Commentary Magazine


Topic: Turkey

Turkey’s Corruption Scandal Goes from Bad to Worse

Sometimes, bad things happen to bad people. I wrote here last week regarding the political civil war in Turkey which has erupted between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and followers of Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Many trusted Turkish interlocutors have written to expand on the topic, which has manifested itself as a bribery scandal. Erdoğan, in true banana republic style, reacted initially by seeking to sack the police chiefs overseeing the investigation. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now threatening to classify any information from the bribery scandal as a “state secret,” the publishing of which could be punishable as treason.

Several Turkish journalists and academics point out that the investigation appears to now focus on Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, and one of Erdoğan’s closest aides. Illegality or not, Bağış is one of the AKP’s least-liked figures. AKP colleagues, Turkish journalists, and both American and European diplomats describe him as boorish, arrogant, and a bit of a blowhard. He is also extremely litigious, and has sought to sue Turkish journalists and analysts who have touched on some of his shadier dealings. Now that the arrests have propelled discussion of AKP corruption to the forefront, Hürriyet Daily News discusses the case in a bit more detail. Not surprisingly, it involves several AKP officials seeking to profit off of Iran’s sanctions-busting “Gold-for-Gas” scheme with Turkey:

Read More

Sometimes, bad things happen to bad people. I wrote here last week regarding the political civil war in Turkey which has erupted between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and followers of Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Many trusted Turkish interlocutors have written to expand on the topic, which has manifested itself as a bribery scandal. Erdoğan, in true banana republic style, reacted initially by seeking to sack the police chiefs overseeing the investigation. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now threatening to classify any information from the bribery scandal as a “state secret,” the publishing of which could be punishable as treason.

Several Turkish journalists and academics point out that the investigation appears to now focus on Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, and one of Erdoğan’s closest aides. Illegality or not, Bağış is one of the AKP’s least-liked figures. AKP colleagues, Turkish journalists, and both American and European diplomats describe him as boorish, arrogant, and a bit of a blowhard. He is also extremely litigious, and has sought to sue Turkish journalists and analysts who have touched on some of his shadier dealings. Now that the arrests have propelled discussion of AKP corruption to the forefront, Hürriyet Daily News discusses the case in a bit more detail. Not surprisingly, it involves several AKP officials seeking to profit off of Iran’s sanctions-busting “Gold-for-Gas” scheme with Turkey:

[Economy Minister Zafer] Çağlayan’s son was arrested during a corruption operation on Dec. 17, together with the sons of two other ministers;Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar and Interior Minister Muammer Güler. The leaks, possibly from prosecutor’s office and police, to Turkish media claim that those ministers, plus Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış have been involved in facilitating the “business” of Reza Zarrab in Turkey by taking bribes and abusing their offices. The “business” is to transfer Zarrab’s money from gold trade over Turkey to Iran via the government-controlled Halkbank… the amount of the total bribery is reported in Turkish media to be as high as 142 million Turkish Liras, nearly $70 million….

Not mentioned in the Turkish press is the fact that the Obama administration issued sanctions waivers on Turkey’s business dealings with Iran because it concluded that the Turkish government was approaching the issue in good faith.

The wall of fear now seems to be breaking down. Newspapers journalists who once only whispered the truth about events in Turkey but whose employers would sanitize whatever they put in print, out of fear that the government might jail them or confiscate their newspaper, now publish what amounts to confessions about just how corrupt the AKP has become. Today’s Zaman, the English-language flagship paper of the Gülen movement, for example, wrote:

A foreign businessman who has been working in Turkey for over 10 years told me last week that he was not surprised at all by the allegations of corruption at the highest level. Without close connections in the ruling party and, apparently, big bribes, it was impossible to win any tender in the highly profitable energy sector, he explained.

The allegations of bribery and corruption are also starting to get too close to Erdoğan for his comfort. Supposedly, one element of the scandal is that the prime minister’s son, his wife, his in-laws, and some close friends set up a foundation last year for the “education of youth.” The foundation opened a residence for university students. Now it turns out the Foundation didn’t pay for the dormitory, but rather public money from the Fatih district municipality, which is headed by an AKP mayor now under detention. So what Erdoğan’s family did with the money they claimed was spent on the dormitory is an unanswered question.

The AKP has long claimed to have advanced Turkey’s democracy. If a core of democracy is rule of law, then Turkey now is put to the test.

Read Less

What Goes Around in Turkey…

Turkey has become a banana republic. It may sound harsh, but events of the last few days simply underline the point. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to power in November 2002, it promised clean government and democratic reform. The election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the premiership made a mockery of that promise, since the AKP leader had more than a dozen corruption cases pending against him, cases immediately suspended because of parliamentary immunity. Other senior AKP officials—Cuneyt Zapsu, Egemin Bağış (a contender to replace Namık Tan as ambassador early next year) among others—were accused even by AKP associates of corruption, according to U.S. documents published by WikiLeaks. All, however, like Erdoğan himself profited nicely in the new order.

The democratic reform rhetoric also turned out to be a joke played out both on the Turkish public and well-meaning American diplomats. Erdoğan consolidated his power and used it arbitrarily to target his opponents. He entered a marriage of convenience with Fethullah Gülen’s movement, an Islamist movement which had itself consolidated control over the security forces. These he used to great effect, targeting and arresting opponents, many of whom languished for years in prison without trial. Erdoğan and his allies then tried his opponents on fantastical conspiracies utilizing evidence which outside experts deemed anachronous and clearly fabricated. Never mind justice, Erdoğan and his sympathizers figured: the ends justify the means.

Read More

Turkey has become a banana republic. It may sound harsh, but events of the last few days simply underline the point. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept to power in November 2002, it promised clean government and democratic reform. The election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the premiership made a mockery of that promise, since the AKP leader had more than a dozen corruption cases pending against him, cases immediately suspended because of parliamentary immunity. Other senior AKP officials—Cuneyt Zapsu, Egemin Bağış (a contender to replace Namık Tan as ambassador early next year) among others—were accused even by AKP associates of corruption, according to U.S. documents published by WikiLeaks. All, however, like Erdoğan himself profited nicely in the new order.

The democratic reform rhetoric also turned out to be a joke played out both on the Turkish public and well-meaning American diplomats. Erdoğan consolidated his power and used it arbitrarily to target his opponents. He entered a marriage of convenience with Fethullah Gülen’s movement, an Islamist movement which had itself consolidated control over the security forces. These he used to great effect, targeting and arresting opponents, many of whom languished for years in prison without trial. Erdoğan and his allies then tried his opponents on fantastical conspiracies utilizing evidence which outside experts deemed anachronous and clearly fabricated. Never mind justice, Erdoğan and his sympathizers figured: the ends justify the means.

Alas, like so many tyrants before him, Erdoğan is now learning that what goes around comes around. After picking a fight with the Gülen movement by seeking the closure of its lucrative exam prep schools, Erdoğan and his allies found themselves on the opposite end of the Gülen-controlled security forces, who arrested family members of several AKP ministers, as well as prominent AKP supporters on charges of corruption. Erdoğan is now crying foul, but he wins little sympathy after engaging in the same shenanigans. The prime minister eviscerated the independence of the judiciary, and now he cries that it has fallen under a rival’s control.

Events in Turkey now are incredibly important. There is a real race for the mayor in Istanbul; if the opposition wins—the polls show the two candidates are neck-and-neck—then Turks will conclude that Erdoğan is vulnerable. The arrest of the prime minister’s allies simply underscores how the situation has changed since Erdoğan attacked his own people during this summer’s Gezi protests. Erdoğan may once have seen himself as invincible, a cross between Ottoman Sultan Selim and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but as events unfold, the notion that Erdoğan will himself end his career in prison or in exile in Saudi Arabia a few years down the road becomes a welcome possibility. Let us just hope his successor will break Turkey’s tragic cycle and focus more on the future rather than on revenging past grievances.

Read Less

Morocco Should Be the Model

It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

Read More

It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

Morocco has consciously embraced religious moderation. Imams go through rigorous training and must continually renew their licenses. Those who promote intolerance or religious hatred quickly find themselves out of a job. While freedoms plunge throughout the region, Moroccans enjoy an increasingly free and vibrant press and readily engage in public demonstrations. During a trip to Rabat this past week, I saw separate demonstrations relating to unemployment and demands for the court to dismiss charges against a journalist who linked to a website hosting an al-Qaeda call for violent jihad. Moroccan police kept their distance from the demonstrators, and directed their attention instead to directing traffic around the demonstrators. Contrast that with Turkey, where the government’s response to a protest against the paving over of a park was to fire tens of thousands of tear gas canisters, beat scores of protestors, and kill at least four.

While Turkey embraces Hamas, Morocco broke diplomatic relations with Iran over that country’s attempts to promote radical religious interpretation. And rather than support religious extremists, Morocco has lent its expertise to promote constitutional checks and balances and women’s rights in countries like Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. While the Turkish ambassador to Chad openly endorsed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb when fighting erupted in Mali, Morocco continues to help Mali reconstruct itself and defeat all remnants of al-Qaeda.

Morocco increasingly also provides a model for justice. Just as in Turkey, serious human-rights abuses marked the 1970s, 1980s, and perhaps even 1990s in Morocco. In recent years, though, the two countries have again diverged. Morocco implemented a new, quite progressive constitution in 2011. Rather than sweep past abuses under the rug, the Moroccan state sponsored a truth and reconciliation committee in which citizens across the spectrum embraced, giving the Kingdom a chance at a fresh start. Not so in Turkey. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took over in 2003, he drew a sharp distinction between past and future, but used his power not to reconcile but rather to seek revenge against first real and perceived enemies, and increasingly against anyone who might develop an independent political base. While Moroccan press freedom and political space has increased over the years, Turkish press freedom has retracted to the point that Turkey now rests behind even Russia in watchdog rankings.

Neither Morocco nor Turkey is perfect, but trajectory is important. Morocco provides a path toward reconciliation and moderation, while Turkey’s political leadership has increasingly turned that country into a beacon for populism and hate. Generations of diplomats have become accustomed to thinking of Turkey as a partner and a model for the region. But autopilot should never be a substitute for wisdom. Increasingly, it is apparent that a moderate, more democratic future for the Middle East lies not in the Turkish model but rather the Moroccan one.

Read Less

The Problem with Turkey’s “Zero-Problem” Foreign Policy

With the Iranian nuclear deal dominating news from the Middle East last week, another significant development got less attention than it deserved: the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador from Egypt. For a country that once boasted of “zero problems with its neighbors,” losing ambassadors in three Mideast countries–Israel, Syria, and Egypt–in roughly two years is no mean feat. To grasp how extraordinary this latest downgrade is, consider the fact that Cairo has never expelled Israel’s ambassador, even during high-tension periods like the second intifada.

This, of course, shows once again that Arab leaders care much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their rhetoric might imply. But beyond that, it points to a serious problem with Turkey’s foreign policy that ought to prompt some rethinking in Washington–not only about its reliance on Turkey hitherto as its key Mideast partner, but also about its burgeoning romance with Iran.

Ostensibly, Turkey’s breaks with Israel, Syria, and Egypt are completely unrelated: They were prompted, respectively, by Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza, the Syrian uprising, and Egypt’s military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government. In fact, however, all stem from a common cause: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist worldview and policies.

Read More

With the Iranian nuclear deal dominating news from the Middle East last week, another significant development got less attention than it deserved: the expulsion of Turkey’s ambassador from Egypt. For a country that once boasted of “zero problems with its neighbors,” losing ambassadors in three Mideast countries–Israel, Syria, and Egypt–in roughly two years is no mean feat. To grasp how extraordinary this latest downgrade is, consider the fact that Cairo has never expelled Israel’s ambassador, even during high-tension periods like the second intifada.

This, of course, shows once again that Arab leaders care much less about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their rhetoric might imply. But beyond that, it points to a serious problem with Turkey’s foreign policy that ought to prompt some rethinking in Washington–not only about its reliance on Turkey hitherto as its key Mideast partner, but also about its burgeoning romance with Iran.

Ostensibly, Turkey’s breaks with Israel, Syria, and Egypt are completely unrelated: They were prompted, respectively, by Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza, the Syrian uprising, and Egypt’s military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government. In fact, however, all stem from a common cause: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist worldview and policies.

This worldview is what led him to actively support the flotilla, sponsored by a terror-affiliated Islamist organization, despite knowing violence might ensue; downgrade ties with Israel in a fit of pique after a UN investigation of the incident upheld the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza; and refuse to restore them even after President Obama personally brokered a reconciliation deal, since the deal didn’t include ending the blockade. Supporting his fellow Islamists in Hamas trumped realpolitik and his country’s interests.

This is also what led him to actively support the Sunni rebels–and particularly the most radical Islamists among them–against Syria’s Alawite regime, and why he’s never stopped denouncing the Egyptian coup, even as the rest of the world has long since accepted that it’s not only a fait accompli, but enjoys broad popular support. In these cases, too, loyalty to his fellow Islamists trumped realpolitik and his country’s interests.

Such a principled foreign policy might be admirable if it weren’t for one problem: The principle Erdogan is supporting–Islamism–happens to be a destabilizing one. Inter alia, the Islamist governments and movements he’s supported have produced nonstop rocket fire on Israel from Gaza, a brutal civil war in Syria, and governmental abuses and incompetence in Egypt on a scale that generated massive support for the coup. Hence Erdogan’s commitment to his Islamist foreign policy has only further destabilized an unstable region.

Iran, of course, is also committed to Islamism, albeit the Shi’ite rather than the Sunni variety. Indeed, its foreign policy has been even more aggressive and destabilizing than Turkey’s: Witness its support for the Assad regime’s brutality in Syria and for Hezbollah’s virtual takeover of Lebanon. And since Islamism is the Iranian regime’s raison d’etre, no deal with Washington is going to end its commitment to an Islamist foreign policy.   

The lesson for America ought to be that Islamists–even “moderate” ones, to quote the Washington elite’s favorite adjective for both Erdogan and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani–don’t make good foreign-policy partners. Unless, that is, one thinks even more instability in a volatile region is a good idea.

Read Less

Turkey Gives Seized Media to Erdoğan Ally

Last spring, as President Obama stood beside his good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House Rose Garden, Turkish officials were raiding the media assets of the Çukurova Group, one of the last business conglomerates whose media outlets maintained an independent rather than hagiographic take on Turkey’s prime minister. Obama, of course, was silent. Not only did Obama not speak up in defense of media freedom, but he chose Sabah, a once-independent paper seized by Erdoğan’s administration and transferred to Erdoğan’s son-in-law for an op-ed about Obama’s love for Turkey.

Alas, principles of freedom and liberty appear to count little when he picks friends and foes. Now, word comes from Turkey that the newspapers and television stations seized have been transferred to businessman Ethem Sancak:

Read More

Last spring, as President Obama stood beside his good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the White House Rose Garden, Turkish officials were raiding the media assets of the Çukurova Group, one of the last business conglomerates whose media outlets maintained an independent rather than hagiographic take on Turkey’s prime minister. Obama, of course, was silent. Not only did Obama not speak up in defense of media freedom, but he chose Sabah, a once-independent paper seized by Erdoğan’s administration and transferred to Erdoğan’s son-in-law for an op-ed about Obama’s love for Turkey.

Alas, principles of freedom and liberty appear to count little when he picks friends and foes. Now, word comes from Turkey that the newspapers and television stations seized have been transferred to businessman Ethem Sancak:

“Negotiations between Çukurova Holding and businessman Ethem Sancak, an experienced individual who has achieved success in the media sector, have been finalized with a deal,” the Turkmedya group, which operates the 11 sold assets, announced on Nov. 21 in a statement. The 11 Turkmedya assets, including  daily newspapers Akşam and Güneş, digital pay-TV operator Digiturk and news broadcaster SkyTurk 360, were initially agreed to be sold to companies Cengiz, Kolin and Limak, all of which operate mostly in the construction sector. However, the three companies, who recently successfully made a joint tender bid for Istanbul’s third airport, had decided to withdraw their offer.

What the article does not report is that Sancak is a close Erdoğan ally. So once again the Turkish government seizes independent newspapers and television and transfers it for a fire sale price to a staunch government supporter. The best that can be said about the deal is that at least Erdoğan is not simply giving away Turkey’s once independent media outlets to family members, but branching out to unrelated supporters as well. Simply put, independent voices—whether students at Gezi Park, politicians within his own party, or journalists—are no longer welcome in the new Turkey.

Given how Obama once expressed his love for Erdoğan, perhaps it’s time for a journalist to ask, “Mr. President, what do you see in this man?”

Read Less

Turkish Columnists Eulogize Democracy

I and many others have written for quite some time about the erosion of democracy, liberalism, tolerance, and constitutionalism inside Turkey. Many liberals and reformers inside Turkey, however, had little patience for such hang-wringing about the dangerous dismantling of checks and balances or for concern about the intentions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister.

No longer. In recent months—starting first with the crackdown on protestors in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, continuing to Erdoğan’s subsequent efforts to stir the hornet’s nest, and most recently his efforts to segregate the sexes—have led many Turkish intellectuals—liberals and moderate Islamists both—to realize they have been had. There is no more doubt inside Turkey Erdoğan cares an iota for democracy or for individual rights.

Read More

I and many others have written for quite some time about the erosion of democracy, liberalism, tolerance, and constitutionalism inside Turkey. Many liberals and reformers inside Turkey, however, had little patience for such hang-wringing about the dangerous dismantling of checks and balances or for concern about the intentions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister.

No longer. In recent months—starting first with the crackdown on protestors in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, continuing to Erdoğan’s subsequent efforts to stir the hornet’s nest, and most recently his efforts to segregate the sexes—have led many Turkish intellectuals—liberals and moderate Islamists both—to realize they have been had. There is no more doubt inside Turkey Erdoğan cares an iota for democracy or for individual rights.

In recent days, there have been two important columns eulogizing the end of democracy, or at least hopes for true democracy written by once-close aides and supporters. First, Ahmet Hakan, once very close to Erdoğan, has now published an important column declaring just how dangerous Erdoğan has become. Asking “Why is he [Erdoğan] doing this?” he answers with a list describing Erdoğan’s dictatorial mentality and his desire for a police state:

  • “Believes that his own idea of morality should be adopted by everyone;
  • Does not even regard it as possible that there may be other moral concepts…
  • Thinks he has the right to interfere in other people’s lives and thinks he is doing this for the happiness of the people;
  • Assumes that he can arrange Turkey as if it his own house;
  • Believes that he is obliged to prevent the committing of sin…
  • Divides the lives of his citizens into “legitimate” and “illegitimate” lives;
  • Sees no harm in openly expressing that “illegitimate” lives could be raided with the police;
  • Thinks that citizens who are not controlled by the state will pursue all kinds of malice in their private lives;
  • Believes there are parents who want police to monitor the lives of their children;
  • Is convinced that he could solve issues by assigning police to every household;
  • Has over-expanded the archaic mentality of “I am responsible for the decency of the neighborhood” to “the decency of Turkey is my responsibility;” 
  • Is not even aware of the difference between “crime” and “sin;” 
  • Is able to plan bans, crimes and punishments based on sin;
  • Embraces the opinion that even houses can be breached to prevent sin;
  • Does not consider such interference as an intervention into people’s private lives if it is done to prevent sin;
  • Is not even aware that what he is doing is simply social engineering; 
  • Sees social engineering as bad when it is Kemalists who do it; regards it as wonderful if he is doing it;
  • Has totally discarded the issue of individual rights and freedoms from his personal agenda.
  • Well, this prime minister has plunged into this matter with all his sincerity, without acting or pretending, without considering any strategy, without any doubt that what he is doing is right, without any tactics. And, this is the “worst” and the “most dangerous” side of the thing.
  • But even worse and more dangerous is that there is not a single person left around the prime minister who has the courage to say, “What you are doing is wrong; you can’t do it like this,” even though they do think that what the prime minister is doing is wrong. 

Likewise, in Today’s Zaman, the newspaper of Islamist cult leader Fethullah Gülen, columnist Bülent Keneş laments the end of democracy in Turkey:

The men of the nation have been involved in a strong, bitter struggle against the Kemalist/militarist state, dominated by a minority, for the sake of natural rights and freedoms. Of course, this was not a bloody or violent struggle. It was a struggle for democracy, the rule of law and rights and freedoms. It was a justified struggle and because it was just, the struggle was actually won for the most part… As these men of the nation had overcome every difficulty and obstacle as well as instances of victimization thanks to the support and prayers of the people, they had become stronger. They were both morally and legally right in this struggle and, as a result, they were winning. And as they have continued to win, they have become stronger. And as they have become stronger, they have changed. Imagine this vicious cycle: as they have changed, they have lost the ethical and moral ground they held as their major asset.

The irony is that even as Erdoğan’s aides come clean, President Obama, the State Department, and a succession of U.S. ambassadors to Turkey have refused to recognize Turkey’s dictatorship for what it is. There can be no democracy when the government refuses to recognize the importance of individual rights and liberty. Never again should an Islamist leader be blessed as a democrat by the State Department unless that leader subscribes to the notion that individuals have rights that transcend communal religious dictates.

Read Less

Is Turkey Supporting Al-Qaeda in Syria?

Perhaps the most dangerous group in Syria is Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front. The group does not hide its sympathy for al-Qaeda and targets more moderate Syrian opposition groups alongside the Syrian regime. While Syrians comprise most Syrian opposition groups, the Nusra Front counts Libyans, Saudis, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, Germans, and Turks among its fighters. Around Syria, it is an open secret that Turkey supports—or at least has supported—the Nusra Front.

Not only has Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied that the Nusra Front are terrorists—more like honorable jihadists, he suggested in the face of questions from an opposition leader—but Turkish forces have also apparently used al-Nusra as a proxy against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish party linked to Turkey’s own Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which remains overwhelmingly popular among Syria’s Kurdish population. If it comes to a choice between an al-Qaeda affiliate and a secular Kurdish party controlling territory, Erdoğan sides with al-Qaeda.

Read More

Perhaps the most dangerous group in Syria is Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front. The group does not hide its sympathy for al-Qaeda and targets more moderate Syrian opposition groups alongside the Syrian regime. While Syrians comprise most Syrian opposition groups, the Nusra Front counts Libyans, Saudis, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, Germans, and Turks among its fighters. Around Syria, it is an open secret that Turkey supports—or at least has supported—the Nusra Front.

Not only has Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied that the Nusra Front are terrorists—more like honorable jihadists, he suggested in the face of questions from an opposition leader—but Turkish forces have also apparently used al-Nusra as a proxy against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish party linked to Turkey’s own Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which remains overwhelmingly popular among Syria’s Kurdish population. If it comes to a choice between an al-Qaeda affiliate and a secular Kurdish party controlling territory, Erdoğan sides with al-Qaeda.

When I asked Iraqi counterterrorism officials who monitor the transit of al-Qaeda last summer about the Turkish relationship with the Nusra Front, they were careful. “Let’s just say that whenever the Nusra Front wants to have a meeting, they know they can do so inside Turkey and won’t be bothered,” one official told me. While diplomatic tension between Iraq and Turkey remains strong, the official was able to give very specific examples that suggest he was not simply trying to tar Turkey.

Erdoğan, himself, however has bristled at any suggestion Turkey provides safe haven or even free passage to the Nusra Front. Now, however, there is video evidence. CNN International has an excellent video report on the transit of jihadis through the Hatay airport in Turkey and into Syria. Perhaps it is time for officials to question the judgment of President Obama for his friendship with and personal endorsement of Erdoğan, who appears not only to sympathize with the most radical elements in Syria’s civil war, but also to be a liar.

Read Less

Turkey Seeks More Gender Segregation

While Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) depicts itself to the West as committed to democratic reforms, increasingly it has moved to impose its conservative religious vision upon Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has instructed women to have at least three children, and promised lawmakers that his goal was to raise a religious generation of youth in Turkey. Now, he has gone further, and spoken out against university dormitories which house both men and women. According to a Hürriyet Daily News report:

“This is against our conservative, democratic character,” the prime minister said during a closed-door meeting Nov. 3 with Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies at a key party meeting in Ankara’s Kızılcahamam district. “We witnessed this in the province of Denizli. The insufficiency of dormitories causes problems. Male and female university students are staying in the same house. This is not being checked,” Erdoğan said, voicing his displeasure with the situation.

Read More

While Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) depicts itself to the West as committed to democratic reforms, increasingly it has moved to impose its conservative religious vision upon Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has instructed women to have at least three children, and promised lawmakers that his goal was to raise a religious generation of youth in Turkey. Now, he has gone further, and spoken out against university dormitories which house both men and women. According to a Hürriyet Daily News report:

“This is against our conservative, democratic character,” the prime minister said during a closed-door meeting Nov. 3 with Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies at a key party meeting in Ankara’s Kızılcahamam district. “We witnessed this in the province of Denizli. The insufficiency of dormitories causes problems. Male and female university students are staying in the same house. This is not being checked,” Erdoğan said, voicing his displeasure with the situation.

While the more politically savvy AKP officials serve in Ankara and Istanbul and so show a more cosmopolitan face to Western interlocutors, the true face of the AKP is in the provinces. Here, some officials are even more extreme. As Hürriyet continued, “Last August, a provincial education director in Trabzon had caused public outrage after lamenting that female and male students were using the same sets of stairs on the way to their rooms.”

Many Turkish liberals are placing hopes that upcoming mayoral elections in Istanbul might reverse the past decade of remarkable AKP success. Alas, even if the opposition wins Istanbul, Turkey may already be too far gone for it to matter, as the birthrates among Kurds and the more conservative Anatolians remain higher than those of more Middle Class, Western-leaning Turks.

Read Less

Turkish Jews Begin to Leave

Turkish Jews have long had a secure position in Turkish society. Jews were one of the few peoples who had not rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, and so Turks—and Turkish school books—always treated them as far more loyal citizens than others. It was no wonder, therefore, that Turkey retained a relatively large Jewish community—probably the second-largest in the Middle East, as Iran’s Jewish population has continued to decline. The stability of the Turkish Jewish community has been one straw upon which those in denial about the change in Turkey have grasped. It’s time to stop the denial. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Anti-Semitism, triggered by harsh statements from the Turkish government, has led to the migration of hundreds of Jewish youngsters from Turkey to the U.S. or Europe, Nesim Güveniş, deputy chairman the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Oct. 21. This unease went before the Mavi Marmara incident, and was aggravated by the notorious “one minute” spat between the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, according to Güveniş.

Read More

Turkish Jews have long had a secure position in Turkish society. Jews were one of the few peoples who had not rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, and so Turks—and Turkish school books—always treated them as far more loyal citizens than others. It was no wonder, therefore, that Turkey retained a relatively large Jewish community—probably the second-largest in the Middle East, as Iran’s Jewish population has continued to decline. The stability of the Turkish Jewish community has been one straw upon which those in denial about the change in Turkey have grasped. It’s time to stop the denial. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

Anti-Semitism, triggered by harsh statements from the Turkish government, has led to the migration of hundreds of Jewish youngsters from Turkey to the U.S. or Europe, Nesim Güveniş, deputy chairman the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Oct. 21. This unease went before the Mavi Marmara incident, and was aggravated by the notorious “one minute” spat between the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, according to Güveniş.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used religious incitement to reinforce his domestic political constituency, and anti-Semitism has permeated the Turkish bureaucracy. Rather than a bastion of tolerance, Turkey is a country in which the prime minister’s political allies can finance a movie featuring a subplot about Jews smuggling organs and then the prime minister’s wife can urge everyone to see it.

That the emigration occurs against the backdrop of Turkey’s economic boom of the past decade suggests that Turkish Jews aren’t simply taking advantage of their minority status to seek better economic opportunities. Rather, they are leaving because they are afraid of what Turkey is becoming. More liberal Turks and Turkish tour guides still like to point out the religious diversity of Istanbul society. They may need to change their talking points. Emigration often starts slowly, but it is a tide difficult to reverse. Within a decade or two, Turkey’s Jewish community might much more resemble Egypt’s. Unfortunately, that is a result Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would probably call success.

Read Less

Saudis, Turks Send Obama a Message

President Obama has been trying to reorient American policy in the Middle East. He is pulling back and either striking or looking to strike deals with longstanding American enemies such as Syria and Iran. He is also looking ever more hesitant and uncertain, a problem exemplified by his indecision over whether or not to bomb Syria. Such actions may not have much impact on domestic public opinion, which is focused on the economy and the budget crisis, but it has a large impact on our allies, who are increasingly concerned about the drift of American policy.

Saudi Arabia is making its concerns manifest. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief [Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud] told European diplomats this weekend that he plans to scale back cooperating with the U.S. to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest of Washington’s policy in the region.” This comes only days after the Saudis decided not to accept a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, which the U.S. had lobbied for.

Read More

President Obama has been trying to reorient American policy in the Middle East. He is pulling back and either striking or looking to strike deals with longstanding American enemies such as Syria and Iran. He is also looking ever more hesitant and uncertain, a problem exemplified by his indecision over whether or not to bomb Syria. Such actions may not have much impact on domestic public opinion, which is focused on the economy and the budget crisis, but it has a large impact on our allies, who are increasingly concerned about the drift of American policy.

Saudi Arabia is making its concerns manifest. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief [Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud] told European diplomats this weekend that he plans to scale back cooperating with the U.S. to arm and train Syrian rebels in protest of Washington’s policy in the region.” This comes only days after the Saudis decided not to accept a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, which the U.S. had lobbied for.

What explains the Saudi actions? According to the Journal, the issue is “Riyadh’s frustration with the Obama administration and its regional policies, including the decision not to bomb Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in August.” The newspaper quotes Bandar telling diplomats: “This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.”

This comes not long after the news that Turkey’s intelligence service, long a partner for the CIA, had burned a network of Iranians spying for Israel on Iran’s nuclear program. That action would not have been taken if the Turks seriously feared American retribution from President Erdogan’s friend, President Obama.

The fact that the Turks and Saudis are acting as they are suggests that they hold U.S. foreign policy in growing contempt and have less regard than in the past for America’s influence in the region. That is part of the damage that the Obama administration has wrought–damage that will take years to undo, assuming a more tough-minded leader is elected in 2016.

Read Less

Turkey Shops Israeli Agents to Iran

If anyone still believes President Barack Obama’s vow to keep Iran from going nuclear, today’s bombshell from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius ought to dispel this illusion. According to Ignatius, Turkey deliberately gave Tehran the identities of up to 10 Iranians working as informants for Israel, resulting in a “significant” loss of intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally approved this decision, and it followed several other incidents in which Erdoğan’s handpicked spy chief gave Iran “sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel.” Yet not only did Washington refuse to even lodge a protest with Ankara, it warmed relations with Turkey even further, to the point that “Erdoğan was among Obama’s key confidants.”

Needless to say, someone serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program would be raging over the loss of “significant” intelligence about it, not rewarding the person responsible for this loss by elevating him to the role of key confidant. By this behavior, Obama signaled Tehran that he’s quite content to remain in ignorance about its race toward the bomb. Someone serious about stopping this program would also stop sharing “sensitive” intelligence about it with a person who known to have passed it on to Tehran, rather than continuing to treat him as a confidant.

Read More

If anyone still believes President Barack Obama’s vow to keep Iran from going nuclear, today’s bombshell from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius ought to dispel this illusion. According to Ignatius, Turkey deliberately gave Tehran the identities of up to 10 Iranians working as informants for Israel, resulting in a “significant” loss of intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally approved this decision, and it followed several other incidents in which Erdoğan’s handpicked spy chief gave Iran “sensitive intelligence collected by the U.S. and Israel.” Yet not only did Washington refuse to even lodge a protest with Ankara, it warmed relations with Turkey even further, to the point that “Erdoğan was among Obama’s key confidants.”

Needless to say, someone serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program would be raging over the loss of “significant” intelligence about it, not rewarding the person responsible for this loss by elevating him to the role of key confidant. By this behavior, Obama signaled Tehran that he’s quite content to remain in ignorance about its race toward the bomb. Someone serious about stopping this program would also stop sharing “sensitive” intelligence about it with a person who known to have passed it on to Tehran, rather than continuing to treat him as a confidant.

But even without the Ignatius bombshell (which should also lead to mass resignations from the Congressional Turkey Caucus, if Congress is as serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program as it has hitherto shown itself to be), the contrast between this week’s negotiating session with Iran and Obama’s meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu last month provided pretty clear evidence of Obama’s attitudes. According to Haaretz, Obama complained to the Israeli premier that Israeli-Palestinian talks were progressing too slowly and demanded that they be accelerated, saying otherwise, the nine-month deadline wouldn’t be met. Nothing irreversible is likely to happen that would make a deal impossible if this deadline were missed, yet even so, Obama considered the once-a-week negotiating sessions insufficient.

On Iran, in contrast, time is really of the essence: Its nuclear program is continuing apace even during the negotiations, and experts predict that at this rate, it will reach “critical capability” – the ability to produce nuclear weapons undetected – by mid-2014 at the latest. Yet on this issue, Obama seems to have all the time in the world: Following this week’s opening session in Geneva, talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 will resume only in another three weeks’ time, on November 7.  The contrast between Obama’s impatience on the non-urgent Israeli-Palestinian issue and his seemingly inexhaustible patience on the urgent Iranian one is cogent proof of which issue he really cares about and which he doesn’t.

Last month, a poll found that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis no longer believe Obama’s promise to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and after Ignatius’ revelation sinks in, I’d expect the number to climb even higher. That’s precisely why, contrary to the New York Times’ fond delusion that Netanyahu is “increasingly alone abroad and at home,” the Israeli public is now solidly behind him: In another recent poll, fully two-thirds of Israelis said they would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran, a sharp reversal from the 58% who opposed it just last year. Israelis, it seems, are starting to realize that nobody will stop Iran from getting nukes if they don’t. 

Read Less

Critiquing Anti-Semitism With Restraint

In the preface to his important new book, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism, former Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen says he considered many options before conceptualizing anti-Semitism as the devil. He realized some people might think the metaphor overdrawn, but he believes it is not: anti-Semitism has induced people to “commit mass murder again and again, including one of humanity’s most cataclysmic assaults, the attempted murder of an entire people, felling six million of them in one historical instant,” and it “threatens a similar destruction again.”

The book is a chilling explication of the explosion of anti-Semitism in the last two decades, fueled by the Internet and other modern means of global communication, as well as a sophisticated analysis of the inter-related international institutions and political trends that underpin it. It is essential reading.

Read More

In the preface to his important new book, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism, former Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen says he considered many options before conceptualizing anti-Semitism as the devil. He realized some people might think the metaphor overdrawn, but he believes it is not: anti-Semitism has induced people to “commit mass murder again and again, including one of humanity’s most cataclysmic assaults, the attempted murder of an entire people, felling six million of them in one historical instant,” and it “threatens a similar destruction again.”

The book is a chilling explication of the explosion of anti-Semitism in the last two decades, fueled by the Internet and other modern means of global communication, as well as a sophisticated analysis of the inter-related international institutions and political trends that underpin it. It is essential reading.

In yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Goldberg reviewed the book and found it written in “a hyperventilating style, starting with its title,” which he considers “heavy breathing.” (Mr. Goldberg suffers on occasion from breathing in and out too rapidly himself: he thinks Sarah Palin may be a “rapture-enraptured evangelical” who “hopes that I will convert to Christianity and then die;” last week he wrote – the day after 700,000 people gathered in Jerusalem to mourn the death of Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel – that Yosef was the “Israeli Ayatollah,” whose admitted good works Goldberg argued could not ameliorate his “egregious words”). 

In his review, Goldberg quoted the following paragraph from the book (it is Goldhagen’s one-paragraph conclusion following three pages of description of Turkey’s sustained, serious, and systematic mistreatment of Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Cypriots, and others): 

“In a rational world, the Turks’ systemic and large-scale violence against and suppression of Kurds’ legitimate rights and national aspirations, not to mention the Turks’ genocide of the Armenians, and mass killings of Greeks and others, not to mention their invasion, dismembering and occupation of half a sovereign country, Cyrus, in 1974, the occupation lasting now for almost forty years, might have brought upon Turkey the world’s condemnation and generated in international organizations, including the United Nations, a preoccupation with its predations and the production of intensively negative beliefs and passions, including prejudice (if one believes, as all those who blame Jews and Israel for the existence of anti-Semitism believe, that prejudice is a reaction to a people’s misdeeds) similar to and perhaps far exceeding that against Jews. But it has not – not even 1 percent as much.” 

Goldberg wrote that: 

Goldhagen’s strengths and weaknesses are on display in this previous (typically dense and over-intricate) paragraph. He makes a valid point, but the hectoring tone and the hyperbole – how did he reach the conclusion that Turkey is criticized 1 percent, and not 2 percent, as much as Israel? – undermine the message. … Goldhagen’s book has its uses, but today we need something decidedly better: a book on anti-Semitism that combines original reporting, accessible writing and a sense of restraint.” 

My impression is Goldhagen was being charitable: the real percentage, rounded down, is probably zero. But admittedly, I haven’t done the research. So yes, perhaps what we really need is for someone to run down the exact Turkish-Israeli percentage, and write it up in a restrained and easy-to-understand way. But those who read Goldhagen’s book will not likely think this is a morally serious reaction to it. 

Read Less

Will Hamas Relocate to Turkey?

Hamas is a terrorist group in search of a home. Uprooted by the Syrian civil war, and shaken by the Egyptian coup, the Hamas leadership has taken temporary shelter in Qatar, but that tiny emirate is showing every sign that they want the Islamist radicals to move on. So where would a radical Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the eradication of the State of Israel and whose charter endorses the crudest anti-Semitism turn? Perhaps to Turkey, America’s NATO ally and a country whose leader President Obama identified as one of his top personal foreign friends. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

The prime ministry in Ankara was the venue for a meeting between the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today. The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted for three hours, was closed to the press. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, Deputy Undersecretary for the Prime Minister’s Office İbrahim Kalın and advisor Sefer Turan were also present at the meeting, Anadolu Agency reported. The meeting between Mashaal and Erdoğan came around four months after their latest meeting. It came at a time when rumors suggest that Mashaal, currently in exile in Qatar, is searching for another place to live.

Read More

Hamas is a terrorist group in search of a home. Uprooted by the Syrian civil war, and shaken by the Egyptian coup, the Hamas leadership has taken temporary shelter in Qatar, but that tiny emirate is showing every sign that they want the Islamist radicals to move on. So where would a radical Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the eradication of the State of Israel and whose charter endorses the crudest anti-Semitism turn? Perhaps to Turkey, America’s NATO ally and a country whose leader President Obama identified as one of his top personal foreign friends. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

The prime ministry in Ankara was the venue for a meeting between the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today. The meeting, which started at 7 p.m. and lasted for three hours, was closed to the press. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, Deputy Undersecretary for the Prime Minister’s Office İbrahim Kalın and advisor Sefer Turan were also present at the meeting, Anadolu Agency reported. The meeting between Mashaal and Erdoğan came around four months after their latest meeting. It came at a time when rumors suggest that Mashaal, currently in exile in Qatar, is searching for another place to live.

It will be interesting to see how many members of the “Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations” in the U.S. Congress may realize they will soon be shilling for a terror sponsor in all but formal designation.

Read Less

Turkey Shifts Toward Autocracy

I’ve now spent almost a decade writing about the transformation in Turkey. A decade ago, Turkey was a Western-leaning democracy, however flawed, with a largely free even if cantankerous press. Now, Turkey leans firmly toward the Arab world and China, has a prime minister who seems a blend of Vladimir Putin and an Ottoman Sultan, and has not only cracked down on press freedom, but now also seems to be penalizing “thought crime.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, for example, Turkish police raided the home and office of Ahmet Şık in order to confiscate his unpublished manuscript in which he demonstrated penetration of the Turkish security forces by the followers of controversial Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Now, a Turkish writer is to be prosecuted for making a word play on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s middle name:

Read More

I’ve now spent almost a decade writing about the transformation in Turkey. A decade ago, Turkey was a Western-leaning democracy, however flawed, with a largely free even if cantankerous press. Now, Turkey leans firmly toward the Arab world and China, has a prime minister who seems a blend of Vladimir Putin and an Ottoman Sultan, and has not only cracked down on press freedom, but now also seems to be penalizing “thought crime.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, for example, Turkish police raided the home and office of Ahmet Şık in order to confiscate his unpublished manuscript in which he demonstrated penetration of the Turkish security forces by the followers of controversial Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Now, a Turkish writer is to be prosecuted for making a word play on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s middle name:

[Emrah] Serbes had made a pun in a TV show by changing the prime minister’s middle name “Tayyip” to “Tazyik,” a word meaning pressurized water in reference to the police’s excessive use of water cannons and tear gas against protesters during the most recent May Day.

Serbes could serve up to 12 years in prison.

It gets worse: Earlier this year, Turkey was rocked by protests against the destruction of one of the few remaining green spaces in central Istanbul. The protests shook Erdoğan, who is unaccustomed to public criticism. Indeed, at a recent rally in Adana, photographers spotted gas masks under the chairs of Erdoğan and his wife, just in case. Well, now even thinking about protesting is a crime in Turkey. The Justice and Interior Ministry, both controlled by Erdoğan’s political party, has issued new regulations authorizing without any judicial action the detention for up to one day of anyone at “risk of conducting a protest.”

The lesson learned? Both Bush and Obama let Turkey slip away with a series of ambassadors more prone to sycophancy than hard talk and with political correctness blunting observation of Erdoğan’s Islamist agenda. In the short run, however, I guess the lesson learned is simply not to think bad thoughts about the Tazyik-in-chief next time anyone should pass through Istanbul.

Read Less

Erdoğan Embraces “Separate but Equal”

Millions of Turks have migrated to Europe; Turks comprise the largest minority in Germany. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that: Many of the Turks living in Germany work hard and seek to integrate into German society. In the most recent German elections, Cemile Giousouf, a 35-year old daughter of a Turkish immigrant, was elected to the Bundestag as a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. That is good news. For too long, Europe has been a pot in which little has melted.

Alas, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now seeks to keep it that way. He has now demanded that European countries teach the children of the Turkish Diaspora in Turkish, rather than the language of the land:

Read More

Millions of Turks have migrated to Europe; Turks comprise the largest minority in Germany. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that: Many of the Turks living in Germany work hard and seek to integrate into German society. In the most recent German elections, Cemile Giousouf, a 35-year old daughter of a Turkish immigrant, was elected to the Bundestag as a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. That is good news. For too long, Europe has been a pot in which little has melted.

Alas, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now seeks to keep it that way. He has now demanded that European countries teach the children of the Turkish Diaspora in Turkish, rather than the language of the land:

“Those people who contribute to the economy of the country they reside in by working and [turn an honest penny] for more than half of a century have become, to a great extent, permanently settled. However, a large part of those [Turkish] citizens have not been granted education in their mother tongue despite their great efforts and demands,” Erdoğan told European education ministers.

Erdoğan would essentially promote a system of separate but equal in which Turkish emigrants would attend Turkish schools while other German, Danish, Dutch, and Swedish students attended their own separate schools in the language of the land. In effect, the man caricatured as a would-be sultan back home now seeks to impose a modified version of the Ottoman millet system. His demands also reflect the bigotry at the heart of the Turkish leader, who categorizes citizens on the basis of religion and ethnicity rather than in terms of national citizenship. Erdoğan’s demands follow revelations that the Turkish government has maintained secret race codes for use by its own education ministry.  

Immigration can enrich societies, but not at the expense of the embrace of common values which underlays citizenship. How sad it is that the religious and ethnic lens trumps all else in 21st century Turkey, as Turkish liberalism and secularism continues to slide backward. Let us hope that European leaders will be confident enough in their own societies to ignore Erdoğan and his backward demands.

Read Less

Turkey Endangers NATO

While the U.S. media focused for much of the past two weeks on President Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the government shutdown, Turkey has made some moves which should raise alarm bells at both the Pentagon and in Brussels.

Three months ago, I blogged here about how Turkey was considering a Chinese bid for an anti-aircraft system. Integrating a Chinese missile system into NATO’s early warning network would require giving the Chinese company access to top secret NATO software. Earlier this week, however, Turkey announced that it would award a $4 billion air defense contract to co-produce a long-range missile defense system with a Chinese firm sanctioned by the United States for its proliferation activities with Iran.

Read More

While the U.S. media focused for much of the past two weeks on President Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the government shutdown, Turkey has made some moves which should raise alarm bells at both the Pentagon and in Brussels.

Three months ago, I blogged here about how Turkey was considering a Chinese bid for an anti-aircraft system. Integrating a Chinese missile system into NATO’s early warning network would require giving the Chinese company access to top secret NATO software. Earlier this week, however, Turkey announced that it would award a $4 billion air defense contract to co-produce a long-range missile defense system with a Chinese firm sanctioned by the United States for its proliferation activities with Iran.

This is not the first time that Turkey has undercut NATO security to the benefit of the Chinese. The Turkish Air Force has held war games with the Chinese Air Force without first alerting NATO. Turkey has also turned its back on the European Union and sought to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a club for anti-Western dictatorships.

With even the Turkish press questioning the wisdom of the deal, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz has defended the purchase. “We had asked for joint production and a technology transfer,” Yılmaz said. “If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can.”

How sad it is that, as Turkey pivots to China, and endangers U.S. security, the Obama administration not only proposes no consequence, but continues to share technology with an untrustworthy regime.

Read Less

Turkey Undercuts Anti-Terror Fight

Against the backdrop of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a meeting from which the Obama administration still excludes Israel at Turkey’s insistence, the United States and Turkey have agreed to create a $200 million fund to counter extremism. What a waste of money. The problem is not that countering extremism is bad—it’s not, although so many of the counter-extremism programs out there are unproven or ineffective. Rather, it’s that the program is poisoned from the start with the inclusion of Turkey.

In the wake of last week’s terrorist attack at a Nairobi mall and a Pakistani church, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a Turkish audience, according to some Turkish interlocutors, “No one can make me say that there are Muslim terrorists.” This builds on previous statements denying that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had any responsibility for the massacres in Darfur and his refusal to acknowledge that the Nusra Front, which Turkey supports and which the United States government considers an al-Qaeda affiliate, is a terrorist group. Erdoğan has even gone so far as to endorse an al-Qaeda financier.

Read More

Against the backdrop of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a meeting from which the Obama administration still excludes Israel at Turkey’s insistence, the United States and Turkey have agreed to create a $200 million fund to counter extremism. What a waste of money. The problem is not that countering extremism is bad—it’s not, although so many of the counter-extremism programs out there are unproven or ineffective. Rather, it’s that the program is poisoned from the start with the inclusion of Turkey.

In the wake of last week’s terrorist attack at a Nairobi mall and a Pakistani church, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a Turkish audience, according to some Turkish interlocutors, “No one can make me say that there are Muslim terrorists.” This builds on previous statements denying that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had any responsibility for the massacres in Darfur and his refusal to acknowledge that the Nusra Front, which Turkey supports and which the United States government considers an al-Qaeda affiliate, is a terrorist group. Erdoğan has even gone so far as to endorse an al-Qaeda financier.

Nor is it just Islamist terrorism on which the United States and Turkey diverge: While the United States still considers the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist group at Turkey’s insistence, Erdoğan has launched talks with the group and acceded to a truce. This creates an irony in which Turkey supports an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria to fight a secular group which controls key territory but which the United States isolates because it is an offshoot of the PKK.

While Erdoğan excuses and actually encourages terrorism, he is acerbic toward free speech. He has identified “Western Islamophobia”—in which he includes criticism not only of Islam but also its more extremist manifestations—as a greater threat than terrorism. And, as he has moved to Islamize the classroom, we find items like this in Turkey’s 2nd grade classrooms: “Look at your jihadist brothers fighting in distant lands, see what you can do to help them.”

How sad it is that Obama isolates states that suffer terrorism, but unites with leaders who promote it. And, of course, what a dereliction of duty it is that so many U.S. congressmen still lend their names to a blanket endorsement of Turkey and Erdoğan’s desire to exclude Israel and excuse terror.

Read Less

Embrace the Anti-Islamist Backlash

Against the backdrop of Washington’s collective Attention Deficit Disorder, the coup in Egypt is ancient history and the Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey are forgotten. Neither should be, as they are indicative of a trend that the United States should both recognize and upon which it should act.

The coup in Egypt was against political Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood had promised Egyptians accountability and economic development, but ousted President Mohamed Morsi gave the ol’ bait-and-switch and focused on imposing the Brotherhood’s intolerant and religiously conservative social agenda. To convince Egyptians, disgusted with decades of the military’s corrupt and authoritarian rule, to reconsider the military as the lesser of evils took special skill. Read More

Against the backdrop of Washington’s collective Attention Deficit Disorder, the coup in Egypt is ancient history and the Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey are forgotten. Neither should be, as they are indicative of a trend that the United States should both recognize and upon which it should act.

The coup in Egypt was against political Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood had promised Egyptians accountability and economic development, but ousted President Mohamed Morsi gave the ol’ bait-and-switch and focused on imposing the Brotherhood’s intolerant and religiously conservative social agenda. To convince Egyptians, disgusted with decades of the military’s corrupt and authoritarian rule, to reconsider the military as the lesser of evils took special skill.

This summer’s protests in Turkey were also the result of a long-simmering liberal backlash against the ruling party’s autocracy and Islamism.

Now, there are signs that Islamists have jumped the shark in Jordan as well. David Schenker—the best analyst of Jordan (and Syria) in Washington—points me to this story, from the Arabic press in Jordan: An Islamist deputy proposed a bill that would mandate that Jordan’s laws be harmonized with Sharia, Islamic law. Bad news for the Islamists, though: They could muster only 27 votes out of 150. Jordan is by no means a democracy and its elections are far from free and fair, but it does allow Islamists to run and, at times, the Muslim Brotherhood has been effectively the largest parliamentary bloc.

In Tunisia, secularists are also rallying as Islamists increasingly turn to assassination and show their true, anti-democratic colors. In the United Arab Emirates as well, the Islamist al-Islah party is on the defensive, its own coup plot disrupted.

Iranians repeatedly have shown their disgust with the theocrats who have eviscerated their sovereignty in the name of religion.

For too long, the United States has reacted to events without a clear strategy. While George W. Bush articulated a strategy in the wake of 9/11, his national-security staff lacked the will and ability to transform vision into reality and enforce policy discipline on the interagency process.

Democratization is an important—and laudable—goal, but it cannot come instantly, only when the right circumstances are set. This should not be an excuse to embrace the status quo (as too many in the State Department do), but to push the region in a direction where true liberalism is possible. To do so requires defeating the ideology of political Islam, an ideology no less noxious than the various autocratic ideologies which blighted the 20th century. In the current issue of National Review, I argue that the United States should embrace a ‘roll-back’ strategy against the Muslim Brotherhood and, more broadly, political Islamism.

The signs are many that ordinary Arabs, Turks, and Iranians have started to recognize that religion is no panacea for worldly ills. How unfortunate it is that U.S. policymakers are not seizing this opportunity—and even appear willing to seize defeat from the jaws of victory in Iran, Turkey, and across the region.

Read Less

Syrian, Turkish Precedents and the Nightmare Scenario

Martin Kramer wrote an illuminating post yesterday on why American handling of the chemical-weapons crisis in Syria has unnerved Israel by causing it to doubt that America would attack Iran’s nuclear program if necessary. While I agree with his conclusion, I think that’s only part of the story. After all, most Israelis would prefer to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis diplomatically, so one could argue–as some Israeli commentators have–that Syria sets an encouraging precedent: American threats to use military force seemingly persuaded Damascus to give up its nonconventional weapons voluntarily, which is precisely what many Israelis hope will happen in Iran.

The problem is that such an agreement only works if it’s strictly enforced, meaning any noncompliance produces massive punishment. Otherwise, even the thinnest façade of compliance will suffice to enable the signatory to maintain its nonconventional weapons program with impunity, which would be Israel’s nightmare scenario on Iran. And there are three reasons for thinking that’s precisely what the Syrian agreement will do. One is that the agreement is problematic to begin with, providing ample opportunities for evasion. The second, as Kramer explained, is that President Barack Obama’s original decision to punt the question of using force in Syria to Congress makes any military action to punish noncompliance unlikely. The third is Obama’s track record of refusing to enforce the agreements he brokers even when punishing violations wouldn’t necessitate the use of force, and would hence be much easier.

Read More

Martin Kramer wrote an illuminating post yesterday on why American handling of the chemical-weapons crisis in Syria has unnerved Israel by causing it to doubt that America would attack Iran’s nuclear program if necessary. While I agree with his conclusion, I think that’s only part of the story. After all, most Israelis would prefer to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis diplomatically, so one could argue–as some Israeli commentators have–that Syria sets an encouraging precedent: American threats to use military force seemingly persuaded Damascus to give up its nonconventional weapons voluntarily, which is precisely what many Israelis hope will happen in Iran.

The problem is that such an agreement only works if it’s strictly enforced, meaning any noncompliance produces massive punishment. Otherwise, even the thinnest façade of compliance will suffice to enable the signatory to maintain its nonconventional weapons program with impunity, which would be Israel’s nightmare scenario on Iran. And there are three reasons for thinking that’s precisely what the Syrian agreement will do. One is that the agreement is problematic to begin with, providing ample opportunities for evasion. The second, as Kramer explained, is that President Barack Obama’s original decision to punt the question of using force in Syria to Congress makes any military action to punish noncompliance unlikely. The third is Obama’s track record of refusing to enforce the agreements he brokers even when punishing violations wouldn’t necessitate the use of force, and would hence be much easier.

Nothing better illustrates this than an astounding interview given by the Greek ambassador to Israel last week. According to Spiros Lampridis, six months after Israel apologized to Turkey for its botched raid on a 2010 flotilla to Gaza–under an agreement personally brokered by Obama that was supposed to result in Turkey resuming normal relations with Israel–Ankara is still vetoing any NATO cooperation with Israel.

I wrote last month about Obama’s unconscionable silence after Turkey unilaterally appended two new conditions to the agreement and then used them as a pretext for not implementing its own commitments under the deal. But if you wanted to make excuses, you could at least argue that all these commitments dealt with domestic issues (returning Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, ending its show trials of senior Israeli officials, etc.), over which America’s influence is naturally more limited.

No such excuse applies to NATO. Not only is America the undisputed leader of that alliance, but NATO is currently manning Patriot missile batteries along Turkey’s border with Syria, at Ankara’s request. Yet Obama has made no effort to pressure Turkey, even though its veto not only harms NATO’s relations with Israel but also its relations with other traditional American allies like Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco. As Lampridis explained, NATO doesn’t deal with these countries individually, but as part of a Mediterranean bloc that includes Israel. Hence no Israel also means no Jordan or Morocco.

Moreover, this is happening at a time when Israel has not only fulfilled its part of the bargain but is also, as Lampridis noted, “demonstrating goodwill” beyond what the deal requires: It’s preventing significant damage to Turkish businesses by letting hundreds of Turkish trucks carrying millions of dollars worth of cargo travel to Jordan (and thence the Gulf states) via Israel every week, since they can no longer travel via Syria.

This, then, is Israel’s real nightmare: not that Obama won’t attack Iran if necessary, but that he’ll sign a loophole-ridden agreement with Iran (moves in this direction have already begun) that would also prevent Israel from attacking Iran if necessary–and then fail to enforce it, just as he has with the Turkish agreement, thereby enabling Tehran to get the bomb.

Read Less

Fethullah Gülen and the Jews

Fethullah Gülen is the U.S.-based Turkish Islamist leader. To his supporters, he is a man who preaches peace and interfaith tolerance, while to his detractors, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who seeks to undermine secularism and the interfaith relations about which he so often speaks.

A scholar helpfully brings to my attention a blog post from late last year that until now I had not seen: Dani Rodrik and Pınar Doğan, two Harvard-based scholars, have uncovered some of Gülen’s writings on Jews which should give pause for thought about where the shadowy preacher truly stands. From their “Balyoz Davası ve Gerçekler” (“Sledgehammer Case and Facts”) blog:

Read More

Fethullah Gülen is the U.S.-based Turkish Islamist leader. To his supporters, he is a man who preaches peace and interfaith tolerance, while to his detractors, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who seeks to undermine secularism and the interfaith relations about which he so often speaks.

A scholar helpfully brings to my attention a blog post from late last year that until now I had not seen: Dani Rodrik and Pınar Doğan, two Harvard-based scholars, have uncovered some of Gülen’s writings on Jews which should give pause for thought about where the shadowy preacher truly stands. From their “Balyoz Davası ve Gerçekler” (“Sledgehammer Case and Facts”) blog:

Even though they have lived in exile here and there and have led an almost nomadic existence, Jews have been able to maintain their racial characteristics with almost no loss. Moreover, the Jewish tribe is very intelligent. This intelligent tribe has put forth many things throughout history in the name of science and thought. But these have always been offered in the form of poisoned honey and have been presented to the world as such. For instance, Karl Marx is a Jew; the communism he developed looks like a good alternative to capitalism at first sight, but in essence it is a deathly poison mixed in honey… Jews will maintain their existence until the apocalypse. And shortly before the apocalypse, their mission of acting as the coil spring for humanity’s progress will come to an end, and they will prepare their end with their own hands.

Their incurable enmity to Islam and Muslims aside, these people, which look with scorn upon even their own prophets and killed many among them, will finally end up in the position of Nazis and will look for a place to hide in the four corners of the earth. Nevertheless, since dwelling on the true causes and motives related to this topic will both oppose the business of truth and result in raising undue passions, we shall let this pass for the moment. Yes, until Islam comes to be represented to the desired extent, it seems like luck will favor the Jews for some time still.

There is much, much more over at their blog, which is certainly worth a read. While the Gülen movement has been scrubbing anti-Semitic content from online versions of their leader’s writings, that merely shows a disturbing discrepancy between Gülen’s preaching for internal consumption and external use only. Perhaps it is time for some of the state legislators and universities that take Gülen’s largesse to reconsider just where they stand.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.