Ahmet Necdet Sezer
Turkey was created in 1923 from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Soon thereafter the country instituted secular laws to replace traditional religious fiats. In 1945 Turkey joined the UN and in 1952 it became a member of NATO. Turkey occupied the northern portion of Cyprus in 1974 to prevent a Greek takeover of the island; relations between the two countries remain strained. Periodic military offensives against Kurdish separatists have dislocated part of the population in southeast Turkey and have drawn international condemnation.
Update No: 080 - (01/01/04)
Istanbul the new terrorist target
Istanbul is the meeting point of East and West. Nowhere else but in the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, indeed formerly as Constantinople the capital of the Roman Empire itself (latterly Byzantium), is there such a cross-roads of different peoples and cultures. Jews and Armenians, Syrians, Lebanese and Iraqis mingle with the Turks, as do Westerners from all over the place. No city could better belie the dictum of Kipling: "East is East and West is West; and never the twain shall meet."
This is why it is logical that it has become the new site of terrorist attacks, with two outrages within a week of each other. The terrorists were clearly attacking the idea of conjoining West and East. This was shown in their choice of targets.
On November 15th there was an attack on two synagogues in Istanbul, leaving 20 Jews dead, an act perpetrated apparently by Islamic fundamentalists of Turkish origin, making the facile equation of Jews and Israel. Then five days later came a suicide bombing attack on the UK consulate and the HSBC bank's main branch, killing 27, including Roger Short, the consul, and wounding 400. The killers were said to be from groups trained by al-Qaida in Chechnya and Afghanistan, coming from the largely Kurdish areas of the south-east. Other reports have mentioned 20 suspects picked up in Syria. It is too early to say definitely who was responsible.
That the main branch of the UK HSBC bank was a prime target, however, is for evident reasons. It is a symbol of Turkey's opening to the West. It has managed to install or buy a branch in every Turkish town. The general manager is a woman, Piraye Antika. She has presided over the largest foreign investment in the Turkish banking system. On several counts an affront to the traditionalists.
Government embarrassed on several fronts
The government is moderately Islamicist itself, and certainly deplored the deeds. Indeed, it finds them acutely embarrassing. The co-ordination of Turkish and foreign security forces to combat the threat of future attacks is going to be given a massive boost.
On December 2nd the appeals court sentenced former premier Necmettin Erbakan to 28 months in jail for misappropriating party funds. He as among 70 Islamists charged with misappropriating 1,000bn lira ($700,000) for the Welfare Party, the forerunner of the present party in power, ADK.
The premier, Teccip Erdogan, had his own brush with the law when he was a popular mayor of Istanbul. This was for reciting poetry deemed to incite religious bigotry and ethnic hatred. His prison record debarred him at first from being premier on his party's victory in 2001. But the necessary legislation was soon put through parliament to permit his assumption of the premiership, the locum tenens, Abdullah Gul, becoming foreign secretary.
Erdogan as the former mayor is the very man to pull Istanbul through its ordeal, as Mayor Giuliani was New York after 9:11.
Setback to EU hopes
The blasts might seem to represent a setback for hopes of Turkey entering the EU any time soon, in the light of its security problems, complex enough already with the Kurdish problem. But this has never been very realistic. The EU has enough on its plate to digest, what with ten new members next year. Clearly, there are other countries in the Balkans with prior claims for inclusion, for example Bulgaria and Romania. But there are still major questions about human rights and other democratic criteria which any new entrant to the EU must address to fulfil the requirements of the Copenhagen Accord on this subject. Turkey almost certainly is far behind what would be acceptable for Copenhagen.
Only after the EU has been able to absorb the 120 million people in the former communist world of Central and Eastern Europe, and demonstrably successfully, would Turkish membership become a serious proposition.
Another main factor in accession talks is that the Kurds of Turkey are a minority which has long suffered from discrimination. At least this is so, not only in their own eyes, but also those of the Europeans to the north and west of the country with whom the Turks want to be united in the EU. Human rights abuses need to be addressed, in particular the use of torture against detained Kurdish militants.
The Kurdish problem needs to be seen in a wider context, that of Iraq not least.
No Turkish troops for Iraq after all
The Turkish government has withdrawn its offer to send Turkish troops to Iraq. This is in line with popular sentiment that was running strongly against the war in the spring and has not receded subsequently in its hostility to helping the Americans in their occupation of the country, as it is viewed. The bomb blasts have only accentuated the risks troops would be running in Iraq.
The idea of Turkish troops in Iraq was highly unpopular in the neighbouring country itself, where memories of the Turkish Empire are fresh. Iraq for centuries was three Turkish provinces and the experience has gravely marked it. The division of the state into three portions, the Kurds, the Sunnis in the centre and the Shi-ites in the south dates from then and was inherited by the British in the aftermath of the First World War.
There is no love lost between the Turks and the Iraqis. But then nor is there between the Turks and the Kurds, who straddle the frontier, four million of them in Iraq and upwards of thirteen million in Turkey.
The offer of Kurdish help
The one indubitable success story by and large of US intervention in Iraq is the creation of two Kurdish enclaves in the north which are well on the way to self-government and reconstruction. Indeed this has been true for more than a decade, with US and UK air cover to protect their independence from the Saddam regime since 1992. With the regime ousted from Bagdhad the Kurds of Iraq can breathe more freely at last.
Kurds of any nationality now look on the US as their benefactor and ally. The new cordiality they feel towards the Americans doubtless explains what would have been unthinkable a year ago, an offer of help from the successor to the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which until its transformation two years ago was run on Leninist lines and engaged in what the US deemed terrorism. The vice-president of the new political organisation of the Kurds, the Congress of Kurdish People, is Osman Ocalan, brother of Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in Turkey for three years for terrorism, having been reprieved from the death penalty. Osman Ocalan has declared; "The Americans and ourselves have two enemies in common, radical Islam and nationalist Arab chauvinism. That is why, if they ask for it, we are prepared to aid them in controlling the frontier between Iran and Iraq to prevent (the passage across it) of Islamic militants of Ansar al-Islam or any other organisation opposed to the American presence in Iraq."
This offer is disingenuous to say the least. The Kurdish leader is well aware of the delicate state of US-Turkey relations, which would make any acceptance of assistance highly provocative to the Turkish government. Ankara has responded categorically to these overtures to the US as "propaganda which aims only at trying to render oblivion to the crimes of the PKK, the Kadek (a military offshoot of the PKK) and the pseudo-congress which are one and the same terrorist organisation."
The Americans are certainly behaving gingerly here with good reason. But they have not made any move to disarm the 4,000 heavily armed combatants of the military branch of the ex-PKK, spread in a dozen camps in the mountains of Qandil, which separate for hundreds of miles Iraq from Iran. The Congress, led by Zubeyir Aydar, a Kurdish lawyer who lives in exile in Switzerland, has taken great care to make-over its image. It condemned the recent outrage against the synagogues in Istanbul as "monstrous terrorist acts" and offered condolences to the victims. It has foresworn any ambition to create an independent Kurdistan, the main idea of the old PKK, and does not even demand the immediate release of "President Ocalan," but only an improvement of the conditions of his detention.
It remains to be seen if this mollifies the Americans. General Richard Myers, leading US troops in the area, has made no demands for disarmament, according to Mr Ocalan, the younger brother of the "President." Official links at a subaltern level have been made, say the same sources, and "we hope they lead to something."
The pay-off for the Ceyhan oil route
The Americans have several good reasons for keeping the talks going, even if they do not lead to any official recognition or a removal of the PKK from the US list of "terrorist organisations." The Kurdish militias have not targeted the US troops, indeed keep out of their way. They could do damage to the prospects for an oil pipeline from the Caucusus to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan on the Turkish coast, one reason for Western bankers to be wary of financing the project so far. It is even in Ankara's interests to keep the Kurdish militias happy to forestall any sabotage of the pipeline.
This is particularly true since various threats to resume the armed struggle have issued from various sources close to the ex-PKK leadership. It is playing a careful game of its own here. Remove any threat and it would remove any motive for conciliation. The tactics of the IRA are being adopted, with a military wing and a sanitised political one putting out different stories. There is probably a co-ordination of policy between them for all that. The Government in Ankara has a difficult task to perform itself.
Its foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, is a skilled diplomat who knows how to walk across hot coals. He is certainly doing that in this affair.
IMF funds forthcoming
The IMF is continuing its large funding programme of Turkey, the largest in its portfolio at $17.5bn. Another tranche of $500m is on the way. This is the more welcome as the March decision of the Turkish parliament not to allow the US to use northern Turkey for the transit of its troops to Iraq saw the loss of a potential $ 20bn or more in aid.
The economy is in dire straits, even if recent figures are positive. They need to be after a drop in GDP of 9% in 2002. The economy was looking up in 2003, not before time with a 5% growth in prospect for next year too. The rate of inflation, at 20% in 2003, is due to come down to 5% in 2004.
Increasing exports will solve Turkey's separatist terrorism problem - minister
State Minister Kursad Tuzmen has noted that Turkey will overcome many problems when its exports reach US$100bn, adding: "Under such conditions, we will no longer have problems such as the Islamic headgear or separatism terrorism. Neither shall we have other problems," Anatolia News Agency has reported.
Issuing a statement to the "Turkey Bulletin," the monthly publication of the AKP [Justice and Development Party], Minister Tuzmen assessed the one year that the AKP has been in power.
Claiming that Turkey will solve most of its problems when its exports reach US$100bn. Tuzmen continued as follows: "In an economy whose exports have reached US$100bn, national income per capita will stand at US$6,000-7,000. Under such circumstances, we will no longer have problems such as the Islamic headgear or separatist terrorism. Nor shall we have other problems. Turkey will become the leader of its region and it will take its place among the 10 most powerful countries in the world."
Stating that Turkey's trade with its neighbours has quadrupled, Tuzmen added that Turkey has made important progress in its trade with the Turkic republics.
Noting that the government believes that it will contribute to the solution of the regional problems by establishing strong trade relations with the Middle Eastern countries, Tuzmen said: "I aim to achieve the former Ottoman geography from the economic standpoint. It is possible to once again achieve the economic borders of the Ottoman Empire by strengthening our trade and our economy." Recalling that as the government, they have already declared that they will adopt a "development model that is based on exports", Tuzmen pointed out that balance has been achieved in the increase in imports and exports. Also recalling that the government had announced that its export target for 2003 was US$40bn and that it would make efforts to ensure that exports reach US$50bn within three years, Tuzmen added that at this point, it appears that the government was
able to achieve its three-year goal within only one year.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Turkish officials, Iranian oil minister discuss oil, gas trade
Mohammad Reza Ne'matzadeh, Iranian deputy oil minister and president of National Petrochemical Co. (NPC), said on 4th December that they had to decide whether they would apply for Petkim (petrochemicals) that would be privatised, adding that if they decided to apply they wanted to make this with Turkish firms, Anatolia News Agency has reported.
Ne'matzadeh who was in Turkey for an official visit met with the Union of Turkish Chambers and Commodity Exchanges in Turkey (TOBB) Chairman Rifat Hisarciklioglu.
Ne'matzadeh told reporters prior to the meeting that Iran ranked second in petroleum production in the world, and they were working for increasing investments on that field.
Noting that Turkey also needed petrochemical products, Ne'matzadeh said that they had meetings with Turkish businessmen for providing raw material for investments.
Emphasizing that Iran made big investments in petrochemical industry and productions which would be put on the market in 2004, Ne'matzadeh said that they aimed to open an office in Turkey for this and to work for usage of raw materials.
When asked whether they would have a proposal for Petkim together with HEMA Disli company, Ne'matzadeh said that they had to decide whether they would apply for Petkim, adding that if it happened, they wanted to make this with firms in Turkey.
Hisarciklioglu said that Turkey and Iran had rooted relations and it was necessary to develop economic relations to settle those relations on a sound basis.
Noting that Turkey's taking a part of its energy via Iran was appropriate for energy diversity, Hisarciklioglu said that they, as Turkish businessmen, were pleased to take natural gas from Iran.
State Minister Kursad Tuzmen received Deputy Petroleum Minister Mohammad Reza Ne'matzadeh of Iran, who also acts as chairman of the National Petrochemical Company.
During the meeting, Tuzmen informed Iranian delegation on trade of Turkey.
Stressing that Turkish and Iranian firms could make joint investments, Tuzmen called on Iranian firms to pay more attention to investments in the Turkish petrochemical sector. Tuzmen also added that Turkey had supported the project to transport Iranian natural gas into European markets.
Meanwhile, Ne'matzadeh said for his part that their visit to Turkey aimed at receiving information about the petrochemical sector in Turkey.
Noting that they would hold talks with representatives of public and private sectors in Bursa, Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul, Ne'matzadeh said that Turkish and Iranian firms could carry out joint business activities in the petrochemical sector.
Noting that the Iranian economy and trade had been liberalizing gradually, Ne'matzadeh said that they wanted to favour Turkey in trade.
Ne'matzadeh added that development of relations between Turkish and Iranian firms would have positive impacts on the economies of the two countries.
Ukrainian, Turkish premiers discuss trade, rebuilding Iraq
Ukrainian Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, made an official visit to Turkey. The Ukrainian and Turkish prime ministers highly praised cooperation between the two countries and outlined ways to boost it during their meeting. They paid much attention to trade, in particular the prospects of signing a free-trade agreement between Ukraine and Turkey. Maksym Sukhenko of UT1, Kiev gave the details:
Relations between Ukraine and Turkey have to become the model ones as early as 2005. Trade turnover last year was US$1.3bn and it is planned to double that next year.
Yanukovych said: "I am sure that the structure of the Ukrainian and Turkish economies complement each other. We agreed that if there is an opportunity to unite and do more then we will surely do that."
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