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TURKEY


 

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 237,972 182,848 147,700 21
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,790 2,500 2,530 92
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 174 - (26/01/12)

What lies Behind The Rhetoric?
Turkey is continuing to exercise a considerable degree of influence on the international stage, as per the example set last year during the events of the Arab spring. Many of the government's detractors, however, are increasingly worried that whilst being hailed as a model of Islamic democracy, behind the rhetoric of charismatic leader Tayyip Erdogan lies a harsh reality: a regime in which the media is muzzled, the Kurdish minority oppressed and political opposition quashed, largely under the umbrella of a counter-terrorism operation which has swept thousands into the country's jails.

The aforementioned counter-terrorism operation (a reaction to "Ergenekon", an alleged terrorist anti-government plot) has been used to great effect to defang the country's once ultra-powerful military. At the start of the new year, Turkey's former chief of staff, general İlker Başbuğ was arrested on charges of involvement in the conspiracy. He is the most senior officer to date to be accused of participating in the so-called 'plot' which has seen hundreds of military officers, academics and journalists detained on nebulous charges. The charge leveled against Basburg specifically is that of overseeing the funding of websites with the specific aim of discrediting the government. In addition to this, at the start of January, a Turkish court accepted indictments against the country's seventh president, Kenan Evren, for his role in the 1980 army coup, charges which amounted to crimes against humanity. Should the trial be opened and he found guilty, the 94-year-old, along with another indictee, retired general, Tahsin Sahinkaya, face life imprisonment without parole.

The undermining of the military has been by some as a necessary step in the transition towards full democracy - whilst others argue that the dismantling of the politico-military complex, traditionally a bastion of secularism, will open the door to stronger strands of Islamism in the country's governance.

What also concerns observers is that the Ergenekon plot as a whole has proved a formidable tool with which the authorities can stymie their rivals, be they members of the military or the media. Turkey's main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, of the Republican People's Party (CHP) is currently under investigation after apparently comparing the Silivri prison where Başbuğ and other Ergenekon suspects are held, to a 'concentration camp'. He also cast aspersions on the impartiality of judges presiding over the trials. Turkey's large number of pre-trial detainees has been the subject of great censure by the international community. According to figures cited by the Turkish Human Rights Association, 42 percent of all 128,000 inmates in Turkish prisons are on remand and have not been convicted. As the bail mechanism does not exist, detainees can languish in prison cells for indeterminate lengths of time as the authorities mull charges against them.

One of the groups to have suffered most during the Ergenekon purge are journalists. According to the Turkish Journalists' Union and the International Federation of Journalists, Turkey currently has 72 journalists in jail and 1,000 of the country's 16,000 cases pending at the European Court of Human Rights are related to media freedom. Just this week the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed its disappointment at the 'terrible' state of press freedom in the country, and its consternation that Prime Minister Erdogan did not respond to a letter by the group on that matter. Turkey's Ministry of Justice disputes the figures offered by the journalists' union, saying that only 63 of the named people are jailed and denying that the majority were imprisoned for their work as journalists.

The culmination of the trial surrounding the murder of Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor and government critic Hrant Dink has served as a lightning rod for discontent among the populace regarding the state of media freedom. On January 17, an Istanbul court ruled that the slaying was the work of lone ultra-nationalist Yasin Hayal and that no part of the state apparatus was involved. Reporters Without Borders has expressed its shock at the verdict, as has Amnesty International, which released a statement arguing that the Turkish authorities had failed to address the involvement of state officials' and law enforcement in the murder of the writer. The demands for justice for Dink, whose work on the Armenian genocide challenged the official government narrative, is not limited to the media. On the five-year aniversary of his death, on January 19, thousands gathered in the streets of Istanbul to pay tribute to the fearlessness which may have cost him his life. The appearance in court of journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Şener at the beginning of January, on a variety of charges related to abetting a terrorist organization, has also highlighted the perils of reporting.

The Kurdish dispute, a thorn deep in Ankara's side, has flared over the past month. In the last week of December, a botched air strike in Northern Iraq, apparently designed to target a group of Kurdish rebels, hit a group of Kurdish smugglers, killing 35 civilians. This represents an almost unprecedented number killed in one day in Turkey's long-term battle with Kurdish separatists which has claimed tens of thousands of victims over its 18-year duration. Whilst the government had no choice but to admit the blunder and offer pay-outs to the families of the victims, tensions remains high. Since the strike, the rebel Kurdistan Workers' party, (PKK) which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and the west, called the action genocide and urged protesters to mobilise. During the resultant wave of protests across Turkey's south east where the Kurdish minority is concentrated, protestors and police clashed. Seven people were detained. Many have argued that the intransigence of Erdogan's Justice and Development party regarding the rights of Kurdish minorities is likely to lead to nothing but a further radicalization of young people from that demographic. The fact that the ruling party will not accept the parallel Kurdish political structures offered for example by the Peace and Democracy party who rule in the Kurdish dominated South East, means that oppressed citizens are contemplating armed opposition with increasing favor.

The Kurdish question is not the only matter which inflames the sense of national pride. integrity and 'Turkishness' which Erdogan seeks to foster. A recent diplomatic spat with France over the Armenian genocide has also showcased Ankara's fiercely protective attitude towards its historiography. The Sarkozy-led government in France has shown little in the way of amity towards Ankara in recent years, proving hostile to Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Matters came to a head in late December when France approved a law that would make it a criminal offence to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 by Ottoman Turks was genocide.
In France there was an outcry by intellectuals protesting about retrospective law of this kind, when the view generally is that with 500,000 Armenians long settled in France, that this is a cynical play for their votes in the upcoming presidential election.

Turkey, in response, withdrew its ambassador to Paris and froze political and diplomatic relations with France. Erdogan also withdrew permission for French military planes to land and warships to dock in Turkey and cancelled joint military exercises. At the end of December the Turkish Prime Minister upped the ante by arguing that French action in the Algerian war of Independence amounted to genocide in a speech redolent with personal criticism of the French president. Meanwhile France's foreign minister, Alain Juppé, has called for 'restraint' and trust. Given that there are considerable trade interests at stake (France is Turkey's fifth biggest export market and the sixth biggest source of its imports) it seems likely that the row will defuse at some point.

Indeed, there are other matters of international significance to occupy Erdogan's political agenda. The Middle East remains turbulent. Turkey continues to house fugitive military officers from the Al-Assad regime in Syria, which Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has described as at a 'dead end'. In Iraq, unrest is bubbling. On January 16, Iraq summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to complain about comments by Turkish officials which it claimed amounted to 'interfering'. It is believed that the comments in question were made at the start of the year by Prime Minster Erdogan, who argued that a Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in Iraq, could have untold consequences for the Arab world.

Turkey is also attempting to promote the resumption of six-party talks on Iran's nuclear regime, advocating a return to the negotiating table despite Europe's stance on Tehran hardening, yet Iran’s opponents claim that it is all about getting around a conference table.
The situation in a post-Arab spring Middle East, one in which Turkey has carved a defining role, continues to evolve. Whether Erdogan will be able to exploit his capacity for grandstanding in the thornier territories of Iraq and Iran remains to be seen.

What has become clear as the haze of the Arab Spring has receded, is that domestic politics in Turkey require attention. The sense of an impartial judiciary, swelling ranks of pre-trial detainees as well as example of bloodshed among Kurdish civilians, are all unsightly reminders of a less palatable backdrop to the Turkish success model.

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