vol. 5 no. 19
10 October 2012
WHAT THE COLUMNISTS SAY
Turkish commentators across the board are deeply concerned over the escalation of the confrontation between Turkey and Syria and over what a war would mean for Turkey. One leading liberal commentator wrote that democracy itself, and the democratic gains of the last decade, are in fact in danger as dissent will inevitably be stifled in the supposed interest of the nation and authoritarianism gain the upper hand again when society is put on war footing. Other commentators call attention to the military risks, saying that Turkey could get lost in the Syrian deserts. The point is made that Turkey has brought this on itself by its policies of regime change in Syria, and the government is admonished to reverse course. Notably, an influential pro-government commentator and strategist urges the Turkish government to explore the possibility of initiating talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The commentators have also devoted attention to the differences of opinion that have become visible between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül.
LAÇİNER: GOING IN ALONE, TURKEY WOULD COMMIT SUICIDE IN SYRIA
Sedat Laçiner in Star writes that Syria is definitely not a problem that Turkey can handle on its own. That’s why I have always insisted that Turkey should not act unilaterally in Syria. And as far as I can tell, Turkey has indeed tried to ensure that the issue is dealt with internationally. To go in alone in Syria would simply spell suicide for Turkey. That is also what certain powers are indeed hoping to provoke Turkey to do, hoping that they will ensnare Turkey alone in the Syrian deserts. In that case, the plan is that alongside Iran and Iraq the Kurdish separatist elements are going to inflict serious damage on Turkey. Thus the greatest risk that we face at the moment is to venture into Syria without NATO. But how is Turkey going to extricate itself from this dilemma, as shells keep landing on our territory? First of all, the opposition ought to cease using this as an opportunity to attack the AK Party; because the Syrian policies of the AK Party are not partisan; they aim to secure Turkey’s national interests not the interests of the AK Party. Secondly, Turkey should keep all options, including talking with Bashar al-Assad, open. If Turkey can engage in talks with Kandil (the headquarters of the Kurdish separatists), then we should also be able to talk with whomever we need to in Syria when our security is at stake.
DAĞI: THE WAR WILL DOOM DEMOCRACY IN TURKEY
İhsan Dağı in Zaman writes that Turkey is not in an enviable position. Turkey has been in ascension, but such moments are also dangerous. Your self-confidence explodes. You fail to notice the growing discrepancy between your ambitions and your means. And what’s more, your ascension as a power creates dissatisfactions around you. You acquire open and secret rivals, indeed enemies. That’s what has happened to us in Syria. We forgot all about the soft power that the president underlined in his speech at the opening of the parliament and instead took to order our neighborhood with demonstrations of military might. Giving up on being a country that is envied, we opted on being a country that is feared. We did wrong, terribly wrong. Today, the dystopia that the old Turkey used to conjure has been realized, as we are now indeed surrounded by enemies. No one should forget that war or a low intensity confrontation will first and above all hit democracy, extinguishing the freedom of expression and halting the move away from a militarized state and society. Unfortunately, I fear that we are now at the point of no return. The Syrian crisis is going to make the regime authoritarian, and the accusations of treason and collaboration are going to spread, silencing dissent. Those who have lately lamented the authoritarian drift of the government haven’t seen anything yet. A state and a society that are mobilized for war never tolerate pluralism. It’s such a pity; the Turkey that we were looking forward to yesterday now belongs to the past. This is the prize of having abandoned the path of freedom, democracy and welfare, and of having opted for a power-oriented policy internally as well as externally. This is a prize we all are going to pay, some of us by dying, others by being muted.
GÜRSEL: TURKEY MUST URGENTLY CHANGE COURSE ON SYRIA
Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet writes that we can find ourselves in war as a consequence of our Syrian policy; but for the same reason – the aim of this policy – we cannot easily extricate ourselves from this war. And what is the aim of this policy? It is to topple the Baath regime in Syria and to replace with a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime. To attain this goal, Turkey has done everything so far, except engaging in open war. But none of Ankara’s predictions materialized. It was assumed that the Baath regime was going to crumble quickly, that the Western alliance would come riding with its guns and rifles, and that Iran was not going to shore up al-Assad; instead the very contrary happened. By treating the Baath regime as a “national enemy” Turkey unnecessarily overcommitted itself; now it finds itself isolated. And we also know that the government does not really want a war. But it is compelled to threaten with war as the only deterrent in the face of the enmities that its own policy has provoked. A war would not only be a mistake because it is unnecessary, but would also amount to a suicide; to avoid it, Turkey needs to urgently and in a easily discernible way change the course of its Syrian policy.
ALTAN: THE TWO CONSERVATISMS OF TURKEY
Ahmet Altan in Taraf comments on the speeches that Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Gül made, the former at the convention of the AKP and the latter at the opening of the parliament the following day, on October 1. When we look at the speeches of Prime Minister Erdoğan and President Gül we see how these two politicians have come to speak on behalf of two distinctly different constituencies that the conservative camp is on the verge of a defining breaking point. Erdoğan appeals to the conservatives of the rural small towns, of the working class suburbs of the big cities, appealing to the angers and resentments that the lifestyles of those who don’t look like them provoke. When Erdoğan does this, Gül has moved in to speak on behalf of the more productive conservatives. He defends the European Union, the rule of law, democracy. He stays clear from anger and confrontation. Erdoğan and Gül are not only separated by their respective presidential ambitions, but also by a very serious sociological separation that is under way.
KAHRAMAN: THE CONTRASTS BETWEEN THE SPEECHES OF ERDOGAN AND GÜL
Hasan Bülent Kahraman in Sabah writes that the speech of the president at the opening of the parliament basically had the character of declaration of democratization. It is impossible not to be struck by the differences between the speech of the president and the one that the prime minister had delivered a day before. Erdoğan spoke as the leader and architect of a movement that reaches out globally through Islam and the Middle East. Gül still sees the West and the EU as important. For Gül, democracy and freedom are values that cannot be compromised, and they also anchor Turkey to the West and the EU. In contrast to Erdoğan’s occasionally (in his convention speech) excessively emotional approach, based on an Islamic metaphysic, Gül prefers a detached and rational political approach. Turkey’s last decade was defined by the synthesis of these two approaches. The question we now face is whether the future will once again be shaped by a synthesis or instead by a divergence.
© 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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