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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: 194 - (26/10/13)

A new report from Amnesty has revealed the breadth and scope of police brutality during Gezi park protests. Turkey has courted controversy with plans to purchase a multi billion-dollar missile defense system from China, an act largely incompatible with its status as a NATO member. A relatively promising report from the European Commission has seen accession talks scheduled to re-open.

This month has seen a European commission report highlight positive improvements in Turkey’s ongoing EU bid, whilst proffering a warning over the use of excessive force against demonstrations, as evinced during Gezi park protest of summer. Erdogan has courted controversy with revelations from a Washington Post article that, back in 2012, it gave away Israeli secrets to Iranian intelligence officials, as retaliation for Israel's refusal to apologize for the Marmara flotilla incident of March 2010. Observers are wondering if this signalled the end of Turkey's West-friendly geopolitical orientation? News that it plans to cooperate with China on a missile defense system has also sounded alarm bells in NATO circles.

Given that Turkey's EU bid has been somewhat complicated, the release of the European Commission’s annual progress report in October was awaited with interest. The report was a mixed bag; it praised in particular a number of judicial reforms, democratization and the peace process with the Kurds. It did however also highlight a “pressing need to develop a truly participatory democracy [that is] able to reach out to all segments of society.” The report warned that Turkish society seems to be marked by "polarization", and “an understanding of democracy that relies exclusively on a parliamentary majority, rather than a participative process.” It urged that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly be respected. It was unlikely given the Gezi park protests of this summer and the punitive measures taken by the authorities against protestors, that the Commission would fail to make some reference to the government's crackdown on protest movements. Indeed it stated: “the excessive use of force by police and the overall absence of dialogue during the protests in May/June have raised serious concerns.”

Despite this, the Turkish government signalled that it was fairly happy with report. Turkey's EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis described it as more objective in tone than reports of previous years. This is something of a boon given that relations between the EU and Turkey have been fraught of late. In October, Selim Yenelm, the ambassador to the EU said that said the relationship between the block and Turkey was beset by “a lot of mistrust, frustration, disillusionment and disappointment”. Prior to its release, EU Minister Egemen Bagis has heavily criticized the EU for choosing to release the report on October 16, the second day of the Eid al-Adha religious holiday. Bagis had also voiced disillusionment at the end of September, when he commented that he believed the EU was unlikely to ever accept Turkey as a state. There is not evidence that the Turkish population have a particular predilection for EU accession; support for EU membership among the Turkish public dropped to 44% this year from 73% in 2004. It has now been announced that on November 5, a new round of accession talks will begin. Germany has apparently resiled from the opposition to continuing talks it had mounted in June, and has unblocked the process.

Although there may be some signs of positive democratic advances in recent reforms, memories of the violence enacted against protestors in Gezi Park over the summer months, which led to 8,000 injuries and 3 deaths continue to reverberate and fresh accounts of police brutality unveiled. A new 70-page report by Amnesty International, called “Gezi Park protests: Brutal denial of the right to peaceful assembly in Turkey,” makes clear a link between police brutality and the deaths of three protesters. In the words of Amnesty’s expert on Turkey, Andrew Gardner, “the attempt to smash the Gezi Park protest movement involved a string of human rights violations on a huge scale. They include the wholesale denial of the right to peaceful assembly and violations of the rights to life, liberty and the freedom from torture and ill-treatment. […] The levels of violence used by police in the course of the Gezi Park protests clearly show what happens when poorly trained, poorly supervised police officers are instructed to use force – and encouraged to use it unsparingly – safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely ever to be identified or prosecuted for their abuses.”

Apparently the report finds that protestors were sprayed with tear gas after they had been apprehended as punishment for their involvement in the protests, rather than just a deterrent. There is also "strong evidence" that a chemical had been added to the water sprayed from water canon which irritated the skin and caused those targeted pain. In another report from the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) organization released on September 24, it was argued that the police deliberately targeted medical personnel with tear gas.

One of the recent policy features which won the Erdogan regime approbation in the European Commission report was its negotiation of a peace deal with the Kurdish insurgent forces, who have battled against central government rule for the past two decades. This process however, as noted last month, seems to be somewhat shaky. There have been complaints from the PKK that the Turkish government is failing to fulfill its promises, as agreed as a part of the ceasefire process. Cemil Bayik, the acting head of the PKK, made his concerns clear in an October interview with Reuters in which he warned that if the process of granting Kurdish cultural, political and educational rights was not expedited, armed conflict would resume. "Now we are preparing ourselves to send the withdrawn groups back to North Kurdistan if the government does not accept our conditions," he warned, referring after to the prospect of ‘a civil war in Turkey’. He also expressed concern that prison conditions for the movement’s leader, Abullah Ocalan, have not improved as per pledges. The PKK are also irked by Turkey's apparent support of Islamist rebels in Syria who have been battling the PKK affiliate, the Kurdish People's Protection Unit. With the Syria situation a constant source of concern for Erdogan (whose beseeching for strong action against Al-Assad went unheeded by the Security Council), the idea of a return to fighting domestic terrorism must seem highly unpalatable.

Finally to discuss a major foreign policy story; a article by David Ignatius of the Washington Post regarding famously tempestuous relations between Israel and Turkey, has ignited a polemic. In a story published on October 17, he alleges that at the lowest point in recent Israel-Turkey relations (which soured due to Netanyahu’s refusal to apologize for the 2010 flotilla controversy in which nine Turkish nationals were killed), in early 2012 Erdogan revealed to Iranian authorities the identities of up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their Mossad case officers. This betrayal of Israeli intelligence secrets signalled that relations were in fact even more “poisonous” than they may have seemed at the time. Ignatius states, "Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him [Erdogan] facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.” In an indication that neither side is spoiling for a fight at this point in time, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has rebuffed the allegations, which he says were “without any foundation.” Israel has also disputed the claims, arguing that Ignatius does not have sources within Israel to back the story, clearly wary of entering a thickening storm of discontent.

What many have wondered though, is if these reports indicate that over past years a cleavage has developed in Turkey’s relations with the West? Certainly another recent story would indicate that Ankara is not necessarily trying to appease Western allies. At the end of September, it was revealed that Turkey would probably sign a deal with China’s Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation to purchase a $3.4 billion missile defense system contract. The firm itself is subject to US sanctions. The news has, unsurprisingly, caused alarm among other NATO members. Shortly after the news was announced, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Ankara that any arms procurement must be compatible with NATO systems. In response to this, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu stated that it was going “to be a national decision. In the end, whatever our decision is to be, we will make it compatible with our own defense and NATO defense as well, so there is no problem there." Turkey argues that its incentive is economic on the basis that China's bid to build Turkey's system stands at a billion dollars less than that of the other “allied” bidders. NATO, observers say, will be unlikely to accept a Chinese defense system for fear that the integration work will allow sensitive material to be garnered by Chinese experts who would necessarily be involved in the process of integrating the systems. In addition it might permit cyber attacks. Some see the consideration of a deal with China pure provocation on the part of Turkey. Kadri Gursel, diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, opined, “this is a major political step and this move shows another step towards distancing Turkey from the Western alliance, and this is of major concern for the Western alliance."

Turkey’s disgruntlement with NATO over the Syria issue (in which it feels its concerns have not been adequately considered) and also the dilatory nature of the European integration process, have perhaps inspired this new eastwards orientation. No final decision has been made on the defense system, as President Abdullah Gul was quick to point out recently, but the mere speculation about it has stimulated debate and of course drawn attention to the regime. With the recent news that EU accession talks will resume, perhaps Ankara will feel more clement towards its western neighbours. For the moment it may have to focus on the immediate issue of Kurdish disgruntlement.

 

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