Republican Reference - Area (sq.km) 783,562 - Population 78,785,548 - Capital Ankara - Currency Lira - President Abdullah Gul

turkey

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2012 2009 2008 Ranking(2012)
GDP
Millions of US $ 794,500 617,099 734,852 17
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 10,830 8,730 9,020 80
Ranking is given out of 213 nations - (data from the World Bank)

  

Background:
The largest of the secular Muslem states: present-day Turkey was created in 1923 from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Soon thereafter, the country instituted secular laws to replace traditional religious fiats. In 1945 Turkey joined the UN, and in 1952 it became a member of NATO. Turkey intervened militarily on Cyprus in 1974 to protect Turkish Cypriots and prevent a Greek takeover of the island; the northern 37 percent of the island remains under Turkish Cypriot control. Relations between the Turkey and Greece have improved greatly over the past few years. In 1984, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist, separatist group, initiated an insurgency in southeast Turkey, often using terrorist tactics to try to attain its goal of an independent Kurdistan. The group - whose leader, Abdullah OCALAN, was captured in Kenya in February 1999 - has largely ceased violent attacks since it declared a unilateral cease-fire in September 1999. Nonetheless, occasional clashes have occurred between Turkish security forces and armed PKK militants, many of whom remain in northern Iraq. In April 2002, the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK). In November 2003, the group changed names again, becoming the Kurdistan People's Congress (KHK).  Turkey took no part in the invasion of neighbouring Iraq in 2003, which caused it's relationship with the USA to become rather cool, but that appears to have passed and Turkey has been at pains to improve its standing with the nations of the European Union as a part of its campaign to be able to join that Group.

Update No: - (1/02/15)

Turkey: Erdogan Stamps his Authority on the nation

Turkey has seen in the New Year with Reccep Tayyip Erdogan now as its President. The former Prime Minister and head of the ruling AKP party became President last year having reached the maximum three terms as Prime Minister. Many heralded this as the moment when previous glimpses of authoritarianism, witnessed notably in his attitude to freedom of speech, to the country's constitutional settlement and to opposition movements, came into plain sight. Indeed, the mercurial populist hopes to see the presidency, largely decorative until this point, assume the powers he wishes it to exercise during his tenure through actual changes to the constitution.

His Presidency has been accompanied by the controversial construction of a $615 million palace, 'Ak Saray' (White Palace) whose 1000 rooms and marble columns will stand witness to his personal project, to become Turkey's new Ataturk. Whilst domestically his attitude continues to concern liberals, be they within the political elite or among the populace as a whole (many of whom demonstrated their increasing wariness of the regime in the Gezi park protests of 2013-2014), the geopolitical situation has become even more fractious due to the ascendancy of ISIS in Syria, with whom Turkey shares a 510-mile border. The international community, hoping that Turkey will use its position to stem the threat from jihadism, has thus far been disappointed with Ankara's stance on ISIS. EU membership, to which Turkey ostensibly remains committed, seems even more a distant prospect.

The widespread accusations of an authoritarianism in Erdogan's policies has seemingly been supported in a report from the Economist magazine's Intelligence Unit, the 2014 Democracy Index, which saw Turkey fall two places to 98th spot on the list. The report notes, "Erdogan's election as president in 2014 poses a new threat to Turkey's democratic institutions," and that he has "repeatedly weakened the rule of law and fostered a corrosively majoritarian democratic culture." The report refers with concern to the "continuing fraying of the social, political and institutional fabric as Turkey becomes steadily more polarized."

[Having said this, the report does also note that the regime is far from qualifying as authoritarian. World Audit at Jan 2015 is not so sure and puts Turkey at 81st Democracy placing (of 150) well away from the democratic zone (1-36); and 95th for Freedom of the Press].

Nonetheless, an unconstitutional elision of the role of Prime Minister and President is manifest, in the fact that Erdogan recently held a cabinet meeting (a job normally reserved for the Prime Minister), an indicator that he has no plans to relinquish the powers he held in his former position. Affronts to liberal values continually make headlines in the international press. The President is particularly fearful of internet-based media, and last year astounded commentators by attempting to ban Twitter, after allegations of government graft surfaced on the site. The ban was overturned by the constitutional court, but the affair seemed to herald for many a new low in the President's attempts to control the sphere of public discourse. A litany of measures have been introduced to curb the freedom of the press since Erdogan became President.

He has made no secret of his disaffection with the internet, something he shares with a man whose leadership style he seems to admire, Russian President Vladimir Putin. In October he stated, "I am increasingly against the Internet, every day." The month prior he had approved measures to increase control of the web and widen the powers relating to telecoms companies. Intelligence agencies, national police and regular police would have the right to block websites without a court order. Whilst the constitutional court has managed to overturn these measures, a new bill oriented around the same principle is currently being debated in Parliament.

At a conference in the winter with the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute, the government defended its strategies and lambasted publications like the 'The New York Times'. "Media should never have been given the liberty to insult," Mr Erdogan apparently said during the meeting. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that the appearance of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the Charlie Hebdo unity rally on January 11 prompted accusations of hypocrisy at a man seemingly condemning an attack on free speech, when the government he represents is known for its hostility towards the media.

Insulting the President has become a particularly grievous charge, and those suspected of mockery are treated severely. It was recently reported that a former winner of "Miss Turkey" Merve Buyuksarac, was questioned by police after she published a poem on social media, in which she criticized the President. Professor Hasan Herken, dean of the medical faculty at Pamukkale University, resigned after posting a widely mocked picture of Erdogan and his 16 guards wearing traditional dress in the White Palace with facetious comments. He has received death threats. A 16-year-old student, Mehmet Emin Altunses, was arrested for a speech at a student protest in which he said Erdogan was regarded as the "thieving owner of the illegal palace". He was subsequently released.

Erdogan is taking no chance with political rivals, however. In December, a Turkish court issued an arrest warrant for the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, once a friend and ally of the President, now a font of criticism. The President believes that the Gulen movement has established what he calls a "parallel organization" which aims to overthrow the AKP party. Advocates of the Gulen movement are routinely harassed by the authorities. On December 23 media workers from opposition outlets were arrested for alleged involvement in the movement. The head of the Samanyolu Media Group, Hidayet Karaca, among those detained, commented, "This is a shameful sight for Turkey.. Sadly this is how they treat a media group with tens of television and radio stations, internet media and magazines, in 21st-century Turkey."

Meanwhile, the authorities continue to deny their reputation as a foe of the free press. In an interview with British newspapers at the start of the year, Ahmet Davutoglu claimed that there are only seven journalists in jail and they are not there for crimes relating to their work.

Attempts to control the internet in particular have been shrouded in claims that security demands it. Certainly the threat of terrorism and the flourishing of the Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere have changed the timbre of discussions about internal and external security. Turkey currently faces criticism for refusing to participate in the US-led coalition against ISIS, for refusing to let coalition forces use their airbases, and general accusations that Ankara has been too soft on the terrorist organizations. There are also allegations, stemming from recently leaked documents from the Hurriyet daily, that Turkey has been funneling aid, perhaps even weapons, to ISIL and al-Qaeda offshoot al-Nusra.

The Turkish government has in fact instituted a ban on reporting suspicions that some of the aid sent to Syrian rebels last year, may have ended up in the hands of the jihadists. It has also been alleged that there is some co-operation between Turkish intelligence and al-Nusra, though this is difficult to substantiate. Turkey's interests in the area are certainly complex. Having turned firmly against the Assad regime in Syria, and subsequently seen a huge influx of refugees from the country, it accuses the West of failing to stem the development of ISIS by not taking concrete action during the first year and a half, of the war in Syria. At a recent press conference, Davutoglu asserted that if steps had been taken two years ago in Syria, ISIS would not exist today, arguing, "If we had taking necessary measures two years ago, today we wouldn't face ISIS, but unfortunately the regime has committed all crimes, chemical weapons, missiles, hunger strategy. There was no solution and out of this power vacuum ISIS did emerge. We have to fight against ISIS but we should not forget that ISIS did not come 'out of the blue', it is a result of a much bigger crisis in Syria." Prime Minister Davutoglu also counters accusations of softness on ISIS with his suggestion that the 2003 intervention and subsequent failure to stabilize the state of Iraq, paved the way for the jihadist movement.

Analysts note that one aspect of the conundrum for Turkey stems from the fact that ISIS fighters have been fighting against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which are aligned with the PKK, the Kurdish workers' movement. Although ostensibly there is a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdish organization which has waged a 40-year campaign for independence, Turkey seems to be reluctant to assist the PKK in its fight against ISIS. Apparently fearful of the Kurds gaining power in the north of Syria, where Ankara hopes to retain its interests in whichever scenario emerges from the war in Syria, the Turkish government initially refused to offer Kurds in the border town of Kobani military aid in the fight against ISIS. Erdogan apparently revised this policy under increasing pressure from the West and was seen to do so in late October, in a volte face characteristic of the divergent policies, the Syrian situation has forced him to execute.

There are fears in Europe, propelled by the recent "Charlie Hebdo" attack in Paris, that the porous border between Turkey and Syria has allowed for movement of fighters from Europe to Syria and vice versa. Of the estimated 12,000 foreign jihadis fighting in Syria, apparently nearly all came through the border with Turkey, what became known as 'the jihadis' highway'.

Davutoglu has asserted that the government hopes neither ISIS nor Assad triumph in Syria, but that if the international community refuses to send ground troops to Syria "the only alternative is to train and equip moderate opposition forces".

Relations with the West have certainly seen happier days. Erdogan told an Islamic conference that the West may "look like friends, but they want us dead," a tone characteristic of recent months. Relations with Israel are fraught - the President reacted angrily to the presence of Binyamin Netanyahu at the unity rally in Paris, on the basis that he views Jerusalem's attacks on Gaza as essentially similar to the acts committed by the Islamic militants, who killed the victims of the Paris attacks. There have been tensions with the European Union particularly as a result of the anti-Gulen raids which the Union strongly condemned. Erdogan's response was curt: "We have no concern about what the EU might say, whether the EU accepts us as members or not, we have no such concern. Please keep your 'wisdom' to yourself."

Despite this, the somewhat more diplomatic Prime Minister, denies that relations with the EU have been perturbed and states that visa liberalisation is going ahead. If Islamophobia was deemed a reason for some member states' reluctance to countenance Turkey's membership, the state's apparent laxity with regards to ISIS will have exacerbated fears amongst lobbies who believe that cultural differences mean Turkey should not become a member state.

Interestingly observers have seen that aside from Erdogan's apparent admiration for Vladimir Putin's authoritarian style of leadership, the chilling of relations with the West might have underscored eastward prospects for cooperation. Following its decision to scrap the South Stream pipeline due to disagreements with the EU over control, Russia is interested in building a pipeline through Turkey, in a project which it calls "Turkish Stream". This may enhance relations and there probably is an opening, since potential Turkish membership of the EU now looks remote, and Turkey is also a significant Central Asian power.

An economic opportunity has presented itself. Kazakhstan's ambassador to Turkey has asserted that the state would be welcome to join the Putin-initiated Eurasian Economic Union which currently consists of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The prospect has apparently been discussed between both parties. The Kazakhs, a Turkic people, might feel more comfortable with Turkey in membership, rather than that the Eurasian EU be wholly dominated by Moscow, as at present. For the same reason it might also encourage Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and perhaps Uzbekistan, who are all havering on this, to also join.

Turkey is deeply implicated in the geopolitical interests of its neighbours and its geographical position is such that these neighbours differ largely in culture and ideology, but none of them actually threaten Turkey. It must be remembered that Turkey is a large nation in its locality with sizeable armed forces committed to Nato for many years past- and Article Five of that treaty obliges all other members to come to its aid, if attacked.

The 'Anatolian tiger' which stunned the West with rapid economic growth under the leadership of Erdogan, whose statesmanship, despite the several perceived problems is widely admired, continues to act as a major player. As the situation in Syria worsens, however, Turkey is finding itself pulled in more directions than it can happily manage. Having initially come out so forcibly against Assad, he has undoubtedly cooperated with the Islamist 'irregulars,'' particularly al Nusra Front that spawned off ISIS, both of them originally backed by al Qaeda, although ISIS with its self-proclaimed Caliph, is now repudiated by al Qaeda. Yet al Nusra remains aimed at Assad + Damascus + Syria as ever was, with no involvement with Iraq at this time. But Erdogan's real intentions towards the regional wars do seem ambiguous.

It may be that it suits him to have ISIS as a neighbour and that he is backing them to win. His own moderate version of an Islamic party was once necessary to make any progress in Turkey by harnessing the large rural vote. This whilst not being overthrown meanwhile by the Kemalite military, in their role of safeguarding the secular state, at the time he was seeking to become established. Now the Generals' threat towards him has been neutralized - many of them are in prison.

He is a prominent Sunni. It may well be that he, like the Saudis and Qataris, hates the Shia, hence Assad personally and the Alawite government in Syria. Maybe he is of that 'root and branch' Islamic persuasion, that ordains that the whole world must bow the knee to the edicts of God's messenger. Whatever else, Erdogan remains a complex figure to pin down. Yet it does seem that although it was democracy that enabled his rise to power, it might take a miracle for his party to now relinquish that power via a general election.

If Erdogan is solidifying his position domestically by any means, concrete or symbolic, resorting to a style, as the FT put it, of the 'faux-Ottoman pantomime variety', it may be his way of responding to these manifold external challenges, as well as those from within.
 
 

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