project hosted a policy forum titled, “Turkey in Transition: A View from the Parliament,” with guest speakers Dr. Yusuf Ziya Irbec, MP of Antalya, AK Party and vice president of the EU Commission in Turkish Parliament; Dr. Edibe Sözen, professor, MP of Istanbul, AK Party and member, Central Decision Executive Committee; and Sadýk Yakut, vice speaker of Turkish Parliament and MP of Kayseri from the AK Party; on May 19, 2010.

In his presentation, Dr. Irbec addressed U.S.-Turkey relations and touched on Turkey’s foreign policy.  He believes the relationship between the United States and Turkey has improved since President Barack Obama came into office, citing the president’s visit to Turkey in April 2009. He offered that Turkey is eager to keep the relationship a positive one especially because of the global peacekeeping process that has taken place, especially in the Southern Caucasus.  There, Turkey supports Georgia’s territorial claims. The fight against terrorism is a priority issue between the United States and Turkey, he added.  Included in this fight is an effort to stop human trafficking, drugs, and arms laundering.  Dr. Irbec cited as key the U.S. Treasury Department’s October 14, 2009 statement linking the PKK’s activities to drug trafficking.  He added that the two nations debate issues concerning the Balkans, Iran, the Caucasus, and the Middle East.

With respect to Turkey’s foreign policy, Dr. Irbec commented on relations between Israel and Turkey.  He believes that since 1948, Turkey has maintained an honest and open relationship with Israel, having been the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel.  He admitted that problems in the Middle East have impacted, but have not ended, relations between the two countries.  He also contended that minorities enjoy many rights under the law, citing that Jews are not discriminated against.  In addition, Dr. Irbec touched on Turkey’s EU prospects, stating that 12 chapters of qualification have been opened for negotiation and that a publication on energy security released January 27, 2010 was an important main pillar of EU-Turkey relations.  Finally, on Cyprus, Dr. Irbec stated that some EU chapters have been blocked until the Cyprus issue is resolved.  He added Turkey supported the 2004 Annan Plan and it continues to support all initiatives.  Dr. Irbec believes more objective solutions can be found through the UN process.

Deputy Speaker Sadik Yakut’s presentation centered on the role the AKP party has played in the reformation of Turkish politics over the past eight years.  He described the party’s role as a “major” one in this regard.  The party originated in 2001, and its first parliamentary majority was won in 2007, which came as surprise to those who do not follow Turkish politics.  Yakut described the party as having a strong relationship with intellectuals and liberals of Turkish society.  Party members consider themselves conservative democrats. The integration of Turkey with the West is also important to it.  According to Yakut, the policies of the AKP include:

  • A priority placed on democracy, human rights, and cultural values
  • A refrain from using Islamic definitive terms
  • An aim to bring out imbedded values of Turkish society and reshape them in line with global developments; an integration with the world economy
  • A new ideology – more moderate cultural change instead of a radical one, emphasis placed on family values
  • More representation in media by Islamic scholars and ordinary conservatives

According to Yakut, the consensus is that the conservative democratic rise (symbolized by the AKP) has created a new modernization avenue for the country.  The party has secured political and economic stability in the country, he added.  Also, the party wants the United States to view Turkey as a regional.

The deputy speaker continued by listing examples of the party’s accomplishments including:

  • From 2002-2007, 909 laws were passed in the party’s first term; in 2007 294 bills were passed alone.
  • Increased standards of democracy
  • Taking steps to make the constitution a more civil-oriented document by adding amendments to eliminate the possibility of coups

With regard to the last example about Turkey’s constitution, Yakut elaborated explained that post-Cold War constitutions failed to include freedoms and had some conflicting ideas on the balance of power between different branches of government.  He said the current constitution is more focused on state and individual rights.

The final speaker was Dr. Sözen, who focused on the role of religion in politics.  In Turkey, he described the relationship the state has with religion as being similar to that of France in that the state controls Islam.  He added that secularism didn’t emerge in the West overnight and that it took centuries for Europe to become secular. Therefore, it will also take time for Turkey.  Dr. Sözen concluded by offering that religion and the state can tolerate one another, and that in politics, religion should have a more minimal role.

An extensive Q&A session followed. U.S.-Turkey relations, the Armenian Genocide (not named specifically), and the treatment of minorities were a few of the topics examined further.  A question concerning the closure of the Halki Theological School was raised during the session.  In response, panelists offered that it was closed as part of a Turkish court order and that under the mantra of human rights and democracy people are working with the government in everyway possible on this issue.


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Future of Greece amid Financial Crisis Examined

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Southeast Europe Project hosted a briefing titled, “The Future of Greece: Challenges and Opportunities,” with guest speaker Dr. Theodore Couloumbis, director general, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), Greece, and former Southeast Europe policy scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, on May 11, 2010.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Couloumbis provided an overview of Greece’s economic crisis and the ability of the political system to implement the austerity measures needed to keep Greece functioning.  He offered that the crisis can be the catalyst to trigger Greece’s population to implement much needed reform.

Dr. Couloumbis cautioned that although the economic crisis could be the “mother” of general reform; however, if the government descends into constant introspection and bickering then the crisis will lead to chaos which is not beneficial.  Dr. Couloumbis believes that the Greek people understand the severity of the predicament in which they find themselves, including the Greek elite.  They understand that they are spending more than they are taking in.  The two major political parties appear to have a consensus on key strategic objectives both domestically and internationally, he said.  However, the parties cannot give any accommodations on foreign policy because that would lead to an increased defeatism attitude in the country, he added.

In conclusion, Dr. Couloumbis outlined perspectives from the optimistic and pessimistic sides of the financial crisis.  The optimist would state that in the past without an EU presence that people would have resorted to thinking that military intervention is the best solution to the problem, but this is no longer the case.  Dr. Couloumbis added that the crisis will provide a much needed face-lift, leading to new personalities in government, and that this is a good development.  From a negative perspective, the bloated public sector has to decrease which will lead to an immediate rise in unemployment numbers.

Impact of May 5 Riots a Negative One

Dr. Couloumbis held a Q&A session following his presentation on topics of the financial crisis ranging from political party motives to the impact on border security to attracting foreign business investors to Greece.  AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis inquired about the image abroad for Greece created by the May 5, 2010 riots and its impact.  In response, Dr. Couloumbis stated that a “very negative image” was created as a result of the riots.  He added that the austerity measures need time to be implemented before citizens begin striking and that the government should be in constant talks with unions.


# # #

Award-Winning Greek MP Shares Her Innovative Approach to Solving Economic Crises

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Southeast Europe Project hosted a forum titled, “Informality and the Euro: The Role of Rules in Unlocking Prosperity in Southeast Europe,” with guest speaker Elena Panaritis, member of the Greek Parliament, institutional economist, on May 6, 2010.  She is the author of Prosperity Unbound: Building Property Markets With Trust.

Panaritis has analyzed the Greek crisis through a new methodology she developed called Reality Check Analysis.  It incorporates a rigorous and holistic analysis of the history of a country’s political economy, diagnosis of the institutional problems, and proposed solutions for sustainable recovery.

In sum, Panaritis believes a solution is one in which partnerships are built between key policy and market players.  To realize a solution, deep structural reforms are needed, but it is easier to achieve these reforms during a crisis.



# # #


Turkish Academic: AKP Government Implementing Reforms for Minorities

SETA DC, a foundation for political, economic, and social research (web site), held a lecture titled, “Multiculturalism under the JDP Government: Kurds, Alevis, and Other Minorities in Turkey” on May 7, 2010.  Sener Aktürk, assistant professor, Koc University and post-doctoral researcher at Harvard University, gave the lecture.  The purpose of the lecture was to address the transformations in Alevi and Kurdish demands for recognition and explain the changes in Turkey’s ethnicity regime under the AKP government, implemented between 2004 and 2009.

According to Aktürk, the AKP government has successfully implemented reforms, including Turkey’s state television broadcasting in several languages including Kurdish, Arabic, and Bosnian, among other minorities.  This began in June 2004.  In January 2009, a new television channel, TRT 6, was launched that broadcasts entirely in Kurdish.  In addition, Aktürk cited the public recognition of the Alevi belief system through the “Alevi opening” between 2007 and 2009 as another example of an implemented reform.

Aktürk added that historically the Turkish government has been anti multiethnic but the party system in control today has the most Kurdish representation in history.  The changes and reforms that have come under the JDP party are not likely to stick around after the party leaves power, Aktürk believes.

# # #

Romanian Foreign Minister Discusses Importance of an Integrated Europe

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Southeast Europe Project hosted a Director’s Forum titled, “The Quest for a Wider Europe,” with His Excellency Dr. Teodor Baconschi, foreign minister of Romania, on June 1, 2010.

Foreign Minister Baconschi discussed the need for integration and cooperation within Europe and especially for the countries of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. He stressed the importance of democracy as a pivotal and indispensable element to free trade amongst free nations, in addition to the principles of liberty and freedom. The foreign minister also mentioned the need for UN assistance in the EU process. Stability and security will result from a stronger, more integrated Europe and democracy is deeply intertwined with security. Prosperity is needed in Eastern Europe, the Black Sea region and the Balkans and all of this is important for Romania.

To watch a video of Foreign Minister Baconschi’s presentation, please click here

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AHI Meets with Eight Congressional Offices Including House Subcommittee on Europe Chairman

In May and June, the American Hellenic Institute continued with its proactive campaign in Washington to meet with key policymakers on issues of concern to the Greek American community.

AHI met with staff from the offices of U.S. Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-MA), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe; Bob Inglis (R-SC), member, House Subcommittee on Europe; Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Donald Payne (D-NJ), members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Michael Honda (D-CA), and Mario Diaz-Balart(R-FL).  On the Senate side, AHI met with staff from the offices of U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).  Senator Isakson is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

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.

The meetings were organized by AHI’s Director of Government Affairs & Media Relations, Constandinos Franciscos Economides.




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