Commentary Magazine


Topic: Turkey

No, Fethullah Gülen Isn’t a Savior

It’s hard not to applaud Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen for apparently blowing the whistle on the massive corruption scandal that now touches several Turkish ministers, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, and perhaps the prime minister himself. The prosecutor’s surprise raids have also shown light on financial dealings which—aside from enriching Erdoğan’s cronies—also apparently assisted Iranian sanctions evasion and helped al-Qaeda expand its network into Syria.

The problem is Gülen’s motive. Erdoğan is an arrogant man, and he has grown more arrogant with each election victory. He came to believe that he either no longer needed Gülen’s support or was strong enough to win a battle with Gülen and put the Hizmat movement leader in his place. Hence, his decision last November to close the Gülen movement’s test prep schools throughout Turkey. The schools are key to Gülen, not only because they are lucrative—and the Gülen movement is basically an international conglomerate—but also because they are useful for recruiting and indoctrination. They also fill a void and provide a useful service which Turks readily embrace.

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It’s hard not to applaud Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen for apparently blowing the whistle on the massive corruption scandal that now touches several Turkish ministers, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, and perhaps the prime minister himself. The prosecutor’s surprise raids have also shown light on financial dealings which—aside from enriching Erdoğan’s cronies—also apparently assisted Iranian sanctions evasion and helped al-Qaeda expand its network into Syria.

The problem is Gülen’s motive. Erdoğan is an arrogant man, and he has grown more arrogant with each election victory. He came to believe that he either no longer needed Gülen’s support or was strong enough to win a battle with Gülen and put the Hizmat movement leader in his place. Hence, his decision last November to close the Gülen movement’s test prep schools throughout Turkey. The schools are key to Gülen, not only because they are lucrative—and the Gülen movement is basically an international conglomerate—but also because they are useful for recruiting and indoctrination. They also fill a void and provide a useful service which Turks readily embrace.

While it is good that Gülen appears to bless a new transparency in Turkish politics, it is important to remember both that his about-face is based not in principle but self-interest and that Gülen enabled the tremendous corruption and abuses of power in which Erdoğan engaged.

Gülen’s followers dominate the security forces which Erdoğan wielded without mercy against his political opposition and the press. Gülen professes tolerance, but his own past is checkered. And while he has his own media network with the daily Zaman at is head, there is a disturbing difference in tone between Zaman and its English version, Today’s Zaman. Diplomats who only read the latter may not be aware that anti-Semitic conspiracies infect if not Gülen, then those around him and his top supporters.

Transparency is necessary in Turkey if there will be justice and reform. It is naïve to believe that the enemy of an enemy is a friend, or that Gülen’s apparent acquiescence to pursuit of the corruption allegations against Erdoğan means a fundamental difference in Turkey’s future. President Abdullah Gül has kept largely quiet, but has seemed more willing to accommodate Gülen and has taken many of his adherents into his inner circle. Gül is far more polished than Erdoğan, and presents a more professional face, but the difference in style masks a similar disdain for the separation of mosque and state that once marked Turkey’s imperfect democracy. Let us hope that reform continues, but there will never be any true and lasting reform until Gülen opens himself to the same sort of investigation which he once encouraged against Turkey’s so-called “Deep State,” and now seeks against Erdoğan and his inner circle.

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Release the Ergenekon and Balyoz Suspects

The current crisis in Turkey should be cause for reflection on a number of fronts. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reacted with umbrage that the security forces who he had wielded against his political enemies have now turned against him. The reason for that split lays in the growing antagonism between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist leader whose followers dominate the security forces and for years had worked hand-in-glove with Erdoğan in their shared desire to breakdown the separation between mosque and state in Turkey.

Putting the reasons for their split aside, the current crisis shines a spotlight on Erdoğan’s concept of justice and the role of courts. To put it bluntly, Erdoğan believes not in impartial justice, but rather vengeance. Or perhaps he believes that he personifies justice and so that he personifies right and wrong without regard to law. Hence, it should not surprise that Erdoğan’s reaction to the corruption probe was to fire the investigator and threaten a wholesale upheaval of the courts.

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The current crisis in Turkey should be cause for reflection on a number of fronts. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reacted with umbrage that the security forces who he had wielded against his political enemies have now turned against him. The reason for that split lays in the growing antagonism between Erdoğan and Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist leader whose followers dominate the security forces and for years had worked hand-in-glove with Erdoğan in their shared desire to breakdown the separation between mosque and state in Turkey.

Putting the reasons for their split aside, the current crisis shines a spotlight on Erdoğan’s concept of justice and the role of courts. To put it bluntly, Erdoğan believes not in impartial justice, but rather vengeance. Or perhaps he believes that he personifies justice and so that he personifies right and wrong without regard to law. Hence, it should not surprise that Erdoğan’s reaction to the corruption probe was to fire the investigator and threaten a wholesale upheaval of the courts.

Evidence of Erdoğan’s abuse of justice are multifold. Back in 2005, frustrated that Turkey’s constitutional court had deemed some of Erdoğan’s agenda unconstitutional, parliamentary speaker and Erdoğan confidant Bülent Arınç (since promoted to deputy prime minister) threatened to use the AKP dissolve the constitutional court if its judges kept allowing law to get in the way of agenda.

The real travesty has been with regard to two alleged coup plots—the Ergenekon and Balyoz conspiracies—in whose names Erdoğan has targeted journalists and political opponents. I had detailed the many problems involved in the Ergenekon case here, and most international analysts pointed out that the Balyoz evidence was not only fraudulent, but a sloppy fraud at that. It is a shame upon Western diplomats, human-rights organizations, and journalists that all were willing to turn a blind eye to the travesties of justice so long as the targets happened to be military or old guard politicians. Just because a figure is a general or a secularist does not make them automatically bad people.

There are dozens of former officials, journalists, and generals in prison right now, condemned to die behind bars simply because Erdoğan disagrees with their world view and seeks vengeance. Now that the emperor has no clothes, it is time for Western diplomats to pressure for Turkey to right its wrongs. It was a mistake ever to give Erdoğan the benefit of the doubt, or to provide the judiciary the benefit of the doubt based on its reputation after Erdoğan and former allies from the Gülenist movement had worked so tirelessly to undermine it. Every single Ergenekon and Balyoz convict should walk free, and should win millions of Turkish Lira in compensation. Perhaps the state might even pay them from the tens of millions of Turkish lira in ill-gotten wealth Erdoğan and his cronies have apparently amassed.

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Will Masud Barzani Become Iraqi President?

It has now been more than a year since Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a debilitating stroke. And while Kurdish authorities have recently released another photograph showing that despite persistent rumors he is still alive, the refusal to allow visitors or release any video of Talabani speaking seems to suggest that concerns about his mental and physical abilities are warranted. It is understood across the Iraqi ethnic, sectarian, and political spectrum that Talabani will not return. And while Iraqis are willing to maintain the fiction that he is still president, they have been discussing for months his successor.

Visiting Basra, Baghdad, and Kirkuk last summer, I was surprised to hear a suggestion from a wide range of officials that Masud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, might take over as Iraq’s president after next year’s elections.

While it might seem illogical that Barzani would move to Baghdad, it’s actually not so farfetched. Barzani might like to depict himself as a Kurdish nationalist leader, but that’s always been more a means to an end rather than the end itself. For Barzani, power, money, and title trumps Kurdish nationalism: How else to explain Barzani inviting Saddam Hussein’s hated Republican Guards to Erbil in 1996, or more recently his efforts to undercut Kurdish autonomy in Syrian Kurdistan, or his willingness to cooperate with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to undercut Kurdish officials inside Turkey. Being president of Iraq can be a lucrative position, and Masud—who lives in a former mountaintop resort he confiscated for his own personal use—likes the finer things in life.

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It has now been more than a year since Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a debilitating stroke. And while Kurdish authorities have recently released another photograph showing that despite persistent rumors he is still alive, the refusal to allow visitors or release any video of Talabani speaking seems to suggest that concerns about his mental and physical abilities are warranted. It is understood across the Iraqi ethnic, sectarian, and political spectrum that Talabani will not return. And while Iraqis are willing to maintain the fiction that he is still president, they have been discussing for months his successor.

Visiting Basra, Baghdad, and Kirkuk last summer, I was surprised to hear a suggestion from a wide range of officials that Masud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, might take over as Iraq’s president after next year’s elections.

While it might seem illogical that Barzani would move to Baghdad, it’s actually not so farfetched. Barzani might like to depict himself as a Kurdish nationalist leader, but that’s always been more a means to an end rather than the end itself. For Barzani, power, money, and title trumps Kurdish nationalism: How else to explain Barzani inviting Saddam Hussein’s hated Republican Guards to Erbil in 1996, or more recently his efforts to undercut Kurdish autonomy in Syrian Kurdistan, or his willingness to cooperate with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to undercut Kurdish officials inside Turkey. Being president of Iraq can be a lucrative position, and Masud—who lives in a former mountaintop resort he confiscated for his own personal use—likes the finer things in life.

The Iranian government, for its part, is also in favor of a Barzani presidency. Their reason, according to various Iraqi politicians, is more Machiavellian: If Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seen as Tehran’s man in Baghdad (an exaggerated characterization as Maliki is an Iraqi nationalist, but he does listen and consider quite carefully what the Iranians say), then Nechirvan Barzani, currently the prime minister in Iraqi Kurdistan, is Iran’s man in Erbil, paying as much deference if not more to Qods Force chief Qasim Suleimani and the other powers that be in Tehran as Maliki does. If Masud Barzani goes to Baghdad, and the Kurds eliminate the presidency in favor of a stronger premiership, then the Islamic Republic figures it’s game, set, match in Iraq, with Masud Barzani shunted off to some honorary position. That U.S. officials also find Nechirvan (and Maliki) professionals seems to suggest that both have the support of the powers whose opinion still counts in Iraq.

Masud is being coy, but he seems to want the job. He is term-limited, and his second term as president should have ended several months ago. He has illegally extended his term to remain president for a couple more years, but that might simply be to wait until the spot formally opens in Baghdad. Certainly, Barzani’s rivals would be glad to have him out of Kurdistan, be it for selfish reasons or because Barzani’s tribal mentality has always held back more progressive forces.

There are problems with such a scenario. It’s bad for Iraq, for it confirms—in the word of one Iraqi official—the transactional nature of Iraqi politics, and sets Iraq down the path of the Lebanon model of confessional (and ethnic) politics. And Barzani does not have Talabani’s talent. He seldom sees the big picture and often exacerbates conflict rather than calms it. Many Sunni Arabs may be upset that they will not achieve the presidency, even if Usama al-Nujayfi wields more power as speaker of parliament. Masud’s eldest son Masrour might also cause trouble if left out: He sees himself as a natural successor to his father, and would object to the far more talented Nechirvan Barzani effectively becoming the kingmaker in Kurdistan.

It’s a game of thrones right now in Iraq, and it looks like Masud Barzani might win the title of which he’s always dreamed, even if the reason has less to do with his individual talents and more to do with others seeking to rise up in his place. While Maliki’s reelection remains uncertain (another sign that Iraq is not the dictatorship some claim; not too many autocrats have to fight for their political lives at the ballot box), Barzani’s new role at this point in time seems a sure thing. Whether the United States is ready for that scenario: well, that’s another question whose answer is far from clear.

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Turkey Scandal’s Al-Qaeda Angle

Turkey’s current corruption scandal has thrown Turkish politics into disarray. For the first time in more than a decade outside of the normal election cycle, ministers are resigning or being forced from office. Egemen Bağış, according to Turkish news reports an apparent target of the corruption probe, urged AKP officials to circle the wagons against the backdrop of a continuing investigation. For his part, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is ranting once again about external conspiracies, although for once he is not blaming Jews, Washington think-tanks, or “the interest rate lobby,” focusing his ire instead on the followers of exiled Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Rather than root out corruption, Erdoğan seems more inclined to punish the investigators.

There may be more than one reason why Erdoğan seeks to muzzle the investigation, whatever the imagery of such actions and whatever the political cost. It’s not just the political embarrassment of presiding over such a scandal. The investigation has already touched Erdoğan’s son Bilal, and it also seems that Erdoğan’s appointees sought to cash in on the gas-for-gold scheme by which Turkey helped Iran avoid sanctions.

Now it seems that the corruption being exposed also has an al-Qaeda angle that harkens back to the Yasin al-Qadi affair. In that case, Cuneyt Zapsu, a close Erdoğan confidant, donated money to Qadi, a Saudi businessman designated by the U.S. Treasury Department to be a “specially designated global terrorist.” Rather than distance himself from Zapsu, the prime minister doubled down and lent Qadi his personal endorsement.

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Turkey’s current corruption scandal has thrown Turkish politics into disarray. For the first time in more than a decade outside of the normal election cycle, ministers are resigning or being forced from office. Egemen Bağış, according to Turkish news reports an apparent target of the corruption probe, urged AKP officials to circle the wagons against the backdrop of a continuing investigation. For his part, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is ranting once again about external conspiracies, although for once he is not blaming Jews, Washington think-tanks, or “the interest rate lobby,” focusing his ire instead on the followers of exiled Islamist leader Fethullah Gülen. Rather than root out corruption, Erdoğan seems more inclined to punish the investigators.

There may be more than one reason why Erdoğan seeks to muzzle the investigation, whatever the imagery of such actions and whatever the political cost. It’s not just the political embarrassment of presiding over such a scandal. The investigation has already touched Erdoğan’s son Bilal, and it also seems that Erdoğan’s appointees sought to cash in on the gas-for-gold scheme by which Turkey helped Iran avoid sanctions.

Now it seems that the corruption being exposed also has an al-Qaeda angle that harkens back to the Yasin al-Qadi affair. In that case, Cuneyt Zapsu, a close Erdoğan confidant, donated money to Qadi, a Saudi businessman designated by the U.S. Treasury Department to be a “specially designated global terrorist.” Rather than distance himself from Zapsu, the prime minister doubled down and lent Qadi his personal endorsement.

Fast forward to the present day: According to Turkish interlocutors, there are consistent irregularities in 28 government tenders totaling in the tens of billions of dollars, in which kickbacks and other payments were made, a portion of which Turkish investigators believe ended up with al-Qadi’s funds and charities. These funds and charities were then used to support al-Qaeda affiliates and other radical Islamist groups operating in Syria like the Nusra Front. Erdoğan thought he had his plausible denial, but it seems that Turkish government funds supported the growth of these groups, which are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands and which subsumed the more moderate opposition.

President Obama has called Erdoğan one of the five foreign leaders he most trusted. Such trust was entirely undeserved and, given the snowballing revelations about just what Erdoğan and his close associates were doing, seems to increasingly symbolize the lack of Obama’s judgment in picking friends and confidants.

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The Problem of the Middle East’s First Sons

The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

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The Turkish corruption scandal continues to boil as, in Ankara, the ministers of finance, interior, and environment have resigned. The latter, Erdoğan Bayraktar, went even further, calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also to step down. Bayraktar is not simply spitting into the wind. A cabinet reshuffle also claimed Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s widely disliked European Union affairs minister. As I wrote here last week, the investigation also appears to be closing in on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.

That rumors of shady business surround the prime minister’s son surprises no one. Years ago, as Prime Minister Erdoğan sought to explain his sudden increase in wealth that far outpaced his salary by suggesting that his mansions and millions of dollars were due to wedding gifts given to his son. Alas, when it comes to the Middle East—and, make no mistake, Erdoğan has moved Turkey so far from Europe and into the Middle Eastern sphere that it cannot be extricated—the problem of first sons is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Moammar Gaddafi had Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, held by the new Libyan government and wanted by the International Criminal Court; and Hosni Mubarak had Alaa and Gamal Mubarak, both awaiting trial on various corruption charges (despite being acquitted in one case last week). Ailing Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s eldest son Bafil is facing trial in Great Britain for defrauding investment partners in Iraqi Kurdistan, while younger son Qubad is neck deep in the family business. Iraqi Kurdish regional president Masud Barzani’s eldest son Masrour is, in theory, the intelligence chief for the autonomous Kurdish government. In practice, according to conversations with human-rights monitors, he uses his position and the security forces he has under his control to ensure businessmen understand that he and his family should get a piece of the pie. When Masud Barzani’s second son Mansour Barzani lost $3.2 million gambling in one of Dubai’s illegal casinos, the Kurdish leader quickly cut short an official visit and left the United Arab Emirates. The pattern continues: Iraqis resent the involvement of Ahmad Maliki, the son of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in businesses which benefit from his father’s position. Such business dealings and relationships go without saying in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf with the exception, of course, of Oman whose ruler Sultan Qaboos is unmarried and has no children.

It is true that such a pattern is not limited to the Middle East. While his father Kofi Annan was secretary-general of the United Nations, Kojo Annan sought to profit from UN deals. And both Africa’s dictatorships and its nascent democracies also see sons of presidents and rulers seeking to cash in on their fathers’ positions.

It may be fashionable to look the other way and pretend such corruption does not occur. Western universities go farther and happily welcome donations of questionable money to honor dictatorial dynasties. But building false images of such countries does no favors, nor does it reflect well on a new generation of rulers that they encourage their sons to accumulate as much money as possible rather than distinguish themselves as doctors, lawyers, or other professionals.

Erdoğan has been fond of describing Turkey as a democracy and bragging for more than a decade about the reforms he claims to have implemented. If attorneys are allowed to question Bilal Erdoğan and, if warranted, force him to face justice as a man equal to any Turk or Kurd in Turkey, then he should be congratulated for standing on principle. If he wants his son to stand above justice, however, then Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirms the notion that Turkey is no democracy and  he himself is little more than yet one more self-important Middle Eastern potentate.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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