Thursday, July 18, 2002

FT article on Islamic party leader

The FT has an interview with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the leader of the AKP, which is currently the highest polling party in Turkey. Erdoğan (pronounced AYR-do-ahn) says he is not an Islamist, just a good Muslim "trying to do what the religion says." The FT suggests that the 10% threshold rule might mean the AKP could end up as the only party to get seats in parliament, or at least could get a number of seats disproportionate to its 20% popularity level.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Wolfowitz in Turkey

US Defense Department bigshot Wolfowitz is in Turkey, talking about how much the US respects Turkey's "interests" in Iraq, i.e. that they really don't want a major war on their border, thanks.

Wolfowitz arrived in Ankara at a time when the government is in turmoil and fears abound for a multi-billion dollar International Monetary Fund ( news - web sites)-backed economic recovery. The United States is clearly anxious that stability return to what it regards as a key strategic ally on the edge of the Middle East.

Turkey has said it opposes military action against Iraq, fearing a conflict in the region would further imperil its crisis-hit economy.

"We are very aware that Turkey has been going through a period of economic difficulty, and it's important to the United States to do everything we can to help Turkey get through this patch of economic difficulty," Wolfowitz said.

He also reiterated Washington's position against the creation of an ethnic Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

The talk about not messing up Turkey's economy doesn't mean there wouldn't be a war, just that Turkey will be given a boatload of cash if there is.

As for the Kurdish state, what exactly are the US administration's plans for Iraq after Saddam? Oh, right, we don't like to get into "nation-building". Regime change is a Good Thing (i.e. generally easy), nation building is yucky (i.e. very hard). The US administration might find the Turkish public less trepidacious about war (assuming they care what the Turkish public thinks) if the they demonstrated more interest in what happens after they throw Iraq into turmoil. Not letting the Kurds have their own state may avoid getting the Kurds in SE Turkey worked up for secession, but what will they have? Another government which uses them for chemical weapons testing?

It's official

Turkey will hold elections on November 3. The governing coalition fell below a majority of parliament due to resignations from Prime Minister Ecevit's DSP party, so the three party leaders got together and Ecevit agreed to give up the ghost.

Of course November is a long time away, and I'm not sure what the government is going to do in the meantime; presumably parliament will still have work to do. An interim coalition could be formed to get a majority, or they could simply carry on and hold votes the old fashioned way. Turkey has an end of year deadline to get to the next stage of EU candidacy, although it seems unlikely that the divided parliament is going to pass controversial measures to eliminate the death penalty and ease bans on the Kurdish language.

Much is of course being made of the strong polling for the AKP, a moderate Islamist party. None of the 3 parties in the current coalition has been polling well enough to pass the 10% minimum needed to get seats in the next parliament. But the AKP and conservative Islamists SP are the only parties which have been doing much work - their predecessor party was banned last year, and they've been working hard to build up their organizations. Now that elections have been scheduled, the other parties will crank up their machines, so we can expect some changes in their popular standings.

However, the AKP and SP will be strong contenders, and the AKP is likely to have a significant presence in the new parliament, even if a government is formed without them. They benefit from being the underdogs - the establishment continually works to undermine them, exploiting any excuse to charge their leaders with crimes, put them in jail, ban them from politics, etc. This has a darwinian effect, forcing the Islamists to work harder to survive, making them tougher than their establishment competition. They have learned to tone down Islamic rhetoric, positioning themselves as pro-Republic, pro-democracy, uncorrupt reformers. They've governed Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities well, improving services and avoiding the corruption endemic to mainstream parties. They have also built a very effective grassroots-based network of supporters, which accounts for their popularity and will help them going into new elections.

The AKP (Justice and Development Party) is the more moderate, and more popular of the parties. What would their inclusion in a new government coalition, if tolerated by the military, mean? They oppose the EU, and would no doubt be less supportive of America's War on Terror and Israel. The effects of the second two positions would be dampened by the commitment of the military establishment, but an anti-EU government would put Turkey's chances of joining back, not that the country is going to be admitted in a hurry, either way. What many people fear are the policies which aren't being touted pre-election, but might emerge later, such as "decency" laws dictating the lengths of women's clothes. It's a damned hot summer in Istanbul, I can't imagine Turkish women (at least in the cities) accepting a ban on short skirts and tank tops (thank you!)

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

US manipulation of Turkish government

American influence over Turkey is fairly open. Turkey supports the US militarily and politically, and the US ensures the IMF is friendly - Turkey is the largest debtor to the IMF, owing something like $20 billion. But how explicit, to what level of detail, does the US dictate Turkish affairs?

According to the paper version of the Turkish Daily News, a paper called Ortadogu printed the following:

The first act of the troika [the new party] is over. The United States put aside all considerations and spoke out: Dervis will stay no matter what government comes to power. The Washington administration imposed the Dervis condition once more and listed its conditions. The White House offered Turkey $36 billion on the condition that Dervis would continue to manage the economy. According to the US proposal, they will extend $10 billion in loans to Turkey during the first stage and will lend another $26 billion during certain intervals on the condition that Turkey keeps fulfilling those conditions. Another condition for the loan is that Turkey would take part in a possible operation against Iraq.

None of these claims seems too unlikely, but I'd be surprised to see them publicly announced by the US. The claim that the US is dictating that they want Dervis involved in the government sounds like FUD intended to discredit Dervis as a puppet of the West. I would expect more subtlety from the State department; they might well say they want the reforms program to stay on track, and hint that they find Dervis' presence in government very reassuring, but to specifically say they will only continue loans if he stays in seems too clumsy.

I can't find anything about Ortadogu, so if anyone has more info on these things, please share it.

Government turmoil update

There hasn't been much of substance going on since I've posted before. The coalition of DSP defectors is being heralded by some as the answer to the country's problems, but they're not without their problems. A Turkish Daily News editorial questions whether they should be allowed to escape responsibility for the mistakes of the current government. All three of the parties in the current coalition are doing poorly in polls because people are fed up with their inability to resolve the continued recession, so should these three insiders be able to reposition themselves as the answer to the country's woes? I suspect Mr. Cevik is over-optimistic about Ecevit's chances of holding on to power, however.

Those in my social circles tend to be longtime supports of the CHP, Turkey's oldest party founded by Ataturk, which is a leftish establishment group. They've been out of parliament for 3 years or so, having gotten the same popular boot that the current governing parties are due for. But time heals wounds, and people may be ready to bring back these old reliables.

New-party conspirator Kemal Dervis has publicly said he thinks the new formation should ally with the CHP. The other conspirators and the CHP leader Deniz Baykal don't seem enamored of the idea. Baykal seems a bit jealous of the superstar glamor of the new formation, and may not be willing to turn over his seat to Cem. A post-election coalition would seem possible, depending on how the numbers turn out.

I'm wondering how well the new party will do? They certainly have the respect of most people, as being capable folks, but those I've talked to have reservations. The trio of Dervis, Cem, and Ozkan are the darlings of the westernized elite, but many regular folks, even educated, modern types, are worried that they are too sychophantic towards the West.

One issue in particular I've heard mentioned is war with Iraq. Current PM Ecevit has been a voice of opposition to an American invasion, but former Foreign Minister Cem seems to be in favor. Of course Turkey will end up supporting the invasion if it happens no matter who is in charge, but Turks aren't thrilled by the idea of stirring up the madman they share a border with, and possibly taking the brunt of his revenge if he can't reach the US with his nasty weapons. They also remember how the US encouraged Saddam to make war on Iran in the 80's, destablizing the region with unpleasant side effects for Turkey. The US has an image of being more fond of starting wars in other peoples' neighborhoods than cleaning up after them.

So the new party may be appealing to westerners, certainly the western media loves them. But that doesn't mean they'll sweep the Anatolian voters.

Jim's Blog on Sharon

Jim's Blog, AKA Objectional Content, emails to give some concrete examples of why distrusting Sharon isn't simply an irrational attempt to be "preposterously even-handed". Jim appears to be an Arab-American, his mother from Nablus, so he presents an articulate view from the other side.

I do believe that Sharon's acts are indeed "paving the way for settlers" as you originally claimed. Sharon has proposed, for example, a Palestinan state on only 42% of the West Bank and Gaza. Naturally, if this were to happen, the other 58% of the land would go to Israeli settlers.

Here's a link to a telling interview Sharon did with a Ha'aretz journalist.

But his history is also revealing. Sharon voted against the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt; he opposed participation in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and, while a member of the Knesset, voted against the Oslo accords in 1993.

Jim blogged more about this last January. He says, Sharon's "history makes it difficult to believe that he understands that there is a way to make peace that doesn't involve the defeat of an enemy."

This is Sharon, who said "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours ... Everything we don't grab will go to them."

So while it may be hyperbole to say that IDF tanks are "paving the way for settlers", it is justified to say that Sharon is an expansionist, who has spent decades supporting the expansion of settlements in Palestine out of a desire to hold the land permanently. This is why his more recent policy of military occupation of Palestinian land smacks of the same old thing, and his spokespeoples' claims that this is intended purely to deter terror smacks of insincerity.

On the other hand, Tal G. says the occupation seems to be having some positive effect on reducing terror.

That succinctly expresses what I think is a general sentiment currently ... We're hearing about the IDF apprehending Islamikazes and intercepting car bombs (I'm not even bothering to blog these) - and in spite of high alerts there have been no successful major attacks since the IDF went back into area A.

At the same time we do hear all about the curfews in the West Bank cities - on the radio each of the past few days they've been say things like "The curfew in Kalkilya will be lifted from noon till dusk; while in Jenin it continues". Today on Army Radio there was a (surprisingly dull) interview with fellow named Ashraf who is stuck inside his house in Jenin and has nothing to do but watch al-Jazeera. The latest news is that the IDF is expected to leave some West Bank cities by the end of this week (report).

But Jim lists some incidents of enforcement of the curfew which sound as if this peace is coming at a price.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Palestinians are put under forced curfews for weeks at a time. If they are found in the streets after curfew, they are shot. And this happens. They are shot. Two brothers, six and thirteen years old, are killed when they go out to buy a bar of chocolate. The curfew had been lifted before they went out, and reinstated before they got back.