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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: 188 - (26/04/13)

Summary: The principal point of note in the past month has been a major moment in modern Turkish history: the declaration of a ceasefire with the PKK. Whether this declaration goes beyond rhetoric, will indicate how great a place the moment will occupy in the history books. Relations with Iraq are going from bad to worse due to a new oil and gas deal with the autonomous Kurdish Republic. A ‘breakthrough’ apology from Israel on the Mavi Marmara incident has, it would seem, as yet, failed to soften Ankara’s stance towards Jerusalem in any significant way. Erdogan’s ‘no problems with neighbours’ policy is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain in the wake of the Syrian crisis, and the deepening rift with Iraq over the Kurdish region is a powder keg. Baghdad had at one point gone so far as to threaten military action should their rights to a percentage of the profits in energy exports from the Kurdish region be contravened, as they view it. Ankara has taken a serious risk in disregarding that warning.

The major event in the Turkic world over the past month was a new chapter in the history books – the declaration of a ceasefire between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish authorities, in a battle which has been going for nearly two decades and claimed the lives of 40,000 people. Whilst undeniably an occurrence of major import and the product of several months of delicate negotiations between the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the authorities in Ankara, the path to a complete end to hostilities may be long. It is contingent upon the good will of both sides and the realization of many of the Kurds’ long standing political goals.

On March 21st, Abdallah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, heralded the dawn of “a new Turkey”, saying it was time for “the guns to fall silent and for ideas to speak” in a statement read out by members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) party to over a million Kurds gathered in Diyarbakir, in the country’s south-east. The ostensible culmination of a period of intense negotiations with the Turkish government that began last October, Ocalan proclaimed that this year’s spring festivities, Nevroz, typically a day of defiance, should herald a new era of “sunshine, with enthusiasm and democratic tolerance”. The media was awash with headlines declaring that “the war is over”. Murat Karayilan, a senior PKK commander in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, swiftly declared a ceasefire. Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised Mr Ocalan’s “positive” tone. Ocalan also ordered that four conferences be held, one in Ankara, another in Diyarbakır, another one in Europe, and another one in Hewler [Arbil], where all matters would be discussed and opinions expressed. This appears to be the first step. Remzi Kartal, a senior PKK member in Europe and a former deputy in the Turkish Parliament said in an interview that: "The necessity of peace will be discussed. Actually, you should consider it as a constant platform rather than a conference. It will not gather just once. It will continue gathering until the normalization days, which is the disarmament of Mount Kandil.”

The disarmament itself is not necessarily a fait accompli. It has been noted that no actual deadlines have been made for the Turkish withdrawal of troops. On the Kurdish side, there has not been a great deal of enthusiasm. Whilst the news of the ceasefire may have been jubilatory, PKK heads have subsequently resiled a little from the celebrations. Karayilan was also slightly less accommodating in interviews he subsequently gave. He has told the press that 'his men were as ready for peace as they were for war” and stated that the ceasefire needed to be mutually observed and was entirely contingent upon the fulfillments of promises concerning Kurdish political freedoms. Disarmament is, the PKK believes, the last step in the process. The Turkish authorities, however, would clearly prefer to see that come first. Karayilan has highlighted some of the logistics problems of disarming tens of thousand of fighters who live in the remote mountains of the state’s south east. Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), has lamented: “He [Erdogan] says, 'Leave the weapons in a cave or bury them, do whatever you want,' but who will regulate this?"

Meanwhile, Turkey’s increasing friendliness with the neighboring autonomous Kurdish Republic within Iraq, has risked souring relations with Bagdad even further. Having astutely wooed Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani on several occasion in an attempt to find solutions to Turkey’s Kurdish problems, Ankara has now allegedly signed a oil and gas deal with the Kurdish regional government in Northern Iraq without seeking Bagdad's approval. Turkey’s attempts to bypass Baghdad is a long standing bone of contention between Ankara and Bagdad. The deal allegedly signed in mid-April following a meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nechirvan Barzani in Ankara would allow oil and gas to be directly supplied to Turkey. Turkey may also take the Kurdish government’s stake in concessions operated by Exxon Mobil Corp. This deal is particularly significant because it would considerably transform Kurdistan’s economic position, reduce its reliance on Bagdad and undermine the integrity of united Iraq even further, as well as cutting the central government out of large sums of petrodollars.

Iraq has consistently made its feelings on the matter known to Ankara and observers have concluded that this move will be deemed highly aggressive by the al-Maliki regime. On April 17, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, said that his government had made it clear to Turkey that it doesn’t allow oil agreements without central government approval, and that Turkey must respect Iraqi sovereignty. Erdogan's interest in sweetening the Iraqi Kurds, is, as aforementioned, part of his own political endeavors to tame the homegrown Kurdish separatist movement. The deal will also reduce its energy import bill by a significant tranche. The move is particularly worrying for Iraq at a time when the Kurdish movement is gaining strength due to the seismic changes in the Middle East. Syria’s Kurds are re-galvanising in the wake of the civil war. Others are concerned too. It is also expected that Iran might worry that PKK fighters reluctant to lay their arms down in Turkey’s South might continue to militate in other parts of the Kurdish world, Iran being one of them. It is particularly disturbing to Iran since its ‘Iranian Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan’ is looking to focus the Kurdish struggle on Iran.

Erdogan’s attempts to curry favour with Iraq’s Kurds, as well as those at home, are, many say, part and parcel of his attempts to run for President, which would be much easier with the support of the Kurdish minority. Some have even suggested that whether or not a ceasefire is achieved, the process of negotiation might be enough, is a cynical attempt to de-fang the whole separatist movement by creating a rift between Ocalan and the armed fighters in the mountains. This is one element of his attempts to gain Kurdish support for his presidential bid. These plans continue to stimulate controversy. On March 29, Erdogan used an appearance on a TV show to explain the validity of the Eyalet system, the use of semiautonomous provinces created in the Ottoman era. Fears that the Prime Minister is attempting to establish a neo-Sultanate, reinforced by his punitive stance on journalists and his consistent referencing of the idea of Turkishness, will certainly be underscored by this kind of rhetoric.

Another ongoing international dispute bubbling away is that with Israel. On March 24, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Whilst the Erdogan regime had, as a general rule enjoyed positive relations with Jerusalem, this changed dramatically, with the Marmara incident in which nine Turkish aid workers delivering supplies to Gaza were killed. This, along with Erdogan’s strong relations with Hamas in the wake of the Arab Spring, has deeply problematized relations. The apology, which came during a thirty-minute phone call between the Turkish and Israeli leader, was apparently accepted. It has been suggested that it came partly at the appeal of Barack Obama who has hoped that this problem be addressed. The U.S. President commented: “There are obviously going to still be some significant disagreements ... but they also have a wide range of shared interests, and they both happen to be extraordinarily strong partners and friends of ours […] So it's in the interest of the United States that they begin this process of getting their relationship back in order." Turkey also agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties.

Whilst it was, some observers noted, something of a breakthrough that Ankara accepted the apology at all, the subsequent transition to restoring diplomatic ties has not been entirely smooth. At the start of April, Ankara asked Israel to delay sending a delegation to Turkey to discuss issues relating to their restoration. The reason for this delay is Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza. On April 17, it was reported that Turkey had refused to agree to a meeting of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue group, which includes Israel and six Arab countries, indicating that Turkey is not willing to allow a relaxation of tensions whilst the issue of Gaza is unresolved. Erdogan's efforts to seal pan-Arabic nationalism in the wake of the Arab Spring (and his cultivation of ties with Hamas a trip to Gaza is planned for the end of May) is proving highly contentious for Jerusalem.

Erdogan’s ‘no problems with neighbours’ policy is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain in the wake of the Syrian crisis, and the deepening rift with Iraq over the Kurdish region is a powder keg. Baghdad had at one point gone so far as to threaten military action should their rights to a percentage of the profits in energy exports from the Kurdish region be contravened, as they view it. Ankara has taken a serious risk in disregarding that warning. Regarding the PKK, one observer, Safeen Dizayee, a spokesman for the Iraqi Kurdish region has been rather prescient in commenting that “solving the PKK problem is not the same as solving the Kurdish problem”. Whilst an end to hostilities would be a landmark, the likelihood of this happening painlessly and quickly is minimal. The complexity of the Kurdish question and the different countries the diaspora inhabit make a quick fix unlikely.

 

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