Books on Turkey
Ahmet Necdet Sezer
Update No: 112 - (26/09/06)
Turkey is an absolutely vital country in world politics right
now. This is not just because of a new spate of terrorist attacks in Istanbul
and elsewhere in Anotolia at the end of the summer. That was clearly designed to
damage the tourist industry, claimed predictably by the militant wing, the
Falcon Freedom Group, of the Kurdish Workers' Party (KKP). They have been a
thorn in the side of the Turkish body politic for many years now.
Turkey is the one Muslim country in the Middle East which is not automatically
against Western interests. Indeed, it is in a sense a Western nation, fashioned
as such by one of the six or seven great statesmen of the twentieth century-
The list is an interesting one - and can temporarily detain us, Churchill, De
Gaulle, Roosevelt for sure, and Gorbachev. They recreated nations, the last in
abundance, and the world to boot.
Gandhi, Mandela, Ataturk created new nations.
"We would be like Iran today; but for Ataturk," says one perceptive
latterday Turk. Ataturk is the only leader to have secularized an Islamic
country in the Middle East - a quite massive achievement, which needs to be
emulated - and how so. (We have hopes of Pakistan's president, Musharraf.
The Turks want to be differentiated
The Turks distinguished themselves in early 2003 by refusing to send troops to
Iraq at the behest of Washington to remove Saddam Hussein. Moreover, the
parliament banned the US army from launching an invasion from Turkish territory.
Like many locals, they had a solid relationship with him, whom they regarded as
the lesser of a number of evils. It is of course a perfectly reasonable, if not
ineluctable, view in the light of recent developments. The Kurds and Marsh Arabs
would not agree, but the Turks have a racist disdain for Kurds and Arabs.
US Welcomes Turkey's Decision to Send Troops to Lebanon
It is understandable by contrast how US Department of State spokesman Sean
McCormack has said that his country welcomed the approval of the government
motion in the Turkish parliament regarding the deployment of Turkish troops to
Spokesman McCormack stated that they (US) welcomed the offer, in his regular
press briefing held in US capital Washington DC. "We think it's important
that countries around the world step up and meet an important need so that we do
-- we are able to make progress in that small corner of the world,"
McCormack added that, thus, they would not end up back where they were at the
beginning of hostilities thanks to finding such common points.
Turkish lawmakers have adopted a government motion after six-hours of heated
debate in the general assembly, authorizing the deployment of Turkish
peacekeeping troops to Lebanon as part of the U.N. peacekeeping forces.
A total of 340 deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)
voted in favour of the government motion, while 192 deputies voted against the
motion. One deputy abstained from voting.
There is a lot to be learned from Turkish history. Politically, Turkey is a
bridge to the Islamic world. It shows that prosperity, democracy and security
are possible in a constructive partnership with the developed world.
If Turkey were part of the EU, it would be its eighth largest economy. Its
constitution and educational system ensure women's rights and that they play a
full role in the economic and political life of the nation, thanks to Ataturk.
There are many in the fundamentalist shadows who believe such rights threaten
the power and influence of the clerics and that the emancipation of women is
incompatible with their interpretation of Islam. They would like nothing more
than to push Turkey into reverse gear.
The safeguard of the Ataturk legacy is the army, which are mostly conscripts; it
is the leading officers that really matter. But so does the tradition of
conscription. It is really an initiation into secular citizenship for the young
This year is election year in Turkey. The moderate Islamicists of Premier Reccep
Erdodogan's AKP are likely to win, having steered a cautious course, as have oil
tankers in the Bosphorus, between the Charibdis of fundamentalism and the Scylla
of abject pro-Americanism a la Blair. The economy is recovering from a frightful
crisis earlier in the decade.
It is better to be a Turk than a Lebanese, or an Israeli, let alone an Iranian
or a Palestinian. Turkey is still the best place to be in the Middle East; and
Istanbul remains one of the world's ten great cities - to deviate again, we
could suggest Rome, Paris, London; St Petersburg, Singapore, Hong Kong; Sydney,
Rio de Janeiro, New York. But last and not least the mistress of the Bosphorus,
the most mysterious of all, Istanbul.
For an informed assessment of the new situation by an Indian diplomat:-
Turkey's high-stakes march into Lebanon
By M K Bhadrakumar September 8th 2006
Two years ago, in a political profile of Turkish Prime Minister Racep Tayyip
Erdogan, Der Spiegel came close to concluding that he could be harbouring a
secret dream of being an Ottoman sultan, [an extravagant proposal with which we
do not agree. ED].
The German magazine was metaphorically summing up Erdogan's phenomenal march
from an obscure Istanbul prison cell to Turkey's prime ministership. But the
hunch was stunningly prescient, too.
Curiously, even as the Turkish parliament was bracing this week for a heated
debate on the wisdom of deputing troops to Lebanon as part of the United
Nations' stabilization force, Erdogan chose a forum of the Organization of
Islamic Conference (OIC) to speak on the subject.
The venue of the OIC conclave was highly significant - the ornate Dolmabahce
Palace overlooking the Golden Horn in Istanbul, the abode of the last Ottoman
sultan, Mehmet VI. Referring to the Levant, Erdogan said, "We can't forget
our historic responsibility as an OIC member."
With these few words, Erdogan at once summoned memories of the Caliphate and a
host of images from a distant past that modern Turkey has consciously tried to
obliterate. Earlier in the evening, Erdogan was quoted as saying that a nation
cut off from its past would have no future. "We should own our
values," he said.
It is therefore not in the least bit surprising that the decision by the Turkish
government to depute troops to Lebanon - duly endorsed by the Turkish parliament
in a majority vote on Tuesday - has virtually split the country's polity into
two distinct worlds.
What Erdogan perceives as Turkey's age-old "values" becomes heresy for
the political opposition, which perceives it as nothing less than an invidious
attempt by the Islamist ruling party to bury Kemal Ataturk's legacy of Turkey as
a staunchly secular democratic-state model in the Muslim world.
In this context, referring to the pressure on the Turkish government from the
United States over the Lebanon deployment, Cumhuriyet newspaper, the flag
carrier of "Ataturkism" in the Turkish media, wrote, "The Bush
administration is pushing Turkey to be an Islamic state favouring the US, and
ignoring the solution of a secular, democratic-state model in a Muslim
The 340-192 vote in parliament authorizing the government to deploy a naval
force for one year to patrol the waters off Lebanon, and possibly Turkish ground
troops of an unspecified number, might appear deceptively simple. Actually, the
topic proved to be highly divisive, with significant sections of public opinion,
the country's president and all political parties other than the ruling Justice
and Development Party (AKP) vehemently opposing the move. Dissident opinion is
apparently sizable even within the AKP.
The Islamist and nationalist camps argue that the Turkish contingent in Lebanon
might come to be viewed as an occupation force, which would work against
"Islamic solidarity" and hurt Turkey's long-term interests. The
nationalists abhor the very idea of Turkey getting entangled in any manner in
the Israeli-Arab conflict. They argue that Turkey ought to concentrate attention
on the pressing challenge to national security posed by Kurdish separatism.
"Leave aside Palestine; the primary interest is in Mount Kandil and Kirkuk,"
said top nationalist leader and former deputy prime minister, Devlet Bahceli, in
reference to Kurdish militant strongholds in Turkey and Iraq, respectively.
There is widespread concern that the United Nations stabilization force will be
called on incrementally to serve US-Israeli interests and will prove incapable
of protecting the Lebanese people from future Israeli aggression. Overarching
all this is the pervasive scepticism about Turkey identifying with the United
States' controversial "New Middle East" project.
In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan made a forceful case for his
decision. He said the only way to safeguard Turkey's interests would be by
involving itself in the region, rather than remaining a "mere
bystander"; the political opposition was "failing to comprehend world
realities"; Turkey's "elevated interests" demanded involvement
and any failure to do so "amounted to a betrayal of our past"; the
preconditions for Turkey's deployment of troops were fulfilled (a UN mandate, a
ceasefire and acceptability of a Turkish military presence by all parties
Erdogan ruled out any involvement of the Turkish contingent in a combat role or
in any task to disarm Hezbollah. He said, "Hezbollah is a sovereign matter
for Lebanon and is an interlocutor of the Lebanese government. It is out of the
question for the UN peacekeeping force to be drawn into any task of disarming
Stepping into a quagmire
The government's sensitivity has to be viewed against the backdrop of
Turkey's foreign policy, which is traditionally aimed at avoiding the quagmire
in the Middle East - a course originally set by Ataturk, the father of the
modern Turkish state. Thus Turkey consistently refrained from taking sides in
the countless vanity fairs and disputes among its Arab neighbours (who were
historically part of the Ottoman Empire), or in the 50-year Arab-Israeli
This policy ensured that Turkey kept out of wars and made no fierce enemies in
the region, though a deleterious side-effect, arguably, was that Turkey had no
firm friends in its neighbourhood, either.
Erdogan is now relegating to history that chapter of "masterly
inactivity" in Turkey's Middle East policy. This hasn't happened all of a
sudden. In his past three years in power, Erdogan dexterously took a huge arc,
almost unobtrusively for the most part, of shifting the course of Turkish
He followed a two-pronged approach. Even as he counted on the Foreign Ministry
to maintain diplomatic ties with Israel on an even keel, he himself resorted to
a "tilt" toward Turkey's Arab brethren at the political level. The
"tilt" took the form of a more vocal stance within the OIC,
intensified political exchanges with Arab countries, dealings with Hamas in
Palestine, a warming of relations with Syria and Iran, and Erdogan himself
directing an occasional barb or two against Israel.
Thus Turkey's political leadership blamed Israel for the latest flare-up in the
Middle East, and was manifestly reluctant to criticize Hezbollah. Erdogan
resorted to sharp rhetoric at the OIC's emergency meeting on Lebanon held in
Kuala Lumpur on August 3. He said: "No justification can show what is
happening [in Lebanon] to be innocent. This war that we are witnessing can never
be accepted as legitimate by any means. It cannot be defended."
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul strode further ahead in an article in the
Washington Post: "Throughout the world, the same question is being asked:
Why has the sole superpower, which alone has the capability to stop this
tragedy, turned a blind eye to the images of human suffering and a deaf ear to
the cries for mercy? The grave tragedy that has been unfolding before our eyes
in Lebanon, and the inability of the international community to bring it to an
end after three weeks of suffering, unfortunately raise questions about the US
and its proud legacy of leadership for freedom and justice."
Interestingly, both Washington and Jerusalem took such strident criticism
calmly, estimating probably the need for the Turkish leadership to ride the
crest of domestic opinion that was so overwhelmingly surcharged over the
US-Israeli axis in the Middle East.
What are Erdogan's calculations? First, the Turkish military and political
leaderships want to regain the ground lost in Ankara's equations with the
administration of US President George W Bush after the rejection by the Turkish
parliament in March 2003 of the idea of deployment of US troops on Turkish soil
in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
Second, in political terms, Erdogan has been bearing the brunt of the chill in
US-Turkey relations. A fresh turn offers itself during his forthcoming official
visit to Washington on October 6-7. US backing will become useful for him
politically when Turkey prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections
next year. Erdogan is equally conscious that his Islamist credentials are useful
for the US in the Middle East's politics.
Third, Erdogan intends to enhance Turkey's profile as a key player in the
region. He hopes that along with Turkey's regional standing, his own leadership
role in the Muslim world will get a fillip, and that in turn is bound to have
resonance in the Islamic constituency in Turkey, especially if he projects
himself as a candidate in the presidential election in May.
Finally, through a significant military presence in Lebanon, Ankara will be
drawing the attention of the European Union once again to Turkey's unmatchable
role as a bridge between the Western world and Muslim Middle East.
But there are dangers in Erdogan's audacious decision. First, there are inherent
uncertainties in the Lebanon situation over which Turkey has no influence.
Second, what today begins as a benign peacekeeping mission by the UN can
transform in due course.
Third, Erdogan may believe that Turkey has a natural role to play in the Middle
East but, as Michael Rubin, former Pentagon official and prominent Middle East
expert with the (US-Israeli lobby) American Enterprise Institute, put it,
"His [Erdogan's] neo-Ottomanism aside, he is neither trusted by the
Israelis nor the Lebanese. Many in Israel will not forgive his statements of
sympathy for Palestinian terrorist groups, and the Lebanese remember that when
they had their Cedar Revolution and the world was pressuring Syria to preserve
Lebanese freedom, Erdogan chose Damascus over Beirut."
Most important, Ankara is pinning hopes on Washington's capacity to appreciate
its gesture. Whereas peacekeepers, when successful, are soon forgotten, in
Lebanon, on the other hand, the chances of things going wrong are real, which
would make Turkish participation risky.
But what will matter to the Turkish leadership (civilian and military) is the
extent to which Washington is willing to reciprocate Turkey's goodwill by
cooperating with Turkey's "war on terror" against the Kurdish Workers'
Party (PKK). There is uneasiness in Ankara whether Washington will go beyond a
few cosmetic moves aimed at appeasing Turkey, and proceed to take concrete steps
against the Kurdish guerrillas.
To be sure, Bush's recent pledges of a larger anti-PKK effort had an effect on
Erdogan. As National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley acknowledged, the PKK
matter is "something we [Washington] have to address more aggressively. The
president has made that assurance to Prime Minister Erdogan, and I think he was
relieved. Now we've got to deliver on it."
The problem is, Washington has made such pledges in the past by way of appeasing
Ankara and keeping it from intervening forcefully in northern Iraq. If Turkish
expectations are not fulfilled this time around, Erdogan will face a serious
problem, as he will be seen to be doing "America's job" in Lebanon.
And that is a public perception that Erdogan simply cannot afford with an
election year looming. Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil recently explained that
"anti-Americanism" in Turkey had traversed ideological divides and now
is an apolitical phenomenon.
Bekdil wrote: "Islamists, nationalists, Kemalists, liberals, social
democrats, leftists, your cleaning lady, the waiter at your favourite
restaurant, the owner of the shop on the corner, the taxi driver, even the
modern Turkish youth who 'try to live like the Americans' are
Washington's moves on the PKK issue, therefore, will be a litmus test for
Ankara. The Bush administration recently issued an appeal to the PKK to lay down
arms. But a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman curtly reacted, "We found
the statement somewhat odd, because we would expect the US to take rather more
concrete steps instead of a statement expressing the obvious."
Again, Washington has appointed retired General Joseph Ralston as a
"coordinator" for the PKK matter. But according to top Turkish
commentator Fatih Altayli, this only "caused annoyance" to Turkish
security agencies, which felt that the move held no "meaning" for
Turkey as there was "no need for such a coordination group." Altayli
quoted Turkish intelligence sources as sensing a "dangerous aspect" to
Washington's decision, since "if a US coordinator, who will have an
official title, meets with the PKK, and that, too, with Turkey's approval, and
performs the role of a go-between for Turkey and the PKK, then Turkey will face
a fait accompli".
The question once again returns like a bad coin to the war in Iraq: Can
Washington afford to antagonize its Kurdish allies in northern Iraq?
All in all, therefore, Erdogan has taken Turkish policy into uncharted waters.
He is indeed a brave and gifted politician with an extraordinary track record of
salvaging the ground from hopeless situations. But as opposition leader Deniz
Baykal described last week, Erdogan is taking on epic forces.
Baykal said, "Turkey is entering the vortex of the clash of civilizations.
How sad, this is a Jewish-Muslim war! In all honesty, Turkey will gain if it
keeps out. This is only the first phase of the conflict. One doesn't end the
world's oldest conflict by sending in a UN peacekeeping force."
Yet settling a civilizational clash from the dawn of history would have been a
tall order for even Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-66), the sultan under whom
the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith.
Eyes turn toward Iran for oil
A new link is being forged in the Turkish-Iranian chain of energy cooperation,
news agency reporter.gr said recently.
In a bid from Iran to bypass Russia and access the European natural gas market
via Turkey, Iran appears ready to allow Turkey to search for oil in the country
in return. Turkey currently operates oil fields in Azerbaijan and Kazakstan and
TPAO (Turkey's state-owned petroleum company) has the authorisation to search
for oil in Syria, Iran and Libya. The issue was to be discussed with Iran's Oil
Minister, Kazem Vaziri Hamanch, who arrived in Turkey to meet with Turkish
Energy Minsiter, Hilmi Guler. During the talks, TPAO was due to ask permission
from Iran to rent potential oil fields and conduct feasibility studies.
Guler launches US$5bn Afsin Elbistan project
Energy Minister, Hilmi Guler, announced the start of the biggest project in the
history of the Turkish Republic: the US$5bn Afsin Elbistan lignite mine, during
a press conference in Ankara on August 24th.
Guler said the bidding process had begun. With the private sector's investment
of US$5bn over five years, some 15,000 people would be employed during the
accompanying construction process and 8,500 during the management process, he
said, news agency reporter.gr reported.
When the project is completed, it will have the capacity to produce 30bn
kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, Guler explained, adding that the mining
operation alone would require 100m shuttles by 50 tonne trucks, the news report
said. The Afsin Elbistan project includes the rehabilitation of Power Plant A
and the building of power plants C and D over five years.
The ash produced by Afsin Elbistan would be used in cement production.
Electricity Generation Inc (EUAS) General Manager, Sefer Butun, said power
plants C and D would produce energy equivalent to 18 per cent of Turkey's
electric production. The construction of power plants A and B took 17 years to
complete, Butun said. Hitachi, Minex, Alsthom, Babcok, DemirExport, Unit Int,
Dogus, Koseoglu Madencilik and Ozdogru are reportedly interested in various
phases of the project.
WB grants 280m Euro for energy sector
The World Bank (WB) granted a 280 million Euro loan to Turkey to be used within
the framework of the electricity generation rehabilitation and restructuring
project, Italian News Agency ANSA reported on September 13th.
World Bank Turkey Director, Andrew Vorkink, said that Turkey may have an
electricity problem between 2008 and 2010 due to the expected economic growth
and rise in electricity demand. According to Vorkink, the loan will reduce the
risk and help Turkey meet the energy demanded by its private sector and