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Boston Globe 02/20/09

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Hellenic Electronic Center (HEC)

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February 20, 2009

The critical op-ed of Turkey by David L. Phillips (Feb 20) is a step in the right direction with regard
to its demand that Turkey recognize Cyprus and normalize relations with Armenia, but still fails to
fully appreciate the long and murderous history of Turkey throughout the twentieth century. In contrast
to the assertion by Mr. Phillips, not only does not Turkey's future lie with the west, neither does its
past or its present. Turkey is in a midst of an identity crisis brought on by decades of military
authoritarian rule, and the reawakening of its Ottoman era Islamic past that coincides with
fundamentalist militancy throughout the Middle East. Turkey has never broken with its Ottoman
era past owing to the failure of successive Turkish regimes to disavow and condemn the systematic
exterminations of Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians that was begun by the last Ottoman rulers,
but subsequently completed by the secular and racist leadership under Mustafa Kemal Pasha.
The Republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Pasha repudiated the theocratic ideology of the Ottoman
Empire, but maintained its brutal politics and the hatred for the Christian Greek, Armenian, and
Assyrian populations. The depiction of Turkey as belonging to the West is nothing more than a
mixture of fantasy and deceitful propaganda promoted by the governments of Italy, France, Great
Britain, and the United States all of which supported the rise of Mustafa Kemal and the Turkish
nationalist movement in 1922, at the expense of the Christian populations which were left to be
slaughtered  for economic and strategic purposes. Turkey's significance for Western political
ambitions is due exclusively owing to its borders, nothing more.
In September 1955, the NATO alliance failed to impose sanctions when the Turkish government
organized a pogrom against its Greek Orthodox population. In 1974, NATO permitted Turkey
to invade and occupy the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, a non member of the alliance, a
blatant act of aggression in which Turkish soldiers carried out atrocities against Greek Cypriot
civilians. American and Israeli officials are today justified in feeling betrayed by the Turkish political
and military leaders, a cabal of self serving narcissists who feel no allegiance to any alliance, only
to its own perceived interests at any particular time. Perhaps now American and Israeli leaders
can begin to have a taste of the betrayal experienced over many decades by Armenians, Greeks,
Assyrians, and Kurds.
David L. Phillips

Turkey's strained ties to the West

Supporters of the Justice and Developpment Party (AKP) waved national and Palestinian flags as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived at the airport in Instanbul last month. Supporters of the Justice and Developpment Party (AKP) waved national and Palestinian flags as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived at the airport in Instanbul last month. (MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images)
By David L. Phillips February 20, 2009

DETRACTORS of Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insist that his Justice and Development Party is really a Trojan horse for an Islamist agenda. As validation, they point to Erdogan's recent spat with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos World Economic Forum and his support for Hamas.

Discuss
COMMENTS (11)

Not only is it in Turkey's interest to restore ties to Israel, but Erdogan must also show the United States and Europe that he is a reliable partner by addressing their other issues of concern - such as normalizing Turkey's relations with Armenia and Cyprus.

I recently met representatives of the Turkish Caucus in the US Congress. They were stunned by Erdogan's description of Israeli policy in Gaza as a "crime against humanity." They were even more troubled by the hero's welcome he received upon returning from Davos to Istanbul. Thousands of his party faithful thronged the airport waving the green flags of Hamas.

Erdogan did not plan his confrontation with Peres in Davos. But he was quick to seek political gain from it. With local elections coming up on March 29, his support for Hamas has given his party a boost in polls. Heralding Hamas's democratic credentials plays well on the "Turkish street." It has also made Erdogan the darling of Damascus and Tehran.

This pro-Hamas rhetoric is a poison pill for Turkey's relations with the United States, and it could not come at a worse time. The Armenian Genocide Act will soon be introduced in the US Congress. With leaders in both chambers on-record supporting recognition of the Armenian Genocide, this year the bill is likely to pass.

Turkey's supporters on Capitol Hill - along with Jewish groups that support Ankara's rapprochement with Israel - have worked feverishly to defeat previous resolutions. Turkish parliamentarians met last week with their typically steadfast allies. But after Davos, they turned a cold shoulder.

If the resolution is adopted, Turkish officials will protest vehemently. Ankara may even go so far as to block US access to Incirlik Air Force Base in southeast Turkey. Incirlik has been a base for US war planes since the first Gulf War. Today it is critical to supplying troops in Afghanistan and redeploying forces from Iraq.

Closing Incirlik would cause a major crisis in US-Turkish relations. To be sure, nobody wants this to happen. The Obama administration is keenly aware of Turkey's strategic importance. It knows that Turkey is a valued NATO ally and partner in the fight against violent extremist groups. Turkish troops are deployed alongside US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Turkey plays a moderating role in Central Asia and is the terminus for energy supplies from the Caspian Sea to western markets.

But while Turkey is an indispensable ally, the onus for avoiding a diplomatic train wreck rests with Erdogan. He can preempt a crisis by initiating normalized diplomatic relations and opening the border between Turkey and Armenia. There is no linkage between normalizing relations and a decision to recognize the Armenian Genocide. However, Turkey's conciliatory gesture would not go unnoticed in Washington. Nor would its efforts to improve increasingly strained relations with the EU.

If Erdogan wants to avert a showdown with Brussels, he must also do more to resolve the situation in Cyprus. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, and the island remains divided today. The EU will evaluate Turkey's prospects for membership at year's end. While Brussels is not likely to formally suspend negotiations, it will decide not to expand negotiations absent progress in UN-mediated talks to reunify the island.

Opening Turkish ports to Cypriot ships would increase pressure on Greek Cypriots to negotiate in greater earnest. It would also take Turkey off the hook when it comes to parceling out blame in case reunification talks flounder.

If Erdogan wants to restore his reputation as a statesman and a reliable partner of the West, Turkey must repair its ties with Israel, normalize relations with Armenia, and welcome ships from Cyprus. Becoming an advocate for Hamas is a mistake. Turkey's future lies with the West. The Islamist street leads away from Europe to the Middle East.

David L. Phillips is a visiting scholar at Columbia University and director of the Turkey Initiative at the Atlantic Council of the United States.

 
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