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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: 175 - (26/02/12)

The momentous events occurring in the Middle East continue to place Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party at the centre of geopolitical developments. The escalation of tensions in Syria, Turkey's former ally, has proved a constant source of diplomatic cooperation between Ankara and its Western allies, who are steadily upping pressure on the Bashar Al-Assad regime. Iran's nuclear ambitions are also a regional and international powder keg. Whilst Turkey has been lauded as a potential model for democracy within this region, there are sadly also many reasons to argue that the country needs to establish a corrective stance on its own state of politics.

The ongoing oppression of anti-government forces in Syria, with which Turkey shares a 566-mile frontier, has had a major impact on Turkey's policy in the region. The Erdogan regime, once a stalwart ally of Syria, has now definitively turned against Bashar Al-Assad's increasingly tyrannical rule, which may have taken the lives of as many as 5,000 civilians; the pro-government losses are estimated at 2000. 30,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, among them members of the military who have now defected from the Al-Assad regime and call themselves the Free Syrian Army, one of several competing opposition groups in Syria . Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu has led criticisms of Turkey's former ally, suggesting that instead of being a 'Gorbachev', al-Assad had chosen the distinctly more brutal path of a 'Milosevic'. The Foreign Minister also expressed consternation at China and Russia's decision to veto a UN Security Council resolution which would have called for a halt to the violence. Erdogan, following a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss matter also affirmed that a "wait and see attitude" would not be appropriate in the case of Damascus. Turkey has however drawn the line at certain strategies including that of creating a safe haven for civilians along its frontier, which the Syrian opposition claim is necessary to save lives. The reason for Turkey's reluctance is perhaps a fear that intervention would simply stoke further conflict and disruption in a region where Turkey has, up until now, been using soft power to make its views known. It may well also undermine the carefully-honed image of the nation as a fundamentally peace-promoting model of leadership.

Turkey also has reason to fear that the Al-Assad regime, should it hang on, could cause problems for Ankara, by lending its support to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, against which Turkey has for a very long time been engaged in an on-going armed struggle. The 13th anniversary of the capture of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan on February 15, a day which is often punctuated with attacks by the PKK, came to pass without attacks, but all month long skirmishes have claimed lives. On February 14 it was reported that a gun battle in the predominantly South Eastern part of the country has left 15 Kurdish rebels and two Turkish soldiers dead. The day before, 200 suspected Kurdish rebels were arrested. On February 10, an alleged female suicide bomber blew herself up in Istanbul, prompting concerns about attacks on civilians. Turkey has good cause to tread carefully in its own backyard with the state of volatility of its borders. Ankara has unsurprisingly therefore also urged caution on the matter of Iran, whose defiance regarding its nuclear ambitions continues to rile Western powers. Ankara has criticized the use of economic sanctions against Iran ineffectual as a deterrent. Ahmet Davutoglu also issued a strong warning against any military intervention, which he believes would be a "disaster”. The government's motives may not be uniquely humanitarian in this instance, but Turkey, which has been accused of using its financial institutions to help Iran evade sanctions, will likely suffer financial loss from an embargo, due to its strong trade ties with neighbouring Tehran.

Turkey's role as a pivot between the Middle East and Western powers has cemented ties with the US, which looks to the Turkish Prime Minister as its point man in the region. US President Barack Obama described Erdogan last month as one of the five world leaders with whom he enjoys the most effective and trusted relations. Hillary Clinton and Ahmet Davutoglu have similarly been in close contact in international attempts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, prompting the latter to refer to the current period of US-Turkey relations as a "golden age". The US has reciprocated with, for example, a criticism of France's recent law which could make it a criminal offence to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 by Ottoman Turks was genocide, a move which has provoked unbridled outrage in Turkey and a lot of criticism in France itself, where many see it as a pre-election move to attract the votes of a large number of Franco-Armenians living in France. . Hillary Clinton has said publicly that using the power of a government over historical issues would set a 'very dangerous' precedent, how right she is.

There is one American whom the Erdogan regime has failed to charm. On February 1, respected US novelist Paul Auster said in a highly-publicized interview with Turkey's Hürriyet newspaper that he would not visit Turkey because of its "appalling" record on freedom of speech. Two days later, Erdogan responded with habitual bluntness: "As if we need you! Who cares if you come or not? Would Turkey lose any grandeur?". He also called Auster "ignorant" and criticized him for his visits to Israel. The verbal sparring continued with a statement issued by Auster, in which he said that "whatever the prime minister might think about the state of Israel, the fact is that free speech exists there and no writers or journalists are in jail". Turkey continues to vehemently deny any harassment of journalists; many beg to differ. Limitations on freedom of speech are widely documented. Around 100 journalists and publishers are in Turkish jails, one of the highest incarceration rates for members of the news media in the world, rivalled only by next door Iran!

The problem of oppression is not limited to the media sphere. Innumerable political opponents claim that Turkey's ruling elite fail to observe the principles of democratic freedom which they so heartily espouse. At the start of this month, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party in Turkey, penned an article in the Washington Post in which he described how the government has used the alleged terrorist plot against the government (known as Egernekon) as a mechanism for quashing the opposition. Kılıçdaroğlu says that the eight members of his party who won seats in parliament, have now all been detained for alleged involvement in the conspiracy, in clear infringement of their rights. "In today’s Turkey, when one criticizes the justice system, one is prosecuted" he says. The government's exploitation of anti-terrorism laws has proved uncomfortable viewing for democrats at home and internationally. Last week came a telling example of the manipulation of the rule of law for political capital. When it was revealed that prosecutors were using their special powers to extirpate terrorists to launch investigations into the government's own intelligence chiefs, Erdogan pushed through a law that would require said prosecutors to obtain his permission before they begin investigation, effectively immunizing his handpicked officials from any probing questions. Additionally, last week, the European Court of Human Rights identified Turkey as a leading violator among the 47 signatory states of the continent’s rights convention. Its report found Turkey had the second highest number of complaints lodged against it, with 11% of all 119,300 court applications pending as of Jan. 1, 2010, after Russia. This number has more than doubled on the total number in 2008.

Paul Auster's vituperation of Erdogan's Turkey is just one example of the negative attention the regime has begun to attract. Whilst in comparison with neighbouring tyrannies, Ankara may seem like an oasis of freedom, many would argue that we should not be blinkered by its positive role in negotiating a peaceful transition to democracy in other countries, to its own, very real violations of democracy.

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