American Hellenic Institute


Facebook Image
AHI Capital Report, Vol. 7 Issue 1

Volume 7, Issue 1—January-June 2015


November 3, 2015—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.


Book Presentation: Greece and EEC Membership: Was it a Mistake?

On February 3, AHI attended a book presentation by Eirini Karamouzi, a lecturer in contemporary history at the University of Sheffield. Karamouzi discussed her latest publication, Greece and EEC Membership: Was it a Mistake? The book delves into the history of the European Economic Community (EEC), focusing on Greece’s membership and the history behind the application process, exploring the 1970s in more specific detail. 

Karamouzi reminded attendees that Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and discussed the complicated process of joining an organization whose members can change the rules of admission during any given country’s application process. Since 1981, many EU officials and statesmen have begun drawing direct links between Greece’s membership and its subsequent crisis. For example, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing stated in 2012 that it was a mistake to let Greece join. In order to better understand the role of the EEC in Greece and Greece’s economic crisis, Karamouzi offered a brief history on Greece’s membership.

It was Konstantinos Karamanlis senior who first surprised Europeans by publically verbalizing Greece’s desire to join the EEC. Greece’s many structural weaknesses and the precedent of accepting Mediterranean countries provided EEC members with a dilemma. They also wanted to avoid becoming embroiled in any type of Greco-Turkish dispute at all costs. However, Greece’s heavily pro-democracy rhetoric was making them a difficult candidate to turn down. This outweighed concerns over structural weakness and economic unpreparedness. Protecting democratic ideals became a goal that tied in nicely with the Cold War forces at play during the 1970s. As James Callaghan, former Prime Minister of the UK once said to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissenger, “(we) shouldn’t take for granted the long term stability of democracy in Greece and its commitment to the West.” He believed that focusing on Greece was one of the best ways to dispel anti-western sentiment in the country. 

During Q&A, Karamouzi was asked to speculate on what may have happened had Karamanlis stayed in office instead of Andreas Papandreou. She shared that Papandreou came at a time when Greece’s membership was already guaranteed. Although PASOK’s l980s program was based on fiscal expansion, even Papandreou asked for monetary assistance when he realized Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy. Within six months, his fiscal expansion programming had resumed. Karamouzi still believed that Greece wouldn’t have done anything differently; joining was definitely the best policy for them at the time.

The role of Germany was also raised during Q&A.  Karamouzi replied that Germany led the way for the EEC through this process. They were willing to pay for expansion of the EEC but hesitations led to a lengthening of the process.  The EEC members believed that making countries such as Greece a member would be akin to their development much like the Marshall Plan was in the post-World War II years.  Germany more decisively accepted the idea of Greece joining once the United States did. 

The only initial problem to Greece joining the EEC was Turkey and geostrategic concerns in the southeast Mediterranean.  Karamanlis’ strategy throughout the process was that he was the most powerful, pro-western leader that Europe could ever have in Greece.  He also guaranteed that he would not use Europe against Turkey.  More to this point, she added that Cyprus was a major issue for NATO and its credibility at that time since no one wanted two major allies on the verge of going to war.



# # #

Turkey's economic transition and transatlantic relations

On February 18, AHI attended a panel discussion on Turkey’s economy and transatlantic relationships at the Brookings Institute, moderated by Brookings TÜSİAD Senior Fellow and Turkey Project Director Kemal Kirişci.  Panelists were: Martin Raiser, the director of the World Bank Office in Turkey; Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan, professor of economics at the University of Maryland; and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. ambassador to the EU, former deputy secretary of the Treasury and current partner at Covington & Burling LLP.


Kirişci began the discussion by sharing some facts about Turkey’s economy. Foreign trade still constitutes 50% of Turkey’s GDP.  Since 2007, Turkey remains in a middle income trap, remaining short from making it into a high-income group of countries. 

Raiser and Kalemli-Ozcan shared the results of an extensive research report on the customs union Turkey shares with the EU. They focused much of their commentary on Turkey’s recent transitions, what other countries could learn from Turkey’s economic trajectory and the low quality of its institutions and how this will keep it from becoming a high income country. Two themes affect Turkey’s economic transition: integration (by virtue of its trade, finance, enterprise and infrastructure) and inclusion (by virtue of its labor, cities, welfare and fiscal space). 

The potential for Turkey to raise itself out of the middle income trap rests on its ability to sustain growth in the face of structural stagnation, boost participation in its job force, and deepen institutional reforms in order to open access growth and root itself within the rule of law. Kalemli-Ozcan also focused on necessary structural reforms such as education, the gender gap and its effect on an already-rigid labor market, and struggles with improving institutional quality.

Ambassador Eizenstat shared his thoughts on the importance of Turkey belonging to the West. Since his time spent working to lift the arms embargo against Turkey, he continues to desire a more western-integrated Turkey. He is a strong supporter of a customs union with Turkey and believes that these relationships encourage Turkey to be more open to taking on substantial reforms. He admitted the Erdogan administration has clearly backslid on democratic reforms but still maintains that “it is in our deepest interest to engage Turkey.” Turkey should not be permanently excluded from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Amb. Eizenstat continued. If anything, Turkey should be kept informed of the TTIP talks and the U.S. should begin a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) process which would send a strong geopolitical signal, he stated. 

Amb. Eizenstat also provided his perspective on Turkey’s status as an EU candidate country. Although there is no practical likelihood of Turkey getting into the EU, he is of the opinion that saying the door is forever closed would be “a tremendous mistake.” When accession talks began, it was not coincidental that reforms escalated. The eight chapters of the acquis that Turkey must complete that remain frozen because of Cyprus are a hindrance, Amb. Eizenstat stated. “Is that really so critical?” he remarked. He suggested creating a new status for Turkey, bringing it closer without necessarily admitting them and expressed his belief that with Turkey, the US also has an opportunity to forge a deeper relationship with a NATO member.

For Amb. Eizenstat, the bottom line is to show Turkey that we care and how important it is that they are part of the global economy, reaching out to them at every dimension.  According to him, this will accelerate the reforms Turkey desperately needs to make.



# # #

The Future of Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean

On February 19, AHI attended a panel discussion on energy developments and potential regional cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean sponsored by the Energy Security and Climate Initiative (ESCI) and the Center for Middle East Policy (CMEP) at the Brookings Institute. The discussion centered around three papers recently launched by Brookings. The papers examine gas discoveries in the Palestinian Gaza Marine; Israel’s energy polices since large gas discoveries were made in its waters; and the effects that hydrocarbon findings off Cyprus will have on its neighbors. The panelists were the papers’ authors:  Tim Boersma, acting director, Energy Security and Climate Initiative and Foreign Policy Fellow; David Koranyi, director of Eurasian Energy Futures Initiative at the Atlantic Council; Nathan Sachs, Foreign Policy and Center for Middle East Policy fellow; and Harry Tzimitras, director of the PRIO Cyprus Centre.

Sachs began the discussion by providing an overview of recent natural gas and hydrocarbon discoveries in Israel, something which he addressed in the paper he coauthored with Boersa. The discoveries have been transformative and have led to many difficult questions regarding monopolies, market share and how much should be exported. Boersa added that there are hopes that Israelis and Palestinians might come closer together through mutual gas field discoveries and benefits to be gained. A major concern among Israelis is that a portion of any Palestinian gains or profits could flow back to Hamas.

Tzimitras continued, providing the Cypriot angle and how the climate has grown increasingly pessimistic in light of Total S.A., a French integrated oil and gas company, asking to be released from its contract, and other companies such as ENI finding little to nothing. Cyprus has alienated many of its allies in this process and the situation in Greece, their strongest regional ally, continues to be problematic. Tzimitras said that much time was wasted on the illusion that larger discoveries existed and on discussing how to build an LNG plant instead of focusing on prospects for viable solutions to regional problems. He added that Turkey and the Cyprus issue are two factors that have generally hijacked energy prospects in Cyprus. 

During Q&A, Tzimitras responded to questions about the Cyprus issue.  He contended, “there are powerful arguments on both sides…it is for Cyprus to suggest a solution.” He also reminded attendees that in 2004, few people read through the Annan Plan in its entirety or fully understood both sides being presented. Ultimately, Cypriots will be the ones deciding on a future settlement. 

During his presentation, Koranyi expressed pessimism on the future of existing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.  He elaborated on his belief that several moments of opportunity have been lost.  He reiterated the importance of the European security angle, especially in the areas of domestic use, regional conciliation and European security in light of the Russia/Ukraine situation.



# # #

Crackdown: Independent Media and Civil Society in Turkey and Azerbaijan

On March 18, AHI attended a panel discussion on the status of media freedom in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Panelists included Arzu Geybullayeva, Istanbul-based blogger and freelance journalist, 2015 Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow at RFE/RL; Jeff Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst for Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations; Richard Kraemer, Senior Program Officer, Middle East & North Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy; and Nate Schenkkan, Program Officer for Eurasia at Freedom House.

Geybullayeva and Goldstein outlined the obstacles journalists continue to face in Azerbaijan; many continue to be jailed on bogus charges because of the regime. In 2014, when the government developed a more intricate plan for jailing well-connected journalists and activists, they began to jail human rights lawyers knowing that they would then be unable to assist. The crackdown always intensifies in the run-up to large international events in order to protect Azerbaijan’s reputation (such as, for example, the Eurovision competition). Goldstein shared that much of the Azerbaijani leadership believes they are unfairly treated with regards to their human rights’ record and that the West is biased. Ultimately, he believes that the leadership is scared of what an open and free society might do to Azerbaijan. They fear movements and revolutions and do not want Azerbaijan to be next. It is clear that the Azeri administration cares; they put a lot of money towards their reputation both in DC and Brussels. The US needs to do more to encourage them to take fewer steps backwards.

Schenkkan moved on to discuss media freedom in Turkey. He stated that indeed, the media in Turkey has never been “free” and there has never been freedom of expression.  Schenkkan outlined four ways in which the Turkish government controls public expression. The first is media ownership control and involves the government directly engaging in changing news coverage and even directly contacting the owners of media groups. This is a distinct characteristic, something first seen during the government corruption scandal with the release of videos of high level government officials, including Erdogan himself. The second mechanism for controlling topics of discussion is stifling media coverage; examples include the Soma mining disaster and the Mosul hostage crisis. The Radio TV Higher Council (RTUK) has the authority to band and limit coverage. The third mechanism, control of the internet, was achieved through the passage of Law 5651 in 2007, which allows for the blocking of sites with and without a court order. The National Intelligence Agency Law, passed in 2014, also expands the powers of the MIT and allows for the usage of court orders to force social media blocking. Lastly, Turkey exerts total control of the discussion. Examples here include the usage of the same exact headlines produced by "different" media outlets.

Kraemer also discussed Turkey and drew on his experiences with the Middle East & North Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy. He made mention of Turkey’s improved balance between the military and the leadership and the increased rights provided to the Kurds. Elections in Turkey continue to be free and fair; however, the elected majority should not be able to take advantage of, or discount the needs of, the minority. Turkey still needs respect for property rights, an effective civil society, and cooperative branches of government. The government and the people need accountability, transparency and cooperation but freedom of expression is paramount. Turkish political culture always has had a tendency for a strong central state to the detriment of other, smaller groups, even dating back to Ottoman times. This continues to affect its political environment today. Robust political debate and investigative reporting are healthy for a democratic society. A society that is afraid does not do the state or the people any service.

During the question and answer portion, questions addressed Turkey’s EU aspirations and any potential pressure the US may exert on Turkey in the future, a question asked by AHI. Kraemer pointed out that Turkey responds to pressure on some levels but not others. As a result, the US can push back on certain issues, such as fundamental freedoms. Regardless, the time has come for the US to start thinking long term about what they would like from their relationship with Turkey. For example, what will the US do if and when Turkey does not make it into the EU? He went on to say that what gives him hope is when he considers how far Turkey has come, despite their dramatic recent regression.



# # #

Strained alliances: Israel, Turkey, and the United States

On March 23, AHI attended a forum on the relationships between Israel, Turkey and the United States at the Brookings Institution. Panelists were: Dan Arbell, Nonresident Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy and Center for Middle East Policy; Nimrod Goren, Founder and Chairman of Mitvim; and Sylvia Tirvaki, Deputy Director of the Global Political Trends Center. Kemal Kirisci moderated the discussion.

Tiryaki began by providing some background on Turkey and Israel’s relationship. He reminded attendees that Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in 1949. Despite the fact that the two countries seem to be making progress towards restoring diplomatic relations, given the prevailing circumstances, any progress is slow and stagnant. 

Goren elaborated, sharing that the relationship with Turkey is very important for Israel, regionally and economically. Things may not be normal politically but cooperation persists economically and within civil society. Yet many attempted agreements on matters of more substance continue to fall through. For example, Turkey’s insistence that the Gaza blockade be lifted has not changed Israel’s habit of backing out of all drafted agreements. Turkey also has not made things easier with the persistent ratcheting up of the administration’s anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli rhetoric. In Israel, the political conditions are much more favorable; Turkey was a non-issue for those running for office. Goren believes that if the United States could create more communication channels, the two sides could be encouraged to normalize relations.

Arbell continued discussing a potential US role for future normalization. After the Mavi Marmara incident, no one expected the freeze between Turkey and Israel to continue for this long. Obama was clearly more invested in 2013, which was apparent as he orchestrated the Netanyahu apology. There are different realities and different priorities today and relations are now strained between the United States and both parties as well. Everyone has grown accustomed to the status quo and the U.S. has too many pending priorities to step in and mediate now. The trilateral partnership has deteriorated since the time when they used to conduct joint military exercises.


# # #

Turkey-U.S. Relations in the 21st Century

On March 24, AHI attended the keynote address by Cemil Cicek, Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, given at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cicek spoke with the use of a translator. He began by stating that there are many shifts in regional power balances and Turkey is searching for a new order. The US and Europe are still going through tough economic times, following problems they have had with Russia, Ukraine, and the Middle East. Turkey is currently focusing more on global security and safety and is in a position to encourage peace and stability in the region by focusing on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Cicek went on to say that the foreign policy agendas of the US and Turkey overlap in many ways, which helps pave the way for bilateral cooperation on many levels. He provided extensive statistical evidence which he said proved Turkey’s role as a ready and active member of the anti-ISIS coalition. He was adamant that Turkey never allowed for the transfer of terrorists into Syria and that public opinion lacks the necessary facts on all that Turkey has done to combat ISIS thus far. He asked that the US take its own border difficulties with Mexico into consideration before addressing what Turkey needs to do in order to further combat terrorism at its doorstep. He also discussed Turkey’s position on the state of domestic affairs in Iraq, Ukraine and Armenia.

In response to questions on Cyprus, he stated Turkey wants a comprehensive solution and fast resumption of talks. The Greek Cypriots began unilaterally drilling for hydrocarbon reserves without taking “Turkish Cyprus” into consideration and that it was Turkish Cypriots who had many more reasons to pull out of the talks, even though they did not. He claimed Greek Cypriots used “resources” to create security issues in the eastern Mediterranean and that they must return to the negotiating table in order to eliminate concerns that other parties have. He also reminded attendees that EU accession is indeed still a priority for Turkey and that the EU should eliminate its own double standards.


# # #

The Greek economy and its global partners: A conversation with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis

On April 16 AHI attended the address of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis at the Brooking Institute. Varoufakis discussed the challenges facing the Greek economy, possible reforms that will allow for an economic renewal, and the future of Greece’s relationships with its European partners and the IMF.

Varoufakis began by reiterating the importance of the on-going negotiations between Greece and its partners.  He went on to talk about Greece’s domestic struggles, in the public and private sectors, and how Greeks elected their new government because they were tired of austerity. To understand Greece’s present depression, it is necessary to understand the Eurozone’s design of the debt, and how it resulted in producing a crisis which has degenerated into a humanitarian emergency of a global significance. The outcome of Greece’s negotiations with the Troika will play a major role in determining whether or not Europe and the rest of the world fails and also will serve as a reminder of the crash of 2008 and its stubborn repercussions. Prolonging talks with its creditors leads to a continued asphyxiation of the Greek economy.  There is an eagerness in Greece to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion. 

He criticized past governments’ programs which today have presented multiple obstacles. The current administration does not want to sign up for reforms that cannot be economically sustained and the fiscal austerity imposed on Greece led to the country’s greater collapse. Varoufakis believes that Greece is a classic outlier that took a hit for Europe because of its own economic and social failures and the Eurozone’s design faults.

Varoufakis explained how Greece’s economy moved from being in a recession to a depression by the high levels of debt, bank failure and dried up investments. All of these factors contributed to the shrinking Greek economy. The Greek government already has an existing program to which it is committed and it remains bound to these policies, even though the administration was elected to challenge them.  However, the new government has a mandate to challenge the philosophy of the program it inherited and this should make a difference.

Greece is trying to convince its European partners that common ground on which to build new conditions – a new start – is desperately needed.  Trying to renegotiate is an opportunity for two things: to be heard in good faith and to project the proposals of an investment program. Many EU members need to be convinced that new programs are needed in Greece because the existing ones have failed. These negotiations must succeed.

Greece believes that its new government is offering its European partners a chance for pluralism and democracy to prevail within a monetary union – a union that knows how to acknowledge its errors. Varoufakis closed by saying that the Greek government is eager to come to an arrangement with its partners - an arrangement that will create greater efficiency and genuine growth while overcoming the investment and productivity failures of the past years. This type of agreement is for EU members to remain in the EU, and he underlines, SYRIZA places itself squarely within that camp.


# # #

Eurozone at a crossroads (again): A conversation with Wolfgang Schäuble

On April 16, AHI attended an address by the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, at the Brookings Institute. Schauble spoke about recent fundamental questions concerning European economic policies.

Schäuble began by pointing out the failures of micro-economic policies using Japan as an example.  Economic policies should be designed to create sustainable growth; despite its current debt levels Europe, for example, is growing with consistency with policies that will also be more successful in the long term. The most important question for the Eurozone is whether or not all members can adhere to the rules, and subscribe to methods of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms.  Members of the Eurozone have trusted their monetary rights to the European Central Bank, another reason why it is of utmost importance that the ECB and its members continue to adhere to the rules that consequently keep the common monetary area intact.

Schäuble went on to say that Europe is succeeding in overcoming its current challenges, and it will continue to stand as a model of transnational governance and he remains confident in the EU model of governance. He then outlined three main priorities of the European agenda: low government spending (so as to continue the reduction of the debt to GDP ratio), the implementation of structural reforms aiming at improving economic conditions, and boosting investment. Many European countries have already implemented real reforms and are starting to see their efforts bear fruit. Countries that have successfully completed reform programs - such as Ireland, Spain, and Portugal - are growing faster than other countries as their unemployment begins to decline. 

Schäuble reminded attendees that Europe will not provide financial assistance without demanding something in return; Europe will not help a country that does not begin by helping itself. If decision-making, accountability, opportunity and risk are kept separate, then success is possible. Individual EU members must accept responsibility for their own fiscal and economic policies and any future liability must not be dumped on Europe. Providing debt relief will not help societies improve the long term performance of their economies or solve a single structural problem. On the contrary, it could very well weaken the incentive to carry out needed reforms. 

When questioned on Greece, Schäuble stated that the EU needs to ensure that Greece follows the programs they have agreed on in order to lower its debt, attain a surplus and fully access financial markets. Restructuring its debt is not a priority; the goal is regaining competitiveness and acquiring a primary surplus.


# # #

Does Greece Pose A Threat To The Euro?

On April 17, AHI attended a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on whether Greece poses a threat to the Eurozone. Panelists included Ann Krueger, a senior research professor of international economics at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Study; Ashoka Mody, the Charles and Marie Robertson visiting professor in International Economic Policy and lecturer in public and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University;  Athanasios Orphanides, professor of global economics and management at MIT; and Plutarchos Sakellaris, professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. 

The discussion began by addressing the status quo in Greece in light of its recent elections. The new government makes no secret of its commitment to ending austerity and therefore continues to collide with its European partners. Speculations as to whether or not Greece will default on its debt and possibly exit the Eurozone are rampant.

Krueger shared her belief that Greece will stay in the Eurozone but is due for a massive debt restructuring in order to promote economic growth.  She maintained that it is only a slight possibility that reforms would help Greece get matters under control, but that above all, an improvement of the world economy would help. The European Commission is more prepared today for an exit than they were in the past.  A Grexit could economically impact EU countries but more importantly, it would be a risky exchange of control.  Despite any short-term damage a Grexit could create, Krueger remained skeptical that it could, in the long run, end the Euro experiment.

Moody stated that any Grexit would create a chaotic environment but Greece cannot survive under the austerity measures imposed by its creditors. Low interest rates, although sustaining deflation, keep debt rising. Debt restructuring would only provide a temporary relief that could get worse with time. Greece’s debt should be forgiven, Moody maintained, so that they can start fresh with more limited EU supervision.

Orphanides added that the decisions of the IMF have contributed to Greece’s present circumstances. The IMF should have acted without the interference of the European Union and each individual government’s opinion. Much of the failure of the imposed austerity in Greece is partly due to the fact that Germany and other administrations involved themselves in the IMF’s decision-making, putting the safety of their own economies above the overall greater good of the EU.

Sakellaris summarized his remarks under two themes: the political element and funding issues. He reminded attendees that Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone, and more importantly, it is in their best interest. A compromise consisting of debt restructuring combined with less fiscal austerities is what Sakellaris would most like to see.  This strategy will help Greece achieve productivity and grow economically within the framework of the EU.  The strategy calls for Greece to reform their economic and political institutions.


# # #

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, address at the Carnegie Peace Endowment

On April 20, AHI attended the address of Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu at the Carnegie Peace Endowment. Çavuşoğlu’s remarks provided a high level overview of Turkey’s relations with its neighbors, from the Middle East and Mediterranean to across the Atlantic. He outlined three aims of Turkey in its foreign relations: comprehensive political solutions, making headlines through cooperation, and expanding trade. Çavuşoğlu maintained that Turkey has been an active member of the anti-ISIL coalition but reiterated the need to support an interim government to counteract the Assad administration. He then went on to discuss the ongoing support Turkey has provided Iraq and the need to recognize Palestine as an independent state. 

In his comments on Cyprus, Çavuşoğlu mentioned the current window of opportunity to find a settlement. He stated that Turkey believes 2015 will be an important year and that his administration is ready to go the extra mile. He went on to state that unfortunately, “it takes two” to tango, and if Greece showed strong political will, there was no reason why there cannot be a solution by the end of the year.

Several questions during the question and answer portion addressed the Armenian genocide and media freedom. Çavuşoğlu’s answers were noncommittal; in response to the Armenian genocide recognition, he said Turkey was for conciliation and that the Armenian diaspora is trying to negatively influence world public opinion on the occasion of the centennial. He commented on the passing of a genocide resolution by the European Parliament, saying that politicians, parliaments and international organizations should not be the ones making decisions or politicizing these issues. In response to questions about Turkey’s widely-condemned press freedom record, he shared his conviction for freedom of expression and the importance of media freedom in a democratic society. He then shared that only seven journalists were imprisoned in Turkey at present and all were being prosecuted for serious crimes. He reminded attendees that the United States had many journalists in prison and that no one is immune from prosecution.


# # #

Turkey: Still a US Ally?

On April 23, AHI attended a new paper release and discussion on Turkey’s domestic politics and foreign policy and its relationship with the United States at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Participants included Ambassador Eric Edelman, Co-chair, BPC’s Turkey Initiative and former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey; Dr. Svante Cornell, Member, BPC’s Turkey Initiative and Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program; and Ambassador James Holmes, Former President, American-Turkish Council. 

Ambassadors Cornell and Holmes began the discussion by pointing out various obstacles in the relationship between the United States and Turkey. Cyprus became a bone of contention and has continued to be. More recently, the rise of non-state actors has resulted in the entire region being up for grabs. Turkey is always looking for transactional opportunities and the relationship with the United States has always been based on what one can get from the other. Amb. Holmes maintained that the situation today is no different except for the domestic unrest facing the Erdogan administration. Amb. Cornell reminded attendees that Turkey was always quick to criticize the United States for disturbing the regional status quo yet now the United States is more open to reign Turkey in for its behavior. The Erdogan administration has continued, regardless, to steer the country away from the West.

The panel then began to discuss Turkey’s role in the fight against ISIS. Amb. Holmes pointed out that Turkey, with more than 2 million refugees, is in the midst of the crisis and surrounded by violence, thereby deserving credit. Had President Obama followed his own “red line” about chemical weapon use in Syria, the situation would be different today. Turkey felt misled when the United States shifted gears. 

According to Cornell, Turkey had a clear goal in Syria, which was a Muslim Brotherhood takeover. When this did not occur in Turkey’s favor, it began supporting any anti-Assad government. This latter goal differed greatly with that of the United States.  Thus, Turkey began to serve as a willing transit point for fighters heading to Syria. In a country where thousands of websites are blocked, ISIS recruitment is still on the rise. Cornell found a lot of similarities could be drawn between Turkey and Pakistan, especially in their support of various militant groups.

Edelman provided examples of how Erdogan continues to try to make himself into a Sultan figure. Indications of electoral fraud, the new palace and a public desire to change the constitution are all causes for concern. The United States should begin making things more clear to Turkey, both privately and publically. The Obama administration made a mistake by allowing Turkey, an ally, to speak about the United States the way it does.  

During the question and answer portion, the panel addressed democratic backsliding in Turkey, the potential for increased radicalism, and how these things may affect the relationship with the US. The erosion of democratic values does have an effect on relations but it should not be a dominant issue; the US can be patient while being openly critical. 

AHI asked the panel how much they truly believe that Turkey, under its current administration, would like to see matters in Cyprus resolved and to what degree they foresee the United States potentially pressuring Turkey a bit more openly with regards to Cyprus. Amb. Edelman stated that if the US “put its shoulder to the wheel,” he believes that the issue could be resolved and that it would also be worth the effort, especially considering security in the southeastern Mediterranean. Many alliances have shifted over the last few years and will continue to do so in the next decade. 

Erdogan sees no personal gain from perpetuating this, Amb. Holmes shared. There used to be a special envoy within the State Department specifically for Cyprus; that position no longer exists. The US has tried to bring it back but Greek Cypriots have always said “no.” The will for the US to get more involved depends on how much Cyprus really wants American involvement. Cornell, alternatively, said that he did not see Erdogan taking any chances. He is trying to keep nationalists at bay and does not see him taking chances or putting his reputation on the line for Cyprus.


# # #

Helsinki Commission Hearing on the Armenian Genocide

On April 23, AHI attended a Helsinki Commission hearing titled, “A Century of Denial: Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice.”  The panel consisted of expert witnesses Dr. Taner Akçam (Clark University), Kenneth Hachikian (Armenian National Committee of America), Van Krikorian, (Armenian Assembly of America), Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou (Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, The Fletcher School, Tufts University), and Karine Shnorhokian (the Genocide Education Project).  Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) also stopped by and spoke on the subject of the genocide.

Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) opened the hearing by presenting an “appeal to President Obama to recognize the genocide of the Armenians.”  He explained that Obama’s aides had met with Armenian Leaders earlier in the week and said that the President will not use the term “Armenian genocide” this year, despite promising to in his campaign platform. In addition, Smith condemned Turkey for denial of the genocide.  “It is scary to think that a NATO ally will threaten its relationship with the United States over this issue,” he said. 

 The first witness, Dr. Taner Akçam, is an advocate for the Armenian genocide and a Professor at Clark University of Turkish nationality. Akçam identified the Turkish Government as operating under “a code of denial.” He explained that history books portray Armenians and other minorities in Turkey as “the enemy”. He then spoke about many movements within Turkey where Turkish citizens hold events in recognition of the Armenian genocide, independent of the government. “If Turkey wishes to create a democratic government, it needs to acknowledge violations of human rights,” he said.

Kenneth Hachikian presented the moral implication of President Obama’s neglecting to use the term “Armenian Genocide.” He said that we must never silence America’s moral voice… the cost of not recognizing the genocide is setting a poor precedent for other countries in the world that have experienced or may experience similar atrocities. He believes that the President has missed an opportunity to follow the Pope and the European Parliament in recognizing the genocide. Van Krikorian agreed with Hachikian’s statements and asked what will it take to get President Erdogan to respect the unmarked graves of the victims of the Armenian Genocide? Krikorian then described how Erdogan has recently shown cynicism in his treatment of the Armenian community, holding various events as a means of acting antagonistically toward the community.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou explained the architecture of genocide and the negative effects of Turkey’s behavior of denying the genocide. She used the example of desecrated churches in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus. She stated that “churches and other religious places have been destroyed or transformed into stables, public toilets, night clubs and mosques.” She used this point to emphasize Turkey’s lack of respect for religious freedom. Prodromou argued that “denialism” should be rejected because it is holding Armenia back from healing the wounds of the past and it is holding Turkey back from reconciliation. 

Karine Shnorhokian gave a heartfelt account of her husband’s grandmother who was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide and advocated for awareness in Congress.  Congressman Sherman posed the question “How do we have a basis for world leadership if we do not recognize injustice? We have provided 23 billion dollars in aid to Turkey over the last several decades and advocated for them on many issues. After that they demand us to be accomplices of genocide denial… And we do!”


# # #

Previewing Turkey’s Parliamentary Election: Status Quo, Executive Presidency, or Progressive New Chapter?

On June 5, AHI attended a panel at the Brookings Institution on Turkey’s upcoming elections. The panelists discussed the upcoming Turkish election, including possible outcomes and what the future is for Turkish foreign policy and democracy. Panelists included Kemal Kirisci, TUSIAD Senior Fellow and director of the Center on the United States and Europe’s Turkey Project at Brookings, Suat Kiniklioglu, Mercator senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, Omer Taspinar, professor of National Security Strategy at the U.S National War College and the director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institute, and Nora Fisher Onar, a fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington and research associate of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford.

Kirisci started the presentation with background information on the Turkish parliament and how it has changed dramatically over the years. In March 2014, Turkey held local elections. In August 2014, Turkey held the first presidential election. He mentioned that this upcoming election is crucial because it is the last chance for the citizens of Turkey to have input and exercise their voting rights until 2019.  Former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently president representing the AKP party. The AKP party is expected to win and hoping to have their fourth consecutive term to serve. The big question though is if the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) will pass the 10-percent threshold and change the election completely to where the AKP party does not have the majority of the vote, therefore cannot change the constitution and have executive presidency.

Following Kirisci remarks, Mr.Kiniklioglu touched on the different dimensions of the HDP and how it has changed over the years. He said that “the party is no longer the party I joined in 2007”. HDP used to have 6.5 percent of the voters and today they have close to 10 to 12 percent which is almost 50 percent more than they used to get. He mentioned that people are now becoming strategic voters for HDP so they get above that 10 percent threshold. He also mentioned that the elector is very sensitive to chaos and disorder which leads to the conservative voters and how they are scared of what they are seeing on the television and will vote for whoever can create order, security and stability. “I hope it continues to be a normal democracy”, Kiniklioglu said.

Taspinar then touched on the issues that he feels will impact the outcome of the election. “I am a strong believer in that people vote based on economic issues,” Taspinar said. If HDP is able to pass that 10 percent threshold the Turks are in control of their won democracy. AKP voters are not happy, but Erdogan manages to make them not have an alternative party. He states that there is a lot of institutional weakness and there is no rule of law. “Corruption issue should be neutral, but is still being shown as a fight between AKP and HDP,” Taspinar said.

Onar continues the presentation looking at the other 50 percent of voters who are not voting for AKP. The old establishment consists of CHP and MHP, these are the social democrats and the Kemalists who take 25-28 percent. The MHP-ETHN are the religious nationalists who take 15-18 percent, they presume that all Turks are indeed Muslim. Then there is the (new) old opposition, the Kurds who take 9.5 to 11.5 percent. She then mentioned the new forms of opposition which include urban millenials, they are the urban middle class who expect and demand change and women, who want legislative change and believe that they will not strive under executive presidency.

In the question-and-answer session of the panel, Kiniklioglu was asked if there will be a political crisis if HDP does not meet the 10 percent threshold.

Kiniklioglu responded saying it is highly likely that they will pass the 10 percent threshold but if not people will indeed outrage. If HDP passes the threshold AKP will have coalition which will be difficult but not unlikely. 

The panel was then asked-In Cyprus we have the most promising peace talks right now but still have Turkey hovering over, what will be Turkey’s contribution to these peace talks be after the election.

Kiniklioglu responded saying that the domestic turmoil in Turkey is very overwhelming and it is depressing that no domestic foreign policy issue is looking positive. “I don’t see a deal coming with the current president Erdogan, the Turks are fatigued and don’t care about Cyprus anymore, and peoples priorities are in Turkey and not in Cyprus”, Kiniklioglu said.


# # #

Breaking Down Turkey’s General Election

On June 9, AHI attended a panel on the aftermath of Turkey’s election, hosted by the Center for American Progress. The panel spoke about the results of the election, the new future for Turkish politics, and U.S. - Turkey relations. The panelists included Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Research program at The Washington Institute for Near East Peace, Alan Makovsky, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Nora Fisher Onar, a fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington and research associate of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford, and Suat Kinikhoglu, Mercator Senior Fellow for the Center for American Progress.

Suat started off by saying that he was not surprised by the results of the election. “As a Turk I am beyond happy that we have overcome an extreme democratic step”, he said. The election turned out to be a clean one, which is an important turning point for the people of Turkey. In his mind, HDP ran a perfect campaign, which is why this is an important message to AKP that they need to get back to their core values. He also mentioned that he believes a coalition will be formed, but Erdogan is taking his time looking at all his options.

Onar gave her presentation on the future for HDP. She too discussed the forming of a coalition and said that in order for it to work, everyone will need to find some type of middle ground. There is a possibility that HDP could become a mainstream party but if a coalition were to be formed there would be a lot of political instability. There are a lot of uncertainties in the short term, including a very diverse parliament, but the long term looks positive. Onar believes that political liberalism is the way to go because it targets the younger generation.

Cagaptay touched on the implications of the election for Turkish-U.S. relations. He stated that foreign policy was not a big part of this campaign.  The biggest issue between Turkey and the U.S. has been Syria. If you were to have an AKP-HDP coalition, HDP would strongly enforce strong US relations involving Syria and the preventing of Islamists from crossing the border from Turkey into Syria. CHP as a coalition would also insist in stronger border control. Turkey seems to becoming more liberal which is good for foreign policy.

Makovsky then spoke about the possibility of an early election. No one is sure what AKP is going to do, but there are some signs that are pointing to them heading in the direction of an early election. There is the question of whether Turkey wants to go back to how it was in the 90’s when there were unstable coalitions or do they want to move forward. He mentioned that he believes an HDP-AKP coalition is out of the question because they both are not willing to give up much, especially AKP. “This is a new Turkey, not the Turkey that Erdogan was talking about, but an HDP liberal Turkey,” Makovsky said.

In the question and answer portion, Suat was asked what boundaries or irrationalities could be expected from Erdogan. Suat answered by saying that we should consider all options even including Erdogan leaving his presidency and becoming the head of the AKP, but in doing so Erdogan becomes a lot more legally vulnerable.


# # #

Turkey: Parliamentary Elections and their Aftermath

On June 9, AHI attended a panel on Turkey’s recent parliamentary elections hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center. The panel spoke about the most recent election in Turkey, possible outcomes, and how it is going to affect Turkey in the future. Panelists included Henri J. Barkey, a professor at Lehigh University and Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center as of July 1, Steven A. Cook, the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Gonul Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies.

Barkey started the presentation by offering his general view and opinion on the results of the election. “Maybe AKP (Turkey’s Justice and Development Party) knew what was coming but it still came as a surprise,” Barkey said.  With HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) getting over the 10 percent threshold, it caused AKP and Erdogan a chance at executive presidency. Barkey said it was not a defeat for AKP, but HDP had managed to get votes from people who traditionally were AKP strategic voters. These voters saw that voting for HDP was the only way to stop Erdogan; the Turkish population is not ready for “one person rule.”  In Barkey’s opinion, the class act of this election was CHP (Republican People’s Party), because at no point in time did they go after HDP voters. 

Following Barkey’s presentation, Tol expanded on the results of the election. She said that this was a historic moment for HDP and that their approach had paid off. They focused on Kobani, the government, and capitalized on the anti AKP sentiment, appealing to liberals and young people. Although there was an almost 9 percent decrease in the majority vote, AKP still maintained the most seats, but will most likely have to create a coalition. According to Tol, there is a dilemma: HDP could become more ethno and pro-Kurdish, but at the same time has to be careful not to scare away pro-Western voters. “HDP won the 10 percent threshold at the expense of AKP,” Tol said.

Cook later spoke more on the HDP party and possible coalitions. HDP is the “feel good” story of the election, he said. There seems to be some concern that because they are less experienced, they are more than likely to be disorganized. The HDP got a huge boost from liberals, but Cook does not believe that they are the savior of the Turkish elections. Regarding a coalition, Cook said that an AKP-CHP coalition will most likely not happen. This is because AKP will most likely not be willing to give up a lot considering they still garnered around 41 percent of the votes. In any coalition there is going to be a lot of political instability, but an AKP-MHP coalition is where a lot of people see this going.

In the Q&A session of the panel, Cook was asked if foreign policy played a role in the election. He replied that he did not see the election take a turn on foreign policy; rather it was about Erdogan’s ambition to change the system.


# # #

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


1220 16th Street, NW | Washington, D.C. 20036 • Phone 202-785-8430 | Fax 202-785-5178 |