Tag Archives: Middle East peace

Turkey: Good Reasons and Not-So-Good Reasons for Choosing the Middle East Over Europe


January 14, 2011

This week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan travelled to Kuwait and Qatar with an entourage of journalists and businessmen. Mr. Erdoğan’s visit coincided with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s trip to Cyprus, where she blamed Turkey and Turkish Cypriots for not taking additional steps to reunify the Eastern Mediterranean island. In response, the Turkish Prime Minister called on his German counterpart to “study history” and pointed out the European Union’s reneging on its promise to lift the embargo against Turkish Cypriots and its overall failure in getting the Greek Cypriots to do more for reunification.

Mr. Erdoğan’s criticism against Ms. Merkel was interesting not only because of what he said and where he said it but also because of what he said next. In his speech to the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry on January 12, Mr. Erdoğan underscored the historical connections between Turkey, Kuwait, and other Middle Eastern countries and alluded to the Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) initiative as a way to foster economic and even political integration in the region. The high mark of the Prime Minister’s speech was “all we need is each other.”

With one European government after another coming to the brink of bankruptcy, the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish sentiment around Europe, and the Turkish economy having grown at around 6% in 2010 thanks to its solid banking system and non-EU trade, Turkish people no longer see the European Union as a utopian panacea as they once did.

But does that make the Middle East a viable economic and political alternative to the EU?

Several reasons come to mind – some good, some not so good – to argue why Turkey should or shouldn’t join the EU. A typical skeptic of Middle East integration would argue – correctly – that while Turkey, Iran, and the Arab world make up over 7% of the world’s population (500 million out of a global population pushing toward 7 billion), their real GDP barely makes 5% of the global economy ($2.8 trillion out of $60 trillion). With roughly the same population, however, the EU produces 22% of global income.

But upon closer examination, one can see that the “economic insufficiency” argument can be used to justify closer relations between Turkey and the Muslim world. The gap between high population and low GDP is actually an indicator that there is a lot of room for economic growth in the Middle East. With its diverse economy, Turkey can lead the way for a more prosperous Middle East.

But even if the region’s countless conflicts (Israel-Palestine, Israel-Syria, Israel-Iran, Sudan, and Yemen) were absent, Turkey would still have trouble replacing the EU with MEFTA because the different political, legal, and social systems among Middle Eastern countries are jusst too vast. Even if we could overlook the incompatibility between Turkey’s basically democratic regime with the region’s more authoritarian governments (other than Turkey, only Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, and Lebanon are democratic), we would still have to deal with the diversity of opinions among Middle Eastern societies with respect to the role of religion in public life and the free market. At any rate, an integrated Middle East market would need legal systems that are in tandem with each other becayse investors would like to have similar laws in different parts of the region. But that is still far off into the future.

Despite significant technical hurdles, the enthusiasm and welcoming attitude toward Turkey in the Middle East contrasts sharply with the rise of Turkophobia in Europe. Although Prime Minister Erdoğan denies that his Middle East initiative is not an alternative to the EU, the region is becoming increasingly more attractive for Turkish tourists and businessmen. As visa restrictions are becoming a thing of the past, Turks and other Middle Eastern nations are rediscovering their common cultural and historical heritage. And add to that the immense popularity of Turkish TV soap operas and musicians throughout the Arab and Muslim world, one can get a better sense of the rapprochement.

But this rapprochement can turn out to be less than auspicious for global peace. If Turkey does choose Middle Eastern countries over the EU, it would prove Samuel Huntington’s problematic “clash of civilizations” thesis correct and erect political and psychological barriers between Turkey and Europe. Turkey has always prided itself as a “bridge between East and West.” Choosing one over the other may hurt its desire to become a global player in the twenty-first century.

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 Crazy (and Naïve) Oracle: Some Wishful Thinking for 2011


January 7, 2011

A favorite story that I like to tell my students goes as follows:

One day in 1928, friends of the smartest man in Munich asked him to predict the city’s future. “In 1933,” the man starts, “the city, like the rest of the country, is run by the thugs who had tried to carry out a coup five years ago.” His friends are not impressed. “But ten years later,” the man continues optimistically, “Munich will be the leading cultural and commercial center of the German Empire stretching from the North Pole to North Africa.” Joyful, his friends ask him to say more. “Five years later, however, Munich, together with the rest of Germany, will lie in ruins.” The comment displeases his audience.

“Oh, don’t look so depressed,” the man goes on, “by 1953, we would have rebuilt Munich with American aid, and, by 1963, more than half of Munich residents will be so well-off that they’ll own boxes that show movies and pictures like in the cinemas.” His friends, bewildered, then hear the most shocking bit: “Look, we’ll end up having so many jobs in Munich by 1963 that we’ll have to bring in hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries to maintain our prosperity.”

The man’s friends, of course, lock him up in a lunatic asylum, even though events would prove him correct.

In the same spirit as the crazy wise man, here are my predictions for 2011:

–          The international community finally understands the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shifts its attention to rebuilding the two countries’ socioeconomic infrastructure with long-term project and not “quick impact” ideasthat are of little use. Building schools, hospitals, dams and roads seems to cost a lot less than guns and bullets.

–          Realizing that its own well-being can only go hand-in-hand with its neighbors’ security, the Pakistani government shows greater resolve to curtail insurgent activity on the Afghan border. The security situation in both countries shows marked improvement.

–          The Iranian government and the P5+1 group start making real progress on the nuclear question. Iran grants the IAEA full access to all of its nuclear facilities; the UN Security Council begins lifting the sanctions. American and Iranian diplomats lay the groundwork for a direct meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Re-establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran seems on the horizon.

–          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally ends the coalition with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman and forms a new coalition with the centrist Kadima. Netanyahu’s move convinces Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to restart direct talks. Both parties show unprecedented flexibility with respect to sensitive issues: Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the return of Palestinian refugees. Progress with the Palestinians encourages the Israeli government to renew peace talks with Syria.

–          The last U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq as scheduled. With American forces out, the Obama administration can allocate more resources for economic recovery and reduces the federal deficit. The U.S. economy finally starts to improve, followed by the rest of the world. Republicans and Democrats in Congress begin to address some of America’s most pressing problems, much to everyone’s surprise.

–          In Turkey, the PKK declares a permanent ceasefire against Turkey and agrees to turn over its arms to the United Nations. In turn, the AKP government, with support from CHP, passes a law giving full amnesty to the organization’s rank-and-file and conditional amnesty to high-ranking officials in Northern Iraq. With the violence coming to an end in Southeast Turkey, democratic standards improve and the region’s economy begins to boom.

–          North and South Korea tone down their rhetoric and mutually suspend all military exercises. The North Korean leadership, aware of their country’s despondent situation, begins talks with its southern brothers to end the country’s now-58-year-old division.

(Other actual and potential conflict zones can be added to this list with similar “predictions”: Bosnia-Herzegovina; China-Taiwan; Congo; the Ivory Coast; Kosovo; Northern Mexico; Sudan.)

Do such predictions make me sound crazy? Of course they do.

But if you’re going to lock me up like the man from Munich, bear in mind that if a good deal of these prophecies do not work out, not many of us will survive to tell me that I was wrong.

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).