Category Archives: Turkey-Foreign Relations / Türkiye-Dış Politika

Did Turkey Just Let a Chinese Trojan Horse into NATO?

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

17 October 2013

The Turkish government’s recent decision to award its high-altitude missile defense contract to China conjured images of the residents of Troy rejoicing the large, Greek-made wooden horse at the end of the Trojan Wars. That story did not have a pleasant end for the Trojans. It is not clear how this one will play out for Ankara and its NATO allies.

[To read the rest of the post, click here.]

Barın Kayaoğlu is finishing his doctorate in history at the University of Virginia. He was recently a Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. You can follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (Barın Kayaoğlu).

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Türkiye’nin AB Üyeliğinden Çark Etmesi Ortadoğu’da Elini Zayıflatır

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

23 Eylül 2013

[For the English version, click here.]

Eğer Türkiye’yi Avrupa Birliği’ne sokmakla görevli olan bakan görev tanımından şüphe etmeye başlarsa AB üyeliğinin ciddi risk altında olduğunu söylebilirsiniz. Türkiye’nin AB üyeliğinde ilerleme sağlayamamasının Ortadoğu’daki etkisini zayıflatacağını da.

AB Bakanı ve Başmüzakereci Egemen Bağış Ukrayna’da katıldığı bir toplantıda Türkiye’nin “muhtemelen asla AB’ye üye olamayacağını” ifade etmesi ilk defa AKP’li üst düzey yöneticilerden birinin Türkiye’nin Brüksel klübüne üye olamayacağını açıkça dile getirmesi bir ilk. Bu açıklama ise Türkiye’nin Ortadoğu’daki pozisyonunu çok ciddi bir şekilde etkileyebilir.

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Barın Kayaoğlu, Virginia Üniversitesi Tarih Bölümü’nde doktora adayıdır. Geçen sene Yale Üniversitesi’nin Uluslararası Güvenlik Çalışmaları programında Smith Richardson Vakfı bursuyla misafir araştırmacı olarak görev yaptı. Kendisini Twitter’dan (@barinkayaoglu) ve Facebook’tan (Barın Kayaoğlu) takip edebilirsiniz.

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Is Turkey Giving Up on EU Membership?

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

23 September 2013

[Yazının Türkçesi için buraya tıklayın.]

You know Turkey’s hopes of joining the European Union (EU) are in trouble when the state minister whose job is to get the country into the European club begins to have second thoughts about his mission. You may also know that Turkey’s influence in the Middle East would diminish if Ankara does not move forward with its EU bid.

The recent remarks of the Turkish minister for EU affairs Egemen Bagis, who declared that his country will probably not become a member of the prestigious European club, is the first time that a high-ranking member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is admitting how Turkey may never enter the EU. This acknowledgement can have serious repercussions about Turkish influence in the Middle East.

[To read the rest of the post, click here.]

Barın Kayaoğlu is finishing his doctorate in history at the University of Virginia. He was recently a Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. You can follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (Barın Kayaoğlu).

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The Many Ironies of the Turkish Protests

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

7 June 2013

It started off as a sit-in of merely 100 people in Gezi Park, a quiet corner of Istanbul’s bustling Taksim Square. Then came the brutal police crackdown that turned the sit-in into something big and unprecedented. A week, three deaths, and thousands of injured and arrested later, the mass protests in Turkey reveal many ironies about that country and its role in the Middle East.

The activists’ resentment seems to be directed primarily at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government. In a survey carried out by two academics with a sample group of 3,000 people, 92.4 percent of the protestors said they took to the streets because of Mr. Erdoğan’s authoritarianism. (A broader discussion of the survey is available in Turkish.)

It is ironic for Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power since 2002, to animate so many people. Under Mr. Erdoğan, Turkey’s per capita income increased threefold, foreign trade more than quadrupled, and political and judicial reforms improved governance. The AKP’s initial zeal to lead Turkey into the European Union raised the standards of free speech and democratic expression. Furthermore, by ending civilian subordination to the country’s once all-powerful military, Mr. Erdoğan put a stop to one of the most stifling aspects of Turkish politics.

Despite these accomplishments, however, Mr. Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies cannot be overlooked. According to Reporters Without Borders, under the AKP, Turkey has become the “world’s biggest prison for journalists” and it is at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index. Any journalist who rides roughshod with the prime minister is sure to lose her job or worse.

To be sure, Turkey is not Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya and certainly not Syria. Mr. Erdoğan – whatever his shortcomings (and he has many) – is no Zine al-Abidin Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, or Muammar Qaddafi and certainly no Bashar al-Assad. He was reelected with close to 50 percent of the votes in the last election and he still enjoys popular support. That hardly makes him a dictator.

But neither are the protestors a handful of “looters and extremists” as Mr. Erdoğan and his allies claim. In fact, according to the survey mentioned earlier, the people participating in the protests are very much a product of the reforms that the AKP enacted. Close to two-thirds of the protestors are below the age of 30. 53.7 percent are taking to the streets for the first time in their lives. Only 15.3 percent have any partisan affiliation. 91 percent resent the government’s disregard for democracy and freedom. To make their case, the protestors point out how major news outlets in Turkey still remain silent on the protests lest they incur Mr. Erdoğan’s wrath. The demonstrators see an overbearing prime minister and a cowered media as an obstacle to their hopes for a more democratic and liberal Turkey. They worry that, if the prime minister becomes president next year with greatly expanded powers, he will become even more authoritarian.

Yet despite their qualms about Mr. Erdoğan, and unlike what AKP supporters claim, the protestors do not want the prime minister to be toppled in a military coup. Less than ten percent of the respondents believe that another coup would benefit Turkey. That’s a good sign: the country has experienced four of them since 1960 and military intervention in politics has always been a self-defeating game. Unlike Egypt, where people welcomed the military as a guardian against Mubarak in 2011, Turkish protestors want their soldiers to stay in their barracks. It seems that Mr. Erdoğan has really put the beast of coups d’état to sleep forever.

Another ironic element of the Turkish protests is that, although a majority of their participants do not identify as AKP supporters or conservative, nearly 10 percent of them apparently voted for the AKP. An even larger group of conservative Muslims (especially girls who wear the Islamic headscarf but do not identify with the AKP) are among the protestors.

In fact, images from the protests show how participants cut across every social, economic, and political divide in modern Turkey. Until the troubles, fights between the supporters of the country’s three largest sports clubs were the most serious public safety concern. Now, these fans march and resist the police together. Leftists and nationalists stand should-to-shoulder. The protestors – rich and poor, Turk and Kurd, straight and LGBT, women who wear headscarves and those who do not – reflect the richness of Turkey’s social fabric. For building such a diverse coalition of opponents, Mr. Erdoğan deserves much of the credit.

One protestor looks on as religious protestors perform the Friday prayers at Taksim Square
A protestor looks on as religious protestor perform the Friday prayers at Taksim Square

The way that the protests have played out so far – predominantly peaceful, politically pluralistic, and socially diverse – shows that a new generation of Turks is rising up against the tried and tired authoritarianism of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. If the protestors can continue to frame their demands in terms that would appeal to broader segments of Turkish society without antagonizing AKP supporters (which they seem to be doing), there is reason to hope that the new wine in Turkish politics will manage to change the old and crumbling bottle that contains it.

That would be the greatest irony of the current tumult in Turkey. Although the country has failed to offer a meaningful example to its region since the Arab Spring began, if the protests do succeed in expanding rights and liberties for the individual and in helping to consolidate a secular democracy with a free market economy in a Muslim-majority country, Turkey could truly become a model for the region.

Barın Kayaoğlu is finishing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Virginia and he is a visiting fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. You can follow him from www.barinkayaoglu.com, on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu), and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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Why Syria Won’t Help President Obama Earn His Nobel Prize

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

13 May 2013

Obama’s Nobel

I remember having mixed reactions back in 2009 when President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On the one hand, just like many people in the United States and around the world, I was excited about his presidency. He looked, spoke, and acted differently than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

On the other hand, I knew how past presidents had earned the famed peace award. Theodore Roosevelt won it in 1906 for brokering peace between Russia and Japan. Thirteen years later, Woodrow Wilson became a Nobel laureate for ending World War I. Jimmy Carter was given the award in 2002 not only because of his global human rights advocacy after leaving the Oval Office, but also because of his indispensable role in the Camp David Accords that secured peace between Israel and Egypt in 1978.

I was worried that the immense weight of the Nobel would raise expectations so high that – much like a child prodigy cracking under pressure and failing to reach his full potential – Mr. Obama would not be able to accomplish a great deal on the international scene.

To be sure, the American president has had impressive foreign policy accomplishments. He successfully guided the new nuclear arms reduction treaty (new START) with Russia through what could’ve been an impossible Senate ratification. His cautious approach to the Libyan Revolution in 2011 and his reluctance to go to war with Iran for its controversial nuclear program are also commendable. But the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize should earn the award by averting a major war or alleviating massive suffering, especially if he or she happens to be a current president of the United States.

Obama’s Allies and Adversaries in Syria

I was hoping that Syria would give Mr. Obama that opportunity but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The last time I wrote about Syria fifteen months ago, I had ended on a pessimistic (and somewhat banal) note: “Half-hearted political talk will certainly not solve Syria’s tragedy. But determined action may not be the answer either.” 70,000 dead Syrians later, I’m sorry to see that I have yet to be corrected.

The problem facing the President is that two of America’s Middle Eastern allies which are most involved in the Syrian crisis – namely, Turkey and Qatar – are pursuing policies that undermine U.S. interests. While Washington hopes to end the conflict on a negotiated settlement – the guns fall silent, an interim government takes over, and the Syrian people decide their future in free and fair elections – Ankara and Doha arm Sunni extremists, most notably Al-Nusra Front, which recently announced its allegiance to Al-Qaeda, the group that carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001. Al-Nusra is busy replacing the Free Syrian Army as the main insurgent group in Syria.

Although last week’s agreement between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to convene a conference with the representatives of the Syrian opposition and the government of President Bashar Assad is a step in the right direction, unfortunately, it may be too little too late. While Turkey and Qatar support the likes of al-Nusra, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are also supplying Syrian insurgents. With Russian and Iranian backing, however, the Assad regime is holding fast and creating a deadlock: the Syrian president cannot crush the insurgents nor can they overthrow him. To paraphrase Churchill’s maxim about Russia, Syria is now a revolution wrapped in a civil war inside a Middle East-wide power struggle.

Not even Mr. Obama’s good relations with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, can help the United States to break the Syrian knot. The two leaders are scheduled to meet in Washington on 16 May. Even if the American president makes a convincing case that Turkish support for Sunni insurgents is making the war in Syria bloodier, longer, and harder to end, it may not have an effect. In the aftermath of the car bombings in the Turkish town of Reyhanlı on the Syrian border two days ago, Mr. Erdoğan maintained his combative and defiant tone; he is not the type to admit mistakes and change course.

It would have been great for the United States if Mr. Erdoğan had the power to topple the Assad regime singlehandedly. The problem is that neither Turkey nor any of Washington’s regional allies – except perhaps Israel – would be able to pull off a military operation against Assad without U.S. support. After the Syrian military shot down a Turkish jetfighter last year, civilian and military leaders in Ankara realized the immense costs of the fight for Syria. The allegations of the use of chemical weapons sobered them once again. The Jordanians, Saudis, or Qataris would also be very hesitant to engage Assad head-on for similar reasons. As for the Israelis, despite their capabilities, it would be foolish of them to hand a golden opportunity to Damascus and Tehran to make the case that the uprisings in Syria are part of a “Zionist plot.”

The American president is wise to be pensive.
The American president is wise to be pensive.

“Birds in the Sky” without “Boots on the Ground”?

Mr. Obama has signaled his refusal to commit “boots on the ground” in Syria repeatedly. But he is coming under immense pressure to change course. In late 2012, the Obama administration had threatened the Assad regime that, the use of chemical weapons against the insurgents constituted a “red line.” Crossing that line, Washington said, would result in U.S. military action. Now, Senator John McCain, the president’s opponent in the 2008 election and an adamant advocate of U.S. humanitarian interventions, is taking the president to task after reports that chemical weapons were indeed used in Syria. Mr. McCain wonders if the Obama “red line” was written on “disappearing ink.”

Likewise, Vali Nasr, a renowned Middle East expert and State Department adviser in the first Obama administration, pointed out how, if Syria were to become another Somalia in the heart of the Middle East, it would seriously hurt U.S. interests and regional security. The proponents of using U.S. airpower against the Assad regime argue that it could bring the Syrian civil war to a swift and less bloody conclusion.

Indeed, American “birds in the sky” may prevent the need for “boots on the ground.” Or, American birds could very well be combined with Turkish, Saudi, Qatari, and Jordanian boots on the ground. Unfortunately, even then a resolution to the Syrian conflict may not come, especially if Iranian and Lebanese Shia boots respond in kind.

The irony with the current deadlock in Syria is that, if Mr. Obama wants to resolve it on America’s terms, he would have to act like his maligned predecessor and go it alone (or preferably with “a coalition of the willing”). In fact, unlike Mr. Bush in Iraq in 2002-03, Mr. Obama may actually find many eager regional partners to topple Bashar Assad. Yet, it’s highly unlikely that the American people and their president will walk down that road – unless, of course, Mr. Obama decides to return his Nobel Prize.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia and a predoctoral fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

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

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