Last Thursday, France’s National Assembly passed a law making it a crime to deny that the atrocities against Armenians committed by Ottoman Turks from 1915-1918 constituted a genocide.
In response, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chastised French President Nicholas Sarkozy, accused France of committing its own genocide in Algeria, and cited the bill’s passage as “a clear example of how racism, discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiment have reached new heights in France and in Europe.” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also weighed in, stating that “Europe has philosophically and ideologically reverted to the Middle Ages.”
Erdogan’s Islamist AKP government has since escalated the confrontation, recalling Turkey’s ambassador to France for “consultations,” and imposing a slew of military and economic sanctions. Clearly, one can now add France to an ever-expanding list of countries—including Israel, and Syria—to which Turkey’s alleged “zero problems” (Davutoglu’s words) foreign policy does not apply.
Yet Turkey’s involvement in a growing number of diplomatic altercations has been predictable. Empowered by his Islamist Party’s landslide victory in last June’s elections, Erdogan’s overarching neo-Ottoman ambitions have naturally enmeshed Turkey in a multitude of regional disputes. Coupled with ongoing internal repression, Erdogan’s AK Party has solidified its grip on the country by suppressing dissent. Turkey’s hegemonic drive is likely to intensify and, as Erdogan’s tentacles stretch further abroad, additional controversies should be expected.
TURKEY SAYS FRENCH LAW DAMAGES
‘FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION’
Haaretz, December 28, 2011
A Holocaust must not be denied, according to France, be it the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian. While the French Parliament passed a law in 1990 against denying the Jewish Holocaust and against manifestations of anti-Semitism, the Armenian Holocaust has not won identical status. The lower house last week passed a bill defining denial of the slaughter of the Armenian people as a crime, but it still needs the Senate’s approval to become law.
Turkey is not waiting. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already imposed a string of sanctions on France, including a prohibition on the landing of French warplanes and the anchoring of French warships in Turkish territory. More sanctions, including a trade freeze between the two countries, are expected, and if the law is passed in the Senate, Turkey is liable to widen the breach.
Although the murder of approximately 1.5 million Armenians—or “the death of Armenians in a situation of war,” as the Turkish version has it—took place in 1915, under the Ottoman Empire, Turkey sees the definition of genocide as casting direct blame on it. This is not just a matter of legal repercussions that might stem from casting blame. In Turkey’s view, refuting this accusation is “a matter of pride,” as Erdogan has defined it, or more precisely: “a correction of an historical distortion.” Turkey says the French law damages the freedom of expression.
Erdogan is not a champion of freedom of expression. The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel laureate for literature, can testify to the travails he endured at the hands of the Turkish legal system for his statements on the slaughter of the Armenians.
In a conflict between freedom of expression and honor, honor will win. Israel, too, has learned that the red line in Turkish foreign policy is honor—whether the subject be the killing of Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara or casting historical blame. Thus, Turkey froze trade with France in 2001 when a law similar to the recognition of the Armenian genocide came up before the French Parliament. Similarly, Turkey narrowed its relations with Israel because of an apology that has not been made and the refusal to pay compensation for the Turks who were killed. Turkey also decided to cut relations with Syria when Syrian President Bashar Assad thumbed his nose at its requests and warnings to cease the bloodshed.…
In its relations with Iran, Turkey had aspired to establish a diplomatic axis, but things are tense in the context of Turkey’s policy toward Syria. As for Iraq, Turkey is attacking the bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK ) and is liable to enter into conflict with the Iraqi regime. As for Cyprus…no solution is in sight. According to Erdogan, Turkey will sever ties with the EU during Cyprus’ stint in its rotating presidency. Now, France has joined the list of “hostile countries.”
Turkey’s foreign policy is not detached from domestic political considerations, which dictate its conduct. In each of the crises Erdogan can rely on broad public support and in some of them, as in the cases of France and Syria, the opposition also supports him. Turkey defines its foreign policy as based on “values”—not on interests. The assessment of the policy shapers is that a crisis with a neighboring country in the context of damage to Turkey’s honor or damage to interests that are important to Turkey merits diplomatic and political investment even if in the short term Turkey pays a price.
Turkey can return to Syria as a hero after Assad’s fall; Iran will be needy for purposes of maintaining order in Iraq. Turkey has earned political capital among the Palestinians from its punishment of Israel. It will also be hard for France to relinquish the activity of about a 1,000 French companies in Turkey and trade worth an estimated $12 billion.…
Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2011
Knesset members of radically different political orientations will seek this week to sway the Knesset Education Committee to promote Israeli recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud), MK Arye Eldad (National Union) and MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) will argue for a special annual Armenian memorial day in Israel.
As Jews, we entertain understandable reservations regarding the overuse the genocide term, already applied to numerous diverse incidents of mass-slaughter, including Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge purges and Rwanda’s tribal carnage. But the massacres and violent deportations by Ottoman Turks, which claimed as many as 1.5 million Armenian lives during World War I, are different.
They’re closer to a premeditated scheme to cleanse Turkey of Christians, even if not imbued with the Nazis’ systematic, all-encompassing ideology of “scientific” racism. Not every last Armenian was hunted down as in Germany’s methodical, industrialized extermination process that targeted and pursued every last hidden Jewish baby. Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer explained it best: “The Nazis saw the Jews as the central problem of world history.… The attitude towards Jews had in it important elements of pseudo-religion. There was no such motivation present in the Armenian case; Armenians were to be annihilated for power-political reasons, and in Turkey only.… Yet even if the Armenian case is not seen as a holocaust in the extreme form, which it took towards Jews, it is certainly the nearest thing to it.”
It, therefore, amply deserves Israeli recognition. Previous attempts to secure such recognition were foiled by Foreign Ministry opposition. Every care was taken not to vex Turkey, for years Israel’s sole quasi-ally in the region. Presumably, now that Turkey has turned ultra-hostile—particularly after Operation Cast Lead and the Mavi Marmara confrontation—such constraints should no longer be relevant.…
Turkey continues to cast a dark shadow over Israeli considerations even in the stark absence of any viable relationship with that country. Turkey continues to prevent Israel from doing the right thing even when there’s no expedient realpolitik incentive to avoid the moral high ground.
But Ankara intimidates elsewhere as well. France’s lower house of parliament has moved to criminalize Armenian Genocide-denial. In response, Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had thrown a super-temper tantrum.…
In retaliation, Erdogan cut ties with France, recalled his ambassador for consultations. He said Turkey was cancelling all economic, political and military meetings with its NATO partner and it would cancel permission for French military planes to land, and warships to dock, in Turkey.… His unmistakable aggressive stance towards the French parliamentary initiative contains a message for Israel too.…
Erdogan’s ruffian demeanor isn’t Israel-specific. There’s no plausible reason not to answer his hectoring defamations with incontrovertible historical truths. Why, for starters, not quit our unsavory habit of resisting Knesset resolutions on Turkey’s infamous atrocities against the Armenians? We could elaborate on Turkey’s first Armenian massacre of 1890 (100,000-200,000 dead); Turkey’s subsequent mega-massacres of 1915 in which over a million Armenians perished in a series of bloodbaths and forced marches of uprooted civilians in Syria’s direction; the WWI slaughter of tens of thousands of Assyrians in Turkey’s southeast; the ethnic cleansing, aerial bombardments and other operations that cost Kurds untold thousands of lives throughout the 20th century and beyond and still deny them the sovereignty they deserve; and finally, the 1974 invasion and continued occupation of northern Cyprus (which fails to bother the international community).
TURNING AWAY FROM EUROPE
Weekly Standard, December 19, 2011
One way to gauge the present state of European unity is to know that Turkey, which has energetically sought membership in the European Union for the past decade, is now having second thoughts about the enterprise. According to the German Marshall Fund, in 2004, three-quarters of Turks thought EU membership was a good idea; last year, that percentage had dropped to little more than a third. A recent story in the New York Times featured a pointed question from a prominent supporter of the Erdogan government in Ankara: “The EU has absolutely no influence over Turkey, and most Turks are asking themselves, ‘Why should we be part of such a mess?’” The reasons this has come to pass tell us as much about Europe, and its faltering quest for economic and political unity, as about Turkey.
It is not difficult to comprehend why and how the notion of Turkish membership was ever seriously contemplated. The EU itself is the culmination of several decades’ worth of wishful thinking: that the experience of two devastating wars had persuaded Europeans to set aside national differences in a common, transnational cause; and that the cause had persuaded postwar Europeans to surrender their currencies (and, to some degree, national sovereignty) in favor of a common monetary zone and limited authority in Brussels.
Now we know how that turned out. As long ago as 1914 socialists were surprised to discover that working-class Europeans tended to think of themselves as Frenchmen and Germans and Italians, not Europeans, when hostilities broke out. And while Europeans, for differing reasons, might have welcomed the creation of the eurozone—Germans as a means of ratifying economic dominance, Greeks for the opportunity to hitch their wagon to the stars—they have since learned the familiar lesson that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Public opinion in Germany is becoming impatient with the idea of bailing out the EU’s less provident members, and public opinion in Greece is similarly impatient with austerity dictated from Berlin.
Turkish membership in the EU depends, to a large degree, on a comparable suspension of disbelief. Turkey is a huge country located predominantly in Asia minor, populated overwhelmingly by Muslims, and ruled by a broadly successful Islamist government. It is difficult to guess how much the average Irishman or Belgian feels in common with a nation that borders on Iraq, but it is not so difficult to gauge public sentiment in Cork or Antwerp about open borders and employment for tens of millions of workers who face Mecca to pray.
The problem, of course, is that public opinion—or put another way, democracy—has never been critical to the European enterprise. The political leadership of Europe welcomed the prospect of Turkish membership in the EU for the same reason past Turkish governments sought admission. The military alliance between Turkey and the West—NATO—gave something to both sides: It kept Turkey, caught historically between East and West, in the Western camp during the Cold War; and it offered Turkey’s growing economy and Westernized elites increasing access to European markets.
Now all that is turned on its head. The strategic rationale for Turkish membership in NATO hasn’t existed since the fall of the Soviet Union, and between the Arab Spring and the growth of Islamist sentiment in the Muslim world, the Erdogan government sees its opportunities to wield influence in the East, not the West.…
Then there is the Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member situated off Turkey’s southern coast. The northern third of the island has been under Turkish military occupation since 1974, and Turkey remains not only hostile to the prospect of withdrawal and reunification—its puppet state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is recognized by no other country—but increasingly, even violently, hostile to Cyprus itself. Turkey has threatened military action against Israeli and Cypriot proposals to drill for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, far from Turkey’s territorial waters, and plans to boycott discussions with the EU next year when Cyprus assumes its rotating presidency.
Suffice it to say that the EU constitution does not permit membership for a state whose army (illegally) occupies a large chunk of territory in a member-state.…
Turkey’s gathering sense of itself as the supreme Muslim power in the region appeals to the “reset” mentality in the White House—Erdogan says things about Israel in public that President Obama must think privately—and reduces European influence in the Middle East.
Neither of these developments can be welcome. Turkey’s tiny Christian neighbor Armenia, for example, which harbors unhappy memories of Ottoman misrule, and is subject to economic and diplomatic blockade, has lost the prospect of European Union membership as a moderating influence on Ankara. And any Turkish government that turns resolutely away from Europe, and plays to the Islamist gallery, is by any measure bad news for Washington and the long-term objectives of American policy.
OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY IN A BRIEF: THE PRESIDENT AS TURKEY
Pajamas Media, December 8, 2011
On October 5, 1938, Winston Churchill said in the House of Commons, regarding the Munich agreement in which Britain and France forced Czechoslovakia to cede the strategic Sudetenland to Germany, leading a few months later to that country’s extinction and a year later to World War Two:”I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat.…”
Viscountess Astor shouted, “Nonsense!”
People ask me: How can U.S. government officials believe such silly and wrong things about the Middle East? Let’s go behind the scenes for a case study of how this works.
[Consider] a November 28 transcript about Vice-President Joe Biden’s trip to Turkey and Greece. The main briefers are Biden’s national security advisor, Antony Blinken, and Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation Rashad Hussain.
The briefing shows the U.S. government’s bizarre love affair for Turkey’s Islamist regime, cluelessness about the “Arab Spring,” and disinterest in supporting Israel, contradicting the president’s frequent statements that he has done more for Israel than any predecessor.
For years the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been waging war seeking to create a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. Apparently, the United States is getting increasingly involved in that war defined as, “Our assistance in the fight against PKK terrorism.” The U.S. government gave Turkey three SuperCobra attack helicopters and four Predator UAVs. Since that regime works closely with terrorist groups and Iran, one wonders how secure this technology will be and how far U.S. involvement is going to go.
Has there been a serious discussion in the United States about becoming a partner in the Turkey-PKK war and what might Turkey be doing in exchange for U.S. help? This concept of getting something for giving something is pretty absent in the Obama administration. True, the Turkish regime has agreed to host a NATO radar system but only after grumbling a lot and imposing stringent conditions, especially that no intelligence be shared with Israel. And that’s no favor to the United States since, as the briefers note, Turkey is supposed to be a zealous member of NATO.
What else do you have, Blinken? Well, that Turkish government is visibly helping out a lot: in Afghanistan, Iraq, against the Syrian regime, in Libya, and Egypt. “So in many, many areas we’re working very, very closely with Turkey.” Yes, but the problem is that the Turkish regime is working hard in those places to make itself leader of the region and to promote radical Islamism in all of those countries. In Egypt, Libya, and Syria for sure that means helping the Muslim Brotherhood, not to mention its work on behalf of Hamas and Hizballah.
Imagine if an American president in the 1970s had been besotted with Fidel Castro and explained how the Cubans were doing all that great work in Latin America.
Then the briefer throws out a cliché that means the exact opposite of what he thinks: “Turkey has a very important story to tell as a country that can…set an example for other countries that are making transitions in the Arab world, in the Islamic world, in North Africa.” But what is that example? The Turkish example used to be secularism, democracy, a lack of ambition abroad, a free enterprise economy, and a strong pro-Western orientation. That was the previous regime. The current regime likes Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey “has set an example” all right. An example of how radical Islamist forces can pretend to be moderate as they not only gain state power but do so with America’s blessing. It is a very terrible example.
There’s something naive and dopey about Obama administration briefers that reminds me of Occupy Wall Street spokesmen or a community organizer. Where’s the sharp-edged, worldly cynical, realist, the sense that threats and enemies are about, the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sneer that is a part of any good foreign policy?
Remember that Turkey’s government voted against additional sanctions against Iran last year and tried to sabotage them diplomatically. Erdogan has denied Iran is seeking nuclear weapons; Turkey is systematically violating anti-Iran sanctions. “Turkey shares our goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran,” says the briefer. Perhaps that’s what Turkish leaders say but it has no relation to what they do.…
When asked about Israel, Blinken says something else revealing, after the boiler plate on how everyone should get along: “It pains us to see the two of them at odds because they’re both such close partners of the United States.…” Traditional briefers would say something like: “The United States urges Turkey to act decisively to mend this relationship.” Obama administration briefers sound like bystanders, fearful of taking leadership or pushing for what U.S. interests require. And since they already make clear that the United States will give Turkey whatever it wants and thinks the bilateral relationship is great, nobody in Ankara will pay attention.…
Blinken can’t and won’t deal with a huge flaw in U.S. policy. This is Obama administration style: it is totally doctrinaire and is deaf to criticism, not even bothering to construct a cogent argument in response. That’s the perfect formula for marching off the cliff, and taking all of us with them.
Here’s the bottom line: “[Turkey’s] example can be very powerful to countries now going through transition. So it’s very encouraging to see Turkey play a strong leadership role.”
Yes, that’s it. Turkey’s Islamist regime, not the United States, is taking leadership and setting the example. It’s leading in an anti-American direction and setting a bad example. American interests are being trashed; American allies are in despair.
Now multiply this example by a few hundred times and you have Obama foreign policy.