Volume 6, Issue 4—August-October 2014
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.
Turkey’s Current Challenges in Foreign Policy & Domestic Issues
AHI attended an event on Turkey’s challenges in foreign policy and domestic issues at the Rumi Forum, Oct. 4, 2014. Dr. Ihsan Yilmaz, associate professor of Political Science, Fatih University in Istanbul, spoke on the challenges of civil society, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and pluralistic democracy in the aftermath of the August presidential elections.
Dr. Yilmaz began by providing a history of democracy in Turkey and the emergence of Islamism. Turkey is becoming increasingly authoritarian and returning to its strong, Islamist roots as opposed to the secular legacy of the Republic. Turkey has always been united under an umbrella of secularism. Kemalists, in an attempt to build a Turkish nation, used the law, education, and media to secularize and modernize the state.
Advocates and proponents of Turkish Islamism, however, never resorted to violence. They were moderate but can be considered anti-American in their attitudes to a certain extent. Since the AKP has been in power, the country has been gradually gravitating towards Islamist attitudes.
Three key things happened in 2011 which include constitutional referendums, forceful closings of several Islamist parties and Operation Sledgehammer. These developments made it more difficult to stage a coup against Islamists and subsequently, Erdogan received 50% of the popular vote. Erdogan has been proposing more constitutional amendments that require 3/5 approval in parliament. He believes he will gain this majority in 2015 and until then, authoritarian trends are sure to continue. As Prime Minister, Davutoglu will be sure to comply with the policies of Erdogan. It is rumored that Erdogan chose Davutoglu to be his successor because he preferred him over Gul, even though 70% of the AKP preferred Gul to succeed.
Dr. Yilmaz also briefly discussed the Turkish media, which continues to be censored. For example, no one is allowed to mention the Mosul hostages especially because Davutoglu announced publically they would be “fine” the day before their abduction.
Dr. Yilmaz provided details on the complicated relationship between Turkey and Hamas as well. The Turkish government has a better relationship with Hamas than Abbas himself, he stated. Hamas, however, displayed its differences with Erdogan after realizing he had been using the Palestinian issue to benefit his reputation domestically. Traditionally, domestic politics did not use foreign policy as a platform until the AKP became popular.
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President Erdogan: Turkey’s Election and the Future
AHI attended an event on the future of Turkey following the recent presidential election at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Turkey Project of the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings hosted the discussion, Sept. 4, 2014.
Kemal Kirichi, senior fellow at TUSIAD (Turkish Industry and Business Association) and Turkey project director, provided the intro. Panelists included: former U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, Kadir Üstün of SETA (Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research), and Brookings Nonresident Scholar Ömer Taşpınar.
Wexler pointed out that Erdogan is one of the world’s most successful democratic politicians. Erdogan has won nine elections by a large percentage (52%), even during a struggling economy. His victory was widely accepted after the electorate directly cast their votes for president in August. After 12 years in power, Erdogan stands out on the continent. Following last year’s protests, the government was at a crossroads. Erdogan had an opportunity to be the most consequential leader but failed in his reactions to the protests. Hopefully, Erdogan as president will focus on the resolution of Iran’s nuclear program and response to Russia, Wexler said. However, Erdogan does not mind that his behavior toward Israel is not that of a first class world leader with credibility. This attitude created a rift between the U.S. and Turkey, Wexler said.
SETA Director Kadir Üstün said the presidency used to serve as the ultimate check on civilian authority. New prime minister, and successor to Erdogan, Davutoglu, still needs to win future elections without Erdogan. Priorities include making headway with the Kurdish issue and dealing with 2015 elections. Üstün said that EU membership is still important to Turkey. The political problem of Cyprus is currently keeping Turkey out but this will be pursued more after 2015, he said.
Senior Fellow Ömer Taşpınar said Turkey has become extremely polarized, and currently, there is no real consensus on any issues in Turkey. Despite his victory, Erdogan has created an environment where Turkey continues to be downgraded in various aspects of democracy. There are no checks and balances, separation of power, or freedom of expression. Instead, it is an illiberal democracy. While it is stable, the so-called “electoral” democracy is not a true democracy and cannot be considered a “model,” Taşpınar said. Institutions are neither working nor providing checks and balances. Taşpınar also said that a president with authoritarian tendencies who wants to centralize decision-making while making progress with the Kurdish issues is a huge paradox for two reasons. First, he is very Machiavellian as a leader and perhaps wants a future political collation with the Kurds, a tactical strategy. Second, solving this question still requires a first class democracy and the provision of basic human rights, a tenet the Kurds do not think Erdogan is capable of delivering.
Wexler countered that the U.S. will take interest in Turkey’s current domestic progress and disagreed with the comments made by Taşpınar. He believes Erdogan has created a consensus in order to govern and should get more credit. On the Cyprus issue, Erdogan “has been more forthright than previous Turkish leaders,” he said. Wexler added there is a strong future for Turkey as an effective energy provider as well.
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Presidential Elections 2014 - What do they mean for Turkey's democratization process, the Kurdish question and Turkey's foreign policy?
AHI attended an event centered on the topic of what Turkey's recent presidential elections mean for the country’s democratization and foreign policy. The event was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Sept. 11, 2014. Panelists included: Mesut Yeğen, professor in the Sociology Department at Sehir University in Istanbul; Etyen Mahcupyan, consultant at Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV); and Gonul Tol, founding director at the Center for Turkish Studies.
Mahcupyan delivered a brief background on the election and the success of the AKP movement. He said the AKP’s aim is to reconstruct a republic on a more “legitimate” footing and on the basis of two pillars: a Muslim identity and Ottoman identity. More people in the Turkish society are developing different religious identities. Turkey’s community structure is changing as family and individual identities are becoming hybrids of religious and secular ideals. A newer, larger middle class is emerging.
In his new role, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is seen as more than just a puppet. He is viewed as someone who can win the next election on his own. Meanwhile, the AKP swings back-and-forth between democratic and authoritarian tendencies. If the AKP is threatened, it will become authoritarian. However, the AKP will still manage to win the election, Mahcupyan said.
Yeğen exclusively spoke about the peace process with the Kurds. Compared to the 1990s, this peace process is novel and progressive, he said. The 1999 liberalization of policy toward the Kurds opened the door for the AKP current strategy once it came into power. He said the ongoing peace process began because both sides feel bound to be committed to it (due to conditions and external factors and as a result of a lack of progress over the last few years).
Tol said the current debate on whether Turkey will join the coalition against ISIS revolves around whether President Obama will ask regional allies to join him. Turkey would be a natural choice for a partner but it will likely be the most reluctant. The reasons are because of the endangered hostage situation (at the time of this event) and whether Turkey’s participation will disarm the ongoing peace process with the Kurds. A united Kurdish front against ISIS is fighting on the ground in Syria and Turkey does not want to see them empowered.
President Obama said the U.S. would support its local partners, Iraqi Kurds, the Iraqi army, and Shiite militias. Turkey feels quite strongly that the Sunnis would be further endangered by empowering or arming any Shiite groups in Syria. This would damage Iraq’s balance of power. Because Shiite discrimination in Iraq against Sunnis does exist, Turkey feels this will only create more problems if Shiites are further armed. Attacking ISIS in any way is indirectly helping the Assad regime, which Turkey continues to be adamantly opposed. Tol maintained Turkey is still irritated with the Obama administration for not actively helping remove Assad. Refugees and border issues are already huge problems, and Turkey is concerned that these issues could be amplified if Shiites are armed further. The Turkish public would also be more skeptical and unwilling to join a coalition against a Sunni group.
In a question about looking forward on Turkish foreign policy on issues such as relations with Cyprus and Armenia, the panelists said they did not expect much on Cyprus.
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“The Southern Gas Corridor”
AHI attended an event on the Southern Gas Corridor at Georgetown University, Sept 16, 2014. The panel discussed the state of the Southern Gas project, its impact on European energy security, and policies of involved actors toward the project. Panelists included: Joe Murphy, operation manager and BP’s vice president, and Michael Hoffmann, external affairs director of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
Murphy shared that there are seven countries, eleven partners, and eleven buyers that will transport gas from Azerbaijan to Italy. Gas has already been sold to these buyers. By 2035, energy consumption will have increased by 40 percent, of which only seven percent will be renewables. By 2035, Europe will need to import 2/3 of its gas. Hoffman said TAP will sell gas to Greece and Bulgaria. The Western Balkans is also looking to capitalize. Therefore, the selection of TAP over other four pipeline projects was very significant.
Murphy said the track record of delivery, gas sales, and a stable political environment are three factors that will contribute to the success of this project. Some of the companies/partners are questionable, mainly the Iranian and Russian ones.
Hoffman added there is a strategic intent, meaning the pipeline project is being designed in such a way that its output can be doubled if necessary. The environmental impact assessments have already passed in Italy and Greece. Procurement activities are ongoing, he said. Construction will not begin until 2016. However, construction may begin to improve infrastructure roads and bridges by late 2015 in remote, mountainous areas of Albania, for instance.
Murphy said the gas delivery to Southern Europe is projected for January of 2020. Infrastructure projects will only be done in Albania beforehand, to lay the groundwork necessary for the pipeline’s success in the region. BP, Turkish company BOTAS (the petroleum pipeline corporation), and SOCAR will be funding TANAP. Of the 16bcm coming out of Azerbaijan, six will go to Turkey and secure the Turkish gas market. BOTAS finds itself in a difficult position because the Turkish government demands that it provide gas at a certain price, but BOTAS has to procure it at more expensive rates. The ultimate question is how it intends to liberalize the market.
In a Q&A session, panelists shared that 10,000 indirect jobs will be provided in Greece. The panelists agreed there is a common interest that will hopefully help these countries overcome cultural and political differences. Albania, Italy, and Greece have already signed intergovernmental agreements to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This provided the legal and contractual framework in addition to existing taxation agreements. There is a mutual benefit and a mutual sense of ownership involved in this project as well, which helps to provide a sense of energy security.
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Turkey after the Elections: Identity, Democracy, and Foreign Policy
AHI attended an event titled, “Turkey after the Elections,” hosted by Global Europe at the Wilson Center, Sept. 22, 2014. The panelists included: Fuat Keyman, director of Istanbul Policy Center, Sebnem Gumuscu, assistant professor of Political Science at Middlebury College, and Global Fellow Bulent Aras. In light of the first popular election of Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, the panel addressed Turkey’s current domestic and foreign policy challenges.
The two-part panel first discussed the launches of Keyman’s new book and the papers done in conjunction with the Istanbul Policy Center. Part two of the panel included a discussion of domestic and foreign policy arenas, the status of Turkey democracy, etc.
Keyman began by defining the new concept of a “dominant party” in Turkey as the party that wins all elections when the opposition is not capable of winning. Keyman listed three challenges to the dominant party. First, the middle income trap is now stagnating and challenging the AKP. Second, there is societal polarization and non-responsiveness between extreme conservatives and the secular, middle class associated with the Kurds. Third, foreign policy is resetting toward ISIS, Egypt, and Syria and not refocusing on the west.
Keyman went on to discuss the concept of “New Turkey,” of which Erdogan considers himself the first president. In their rhetoric, Erdogan and Davutoglu only refer to the years of the Ataturk (1920s) and Ottoman eras, Keyman noted. Keyman said Turkey is experiencing increasing urbanization, with around 74% urban transformation in Anatolia. The new middle class emerging is the AKP’s new power base. As the middle class is expanding and calling for more rights, the society is become increasingly egalitarian, Keyman noted. Meanwhile, Erdogan seeks executive powers and to gain at least 330 seats in parliament in the 2015 elections. However, a democracy without institutional back up makes Turkey a democracy without checks and balances, Keyman noted. The Kurdish peace process, along with the AKP, also affects the sociology of the “New Turkey,” Keyman said.
Following Keyman’s points, Gumuscu, co-author of the book with Keyman, moved on to discuss similarities between Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia. He described the first era of the AKP as having included significant Europeanization and economic improvements. He described AKP’s second era as preferring to rule through domination. Because the party eliminated checks and balances, Turkish society has become more polarized and unstable, Gumuscu noted. Gumuscu said Tunisia resembles the first era of the AKP and opted for governance, while Egypt resembles AKP’s second era.
Toward the end of the panel, Aras discussed the “new” era of Turkey’s long-term foreign policy. He expects Turkey’s foreign policy will be handled more by the foreign minister and the president. He also expects Turkey will be a regional power by 2023. He foresees a new soft power approach from the AKP and claimed that transatlantic and domestic policies are priorities for them. Aras believes the foreign minister is very pro-European; wanting to build relationships with the U.S., Africa, and Asia and that re-engagement is a priority.
In the Q&A, Aras did not deliver a sensible answer regarding the arms sent into northern Syria and the 700 ISIL fighters treated at Turkish hospitals. Aras said the problem in Syria is a shared one that is failing.
AHI asked what Aras thought of Turkey’s EU aspirations and the country’s going against the UN framework for negotiations regarding the Cyprus problem. Aras said Turkey is backing the negotiation process. “We don’t need to go back to this older language [Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots] in order to solve the Cyprus problem.” However, Aras did not address the points made in AHI’s question.
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Kobani: A Challenge to the Peace Process?
AHI attended an event on Kobani hosted by the Institute of Turkish Studies at Georgetown University on Oct. 22, 2014. Panelists included: Aliza Marcus, former international correspondent and author of Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence; Dr. Kadir Ustun, research director, SETA Foundation; and Mehmet Yuksel, current representative of the People’s Democracy Party (HDP) in the United States.
Yuksel, an expert on the Kurdish issue, spoke on the peacebuilding process between the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the Turkish government. The peace process should be considered a win-win for Turkey, he said. Dr. Ustun added the peace process has turned from secret meetings, to dialogue, to negotiations. After two years of the Syrian Civil War, Kurdish political upheavals and regional developments in Turkey have been disastrous, all of which add to the complexity of the peace process, he said.
Marcus, who has covered the PKK extensively and met with PKK rebels, spoke on the regional implications to the geo-cultural region of Kurdistan of Kobani. Kurdish activities, interests, and parties affect each other across borders and regions, she said. She also said the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) has maintained a quiet agreement with Assad for territorial gain if they do not rise up in Syria. The Kurds want autonomy and minority rights, and saw in the Syrian civil war a chance for autonomy and territorial gain, she added.
Marcus later noted that President Masoud Barzani of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, agreed to send his officially-armed Kurdish fighters, Peshmerga, into Kobani to fight the Islamic State. Barzani has refused calls to independence referendums, which might lead to a renewal of political activism in the Kurdistan region, she added. Marcus later claimed there are rumors for a political national conference and unification of Kurdish parties. Additionally, she noted Turkey has little room to maneuver around Barzani's’ actions in the arena of oil because of all its oil contracts.
Marcus would also argue that whether Kobani is saved or falls, the PKK comes out a winner. The U.S. views the Syrian Democratic Union Party as separate from the PKK, which is against a U.S.-PYD alliance, she said (despite the alliance between the PKK and the PYD). Marcus said currently the PKK cannot resume fighting in Turkey because it could endanger new and potential alliances. Finally, Marcus believes that a generational shift of the younger Kurdish fighters, who are more radical and nationalistic, is resulting in a future that does not involve Turkey and is not always in line with the PKK.
Finally, in Q&A, the panelists concluded Turkey is not ready to accept any de facto division in Syria, no matter how supportive they are of Barzani. The U.S. is still at odds with Turkey. The two countries differ on their strategic vision for Syria.
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AHI meetings with State Department Officials, Congressional Offices
AHI hosted a briefing for members and staffers of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus on Sept. 18, 2014. AHI also met with Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and the offices of Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
AHI President Nick Larigakis also met with Director of the State Department’s Office of Southern European Affairs Phil Kosnett and Greece Desk Officer Nicole Lima Nucelli at the State Department.
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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at email@example.com. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at https://www.ahiworld.org or follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC
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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AHI Capital Report, Vol. 6 Issue 4