“It’s not unlike knowing a self-serving and disingenuous friend.”
There’s a Turkish proverb: Bir kahvenin kirk yil hatiri vardir. A cup of coffee commits one to forty years of friendship. Trouble is, these days Turkey has very few friends who would consider sharing the same table with them, let alone drink from the same cup.
The recent arrest of at least 24 people in police raids on a leading newspaper and TV station, including Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of Zaman newspaper, the largest circulation newspaper in Turkey, and Hidayet Karaca, head of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, as well as three police chiefs on suspicion of being members or leading members of an armed organization, hasn’t particularly helped. Many of Turkey’s former friends are avoiding Turkey and its president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan like the plague. It’s not unlike knowing a self-serving and disingenuous friend who is infected with a serious bout of narcissism. It is therefore perhaps only time before the country’s frustrated military once again openly show their muscle against the government. Neither Erdoğan, nor the country’s citizens, for very different reasons, want this to happen.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum. In a recent article, which is published below, he succinctly puts it this way. “Turkey is too big, too Islamist and too un-European for the EU; it is too little Islamist and a disliked former colonial power for most of the Arab street; a sectarian and regional rival for Iran, and a security threat to the bigwigs in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.” Here in its entirety is what he had to say.
The following article by Burak Bekdil was originally published by Gatestone Institute
Theoretically, Turkey is a NATO ally. In reality, it is a part-time NATO ally. It became the first member state that had military exercises with the Syrian army and the Chinese Air Force; awarded a NATO-sensitive air defense contract to a Chinese company; supported jihadists in Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere in the Middle East; allied with what NATO nations view as a terrorist organization (Hamas); shared, until recently, an embarrassing list of potentially terrorist-sponsoring countries with seven others including Syria and Pakistan, and sported a population with the lowest support for the NATO alliance.
Also, theoretically, Turkey is a member candidate of the European Union [EU]. In reality, since 1974, Turkey has been occupying one-third of the territory of an EU member state, Cyprus; it boasts a record number of violations of human rights, according to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights; it remains the EU’s dreaded problem in most areas of fundamental policy; it habitually (and undiplomatically) ignores EU calls for broader freedoms; and it is gripped by a deep distrust of the EU. A most recent survey, “Public Opinion in The European Union – November 2014,” conducted by the European Commission’s Eurobarometer, revealed that only 18% of Turks trust the EU.
Just recently, Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, recalled a joke by his predecessor Viktor Chernomyrdin [prime minister between 1992 and 1998] who once was asked by a journalist when Ukraine could join the EU. “After Turkey,” Chernomyrdin replied. When should we expect Turkey to become a member, asked the journalist. “Never,” he said.
During most of the 2000s, Turkey’s soul searching, coupled with its leaders’ apparent quest for the revival of pan-Islamist and neo-Ottoman ideas, pushed the country into the illusion of a “Middle East Union” to be led, of course, by Turkey. Instead, Turkey in the post-Arab Spring years has found itself as the target of enmity in the Middle East. Many overt and covert hostilities and tensions created diplomatic crises with all countries in the former Ottoman lands — except one: the tiny hydrocarbon-rich emirate, Qatar (along with Hamas).
Theoretically, Turkey is the regional empire in the Muslim Middle East. In reality, it is an unwanted ally.
So, the soul searching continues. In January 2013, President [then prime minister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly toyed with the idea of Turkey seeking its future in another alliance: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO]. Since then, he has mentioned this desire a couple of times. In November 2013, Erdogan once again demanded a seat for Turkey at the SCO from Russian President Vladimir Putin, as this would “save Ankara from the troubles of the EU accession process.”
“Allow us into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and save us from this trouble,” Erdogan asked Putin.
A few years earlier, Turkey had behaved like the “bizarre ally” it was: it became the first NATO member state to become a “dialogue partner” with the SCO. But is there a future for Turkey in the SCO, sometimes call the “eastern NATO plus EU?”
Theoretically, yes. Turkey, with its democratic culture and Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, looks like a perfect fit for the group. Its members already include Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (the SCO’s other dialogue partners are Belarus and Sri Lanka. Countries with an observer status are Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia).
But actually, Turkey is probably no more wanted in the SCO than in the EU or among Arab nations in the Middle East. The SCO’s heavyweights are Russia and China, both of which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan’s one-time best regional ally and presently his regional nemesis. During Putin’s high-profile visit to Ankara at the beginning of December, Erdogan had to admit that Turkey and Russia “keep on falling apart” on the issue of Syria.
For Russia, Turkey means $$$$$: Tens of billions of dollars in bilateral trade — a perfect client for Russian natural gas, as well as a potential transit route to export gas to third countries. But it also means a hostile country ruled by Islamists who seek Sunni supremacy using jihadists, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood to expand its regional clout in the Middle East, often against Russian interests.
For China, too, Turkey is a good client. Unlike Russia, Chinese companies actively win infrastructure, telecommunications and mining contracts in Turkey. But like Russia, China, too, deeply distrusts Turkey politically. China’s most pressing domestic security issue, the ethnically Turkic Uighur Muslim separatists in the western province of Xinjiang, has a Turkish connection. Chinese authorities often accuse Turkey of harboring Uighur terrorists and allowing jihadist Uighurs a safe passage between Syria and China.
With its neo-imperial ambitions and Sunni Islamist policy calculus, Turkey once again fails to fit any alliance’s broad foreign policy and security structure. The soul searching will have to go on.
Turkey is too big, too Islamist and too un-European for the EU; it is too little Islamist and a disliked former colonial power for most of the Arab Street; a sectarian and regional rival for Iran, and a security threat to the bigwigs in the SCO.
Erdoğan has been credited as once saying: “Paramount is the need to secure human rights. The form of rule should be such that the citizen does not have to fear the State, but gives it direction and confidently participates in its administration.” Obviously, such a statement does not include many of Turkey’s respected media and communications elite.
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SEVENTY YEARS LATER – “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” | “The more things change, the more they stay the same”
“Not all Muslims become involved in acts of violence. Yet all might be held culpable. This is because that section of Muslim–in fact, the majority–who are not personally involved, neither disown those members of their community who are engaged in violence, nor even condemn them. In such a case, according to the Islamic Shariah itself, if the involved Muslims are directly responsible, the uninvolved Muslims are also indirectly responsible.” -Islamic spiritual scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
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