Books on Turkey
Update No: 127 - (19/12/07)
Turkey's ruling AK Party, which has Islamicist roots, signaled on December 7
that it plans to ease a ban on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in
universities under a new draft constitution. "This (new) constitution will
solve the headscarf problem in a more libertarian spirit," Dengir Firat, a
deputy chairman of the AK Party, told CNN Turk television.
The constitution was duly published on December 15. The AK party has hinted many
times that it wants to modify or if possible remove the headscarf ban, which
also applies to government offices.
Unless ‘a deal has been done’ with the military, any moves to scrap the ban
is sure to revive tensions between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's centre-right
AK Party government and Turkey's secular elite, which includes powerful army
generals, top judges and university rectors.
The secularists view the headscarf as a symbol of political Islam and,
therefore, as a direct challenge to Turkey's separation of religion and state.
They also distrust the AK Party because of its Islamicist past and the fact the
wives of Erdogan and other senior ministers wear the headscarf. The secularists
tried earlier last year to block the election by parliament of the AK Party's
Abdullah Gul as Turkey's president. Gul finally became president in August after
Erdogan called a snap parliamentary election that his AK Party won.
The AK Party has said the draft constitution, due to replace a text dating back
to a time of military rule in the 1980s, will boost individual freedoms in
Turkey, a European Union candidate. Firat said the government wanted a wider
debate about the principles and aims of the new constitution, adding that
opponents were trying to whip up secularist fears artificially by concentrating
solely on the headscarf issue. "The headscarf is an extension of freedom of
belief," he said.
EC positive; Germany and France less so
It is not only Turkey's secular elite that is alarmed by the religious
proclivities of the AK party in government, but influential people in the EU
itself. However, the European Commission said, on December 4, that the EU should
seek negotiations with Turkey on membership of the 27-nation bloc, despite
comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the contrary.
"We think we should stick to this commitment. The European Commission
advocates pursuing these negotiations," Commission spokesman Johannes
Laitenberger said at a regular briefing. The Commission, the European Union's
executive arm, was responding to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's reaffirmation
of opposition to that goal.
Merkel had reiterated in a speech to her Christian Democratic Union's (CDU)
annual party congress on December 3 that she was opposed to Turkey joining the
EU. Instead, she called for a "privileged partnership" between the
bloc and Ankara. It is a view shared by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Commission spokesman Laitenberger pointed out, however, that EU states had
unanimously agreed in 2005 to open negotiations with Ankara -- with a view to
membership if it fulfilled criteria. He said that final decisions about
membership should be made at the end of talks.
Merkel distances CDU from SPD
Merkel's comments in her December 3 speech were apparently an attempt to
demarcate policy differences on Turkey between her conservative CDU and her
centre-left junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD).
EU diplomats said France wanted to have the word "accession"
eliminated from the section concerning negotiations with Turkey in a statement
on the EU's enlargement policy, which the bloc's foreign ministers approved on
December 3. Ankara has said it wants nothing but membership and has rejected the
idea of an "enhanced partnership" with the EU.
Diversifying foreign policy
Turkey's expanding ties with other regions, often driven by energy needs, should
be seen as complementing, not replacing, its decades-old drive to join the EU.
Gul, who as foreign minister helped start EU accession talks was in Pakistan and
Turkmenistan recently, and was due in Kazakhstan.
'This new multi-dimensional foreign policy does not come at the expense of our
European vocation; but our place in the world is changing,' said Suat
Kiniklioglu, a member of parliament for Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling
centre-right AK Party. 'We lack the clout to broker big international deals, but
we are getting to a point where Turkey is recognised as a player in places like
the Middle East and Central Asia,' he said.
Muslim, secular and democratic Turkey – a NATO member that for decades tended
to box well below its diplomatic weight – clearly has much to offer, and the
world seems increasingly interested in its perspective. Almost uniquely in its
region, Turkey has good relations with both Iran and Israel, for example, and
its peacekeepers are active from Kosovo and Lebanon to Afghanistan. In the past
two months alone, the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States have
rubbed shoulders at a conference of Iraq's neighbours in Istanbul and the
Israeli and Palestinian presidents have jointly addressed Turkey's parliament in
Erdogan has also cleverly and confidently used threats to send troops into
northern Iraq to fight Kurdish rebels hiding there to push President George W.
Bush into sharing intelligence with Turkey to help combat the rebels. Aware of
Turkey's strategic importance as an ally in a difficult region, the United
States – and the EU – have turned a blind eye to Turkish cross-border
strikes against the rebels.
Pragmatism and enterprise
'Turkey is not a prime mover, it is in the second division, but it is being
increasingly listened to across the region,' said Hugh Pope, author of books on
Turkey including 'Sons of the Conquerors' about the Turks and Central Asia.
'Turkey has shed some of the former arrogance it showed in its dealings with the
Middle East and Central Asia,' he said, emphasising the pragmatism and
entrepreneurial spirit displayed by Turkish businessmen, engineers and educators
in the region.
Ottoman Turks ruled the Middle East, the Balkans and North Africa for centuries
from Istanbul. Turkey's more active diplomacy is not without its problems. The
United States, in particular, is vexed by Turkey's growing energy links with
Iran, though Ankara has made clear it shares Washington's opposition to Tehran
building nuclear weapons. The Islamist-rooted AK Party is also respected perhaps
more in the Arab world than previous Turkish governments because of its Muslim
piety as well as its success in overseeing annual economic growth in Turkey of
around 7 percent. Gulf Arab money has been pouring into Istanbul.
Analysts say Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan's chief foreign policy adviser, is the
mastermind behind Turkey's growing diplomatic dynamism during the past five
years of AK Party rule. Like Gul, Davutoglu hails from piously conservative
central Anatolia but sees no contradiction between Islam and democracy, between
Turkey's EU bid and building closer Middle East ties.
President Gul's own approach stands in stark contrast to that of his
predecessor, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a shy, ascetic former judge, who rarely left
Ankara and had no interest in foreign affairs. 'Gul really wants to make up for
lost time and re-engage, especially in Central Asia,' said Kiniklioglu. Turkey
aims to become an energy hub for Caspian and Central Asian oil and gas exports
transiting to Western markets. Existing and planned pipelines across Turkish
territory, the West hopes, will reduce its reliance on Russian energy exports.