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Turkey, the Middle East, and the Transatlantic Alliance

2013 The German Marshall Fund of the United States. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Please direct inquiries to: The German Marshall Fund of the United States 1744 R Street, NW Washington, DC 20009 T 1 202 683 2650 F 1 202 265 1662 E This publication can be downloaded for free at Limited print copies are also available. To request a copy, send an e-mail to GMF Paper Series The GMF Paper Series presents research on a variety of transatlantic topics by staff, fellows, and partners of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF. Comments from readers are welcome; reply to the mailing address above or by e-mail to About the Asmus Policy Entrepreneurs Fellowship This paper is the final product of the authors Asmus Policy Entrepreneurs Fellowship. The German Marshall Fund of the United States launched this program in 2011 to honor Ronald D. Asmus, GMF Brussels office executive director and director of strategic planning. Asmus, a renowned policy entrepreneur who dedicated his life to the principle of freedom, passed away on April 30, 2011. Asmus Fellows must be U.S. or European citizens under the age of 40. The fellowship enables them to pursue a project that they believe will address an important foreign or economic policy issue and will advance transatlantic cooperation. Over the course of the year, Asmus Fellows will utilize existing GMF activities and networks to advance their policy questions and to frame policy alternatives before summarizing their results by the years end. More information can be found at http://www. About GMF The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm. On the cover: Turkish tiles achiartistul

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back

Turkey, the Middle East, and the Transatlantic Alliance

Foreign Policy Papers July 2013

By Nora Fisher Onar1

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Mind the Gap: Turkey between Resonance and Capability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 The Domestic Challenge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 The Regional Challenge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 The International Challenge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

Nora Fischer Onar is an assistant professor of international relations at Baheehir University in Istanbul and a Ronald D. Asmus Policy Entrepreneurs Fellow with the German Marshall Fund. This piece has benefited from insights shared by 75 leading policymakers and intellectuals in interviews conducted between March 31, 2012 March 31, 2013 in Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States under the auspices of an inaugural Ronald D. Asmus fellowship of the German Marshall Fund. The author is especially indebted to Ozgur nlhisarckl, Emiliano Alessandri, Ian Lesser, Michael Leigh, Hassan Mneimneh, Lamis Khalilova, Filip Medic, and Kevin Cottrell, as well GMF president Craig Kennedy and vice president Ivan Vejvoda, with special thanks due to Corinna Horst. She also wishes to thank AnnMarie Slaughter, David Ignatius, Michael Allison, Bruce Jackson, Sebnem Gumuscu, and Joshua Walker for their invaluable feedback over the course of the fellowship year.



he perception of Turkey as a model for the Middle East appears to have been fleeting. For the time being, the story has petered out because Turkey, like its allies and rivals, has proven unable to shape outcomes after the Arab revolutions, especially in Syria. The model narrative has been called further into question by a perceived slide toward authoritarianism within the country, exemplified in the eyes of many domestic and international observers by the governments heavyhanded response to recent nation-wide protests. Yet, Turkeys economic and political trajectory continues to have much resonance for its region

and added-value for the transatlantic alliance. To bridge the gap between long-term salience and immediate purchase, Turkey must predicate policies on the two principles that drove the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) success in earlier years: pragmatism and inclusivity for democratic depth at home and abroad. After all, what the region needs most is a success story an example of how to live together in diversity under an open rather than closed regime. If Turkey fails to rise to this challenge, domestic and regional upheaval could derail Turkeys hitherto impressive rise.

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back


Mind the Gap: Turkey between Resonance and Capability

nor their U.S. and European, or Iranian, Russian, and Chinese counterparts have been able to broker political settlements or staunch the bloodshed. Yet, because the model story had raised expectations, many international observers projected their frustration on Ankara, charging Turkey with hubristic wishful thinking about its capacity to lead the region. Comeuppance deserved or otherwise came in the now almost clichd inversion of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolus once lauded foreign policy motto, zero problems with neighbors, which had underpinned Turkeys activism toward the region up until the Arab Spring; in the transformed environment, it is widely suggested that Turkey stands zero chance for zero problems with its neighbors. Meanwhile, a shadow has been cast over Turkeys image by the recent confrontations between government forces and protestors in some 70 cities across the country. Catalyzed by disproportionate police response to plans to demolish an Istanbul park, many in the country demand to be heard when it comes to the rapid development and transformation of their country and its infrastructure. The Gezi Park demonstrations displayed features of both the Occupy movements in advanced industrial economies, and the Arab uprisings against authoritarianism (in 2011) and Islamist electoral majoritarianism (in 2013). On the Occupy side of the equation, the protests reflected growing unease among urban middle classes with the excesses of neoliberal restructuring. Many of them benefitted from Turkeys transformation under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and now question the trade-off between sustainability and development. On the Arab Spring side, they entailed a refusal to bow before an oppressive security apparatus (epitomized in Tahrir Square in 2011), and concern over the winner-takes-all

n the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring, Turkey was seen by many as a model for the Middle East and a bridge between the vital, troubled region and the West. This was a story favored by, among others, the Obama administration and the international business community. It was bolstered by the clear aspirations to regional leadership of Turkeys prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, though many Turkish diplomats opted for more modest phraseology, arguing that Turkeys experience had inspirational dimensions. Pundits across the Arab world also chimed in, widely viewing Turkey as a significant player due to its relatively more stable democracy, growing economy, and proactive foreign policy.1At the same time, some Arabs expressed ambivalence about the relevance of Turkeys experience because of its non-Arab identity, its long history of Westernism in terms of both geopolitical orientation and secularism, and its Ottoman imperial past (which appeals to some Islamist groups nostalgic for the caliphate, but which also can grate upon the nationalist nerves of religious, liberal, and leftist Arab nationalists alike). But the model narrative lost much of its traction within two short years. The Arab revolutions unleashed not only hopes for national and regional rejuvenation, but also grievances that authoritarian governments had kept under wraps (the U.S. invasion and withdrawal had a similar effect on Iraq). The upshot has been deep polarization within societies divided along ideological, ethnic, and sectarian lines. Today, even the apparent success stories Tunisia and Egypt are gripped by political deadlock and escalating violence, as bloodshed in Syria spills over into neighboring countries, including Turkey. In this increasingly complicated and dangerous regional environment, neither Turkish leaders
1 Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey and the Arab Spring, Project Syndicate, March 23, 2011

The Arab revolutions unleashed not only hopes for national and regional rejuvenation, but also grievances that authoritarian governments had kept under wraps.

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back

reading of democracy (epitomized in Tahrir Square in 2013), which prevails in government circles despite Turkeys serious shortcomings in all the areas intended to protect minorities from being trampled on by the majority: freedom of speech and the press, judicial independence, check and balances, and the rule of law. But if Turkeys star seems to be falling, the country has indeed undergone a dramatic and empowering transformation. At a time when observers are wondering whether a number of Arab states will even survive, Turkey has made great progress toward stabilization, especially in macroeconomic terms. This is evident in strong trade and investment-driven growth over the past decade (between 4 and 11 percent, for an average of 6-7 percent)2 an economic transformation that has enabled millions to embrace middle class lifestyles, transformed the infrastructure of the Anatolian heartland, and restored Istanbul as a global city. Economic growth has underwritten political stabilization (if not full liberalization) under the AKP. It has translated, too, into an increased global presence attested to by membership of the G20. This overall experience entails a powerful message, which Turkeys leaders have broadcast across the region: empowerment in an era of globalization need not come at the cost of cultural integrity
2 Sena Eken and Susan Schadler, Turkey 2000-2010: A Decade of Transition Discussions among Experts, DEIK 2012.

(which the AKP associates with an invigorated Muslim identity). In a nutshell, there is a gap between the long and the short term when it comes to Turkeys influence between the image it seeks to project on one hand, and its capacity and political will on the other.3 AKP-led Turkey could bridge this gap by returning to the two principles that underwrote its success in the first place: pragmatism and inclusivity. After all, in the early to mid-2000s, it was AKP willingness to broker coalitions with domestic partners and a positive-sum approach to diverse players across the region that gave Turkey legitimacy and leverage in a deeply divided corner of the world. Its very success, however, bred complacency, as the Turkish leadership took increasingly ideological and exclusionary positions alienating diverse constituencies at home and across the region. By recalibrating on the basis of pragmatic inclusivity, this paper argues, Turkey can achieve democratic as opposed to mere strategic depth.4
3 Interviews in Ankara, December 2012; zdem Sanberk, Trk D Politikasnda Zorlu Bir Yl: 2013 ngrleri, Analist, USAK, January 2013. 4 For a full discussion of this concept, see Nora Fisher Onar, Democratic Depth: The Missing Ingredient in Turkeys Domestic/Foreign Policy Nexus? in Kerem Oktem, A. Kadoglu, and Mehmet Karli, Another Empire?: Turkish Foreign Policy in a Changing World (Istanbul: Bilgi UP, 2012). The volume is currently being translated into Arabic.

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The Domestic Challenge

Economic Consolidation o realize its potential requires, first and foremost, consolidating Turkeys own unfinished project of economic and political modernization. After all, momentum for change across the region emanates from demands for social and political justice. And if in the 2000s, Turkey made remarkable strides in these arenas, today it is backtracking. First, there are signs of sclerosis in the economy, the basis for its regional and global influence. A debtdriven consumer culture means domestic savings are low and the current account deficit is persistent and high (though now falling). This imbalance has been fueled by credit growth, and both balance of payments financing through vulnerable portfolios and corporate balance sheets are exposed to growing risk.5 Energy a prime source of the current account deficit also figures centrally to Turkeys aspirations to join the club of leading economies by 2023. The country must secure cheaper alternatives to its present reliance on oil and gas imports from Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. The logical partners when it comes to natural gas are northern Iraq, Cyprus, and Israel, though a number of political obstacles still need to be overcome. By engaging such interlocutors on a pragmatic basis, as Ankara has done with the Kurdistan Regional Authority, Turkey can gain access to cheaper energy and, as a transit country, strengthen Europes energy security.6
5 Nora Fisher Onar and Max Watson, Crisis or Opportunity: Turkey, Greece, and the Political Economy of South Eastern Europe in the 2010s, Journal of South East European and Black Sea Studies, Vol.13, No.3, 2013. 6 See Nora Fisher Onar and David Koryani, Europes Energy and Security Depends on Turkish Democracy, European Council on Foreign Relations, June 11, 2013, entry/europes_energy_security_depends_upon_turkish_democracy

This, in turn, would help expand Turkeys manufacturing sector, which, while a pillar of growth in the past decade, is in need of strategic innovation to increase the added-value of Turkish exports. For, despite the increase and diversification of trade, particularly with the Middle East, Turkeys exports to the region are overwhelmingly (62.7 percent) made up of products with low or moderate added-value.7 Further progress requires a more transparent business culture and legal infrastructure conducive to long-term investments. A lack of transparency in the awarding of tenders in areas from urban renewal to nuclear energy is an obstacle to larger flows of foreign direct investment. A case in point is Erdoans recent move to torpedo a $5.7 billion privatization scheme involving the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, sending a discouraging message to Asian investors.8 Following an improved rating from credit agencies like Fitch, Turkey could have obtained a better price for the package. But the move may have dampened the confidence of risk-adverse investors like the Japanese.9 Ankara needs to implement overdue reforms in areas like the legal framework as well as taxation and education, which would foster transparency and innovation. The slow-down in the EU-Turkey accession process has reduced external leverage in favor of such reforms. In short, Turkeys economic rise is not guaranteed, nor unrelated to political developments. Tellingly, the stock market plunged with each hardline statement made by the prime minister in response to the Gezi Park demonstrations. Similarly, the images of massive deployment of tear gas
7 Osman Bahadir Dincer and Mustafa Kutlay, Turkeys Power Capacity in the Middle East: Limits of the Possible: An Empirical Analysis, USAK Reports, June 2012, No.12/04. 8 Daniel Dombey and Jeremy Grant, Turkish PM Casts Doubts on Roads Deal, Financial Times, February 4, 2013. 9 Even the Saudis who, for all the proclamations of Muslim fraternity between Riyadh and Ankara, have yet to channel significant sovereign wealth resources to Turkey.

If Turkey is to reach its goal of joining the club of leading economies by 2023, it must secure cheaper alternatives to its present reliance on oil and gas imports from Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran.

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back

Ultimately, what the protestors demand is the upgrading of the countrys democracy, including full respect for freedom of expression and the diversity that is Turkeys de facto reality.

and reports of police using tear gas canisters as point-blank projectiles makes it likely that the international Olympic Committee will pass over Turkeys bid to host the next games despite the country being an early favorite in the race. Attempts by government officials to blame these market and international responses and indeed the Gezi upheavals in general on foreign elements and a murkily defined interest rate lobby are a throwback to the conspiracy theory-ridden populism of Turkeys bad old days when it attracted minimal investment and inspired little confidence either regionally or internationally. Political Consolidation Investors will remain wary of a Turkey that in recent years has prefered stability over freedom. The Economic Intelligence Unit has recently downgraded it from flawed democracy to hybrid regime.10 In index after index, Turkey comes close to the bottom in areas from human rights protection to gender equality, but topping the list for court cases at the European Court of Human Rights. Particularly troubling is press freedom, where Turkey outstrips China and Russia as the country with the greatest number of imprisoned journalists.11 Under pressure, private media conglomerates also discipline their journalists. This, in turn, prompts self-censorship, attested to by the conspicuous silence of mainstream media outlets during the first few days of the Gezi Park demonstrations. Meanwhile the internet and social media described by some as the last arena left for
For a survey, see Hugh Pope, EU Romance Rekindled: Turkeys Tentative EU Springtime, Majallah, March 4, 2013. 11 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Turkeys Press Freedom in CrisisThe Dark Days of Jailing Journalists and Criminalizing Dissent (Special Report: New York Committee to Protect Journalists, October 2012). 81 percent of imprisoned journalists are held in relation to two politicized cases involving the military and the Kurdish question. See Mark Pierini with Markus Mayr, Press Freedoms in Turkey, Carnegie Papers, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2013.

critical discussion12 but recently demonized by the prime minister face increasing censure. Such suppression hardly presents a beacon for democratization movements across a region that Turkey claims to champion. It also reinforces Western clichs about the despotic DNA of Islamist political movements the very image the AKP so refreshingly undermined during its first years in power and that amplified its power of attraction across the Arab and Muslim worlds.13 The government has done itself no favors in this regard through its heavy-handed management of the Gezi Park demonstrations. Ultimately, what the protestors and a new generation of economically comfortable, politically dissatisfied citizens demand is the upgrading of the countrys democracy, including full respect for freedom of expression and the diversity that is Turkeys de facto reality. The Kurdish Dimension There have been far-reaching recent changes in the governments policies toward the countrys Kurdish population. These began in the mid-2000s propelled by the EU reform process. This led Erdoan to acknowledge the Kurdish problem as such. Doing so required considerable political will and was followed by the assertion that Turks and Kurds shared a common (Muslim) supraidentity but can and should celebrate their (ethnic) sub-identities. This appealed to religious Kurds but did not really capture the imagination of the secular, left-leaning, nationalist Kurds who form
12 13

Interview, Ankara, December 2012. As one international observer put it after an Istanbul court handed a world-renowned Turkish pianist a 10-month suspended prison sentence for tweets deemed to belittle religion, these days writing about freedom of expression in Turkey requires a conscious effort to avoid [Orientalist] clichs. Firdevs Robinson, Turkeys Unruly Rule of Law, opendemocracy, April 17, 2013,

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the backbone of the Kurdish movement (and the militant Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK). In response, the AKP continued to display pragmatism and heighten its inclusive approach. This was evident in its launch of a series of democratic openings couched in the language of civic and cultural rights, while passing groundbreaking measures regarding Kurdish language rights and broadcasting and secondary and higher education. If this partially desecuritized the Kurdish question, progress was held back by the AKP turn to hardline rhetoric before the 2011 elections. Some argue that this shift occurred because the party in power for almost a decade had internalized the ethno-nationalist orientation and institutions of a Turkish state that long denied the pluralism of Turkish society.14 Others read it as circumstantial a tactical bid for right-wing nationalist votes to prevent the ultranationalist opposition party from entering parliament. Regardless of its source, the result was government repression of moderate as well as hardline Kurdish dissent. This was pursued through a sweeping crackdown on the PKKs urban guerilla wing and its alleged affiliates, which led to some 8,000 detentions, 3,500 arrests, and prolonged, pre-trial incarceration of hundreds, including journalists, intellectuals, and students. The new stance was accompanied by intensified PKK mobilization, which resulted in 900 deaths in 18 months.15 By upping the ante, the PKK sought to prove it could pose a sustained challenge to the
Ilter Turan, Turkeys Second Kurdish Opening: Light at the End of the Tunnel or another Failed Attempt, German Marshall Fund, April 12, 2013, 15 Hugh Pope, Turkey and its Rebel Kurds may want Peace this Time International Crisis Group, January 16, 2013, http://www. pope-turkey-and-its-rebel-kurds-may-want-peace-this-time. aspx

Turkish state and security apparatus. It was aided by the increasingly fluid situation in Syria which gave armed Kurds room for maneuver at a time when the Turkish armys chain of command had been thrown into disarray by the imprisonment of hundreds of officers 64 generals, 273 officers, and 60 non-commissioned officers as part of the AKPs taming of the countrys military.16 Thus, persistent low intensity conflict was seen as preferable to a peace process. But the deteriorating situation in Syria and changes in the regional balance of power sparked recognition that Turkeys Kurdish problem harmed its international image and undermined its stability at a time when Turkey otherwise stood out as an island of calm in a turbulent region. Meanwhile, ordinary Turks have become weary of conflict with the Kurds and open to new initiatives. Even moderates associated with rival camps including opposition leader Kemal Kldarolu are willing to put peace before party politics, having broadly accepted the legitimacy of Kurdish demands for cultural rights. As such, only two months after proposing to strip Kurdish politicians of their parliamentary immunity for association with the PKK, Erdoan began a dialogue with the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah calan in his island prison. Today, despite a deep lack of trust, a peace process is unfolding. The first step involves a ceasefire, to be followed up by withdrawal of PKK fighters to northern Iraq by the autumn. The sequel to this is a series of substantive measures to address Kurdish demands regarding identity and cultural rights. To gather ideas for this second phase, an ad hoc group of wise men (and

Ordinary Turks have become weary of conflict with the Kurds and open to new initiatives.


Murat Onur, Turkeys Jailed Officers, Foreign Policy Blog, March 27, 2013, turkeys-jailed-officers/

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back

De facto Kurdish autonomy in return for an even more topheavy Turkish state is a contradiction in terms and time bomb waiting to go off.

a handful of women17) appointed by the prime minister have toured the country to debate the substance of an eventual solution. Their findings should contribute to the content of a settlement, which to date remains opaque. There is thus a danger of putting the cart before the horse, privileging theatrics over substance while failing to address the concerns of potential spoilers. A third and final stage may entail disarmament and an amnesty. What is certain is that the process and the passage of a new constitution, which may accompany its culmination offers a golden opportunity to redefine the criterion for belonging to the Turkish nation along pragmatic and inclusive lines for immediate as well as lasting domestic, regional, and international resonance. Prior to the Gezi Park protests, there was a widespread expectation that such a constitution would be linked to quid pro quo Kurdish support for a presidential system with increased powers, enabling Erdoan to further amplify his role as the driver of Turkish politics. This approach had two major flaws. The first had to do with the gap between the short-term allure of the bargain for the two leaders and its long-term viability. A formula of ceasefire and withdrawal in exchange for house arrest for calan, and a presidential system for Erdoan simply would not dismantle the well-established structures of Kurdish resistance and radicalism. Moreover, demolishing the few remaining checks and balances in Turkeys political system, and centralizing decision-making under one idiosyncratic authority would close precisely those democratic openings that could

address the underlying causes of Kurdish agitation. In other words, de facto Kurdish autonomy in return for an even more top-heavy Turkish state is a contradiction in terms and time bomb waiting to go off. The state would eventually encroach on Kurdish autonomy or vice versa and the settlement would collapse. The prospect of Erdoan pushing the country toward a presidential system, however, may have become moot. He is unlike to find the necessary support for a constitutional amendment given closed voting in parliament and the unease that his polarizing political style strongly in evidence during the Gezi protests has elicited in more liberal elements of the AKP coalition, not to mention the opposition. Any move toward a presidential system would also likely to be met with even greater unrest and resolve from the youthful new street, whose political coming-ofage in recent weeks was in part a response to his overbearing political style. Kurdish interlocutors too, will have been reminded of the risks of putting their eggs in mercurial Erdoans presidential basket.18 A second danger with regard to the Kurdish dialogue was that any constitution that emerges from present negotiations must enshrine not only Kurdish identity but those of all the other nonTurkish as well as non-Sunni, non-practicing, and non-Muslim groups within the country. To this end, recent rhetoric of calan and Erdoan about 1,000 years of Turkish and Kurdish unity under the banner of [Sunni] Islam may be read as a stop-gap populist measure to placate public opinion as fragile talks unfold. It must not be the basis of an eventual settlement. Any temptation to simply co-opt Kurds to the exclusion of others should be

Kurdish women have been active in both conflict and peace-making dynamics as fighters and activists. For more on how the present dialogue would be significantly bolstered if womens voices were sought and heard, see Yakin Erturk, A Call to Engender Turkeys Peace Process, April 17, 2013, http://

This was attested to by the open letters that pleaded for a more reconciliatory approach penned by multiple columnists at pro-government newspapers once the wall of silence regarding the demonstrations had been broken.

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ruled out by a glance at a historical record strewn with the wrecks of ad hoc alliances (e.g. between the state and leftists in 1960, and the state and right-wing groups in 1980). Such a strategy, like its antecedents, would only perpetuate the countrys present and debilitating polarization. Today, this warning should be heeded most of all with regard to heterodox Alevis a community with some affinities to the Syrian Alawites and approximately 20 percent of Turkeys population who could be radicalized by exclusion from a constitutional settlement.

The constitution, nevertheless, remains a golden opportunity to enshrine an inclusive social contract democratic depth for stability and influence. By predicating its new order on pragmatic pluralism, Turkey would also offer a concrete example of both democratic process and outcome to countries in dire need of a success story on both fronts, from Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya to Syria and Iraq.

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back


The Regional Challenge

Syria and Sectarianism

nquestionably, the greatest challenge for the diverse peoples of the region and their leaders is to learn to live together under open as well as authoritarian systems. The success or failure of transitional governments and the staying power of states like Bahrain, which have so far reigned in revolutionaries will depend on their ability to enable cohabitation among deeply divided populations. Predominantly Sunni North African states face their own set of challenges from Muslim-Christian, Arab-Berber, and Islamist/ liberal-leftist relations to tribal rivalries. But in the Gulf and Levant, the multi-headed beast seems to be Sunni-Shia sectarianism.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Syria, where Sunni-led rebels and Alawite-led government forces continue to up the ante. From mass killings of civilians to purported use of chemical weapons, each lays the blame at the others door. From the Syrian centrifuge, sectarian conflict radiates outwards in the form of massacres in Lebanon, clashes in Jordan, and growing insecurity on the Golan Heights.19 Meanwhile, in Iraq, the Shiite leadership, threatened by Al Qaeda attacks that leave up to 100 dead a day, has turned to draconian methods to shore up power against its own Arab Sunni and Kurdish citizens. The danger that Turkey is drawn into the quagmire is exacerbated by the displacement of 4 million people within Syria, and some 1.5 million refugees into neighboring countries, including an estimated 330,000 who have fled across the porous border to Turkey. The UN estimates that country could

receive up to 1 million refugees by the end of the year.20 This not only strains resources but threatens to upset the increasingly fragile balance between Turkeys own Turkish and Arabic-speaking Sunni communities, its heterodox Alevis, and its Syriac Christians. Locals, meanwhile, project their frustration, in turns, at Ankara, at Damascus, at the Syrian rebels, and at the hapless refugees. The devastating recent bombing of the border town of Reyhanli, for which Turkish authorities have fingered Bashar al-Assads cronies and which killed 51 (48 Turkish and 3 Syrian citizens), deeply aggravated sentiments on the ground. Already angered by the felling of a Turkish jet, intermittent mortar attacks from across the border, and car bombs that have killed dozens, locals turned on refugees just minutes after the Reyhanli attacks a town where the refugee population of 60,000 is almost as large as that of the natives. With all this tinder waiting to be ignited, even the Middle Easts most experienced risk-takerscum-risk-managers Turkeys Erdoan as well as Israels Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Iranian leadership must act with care. While each have at various points proved masters of staking strategic claims in their turbulent environment, they are now faced with a new, not-so-cold war between Sunni and Shia peoples and powers. The sectarian cleavage may have eclipsed the IsraeliPalestinian question as the center of gravity of regional conflict. After all, Hamas and Israel are locked into a well-worn pattern of provocation, retribution, and stubbornness. But every day brings something new in the maneuvers of Shia-oriented Damascus, Baghdad, and Tehran versus Sunnidominated Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, and even tiny, oil-rich Bahrain. The new Middle East even seems to be transforming the old, with Egypts

The sectarian cleavage may have eclipsed the Israeli-Palestinian question as the center of gravity of regional conflict.

A recent United Nations Disengagement Observer Force report submitted to the Security Council cited the detention of 21 UN personnel, fire aimed at UN targets, and carjacking of UN vehicles. and by armed members of the Syrian opposition, as well as provocations by the Syrian authorities. Security Council Statement on UNDOF / Syria. Accessed May 15, 2013, http://

UN agency warns against dramatic increase in number of Syrians refugees in Turkey, Anadolu Agency, Turkey, April 14, 2013

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back


Muslim Brotherhood, backed by Qatari money, poised to lure Hamas away from its Iranian patron, as Ankara jockeys for leverage in the equation. In this context, Israel has little choice but to watch and wait, though it is increasingly authorizing military forays whenever it worries developments on the ground will undermine its national security. Shia Iran its revolutionary model no longer the only alterative to pro-Western military regimes can only chafe at the rise of Sunni Islamists and contribute to the mobilization of Shia movements across the region. Only Turkey with its own model of imperfect cohabitation between majority Sunnis and minority Alevis (an Anatolian sect related to Shiism) has a chance to rise above the fray. Its de facto pluralism is a precious source of both domestic stability and regional influence that Ankara must not squander. This may be why many Turkish diplomats refuse to describe tensions in Sunni/Shia terms, and chastise those who do for conflict-mongering. They have a point. Sunni Hamas is still close to Iran. In Syria, Sunni businessmen back Assad, and Alawites pepper the opposition. If Turkeys own ties with Iran, Iraq, and Syria have deteriorated, this is a function of NATO priorities and type-A leaders as much as sectarian divides. But at the end of the day, catchy slogans for real problems take on a life of their own. So it was with clash of civilizations, so it is with the Sunni/Shia divide. Turkeys ability to navigate this faultline as Syria implodes and conflict, whether sectarian or otherwise, spills across its borders will depend on Erdoan whose personal preferences today dictate foreign as well as domestic policy. It is therefore imperative that Turkeys firebrand prime minister recognize that while a series of polarizing pronouncements of recent years may have had short-term and mostly domestic benefits, they came at the price of grand strategy. The upshot was

to forfeit Turkeys ability to mediate in many of the regions outstanding problems. As such, when it comes to sectarian issues, Ankara must be wary not to make the same mistake anew. Here, a series of pronouncements, most recently the move to name the new Bosphoros bridge after an Ottoman sultan21 Alevis believe massacred 40,000 of their brethren seem calculated to offend. If the purpose is to galvanize Turkeys Sunni majority in the face of wide-ranging public dissatisfaction with Ankaras Syria policy by alienating and demonizing the Alevi minority, the implications for sectarianism both at home and regionally are ominous. To mitigate inter-communal tensions at home and their potential for exploitation by external forces, Erdoan must resist taking on the role of Sunni champion. Once again, for pragmatic, not to mention normative, reasons, he should project a message of inclusion toward those in and beyond Turkey Shiites and Alevis, non-practicing Sunnis, and non-Muslims who fear being swept away in the wave of Sunni Islamism that is sweeping much of the Middle East. At the same time, he can exert his own pro-religious credentials toward moderating the Sunni Islamist bloc. Strategic Rapprochement with Israel Another arena where inclusive pragmatism will yield fruit is in ties with Israel. The need to improve relations has acquired heightened urgency in light of, among other things, chemical weapons usage and stockpiles in Syria. Recognition of common ends appears to have broken the three-year impasse in Turkish-Israeli relations from the initial fallout over Operation Cast Lead in Gaza through to Netanyahus apology this March for the deaths of Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara debacle. Tensions were a result of both structural and

Only Turkey with its own model of imperfect cohabitation between majority Sunnis and minority Alevis has a chance to rise above the fray.

Yavuz Sultan Selim


The German Marshall Fund of the United States

idiosyncratic factors. That is, they reflected Turkeys heightened economic and political engagement by the end of the 2000s with a region where the vast majority of interlocutors are hostile toward Israel and/or pay lip-service to anti-Israeli positions. At the same time, they reflected the clash of personalities between Erdoan and Netanyahu, as well as others within their government coalitions. The result was a new Eastern Mediterranean calculus with a Turkish-Arab axis, arrayed against an Israeli-Cyprus alliance based mostly on the prospect of exploitation and transport of major natural gas reserves discovered in the two countries territorial waters. That zero-sum arithmetic could be fading. This is because both the Turkish and Israeli leadership, at the urging of Washington, seem to recognize the need for direct and indirect cooperation over common security challenges in the post-Arab revolutionary era. High on this list are Syrias conflagration and Irans nuclear trajectory. In fact, it was by citing this pragmatic basis for engagement that Netanyahu explained his move to apologize to the Israeli public. Energy cooperation could sweeten the deal. After all, Cypriot proposals to liquefy its own and Israels gas for transport to European markets may be prohibitively expensive at a time of economic meltdown on the island.22

By way of contrast, nearby Turkey is as hungry for energy as it is keen to diversify its energy dependence away from Russia and Iran. This makes it both an economically and strategically attractive destination for the some 480 billion cubic meters of gas from Israels Leviathan field as well as Cypriot energy which could be marked for export in upcoming years. But pragmatism alone will not persuade Israelis many of whom have come to believe that Erdoan is deeply anti-Semitic to place their golden goose in Turkeys hands. Nor can the Turkish government easily renounce the moral high ground it believes it has staked vis--vis the Palestinian question. Thus, detent also must entail an inclusive, normative component. On this front, having reestablished dialogue with an Israeli government coalition that is more moderate and amenable to a twostate solution than its predecessor, Turkey could potentially play a constructive role vis--vis Hamas, with which it maintains good relations a card it had previously forfeited to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood due to the fallout with Israel.

Menelaos Hadjicostis, Cyprus to build gas plant with or without Israel, in AP The Big Story, April 3, 2013, http://bigstory.

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back



The International Challenge

Reinvested in the Transatlantic Triangle Relations with the EU ragmatism bred of regional tumult also could foster more mutuality in relations with Turkeys European as well as Middle Eastern neighbors. In fact, the spring of 2013 marked renewed flirtation between Ankara and its counterparts in the European Union, albeit one riddled with all the baggage of an old love/hate relationship. The AKP chapter in the Turkey-EU story dates back to 2002 when the government embarked upon an EU accession process that transformed the countrys political landscape, enabling, among other things, the displacement of Turkeys illiberal if staunchly Western-oriented and secularist establishment. Meanwhile, momentum toward membership ground to a halt due to the skepticism of the EUs Franco-German leadership, the Cypriot veto, and the paralysis caused by the Unions own constitutional and financial crises. The result was that in the brief years between the eurozone crisis (2009) and its Syria policy debacle (2012), Turkey found itself empowered as the EU floundered. Ankara accordingly engaged the EU in a triumphalist manner populist payback for what many Turks felt had been the countrys unjust earlier treatment by high-handed EU actors. As a result of these emotional and exclusionary as opposed to pragmatic and inclusionary attitudes, the EU-Turkey relationship deteriorated (and with it EU influence on Turkeys human rights performance). By the spring of 2013, both EU and Turkish leaders seemed to be in a humbler mood as several conjectural factors nudged the parties closer together. For Turkeys part, the indispensability of its Western economic and security relations was brought home by the situation in the Middle East, and Syria in particular. Erdoan accordingly reached out to EU ambassadors in a speech at a gala dinner prior to embarking on a European tour,

which was followed by visits to a series of European capitals by President AbdullahGl. If such moves are largely window-dressing, they can pave the way for more substantial engagement. On the EU side, too, there may be a change of mind about the expendability of relations with Turkey. French President FranoisHollande has not only refrained from the anti-Turkish theatrics of his predecessor, but has agreed to open at least one new accession chapter (on regional aid). He positioned a close confidant as EU ambassador to Ankara and is scheduled to visit Turkey in person, following on the heels of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who made her first trip there this February. Should the new Franco-German duo prove willing to move forward in substance as well as style an outcome to which the Irish and upcoming Lithuanian presidencies may well be open the Cypriots might be cajoled into making concessions on Turkeys accession process. They are, after all, enmeshed in economic crisis and led by a new president, who in 2004 endorsed the Annan Plan approved by Turkish but vetoed by Greek Cypriots. These fledging developments are playing out, moreover, against a backdrop in which the U.S. pivot to Asia, not to mention its recent sequester, entails a scaling back of the U.S. presence in both Europe and the Middle East, including NATO commitments to the security of the northern as well as southern Mediterranean. The moment is therefore ripe for pragmatic reengagement between Europeans and Turks, while a robust framework already exists for Turkeys inclusion through the accession process. It is also worth noting that given the transformation of both the EU and Turkey in recent years, Turkeys participation in the European calculus can unfold along multi-speed and multi-level lines, rendering redundant counterproductive debates about demoting Turkey to special relationship status.

On the EU side there may be a change of mind about the expendability of relations with Turkey.

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back


The affinities between the Gezi protests and other youth social movements that have crystallized across Europe in recent years may foster a fellow feeling among a new generation of young and increasingly politicized EU and Turkish citizens.

But for all the potential mutual gains, it remains an open question whether there is enough interest on both sides to reforge the trust shattered in recent years. Turkeys recent demonstrations may play a mixed role in this regard. On one hand, and in the short run, they may have dampened the attempt to rekindle chemistry as Turkish officials bristled at EU criticism of government management of the crisis. On the other hand, in the medium to longterm, the affinities between the Gezi protests and other youth social movements that have crystallized across Europe in recent years including the role that transnational networks supported by social media played in helping Turkeys demonstrators mobilize may foster a fellow feeling among a new generation of young and increasingly politicized EU and Turkish citizens.23 Such solidarities could facilitate eventual acceptance, via referenda, of Turkey into the European fold around Ankaras target date of 2023, a time when todays youth will be entering their political prime. Reinvested in the Transatlantic Triangle: Relations with the United States That turnaround is possible at all is attested to by the rehabilitation of U.S.-Turkish relations after a decade of strain. Troubles began with the Turkish parliaments refusal to allow the country to serve as a base for the invasion of Iraq, enervating the Bush administration. This bolstered U.S. policy toward Kurds in the region, which, in turn, alienated an Ankara bent on containing Kurdish regional recrudescence, an end it pursued in cooperation
23 For more on the opposition movement to emerge from the Gezi park protests see Emiliano Alessandri, Nora Fisher Onar, and Ozgur nlhisarckl, Trumph in Taksim Square? The Rebirth of Turkeys Opposition. Foreign Affairs, June 13, 2013.

with Damascus, Baghdad, and Syria. These new alliances fuelled the deterioration of U.S.-Turkish, as well as Turkish-Israeli relations. 2009 to 2011 marked a low point, during which many pundits in Washington proclaimed that Turkey had switched axes to embrace an anti-Western, Islamist-cumthird-worldist identity. The tide turned as Turkeys geopolitical currency rose (and then fell) in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, making it apparent by 2012 that the lone wolf approach of recent years did not guard against mounting challenges from Libya to Syria. Meanwhile, Turkey, having benefitted dramatically from its role in the reconstruction of northern Iraq, basically inversed its Kurdish policy so that today it seeks to coopt Kurds to balance the Iranian, Iraqi, and the Syrian regimes. This approach aligns with U.S. preferences. The rehabilitation of Turkey-U.S. relations also was facilitated by the personal rapport between Erdoan and U.S. President Barack Obama. The upshot is that the slate is now clear to cooperate on numerous outstanding questions in the region. The trick will be to pursue these without condoning Ankaras democratic backsliding, as it is precisely by putting its own house in order that Turkey may finally realize its much-touted potential as a beacon of stability, prosperity, and freedom in the region. To this end, both the United States and the EU wield an important carrot, namely, the accommodation of Turkish preferences and interests as they hammer out a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. An incentive of this magnitude must be made conditional on Turkeys democratic performance, which is the key to it consolidating the model in the first place.


The German Marshall Fund of the United States



f Turkey plays its cards right, the confluence of domestic, regional, and international developments that both raised the countrys currency between 2002 and 2011 and brought it back down several pegs in the past two years could be leveraged to bridge the gap between its limited short-term influence and its long-term resonance. To do so, Turkeys leaders must predicate their work on the two principles that drove AKP success in earlier years pragmatism and inclusivity rather than the ideological and exclusionary positions increasingly displayed toward both domestic and

international interlocutors. These principles can help Turkey navigate turbulent economic and political waters, and address specific make-it-orbreak issues like Turkeys energy aspirations, the Kurdish question, and sectarianism. They can also empower approchement with the EU and deepened cooperation with the United States for a fruitful triangular relationship. Only by thus achieving democratic depth at the nexus of its domestic, regional, and international politics can Turkey achieve its proverbial potential.

From Model to Bystander and How to Bounce Back


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