Tag Archives: Middle East

Is Turkey Giving Up on EU Membership?

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

23 September 2013

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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).

Is Turkey Really Ready For Peace?

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

5 April 2013

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What word that belongs to yesterday
Is gone, my dear, with yesterday
The time to say new things is today
Rumi

In my previous post, I had explained why I was pessimistic about Turkey despite the positive aura borne out of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s Nowruz message. In a nutshell, I argued that given Öcalan’s and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s past statements and actions praising violence, a tough path awaited Turkey.

Another reason why I’m pessimistic is because even though a majority of Turkey’s citizens want violence to end, I don’t think they’re ready to face the requirements of a resolution, a real peace.

Before going into the resolution, it’s useful to diagnose the problem.

The problem is violence itself. For 30 years, handing Kalashnikov rifles over to Kurdish kids to fight G-3-holding Turkish kids has neither improved the lot of Turkish Kurds nor eliminated the risk seccesion for Turkey. On the contrary, violence bred a vicious circle: every dead militant, soldier, policeman, or civilian alienated Turks and Kurds from each other. Every death flamed more hatred among those left behind.

As such, the first thing to do is to end violence, to put down the guns. This truthism, however, brings us to a point that PKK sympathizers will not like: it is the PKK that has to cease its activities, not the state. It is also the PKK that has to lay down its guns, not the state. After all, states throughout the world have to maintain national security and public order irrespective of whether they are dealing with militant groups or not. Thus, PKK has to go beyond its peaceful Nowruz rhetoric and actually renounce violence.

In order to persuade PKK militants to give up on violence, the Turkish state and the AKP government have a very important duty. I’m not talking about another law for “amnesty, regret, returning home,” half-hearted measures from the 1990s and early 2000s that failed to stop the bloodshed. Nor am I talking about the so-called “wise men committee” that was recently announced. What Turkey needs is a mechanism similar to South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This commission should comprise experts on conflict analysis and resolution (not just flashy names that would make the public feel good) and should be responsible with listening to the testimonies of PKK members and record their statements. More important, when feasible, the commission should find a way to bring PKK militants together with the victims of their attacks or their surviving family members. That way, the commission would give perpetrators and victims a change to apologize and forgive.

Turkey’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not only handle the cases of PKK militants but also government agents who committed crimes (especially those involved in extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and torture) during operations against the militant group. Just as in the case of militants, these agents would also be encouraged to meet with their victims or their surviving kin for mutual apology and forgiveness.

I am aware that many people would find this idea of a commission unacceptable and that it would not bring back the dead. I am not naive and certainly not stupid. At the beginning of this post, I expressly pointed out the possibility that few people in Turkey would accept this idea.

But if we don’t want the 40 thousand people we’ve lost in the last 30 years to turn into 400 thousand or 4 million in the next three decades, we all need to draw lessons from our mistakes. Only if we can forgive ourselves and “the others” can real peace come to Turkey.

Are we ready to forgive ourselves? I’m not sure about that.

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).

Nowruz and Peace in Turkey: It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day, It’s a New Life, but I’m not Feeling Good

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

25 March 2013

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Listening to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” may help to lift your mood because this post is probably going to worsen it.

Last Thursday, 21 March, was Now Ruz (new day), the traditional celebration in Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries that marks the arrival of spring. This Now Ruz was especially important for Turkey because Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish militant group PKK, called upon his followers to lay down their arms and leave Turkey. “Silence the weapons,” declared Mr. Öcalan, “let ideas and politics speak.”

The PKK has waged a bloody conflict against Turkish security forces for almost thirty years, a war that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives. Formed partly in response to human rights violations (such as the systematic torture in Diyarbakır prison and banning the Kurdish language in public under the military regime in the early 1980s), the militant group’s original objective was to establish an independent state in southeast Turkey. More recently, the PKK and Kurdish political groups in Turkey have moderated their position to demand autonomy similar to the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.

There’s every reason to hope that tears and bloodshed might come to an end in Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has responded to the PKK leader’s message with cautious optimism and called it “very positive,” a sentiment shared by many of his fellow citizens.

As Nina Simone would say, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life. But unlike Nina, I’m not feeling good.

Here’s why: having studied Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Öcalan very closely for the past 10 years, I am convinced that they are only interested in their own political well-being. Both men have said and done things that lend credence to my suspicions.

For example, when opponents criticized his government for its inability to respond to the PKK’s attacks last summer, Mr. Erdoğan cited the high number of dead PKK militants and the low number of dead Turkish soldiers to underscore the effectiveness of government forces. The real criterion for success, of course, is eliminating the conditions that give rise to violent groups like the PKK. The prime minister also blamed media outlets for reporting their reports on the attacks, which he equated with supporting “PKK propaganda.”

Moreover, since the 2007 elections, Mr. Erdoğan has overseen the largest clampdown on journalists and free speech in Turkish history. Turkey is now considered the “world’s biggest prison for journalists” and it is at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index. It’s highly questionable if Turkey’s Kurdish question could be resolved without substantial improvements to its troublesome democracy. It’s highly debatable if Mr. Erdoğan is the man for that job.

Mr. Öcalan, for his part, led the PKK with an iron fist before his capture in 1999. He demanded absolute obedience from his subordinates and eliminated those who wouldn’t budge. A sad joke relates that Mr. Öcalan doesn’t just share a taste in large moustaches with Stalin.

apo joeLooking at the bigger picture, the two leaders give me cause to be pessimistic. Given Prime Minister Erdoğan’s constant flip-flopping on virtually every issue of significance, it is not unlikely that he will ride the wave of positive sentiments until he reaches his aim to become president next year. Furthermore, with his ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious stance on virtually every issue–not to mention his dislike of liberal democracy–it is unlikely for the Turkish Prime Minister to cut a meaningful deal with the Kurds.

As for Mr. Öcalan, although he languishes in prison, he does hold a few trump cards. For one, if he isn’t released from prison as part of a deal with the Turkish government or if he is not guaranteed a wide space in politics after his release, he might call upon his followers to take up arms again. Mr. Öcalan’s deputy, Murat Karayılan, has already signaled that laying down arms and withdrawing PKK militants from southeast Turkey is not a foregone conclusion.

And if hostilities recommence in Turkey, the next round of violence will make the 40,000 dead of the past 30 years look like a rosy dream. In order to avoid that outcome, Turkey needs a “feel-good” peace.

In my next post, I will discuss the general contours of that peace.

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).

Unpleasant Options in Syria

BARIN KAYAOĞLU

27 February 2012

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“Syrian blood” kicked around by foreign countries. The international community should be careful to prevent that image from becoming a reality.

In the aftermath of the Russian and Chinese vetoes at the United Nations Security Council, many Western countries and their Middle Eastern allies are looking for new ways to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The “Friends of Syria” meeting held in Tunisia last week aimed to remake the Syrian National Council – a coalition comprising dozens of different opposition groups – into a more cohesive front. Foreign governments are probably laying the groundwork to recognize the Council as a “government-in-exile” in the near future. But Syria’s friends have a long way to go before they have a shot at ousting Assad.

Beyond giving political backing to the Syrian National Council, arming the Free Syrian Army seems as a more realistic option. The FSA, a militia group primarily composed of soldiers who have deserted Assad’s army, is already using Turkish territory for its activities. Thus, the Turkish government’s threats against Assad that “all options are on the table” should be read as an intention to establish “safe areas” and perhaps more.

There is no question that the international community has to do something about the tragedy in Syria. It’s been a year and over 8,000 dead Syrians since the uprisings have begun. But the countries backing anti-Assad forces in Syria would be fooling themselves if they think “safe areas” or giving more arms and ammo to the FSA will accomplish anything. Humanitarian missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s amply demonstrated that “safe areas” are half-hearted attempts that do not succeed. More important, the absence of a strong international force only emboldens the aggressor to kill more – something that the international community is supposed to prevent.

The international community should also think whether it should and could make peace through a full-scale military intervention in Syria because talking the talk of military intervention is easier than walking the walk. Russia and China have already demonstrated that they do not want Western countries, Turkey, and the Arab League in Syria. It is almost certain that Iran will mobilize its resources and assets (read: Hezbollah) to shore up its allies in Damascus. It is also certain that public opinion in the West, Turkey, and Arab countries will not support military action against Syria.

If the anti-Assad groups and their international supporters are really determined to overthrow the Baath regime, they have to see the biggest risk about post-Assad Syria: given its multi-confessional nature, foreign intervention may very well exacerbate religious discord (à la Iraq). That will put the people of Syria in a situation even worse than the present.

Half-hearted political talk will certainly not solve Syria’s tragedy. But military action does not look like the answer either.

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).

A U.S.-Iran War: Sure, Why Not?

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

17 January 2012

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

U.S. and Israeli officials are claiming that Iranian leaders’ increasingly bellicose rhetoric is an indication that the sanctions are working. Some argue that Tehran is now feeling the effects of the sanctions. Soon, it will compromise on the nuclear issue.

Never mind that all the talk about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and then using them against Israel and the West is almost identical to the justification for the Iraq War ten years ago.

And never mind that, just like Iraq, the sanctions against Iran were meant to prevent another war in the Middle East.

But who knows, maybe a war between the United States and Iran won’t be such a bad thing. Here’s why:

–          Crude oil prices will not skyrocket. The world economy will not collapse.

–          There won’t be any nonsense about “rallying around the flag” in Iran. Iranians won’t support their unpopular government just because their country’s being bombed.

–          In fact, it is very likely that the reformists in Iran will gain new ground because the government won’t be able to respond to domestic and international pressure at the same time.

–          The war might even help to start another revolution in Iran.

–          With regime change and their country looking more peaceful than ever (just like Iraq!), Iranians will be grateful to the United States and the international community so much so that they will award lucrative oil and natural gas contracts to American and European companies.

–          There won’t be new insurgent groups springing up in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world because Muslims won’t be angry over another Western war against a Muslim nation.

And if you agree with any of the above, you should read about the world a little more.

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).