Monthly Archives: December 2010

Amerikan Temsilciler Meclisi Karar(sız)lığı Sonrasında Türkler ve Ermeniler İçin “Taze Kan”

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

25 Aralık 2010

[Click here for the English version of this article.]

“Türk’ten boşalacak o zehirli kanın yerini dolduracak temiz kan Ermeni’nin Ermenistan’la kuracağı asil damarında mevcuttur.”

2004 yılında yazdığı bu sözlerle Hrant Dink dünya Ermenilerine ulusal kimliklerini “Türk” travmasından bağımsız olarak yeniden oluşturmaları çağrısını yapmıştı. Bu sözlerle Dink, Ermeni soydaşlarına 1915’i Ermenistan’ı geliştirme çabasından ayırmayı tavsiye etmişti.

Ancak bu sözlerinden dolayı – sözleri Türklerle ilgili olmadığı halde – Hrant Dink “Türklüğe hakaret” suçundan mahkemeye verilmiş; 2007 yılında da Dink’in Türklere hakaret ettiğini zanneden 17 yaşındaki bir çocuk Dink’i öldürmüştü.

22 Aralık’ta Amerikan Temsilciler Meclisi’nin 252 sayılı “Ermeni soykırımı kararını” bir kez daha oylamadığını okuduğumda aklıma Dink’in “zehirli kan” yazısıyla birlikte aşağıdaki sözleri geldi:

“Benim geçmiş tarihimin ya da bugünkü sorunlarımın, Avrupa’larda, Amerika’larda sermaye yapılması zoruma gidiyor. Bu öpmelerin ardında bir taciz, bir tecavüz hissediyorum. Geleceğimi geçmişimin içinde boğmaya çalışan emperyalizmin alçak hakemliğini kabul etmiyorum artık. Gerçek hakem halklar ve onların vicdanlarıdır” (Tuba Çandar, Hrant, s. 446).

Hrant Dink’in izinden giderek Türklerin ve Ermenilerin arasındaki “zehirli” kandan ancak her iki tarafın da kalbine ve aklına dokunarak kurtulabiliriz.

Öncelikle, Türkler ve Ermeniler 1915 olaylarıyla ilgili görüşlerini siyasi ortamlarda yarıştırmaya artık son vermeliler. Siyaset her zaman ikili oynamayı gerektirir ancak bazı durumlarda bu daha da barizdir. Örneğin, Temsilciler Meclisi’nin eski başkanı Nancy Pelosi’nin 252 sayılı Ermeni tasarısını Meclis’e getirmeye çalışmasıyla kendi eyaleti California’da yaşayan Ermeni seçmenleri memnun etme isteğinin alakasız olmadığına inanmıyorum. Ayrıca Bayan Pelosi’nin 252’yi hasıraltı ederken Türkiye’nin jeostratejik öneminden ve Amerika’nın Balkanlar’da, Kafkasya’da, Ortadoğu’da ve Orta Asya’da işbirliği yaptığı bir ülkeye olan ihtiyacından da habersiz olduğunu zannetmiyorum.

Aslında alternatif bir senaryo tarihi parlamentolarda yarıştırmanın anlamsızlığını daha net ortaya koyabilir: Bugün Amerika’da okuyan Türklerin ezici bir çoğunluğu bu ülkeye yerleşmekte ve Amerikan vatandaşı olmaktadır. Dolayısıyla, önümüzdeki yirmi yıl içinde Türk kökenli Amerikalılarla Ermeni kökenli Amerikalıların sayıca eşit olmaları sürpriz olmayacaktır. Bu bağlamda, Türk kökenli Amerikalılar Amerikan Kongresinde 1915 olaylarının soykırım olduğuyla ilgili Ermeni iddialarını reddeden karar tasarıları geçirmeleri konusunda ne hissedeceklerdir? Hatta daha kötüsü, 1915’te tehcir edilen Ermenilerin bunu hakkettiklerini? “Doğru şartlar altında” bu tür tasarıların Amerikan Kongresinden geçmeyeceğine gerçekten inanabilir miyiz? Bu sebepten ötürü Ermeni tarafının Washington’daki lobicilik faaliyetlerini ve bu faaliyetlerin Ermeni çıkarlarına hizmet edip etmediğini gözden geçirmeleri gerekmektedir.

Benzer şekilde, Türk tarafı da artık Kongre kararlarının geçmemesini 1915 olaylarına dair Ermeni iddialarının çürütülmesi ya da Türk tezlerinin kabul edilmesi şeklinde yorumlamayı bırakmalıdır. Tarih yasama organlarında yapılmaz; çok ciddi çalışma gerektirir. Her iki tarafın da argümanlarını incelemiş (ancak konunun uzmanı olmayan) bir tarihçi olarak 1915’te tehcir ettirilen 1.5 milyon Osmanlı Ermenisi için “soykırım” kelimesini kabul etmiyorum. Bundan öte, Doğu Anadolu’da Ermeni çetelerinin katlettiği Türk ve Kürtlerin Batı’da neden hiç zikredilmediğini de anlayamıyorum.

Ancak aynı zamanda tehcir için öne sürülen sebebi – Birinci Dünya Savaşı sırasında ve öncesinde Ermeni çetelerinin saldırılarını – son derece yetersiz buluyorum. Ayrıca 600,000 Ermeni sivilin (ki bu rakam Türk tezlerini savunan tarihçi Justin McCarthy tarafından verilir) yapmadıkları suçlar için ölmelerini de kabul edemiyorum.

Peki bundan sonra ne yapabiliriz? “Taze kanı” nasıl yaratacağız?

Türkiye ve Ermenistan arasındaki sınırı açmak iki ulus arasındaki psikolojik sınırları kaldırmaya yardımcı olabilir. Bu açıdan Ermenistan’ın Azerbaycan’la arasındaki Karabağ sorununu çözmek için daha cesur adımlar atması gerekiyor. Türk-Ermeni sınırı 1993’ten beri Ermenistan’ın Azeri topraklarını işgal ettiği için kapalı durumda. Türk sınırının kapalı kalmasıysa ne Ermenistan’ın 1991’de bağımsızlığından bu yana vasatın altında seyreden ekonomik durumuna katkı sağladı ne de sınırın açılmasından kazanç sağlayabilecek olan Türklere yardımcı oldu.

Ancak her gün 1.5 milyon varil Azeri petrolü Türkiye üzerinden uluslararası pazarlara akarken Azerbaycan’ın durumu göz ardı edilemeyecek kadar önemlidir. Dolayısıyla, eğer Erivan, Bakü’yle aralarındaki sorunları çözebilirse Ankara da geçen yıl imzalanan Türkiye-Ermenistan protokolünü Meclis’ten geçirebilir ve Ermenistan sınırını açabilir.

Tabi sınırları açmak tek başını sorunu çözmeyecektir: Türk ve Ermeni korkularını ortadan kaldırmak da ayrı bir mücadele gerektirecektir. Bu amaçla Türkiye’den, Ermenistan’dan ve Türk ve Ermeni diasporalarından sivil toplum örgütlerinin gençlik konferansları tertiplemeleri Türkler ve Ermeniler arasında hoşgörü ve anlayışı geliştirebilir. Bu tür toplantılar Türklere ve Ermenilere Washington’da ve diğer Batı başkentlerinde lobicilere ödediklerinden çok daha az paraya mal olur; ayrıca, Türk ve Ermeni gençlerini 1915’ten beri ebeveynlerini ve dedelerini-ninelerini zehirlemiş olan nefretin pençesinden de kurtarabilir.

Zaman içerisinde, bu genç insanlar yetişkin olduklarında Türkiye ve Ermenistan için geçmişin zehrinden arınmış taze ve daha barışçıl bir gelecek inşa edebilirler.

Barın Kayaoğlu, Amerika’da Virginia Üniversitesi’nde Tarih Bölümü’nde doktora adayıdır ve her türlü yoruma, soruya ve fikir alışverişine açıktır. Kendisiyle bağlantıya geçmek için buraya tıklayın.

Ayrıca kendisini Twitter’dan (@barinkayaoglu) ve Facebook’tan (BarınKayaoğlu.com) da takip edebilirsiniz.

“Fresh Blood” for Turks and Armenians in the Aftermath of the U.S. House of Representatives (Non-)Resolution

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 25, 2010

[Yazının Türkçesi için buraya tıklayın.]

“The fresh blood to replace the poisonous blood emptied from the Turk exists in the great vein that will connect the Armenian with Armenia.”

With those words in 2004, the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink had called upon Armenians throughout the world to rebuild their national identity free from the trauma of “The Turk.” With those words, Mr. Dink had told his fellow Armenians to dissociate 1915 from the more important task of making Armenia a better country.

But because of those words, which weren’t really about Turks, Hrant Dink was prosecuted for “insulting Turkish identity” under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. And because of those words, a 17-year-old boy, who thought Hrant Dink had insulted Turkish people, killed him in 2007.

Together with the 2004 quote, I recalled the following lines after reading how the U.S. House of Representatives did not put the “Armenian genocide resolution” – Resolution 252 – to vote on December 22, yet again:

“I resent the use of my past history and present problems as a pretext in Europe and America. I feel a harassment; a rape beneath those kisses. I no longer accept that despicable imperialism as a referee because it tries to choke my future with my past. The real referees are the peoples and their conscience.” (Quote from Tuba Çandar’s biography of Hrant Dink, p. 446)

Following in Hrant Dink’s footsteps, we can get rid of the “poisonous” blood between Turks and Armenians only by addressing their hearts and minds.

First, Turks and Armenians should stop contesting their respective interpretations of 1915 at political bodies. All politics involves some cynicism but some more than others. For example, I don’t think Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to have the U.S. House of Representatives pass Resolution 252 had nothing to do with her desire to score points with Armenian constituents in her home state of California. Nor do I think she was oblivious to Turkey’s geostrategic importance as she swept 252 under the rug in order not to offend a critical U.S. partner in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

An alternative scenario can help to illustrate how meaningless it is to race historical interpretations at parliaments: Today, an overwhelming majority of Turks who study in the United States tend to stay and become U.S. citizens. Thus, it won’t be surprising to see Turkish Americans and Armenian Americans becoming numerically equal within the next two decades. Now, how would Armenians feel if those Turks got their representatives in the U.S. Congress to pass resolutions refuting Armenian allegations that the events of 1915 constituted genocide? Or worse, that Armenians had deserved to be deported from their homes? Are we sure that such resolutions wouldn’t pass under “the right circumstances”? The lesson for the Armenian side is to take a hard look at its lobbying efforts in Washington and think whether those efforts are serving Armenian interests.

In a similar manner, the Turkish side should stop treating the defeat of Congressional resolutions as a defeat of Armenian claims or a validation of Turkish arguments with respect to 1915. History cannot be legislated; it must be studied rigorously. As an historian who has read both sides of the argument (yet one who does not claim expertise), I do not accept the label of “genocide” for the forced deportation of nearly 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians in 1915. Furthermore, I am at a loss why the massacre of Turks and Kurds by Armenian gangs in Eastern Anatolia are never mentioned in the West.

But I also find the justification for the deportations – Armenian guerilla attacks in Eastern Anatolia in the run-up to and during World War I – as an inadequate explanation. Nor do I accept the death of nearly 600,000 Armenian civilians (as the historian Justin McCarthy, whose works have a pro-Turkish perspective, estimates) for troubles not of their making.

So, where do we go from here? How do we get some “fresh blood”?

Opening the physical borders between Turkey and Armenia could help to bring down the psychological barriers between Turks and Armenians. To that end, Armenia should move more boldly on the issue of Nagorno-Karabagh with Azerbaijan. Since 1993, the Turkish-Armenian border has remained closed because of Armenia’s occupation of Azeri territory. The closure of the Turkish border has neither contributed to Armenia’s less-than-impressive economic performance since it became independent in 1991 nor has it helped those Turks who would otherwise benefit from open borders.

But with nearly 1.5 million barrels of Azeri oil flowing to international markets through Turkey every single day, Azerbaijan is simply too important to overlook. Thus, if Yerevan can resolve its differences with Baku, Ankara can find it easier to ratify last year’s Turkish-Armenian protocols and open the border.

Opening the borders, of course, won’t solve the problem by itself: alleviating Turkish and Armenian fears will be another challenge. To that end, NGOs from Turkey, Armenia, and the Turkish and Armenian Diasporas should gather youth conferences to nurture understanding and tolerance between Turks and Armenians. Not only would such meetings cost Turks and Armenians a lot less money than what they pay for lobbyists in Washington and other Western capitals; moreover, they can help Turkish and Armenian youths to break free from the clutches of hatred that has poisoned their parents and grandparents since 1915.

Down the road, when those young men and women become adults free from the poisonous past, they can build a fresh and more peaceful future for Turkey and Armenia.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

After One Year, Obama Surge in Afghanistan Has Mixed Results and Mixed Future

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 20, 2010

A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances. General George S. Patton

The Obama administration’s new “Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review” is remarkably optimistic when compared to the conditions on the ground.

In his speech at West Point Academy on December 1, 2009, President Obama had defined the situation in Afghanistan quite dramatically: “What’s at stake,” Mr. Obama had said, “is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the entire world.” To that end, the American president outlined the three core elements of his “surge”: “a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.”

The Obama administration’s new report claims that “the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas,” admitting, however, that “these gains remain fragile and reversible.”

Indeed, the “Obama surge” in Afghanistan has been a mixture of success and failure. The additional 30,000 troops sent in 2010 and adopting new tactics have given Afghan and international forces a fresh respite. Actually securing Afghanistan, however, has remained an elusive accomplishment: Insurgent attacks are on an all-time high; failure to resolve the allegations of fraud in last September’s parliamentary elections is shaking the already unstable foundation’s of Afghan democracy; and, in the aftermath of last summer’s floods, Islamabad’s already limited will to clamp down on Taliban strongholds within Pakistan has ground to a halt.

We can reach several conclusions from Mr. Obama’s stance on Afghanistan. First of all, the people of Afghanistan and their government will have to assume greater responsibility for their security – and a lot sooner than the target date of late 2014. America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

More important, we need to see that Afghan security forces, the United States, and NATO allies are fighting more than an organization or a network of myriad groups – they’re actually fighting decades of misery borne out of foreign meddling, occupation, and underdevelopment. Virtually every Afghan official and private citizen will tell you that “90%” of Taliban militants join the group out of economic deprivation and lack of a “meaningful future.” Thus, without building a viable economic order in Afghanistan, all security gains will remain reversible.

The problem is that America’s economic prospects also look bleak. As the veteran American journalist Leslie Gelb pointed out last week, “continuing the war [in Afghanistan] tears at our own nation’s very vitals. How on earth can the [Obama] administration justify spending billions to build roads, schools, and hospitals in Afghanistan when America’s physical and intellectual infrastructure is simply collapsing?” “Of course, I feel for the Afghans;” Mr. Gelb continued, “but I feel far, far more for Americans.”

When Mr. Obama runs for re-election in 2012, he will face just that criticism – from friend and foe – that he has to focus on “America first.” As such, he will probably begin a substantial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next summer in order to strengthen his hand at home. It will be wise for Afghan and international leaders to take note of that fact.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

Beyond Nukes: Building Trust Between Iran and the World

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 13, 2010

Last week’s talks in Geneva between the Iranian government and the P5+1 group produced little more than an agreement to meet in Istanbul next month.

The negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) is pacing this slowly because Iran’s nuclear program is not the real problem; at least, it is not the biggest problem between Iran and the rest of the world.

The Iranian nuclear program is not the problem, because, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated last week, her country recognizes Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy. The Iranians, for their part, have explained repeatedly that their nuclear program has peaceful purposes only. But that is not easing the international community’s concerns that Iran may be producing something other than electricity.

The Iranian nuclear standoff cannot be resolved without understanding this plain and simple fact: the mutual distrust between Iran and the outside world – especially the United States – is the major cause of the deadlock.

Problems between Iran and the rest include (but are not limited to): Iranian support for HAMAS and Hezbollah; U.S. support for MKO and PJAK (groups designated by the State Department as “terrorist organizations”); Iran’s harsh rhetoric against Israel and the United States; U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; U.S. influence over the Persian Gulf monarchies; and the recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran.

There’s a fairly long history to the lack of trust: Iranians have not forgotten the joint British-Russian occupation of their country in the two world wars. The CIA and MI6-sponsored coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953 is remembered more vividly. Iranians also recall the dictatorial rule of the Shah and believe – mistakenly – that his reign lasted until the Revolution in 1979 only because the West supported him.

Of course, Americans and other foreigners have their share of bad memories. The storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and the traumatic captivity of American diplomats at the hands of militant Iranian students for 444 days has not receded into memory.

For their part, Iranians believe, with some justification, that the United States had encouraged Saddam Hussein to start the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980 to punish Tehran for the hostage crisis. Add to that how Western countries had lavished the Iraqi dictator with advanced weaponry during the 8-year war and you get a better sense of Iranian worries.

So what can be done about the deep distrust between Iran and the world? For a start, the U.S. should stop discussing military action against Iran as if it is inevitable. Even uttering the phrase “all options are on the table” is against the logic of talking. It would only convince the Iranian leadership that speedy development of nuclear weapons – the outcome that the nuclear talks are supposed to avert – is the only way to defend themselves. In order to build trust, Western governments – especially the Obama administration – should use a softer tone.

Western countries should also understand that, despite its oil riches, Iran is not a rich country (which may be a more subtle cause for its sense of insecurity). Even before the latest round of punitive sanctions, the Iranian economy had a performance problem. Official inflation and unemployment rates are said to be 10% and 14.6% respectively but the actual figures are probably higher. Furthermore, more than a quarter of Iran’s population is below the age of 15. Iran can only provide jobs for its growing population if it can attract more foreign investment and increase its non-oil trade with the rest of the world, which can only happen if joins the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Thus, aside from using a softer tone, the United States and other Western countries should convince Iran that, if the nuclear talks produce positive and tangible results, they will hasten Iran’s application to become a WTO member.

In order to build trust, the Iranians have an important duty as well. The revelation of undeclared Iranian nuclear facilities – a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz in 2003 and another one at a military base near Qom in 2009 – have cast significant doubts in diplomatic circles over Iran’s true intentions.

To put an end to that problem, Tehran should offer to submit the list of all of its nuclear facilities (finished and unfinished) to the P5+1 group in order to demonstrate its sincerity. A mission by the United Nations can verify that no additional nuclear sites exist in Iran, which would help to develop confidence between the two sides.

With a modicum of trust, the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group can yield better results and serve as a stepping stone for Iran’s integration with the international community.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

The Forest Fire in Israel and Political Lessons From Mother Nature

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 6, 2010

Mother Nature has reminded us of several things with the forest fire that consumed northern Israel last week: Given our temporary residence on this planet, our differences – whether religious, sectarian, or national – are quite trivial. Another lesson is that nature knows no boundaries: Given the fire’s scope (nearly 50km2 – about 12,000 acres – of forest are now in ashes) and its potential impact on the ecological balance, most countries in the Middle East will probably face negative consequences as well.

Although I’m not certain whether politicians in the region will learn those lessons, there is hope. Upon hearing about the disaster, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered two fire-extinguishing planes to be sent to Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart to thank Turkey for being the first country to help Israel. Mr. Erdoğan, in response, referred to his “humane and religious duty,” despite maintaining his adversarial stance against Israel.

Over the weekend, reports came out that Turkish and Israeli officials had met in Geneva and journalists began to discuss whether Turkey and Israel can improve their relations. But we need to understand that such an improvement is easier said than done. For one thing, Mr. Erdoğan reiterated his government’s position that Israel has to apologize for its navy’s attack on an international flotilla led by the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara last summer and pay reparations to the families of the 9 Turkish civilians killed by Israeli commandoes. Interestingly, Israeli officials, who had vehemently refused to apologize last summer, have not publicly rebuffed the Turkish government’s request this time.

In order for this disaster to move us forward to peace, we need to set some “thinking points” to guide the Turks, the Israelis, and, of course, the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s “humane and religious duty” explanation shows that the Turkish leader doesn’t “simply hate Israel,” as a U.S. embassy report on Wikileaks claims. In fact, by sending the fire-extinguishing planes to Israel, one of Mr. Erdoğan’s unknown qualities has surfaced: the ability to rise above the fray and acting in a cool-headed manner.

Mr. Erdoğan has to put that quality to the forefront and learn to control his temper. Since Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008 (Operation Cast Lead) and increasingly after the raid on the Mavi Marmara last summer, Mr. Erdoğan’s vocabulary, especially his liberal use of the word “murderer,” has undermined his case. Especially the Western media focused on how the Turkish Prime Minister criticized Israel rather than why. In other words, rather than strengthen his case, Mr. Erdoğan’s harsh rhetoric undermined it and may have even forced Western countries to tacitly support Israel.

Many people around the world (including this author) shared – and continue to share – Mr. Erdoğan’s outrage over Cast Lead, the attack on the Mavi Marmara, and the Netanyahu government’s foot-dragging with the peace process. But offending 7 million Israelis for their navy’s mistake is unfair and unwise, especially when Israeli intellectuals have spoken out against both Cast Lead and Mavi Marmara. In the near future, Turkey will be one of the few countries that can help to convince the Israelis that withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories would lead to peace for the Palestinians. Why not regain that positive influence by speaking more softly?

To that end, the Turkish side should get HAMAS to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, who had been captured by the Palestinian group in July 2006. In order to punish HAMAS and Hezbollah, Israel had attacked both Gaza and Lebanon that summer but had failed to rescue Cpl. Shalit or deter the militant groups. In fact, later events have demonstrated that Israel’s security has only deteriorated.

The release of Cpl. Shalit would be a major symbolic achievement for all sides. Turkey would be able to show (and not only to Israel but to the international community as well), that its relationship with HAMAS can produce positive results. Furthermore, releasing the young Israeli soldier could change the international community’s perception of HAMAS for the better. And it will give a chance to help the people of besieged Gaza rebuild their lives.

Most importantly, Corporal Shalit’s release can change the perceptions of many Israelis, who see his prolonged captivity as a justification for Israel’s heavy-handed response to regional challenges and their anti-Turkish sentiments.

In order to improve Turkish-Israeli relations, the Israeli people and their government need to understand the actual cause of Mr. Erdoğan’s anger. In the lead-up to Cast Lead, the Turkish Prime Minister, his circle of advisers, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry had come very close to successfully mediating proximity talks between Israel and Syria and were on the verge of a diplomatic breakthrough. In December 2008, Mr. Erdoğan was expecting the then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s response to Syrian President Bashar Asad’s peace proposals. The response came in the form of the infamous attack on Gaza, which probably made Mr. Erdoğan feel like an idiot.

Beyond empathy, the Israeli side needs to consider apologizing – or at least expressing regret for the events on Mavi Marmara. And paying reparations to the victims’ families would not be the end of the world for Jerusalem. In Turkish, there is a saying: “To apologize is a sign of magnanimity.” Just as securing Cpl. Shalit’s release can improve Israeli perceptions of Turkey, agreeing to address the grievances of the Mavi Marmara victims can improve Turkish perceptions of Israel.

Finally, and most importantly, Israel has to start acting seriously if it wants peace and not isolation: That means lifting the siege of Gaza completely in the event that Cpl. Shalit is released. That means halting settlement construction in the West Bank – regardless of whether they are “natural” or not. That means, overall, that Israel’s security is fundamentally tied to a viable state, which can only come about if Israel retreats from an overwhelming majority of the territories it captured in 1967.

These things are going to be tough for the three sides to accept. But the fires of rage in our hearts are destroying the beautiful place that is the Middle East. It’s time to grow new forests in the region: planted by foresight and wisdom, its roots watered by peace, tolerance, and prosperity.

That would be an appropriate way to thank Mother Nature.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).