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GWU Panel Examines Turkey’s Improved Relations with Middle East, Impact on U.S.
January/February 2011—No. 01 (202) 785-8430

AHI President’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.

GWU Panel Examines Turkey’s Improved Relations with Middle East, Impact on U.S.

The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs hosted a forum titled: “Partner, Mediator, Spoiler, or all Three? Examining Turkey's Role in U.S. Nonproliferation Priorities” on January 26, 2011.

Overall, it was presented that Turkey's relationship with its Middle Eastern neighbors seems to be improving.  In turn, this improved relationship with the Middle East is causing trouble for the U.S.

Panelist Jessica Varnum, researcher, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, argued that although Turkey desires to maintain a good relationship with the U.S., it shares a border with, and receives much of its energy from, Iran.  In her presentation, she predicted Turkey will continue to have a growing regional influence especially in relation to Iran. However, she argued it would be counterproductive to publicly pressure the Turkish government to always align with U.S. interests.

The next panelist, Dr. Stephen Larrabee, distinguished chair in European Security, RAND Corporation, offered that current Turkish policy is not "Islamization, or turning its back on the West, but is a broadening of foreign policy."  This is mainly due to Turkey’s desire to be a major regional player. In his opinion, keeping some U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey at its airbase would arguably be a good idea because it would provide insurance against attacks from Iran.

The final panelist, Professor Leon Fuerth, professor of International Affairs, The George Washington University, opined that Turkey’s growing economy may leave the U.S. at a disadvantage as the financial “costs of being a superpower are high.” Since global economies are currently unbalanced, Professor Fuerth argued that the U.S. may face some challenges to remain as relevant to Turkey as it had been in the past.

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Hudson Institute Takes a Compelling Look at Christianity’s Importance to European Identity

The Hudson Institute hosted an event on European integration and religion, titled: “How Necessary is Christianity to European Identity?” on January 26, 2011. The panelists discussed European identity and the role of Christianity in Europe, which was a timely discussion, provided the considerable influx of Muslim immigrants entering Europe.

Panelist Marcello Pera, former President of the Italian Senate, argued that the increase of European secularism over the past decades has denied the main route to creating a European identity. In his account, the element that ties most European countries is their shared religious affiliation. He asserted that reason-based dialogue between a secular community and a religious community can actually be just as subjective as religiously-based dialogue.

Panelist George Weigel, William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center, stated that much of the secularism in Europe can be attributed to the "Holocaust" and that Muslim immigration is an extension of Europeans’ attempt to accept religious diversity. However, he doesn't believe Turkey will ever be accepted into the EU as it has stifled religious freedom and the Orthodox Church.  Further, he expressed that many European countries have concern about such a large Muslim country joining the EU.

To play video clips or listen to audio clips from this event, please click here.

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Panel Examines Growing Relations between Turkey, Iran

The Center for American Progress examined the development of relations between Turkey and Iran at a policy forum titled “The Turkish Iranian Relationship: Too close for Comfort” on February 15, 2011.  The featured speakers were: Dr. Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, The Heritage Foundation; James Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle East Affairs, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, The Heritage Foundation; and Tulin Daloglu, Turkey editor, Fair Observer. Sally McNamara, senior policy analyst for European Affairs, moderated the event.

The forum addressed the issue the growing Turkish-Iranian relationship as a present threat to U.S. interests in the region.  Opening remarks were provided by McNamara, who argued that as the relationship between Turkey and Iran develops that the relationship between the United States and Turkey deteriorates.

In her presentation, Dr. Cohen offered that Turkey is becoming an increasingly influential player in the region even though Turkey has a long way to go before becoming an EU member.  Dr. Cohen described Turkey as the “Big Brother of Muslim Nations,” protecting them from the West.

Of the growing relationship between Turkey and Iran, Phillips observed that “Turkey has become a friendly diplomatic ally of Tehran,” and in addition, Turkey has neglected the concerns of its allies.  According to Phillips, Turkish foreign policy promises “zero” problems for the region while it promises issues for the West.

Daloglu concluded the panel by offering the following observations about Turkey:  1) it is a power of great regional ambitions and secular priorities, and 2) it plays a significant role in the development of Iran’s nuclear program due to the current weakening relationship with Israel.

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Turkey’s Role in the Southern Caucasus, Caspian Regions Examined at CSIS

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a policy conference titled “The Outlook for U.S. Strategy in Southern Caucasus and the Caspian” on February 18, 2011. The event consisted of two panels.

The first panel “Security Threats and Rising Instability” focused on the United States’ diminishing involvement and interest in the South Caucasus which is in contrast to the increasingly influential role of Russia in the region.  The deteriorating relations between Turkey and Armenia, and the Turkish government’s ability to weaken the U.S. administration to deal with the Armenian issue were also presented. One of the speakers, Ilhan Tahir, journalist for Vatan/Hurriyet DN, argued that Turkey should increase trade and cultural activities to increase its sphere of influence and to further develop what Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu refers to as “Neo-Ottomanism.” Tahir stated that Turkey benefits economically and strategically from regional stability.

The second panel addressed the issue of “Formulating U.S. interests and Strategies” with one of the panelists, Ross Wilson of the Atlantic Council, examining ways to normalize the Turkish-Armenian relationship. He emphasized that Turkish peace is important to the stability and development of the South Caucasus and he referenced Woodrow Wilson who asserted the significance of U.S. re-engagement in the region.

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Turkish Government a Template for Egypt?

“Egypt and the Middle East: A Turkish Model of Democracy?” was the topic of discussion at a panel held at the Woodrow Wilson Center on February 25, 2011.  Panelists included: Henri J. Barkey, Bernard L. And Bertha F. Cohen Professor in International Relations, Lehigh University, and Non-Resident Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; and Roberto Toscano, public policy scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center and former Italian ambassador to Iran and India.

The forum examined how the Turkish government could be a template for the new Egyptian government, and specifically, the relationship between the elected government and the nation’s military. Because the military plays a large role in both countries the focus was placed upon how to minimize its influence.  The panelists also discussed the increasing influence and political activism of the “Muslim Brotherhood” and the role it plays in inspiring civil unrest for radical political change.

The Turkish-EU relationship was also addressed during the discussion. While it was offered that one of the largest obstacles for Turkey was its conflict with the Kurdish minority, it was also argued that the attitude in Turkey has turned against EU accession.  The change in attitude toward accession is based on the sentiment that the EU “took [Turkey] for a ride” and was not sincere about accession when negotiations began.  It is felt by many in Turkey that Turkey would be better served by having a privileged relationship with the EU than by being a member because a special agreement would allow Turkey to maintain its sovereignty rather than submitting to Brussels. A third viewpoint presented suggested that accession would be a long term goal—25 to 30 years—because Turkey is a large country with large, complicated issues that are not solved simply or quickly.

When an event participant pointed out that the panel had overlooked the conflict with Cyprus and the 40,000 illegal troops on the island, the panel declined to discuss the issue further so as to avoid sliding the focus of the event away from the Middle East and Egypt.

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Panelists Concur:  Turkey Not a Model for a New Middle East

On February 28, 2011 the Brookings Institute hosted a panel titled, “Turkey: A Model for the New Middle East?” The event featured four speakers: Semih Dundar Idiz, columnist for Milliyet; Henri J. Barkey, professor, Lehigh University and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; and Omer Taspinar, a non-resident senior fellow, Brookings Institution.

Idiz’s offered that the Turkish model is essentially a European model and may not be fit for the rest of the Arab world.  He pointed out that in most Arab nations the military plays a large role in keeping the government “on track” or “in line.”  In Turkey however, the power of the military is dwindling.  This trend is due mostly to the increasing power of the AKP and the strength of the democratic government in Turkey. Another reason he believes the Turkish model could not work for the rest of the Middle East is because it is based on secularism, a template taken from the West.

Cook described Turkey’s government as an accumulation of Islamic power in a democratic system that works well with the West. The AKP, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood (which is asserting influence in many transitioning countries), is not attempting to create an Islamic state under Islamic law. In his view, Cairo, and not Ankara, will be a relevant model to the Arab world because Egypt is more powerful as a Middle Eastern nation.  He maintained Turkey is viewed as having lost its identity by being too close with the West.

Barkey agreed that Turkey is not a realistic model for Egypt or Tunisia despite being an inspirational story. Turkey’s gradual transition to democracy was a process largely encouraged by EU accession agreements. Transitions in the Middle East are confusing and he predicted that no country will immediately change into a Turkish type of state.
The final speaker was Taspinar who attributed Turkey’s connection to the West to a product of an American effort to prove that Islam and democracy could work together after 2001.   Therefore, because the Arab world believes that the ‘moderate Islam’ in Turkey is an American creation, the Arab world remains skeptical.

All the speakers agreed a transition to real change for Egypt, Tunisia, and any other possible Middle East nations, will take decades and not weeks.  No real template exists for such a transition.

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On AHI’s Meeting Docket…

AHI makes it a point to schedule meetings on Capitol Hill and within the Washington, DC think-tank community to keep Greek American issues elevated on the policy agenda.

During the months of January and February, AHI’s Assistant to the Congressional Liaison, Maria Stavrou, met with the congressional offices of: U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Justin Amash (R-MI), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; Albio Sires (D-NJ), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ).

AHI President Nick Larigakis met with U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and John Carter (R-TX). Larigakis also had a dinner meeting with U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY).

Issues of importance to the Greek American community as presented in AHI’s Policy Statements were discussed during all of these meetings.  Of all the issues, which include the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Cyprus, FYROM name recognition, and Aegean airspace violations, the latter issue was the one that was least known about on Capitol Hill.

In addition, AHI President Larigakis met with William Antholis, managing director, Brookings Institution to discuss important matters of the Greek American community and to explore future opportunities for cooperation.  The meeting occurred February 17, 2011.  Antholis was also briefed on AHI’s mission, events and programs.

Moreover, Larigakis met with Janusz Bugajski, The Lavrentis Lavrentiadis Chair in Southeast European Studies, director of the CSIS New European Democracies Project, and senior fellow Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on February 22, 2011.  Bugajski demonstrated a familiarity with Greek American issues and a discussion of FYROM took place. They also explored future opportunities for cooperation with CSIS.

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

The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

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