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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 -
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