March 7, 2012 |  7 comments |  Print this Article  Your Opinion  

Janus-faced Turkey's Syria Challenge

Niklas Anzinger: Turkey’s success story of combining moderate Islam and democracy is being challenged by the ruling AK Party’s power grab. In this game, the struggle for power trumps ideology, but the religious resurgence remains an element of unpredictability in foreign policy. Regarding Syria, reality mugged the ill-guided Middle Eastern adventures of Turkey.

Democracy, secularism and Islam in Turkey are part of an immensely complex puzzle of identity, ideology and politics. The Islamic resurgence in Turkish society coincides with a major shift in the political establishment, the outcomes of which are: the rule of law under siege, authoritarian tendencies and ill-guided foreign policy adventures. Ignoring the nexus of the religious-secular label, a grab for power by the ruling AK Party poses severe challenges for Turkish democracy. Almost exclusively controlling political offices, AKP hosts different group interests; above all, the Islamist sect of Fethullah Gülen holds eminent positions of power in the media and education in the shadows of the state apparatus.

The AKP rule is credited as a moderate Islamic-conservative alternative to obstacles to Turkish democracy - the deep state of the military and the traditional Kemalist elite. In fact, AKP's power game has in several instances shown to dismiss constraints on the rule of law and its ideological apparatus is far from being moderate. Along with the constitutional amendments of September 2010 to widen the AKP's influence in the judiciary branch, a pro-AKP media empire ensures the ruling class's exclusive immunity. The "Ergenekon" case shows vividly the enormous deterioration of balances of power. Ergenekon refers to an alleged coup plot from 2003 involving media, academia, military and judiciary to topple the democratically elected government. Fabricated evidence, systematic media disinformation and massive violations of judicial independence allowed for the mass arrests of journalists, activists and military officers. Even elected parliamentarians, a total of 9 MPs (6 BDP, 3 CHP, 1 MHP), have been jailed on Ergenekon accusations.

Economic growth, domestic power, and international cheering for the Turkish model increased the confidence of Turkish policymakers to look abroad. While Turkey was applauding and legitimizing the terrorist group Hamas and seeking common ground with the revolutionary Islamist, anti-Western axis of Syria and Iran, it looked like Islamist and neo-Ottoman perceptions had trumped the reality of being a considerably modern nation state integrated in the Western economic and security structure. Far from being a moderator in the Arab world, Turkey exploits the widespread anti-Israel sentiments for the benefit of appealing to the masses. Since the Davos affair in 2009 and the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010, the once close alliance between Israel and Turkey has disintegrated.

The Turkish decision-makers in foreign policy, represented by Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu, may not share Western values, but the past has shown that Turkey and the Western states share interests, which often lead to considerable and warm cooperation.

The outcome of the Arab Spring, especially the fighting and brutal crackdown in Syria, led once again to reality overcoming ideology. The "Middle Eastern PKK-circle", as formulated by Soner Cagaptay, explains the situation: the Kurdish terrorist organization remains the most crucial aspect of Turkey's security policy. The Syrian regime's crackdown on protests let Turkey emerge as Syria's key opponent because of Turkey's alleged protector role of Sunni Muslims and the ongoing refugee influx from the Syrian border. Thus, "the more people Assad kills, the more hardline Turkey's policies will become against Syria. This will, in turn, drive Iranian-Syrian action against Turkey through PKK attacks from Iraq". In the short-run, what first began as counter-activities against US-EU policies on Iran may now ironically drive Turkey to be a major contributor to countering Iran's hegemonic ambitions by toppling Iran's main ally and weapon hub for Hamas and Hezbollah activities.

Turkey appears as a Janus-face: a pragmatic, calculating Western NATO ally and an ideologically driven, power-grabbing bully. The process of domestic authoritarianism, assault on the free press, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary along with economic growth and emerging political relevance in the region paved the way for a new political elite that plays a game of power and ideology. The processes in the region are likely to lead to antagonisms between Turkey and the Western states, but the events in Syria could just as easily bind the two together.

The Western states should make sure to keep control over important strategic resources. The US has to remain in control of the important Turkey-based NATO missile defense radar. Recently, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that intelligence from the radar system will not be shared with Israel and that missile defense does not concern a specific country. Turkey wishes for Israel's alienation from NATO military cooperation, but other NATO states should calm the Israel-Turkey relationship because both states are vital to NATO. Turkey's stance towards Iran remains unclear and blurred, while NATO defense should be concerned with Iran and Syria. NATO Members must confront Turkey about the the country's murky NATO agenda.

In addition, the severe violations of democratic principles in the domestic sphere and the counter-productive foreign policy moves in the Middle East must be subject to international criticism. Turkish society has to be reminded and convinced of a mutually beneficial Western orientation, while EU decision-makers must concede failure in alienating Turkey from Europe.

Niklas Anzinger is a student of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Bayreuth.

  • 11
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this Article! What's this?

 
 
Comments
Gökhan  Tekir

March 7, 2012

  • 4
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
The Western centered foreign policy which had dominanted the Turkish foreign policy since 19th century started to change after establishment of JDP government in 2002. JDP government sought to develop relations with Middle Eastern countries and tried to integrate Turkish state into affairs of Middle East. As a secular, democrat but religious identity Turkey presented itself as a role model to the Middle Eastern countries. The Arab spring could not have been so successful, if Arab countries had not had a country, which could be the role model in this process. In this aspect, Turkey's role in the region is hugely important.
Concerning authorianism allegations for JDP government, I can say that most of these allegations are propaganda activities of the dissident groups which lost power as a result of the reforms of JDP. The number of arrested journalists is the top of the list of the authorianism allegations. To answer this claim, the relations between media and military should be examined. All of the coup d'etats made throughout Turkish Republic's history have been a collaboration of media owned by big businessmen and the military. Last coup called as a 'soft coup' , 28 February 1997, was the recent example of this collaboration. After JDP government was set same groups developed coup d'etat attempts but failed. The journalists, who were arrested, are being accused of being a member of terrorist organization, which would create a chaos environment to pave the way of a military coup. The status quo existed in the press started to change and this situation is presented as an assault on 'free press'. The terrorist organization PKK also wants to organize in press for its propaganda activities.
Turkey is experiencing a reform process in both domestic level and foreign policy level. The aim is to democratize without neglecting security for its citizens. It will preserve and enhance its position in the world with its growing economy, military power and democratic values.
 
Aaron  Gabriel Janowski

March 11, 2012

  • 2
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Mr. Tekir tries to excuse current arrests of journalists in a well known way which attempts to attract to anybody in line with the democratic principle of sovereign citizens. By hinting at postmodern military coup of 1997 when democratically elected JDP precedent Welfare Party was forced out of Government and banned in the following year, he sets the stage for whitewashing free speech censorship in order to protect the Republic's constitutional foundations from powerful coterie of big money and military.

In doing so, he seems inconsistent, for censorship in order to prevent erosion of constitutional foundations via a party ban is answered by censorship via arresting journalists. In deed, the very same set of constitutional foundations were pretended to be protected for secularism is but another way to secure freedom of expression. Only the targets of the protecting mechanism seem to be inverted. What remains is the very fact that suppression of expression is conducted and democratic principles are noticeably hurt.

Observed from the outside, it seems obvious that mutual accusations of intending to disturb current order unveil an inconvenient truth public has to face: that Turkey's constitution is actually not that sound. Once again it gets clear that some good intentions while elaborating constitutions are not sufficient. To ease the deadlocked situation, Turkish civilians and politicians should impose Buchanan's Veil of Uncertainty on themselves. In absence of knowledge to whom rules could be of any actual favor in pursuing his particular aim, the political game should be restructured. This implies that regulations regarding media ownership have to be reconsidered. The latter seems a more efficient mean in securing secular democracy than bothering with banning and censorship, which constitutes an atmosphere of nourishing theories of conspiracy rather than constructive discourse. Therefore, the Turkish constitution is no good example to be copied by countries undergoing change since the “Arab Spring”.

Employing paroles like “democratizing without neglecting security” as heuristics for process of reform provokes severe fallacies, e.g. arbitrary amalgamation of Ergenekon and PKK terrorism into one argument backing free press infringements. Instead, Turkey should distance itself from any nationalist notions embedded in its constitution and try to perceive itself as a society made up of very different interests that can be balanced out. That would be a more proper heuristic to search for a new framework which ensures more stability for all since it does not discriminate against anybody on ground of some particular notion of preferred national ideology. Both JDP and their rivals know what this discrimination feels like and what a suppressed group might do in order to turn the tables.

 
Gökhan  Tekir

March 12, 2012

  • 2
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
To respond the criticism made by Mr. Janowski on my comment, firstly, I would like to state that I am not trying to excuse arrest of journalists in Turkey. I am just presenting the facts. These journalists are arrested not because they are journalists. They are being accused of being a member of terrorist organization. There are a lot of journalists who can express their satisfaction with the government freely outside. Furthermore, being a journalist does not make a person immune from prosecution.
I think there is a difference between to try to oust a democratically elected party and to prosecute journalists who are allegedly member of a terrorist organization.
I agree with the criticism that the constitution of 1982 is not sufficient for Turkish republic. But I would like to remind that Turkey is experiencing a constitution-making process with the participation of all civil society groups and politicians It is first in the history of Turkish Republic that a constitution will be made by civilians. Therefore, it will be fair to give us time for this process.
In Middle East, I claim that the most democratic country is Turkish Republic. Even the democracy level in Turkey is higher than many European countries. The Turkish case is unique because the democratic reforms are being realized by Islam oriented ruling party. Of course, there are flaws but we are trying sort these out.
Democratization without security does not last long. Unfortunatebely, Turkey is not located in Scandinavia. It is located in the Middle East where the conflicts and wars are part of daily life. Moreover, Turkey has been dealing with terrorism for two decades. This threat is not an illusion. 30000 lives have been lost because of terrorism attacks since terrorist attacks began. Last ten years, Turkey has lifted almost all bans over Kurdish citizens. They now can freely speak their own language, they can form civil society organization, the kurdish party is represented in the assembly. By extending civil rights, the state is also responsible for providing security for its citizens Thus, it is natural for the state to cope with terrorism by all means.
 
Aaron  Gabriel Janowski

March 13, 2012

  • 1
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
As Mr. Tekir points out those journalists in detention pending trial face solely accusations. In addition, which is most delicate, one could argue that it is a mere artefact of a 1991 legislated anti terror law that anybody is able to relate the journalists’ work with the word terrorism. The law faces most severe international criticism for being extremely open to capricious interpretation. Actually, no journalist has to be an active “member of a terrorist organization” in order to get charged under anti terror legislation, as Mr Tekir claims, but some unspecific accusations of making propaganda in favour a terrorist organization’s opinion seem sufficient. Moreover, as G. H. Jenkins’ article in Mr. Anziger's reference casts reasonable doubts whether Ergenekon should be referred to as an existing organisation, it seems as though many people of similar political view are mixed up into one group which is then labelled with “terrorist conspiracy”. The latter is a harmful threat and therefore has always been an easy excuse to lock away uncomfortable opinions. Before ordinary political journalists face pre-trial jail anybody would expect some precautionary measures to hold. Of course, as Mr. Tekir is right, journalists have no immunity from prosecution but special requirements should at least be demanded by the public. Not just yesterday’s release of Mr. Şener and Mr. Şık after 375 days of pre-trial jail shows that state of evidence seems scanty in many cases. Even Mr. Erdogan, which is the overall winner of the current situation, pretends to regret the pre-trial jail.

In any way, the state should cope with terrorism by “proper” means. Lousy legislation on that provokes severe distrust regarding the question which aim is de facto followed by the prosecuting authority. Is terrorism but a false pretence to act in order to secure power (when speaking of Ergenekon)? Or is terrorism but a false pretence to act in order to avoid inconvenient topics that should be discussed in public (when speaking of Büşra Ersanlı).
I am not up to comparing the overall level of democracy in Turkey to any other country in Europe or in the Middle East, as Israel for example. But I want to stress that Mr Tekir might take the current imprisonments to easy.
 
Gökhan  Tekir

March 16, 2012

  • 0
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Mr. Janowski claims that the existence of Ergenekon is a suspicious issue. I want to remind that European Court of Human Rights decision concerning Tuncay Özkan case. Tuncay Özkan, who is a journalist, was arrested two years ago applied ECtHR regarding his objection to his arrestment. European Court of Human Rights decided that this arrestment is made based on plausible reasons. The trial process is normal comparing to the expansion of the indictment. Moreover, the court concluded that there are strong evidences that Ergenekon exists and it is a terrorist organization.
Mr. Janowski says that the state should cope with terrorism by proper means. I completely agree with him. The trial process is a proper way. Turkey does not imprison people without court decision and lock them into prison. The trials are open to the public and international observers. The accused parties are given right to defend themselves. I wonder if the coup is realized as the conspirators imagined, these rights will be given to the elected officials of the state. These 'lousy' anti-terror laws were amended in 1995, 2001, and 2002 in order to provide conformity with European standard during European Union process.
 
Aaron  Gabriel Janowski

March 19, 2012

  • 1
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
The 2010 published Turkey progress report by the European commission still states that
“The anti-terror legislation needs to be amended to avoid a broad interpretation, to
improve the human rights situation in the region and to reduce the disproportionately high number of detainees linked to alleged terrorist acts.” The overall evaluation has not changed in the 2011 report. This comes not as a surprise since amendments to the anti terror legislation in 2006 even indicate some throwbacks:

(1) Penalty for press members facing the offence of terrorist propaganda was increased by half. Whereas the 2002 amendment substantiated that only propaganda containing “incitement to violence” should be prosecuted, propaganda is still seen as “incitement to terror and other form of violence” which uses the already criticized broad definition of terrorism. To cite an example: In 2006 even prostitution and sexual harassment were added to the definition of terrorism although they were already defined in the Turkish Penal Code.
(2) Judges are now allowed to delay legal advice during the first 24 hours of detention. Additionally, only one instead of three lawyers is allowed to defend a suspect of terrorism.

Together with the fact that conscientious objection is still treated as a terrorist offence these examples show that amendments to the anti terror law are by no means sufficient. As being observers of the process we will see how the approximate 2000 trials against journalists will end up and how they will be evaluated by critics of the current legislation.
 
Gökhan  Tekir

March 25, 2012

  • 0
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Threat perceptions of European Union and Turkey are different towards terrorism. As a country which has experienced terror since 1980s it must be considered normal that Turkey is more sensitive towards terrorism. This difference is being reflected in the reports of European Union. In country level, some European countries also relied on excessive measures to counter terrorism in the past. Thus, when the threat is materialized, the EU countries will not hesitate to take measures that they criticize now.
Turkey's strategy to deal with terrorism in 1990s was wrong. But now the whole struggle against terrorism is processed through completely according to law.
Terrorist activity is made not only through weapons and combatants but also with the people who provoke those terrorist to commit crimes. Whether these people are journalists or not, they are also tried for these crimes. After trial process, they might be found not guilty. We cannot know. But the courts make the arrestments by considering the evidences gathered and based on strong suspicion.
When 'the incitement to terror' is disregarded by state security organs, the citizens of Turkey will pay its price with their lives.
 

Commenting has been deactivated in the archive. We appreciate your comments on our more recent articles at atlantic-community.org