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Monday, November 19, 2012

Renewed talks w PKK after end of hunger strike

As good an ending to the recent hunger strike by hundreds of Kurdish prisoners in Turkey as one could have hoped for. Renewed talks.

"International academic live talk show"?

Check out Crosstalks - a spanking new live and interactive "academic talk show". It is a joint project between Stockholm University and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH):
Crosstalks is a high quality and new form of international academic live talk show. Two of Sweden’s leading universities – KTH and Stockholm University – are working together to highlight cutting-edge content from the academic, business and cultural life. The website allows people from all over the world to comment and interact with each other based on content and program participants. It is always possible to start an interesting discussion online and the content is always available.
The premiere tomorrow features three topics: "How to save capitalism", "The battle for entrepreneurs", and "How to save the world." (I got the answer to all three but tune in to find out for yourselves.)

This has nothing to do with Turkey but you could change that. At the website you can suggest new topics and speakers. Go ahead!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Erdoğan proposes a Lira-zone

From the Atlantic Sentinel:
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged the European Union on Tuesday to grant his nation membership by 2023 and suggested that it could set up a currency union of its own instead of joining the euro.
The talk of a currency union is surely more of a dig against an economically weakened EU than a serious proposal. Talking tough to the Union plays well in Turkey now, and a deadline is probably popular in a country that has been waiting for membership since 1959.

I suspect that this is domestic politics more than anything else. With local and Presidential elections coming up in 2014, expect more of it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pamuk on Europe

Lovely short piece in the Guardian by Orhan Pamuk, reflecting on Turkey and Europe.

In it, he reminisces nostalgically about the time when people in Turkey and elsewhere were interested in the Turkish EU bid. Nowadays however, he concludes,

as Europe struggles with the euro crisis, and EU expansion has slowed down, very few of us still bother to think and talk about these issues. And unfortunately, the positive interest surrounding Turkey's possible future membership has also waned. This is partly because freedom of thought remains regrettably underdeveloped in Turkey. But the biggest reason is undoubtedly the large influx of Muslim migrants from north Africa and Asia into Europe that, in the eyes of many Europeans, has cast a dark shadow of doubt and fear over the idea of a predominantly Muslim country joining the union. 
It is clear that this fear is leading Europe to put up walls at its borders, and to gradually turn away from the world. As the slogan of liberté, égalité, fraternité is slowly forgotten, Europe will sadly turn into an increasingly conservative place dominated by religious and ethnic identities.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Is a Syrian-Turkish war likely?

So we have cross-border shelling on the Turkey-Syrian border, and now (just in) a second round of retaliatory shelling by Turkish forces. Among other things, the incident shows the inherent risks of a Syrian civil war in terms of the potential for a spreading of the conflict.

We could conceivably see a "hotter" Turkey-Syrian conflict erupting, but also the regionalization of such a conflict, with Iran backing the Syrian regime and Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar ganging up against Assad. And with the Iranian regime under severe internal stress over deflation, a foreign policy distraction might come in handy. Turkey, in turn, is of course a Nato member and Russia and China have come down in support of Assad against outside interference.

But I hope and think that the Director of (the liberal Turkish think tank) TESEV's Foreign Policy Programme, Sabiha Gündogar, is right:
No matter what people are saying in the press, Turkey has not arrived at the point of discussing military action against Syria and officials are working to avoid us from ever getting to that point. (Quoted in Europe Online Magazine.)
And the Syrian regime is throwing water on the fire. The BBC:

Syria said it was looking into the origin of the cross-border shelling that hit Akcakale. 
Information Minister Omran Zoabi added: "Syria offers its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to our friends the Turkish people."

In other words, my hunch is that the current incident is not likely to escalate further. However, history - the Syrian downing aircraft and attack on a refugee camp on Turkish soil - shows that these tensions are lasting. And the continued Turkish support for the Free Syrian Army and likely Syrian support for the PKK, along with the continued stream of refugees from Syria into Turkey (many of whom one must assume return to Syria to fight the regime that forced them to flee) suggests that there will be plenty more opportunities to test the restraints of the leadership of the two regimes in the weeks and months to come.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Heading for the Pan-European Conference on EU Politics

I'm currently at Arlanda Airport on my way to Tampere, a small city in central/southern Finland. I will be attending the Sixth Pan-European Conference on EU Politics organized by the European Consortium of Political Research.

I will be chairing a panel on Turkey-EU relations with papers that look at whatever happened to "normative power Europe" - or the normative influence that an attractive and dynamic EU used to have on applicant states such as Turkey. Helene Sjursen will be our discussant.

My own paper for the panel builds on the the research that I did for my book, and goes on to pontificate about the possible effects of the current Eurozone crisis for Turkey's membership bid. The panel will be the first research output from the Swedish Turkey Network that I am currently coordinating, since all the panelists are members of the network and the project got started thanks to it.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Turks to European Union: No, Thanks | WSJ blog

The German/Turkish think tank Tavak (the Turkish European Foundation for Education and Scientific Studies) on Tuesday published the results of a poll on attitudes in Turkey toward EU membership. The poll was conducted in June. I knew that the numbers would be low, but I was surprised by how low.

According to the poll, 17% of Turks now support membership in the EU! That is down from 34% last year, which was already extremely low. And it is down from some 70% back before the negotiations begun.

Turks to European Union: No, Thanks - Emerging Europe Real Time - WSJ

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

English language 'originated in Turkey' | BBC News

OK, so it's not the Sun Language Theory but still!

Here's the abstract from Science:
There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. We used Bayesian phylogeographic approaches, together with basic vocabulary data from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages, to explicitly model the expansion of the family and test these hypotheses. We found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin. Both the inferred timing and root location of the Indo-European language trees fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8000 to 9500 years ago. These results highlight the critical role that phylogeographic inference can play in resolving debates about human prehistory.
BBC News - English language 'originated in Turkey'

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Turkish leaders appeal for unity after deadly car bomb | Reuters

It's been a busy summer with little time to post. I am currently on a brief trip to Istanbul and just came back from an interesting meeting at TESEV, the prominent Turkish think tank. Impressed by the range and urgency of the issues they cover.

Had a lovely lunch at a rooftop restaurant in Karaköy that we stumbled upon more or less by accident: Karaköyum. Definitely recommended, great view & good food.

And, just to give you more than gossip, here's a news update: Reuters reports on a car bomb in the Southern/Southeastern city of Gaziantep.
ISTANBUL, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Turkey's leaders called for unity on Wednesday following a car bomb attack which heightened fears that Kurdish militants are exploiting chaos in neighbouring Syria and stepping up their decades-old insurgency.
Turkish leaders appeal for unity after deadly car bomb | Reuters

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The TurkEU Blog is on vacation. It will be back in late July. Have a great summer!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bağış: Turkey has passed visa threshold | Hürriyet

Back from a conference in Prague - lovely city!

Apparently, the June 22 meeting on visa-free travel in the EU for Turks went well. Hürriyet Daily News:
According to Bağış, visa exemptions for Turkish citizens traveling to the European Unionwill take effect in around three to four years.  
On June 22, the EU minister held meetings with European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle and EUterm president Denmark’s minister of European cooperation, Nicolai Wammen, in Brussels. 
“A new process is beginning with the EU and our aim is to facilitate visa-free travel to the EU for our 75 million citizens,” Bağış said at the June 22’s meeting. 
POLITICS - Turkey has passed visa threshold: Bağış

See also the NYT:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Turkey hopes for EU visa breakthrough this week |

If it goes, a very interesting development reported on by
Turkey is aiming to tell its 75 million citizens on Thursday (21 June) they can visit the EU without visas in a couple of years' time.
For more, read the story on the EUobserver's website: / Enlargement / Turkey hopes for EU visa breakthrough this week

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cyprus readies EU presidency plan (and discusses Turkey) | EurActiv

Interesting tidbit from EurActiv:
The Cypriot Ambassador to the EU, Kornelios Korneliou, provided a first insight yesterday (6 June) into the country's ambitions for its EU Presidency period, which begins in July. [...] 
The EU's enlargement negotiation process with Turkey will be a hot potato for Cyrpus as Ankara has warned it could freeze relations with the Cyprus Presidency or even with the EU, over the unsolved problem of the islands’ reunification (see background). 
Even so, the ambassador seemed confident about his country's chances of advancing talks with Turkey. Korneliou responded to a question from EurActiv, by saying that during its presidency, the Republic of Cyprus would not promote its national positions and behave as a “honest broker”. 
“What I said, I mean it. If Turkey delivers, we are going to deliver," the diplomat emphasised. "The bilateral issue we have with Turkey will not be part of our presidency. Turkey doesn't want anything to do with the Cyprus Presidency. Turkey decided this policy. It’s very unfortunate." 
He continued: “We should not forget that geography does not change. A more European Turkey will be in the interest not only of Cyprus, it will be in the interest of the European Union, it will be in the interest of Turkey. But we should play by the rules of the game. Big members such as Germany play by the rule of the game. Turkey should do the same”.

Cyprus readies EU presidency plan, and bailout bid | EurActiv

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

EU prepares for 'new stage' in economic union | EurActiv

A great public display of disagreement between the French (Eurobonds now) and German (Eurobonds only after fiscal union) positions is the result of the summit held on May 23. But while they are far apart, both France and Germany want further, deeper integration. The seem to be arguing over the chronology, not the direction.

From's report of the summit:
The European Central Bank's President Mario Draghi was on the same page. Issuing jointly backed European debt would not make sense until the euro zone reaches some kind of fiscal union, he said after the EU leaders meeting. 
"Euro bonds make sense when you have a fiscal union, otherwise they don't make sense," Draghi told reporters in Brussels. 
Asked later by EurActiv if some kind of central EU finance ministry would be considered, Van Rompuy did not dismiss the idea but said it was just one among a number of options being discussed.

And the German position:
Germany’s European Central Bank executive board member, Jörg Asmussen, said ahead of the summit that the euro zone should be backed by “a fiscal union and banking union as well as a democratic legitimised political union”.
EU prepares for 'new stage' in economic union | EurActiv

Thursday, May 24, 2012

For you to read while I'm grading...

Grading, grading... but here are what seems like two good reads (I literally have not had time to read them the whole way through, so you tell me if they're worth it!):

The Economist on the EU's choice: break up or move toward what will start to smell like a federation. I made a similar point last July in an interview in Metro. This is, no doubt, a massive crisis for the EU, but US media tends to underestimate the significance of the fact that European integration proceeds in this fashion. Periods of stagnation and/or intense crises, which can only be averted by further integration, are typically followed by just that: further integration.

And this perspective on the improving prospects for Turkey-EU relations.

The TurkEU Blog shall resurface once grades are turned in.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Turkey ramps up pace of EU bid after French polls | Hürriyet

From Hürriyet Daily News:
Hollande’s victory over Nicolas Sarkozy, an avowed opponent of Turkey’s EU membership bid, has led to cautious optimism in Ankara that France may now unblock several chapters in the accession talks, which have been at a standstill since 2010. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle will be in Turkey tomorrow to discuss the so-called “positive agenda” between Ankara and Brussels. 
POLITICS - Turkey ramps up pace of EU bid after French polls

Monday, May 7, 2012

On my way to Istanbul

Visiting in Istanbul for a few days (writing this on my phone at Arlanda Airport). It has been too long since I was there so I'm greatly looking forward to the trip. There won't be too much time for leisure but I'm hoping to at least catch up with some friends and have a cup of kahve at Istiklal Caddesi.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reunification talks collapse before Cyprus EU stint | EurActiv

Coming directly from a very interesting talk by, and then lunch with, the head of the "Turkey desk" at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I will blog about his talk shortly, but in the meanwhile, this just in from
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said progress in the talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus was insufficient to call an international conference. The statement appears to put an end to hopes that Cyprus' upcoming EU presidency could be a catalyst for the resolution of the Cyprus problem.
An island divided. Courtesy of the Nations Online Project.
The background is that Ban Ki-moon has been pressuring the parties to come to an agreement ahead of July of this year, which is when (Greek) Cyprus is set to take over the EU's rotating presidency. Turkey has warned that it will essentially freeze relations with the Union during the Cypriot presidency, and one (the only?) way around that would have been an agreement or at least very substantial movement toward a resolution of the Cyprus conflict before July.

In that spirit, Alexander Downer - the UN special advisor to Cyprus - last month announced that he wanted to hold an international conference in May, at which the two parties and the UK would finalize an accord. But it now appears that there has not been enough movement toward a resolution for the conference to be held, which spells trouble for Cyprus and for Turkey-EU relations as a whole, at least during the Cypriot presidency.

Reunification talks collapse before Cyprus EU stint | EurActiv

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Talk on Turkey-EU relations this Thursday!

For readers in or near Stockholm:

What promises to be a very interesting talk this Thursday at Stockholm University. I'm looking forward to catching up with the latest news on Turkey-EU relations and what Sweden has been doing on that topic other than what we see in the media. The talk will be in Swedish.

Do join us if you have the chance!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Talk at Stockholm University April 20th

To readers in Stockholm: This event takes place tomorrow, Friday April 20 at Stockholm University! You are welcome to attend!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Turkey tells EU to lift visa requirements

Turkey calls on EU member states to lift Turkish visa requirements. EU Affairs minister and chief negotiator, Egemen Bağış, made the request in a letter, according a statement by his office on Monday.

The letter was sent to the EU's enlargement and home affairs commissioners, Stefan Füle and Cecilia Malmström respectively, as well as to the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and to the Danish foreign minister. (Denmark currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council.)

Turkish Minister of EU Affairs, Egemen Bağış

No word on any responses but the Shengen visa requirement for Turkish citizens is a sensitive political issue in many EU capitals and I would be surprised if there were positive movement on it in the near future.  Hürriyet reports that the UK may introduce simplified procedures for Turkish university students in the UK. But the UK already has some of the least restrictive requirements (regarding length of stay etc.) so this is hardly a significant development.

The letter makes two basic arguments. First, that the EU would benefit from increased travel from Turkey. It is interesting to note the manner in which this is framed: Turkish economic vigor vis-à-vis EU sclerosis.
Within the last decade Turkey has achieved remarkable economic growth indicating that the current visa regime of the EU has become redundant. It is apparent that EU countries, which are going through an economic crisis would benefit from the commercial, cultural, educational, touristic etc. visits of Turkish citizens, which would be enabled by the lifting of the visa requirement.
Second, Bağış points to a number of rulings in EU and member state courts that affirm that the visa requirements violate the Additional Protocol of the 1973 Association Agreement.
[A]ccording to the German courts, Turkish nationals who are tourists should be able to enter Germany without a visa requirement.  
Similarly, the Haarlem Court of the Netherlands has ruled on the 14th of February 2011, that Turkish service providers and entrepreneurs have the right of visa free travel to the Netherlands.... Consequently, according to the Dutch high court, the visa requirement imposed on Turkish entrepreneurs must be considered to be in conflict with the prohibition of discrimination as laid down in Article 9 of Ankara Agreement.
The full text of the letter is available here. For an eloquent description of what the stringent national visa requirements feel like from a Turkish point of view, read this post on Mustafa Akyol's the White Path blog.

News.Az - Turkey calls on EU to lift visa requirements

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Former Turkish Chief of Staff on Trial Monday

The trial of Gen. İlker Başbuğ, former Chief of the General Staff of Turkey, began Monday. The NYT has a brief report. The following is a video from Euronews (I hope it's OK to embed it here - if not, let me know, Euronews, and I'll remove it!):

For those of you wondering how to pronounce his name, the best I can describe it is as follows: Ilker - the "I" as in "In" and the "e" as the "a" in "advertisement"- Bashbou - the "a" as the "u" in "uppercut".

Friday, March 23, 2012

Swedish Development Minister's Op-Ed in Radikal Newspaper

Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation - and Gunilla has an op-ed in yesterday's Radikal. The article coincides with her current two-day visit to Turkey, the purpose of which is described as:
for discussions on how Turkey, as an influential regional actor and aid donor, can cooperate and exchange experience with Sweden. The talks will also focus on Sweden's support to Turkey's EU membership negotiations.
She is also there to attend a UNDP conference and is meeting with Egemen Bağış and Ali Babacan, Minister for EU Affairs/chief negotiator and Deputy Prime Minister respectively.

The op-ed in Radikal (which, btw is in Turkish! - I suspect someone helped her with the translation...) emphasizes Sweden's support for Turkey's EU candidacy and Turkey's strong ties to the EU. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Toulouse killings: Death in the morning | The Economist

Three young Jewish school children and one adult have been shot dead at a religious school in Toulouse.

This is when my analytical brain runs the risk of short-circuiting. I just fail to comprehend deliberate and brutal violence directed against children.

In the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales - the US soldier who went berserk in Afghanistan two weeks ago and murdered nine children and seven adults in their homes - the horrific acts appears to have been the result of mental instability. In a way, this makes is easier to comprehend, albeit no less abhorrent of course. But if such violence is perpetrated for political reasons?

True, the many inaccurate speculations in the immediate aftermath of Anders Breivik's terrorist attacks in Norway should caution us against loose guessing about perpetrators and objectives. Hopefully, the murderer will be caught and we will know the reason in time. So let us not point in any particular direction.

But what if the Economist is correct in speculating that there was a political motive behind this attack? As a student of ethnic conflict, I am aware of the affective power of ethnic, nationalist, religious or other kinds of identity, and the rage felt by those marginalized and oppressed as well as victims of perceived and/or real injustice. But no matter what crimes you may have been subjected to, the children of your enemies are never guilty!

Anyway, I should be preparing tomorrow's lecture but I felt the need to respond to this somehow.

Toulouse killings: Death in the morning | The Economist

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Deep State | The New Yorker

The New Yorker adds its voice to the growing number of Western observers who are concerned about developments in Turkey:

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected in 2003, despite having been banned from holding office, and since then he has taken an increasingly harsh line against his opponents. In the past five years, more than seven hundred people have been arrested. 
Letter from Turkey: The Deep State | The New Yorker

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Swedish Bank SEB Bullish on Turkey

I just got a newsletter from my bank - the large Swedish bank SEB - which contained an extremely bullish article on Turkey. The title of the piece (in translation) is indicative: "Turkey: Soon among the 12 largest."

Their analyst, Mats Olausson, believes that "Turkey is probably the country in Europe with the highest growth potential in the coming decade."The piece emphasizes high growth, political stability, inflation under control (down to single digits from previous 70% rates), a well-managed and attractive financial sector.

For those of you who read Swedish, here is a link to the original piece. I think that it should be accessible also to people who are not SEB clients but let me know if the link doesn't work.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

French Court strikes down Armenian genocide denial law

Today's New York Times reports:
The French Constitutional Council on Tuesday struck down a draft law that would have criminalized the denial of an Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, legislation that has soured relations between France and Turkey.
Sarkozy has vowed to continue to pursue the issue, however, so it is not dead yet. And whatever political gains he was hoping for in view of the upcoming presidential elections, he has won them despite the Council's vote.

My position on the issue is quite simply that it is a matter for serious historians. Neither Turkey nor France ought to attempt to determine the factual status or correct interpretation of the tragic events at the bottom of the controversy by means of legislation.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Slick EU video supporting enlargement

The European Commission has prepared a one-minute video that clearly aims at enhancing public attitudes toward South-Eastern Europe, including Turkey. In the very well-produced video, we are faced with images of modern, historic, and serene landscapes and cities that may well be taken from EU capitals and countries. Upon them are superimposed questions, like: "Sweden?" and correct answers: "Montenegro".

Over images of a bustling city with skyskrapers, the text asks "Germany?" and answers "Turkey." With respect to the latter, I don't think this is anywhere near enough to turn public opinion around while national political leaders in many capitals play politics with the question of Turkish membership, but I liked the video. High production value, and nice ending slogan: "So similar. So different." Isn't that what the EU is about? Unity in diversity?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tribute to Anthony Shadid of the NYT

I was saddened to read this morning that NYT reporter Anthony Shadid died last Thursday. Apparently, he suffered a severe asthma attack while having sneaked into Syria to report on the violence there. Shadid had seen his share of danger while reporting in the Middle East, having been shot in Palestine and held hostage in Libya. Unfortunately, this time, the danger proved fatal.

In tribute to Shadid's excellent reporting on the region, and not the least on Turkey-Syrian relations, I am linking to an earlier post that discusses a piece he wrote about Erdogan (bottom of page). The Times also has a collection of recollections and posthumous praise of Shadid.

One of my favorite pieces by Shadid is this story about the significance of the Ottoman loyalties transcending national boundaries in the Levant and Asia Minor. In it, Shadid beautifully uses the personal and 'small' world to illustrate grand historical themes of political significance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Turkey's EU Dreams Hit New Snag - Energy Production |

A good piece on the role of energy - oil in particular - as it plays out in the Turkey-EU relationship on Below is an excerpt but read the whole piece as well.
So, the question arises, in the decades-long convoluted accession tango between the EU and Turkey, what will happen and who needs the other more? A decade ago the answer seemed more straightforward, but with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecasting that Turkey will be the OECD’s fastest growing economy up to 2017, with a 6.7 percent average annual growth rate, Brussels, as it grapples with Greece’s incipient default, might take a new look at both Turkey’s importance to EU energy imports as well as its membership aspirations.

And, as for Turkey, its economic growth remains nobbled by the high cost of energy imports. According to Turkey’s Economy Ministry and TurkStat, Turkey's statistics authority of Turkey’s 2011 $240.8 billion in imports, energy cost $54.1 billion and for each $10 per barrel oil prices rise, Turkey shells out an additional $4 billion.

It’s good to have friends.

Addressing Turkey’s concerns for the energy well-being of its friends Yildiz said of the Istanbul discussions, "Turkey did everything it had to do. The fact that (Azeri Caspian offshore natural gas) Shah Deniz 2 project was signed implies opening up a path to carry natural gas to EU member countries. Up until now, Turkey has assumed a positive mode and will continue its positive approach. We want our meeting to generate a solid result. Turkey, by utilizing its advantages stemming from its geography, continues its works in practice related to the supply of natural gas and electricity to the EU members” before concluding that “energy is a human right. We do not foresee the opening up of the energy chapter to negotiations as a precondition as we meet EU's energy needs.”

Time for some reciprocity.

By. John C.K. Daly of

Turkey's EU Dreams Hit New Snag - Energy Production

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Greek debacle |

Off-topic post but I have to link to a blog entry at The EU Observer on the unsustainability of the Troika's bitter medicine for Greece.

Here is what the Troika is demanding of Greece for 2012 alone (except for one of the demands, which is to be met by 2015):

  • a 22 per cent cut in the monthly minimum wage to €586;
  • layoffs for 15,000 of civil servants;
  • an end to dozens of job guarantee provisions;
  • a 20 per cent cut in its government work force by 2015;
  • spending cuts of more than €3 billion;
  • further cuts to retiree pension benefits.
Does that sound feasible to you in light of the fact that Athens is already partly in flames? It sure does sound like a great recipe for deepening the recession though... Follow the link below for the short blog post:

The Greek debacle « Political Economy 101

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Special prosecutor summons head of Turkey's intelligence agency!

This is such a complicated story that I won't even begin to pretend that I know exactly which way is up and which is down. But the special prosecutor in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations has now called the head of the MIT - the Turkish intelligence agency - as part of an investigation into alleged collusion between MIT and the Kurdish guerilla/terrorist organization, the PKK.

MIT operatives have infiltrated the PKK and allegedly helped set up the alleged urban and political wing of the PKK, the so-called KCK. Top MIT officials have also been involved in the peace talks with PKK leaders. It is alleged that the MIT infiltrators failed to stop terrorist attacks and even contributed to some of them. At the same time, the opposition has been accusing the AKP for trying to secretly arrange a peace deal with the PKK. Recordings of talks in Oslo were recently leaked online.

But perhaps an even more interesting dimension to this is that the MIT head, Hakan Fidan, and the special prosecutor are arguably both part of the AKP/moderate islamist camp. And Fidan is Erdoğan's personal appointee, so this could be interpreted as infighting between Turkey's "two states" as the newspaper Taraf put it in a headline.

The AKP with Erdoğan at its helm have garnered so much electoral success and has expanded so rapidly that we are likely seeing the consequences: increased infighting and growing factionalism. Rumor has it that President Abdullah Gül, for example, is not thrilled about Erdoğan's grand plans about creating a Presidential system with himself at the top, which in a unitary and highly centralized state would give tremendous authority to the President. One way of interpreting the move by the special prosecutor is that there may be other forces as well, who are unhappy with the current Prime Minister's plans.

No matter what, the plot thickens.

Sources for further reading:

Here's a good overview from Reuters:

The AKP-friendly (although with the eruption of factionalism, this may be too blunt a label...) Zaman has the following report:
MİT executives face serious accusations, trial process uncertain

The pro-opposition, anti-AKP newspaper Hurriyet:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Greece Stepping up Security on Border With Turkey | ABC News

Greek Public Order Minister Christos Papoutsis announced that construction of the planned fence along the Greek-Turkish border will begin soon, and is expected to be completed in September.
Papoutsis said the fence will be coupled with a network of fixed night-vision cameras providing real-time footage to the new command center. 
Most of Greece's 125-mile (200 kilometer) border with Turkey runs along a river known as Evros in Greece and Meric in Turkey. The new fence, which Turkey's government has not opposed, will block a short stretch of dry land between the two countries.
So new walls are being erected in Europe. In one way, though, it is hard to blame Greece for this. Like Malta, the country is stuck with a lion share of refugees trying to enter the EU and its system for processing applications for asylum is vastly overloaded. Given the Union's policy of returning refugees to the country of entry (the first EU country they arrived in), the countries constituting the EU's outer borders are forced to these kinds of rather desperate measures.

Picture courtesy of Daily Mail and AP.
(Go here to see the picture on the Mail Online.)

As one of my second-semester students just pointed out in an excellent survey of the research on the EU's migration policies, this is a question of fairness on several dimensions. One dimension is the question of a fair division of labor between the EU member states, and here countries like Greece and Malta are getting the short end of the stick. The other dimension is of course the unfair treatment of the refugees that are stuck in terrible conditions in these countries.

Ultimately, of course, a fence won't do the trick. We are stuck with the inherent unfairness of a system in which the European economies and their baby-boomer generation retirees depend on cheap migrant labor, and yet treat the prospective workers less than humanely as they are trying to make their way here. One wishes we could do better.

Greece Stepping up Security on Border With Turkey - ABC News

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

French Court to Rule on Armenian Genocide Legislation -

From today's New York Times, an Armenian-American voice in support of the recent French decision, and news that the country's supreme authority on the constitution will review the constitutionality of the decision:
PARIS — France’s Constitutional Council said Tuesday that it would rule on the constitutionality of criminalizing the denial of a genocide of Armenians during World War I, after receiving appeals signed by dozens of lawmakers from across the political spectrum.
French Court to Rule on Armenian Genocide Legislation -

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Perils of Playing Politics With History |

From the New York Times today:
By criminalizing the denial of genocide in Armenia, France followed the examples of Switzerland and Slovenia and helped sharpen a parallel debate in Israel. But in alienating Turkey — an increasingly sharp-elbowed NATO ally and regional player — the French authorities seemed to place political considerations at home ahead of perils abroad, risking criticism of their own cherished identity as a bastion of liberté.

“This bill, if implemented, would have a chilling effect on public debate and contravene France’s international obligation to uphold freedom of expression,” said Nicola Duckworth of Amnesty International.

The Perils of Playing Politics With History -

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Massive demonstrations in Istanbul

I'm a couple of days behind, but there were massive demonstrations in Istanbul to protest the verdicts in the Hrant Dink case. Dink was an Armenian-Turkish publicist who was shot dead in 2007. Three of the 19 charged with being involved were recently found guilty (the shooter got 22 years behind bars), but all charged were acquitted of being part of a larger conspiracy and the court found no evidence of state negligence.

Protesters carried signs that said "Hepimiz Hrant'ız" and "Hepimiz Ermeniyiz!" ("We're all Hrant" and "We're all Armenian!")

Amnesty International issued a highly critical comment on the verdict and many Turks were spurred to protest as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

S&P On Europe -

Paul Krugman comments on the reason for S&P's downgrade of Eurozone countries and, more worryingly, the EU's response:

S&P’s downgrade of a bunch of European sovereigns was no surprise. What was somewhat surprising — and which went unmentioned in almost all the news stories I’ve read — was why S&P has gotten so pessimistic. From their FAQs:
We also believe that the agreement [the latest euro rescue plan] is predicated on only a partial recognition of the source of the crisis: that the current financial turmoil stems primarily from fiscal profligacy at the periphery of the eurozone. In our view, however, the financial problems facing the eurozone are as much a consequence of rising external imbalances and divergences in competitiveness between the EMU’s core and the so-called “periphery”. As such, we believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers’ rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues.
And today we read about the response:
German chancellor Angela Merkel has called on eurozone governments speedily to implement tough new fiscal rules after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the credit ratings of France and Austria and seven other second-tier sovereigns.
Still barreling down the road to nowhere.

For some reason, I just keep thinking of a scene from Nemo, the Disney film (yes, I have little kids), in which the two little fish Dora and Marlin swim straight down into the dark abyss, into the arms of a monster.

All the while, they hum "just keep swimming, just keep swimming!"...

S&P On Europe -

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Turkish journalists denounce trials | EurActiv

From EurActiv:
Turkey is currently holding nearly 100 members of the news media in jail, one of the highest numbers worldwide, in a crackdown that critics and human rights groups say blights the country's image as a role model for democracy in the Middle East.

Prominent Turkish journalists on trial for alleged links to an underground anti-government network called the conspiracy charges against them "political" in a case that has raised concerns over media freedom in Turkey.
Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, investigative journalists arrested in March and held since then in a top-security prison outside Istanbul, were among 14 defendants in court to open their defence on Thursday (5 January).

Turkey is currently holding nearly 100 members of the news media in jail, one of the highest numbers worldwide, in a crackdown that critics and human rights groups say blights the country's image as a role model for democracy in the Middle East.

Turkish journalists denounce trials | EurActiv

Sunday, January 8, 2012

European Parliament's Opinion on Turkey Progress Report

Follow this link to get to an online version of the European Parliament's (EP) recently enacted resolution on the Commission's 2011 Progress Report on Turkey. (I can't find it on the Parliament's own pages.)

It contains important and appropriate criticism, of which I have excerpted some of the most significant portions below. The problem, of course, is that due to the EU's past and current treatment of Turkey, the Progress Reports and the EP's opinions receive less and less attention in Turkey. So at a time when penetrating criticism is arguably needed urgently, the EU's "normative power" over Turkey is weaker than in decades. In the words of the prominent columnist Mehmet Ali Birand:
relations have dropped to their lowest level. Turkey is not on Europe’s agenda anymore. Europe is not on Turkey’s agenda either.

It has gone back to such an extent that for the first time in 47 years, the influence of the EU over Turkish politics has reached almost zero. In the past, voices, critics and warnings coming from Europe would be taken into utmost consideration; moreover, domestic politics would be adjusted to the EU’s conditions and rules.

Today, Ankara does not pay attention to either the Council of Europe or the European Parliament.
The reports used to be the top story in Turkish news for weeks, now they are mentioned and dropped. And this particular silence is not a result of phone calls from the Prime Minister.

For what it is worth, then, here are some key resolutions in the opinion:
9. Reiterates its concern that judicial procedural norms have not yet been improved sufficiently to ensure the right to a fair and timely trial, including the right to access incriminating evidence in the early phases of the proceedings and sufficient guarantees for all suspects; expresses great concern at the duration of pre-trial detention, with the latter becoming de-facto punishment without a trial; urges the TGNA to reform legislation on pre-trial detention bringing maximum pre-trial detention periods in Turkey in line with average pre-trial detention periods in the European Union;

10. Stresses that investigations of alleged coup plans, such as the ‘Ergenekon’ and ‘Sledgehammer’ cases, must demonstrate the strength and the proper, independent, impartial and transparent functioning of Turkish democratic institutions and the judiciary and their firm, unconditional commitment to the respect of fundamental rights;

11. Reiterates its concern on the practice of bringing criminal prosecutions against journalists who communicate evidence of human rights violations or raise other issues in the public interest as a contribution to the debate of a pluralistic society; considers the criminalisation of opinions as a key obstacle to the protection of human rights in Turkey and deplores disproportionate restriction of the freedoms of expression, association and assembly;

12. Urges Turkey to comply rigorously with its international human rights obligations in this respect by amending its relevant legislation and by training its police and judiciary; welcomes in this regard the decision to provide judges and prosecutors with in-service training on freedom of expression and freedom of the press and on the fundamental role of the European Court of Human Rights;

13. Recalls that freedom of expression and media pluralism are at the heart of European values and that a truly democratic, free and pluralistic society requires true freedom of expression; underlines that reform of legislation allowing for disproportionately high fines on the media – leading in some cases to their closure or to self-censorship by journalists or their editors – and of law 5651/2007 on the internet, which limits freedom of expression, restricts citizens’ right to access to information and allows websites bans of disproportionate scope and duration, is very urgent;

Friday, January 6, 2012

Coup-plotting allegations in Turkey: Bugged out | The Economist

Interesting piece on the latest Ergonekon developments in the current issue of the Economist.

With the arrest of a former chief of Turkey's general staff, Ilker Başbuğ, the Economist quotes the former US ambassador to Turkey, Eric Adelman, who knew Başbuğ. According to Adelman, the move to jail Başbuğ will
"underscore the serious questions about Turkey's continued commitment to press freedom and the rule of law." That commitment is waning. Nearly 500 students are in prison facing "terrorism" charges for such infractions as demanding free education. Some 97 journalists have also been imprisoned, many on similarly absurd grounds.
Mr Erdoğan's increasingly authoritarian ways have prompted claims that his government has simply swapped places with the army. His supporters have a different worry. They say that having purged the old guard in the military, he is now cutting deals with the new set.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Former President and coup leader Kenan Evren indicted

Turkish prosecutors have indicted former Turkish President and Chief of Staff, Gen. Kenan Evren for his role in the 1980 military coup. Gen. Evren and Gen. Tahsin Şahinkaya had been protected by the provisional article 15 of the Turkish constitution that was established after the coup, but with the repeal of the article the path toward the indictment was cleared.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
There is still doubt as to whether the statute of limitations has expired. Counting from the time of the coup, it has, but the prosecutor claims that the deadline should be calculated starting from when the constitution was amended instead.

Some links:

In Turkish:
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