Volume 3, Issue 3
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.
Current Events and their Significance to a Post-Election Turkey Analyzed
AHI attended Trials, Tribulations, and Crises: The Road to Turkey’s June 12 Elections, organized by The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on May 9, 2011. Marina Ottaway, director, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment, moderated the discussion. The panelists were: Gerald Knaus, founding chairman, European Stability Initiative and associate fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University; Orhan Kemal Cengiz, president and founding member, Human Rights Agenda Association; and Henri J. Barkey, visiting scholar, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment and Bertha F. Cohen Professor at Lehigh University. The event aimed to highlight current events in Turkey and to provide an assessment of their significance for the post-June 12 election period.
Gerald Knaus argued that Turkey has done well politically and economically during the last decade and has proven that if no dramatic mistakes are made additional improvement is to be expected. During this period, the perception among Turks that the West poses a threat to their religion and culture has largely subsided. This perception has allowed the country to open up to economic and political cooperation and to discuss hitherto taboo topics (e.g. the Armenian genocide, the Istanbul Pogrom). Furthermore, over the last five years, civil-military relations in Turkey have improved considerably because the government has successfully reduced the military’s hold over the legislative and judicial systems. Turkey’s relations with the EU are still strong, and according to Knaus, will remain so in the future. Nevertheless, Turkey still needs to focus on freedom of expression, as well as to acknowledge the shortcomings of the past in order to complete its transformation. These two areas will pose real challenges to the new government.
Potential Election Implications upon Turkey’s Domestic, Foreign Policies Examined
AHI attended a policy forum titled, The Upcoming Turkish Elections: Implications for Domestic and Foreign Policy, organized by The Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute (MEI) on May 12, 2011. The featured speaker was Taha Ozhan, director general of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) Ankara. Gonul Tol, executive director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the MEI, moderated. The event sought to examine the possible implications of elections in Turkey upon its domestic and foreign policies.
Panelists Discuss Arab Spring’s Effect on Turkey
A look at the Arab Spring and its impact on Turkey was the focus of a policy forum titled Upheaval in the Middle East: What is Turkey’s Strategy? organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center attended by AHI on May 12, 2011. The speakers were Semih Idiz, columnist, CNN Turk and Milliyet; and Ian O. Lesser, senior transatlantic fellow, The German Marshall Fund. The Turkish Policy Quarterly, with support from Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, co-sponsored the event.
Previewing Elections in Turkey the Focus in Washington during May
AHI attended an event titled Turkey Decides: The Effects of the 2011 Turkish Elections on Domestic and Foreign Policy, organized by the Rumi Forum on May 16, 2011. The speakers were Gonul Tol, director, Middle East Institute, Matthew Duss, director, Middle East Progress at the Center for American Progress; and Joshua W. Walker, fellow, The German Marshall Fund. Ali H. Aslan, Washington correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Zaman, moderated.
Former American Envoy to EU: EU Will Not Let Greece Collapse
AHI attended a lecture What the European Union means to America? held at the Institute of World Politics on June 14, 2011. The featured speaker was former U.S. ambassador to the European Union (EU) Boyden Gray.
Ambassador Gray explained the importance of the bond that links the U.S. to the EU and the mutual interests that they share. However, despite these common interests, the main problem with the EU is communication, in his opinion. For example, there is still no EU ambassador with whom to communicate and work. With regard to issues of defense, Ambassador Gray said he had to deal with NATO which is not an EU institution. He noted that even when EU representatives were brought together there was no common response to the issues with which they were dealing. The diverging interests are the origin of all the actual difficulties that the EU has to face, in his opinion. Concerning the Greek crisis, which is one of those problems faced, he does not think that the member states of the EU will let Greece collapse. However, he is skeptical of the EU’s ability to efficiently provide help to Greece.
DC Think-tanks Offer Turkey’s Post-Election Breakdown
Woodrow Wilson Center
AHI attended a policy forum titled Turkey’s Elections: Great Expectations for Democratization or Business as Usual? at the Woodrow Wilson Center on June 16, 2011. Dr. Fuat Keyman, director, Istanbul Policy Center and professor, International Relations, Sabanci University, was the featured speaker.
Dr. Keyman discussed the results of the Turkish general elections that occurred on June 12, 2011. According to Dr. Keyman, the reason that the AKP maintained its position in parliament was due to the various successes it brought to the well-being of Turkey: increased infrastructure, an increase in the economic growth rate, active globalization, a balance between modernity and traditional values, and the professional/charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan. He presented a Pew survey that demonstrated how optimistic Turkish citizens are for the future of Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan and the AKP. The recent general election proved that the Turkish people have become more involved with politics especially given the diminished influence of the military and the judiciary.
Despite the satisfaction and optimism, Turkey’s Parliament will face two challenges: the Kurdish situation and the re-writing of the constitution. Dr. Keyman said the Kurdish people who congregate in parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria will continue to battle for the ownership of part of Turkey for the establishment of a Kurdish state. This will impact the AKP’s policy agenda along with the issue of including Kurdish rights in the constitution. He stated Turkish parliament is ready to begin the drafting process to rewrite the constitution. There will be debate reaching agreements within the parties CHP and MHP, but overall Turkey has set goals to create a more democratic nation.
On June 17, 2011 AHI attended a policy forum titled Assessing the Outcomes of Turkey’s Elections at the Brookings Institution. The panelists of the forum were: Fuat Keyman, director, Istanbul Policy Center and professor, Sabancı University; Nuh Yılmaz, director, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), and Ömer Taşpınar, nonresident senior fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe.
Fuat Keyman opened the forum stating that the Turkish elections were noteworthy because “they were free and democratic, with no incidents of corruption or suspicions about the final result.” He presented five main points as the most significant with regard to the elections:
He highlighted a number of determinative factors that, in his view led to the AKP’s victory: the robust Turkish economic performance that secured high growth rates and full employment, the balance between traditional modernity, tradition and globalization and the Turkish globalized foreign policy.
Major Conference on Turkey’s Policy Agenda Features Envoys, Academics, Analysts
The Second Annual Conference of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies themed Change Within and Beyond Borders: Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Policy Agenda was held in Washington on June 23, 2011. A myriad of speakers were on the conference’s program. Their remarks are highlighted below.
Keynote Address: Honorable Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of Defense for International Security
Assistant Secretary Vershbow began his remarks reminding everyone of the difficulties that existed between the United States and Turkey last year at the first annual conference on Turkey. In his view, since that time, relations between Turkey and the United States have recovered and strengthened despite the disappointment following the Gaza flotilla, the Turkish vote on UN security council Resolution 1929 and the P5+1 dismissal of the Teheran declaration. The United States recognizes Turkey as an “indispensable partner” which supports and helps the government formation process in Iraq and the creation of a peaceful and democratic country. Moreover, Turkey had a leading role during the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, and more recently against the Assad’s regime in Syria. Turkey continues to exercise its own leadership and is a source of inspiration to the countries that aspire to free-market and secular democracy.
Furthermore, Assistant Secretary Vershbow underscored the importance of Turkey in the international community as it remains a strong supporter of NATO and especially to its mission in Afghanistan. However, the Turkish and American policies are not always aligned. He was specifically concerned by the tense relations between Turkey and Israel and would like to see the two countries move forward. In his opinion, the U.S. and Turkey share a strong belief in the universal rights and a common aspiration for fair and accountable governance. The two countries must maintain their strong defense cooperation; Turkey must remain “strongly committed to NATO and NATO to Turkey.” The growing technological capacities and strong defense industries were highlighted but also the difficult geographical situation of Turkey (because of the Syrian crisis, the war in Iraq) and the threat of the PKK they have to cope with. Another challenge is to engage a rapprochement of Turkey with its neighbors. More specifically, the neighbors are Armenia and the “still-divided Cyprus.” The U.S. and Turkey should work together to bring into closer alignment their efforts in order to assure a political stability to Turkey’s unstable geographical region. In closing, he expressed optimism on the future of U.S. and Turkey’s relations.
Keynote Address: Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Namik Tan
Ambassador Tan expressed that Turkey is going through difficult times. He described the United States as a vast region with a Christian majority that is a global actor in diplomatic relations because of its economic and diplomatic supremacy. To sustain this standing, the Unites States needs to increase its soft power and partnerships. One of the U.S. partners is Turkey, a country that is at the center of Afro-Asia, increasingly attracting U.S. investments. In his view, the U.S. and Turkey need each other in order to bring stability to the region. Although he underlined the importance of this relationship, the ambassador emphasized that there are important issues that need to be addressed that must not be forgotten.
The European location of Turkey justifies its commitment to democracy, freedom and liberal economy, according to the ambassador. For this reason, Turkey’s policy is not inclusive and not based on religion or ideology. To give an example, he highlighted that relations with Armenia have improved. Also, during the last couple of years, trade relations with Israel are really good, and he expressed that Israel is an important trade partner for Turkey.
In terms of foreign policy, Ambassador Tan stated that policy prevents conflicts and makes enormous efforts to find solutions to diplomatic issues. Therefore, he mentioned that a development of relations with Iran or Russia is not a shift of policy. Turkey disapproves of the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power. Turkey is deeply rooted in the Middle East and wants to change the image of the Middle East. Turkey is not an outsider to the region, and it wants the region to be safe and peaceful. Ambassador Tan stressed Turkey is the first Muslim country that recognized Israel, and since then, has had uninterrupted friendly relations. Hence, he offered Turkey’s position on the flotilla incident stating that Turkey was shocked by the killing of Turkish citizens by the Israeli state on Turkish soil. Moreover, the Gaza convoy was not Turkish. The 600 activists in the convoy were Turkish but also included Americans and Jews. He added Israeli defense forces attacked the boat in clear violation of international law. Ambassador Tan underlined that Israel’s current policy is leading the country to a global isolation.
Panel I: Rethinking Turkey-U.S. Relations in a New Era
Dr. Stephen F. Szabo, executive director, Transatlantic Academy at the German Marshall Fund, moderated the conference’s first panel discussion.
Professor Mustafa Aydin, president, Kadir Has University in Istanbul, offered a historical account of the U.S.-Turkey relationship from the World War II alliance partnership to 9/11. He concluded both countries need to make adjustments. The U.S. needs to pay more attention to Turkish concepts, policy and view and Turkey needs time to adapt to the new order.
The second panelist, Brian Katulis, senior fellow, Center for American Progress, depicted the U.S.- Turkey relationship as an “old couple” who have known each other for years. He iterated that the U.S. needs Turkey, a Muslim majority country, as a spokesman to help with Iraq. Katulis believes Turkey is also a great partner to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to aid in the difficulties of communication that the U.S. experiences with Iran. Lastly, Katulis underscored a few uncertainties concerning Turkey that deal with an eventual shift of Turkey’s policy.
Jay Solomon, chief foreign affairs correspondent, Wall Street Journal, concluded the panel. He stated EU membership for Turkey is no longer an issue. Some European leaders want to block the process even if President Obama is in favor of Turkey’s accession. Concerning the Cyprus problem, Turkey does not accept any kind of pressure. In Solomon’s opinion, the 2013 Cypriot leadership of the EU will not change the nature of the relations between the two countries. Instead, it can only worsen them.
Keynote Address: Dr. Ibrahim Kalin, chief advisor to the Turkish Prime Minister
Dr. Kalin touched upon three topics in his speech: democratization, economy, and foreign policy.
On democratization, he is convinced that Turkey is making progress to resolve its chronic issues. On the Kurdish issue, he believes normalization is in progress. He points to the increased number of seats in the Turkish parliament by the PDP, allowing it to have the ear of the government. Furthermore, he described the Turkish economy as remarkable in contrast to the worldwide crisis. Restructuration has been the basis of Erdogan’s campaign.
With regard to foreign policy, he stated that Turkey sees itself as a political and economic model for the “Arab Spring” countries. In his view, the foreign policy issues that are mostly at stake are:
Panel II: Turkish Domestic Politics after the Elections: What is Next?
Dr. Henri Barkey, visiting scholar, Carnegie Middle East Program, discussed how the AKP won 50 percent of the vote in the general election (the first time since the succession of the Democratic Party in 1950). Dr. Barkey also highlighted the success the Kurdish party realized from the election, leading to an increase of representation in Parliament. The Kurdish party now possesses 36 seats, which will lead to a difficult debate about the inclusion of individual Kurdish rights in the new constitution.
Dr. Murat Somer, democracy and development fellow, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), Princeton University, and associate professor of International Relations, KOC University, maintained that Turkey faces four issues preventing a democracy:
He recognized the importance of the Kurds as a minority and the need to educate Turkish people about Kurdish traditions to a uniformed democracy. He added that the secularism of women and minorities of different religious origins have become extreme which prevents a unified nation. The limits upon freedom of speech in Turkey restrict the rights of individuals to express their concerns. Furthermore, he pointed out that one federal branch is more powerful than the others which creates an unbalance in how politics is carried out in Turkey. In his opinion, a democracy would need an equal balance of all three branches to ensure a government is administered properly. Overall, Dr. Somer argued that Turkey is great model for democracy among the Middle East, but has room for improvement.
Carol Migdalovitz, former specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs at the Congressional Research Service, argued that Turkey’s Judiciary Branch needs to seek out independence in order to protect individual rights. In the context of protecting individual rights, Mrs. Migdalovitz cited the minority communities of Turkey, including women and Greek Orthodox Christians. In her view, gender equality is still uneven with numerous cases of murder and violence toward women. Furthermore, the religious freedom of Greek Orthodox Christians in Istanbul is still limited, making it a hot topic in Congress and the U.S. State Department.
“The training of Greek Orthodox clergy in Turkey has been an eleven-year battle and one that will probably continue,” she said.
She also highlighted the lack of recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarch as an ongoing issue.
Panel III: Turkey’s Foreign Policy in a Changing Middle East
Turkish politician Suat Kiniklioglu, AKP Deputy Chairman of External Affairs, opened the final panel. He said the U.S. would benefit from investing in Turkish experts who can help make America a more influential country. He also stated that Turkey’s policy is tied with its neighbors’ (North Africa, Caucasus, and Middle East) policies, especially on trading with unions and lifting the visa policy.
Dr. Alon Liel, former director general, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, discussed the ties between Turkey and Israel. In his opinion, Muslim and Jewish people were close in the 1990s, but in the 2000s, the media’s reporting of Israeli-Palestinian issues in Turkey led to the diminished bond between the two countries. Currently, Turkey and Israel are still not close due to the recent Flotilla incident conflict.
Current Events and their Significance to a Post-Election Turkey Analyzed