July 19, 2013

Turkish Summer after Arab Spring. Part 2

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Oleksiy Volovych

Turkish Summer after Arab Spring

Part 2

The Split of the Turkish Society Has Remained

The split of the Turkish society into two unequal parts — the Kemalist minority and, relatively speaking, Muslim majority is quite an obvious phenomenon, and it has been maintained for the entire 90 years of the existence of the Turkish Republic, founded by General Kemal Ataturk. It should be noted that in Turkey, both, the most conservative majority and secular pro-Western minority of the population are Muslims. But only with varying degrees of commitment to the tenets of Islam, especially regarding the functioning of the state. The idea of a secular state has never captured the minds of the Muslim majority. However, with the support of the Army until recently it was ruled by representatives of the pro-Western minority. R. Erdogan is actually the first democratically elected Prime Minister in the modern history of Turkey, who is not a puppet of the military. Moreover, he is the first Prime Minister, who has deprived the Turkish Army of the right to interfere in the political life of the country. And in this he was supported by the European Union, to which a political role of the army in a society is unacceptable. But on the other hand, if 10 years ago Kemalist minority was supported by the Turkish Army, now it is supported by countries of the European Union.

Today, R. Erdogan is the leader of the party of the “political Islam”, to which tends majority of the Turkish population which before 2002 had been so to speak falling out of the political life of Turkey. In the next election this majority will vote in favor of R. Erdogan. But if Erdogan, supported by the majority of the people does not give up the policy of uncompromising diktat towards the Kemalist minority, then it could end badly for him and for his party in power. Any authoritarianism produces resistance, and the greater the diktat, the stronger the resistance.

It is clear that support for Erdogan's Muslim majority cannot be immutable, as the majority itself cannot be permanent. Majority is usually on the side of a strong and successful leader. If the leader shows his weakness, or often makes mistakes, the majority will elect a new leader. R. Erdogan’s positions can long remain strong if he equally takes care of the rights of the majority and of the minority, that is, of those who vote for and against him. If he tries to finally subjugate the opposition political forces, then it will end in their uniting and strengthening, due to the split away from the majority part included. In other words, if R. Erdogan continues to consider himself only the leader of the ruling party, and not of the entire Turkish nation, the consent and stability in the Turkish society can be forgotten. Having set himself the goal to win the Presidential elections in 2014, R. Erdogan must obviously be prepared for the role of the “father of the nation” and least of all to take care of his role of a party boss.

Since 2002, Turkey has developed the ruling tandem of Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul
Since 2002, Turkey has developed the ruling tandem of Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul
Фото: pic.1in.am http://umma.ua/

Since 2002, Turkey has developed the ruling tandem of Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul. However, lately in the Turkish media has flashed information about some disagreements between them. At this, R. Erdogan is being positioned as a “radical and autocrat” and A. Gul — as “a moderate politician and democrat”. And supposed disagreements between the two leaders are explained exactly by their desire to take part in the Presidential elections of 2014.

The economic success of R. Erdogan’s government

While in Arab countries, except Libya, manifestations of opposition took place against the background of a deteriorating socio-economic situation, in Turkey even the opposition has to admit impressive economic success achieved as a result of the efforts of the current authorities. Today’s Turkish economy shows how a backward country, which 20 years ago was called “the sick man of Europe”, has reached the level of highly developed states. Many of R. Erdogan’s opponents, albeit with some reservations, in general positively rate his economic policies. At this, they, however, point out that the success of the economy cannot be an excuse to his authoritarian rule.

Turkey's economic achievements over the past decade are quite noticeable
Turkey's economic achievements over the past decade are quite noticeable

Turkey's economic achievements over the past decade are quite noticeable. Despite the global financial and economic crisis of 2008, Turkey is confidently approaching its cherished dream: to join the ten most industrialized countries in the world. Average GDP growth has been around 7% per year and is expected to be not less than 5% up to 2017. In the period from 2002 to 2008, Turkey's GDP had quadrupled, and let it be the seventeenth economy in the world and sixth in Europe. According to the US CIA, in terms of GDP in 2012, Turkey ranked 17th (1trillion 125 billion US dollars). Ukraine is the 40th (335 billion US dollars). GDP per capita in 2012 was about 15 thousand US dollars (three times more than in Ukraine). Turkey's budget in 2012 made 200 billion US dollars (Ukraine’s budget was 60 billion US dollars). During Erdogan’s ruling the country, the inflation has fallen from 68% in 2001 to 8.6% in 2013. One source of replenishment is the high fiscal charges (about 50%) at buying expensive cars, yachts, real estates, as well as the growing excise tax on cigarettes and alcohol.

The share of industrial production in Turkey's exports has been constantly increasing. Turkey is the sixth in the world in the production of motor vehicles and the fifth in the construction of ships and vessels. In 2010, in Turkey there were 50 shipyards. A significant part of the Turkish shipbuilding products are war ships. Turkey's Black Sea Fleet in its combat potential is 3 — 4 times higher than the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Turkish armed forces are second most numerous in the NATO after the United States’ ones (about 500 thousand military servicemen). Ankara pays considerable attention to the modernization of its Armed Forces, mainly due to the maximum development of its own defense industry. It is assumed that in 2013, Turkey will start production of helicopters, and in 2020 — military transport and combat aircraft.

The successful development of the national economy became possible thanks to introduction of a new tax policy, privatization of large state-owned banks and enterprises, giving up the state support of the exchange rate, protection of the domestic market, establishment of industrial zones with all sorts of benefits, stimulating the development of national industry, in particular, of small and medium enterprises, development of foreign trade.

The Turkish economy is socially oriented: most funds are allocated to education (more than on defense, although the Turkish Armed Forces are the most powerful in NATO after the US ones). In 10 years, R. Erdogan’s government has minimized corruption. The stock market in 2006 had grown by 400%, and also had increased the flow of foreign investments.

However, as Turkey is still in a transition period (from an agrarian society to an industrial one), there remains a number of unresolved social and economic problems: inflation is around 10%, the unemployment rate is 15%. Almost all of the country's economy is dependent on external energy sources. On the low level is the development of innovative and high-tech industries. The main branches giving money to the budget are light industry, agriculture and tourism. Significantly inhibits the development of economy the illiteracy of the population: among the people aged 15 years and more, about 15% are illiterate.

In coming years, the Turkish government intends to implement ambitious projects: to build two new subway lines, a railway tunnel under the Bosphorus, a new bridge over the Bosphorus, a navigable canal along the Bosporus Strait, the world's largest airport in Istanbul (150 million passengers per year), as well as an LNG-terminal on the Mediterranean coast.

R. Erdogan says that because of the current protests, economy is suffering, and that some hostile forces are sponsoring these actions in order to weaken Turkey. At one of press conferences, Erdogan asked the journalists, “GDP has tripled, factories, bridges, universities are being built, standards of life are rising, the whole world speaks about Turkey as a model of development, what else do they (opponents — O. V.) need?!

Today, however, material prosperity for the educated and cultured people is not the ultimate value. They consider spiritual freedom equally important.

Erdogan — Assad: from partnership to hatred — one step

Like most Arab countries, Syria until 1918 was part of the Ottoman Empire. Before the Second World War, Syria was ruled by France mandated by the League of Nations. Turkey’s recognition of Israel in 1948, as well as Turkey's accession to NATO in 1952, was one of the factors of deterioration in bilateral Turkish-Syrian relations during the second half of the twentieth century. Among other factors, complicating relations between Ankara and Damascus, can be called the dispute over the allocation of water resources of the river Euphrates, and Ankara’s accusing Syria of assisting Turkish Kurds, and signing in February 1996 of the Turkish-Israeli agreement on military-technical cooperation, and so on.

Only with JDP coming to power in 2002, relations between Turkey and Syria began to improve. The three-day visit of President of Syria al-Assad to Turkey in early January 2004 marked the beginning of a new stage of strategic partnership between the two countries. The political climate warming contributed to the strengthening of economic cooperation. Trade turnover between Turkey and Syria had risen from 730 million US dollars in 2000 to 2.5 billion US dollars in 2010. During this period, about 50 agreements relating to different sectors of the economy had been signed.

Damascus welcomed Ankara's initiative when it offered its mediation in the resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace talks. The rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus became the particular challenge for Israel and the United States, as Syria at that time remained virtually the last Arab country to consistently upholding the “anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist positions”. At the Arab League summit in Cairo in early March, 2003, B. Assad was the only Arab leader who called the occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies “a highway robbery”. This position of B. Assad’s was fully shared by the Turkish government headed by R. Erdogan, doing their utmost to prevent the invasion of NATO troops into Iraq. As you know, prior to the military operation in Iraq, Washington had been planning to place at the territory of Turkey about 60 thousand U.S. soldiers. But the Turkish Parliament did not allow it. It was an unprecedented step of a country — member of NATO. Because of this, American and British troops had to advance on Baghdad from the South only.

At the beginning of manifestations of the Turkish opposition in March 2011, the Turkish authorities had regular contacts with B. Assad and tried to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the internal Syrian conflict. Since April 2011, Turkey began to host Syrian refugees on its territory, while encouraging B. Assad to “immediately implement reforms aimed at ensuring the legitimate political, social and economic demands of the Syrian people”.

Since May 2011, R. Erdogan’s rhetoric regarding the situation in Syria, began to change significantly. In his speeches on the Syrian issue there was more criticism against the Syrian leadership.

But the latest developments in Turkey have confirmed the well-known axiom: do not inflate the fire in the neighboring house, because it will spread to your home. About 60% of Turkey's population does not approve of the country's leadership’s approach to events in the neighboring Syria, which is why the border regions of Turkey have turned into a base for training and arming the Syrian rebels and various groups of Islamist fighters from around the world. This population is convinced that Turkey should remain neutral and, at least, not to demonize its former strategic partner — Bashar al-Assad. Opponents condemn Erdogan for his having acted as an ally of odious Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf, in particular, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which has also done bad to the democratic image of Turkey.

Opposition factions of the Turkish Parliament condemn the position of the JDP, led by R. Erdogan towards the Syrian crisis, blaming it of “serving the USA’s interests in the region which contradict the Turkish people” and supporting the unjustified war against the friendly Syria. The statements of the opposition factions also point out that with the support of the United States and other Western countries, R. Erdogan’s government is preparing for a military intervention into Syria, and it “would be a disaster for the Turkish people, because such a gamble is against their interests and will lead to the isolation of Turkey in the Arab world”.

Calling millions of opposition in his own country radicals and extremists, R. Erdogan and his party with perseverance continue to idealize Syrian opposition groups and mercenaries Islamists from across the Middle East that joined them, elevating them to the rank of “revolutionaries and fighters for democracy”. And even the recent demonstrations in Turkey have not changed the hostile attitude of Ankara towards “Assad’s regime”. The first of July, on the eve of an International Conference “Geneva — 2”, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on the international community to “protect the Syrian people from the regime whose hands are stained with blood”. Responsibility for “mass killings and ethnic cleansing” in this statement rests only on the official Damascus, while atrocities of the armed opposition and foreign mercenaries in Syria, R. Erdogan’s government does not want to see. The statement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry also reads that until the “war of the Assad’s regime against its own people stops” and “external forces supporting the regime” leave the country, a peaceful solution is not possible. By the “external forces” are obviously meant Lebanese militants of "Hezbollah", Iranian volunteers, Russian military advisers and experts. Standing on such a strong position against the legitimate Syrian authority, Ankara is actually doing everything to disrupt the peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis within the framework of the international conference “Geneva -2”, the preparation for which involves a great deal of effort, in particular, that of Russia.

It should be noted that Ankara's uncompromising position towards the current leadership of Syria is in conflict with the position of Washington, which, co-acting recently with Moscow and maintaining informal contacts with Damascus through representatives of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Jordanian Intelligence Services, tends to convene a peace conference in Geneva. Although it is unlikely that Washington is serious about this conference. Most possibly, this is a formal concession to Moscow on the eve of the visit of President Barack Obama to the Russian capital, as well as his participation in the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in September. It is also possible that Washington, imitating its willingness to participate in the Geneva Conference, aims to gain time to strengthen positions of the Syrian Free Army troops. On the other hand, it seems that the U.S. administration has decided to temporarily relieve pressure on the B. al-Assad in order to allow the Syrian Army to defeat radical Islamist groups operating in Syria.

Some political analysts predict that after the June protests R. Erdogan will pay more attention to the internal Turkish problems and to restoring his quite shaky image. And, accordingly, he will less interfere in the internal Syrian conflict. At this, the Turkish authorities would have to pay attention to the results of research conducted on the instructions of NATO in May this year, according to which, 70% of Syria's population supports B. al-Assad today, 20% are neutral and only 10% support the opposition.

Criticism of R. Erdogan by the West

The USA and EU countries, until recently, generally favoring the policy of the current Turkish leadership, in particular, in relation to the events in Syria, and even putting Turkey as an example of an optimal combination of democratic and Islamic values, nevertheless have critically evaluated Erdogan’s government's dispersion of the demonstrators. As always in such cases, officials of Western countries use standard "cliché": the people have the right to peaceful protests and demonstrations, the authorities must show patience and tolerance. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry has expressed concern about the suppression of anti-government protests in Turkey, calling on the authorities of the country to show restraint. The High Representative for the EU Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton condemned the Turkish authorities for excessive use of force against demonstrators in Istanbul and other Turkish cities. On the 13th of June the European Parliament adopted a decision containing criticism of the Turkish government and Prime Minister R. Erdogan. To overcome the crisis, the EU proposed to Ankara to begin a dialogue with the protesters and opposition.

The criticism from Western countries angered R. Erdogan. Because he hoped for their support. Speaking in Istanbul on June 16 in front of hundreds of thousands of his supporters, Erdogan urged the media and Western leaders to see the “real Turkey, not just those who bring destruction and fires”. However, CNN International broadcasted the meeting in support of Erdogan under the headline “A meeting of protest against the current government”, which is further evidence of the “fairness and impartiality” of some Western media giving disinformation reports, in particular, about the events in Libya and Syria. June 25 Foreign Ministers of the EU member-states agreed to a proposal from Germany to postpone for four months the negotiations on Turkey's joining the EU. The reason­ was the discontent with the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

Recently, the leaders of the West with great irritation have been perceiving R. Erdogan’s independent foreign policy. Allegedly due to the fact that it quite often did not match the policy of Washington and NATO. Here we should mention the negative attitude of Ankara to the occupation of Iraq in 2003, Turkey’s principled position towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, R. Erdogan’s anti-Israeli rhetoric, normal relationship (before the Syrian crisis) with Iran (despite the anti-Iranian hysteria being pumped by the West), and finally, the unprecedented rapprochement with Russia, relations with which have somewhat tarnished because of disagreements about the events in Syria.Too strong and independent leader R. Erdogan does not suit Washington and Brussels. In his place the West would like to see a less ambitious and more docile “guy”.

Over the last 10 years in domestic and foreign policy of Turkey, the doctrine of neo-Osmanism and pan-Turkism has been clearly prevailing over the doctrine of Atlanticism, which is reflected in a special position of Turkey in the international arena, if compared with other members of NATO. In essence, neo-Osmanism and Pan-Turkism are components of the now emerging doctrine of Eurasianism which, in contrast to Western domination, suggests Turkey's alliance with Russia, China, Iran and India. In other words, the Turkish project of the Eurasian community can be seen as an attempt to form an interstate association, alternative to the European Union and NATO. If the project of the Eurasian community works out, Turkey's membership in NATO will lose all meaning.

Naturally, such a prospect, albeit hypothetical, obviously suits neither Washington nor Brussels. And as the main bearer of the idea of ​​the Turkish Eurasianism is the ruling Justice and Development Party with its leader R. Erdogan, we should not exclude that the West will encourage actions of the Turkish opposition with a view to removing the JDP and its leader from power.


It seems unlikely that the current protests in Turkey will lead to resignation of R. Erdogan’s government. Most possibly, the question of power in Turkey will be solved exactly in the election. And, supposedly, the vast majority of the electorate will vote for Erdogan. This is confirmed by recent polls in Turkey. Moreover, the recent protests may increase the number of R. Erdogan’s supporters… However, regardless of how the events in Turkey develop, the political situation in this country will change. Firstly, the opposition uses the latest protests to intensify its activities, and R. Erdogan will have to change his style of behavior and look for an adequate response to new challenges. Secondly, the image of the “democratic Turkey” as a model for Arab countries has very much faded. Thirdly, the chances of Erdogan to amend the Constitution in order to win the Presidency in 2014 will significantly decrease.

It is obvious that the future of Erdogan as a national leader will depend primarily on his ability to change the style of his work in order to come out of the latest social and political crisis as winner, which he has demonstrated more than once. One can only wish for Turkey, with which Ukraine has a large-scale economic cooperation and strategic partnership, to quickly restore stability and national harmony. Just one example for illustration: in 2012 the trade turnover between Ukraine and Turkey increased by 8.3% to 6 billion 150 million U.S. dollars with a surplus for Ukraine — more than 1.5 billion U.S. dollars. And in terms of export of Ukrainian goods in 2012, Turkey ranked second after Russia.