vol. 5 no. 15
13 August 2012
WHAT THE COLUMNISTS SAY
The effect on Turkey of the civil war in Syria is a major topic in the Turkish debate, following the clashes between Kurdish militants and the military in the southeast of the country that have taken place since July 23. Related to this issue is the sharp deterioration of the relationship between Iran and Turkey. The statement of the Iranian chief of the general staff that Turkey ought to watch out and brace itself for a contamination of terrorism as a result of its intervention in Syria, and Prime Minister Erdoğan’s sharp reaction to that statement, led several commentators to conclude that the friendship between the AKP and Iran now is definitely over. Prominent conservative columnist Taha Akyol noted that historically Iran has always been a geopolitical rival of the state that rules Anatolia, and secularist commentator Utku Çakırözer made the observation that when it comes to choosing between what realpolitik dictates and ideology, the Turkish Islamists have a history of abandoning the latter.
CEMAL: CAN ERDOĞAN BE PERSUADED TO SEEK A SOLUTION TO THE KURDISH PROBLEM?
Hasan Cemal in Milliyet observes that Iraq has been split between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and that the divisions in the country are getting deeper. Syria can also fall into pieces. Is Turkey perhaps next in line? Is it possible for Turkey to play an effective role, to become a regional power without having resolved the Kurdish question? No. Is this reality seen at the summit of the state? It can’t be said that it isn’t, but… I say but, because Prime Minister Erdoğan’s calculations for 2014 (when the presidential election is going to be held) are such that there is little likelihood that steps are going to be taken to solve the Kurdish question. Today, Erdoğan even denies that there is a Kurdish problem. Can he be persuaded to take a different approach? Probably not before 2014, but perhaps after he has ascended to Çankaya [the presidential mansion]. On the question whether or not Erdoğan can be persuaded to change track in the Kurdish problem there are both optimists and pessimists among the state elite. Some point out that an Erdoğan who has displayed an unparalleled political courage in the past, sending his personal envoy, the chief of MİT, the National Intelligence Agency, Hakan Fidan to Oslo to hold talks with the representatives of Kandil (the PKK’s headquarter) could very well surprise again. Perhaps. But in any case not before 2014, and then only perhaps after 2014. As he has surrounded himself with the likes of interior minister İdris Naim Şahin and adopted an extreme nationalist-conservative discourse, the prospect that Erdoğan would set Turkey on course toward a peaceful solution of the Kurdish problem remains a very distant possibility. Still, it seems that the realities of life are nonetheless having an influence on the thinking among the state elite.
ÇANDAR: WAR IN HAKKARİ AND THE IRANIAN FACTOR
Cengiz Çandar in Radikal writes that the allegations of Prime Minister Erdoğan and other representatives of the AKP that Syria is behind the attacks that the PKK launched in Hakkari in the southeast of Turkey on July 23 are has no bearing to reality. Those who make such allegations apparently lack a grasp of realities and neither can they read a map. It is “fantastic” to think that a cornered Baath regime that is having a hard time defending Damascus would have the energy to mount an attack in Hakkari by means of the PKK. However, I do believe that you can plausibly argue that there is an Iranian connection to these recent developments. If you look at the map, you will see that the area where the Turkish armed forces have been fighting the last three weeks is very far from Syria, but adjacent to Iran. You would expect that a government that is heavily involved in Syria, and which has Iran next door, would see to it that at least the home-front is secured; but the fundamental problem of the government of the AK Party is that it is doing the direct opposite, by antagonizing everyone else, instead of seeking to build consensus. It brandishes the CHP as the “ally of the Baath regime”, it calls the Kurdish BDP “the arm of terrorism” at a moment when a dialogue is more needed than ever, while it through the interior minister makes columnists, who for years have been given the party a support it didn’t deserve, into targets by accusing them of being as dangerous as the rockets launched by the PKK in Şemdinli, possibly signaling an imminent, fascist witch hunt.
AKYOL: THE ROOTS OF THE GEOPOLITICAL RIVALRY BETWEEN IRAN AND TURKEY STRETCHES BACK MILLENNIA
Taha Akyol in Hürriyet puts the recent deterioration of Iranian-Turkish relations into deep historical context. The relations between Turkey and Iran are too important to be severed, but also too marked by conflict not to engender confrontation. The Persian Empire fought Athens and Sparta by invading Anatolia and the war between the Sassanid Empire and the Byzantine Empire went on for two hundred years; indeed, the Quran let it be known to the believers that the Byzantines, believers in the one God, were to emerge victorious against the pagan Sassanid! The Ottomans, who held on to the Balkans for four centuries were never able to get past Tabriz in Iran, with which they fought thirteen wars, and they could not hold on to Tabriz very long either. The fact that Iran today is militantly supporting the Baath in Syria has everything to do with this deep rooted millennia-old geopolitics; even if al-Assad had been a Sunni, hostility to the West would have made him an asset for Iran. This history explains why Turkey and Iran are locked in such a bitter confrontation over Syria. The Middle East is pregnant with convulsions that cannot yet be predicted. If Turkey is going to avoid the “internal convulsion” that the likes of Firuzabadi [the Iranian chief of the general staff] are predicting, it needs to discharge the energy that has gathered in its political fault lines by raising its democratic standards.
ÇAKIRÖZER: THE TURKISH ISLAMISTS ABANDON IDEOLOGY WHEN REALPOLITIK SO DICTATES
Utku Çakırözer in Cumhuriyet notes that the relations between Turkey and Iran has deteriorated sharply, and writes that the sharp reaction of Prime Minister Erdoğan to the threat issued by the Iranian chief of the general staff can be described as historic. For the parties issued from the (Islamist) National Outlook tradition, Iran has always been a special country because of the Islamic revolution. The leaders of this movement, from Necmettin Erbakan to Tayyip Erdoğan, have always been dedicated to defending Iran. Despite all warnings, Erbakan did not hesitate to make his first foreign trip as prime minister to Tehran and under Erdoğan Turkey did not hesitate to be the only country to vote in favor of Iran in the UN Security Council. The most remarkable aspect of these “ideological” policies is the fact that, ultimately, they prove unsustainable. When realpolitik so dictates, that is, when the national interests of Turkey and its allies, chief among them the United States, so requires, these policies are abandoned. Erbakan’s dream of Islamic unity lasted until the agreement of military cooperation that he signed with Israel, and Erdoğan’s plan to broker peace between Tehran and the world ended with his acquiescence to the installment of the U.S. radar in Malatya that is set up to monitor Iran. And now Iran has almost become as much an enemy for Erdoğan and his administration as Bashar al-Assad is. The accusation of Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç that Iran had a finger in the PKK’s recent attack in Şemdinli illustrates the evolution of the AKP-Iran relationship. The change of the AKP’s view of Iran, eleven years after the party was founded, demonstrates how the Islamists in Turkey give priority to realpolitik over ideology.
KAHRAMAN: TURKEY MUST LET THE WORLD KNOW THAT IT INTENDS TO BRING DEMOCRACY TO SYRIA
Hasan Bülent Kahraman in Sabah observes that Turkey’s relation with Iran has undergone an interesting change. Until recently, Turkey was perhaps the only country that supported Iran. Now we have become protagonists, with Iran accusing Turkey of being responsible for what is happening in Syria. It is natural that the developments in the Middle East cause consternation in Iran; the country fears that it will eventually be its own turn, after the Syrian regime crumbles. And the fact that the successor regime in a Syria today ruled by Nusayri/Shiites is going to be Sunni is of course bound to disturb Iran. Seen from these perspectives, everything is very clear and simple. But in this perspective Turkey has no duties toward Iran, no reason to excuse itself for what it has done. However, Turkey could nonetheless have tried to manage its relation with Iran more astutely. Granted, it is Iran that needs to get its act together, and Turkey has done nothing wrong toward Iran, but Turkey could and must be better at explaining its relation with Syria to the world. It must become much better at letting the world know how it intends to build the Syria after al-Assad, and how it is “working” on the opposition with which it entertains very close relations in order to ensure such an outcome. If Turkey is supporting a democratic regime, respectful of human rights and the rule of law, who wouldn’t lend support to a Turkey that very concretely and forcefully promotes a platform of democracy in the bloodied, confused and frightful geography of the Middle East?
© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, 2012. This article may be reprinted provided that the following sentence be included: "This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center".
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