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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: 195 - (26/11/13)

Looking back at the events of this year, it has been a trying period for Prime Minister Erdogan of the ruling AKP party. The situation in Syria has proved, in practical terms, a costly humanitarian exercise, with floods of refugees pouring across the border into Turkey. It has also been something of a diplomatic minefield for Ankara which has attempted to have its concerns about the Assad regime placed at the forefront of international discussions on the matter, to no avail. Might it be losing some of its diplomatic clout? Whilst a historic peace settlement was reached with the Kurdish separatist movement, the PKK in March of this year, to put an end to decades of fighting, the process worryingly, has slowed to a halt in past months.

The most attention-grabbing events of the year however came in the summer months, with the Gezi park protests. Erdogan's attempts to crush indefatigable protestors (which included unpitying use of tear gas and water cannon) are the strongest example yet of what many critics see as a lingering authoritarianism and disdain for the rights of citizen-critics. This also provoked some of the strongest condemnations of Erdogan's regime from international rights organisations, who has been repeatedly accused the regime of undermining democratic freedoms in a number of spheres and notably having an appalling record on freedom of speech and the freedom of the media.

Erdogan nonetheless remains extremely popular, credited with turning Turkey into the "Anatolian tiger" whose economic growth rates have been the envy of a lacklustre Europe.

According to figures recently released by Turkey’s judiciary, the AKP has eight times as many members as the biggest opposition group, the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), with 8 million versus 1 million. With an election coming up in 2014, this support will be invaluable for the Prime Minister who is attempting to consolidate power in preparing for what he hopes will be a move to the presidency.

The style of Erdogan's leadership has been criticised numerous times by outside observers as being, particularly in recent times, excessively moralising. The past month has seen another row along these lines ignite. At the start of November the Prime Minister courted controversy by suggesting that he wishes to ban mixed dormitories at state universities. The proposal was met with great consternation among many students who believe that this is an unacceptable level of interference in the choices of adults. The liberal press were equally concerned. “We are face to face with a prime minister who thinks it is his right to impose his moral sentiment into our homes, and control our personal space with his governors and his police,” wrote Ezgi Basaran, a writer for the left-leaning Radika. Officials have since tried to explain that regulating who lives in student houses would be in keeping with constitutional guarantees of protecting the nation’s youth. Erdogan has earned a reputation as an unflinching patriarch, freely expressing his views on how many children women should have, on how they should have children, and on whether abortion should be permitted (the answer being no) in a manner that has proved unpalatable to many women's groups and defenders of the rights of the individual.

What is interesting to note is that fact that within the AKP itself Erdogan's conservatism has caused some rifts. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, one of the AKP party's founders, already contradicted the Prime Minister during the Gezi park period of the summer by apologising for the use of police brutality, an apology not welcomed by the Prime Minister who took a resolutely hard line. This time, when it was reported by the press that Erdogan has stated at a meeting that co-ed dorms would be banned, Arinc denied the report. The next day however, Erdogan confirmed it. This prompted an angry response from Arinc who told state television he would not be anyone's "sandbag."

He is not the only one to have voiced concern on these matters. Fatma Bostan Unsal, another founding member of the AKP, described the Prime Minister's stance as “very dangerous.” Some wonder if Erdogan might have outstayed his welcome and whether if the Prime Minister were to be ousted, it would be by the hands of his own party. What remains to be seen however, is whether the electorate themselves find Erdogan's "moral policing' problematic. Some observers note that, regrettably or not, these sorts of policies may well be welcome by the conservative elements of the population. Yalcin Akdogan published details of a poll that said 55% of Turkish voters agree with Erdogan in rejecting the idea of unmarried young people of both sexes living under one roof.

Akdogan is, it should be pointed out, an adviser of Erdogan. It is clear that the reactionary tendencies in the Erdogan regime, have some secularists worried about a rise of traditional Islamic moralism. The overturning of the ban on women wearing headscarves in state institutions last month is also seen as typical of this. Many see the success of the Turkish model of an Islamic state as depending on its use of secularity, a secularity which Erdogan has repeatedly undermined.

If Erdogan is being particularly assertive at the moment, this may be to do with the presidential elections of next year. Erdogan, who is serving out his final term as Prime Minister, hopes to prevail in the presidential elections of next summer. This is in and of itself, controversial as the Prime Minister has attempted to strengthen the role of the president via constitutional changes in order to exercises greater executive powers. It had been suggested that a job swap might occur with Gul taking on the role of Prime Minister while Erdogan moves to the presidency, in the style of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin in Russia in 2008. Recently however, current President Abdullah Gul has said he has not ruled out standing against Erdogan in the presidential election next summer. Gul was keen to stress however that "Erdogan is a friend and we have worked shoulder to shoulder with him in the course of all these years." Some say the comments were simply designed to elicit some sense that the process is not entirely stage managed.

Erdogan has other matters to deal with as the election looms. Settling the Kurdish question is a strategic priority. The situation in Syria has Ankara rightly worried about the possibility of pan-Kurdish consolidation. Turkey recently responded to declarations for provisional self-rule by Kurdish fighters in neighbouring Syria with a warning. The Turkish President Abdullah Gul told the press, "We cannot allow Syria, which is faced with major chaos, to disintegrate." This is not the first time Gul has voiced his fears. At the start of November, in an interview with the Guardian, the President argued that Syria risked becoming, "Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean." This reflected the continuing frustrations of the Erdogan regime at the lack of response from the West towards Turkey's pleas for a stronger hand against the Assad regime. The refugee situation has, according to Gul cost £1.25 billion. He noted that "We will continue to do so[support refugees] because this is a humanitarian matter. [but] it's very regrettable seeing the indifference on the part of the international community." Turkey's plans to erect a wall on the border with Syria in what looks like an attempt to divide the Kurdish majority which inhabit either side have sparked outrage. The first two-meter wall has been erected on the border with Qamishli in north-eastern Syria, in the town of Nusaybin in south-eastern Turkey. The town's mayor, Ayse Gökkan, has spent several days on a "death fast" at the site this week in protest at what she calls the "wall of shame". Many critics have labelled it an antidemocratic, violent gesture.

The fact that the Kurdish matter is becoming more problematic is reflected in Erdogan's recent maneuvering with Iraqi Kurdistan's Barzani. At a recent meeting in Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, Barzani was welcomed rapturously by Erdogan. The Turkish premier has relied in the past on the Kurdish statesman to use his leverage to mediate with the PKK. This time he is looking, it seems, for the Iraqi Kurdish leader to help rekindle the peace process between Ankara and the Turkish Kurds of the PKK, which has floundered of late. Kurds continue to feel aggrieved by Erdogan's slow pace on instituting reforms that were agreed upon as part of the peace process reached with PKK leader Ocalan Abdullah earlier this year. As of September the process has halted. Barzani, in an address to a huge crowd, stated "I ask, on behalf of my Kurdish and Turkish brothers, that the peace process is supported."

Interestingly it was also announced on November 15 that Turkey has offered to mediate between Baghdad and its autonomous Kurdistan region over the major problem of dividing oil revenues. It has also stated that Ankara will not import any more oil from Kurdistan without the consent of the central government. Turkey controversially signed an agreement last year with the Massud Barzani regime in the autonomous region, which bypassed Baghdad, sparking anger in the Iraqi government who felt that it should take a cut of any of the subsidiary Kurdish republic's exports. Turkey's decision to flout the Iraqi government at the time led many to suggest it had abandoned its "no problems with neighbours" stance. Some observers noted that Washington in particular was wary of instability in Iraq, which could push the country closer to Iran. The mediation offer is perhaps a mean of signaling that Ankara is attempting to move back into its role of regional peace broker, a role which had won it much admiration.

Erdogan and his Foreign Secretary Ahmet Davoglu, have to do much work in the geopolitical sphere as the middle-east continues to provide cause for concern. The situation in Syria of course will be closely observed. Of course another of the major events in terms of Turkey's progress this year, has been the recent announcement that EU accession talks will resume. Whether the state, which seems to be moving away from the democratic observances of the EU constitution, will negotiate this path or not remains to be seen. It is another of Erdogan's numerous challenges, another political juggling act he must be ready to undertake, if his leadership is to remain unchallenged.

 

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