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Do We Understand Turkey?

Do We Understand Turkey?

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In mid January 2009, the author visited Turkey at the height of the Gaza crisis, with Turks captivated by the ongoing Ergenekon investigation, and on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration. His discussions revealed deepening concerns, not just about the obvious effects of the global economic crisis, but also about the basic trajectory of Turkish society, governance, and foreign policy.
In mid January 2009, the author visited Turkey at the height of the Gaza crisis, with Turks captivated by the ongoing Ergenekon investigation, and on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration. His discussions revealed deepening concerns, not just about the obvious effects of the global economic crisis, but also about the basic trajectory of Turkish society, governance, and foreign policy.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 24, 2010
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WASHINGTON — Turkey rarely bores.But or the requent visitor, some visitsto Turkey are more striking than others.I visited Turkey in mid January, at theheight o the Gaza crisis, with Turkscaptivated by the ongoing
 investigation, and on the eve o BarackObama’s inauguration. My discussionsrevealed deepening concerns, not justabout the obvious eects o the globaleconomic crisis, but also about the basictrajectory o Turkish society, governance,and oreign policy. The most recent in-cident involving Recep Tayyip Erdo
an,Turkey’s prime minister, at Davos is just the latest illustration o this highly charged debate.To this analyst, the idea that Turkey isdriting—or being led—toward a new“Orientalism” is too simple. Thereare powerul long-term orces at workin Turkish society and politics, andthese are likely to reinorce an already strong sense o Turkish nationalism andexceptionalism. The net result may wellbe a steady augmentation o Turkey’sinternational agenda, in which theWestern dimension, including U.S.-Turkish relations, EU candidacy, and therole o NATO are relatively diminished.The real issue is the recalibration o Turkey’s Euroatlantic relations, not aturning away rom the West—a mean-ingul shit but not a revolutionary one.More important, it is a shit with originsin Turkish society and the strategicenvironment, and not the product o lawed Western policies per se. Change,to be sure, but change that can probably be accommodated.
Suspicion is a moveable feast
The complexities o Turkey’s burgeon-ing
scandal and investigation(described at length in Soli Ozel’s last
On Turkey 
contribution), puzzle andworry Turks. The case is even moreobscure rom the perspective o oreignobservers. An apparent mix o criminaland political activity, civil and military plotting, and a tangled web o old andnew vendettas, the only clear aspecthas been the troubling eect on na-tional condence in institutions andgovernance. At a time o renewedinterest in reinvigorating Turkey’sEuropean policy, the daily revelationsabout arms caches and coup plots willnot make the task o Ankara’s new EUnegotiator any easier.I understanding the
aair isdicult, understanding what it is notmight be easier. The Turkish media islled with speculation regarding ties toCold War NATO stay-behind networks,the activities o Western intelligenceservices, etc. These links are almostcertainly anciul, and refect a deep-
Do We Understand Turkey?
Refections on a Visit in Troubled Times
by Dr. Ian O. Lesser
Dr. Ian O. Lesser is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The views expressedhere are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF.
, DC
Summary: In mid January, I visitedTurkey at the height of the Gazacrisis, with Turks captivated by theongoing 
investigation,and on the eve of Barack Obama’sinauguration. My discussionsrevealed deepening concerns, not just about the obvious effects of  the global economic crisis, butalso about the basic trajectory of Turkish society, governance, andforeign policy.An early Obama visit to Turkeywould send an important signal
regarding the signicance of the
relationship, and not just to Turks.Ideally, the visit would be part of 
a higher-prole
rooted preerence or identiying international culprits wherehome-grown networks are the more likely source. Morecredible is the notion that at least some o the activity hasits origins in the political violence o the 1980s and criminaloshoots o the insurgency and counter-insurgency in thesoutheast during the 1990s.The
case has become a cause celebre in the increas-ingly harsh debate between secular and religious orces. For years, it has been possible to interpret this clash as an uncom-ortable but inevitable part o a readjustment in Turkishsociety and politics, spurred by Turkey’s ruling Justice andDevelopment Party’s (AKP) increasing prominence and thegrowing presence o AKP supporters in state institutions.This process could simply point to a rebalancing o powerand orientation ater almost a century o secular ideology,alongside the rise o new elites and the growing weight o public opinion in Turkish governance. In a less benignscenario, the deepening polarization in Turkish society (alop-sided polarization, in which conservative and religioustendencies now seem to predominate) could imply apermanently divided society—a “Two Turkey” to use CengizCandar’s evocative phrase. The result may be permanentinternal antagonism, with rising nationalism as the commonbackdrop; a particularly disturbing prospect or Turkey’sethnic and religious minorities. It will also be a disturbing anddemanding prospect or Turkey’s international partners, Westand East.
Gaza and after
Several acets o the Gaza crisis are revealing. First, the crisis,like earlier crises in Lebanon, reveals the depth o Turkishanity or the Palestinians, and the reservoir o anti-Israeliand anti-Semitic sentiment across Turkish society. None o this is surprising, and both phenomena have been the subjecto discussion inside and outside the country or years. Butthe most recent crisis suggests the rise o a new and disturb-ing edge to the Turkish discourse, and not just at the margins.As Amberin Zaman’s most recent contribution to
On Turkey 
suggests, anti-Semitism now risks becoming a structuraleature o the Turkish landscape.Second, and under these conditions, the tension between thestrategic logic o Turkish-Israeli relations and the stridentanti-Israeli sentiment in Turkish public and political opinionmay not be reconcilable orever. How long can this “strategic”relationship remain de-coupled rom the broader conducto Turkish oreign policy in which public opinion has cometo play a substantial role? Israeli observers, while concerned,tend to assume the all-out rom the Gaza intervention canbe managed, and that the deense core o the relationshipwill hold. This has certainly been the case in the past, butpolitical pressure on the relationship is building in ways thatmay prove more dicult to manage in the coming monthsand years.Third, Erdo
an’s emotional statements about Gaza, and hisbehavior in Davos remind us that personality still countsin international aairs. Many observers have interpretedhis remarks as politically-motivated tactics in the run up toTurkey’s local elections in March, elections the AKP iswidely assumed to dominate. Perhaps, but the Prime Min-ister’s comments, and those o other Turkish leaders, alsorefect powerully held views that seem to trump strategiclogic and statesmanship in the prevailing Turkish climate.The discourse on Gaza appears driven by the personalperspective and emotional style o a very successul politi-cian, well aligned with public sentiment.
Perspectives from Gaziantep
My visit to Turkey included a brie stop in Gaziantep.Here, as elsewhere, actories display banners expressingsolidarity with the Palestinians o Gaza, but the stated con-cerns were less about politics and ar more about the stateo the regional economy. Gaziantep, along with Kayseri andseveral other Anatolian cities, has become well-known ortheir entrepreneurial spirit, successul small- and medium-sized enterprises, and an observant culture. The localeconomy, like that o Turkey as a whole, is export driven,and export markets in Europe and elsewhere are contract-ing rapidly. Unemployment is rising, and manuacturingcompanies are having diculty rolling over their debt.Following an extended period o prosperity, local busi-ness and civic leaders are increasingly concerned about theuture. A distinctive eature o the region is its proximity to Syria and the activism o Gaziantep’s exporters in theeconomy o Iraq, especially northern Iraq. This could oerGaziantep’s economy a degree o insulation in an economiccrisis led by contraction in Europe and the United States.I the relative weight o economic interaction with MiddleEastern markets grows, this could serve to reinorce theregion’s wider sense o connection and anity with MiddleEastern neighbors. The longer-term implications o this orTurkish policy are an open question worth pondering.

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