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Is Turkey Leaving the West?: Daniel Pipes, National Review, Feb. 7, 2013—Recent steps taken by the government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states. Starting in 2007, Ankara applied unsuccessfully three times to join as a guest member the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (or SCO, informally known as the Shanghai Five).
In Turkey, AKP Proposes 'Elected Sultan Regime': Kadri Gursel, Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013—There has been a long-standing consensus among Turkey’s political parties, civic society and opinion leaders on eliminating the country’s authoritarian constitution — the legacy of a putschist military — and replacing it with a civilian, libertarian version.
Erdogan's Kurdish Issues: Morton Abramowitz, Jessica Sims, National Interest, January 28, 2013—Turkey’s political discussion changes quickly. Yesterday it was mostly Syria. Today it is making peace with Kurds. That has been a boon to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political standing—at least for the moment.
Confronting Turkey: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2013
Erdogan's Syria Policy: Wrong from the Start: Tulin Daloglu, Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013
National Review, Feb. 7, 2013
Recent steps taken by the government of Turkey suggest it may be ready to ditch the NATO club of democracies for a Russian and Chinese gang of authoritarian states. Starting in 2007, Ankara applied unsuccessfully three times to join as a guest member the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (or SCO, informally known as the Shanghai Five). Founded in 1996 by the Russian and Chinese governments, along with three former-Soviet Central Asian states (and in 2001 a fourth), the SCO has received minimal attention in the West, although it has grand security and other aspirations, including the possible creation of a gas cartel. It offers an alternative to the Western model, from forsaking NATO and democracy to displacing the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency.
After those three rejections, Ankara applied for “dialogue partner” status in 2011. In June 2012, it won approval. One month later, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reported his saying to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, “Come, accept us into the Shanghai Five [as a full member] and we will reconsider the European Union.” Erdoğan reiterated this idea on January 25, noting stalled Turkish efforts to join the EU: “As the prime minister of 75 million people,” he explained, “you start looking around for alternatives. That is why I told Mr. Putin the other day, ‘Take us into the Shanghai Five; do it, and we will say goodbye to the EU.’ What’s the point of stalling?” He added that the SCO “is much better, it is much more powerful [than the EU], and we share values with its members.”
On January 31, the foreign ministry announced plans for an upgrade to “observer state” at the SCO. On February 3 Erdoğan reiterated his earlier point, saying, “We will search for alternatives,” and praised the Shanghai group’s “democratization process” while disparaging European “Islamophobia.” But on February 4, President Abdullah Gül pushed back, declaring that “the SCO is not an alternative to the EU. . . . Turkey wants to adopt and implement EU criteria.” What does this all amount to?
The SCO bid faces significant obstacles. If Ankara leads the effort to overthrow Bashar Assad, it will cause problems, because the SCO firmly supports the beleaguered Syrian leader. NATO troops have just arrived in Turkey to man Patriot batteries protecting that country from Syria’s Russian-made missiles. More profoundly, all six SCO members strongly oppose the Islamism that Erdoğan espouses. Perhaps, therefore, Erdoğan mentioned SCO membership only to pressure the EU, or to offer symbolic rhetoric for his supporters.
Both are possible. But I take the half-year-long flirtation seriously for three reasons. First, Erdoğan has established a record of straight talk, leading one key columnist, Sedat Ergin, to call the January 25 statement perhaps his “most important” foreign-policy proclamation ever.
Second, as Turkish columnist Kadri Gürsel points out, “The EU criteria demand democracy, human rights, union rights, minority rights, gender equality, equitable distribution of income, participation and pluralism for Turkey. SCO as a union of countries ruled by dictators and autocrats will not demand any of those criteria for joining.” Unlike the European Union, Shanghai members will not press Erdoğan to liberalize but will encourage the dictatorial tendencies in him that so many Turks already fear.
Third, the SCO fits his Islamist impulse to defy the West and to dream of an alternative to it. The SCO, with Russian and Chinese as official languages, has deeply anti-Western DNA, and its meetings bristle with anti-Western sentiments. For example, when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the group in 2011, no one refused his conspiracy theory about 9/11 being a U.S. government inside job used “as an excuse for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and for killing and wounding over a million people.” Many backers echo Egyptian analyst Galal Nassar in his hope that ultimately the SCO “will have a chance of settling the international contest in its favor.” Conversely, as a Japanese official has noted, “The SCO is becoming a rival block to the U.S. alliance. It does not share our values.”
Turkish steps toward joining the Shanghai group highlight Ankara’s now-ambivalent membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, starkly symbolized by the unprecedented joint Turkish-Chinese air exercise of 2010. Given this reality, Erdoğan’s Turkey is no longer a trustworthy partner for the West but more like a mole in its inner sanctum. If not expelled, it should at least be suspended from NATO.
Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013
There has been a long-standing consensus among Turkey’s political parties, civic society and opinion leaders on eliminating the country’s authoritarian constitution — the legacy of a putschist military — and replacing it with a civilian, libertarian version. The current constitution was drawn up under the tutelage of generals who toppled the civilian government in the 1980 military coup, and it was endorsed in a 1982 referendum by 92 percent of voters. Despite nearly 30 amendments since then, it has preserved its authoritarian spirit.
On Oct. 19, 2011, the four parties in Turkey’s parliament set up the Constitution Conciliation Commission as part of an agreement to scrap the existing ragbag constitution and to draft a new one that meets contemporary norms. Commission progress was initially slow. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the other two opposition forces — the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) — are all represented equally.
When the commission began to discuss core issues that would determine whether the new system would be a democracy, such as the constitutional setup of executive, legislative and judiciary powers, it became clear why the AKP felt the urge for a new constitution. In November, the AKP submitted a proposal outlining an authoritarian presidential system that subjugates the legislature to the executive power. With this proposal, the ruling party effectively destroyed the ground for any constitutional compromise with the CHP and the MHP.
It has long been known that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan aspires to abolish Turkey’s parliamentary regime, shift to a presidential system and become its first president. Let's look at what this proposal — drafted based on Erdogan’s wishes — would do.
The proposed constitution stipulates that elections for the single-chamber legislative assembly and the president, who holds the executive power, will be held on the same day. The clause is designed to ensure that the political tendency of the voters shapes simultaneously both parliament and the presidency, and that both elections eventually produce the same political outcome. As a result, the room for checks and balances between the legislative and executive powers is restricted from the very start….
Under the AKP proposal, the president is entitled to extraordinary powers — including dissolving parliament, calling parliamentary and presidential elections, and governing the country through presidential decrees that evade legislative processes. Under the proposal, the president holds such extensive powers over parliament that the presidency is capable of blocking virtually any legislation. If the president is unhappy with a given bill and returns it to parliament, the legislature can pass the bill unchanged and send it back for ratification only with a three-fifths majority. A simple majority is enough for the procedure under the current constitution.
On Feb. 5, the AKP submitted a further proposal for the judicial section of the new constitution, demonstrating that Erdogan also aspires to eliminate the separation of powers — an indispensable principle of democracy….Under the plan, seven members would be elected by parliament, while the president would directly appoint another seven. The proposal means that a total of 14 board members would be determined by the political authority, as parliament's picks are by simple majority — in other words, the governing majority. As a result, the political authority takes full control of the HSYK, a strategic body that shapes the judiciary. This would entirely eradicate judicial independence.
The Constitutional Court, which is supposed to keep the government under constitutional supervision, would face a similar fate under AKP proposals. Under the existing system, three of the 17 court members are elected by parliament from among several candidates. The president names the remaining 14 members — four of them by his own choice, and 10 from among candidates nominated by the higher judicial organs.
Under the AKP proposal, parliament elects nine of the Constitutional Court members, and the president picks directly another eight. The higher judicial organs make no nominations. If members of the Constitutional Court were determined directly by the political authority, it would become almost impossible for this body to exert any supervision over the executive power and the quasi legislature.
In sum, Erdogan’s a-la-carte presidential system would eradicate the separation of powers and concentrate all power in the hands of a single person. It makes it impossible for institutions to fulfill their duties of checks and balances.
If this proposal becomes Turkey’s new constitution, Turkey will no longer be a democracy. It's a proposal for an authoritarian regime with an “elected sultan” ruling Turkey. To make it happen, the AKP has to bargain and hammer out a deal with the Kurdish party, and then ensure that more than 50 percent of the people vote “yes” for the new constitution at a referendum, scheduled to be held no later than the last quarter of 2013.
Kadri Gürsel is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and has written a column for the Turkish daily Milliyet since 2007.
Morton Abramowitz, Jessica Sims
National Interest, January 28, 2013
Turkey’s political discussion changes quickly. Yesterday it was mostly Syria. Today it is making peace with Kurds. That has been a boon to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political standing—at least for the moment.
2012 marked the AKP’s ten-year anniversary as the ruling party, a rare feat in Turkish politics. The party has been one of the few constants in a new, more vital Turkey. But it was a difficult year for Erdogan because of Syria’s unending civil war. After a year of intense criticism over his handling of Syria, including from members of his own party, Erdogan’s political fortunes seemed to be suffering.
For the first time, the prime minister was losing public support, and his effort to constitutionally change Turkey’s political system to a powerful presidential one was running into trouble. More specifically, Erdogan had little to show for his efforts to bring down Assad: more than 150,000 Syrian refugees in camps, another 80,000 in Turkish towns and cities, an ever-rising budgetary bill and no sign that his former friend Bashar al-Assad would go. Even worse, the removal of Assad’s forces from Kurdish-inhabited areas allowed the PKK’s Syrian offshoot to gain dominance and perhaps the ability to create another Kurdish autonomous zone in a new Syria.
None of this has changed—if anything Syria is worse—but the mood in Turkey has changed. Erdogan’s political standing received a major bump when he announced that the government had resumed discussions with the PKK’s only leader ever, Abdullah Ocalan. More impressive, he allowed Kurdish parliamentarians to meet with Ocalan for the first time after 14 years of solitary imprisonment. His effort won endorsement across the political spectrum (except for the nationalists) and served to deflect criticism over the continuing Syrian disaster. Turkey has turned hopeful that, however great the uncertainties, talks with Ocalan can morph into a sustained negotiation to end the fighting and address the demands of Turkey’s large Kurdish population. The AKP’s approval rate remains over 50 percent.
The peace process is inherently difficult. The bona fides of both sides remain to be proven, emotions are deep, and the cohesion of the PKK is uncertain. But regional events can sharply intrude on that process and on Erdogan’s efforts to change the political system: the crisis in Syria could worsen even if Assad goes, with greater sectarian bloodletting; there is the prospect of more refugees, and an uncertain future for the Kurds in a destroyed Syria; and perhaps more immediately, the deepening crisis over Iraq’s unity and the future of its quasi-independent Kurdish area.
Syria’s descent into civil war has been enormously costly for Turkey and for Erdogan. Syria marked the end of Turkey’s “zero problems” policy, but more than that revealed the limits of Erdogan’s influence in the Middle East. This contrasted badly with the image of respected deal-maker that Erdogan tried to cultivate.
Erdogan was forced to abandon his early briskness toward Turkey’s traditional security alliance and instead hoped to persuade Obama to get rid of Assad. Help didn’t come and he felt somewhat abandoned, leaving Turkey to deal with Syria on its own.
But he came to see the need to draw closer to NATO and asked for and received Patriot missiles with little domestic protest. Once sceptical of NATO missions and his Western bona fides questioned abroad, Erdogan’s marked change confirmed the value he came to place on the U.S. connection despite its inaction on Syria.
His public plea for more assistance opened a new line of criticism, this time from his brethren in the Islamist media who questioned how Erdogan could be both a partner in NATO intervention in Syria and the voice of Arab democrats. Many also questioned the wisdom of putting all eggs in the Assad-must-go basket, while the political opposition hammered Erdogan for failing to keep Turkey out of the Syrian crossfire, stop the refugee exodus and show some progress. Erdogan will initially benefit politically from Assad’s departure no matter how it happens….
In a post-Assad Syria, Erdogan will probably put his weight behind the Sunnis, who his religious base also supports. Turkey could find itself in the uncomfortable position of backing a Muslim Brotherhood government influenced by Saudi or Qatari money and more radical than it would like. This would put it at odds with the U.S. vision of a moderate, inclusive government in which the Kurds have a bigger say.
The fate of the Syrian Kurds will directly impact on Erdogan’s own handling and control of his domestic Kurdish peace process. The PKK, with a safe haven across Turkey’s border, could be a direct security threat to Turkey and one Erdogan wants to avoid. He boldly put down a red line that Turkey would not accept any autonomous Kurdish area in Syria—but whether he can prevent one is uncertain. An unruly battle between Kurds and Assad’s successors over a second autonomous Kurdish region on Turkey’s border could be politically corrosive for Erdogan and Turkey, particularly if it comes in the middle of Turkey’s own Kurdish peace efforts.
A more immediate pressing regional concern for Turkey is the steady political disintegration of Iraq and the possible emergence of an independent Kurdish state. Iraq is increasingly divided on sectarian lines. Turkey’s relations with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have grown close and Ankara is supporting the Kurds in their deepening disputes with Baghdad over the direct export of oil and Kurdish claims to the Kirkuk region.
Turkey has become bitterly opposed to Prime Minister Malaki and fearful of Iranian domination of Iraq. The Turkish government has made it clear that the Iraqi political problem is Malaki’s dictatorial approach; he must be removed if Iraq is to remain united. This has put Turkey at odds with the United States, which believes that Malaki is central to preserving a united Iraq. Thus, Turkey has an anomaly: it wants to keep Iraq united for fear of the impact of an independent Kurdish state on Turkey’s own Kurds, but is at the same time contributing to Iraq’s dissolution. It also has to be concerned that Arab Iraq would fight to prevent the Kurdish region from exiting Iraq.
Erdogan’s political future has a lot riding on events in Syria and Iraq. His Syrian policy continues to cost him politically. His vast improvement of relations with the KRG has become popular and very profitable for Turkey, which has been crucial in helping transform the Kurdish region. But the possibility of a breakthrough on the century-old Kurdish question, however difficult, has made those issues increasingly important. Negotiations with Ocalan and the Kurds will be long and the prospects for success remain dubious, but as long as progress seems to be made through the first half of this year, Erdogan may be able to get his constitutional changes with help from Kurdish parliamentarians—instead of, as he originally planned, from his now antagonistic nationalists….
The Kurdish issue in Turkey has now become an American problem as well. The United States has stayed always away from the issue, except to give considerable support to Turkey’s efforts to destroy the PKK in northern Iraq. But what the United States does on Syria and Iraq may now directly affect Turkey’s internal situation. Today, Washington is not on the same page with Turkey over Iraq and quite possibly also over Syria—if and when Assad goes. For the first time, the United States will need a region-wide Kurdish policy. U.S.-Turkey relations might become a little tense.
Mort Abramowitz, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, is a former ambassador to Turkey. Jessica Sims is a research associate at The Century Foundation.
Confronting Turkey: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 5, 2013—How can one explain the reticence of the US and other Western powers in the face of Turkey’s aggressive declarations? On Saturday night, Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Turkey, a country that is a member of NATO and a candidate to join the EU, threatened to launch a military offensive against Israel, an important US ally.
Erdogan's Syria Policy: Wrong from the Start: Tulin Daloglu, Al-Monitor, Feb. 12, 2013—How far can goodwill get you? If it is supported by facts and grounded in actions, perhaps as far as you want it to. If not, remain alert. Take for instance, the trouble caused for Turkey by the “zero problems with neighbors” policy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Why Turkey is Talking to its PKK Nemesis: Pelin Turgut, Time World, Jan. 15, 2013—Turkey’s government revealed earlier this month that it had begun talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader serving a life term on an island prison. These talks are aimed at establishing a ceasefire and eventual disarmament of the PKK, in exchange for addressing unspecified Kurdish grievances.
Questions Obama Didn't Answer: Cengiz Çandar, Al-Monitor, Feb. 11, 2013—If anyone is looking for clues about the current state of Turkish-American relations, the Feb. 10 issue of the Milliyet daily presents an opportunity. The importance of those relations is not limited to the bilateral level; they carry significance for the whole Middle East region and even for the international system in general.
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