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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: 187 - (26/03/13)

Summary: Prime Minister Erdogan appears to be on the verge of potentially momentous transformation in terms of Turkey’s relationship with the Kurdish separatist movement. It appears likely that the two sides may be reach a cease-fire which could end a 30-year insurgency. If this is the case it could be a tremendous coup for the mercurial Prime Minister.

Turkey is currently experiencing a major transformation in terms of its relationship with the Kurdish minority. For three decades, an armed Kurdish insurgency, in the form of the PKK (the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party) has been fighting for political rights, representation and autonomy through a terrorist campaign. Fighting on both sides has claimed 40,000 lives. Now, it seems, there has been a sea change. Negotiations between the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been imprisoned since 1999 and the Turkish authorities, began hesitantly in November. Dubbed the "Imrali process" after the island upon which he is incarcerated, talks have begun to bear fruit. It seems that there is a very significant possibility that a peace deal could be met. What this means for Prime Minister Recep Tayipp Erdogan in terms of his political career, defined so far by his ambition (largely successful) to turn Turkey into a modern, economic powerhouse depends on how successful this delicate process is.

Since last month, the positive progress in discussions between Turkey's intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan and Abdullah Ocalan, has continued. In February, at the leader's behest, the PKK freed eight Turkish soldiers and officials whom it had been holding captive in northern Iraq for as long as two years. Described by the Guardian newspaper as the "first tangible result of the attempt at a negotiated settlement," Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister, Besir Atalay, welcomed the news of their release as "a gesture of goodwill". He also told the press that the peace process was "going just fine." The imprisoned leader has also been receiving some visits. Ayla Akat, a Kurdish MP who is one of the few to have gained access to him, stated, "Fidan and Öcalan have managed to understand each other." The PKK chief, who has been in solitary confinement since his capture in 1999, has pledged that he will make a "historic" announcement on March 21, during the New Year celebrations. Many anticipate it will be a ceasefire declaration. There is of course, some skepticism. It remains unclear as to whether there is popular support for negotiations with the terrorists on the part of Turks, and indeed whether the Kurdish separatist movement feel that negotiation with Erdogan is an acceptable political maneuver. There may well be freedom fighters who refuse to accept the new trajectory, which does not exact complete autonomy for Kurds but rather full political rights. On March 5 it was reported that Kurdish militants had detonated a bomb under a military vehicle in southeast Turkey, wounding four soldiers, in what analysts have called a challenge to the incipient peace process.

For Erdogan however, the political capital to be gained is clear. So far the conflict is calculated to have cost Turkey up to $450 billion. It is a constant political headache as well an economic haemorrhage. In terms of geo-politics, the instability in Syria has seen the Kurdish insurgency there gain great strength and momentum. As a result if Turkey wishes to retain a role as a major player, it will have to accept the demands of the Kurdish movement, or engage in much larger scale military operations against a pan-national Kurdish insurgency. The latter, a costly option in many respects, is hardly appealing. In domestic terms, reconciling with the Kurdish separatists is a necessity for the longevity of Erdogan's political career. He is serving his third and final term as Prime Minister and wishes to move to the Presidency. A presidency which, if he has his way and changes the constitution, would wield increased executive powers. In order to do this, the backing of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party would be if not entirely necessary, highly useful.

To reach a settlement with the Kurds, the current constitution would need to be changed anyway. As it stands, the constitution, which was drawn up by the generals following a coup in 1980, would need to be replaced by a “fully democratic” one that addresses the Kurds’ demands, which would include the removal of an article saying that all Turkish citizens “are Turks” and as well another preventing education in the Kurdish language. There would also be changes to the constitutional definition of citizenship and increase in local government, and a lower threshold for political parties to be represented in parliament. Managing to achieve a settlement with the PKK, which many have compared in scale to the settlement reached with IRA in Britain in 1997, would be a significant achievement and a possible highlight of Erdogan’s legacy. Some have suggested a Nobel Peace Prize for the Prime Minister could arise out of a peaceful working settlement.

Those who fear that Erdogan's constitution-changing ambitions reflect an autocratic nature will have noted with despair that the Kurdish peace process has provided him with a pretext for further repression of the media. The Prime Minister recently lambasted the Milliyet newspaper after it published a transcript of a meeting last month between Abdullah Ocalan and Kurdish politicians. Erdoğan commented: "If you are going to conduct this kind of journalism, then we don't need your journalism. We want a service to this nation. Whoever is working to sabotage this resolution process is against me, my friends and the government." Journalists of course, rebuffed the criticisms. Ahmet Abakay, head of the Progressive Journalists Association, wrote: "Newspapers and television stations are not corporations tied to the government. Journalists are also not civil servants or officials of the prime ministry." They are not the only ones to be mounting complaints. Tarık Günersel, the president of PEN turkey wrote recently, “At present, Turkey is still a wonderful country for tourists, but it is becoming an increasingly difficult place for its citizens. You wouldn’t want to be a writer, journalist, translator, publisher, human rights activist, democrat, thinking person, or anyone who seeks justice in ‘my’ country.” Eight members of the board of directors of PEN are currently facing a criminal investigation after they condemned the trial of composer Fazıl Say, who has been charged with “insulting religious values” as a result of a number of Tweets. The charges against PEN members came about after they suggested that the case against Say and other prosecutions against government critical voices reflect “fascistic developments” in Turkey. The authorities are holding them in breach of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which outlaws insults to the Turkish Republic, Turkish ethnicity or Turkish government institutions.

Insulting or threatening Turkishness has been a consistent trope in Erdogan's battles against “enemies of the state”, be they students, Kurds, or members of the media. Undermining the once-omnipotent military has become one of the hallmarks of his regime. He seems of late however to have retreated from this position somewhat, complaining that the military has been treated unfairly, in a possible attempt to reconcile different threads of society prior to his presidential bid. In addition, the growing unrest in Syria has highlighted the need for a robust armed forces. In March, prosecutors asked that Retired General Ilker Basbug, the highest-ranked defendant in one of Turkey's two coup-plot trials, be sentenced to life imprisonment as part of the Ergenekon trial. The prosecutors involved in the Ergenekon are widely believed to be heavily involved in the Gulen movement, a religious and social organisation which has a huge number of supporters in Turkey. The fact that such a heavy sentence was demanded, even after Erdogan had criticized the arrest of Basbug, is, observers say, a sign that the Gulen movement may be disgruntled at Erdogan's attempts to resolve the Kurdish situation. This gives some indication as to how complex Erdogan's political nexus is and how trying to shift any elements of the status quo, invariably involves disgruntling certain parties. This will have to be carefully monitored by Erdogan as he attempts to position himself for a presidential bid.

The economy has been one aspect of Erdogan’s vision of Turkey which has gained it considerable praise. Whilst it has slowed somewhat of late, the upheavals in the near abroad have not prejudiced its progress. If anything it would seem that Turkey has benefited from the regime changes in recent years. It was reported by the Financial Times that Turkey has profited considerably from the war in Iraq. Since the war began, Ankara’s exports to Iraq increased by more than 25% a year, reaching $10.8 billion in 2012, replacing Italy as the second biggest importer of Turkish goods. Analysts have also noted that peace in the South East will allow the country to invest considerably in infrastructure and improve its economic prospects there. Cooperation with the Kurds in Northern Iraq in energy deals would only be more likely if Ankara settles its Kurdish problem. The stakes are high. If Erdogan succeeds in negotiating a settlement, it could be a decisive moment in modern Turkish history.


 

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