AHI Capital Reports January-June 2019

 Volume 11, Issue 1    


U.S., Turkey, and NATO: Strength in an Alliance


The Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) hosted a panel discussion titled, “U.S., Turkey and

NATO: Strength in Alliance” at the National Press Club, January 30, 2019. The speakers were: former U.S. Admiral and Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis and former Turkish Rear Admiral Ali Deniz Kutluk. Lara Seligman, an award-winning journalist and Pentagon correspondent for Foreign Policy, moderated.

During Part One of the panel discussion, the speakers presented on themes that included the importance of U.S.-Turkey relations and the essence of its foundation and Turkey’s strategic value to the United States.

Part Two of the discussion centered on two broad topics: the challenges NATO is faces currently and the changes occurring between the United States and Turkey and what the future may hold.  Syria dominated the discussion.

The panel discussed a variety of topics during Part Three that included the impact of U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria upon the Kurds and the F-35s/S-400s scenario’s affect upon U.S.-Turkey relations.  Rear Admiral Kutluk believes Kurds have the right to exist and can stay for as long as they would like unless they are terrorists.  Rear Admiral Kutluk and Admiral Stavridis agreed to disagree on the impact of Turkey accepting delivery of the S-400s, but both stated NATO needs for cooperation to exist between the United States and Turkey.  Admiral Stavridis believes it is very important for Turkey to be inside NATO.

For a more comprehensive analysis, please visit: 



EU Foreign Policy Defense Forum Features former Greek Defense Minister


The U.S. Institute of Peace hosted the event, “EU & Foreign Policy Defense Forum 2019,” June 6, 2019.  Global leaders representing a myriad of sectors, from politics, to defense, to think tank organizations, participated.  Greece’s then-Minister of Defense, Evangelos Apostolakis, participated. He discussed the innumerable ways in which Greece is contributing to NATO and the need for a common EU defense policy.  Admiral Apostolakis also spoke about Greece’s military cooperation with countries in the Balkans, the Cyprus problem, and how Turkey’s provocative actions are a threat to Greece.

To watch the event and for further details, please visit:


Major International Affairs Think Tank Holds Discussion on Greece


The Atlantic Council's Future Europe Initiative and the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with the Athens Exchange Group, held a conversation titled, “Greece as Geostrategic Ally,” June 11, 2019.

The speakers included: U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt, then-Greek Alternate Finance Minister George Chouliarakis, and then- American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce President Simos Anastasopoulos. Katerina Sokou, Washington correspondent, Kathimerini and SKAI TV; and nonresident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council Future Europe Initiative, moderated.

Ambassador Pyatt discussed the deepening strategic partnership between the United States and Greece and how the relationship is now at its apex. He also emphasized how, according to polling, both the populaces of Greece and Cyprus view the United States as the ideal ally. Anastasopoulos and Dr. Chouliarakis discussed the matter of needed increased foreign direct investment in Greece, including by China.


To watch the event please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tMgSucB-_A#action=share


AHI Capital Reports September-December 2018

Volume 10, Issue 3                   

THO Analyzes Difficulties In U.S.-Turkey Relations


On September 6, 2018, AHI attended an event hosted by the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) titled “The Future of the U.S.- Turkey Relationship in the Trump Administration.”

The panel was moderated by THO advisory board member and Associate Professor Dr. Mark Meirowitz joined by the following speakers:

●          Molly Montgomery- VP at Abright Stonebridge Group, Former State Department and White House Senior Official

●          Joel Rubin- Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for House Affairs, State Department

●          Akif Kirecci (via skype)- President, Ankara Center for Political and Economic Research (ASEM) and Academic, Bilkent University

The moderator, Mark Meirowitz, started off by asking “How did we get to this point after President Obama proclaimed a “model partnership” between Turkey and the U.S.?” He also mentioned other tensions between the U.S. and Turkey.

Commenting on the introduction and Meirowitz’s question, Molly Montgomery stated, “I don’t believe there is anyone in the foreign policy world who currently likes where relations are between the U.S. and Turkey.” She continues by explaining that finding a common solution is a very difficult, though important, task that can be achieved through discussion.

Akif Kirecci gave the perspective from the Turkish vantage point. He informed the audience of the impact a rising dollar has on the Turkish economy, and stated “There is a negative feeling among the public in their view of the U.S. because of the economic sanctions.” Kirecci argued that Turkey has been one of the “most reliable partners in NATO,” even though he acknowledged that others do not always view Turkey as a reliable partner.

Continuing the discussion, Meirowitz asked the panelist to go in depth commenting the understanding or lack of understanding between Turkey and the U.S.

Joel Rubin explained that U.S. support for Turkey, even despite Turkey’s concerning tendencies, is due to the U.S. having a “cold war” mentality. Rubin stated that this ‘cold war’ mentality has lasted even after the end of the cold war, and that is the reason why many in the defense establishment still support Turkey. Rubin also mentioned that Turkey does not have a strong understanding of our system of government. Turkey may have grievances about the executive branch in the U.S. not doing enough the influence the judiciary, where many important decisions are made. Though there have been various historic points where Turkey and U.S. have seen eye to eye, Rubin states, “We live in the present and future, and whatever comes from this, we can’t rewind back. While I don’t believe people want to write off the relationship, there is a despair as far as how to write this relationship.”

In the concluding comments of the panel, the moderator asked the panelists to give their overall thoughts on the U.S.-Turkey relationship.

Molly Montgomery discussed the importance of negotiations. Joel Rubin and Akif Kirecci mentioned ended the conversation by explaining the importance of lobbying Congress.

           Experts Discuss Macedonia Referendum

On October 1st, 2018, AHI listened in on a conference call organized by the Atlantic Council regarding the Macedonia referendum, with the discussion titled “More Than Just a Name: Macedonia’s September 30 Referendum.” The speakers were as follows: Dr. Evelyn Farkas, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Future Europe Initiative, Eurasia Center, and Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council, and H.E. Alain Le Roy, former Secretary General of the European External Action Service. The moderator, Damon Wilson, serves as Executive Vice President, Programs and Strategy at Atlantic Council.

Wilson noted the effectiveness of the anonymous coordinated boycott campaign. Even though the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the main opposition party in Macedonia, did not officially campaign for a boycott, many anti-deal proponents “seem to have drawn on the infrastructure of the VMRO apparatus,” according to Wilson. The current president of Macedonia and VMRO member, Gjorge Ivanov, openly opposes the deal.

According to Evelyn Farkas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, VMRO’s opposition represents a “sour grapes moment” rather than disapproval of the deal. Farkas avers that VMRO was opposed to the agreement on the grounds of political opportunism or jealousy rather than for reasons of policy substance. Many in VMRO, Farkas said, think that “a better agreement” can be formulated in the future if this prospective deal is rejected, an assertion that Farkas questioned. Lastly, Farkas asserted that some Russians were “probably” funding the boycott effort.

Alain Le Roy, a French diplomat who served as the EU’s special representative in Skopje from 2001-2002 and is the French government’s special envoy on Macedonia, said that a main cause of the referendum result was due to a strong partisan environment in the country, as a vote would not simply be expressing an opinion on the issue but of the government in power. According to Le Roy, a yes vote “would be a vote in favor of the government.” Le Roy also noted his surprise at the low turnout among Macedonia’s Albanian population. Lastly, Le Roy stated France would be willing to support Macedonia’s desire to be further integrated into the EU. Farkas also noted that Russia is against NATO influence in the Balkans.

Research from the Atlantic Council concluded that Russian influence on the ground, such as through campaigns or financial support, was more influential than any online campaign.

Wilson noted that while there would be challenges in parliament, and even though the low turnout not ideal, Zaev showed a certain amount of political power. According to Wilson, “In Macedonia’s electoral history, the only time more than 600,000 people voted in favor of anything was the independence referendum in [1991].” Wilson noted that delays and upcoming Greek elections, however, could be potential stumbling blocks. Wilson ended the call by stating that this could potentially be a ‘historic opportunity.’

        U.S.-Turkey Relations After Brunson


On Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 AHI listened to a Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) teleconference on “The Future of US-Turkey Relationship after Pastor Brunson’s Release.”

The teleconference was moderated by THO’s Executive Director Elvir Klempic and featured the following speakers:

Matthew Bryza – Former US Ambassador, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe & Asia, Senior Non-Resident Fellow at Atlantic Council

Hassan Basri Yalcin – Associate Professor, Director of Strategy at SETA Istanbul & Istanbul Commerce University

To begin the teleconference, Hassan Yalcin discussed Turkish public opinion of the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, stating that this issue is viewed through a dual prism. While some view the release as a concession on the part of the Turkish government, others view it as a part of a more complex and longer-term strategy.  Yalcin highlighted that this was an emotional issue that needed to be resolved such that substantive dialogue between the United States and Turkey could continue. Yalcin emphasized the need for the United States to have a “flexible” foreign policy in order to de-emphasize the increasing powers of other countries in the region, such as Russia.

Ambassador Bryza talked about his hope for the improvement of relations between the United States and Turkey, allowing for further coordination in the future between the United States and Turkey.  Ambassador Bryza highlighted four issues which need to be addressed to improve U.S.-Turkey relations: the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, Gulen’s extradition status, Turkey’s relationship with Iran, and America’s strategic partnership with the YPG.

  An Analysis Of U.S. Involvement In the Middle East

On October 24th, 2018 AHI attended a Turkish Heritage Organization event titled “U.S.-Turkey Security Partnership and Current Challenges.” The event panelists were as follows: J.D. Gordon, President of Protect America Today, Former National Security Advisor for the Trump Campaign, Former Pentagon Spokesman (2002-2005), H.E. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Foreign Policy Advisor, U.S. Cyber Command, Former U.S. Ambassador to Malta, Former NESA Director for Arabian Peninsula, National Security Council-White House, Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council, and Ismail Hakki Perkin, Ret. General, Former Head of Turkish Military Intelligence.

Naskah Zada, the moderator, began by asking for J.D. Gordon’s views on Turkey and Syria.  

Gordon asserted that regardless of any political tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, the U.S.-Turkey military relationship remains strong. He then stated that “it is ludicrous to think that Turkey shouldn’t be a part of NATO,” citing Turkey’s geo-strategic location and air bases as the reason that Turkey needs to be a part of NATO. Gordon also criticized the media for not properly covering the Khashoggi case. Lastly, Gordon suggested that President Trump should have a balanced approach as he simultaneously tries to forge relations with both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as both countries are of great interest to the United States.

Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley focused in on the conflict in Syria and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. She emphasized the most important factor in having a strong relationship between the United States and Turkey is communication and dialogue. She also stated that the American government needs cognizant of the Turkish government’s concerns about the YPG and PYD. She stated that, going into the future, the United States would most likely to continue strongly supporting Israel, and that President Trump could be open to negotiations with Iran. When asked about Khashoggi, she said those responsible should be identified.

Ilan Berman stated that the U.S.-Turkey security relationship needs to be looked at as “a long- term relationship.”  Berman asserted, though, that the release of Brunson would alleviate short-term pressures. Berman also pointed out that Trump’s sanctions and actions against Iran could complicate U.S.-Turkey relations. Berman also asserted that the Russians would be willing to negotiate with Turkey on the issue of Syria due to economic reasons.

Retired Turkish General Ismail Pekin stated that the Syrian conflict has strained U.S.-Turkey relations. Furthermore, he noted that there are disagreements between the United States and Turkey on whether or not the YPG and PYD are offshoots of the PKK, which the Turkish government deems to be a terrorist organization. While General Pekin believes that the U.S.-Turkey military partnership will continue to prosper going into the future, he also thinks that the American government must be able to properly address Turkey’s concerns about the aforementioned groups.


         A Look At U.S.-Turkey Relations


On Thursday, December 6th, 2018 AHI attended a Turkish Heritage Organization panel discussion on “US Foreign Policy in the Middle East and US-Turkey Security Cooperation in 2019.” The panel was moderated by THO Contributor Sarah Houston, and featured the following individuals: Daniel Christman, Lt. General, U.S. Army (Ret.), Senior Counselor for International Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Naim Baburoglu, Turkish Brigadier General (Ret.), and Dov S. Zakheim, Senior Fellow at Center for Naval Analyses, former Department of Defense official.

Daniel Christman began by discussing U.S-Turkey relations through the lens of business, stating that the U.S. and Turkey have strong business ties. Christman also highlighted the volatility in the Middle East, stating that it is unclear what the dynamics between the U.S. and Iran would be under throughout the remainder of Trump’s Presidency. Christman also argued, that when it comes to Turkey, the YPG and PKK should not be grouped together and that these groups need to be looked at with more nuance. Overall, Christman believes that the U.S. and Turkey will want to improve relations, but that Turkey remains a ‘wildcard.’

Dr. Naim Baburoglu focused on the YPG issue and the viability of the Manbij agreement. Dr. Baburoglu stated that the Syrian war degraded the US-Turkish relationship, as the United States backed of YPG forces in Syria, which Turkey considered problematic. Dr. Baburoglou then stated that Turkey would not view the YPG as a potential threat without the backing of Turkey.  He then briefly discussed the recent oil and gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean and that how America’s coordination with the Greek government on this matter added to the tension in the US-Turkish relationship. Lastly, Dr. Baburoglu acknowledged Turkey’s desire for missile systems, such as the S-400’s, as another source of tension.

Dov S. Zakheim stated that it could be difficult to gauge President Trump’s intentions regarding the Middle East. However, Zakheim said that one way to deduce the President’s intentions is to “look at what he does” rather than the rhetoric that is used. Zakheim also stated that Congress could potentially defy President Trump on the Khashoggi issue. Furthermore, he asserted that the United States’ involvement with the YPG has a restraining presence on the group. Lastly, Zakheim stated that he believes in the long-run that the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey would be stronger that of the Turkey and Russia.

AHI Capital Reports June-August 2018

Volume 10, Issue 2

Senator Ernst Criticizes Turkey at EU Security & Defense Symposium

AHI attended the seventh annual “EU Security & Defense Symposium,” June 13, 2018. Speakers and panelists gathered to discuss the future of EU, NATO, and U.S. relations. The program comprised of three separate panels and two keynote speakers. The Delegation of the European Union to the U.S., in partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted, the event.

Two of the three panels were of interest to AHI’s audience.

Panel 1: “EU and US Defense Strategies: Shared or Conflicting Objectives?”

The panel opened with Thomas Harvey, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities at the U.S. Department of Defense; and Pedro Serrano, deputy secretary general for CSDP, discussing the necessity of NATO and EU coordination. Harvey noted the “long term challenge” presented by Russia, which continually attempts to create wedges between US-allied nations. Moderator Jeffrey Rathke asked the panel about transatlantic tensions within the EU and NATO.  Deputy Secretary Serrano explained it as a “difference of opinion” of how to handle issues in bilateral relations.

The morning keynote, delivered by U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), dealt with the view of transatlantic relations from the U.S. Senate. Senator Ernst stressed the need for the U.S. to: (1) assure NATO the U.S. is a reliable partner despite the current administration, (2) stress the importance of fairly contributing to the joint security fund, and (3) acknowledge Turkey’s alliance violations. The senator said, “no nation should treat its allies like Turkey has,” referencing the imprisonment of journalists and American civilians in Turkey. Senator Ernst also mentioned the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson, acknowledging the visits of Senator Thom Tillis’s (R-NC) to Brunson in Turkish prison. Also, Senator Ernst believes Erdogan violated the alliance by procuring S-400 missile systems from Russia, noting that it cannot operate within NATO’s missile defense system. 

On a more personal note, Senator Ernst stretches conflict within the U.S.-Turkey alliance back to her time as a company commander. In 2003, U.S. troops were not granted permission to enter Iraq through Turkey, delaying response time and prolonging the troops’ assignment. “When we needed them, they were not there,” Ernst said of Turkey, pointing to continued pushback from Erdogan and those before him.

The secondary keynote was delivered by H.E. Jose Alberto de Azeredo Lopes, minister of National Defense of the Portuguese Republic. He explained growth plans for Portugal’s investment in NATO defense, which are aimed to increase the country’s contributions to 2% of its GDP by 2024.

Panel 2: “Framework for Stronger NATO-EU Cooperation”

The panel comprised of Thomas Goffus, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO at the U.S. Department of Defense; Jorge Domecq, CEO of the European Defense Agency; and Jonatan Vseviov, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Defense of Estonia. The panelists discussed Article 3 of the Washington Treaty and progress on the improvement of EU/NATO relations. Throughout the conversation, panelists noted the joint effort of NATO and EU to combat hybrid threats, disinformation campaigns, and cyber-attacks. The need for cooperation on operations in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan, and the maritime domain arose, along with acknowledgement of Estonia’s remarkable 2% NATO defense funding as a “high achieving” member-nation.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

Manbij Agreement & The Implications for U.S. -Turkey Relations

AHI attended “The Manbij Agreement: The Way Forward in U.S.-Turkey Relations,” held by the SETA Foundation, June 14, 2018. Panelists included: Ambassador James Jeffrey; Author and Foreign Policy Analyst Mark Perry; Bassam Barabandi, director of External Relations at People Demand Change; and Kilic B. Kanat, research director, SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C.

The forum focused on how developments in northern Syria may affect U.S.-Turkey relations, the ongoing Syrian conflict, and status of northern Syria. Author Mark Perry described the severity of the war in Syria. Perry referenced inquiries he received during his time as a journalist, one in particular from a United States European Command official, about coverage of the conflict in the mainstream media. Further, Perry explained “alienation of Turkey from the NATO alliance” created the current rift between Turkey and the U.S.  Also, Perry expressed growing anxiety that, 17 years after September 11, we “still haven’t gotten the War on Terror right. [Instead], we’ve deepened issues in the Middle East.”

Ambassador James Jeffrey voiced optimism for the success of the Manbij Agreement. Research Director Kilic Kanat argued that previous failures in U.S.-Turkey alliance resulted from the U.S. not keeping its promises to Turkey. The Manbij Agreement signifies an eleventh-hour quest for cooperation, given that the “fallout” between the U.S. and Turkey could have very well been permanent, Kanat said.

The consensus of the panel was that the agreement, if successful, would encourage the implementation of diplomatic channels to solve ongoing and future international issues. Turkish citizens have “high hope” for the future of U.S.-Turkey relations, with the joint “elimination of the YPG threat,” serving as a pillar for denoting success. The panelists also agreed Manbij could serve as a model for Turkey to work with the U.S. in and around the Middle East in the future.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

THO Examines the Impact of Turkish Election on the U.S.-Turkey Relationship

AHI attended an event held by the Turkish Heritage Organization on “Election Results on Turkish American Relations.” The discussion featured panelists: William Parker III, Defne Sadiklar-Arslan, Luke Coffey, and Paul McCarthy. The conversation centered on analysis of the June 24 Turkish Election results.

Moderator Merve Hande Akmehmet opened the panel by asking about their opinions of the opposition in the election. Paul McCarthy, deputy director of Europe, International Republican Institute, stated this was “one of the most interesting campaigns” to come out of Turkey. Fearing the far-right conservative MHP political party would not meet the 10% threshold for parliamentary seats, Erdogan presented the opportunity for a coalition to the running parties. McCarthy held that the introduction of the coalition system was unnecessary, given that the MHP secured 11.1% of the vote. Instead, the coalition system allowed the opposition to increase their chances of success in the election. McCarthy also said that while there was “no direct constraint on candidates to campaign,” the election was unequal because of Erdogan’s control of the media.

Akmehmet then asked about whether Erdogan would end the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey. Executive Director and Representative of the Atlantic Council Turkey, Defne Sadiklar-Arslan, said Turkey needs to lift the state of emergency immediately, arguing the conditions of emergency status were detrimental to economic growth and foreign investment.

Akmehmet moved on to the topic of the Syrian War, asking Chief Operating Officer of the EastWest Institute William Parker III about how Syrian unrest could impact U.S.-Turkey relations. Parker referenced the strength of a military-to-military relationship and that Turkey had “done well with the refugee issue” coming out of Syria.

Concerning the new structure of Turkish government, Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Allison Center for Foreign Policy, said Turkey is entering “uncharted waters.” He referenced the rise of both secular and non-secular nationalism playing a role in the legislature in the seats gained through unpredicted success of opposition parties. Coffey considers the election a “new staring point” for the U.S. and Turkey, adding U.S. policymakers “need to learn to deal with the Turkey we have, and not necessarily the Turkey we want.”

Paul McCarthy explained that Erdogan’s win is a positive element for the Manbij Agreement in terms of continuity. He believes the U.S. and Turkey must come together on foreign policy goals in Syria and cites the fact that even the Assad Regime and Russia share the end goal of “curbing Kurds” in northern Syria. On this point, Parker mentioned Turkey is situated in a “complicated area,” surrounded by nations with which Turkey has longstanding political disputes: Iraq, Syria, Greece, and Armenia, among others. Parker said political stability internally and externally will bring about the economic improvements many Turks demand to see.

When Akmehmet asked about the uncertainty of the F-35 fighter jet and S-400 missile issue, Coffey said he does not believe Congress will pass a bill blocking the purchase of the F35s. As for the S-400 System, Coffey said, “I’m not going to believe it until I see it.” Coffey argues that Turkey deserves the F35s for its $200 million investment as a contributor to joint military spending programs with the U.S.

At the end of the discussion, Akmehmet asked for one-word answers to three questions: (1) Will U.S.-Turkey relations strengthen or weaken after the election; (2) Will Erdogan turn to the Atlantic or the Pacific for alliances; and (3) Will Turkey’s new government system create more stability or less stability? The panelists all agreed on the first two questions: the bilateral relationship will strengthen, and Erdogan will turn to the Atlantic.  As for the last question, although Sadiklar-Arslan and Parker saw stability as the singular outcome, McCarthy and Coffey had a different answer. They agreed there may be immediate stability in the region, but that there may be long-term issues as a result of the new governmental system.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

Turkey’s Domestic & Foreign Policy After the Elections

AHI attended an event held by SETA titled, “Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Policy After the Elections,” June 28.  The panelists were: Professor Mujeeb Khan of UC-Berkeley, Professor Michael Reynolds of Princeton University, Academic Director Daniel Serwer of Johns Hopkins University, Ambassador James Jeffrey, and General Coordinator Burhanettin Duran of SETA. SETA Research Director Kilic Kanat moderated.

Via video-chat, Duran explained the election was “critical from many perspectives,” focusing mostly on the success of the jail-based, left-wing and pro-Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas. Even though Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate for Turkey's Republican People's Party, lost, his campaign proved politicians can gather votes from different sectors.

Professor Khan began by explaining the media bias against Erdogan and the AKP party, describing reports by CNN and the New York Times as being offensive and false. Khan said it was “not accurate to claim that the opposition couldn’t hold rallies” and the “elections were fair but not completely free.” He suggested the main takeaway of the election is “Turkish democracy is flawed,” and the U.S. has an even greater issue in upholding democracy through the vote. Khan ended by saying that the method of “counting ballots in Turkey is superior to that of the U.S.,” referencing the thousands of votes from “dead people” in the 1960 presidential election between Kennedy and Nixon.  To Khan, people should worry less about Turkey and more about the U.S., which is headed toward a “constitutional crisis.”

Professor Reynolds mentioned the tendency of Americans to make Erdogan the focus of U.S. problems with Turkey. To Reynolds, many Americans falsely believe that if Erdogan weren’t in power, U.S.-Turkey relations would be better.  Reynolds held that the election was unfair, and that Erdogan deserves criticism. However, without substantial fraud, Reynolds argued the results are still accurate to the will of the Turkish majority. Further, Reynolds pointed out the U.S. is not a reliable ally from the Turkish perspective, using the arming of the YPG as proof. Reynolds related the YPG issue to a hypothetical, in which Turkey supplies arms to an al-Qaeda group in Mexico.

Serwer contested his fellow panelists by saying the election was neither free nor fair, the opposition is fragmented, and Turkey is headed “deeper into one-man rule.”  Serwer argued, “it’s foolish to imagine that Erdogan will become generous to his enemies, forgive the coup plotters, end disagreements with the Kurds, patch the U.S. alliance, or even restrain his bodyguards on his next trip to the U.S.” Also, he argued the current occupant of the White House makes the situation even more complicated, given that Trump hasn’t lived up to Erdogan’s expectations of extraditing Fethullah Gulen. Serwer stated the only kind of relationship the U.S. and Turkey should have should be based on Turkey’s geographic availability. Concerning the refugee issue in Turkey, Serwer reminded the audience that the U.S. has sent $600 million in support to Turkey, and he believes the U.S. should continue the program.

Serwer listed all the irritants he believes will complicate the future of U.S.-Turkey relations, including the F35 fighter jets issue, the relationship with the Syrian Kurds, and the human rights abuse of holding journalists, politicians, and American prisoners in Turkey. Serwer clarified his hopes the U.S. will demand the release of all but direct coup plotters and with jobs restored for the wrongfully imprisoned. Serwer also offered a trade-off: Erdogan would loosen his “crackdown” in exchange for a release from sanctions from the U.S. In the end, Serwer said, “Erdogan won. Trump is president.  Elections have consequences.”

In a question about the future of Turkish initiatives in Cyprus, Serwer said it was a non-issue. The situation is “too well-managed, it doesn’t cause any pain.”  Serwer asked rhetorically why he should care if the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus are already living together and with Erdogan not causing any harm.

Ambassador Jeffrey compared Trump and Erdogan side-by-side, saying that the men are both “illiberal” and “not fans of the rule of law.” The ambassador presented his opinion of the most important factors in upholding the U.S.-Turkey alliance: the Manbij Agreement, which has been successful thus far; the extradition of Gulen, which is no longer a high priority for Erdogan; and the S-400 missile system procurement. The ambassador explained the word “ally” is simply a code word, denoting nations that will do what we [the U.S.] say, because of the egocentric American rationale of, “if it’s good for us, it’s good for you.” Instead, the ambassador said this method does not work with powerful leaders, like Erdogan, who want to be international partners instead of lackeys. Ambassador Jeffrey did mention, however, that the S400/F35 problem is a “real danger,” and the “Brunson situation” was made worse when Erdogan publicly tied him to Gulen.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

Brookings Institution Panel Examines Turkish Elections

AHI attended a discussion held by the Brookings Institution, “Who Won Turkey? Implications from Erdogan’s Snap Elections,” June 27.  Panelists included: Professor Ali Carkoglu of Koc University, BIAC Executive Board Vice Chair Charles Johnston of Citi, TUSIAD Senior Fellow Kemal Kirisci, and Robert Bosch Senior Fellow Amanda Sloat.  Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post moderated.

In opening remarks, Carkoglu pointed out that although Erdogan may have won, support for the Turkish president has not grown since 2014, even with the additional backing of the nationalist coalition. The professor also noted the peculiar nature of the election, saying that as a political scientist, he is “worried about the fairness and correction of elections.” He cited Turkey’s history of rigged elections seen most prominently in 1946. The latest elements of Turkey’s rigged election may be the choice to move polls to relatively unsafe rural areas or counting ballots that lack the nation’s official ballot stamp. Carkoglu said these elements open the door for questionable elections.

Answering a question about whether the election results would bring foreign investors back to Turkey, Charles Johnston said “the jury is still out.”  Johnston listed the dangers of investing in Turkey, where the GDP has been declining since 2013, foreign debt has risen, inflation is over 10%, oil prices are skyrocketing, the State of Emergency has not been lifted, and the Zarrab case have marred public image. The biggest factor, however, is the matter of the S-400 missile system procurement, which Johnston calls a “huge issue.”  He cited provisions to place an embargo on Turkey and noted the entire situation could turn into a recurrence of Cyprus in 1974. Johnston also explained his understanding of Turkey’s many internal infrastructure projects, which critics call burdensome to the already crumbling economy, by saying “infrastructure promises are good for the nationalistic psyche.”

Amanda Sloat suggested the election will just bring “more of the same” in terms of U.S.-Turkey relations. Sloat referenced the Twitter spat between Congressman Schiff (D-CA) and an Erdogan spokesperson over the methods by which Erdogan won reelection. Sloat also mentioned there tends to be an innate hostility toward Turkey from Washington, referencing the long list of grievances cited commonly on Capitol Hill, which include the imprisonment of Andrew Brunson and three other Americans and the S400/F35 debacle. Sloat closed noting the importance of remembering that nearly 50% of Turkey voted against Erdogan, which demonstrates promising numbers for future opposition campaigns.

Kemal Kirisci reevaluated his understanding of President Erdogan when responding to a question about Turkey’s future foreign policy endeavors. Kirisci said originally, “Erdogan came to power to govern and address a long list of problems in Turkey,” but that somewhere along the line, Erdogan’s rule became about “perpetrating his own power and not serving his nation.” Kirisci referenced the decline in Erdogan’s once considerable popularity in Arab nations.  For example, Erdogan’s approval rate today is a steep drop from 2011, when he drew massive crowds in places like Cairo. Kirisci noted the Erdogan of 2011 simply wanted to govern and promote discussion, but he has now polarized Turkish society into unprecedented levels. With this in mind, he predicted more nationalistic, anti-EU sentiment in the March 2019 election in Turkey. In his closing remarks to the audience, Kirisci forecasted that concession from the right-wing MHP party would be accompanied by demand for continuation of the nation’s State of Emergency, as well as the promise of forgoing any initiatives in Cyprus.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

GPI & THO Host “July 15 Coup: Two Years Later”

The American Hellenic Institute attended a panel discussion jointly hosted by the Global Policy Institute and Turkish Heritage Organization titled, “July 15 Coup: Two Years Later.” The panelists included: Abraham Wagner, adjunct professor of International and Public Affairs and Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University; Mark Hall, film director and producer of the documentary “Killing Ed;” and Mary Addi, professional educator. Deniz Karatas, executive director at the Global Policy Institute, moderated.

President of the Global Policy Institute Paolo von Schirach, Executive Director of the Turkish Heritage Organization Elvir Klempic, and CEO of Nimeks Organic/Natural Food Murat Guzel opened the discussion with solemn remarks on the attempted coup that rocked Turkey on July 15, 2016. von Schirach stressed that a constitutional government, such as that of Turkey, must be respected and that the use of force to “settle scores” is never justified. Expanding upon von Schirach’s remarks, Klempic acknowledged the coup has caused the bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey to “falter” in recent years; however, he remains hopeful that with support from the U.S., an effective dialogue can be constructed between stakeholders in both states. Guzel concluded by dubbing the recent coup, “the darkest chapter in Turkish recent history.” He also called upon U.S. lawmakers to understand more fully the events that occurred two years ago and emphasized that “negative rhetoric by politicians does not help relations between Washington and Ankara.”

The panel’s discussion centered on the increasing security threat of Gülenist charter schools that are continuously popping up across the United States. As Abraham Wagner noted, there is not a great deal of awareness on what the Gülen movement is and the extent to which its supporters have taken “large amounts of tax money for the support of schools and the potential damage a movement like that can cause.” As an expert on counterterrorism issues, Wagner went on to note these schools can serve as a breeding ground for terror activity. Mark Hall expanded upon Wagner’s point, explaining that there are currently 173 Gülen-affiliated charter schools in the U.S. and that these institutions have “skimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers for non-educational purposes.”

Mary Addi, a former teacher at a Gülen-affiliated charter school in Ohio, corroborated Wagner and Hall’s comments, stating these schools “groom” young boys to be supporters of the movement and often will cheat and falsify state standardized test scores to get their students ahead. Addi also stated the administrators at the Gülen-affiliated charter schools are experts at money laundering and extortion, making their illegal activities hard to track down. Addi has provided ample evidence of the school’s illegal activities to various agencies such as the FBI, Department of Labor, ICE, and the Department of Education. She is still waiting for concrete measures to be taken against the individuals in these school systems.

When faced with the question of what should be done, the panelists agreed that extraditing Gülen back to Turkey would be a step in the right direction. They also agreed that deporting those carrying out illegal activities in the administrations of the schools would be key.

Written by: Alexis Tsapralis, AHI Intern

The Legacy of the July 15 Coup Attempt on Civil-Military and U.S.-Turkey Relations

The American Hellenic Institute attended an event hosted by the SETA Foundation titled, “The Legacy of the July 15 Coup Attempt on Civil-Military and U.S.-Turkey Relations.” The July 16 event consisted of two panels and a keynote speaker.

Panel I: The Future of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey

The first panel focused on the future of civil-military relations in Turkey and included presenters: Dr. Sener Akturk, associate professor at Koç University Department of International Relations; Edward Erickson, scholar-in-residence at the Clark Center for Global Engagement, the State University of New York at Cortland; and Mark Perry, author and foreign policy analyst.  Kadir Ustun, executive director of the SETA Foundation, moderated.

Dr. Akturk began the first panel by drawing parallels between the PKK attacks that occurred in Turkey in July 2015 and the coup that occurred a year later, July 15, 2016. According to Dr. Akturk, both events were spearheaded by “illegal clandestine cult-like” organizations that faced “existential threats” due to Turkey’s newly-lifted restrictions on Kurdish and Islamic expression. However, a key difference between the two fateful July events lies in the aftermath. Unique to the July 2016 coup attempt there arose a new national identity for Turkey: one that is centered around democracy as a regime-type. Edward Erickson agreed with Dr. Akturk’s statements, asserting the establishment of objective civilian control was an essential part of defining what democracy is. Erickson also noted the idea of civilian control had long predated the attempted coup; however, July 15, 2016, effectively “accelerated” Turkey’s switch to a civilian government. Mark Perry, on a slightly different note, discussed one of the common Western criticisms that Turkey faces:  Turkey should follow America’s lead. However, as Perry explained, that is not so easily done. In the U.S., the military had represented debatably the American people in very fundamental ways Perry opined. The same is simply not true for Turkey. Perry is mindful Turkey is a very different society from the United States; one that has been “plunged in violence with deep economic divisions.” All this must be considered when discussing the future of civil-military relations in Turkey.

Keynote Address

Dr. Ravza Kavakci Kan, deputy chairperson of the AK Party, provided the keynote address.  Dr. Kavakci Kan’s keynote cataloged the sequence of events that occurred on July 15, 2016, in Istanbul and Ankara. In her account, Dr. Kavakci Kan noted that out of the horrific event, came an encouraging solidarity of the Turkish people. However, Dr. Kavakci Kan was sure to condemn the international media’s response for falsely representing what occurred on that fateful day. In particular, Dr. Kavakci Kan stated the poor international response to the coup was a key factor in straining the United States’ relationship with Turkey. Dr. Kavakci Kan also claimed she has “no evidence of [journalists and academics] being in prison because they criticized the government.” However, she noted the government has arrested those in support of terrorism, just as is done in “most developed nations.”

During Q&A, Dr. Kavakci Kan addressed a particular topic of interest in Turkish international relations: the Kurdish population. Dr. Kavakci Kan explained, “There is no Kurdish problem in Turkey; however, there is a terrorist and PKK problem.” She then concluded by expressing her sincere gratitude to the Turkish civilians who “gave up their right to live” in order to defend their democracy.

Panel II: The Future of the U.S.-Turkey Security Partnership

The second panel centered on the future of the U.S.-Turkey security partnership. The panel consisted of: Mark Kimmitt, defense consultant, MTK Defense Consultants; Dr. Richard Outzen, senior U.S. Army advisor and member of Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State; and Kadir Ustun. Kilic B. Kanat, research director at the SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C., moderated.

The panel discussion began with an emphasis on Turkey’s geostrategic significance in the area. As Kimmitt stated, Turkey is “not simply a gateway to Europe, but it is also the gateway to the Middle East for Europe.” Kimmitt remained steadfast in his belief the U.S. should remain in a close relationship with Turkey and noted that few countries can say they consistently fought alongside the U.S. in the way Turkey has.

In reference to the attempted coup, Dr. Outzen stated it is “very hard for Americans to understand the depth to which [the coup] shook Turkey and the reverberations that are still felt today.” Dr. Outzen also emphasized how the Turks have been at America’s side through some very difficult struggles and that security has always been at the “heart” of the U.S.-Turkey relationship.  However, Dr. Outzen did state the coup was not the worst dividing factor in the United States’ relationship with Turkey; rather, the illegal Turkish invasion of Cyprus was the single most divisive event in our relationship.

The final speaker, Ustun, reiterated Turkey serves as an “indispensable” force in the region but has also acknowledged that America’s relationship has experienced some hits along the way. Ustun explained, “this is not an exception,” however, “but a regularity.” He concluded by asserting the U.S.’ reaction to the coup under President Obama was perceived as weak in Turkey and was partly to blame for the deterioration of the U.S.-Turkey relationship. He now believes the United States is willing to listen and help Turkey.

Written by: Alexis Tsapralis, AHI Intern

Senator Tillis & Shaheen Recap the 2018 NATO Summit at CSIS

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) titled, “From Washington to Brussels: A Discussion on the 2018 NATO Summit.” The July 19 event featured Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), co-chairs of the Senate NATO Observer Group and members of the U.S. delegation to the July 10-12 NATO Summit. Heather A. Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic; and director, Europe Program at CSIS, moderated.

The panel opened with a briefing on the status of NATO. Senator Shaheen began by commenting on NATO’s membership invitation to “Northern Macedonia,” but she does not expect the Senate to ratify its membership swiftly. The senator also asserted it is essential to remind the world how consequential NATO has been to global security and democratic values. Senator Tillis agreed, also noting the importance of promoting NATO and bringing “Northern Macedonia” into the alliance. According to Senator Tillis, he does not think President Trump has any true intentions of leaving NATO. If anything, his unorthodox tactics have brought allies closer to reaching NATO’s 2% spending of GDP on defense expenditures commitment goal. Expanding upon this, the senator stated, “The alliance needs to be at a productive level to discuss economic and military cooperation so that we can go after Russia who subverts democracy and China who has initiated economic warfare.” 

The discussion shifted to address Turkey’s position as a NATO ally to the United States. Senator Tillis noted the dichotomy between Turkey’s NATO membership and its disregard for NATO’s standard requirements. Though Turkey is positioned in a geopolitically complex part of the world, Senator Tillis made the point that imprisoning Pastor Brunson for over two years without indictment and discussing the potential purchase of Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft weapons is not how a NATO ally should conduct themselves. Senator Shaheen concurred with Senator Tillis, stating the U.S. government has made the case to Turkey that it is against the Turkey-U.S. allied relationship to imprison any American citizens. However, Senator Shaheen also assumed responsibility on the part of the U.S. government for sending “mixed messages” to Turkey regarding what is acceptable. As a motion to rectify this lack of clarity, Senator Shaheen confirmed that Congress has worked tirelessly to get strong language into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to not allow the F-35 fighter jets to land on Turkish soil until the issues between the U.S. and Turkey are fully addressed.

With regard to NATO’s future, Senator Tillis wants to focus on getting past the “drama” with our allies and make sure NATO member states are fully committed to their 2% annual defense contribution. Senator Shaheen, on the other hand, hopes to gain more allies, particularly within the Balkans, to help curb Russian aggression. The senator also hopes “Northern Macedonia” will become a NATO member by next year.

Written by: Alexis Tsapralis, AHI Intern

U.S.-Turkey Relations: A Desire to Return to the Status Quo

The American Hellenic Institute attended an event organized by the Global Policy Institute (GPI) in conjunction with BAU International University titled, “U.S. Turkey Relations, Current Challenges and Opportunities,” August 21, 2018.

The panelists were: Khush Choksy, senior vice president, Middle East and Turkey Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Selman Kurt, commercial counselor, Embassy of Republic of Turkey; and Howard Beasey, CEO/president, American-Turkish Council (ATC). Sinem Vatanartiran, BAU International University president, moderated. While the panelists acknowledged the complexity of current U.S.-Turkey relations, all of them seemed vested in re-establishing Turkey as a close “ally” of the United States.

Counselor Kurt highlighted the consequential nature of President Donald Trump’s economic sanctions against Turkey. He gave several statistics to back up his argument, pointing out that eight percent of Turkey’s foreign direct investment (FDI) is from the United States. He also claimed the United States is one of Turkey’s top five trading partners and there are at least 1,800 American companies in Turkey. Most importantly, Kurt emphasized that both countries were poised for a significant increase in deal flow.

Choksy, who represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also cautioned against economic sanctions.  He emphasized the longstanding economic ties between Turkey and the United States. Similarly, Choksy believed that political tensions should be solved through political dialogue rather than through economic sanctions. He argued Turkey is of geostrategic importance to American companies and the American military, and thus, should be seen as a country with which the United States should have a good relationship. Lastly, he pointed out President Reagan’s remarks praising Turkey during then-Prime Minister Ozal’s visit to the U.S. in 1988 as evidence for Turkey’s decades-long ‘good relations’ with the United States.

Beasey reiterated the harmful effects that tensions between President Erdogan and President Trump are having on Turkey and the need for the two countries to come to a swift political reconciliation.  Beasey recommended back-channel negotiations as the primary means of ameliorating tensions between Turkey and the United States. He also dismissed concerns about Turkey’s reliability as a supposed “ally” of the United States in addition to worries over Turkey’s drift toward conservative, and even fundamentalist, Islam.

Written by: Elias Gerasoulis, Legislative Assistant

U.S.-Turkey Relations: A Consensus of Concern

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended a tele-conference panel organized and moderated by the Wilson Center titled, “U.S.-Turkey Relations in Crisis: Where Are We Headed?” The panelists for the August 22 event were: Asli Aydintasbas, senior policy fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations and columnist for Cumhuriyet; Henri Barkey, professor at Lehigh University, senior fellow for Middle East Studies in addition to having involvement with the Council on Foreign Relations; Soner Cagaptay, former director, Wilson Center Middle East Program and author; and Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

Barkey painted a stark picture about relations between the U.S. and Turkey. He believed there are there are deep structural problems in relations and the Pastor Brunson case is not the only controversy. In addition, Barkey claimed Turkey has not been a partner of good faith in the fight against ISIS and has been problematic on the Kurdish issue, and thus, Turkey should not be surprised that American officials have reservations about its desire to acquire the S-400 missile system. Barkey in a bold claim, asserted that Erdogan is pushing his own citizens to be anti-American and that U.S.-Turkey relations will be tense as long as Erdogan remains in power. Although Barkey contended the pastor will be released, he harbored serious concerns about U.S.-Turkish relations in the long-term, stating, “I would say, fundamentally, the Turkish-American crisis today is actually very severe… since 1974, when the U.S. imposed a temporary arms embargo on Turkey. The rhetoric in Turkey against the U.S. has never been this bad.”

Aydintasbas echoed some of the themes touched upon by Barkey.  Aydintasbas also believed Turkey has been drifting from the United States, adding that anti-Americanism has increased in Turkey since the failed 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.   Furthermore, Aydintasbas claimed Turkish officials who she has talked to believe the decline in U.S.-Turkey relations began with the Obama administration. According to Aydintasbas, Trump and Erdogan’s initial reaction seemed to be “love at first sight.” However, she implied that to believe such a relationship would last ignores Turkey’s increasingly anti-Western sentiments. On balance, Aydintasbas believes Turkey has lost major opportunities due to its souring relationship with the United States.

Cagaptay provided a nuanced, or in his words, “granular” take on Turkey.  More specifically, Cagaptay initially provided insight into why Trump was so outraged about the Brunson matter. According to Cagaptay, because Trump helped obtain the release of Ebru Ozkan, a Turkish prisoner in Israel, Trump expected that the same be done for Pastor Brunson. President Erdogan’s perceived unwillingness to assist Brunson in a similar manner rubbed Trump the wrong way, Cagaptay claimed. However, he added a caveat, stating that although Trump and Erdogan have made attacks against the policies and actions of the other side, they have avoided attacking one another directly and by name. Cagaptay said this is done so that Trump and Erdogan can at least maintain a working relationship, even if a warm and cordial bond is out of the question. Cagaptay also explained the general difficulty in punishing Turkey for its aggression or irredentism. According to Cagaptay, there are no technical mechanisms in the North Atlantic Treaty to remove Turkey from NATO. Moreover, he asserted Turkey still has allies in Europe. Lastly, Cagaptay opined that although President Erdogan views himself as Turkey’s new Sultan, Turkey is ultimately not Russia. Cagaptay pointed out that while Putin usually wins with 70% of the vote, a clear demonstration of authoritarian power, President Erdogan ekes out victory of 51% and 52%, indicating that President Erdogan is far from having complete control in Turkey.

Dr. Hintz mainly explored Turkey’s status as an “ally,” and more broadly the question, “What does it mean to be an ‘ally’ of the United States?”  Dr. Hintz cited Turkey’s support for Al-Nusra, which is Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, as well as other Islamic extremists as deeply concerning. In addition, Dr. Hintz also pointed out President Erdogan’s tendency to blame foreign conspirators, in particular the “Israeli/Jewish lobby” for the purpose of political gain. Granted, Turkey recent released the honorary chair of Amnesty International Turkey, normalized relations with the Netherlands, and has been taking care of millions of refugees. However, Dr. Hintz insisted these are acts based on realpolitik rather than humanitarianism. More specifically, Dr. Hintz speculated these acts were attempts to one-up the United States. Overall, Dr. Hintz argued Turkey’s status as an “ally” needs to be looked at more closely in the age of Erdogan.

Written by: Elias Gerasoulis, Legislative Assistant

Money Talks: The Influence of Commerce on U.S.-Turkey Disputes

 AHI attended an event organized by the SETA Foundation titled “U.S.-Turkey relations on the Brink?” on August 30, 2018.  Panelists included: Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Center; Jennifer Miel, senior director for Turkey & Middle East Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Kilic Bugra Kanat, research director at the SETA Foundation Washington D.C office. Kadir Ustun, executive director at SETA Foundation’s Washington DC branch, moderated.

Each panelist described what they perceived to be the current state of U.S.-Turkey relations and prescribed what they thought would be potential solutions to difficulties in U.S.-Turkey relations.

Coffey attempted to portray a nuanced and balanced picture of U.S.-Turkey relations. He asserted that personal rapport between the leaders of Turkey and the United States are at an all-time low, presenting serious challenges and potential consequences. On the other hand, he insisted America maintains vigorous institutional ties with Turkey, citing collaboration between Turkey’s and the United States’ respective militaries.  Moreover, he couched the ongoing political and economic disputes with a similar neutrality. He did not make an indication or statement demonstrating that he was biased toward a particular side. Rather, Coffey asserted that both sides have legitimate concerns and there is a need for mutual empathy between the two countries.

Miel, given her role with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, approached current tensions through an economic lens. Her central point was that Turkey and the United States should not let political tensions influence and dictate economic or trade policy. Miel insisted sanctions and tariffs would simply hurt business. She insisted that political disputes should be handled with diplomacy and dialoguing, not economic measures. Miel ended by stating there is tremendous, untapped opportunity that can come out of a robust, unhindered economic relationship between the United States and Turkey.

Kanat concluded the panel discussion by speaking about the various lenses through which U.S.-Turkey relations are viewed. Currently, there are two main schools of thought. Mr. Kanat asserted certain experts have an essentially pessimistic outlook. These individuals believe the Pastor Brunson imbroglio, for example, is not an isolated incident, but symptomatic of deep-seated issues between the United States and Turkey. Alternatively, there are others who view U.S.-Turkey relations in a much more optimistic light, seeing former Secretary of State Tillerson’s relatively recent visit to Turkey as evidence of healthy diplomatic ties. Due to recent events that include, but are not limited to, the Brunson scandal, Kanat’s point of view has shifted from the later viewpoint to the former. Ultimately, Kanat believes trust between the United States and Turkey is at a low point and serious work needs to be done in order to repair the relationship.

Written by: Elias Gerasoulis, Legislative Assistant

AHI Capital Report January-March 2018

Volume 10, Issue 1

Bureaucratic Intimacies: Translating Human Rights in Turkey

The American Hellenic Institute attended a lecture with guest speaker Elif Babül, professor, Mt. Holyoke College at the George Washington University, January 18, 2018. Professor Babül, discussed her findings on the Human Rights training programs in Turkey which were a result of the European Union accession negotiations with Turkey. These findings are presented in her book, “Bureaucratic Intimacies: Translating Human Rights in Turkey,” which she used as the main reference for her lecture.

Babül reported the Human Rights training programs in Turkey were a part of the EU harmonization process for deep engagement in government reform. The majority of programs were funded by the EU and foreign sponsors who promoted bureaucratic and civil society reform projects. The structure of the programs required collaboration between the State government and civil society, which allowed for a new transparency into the government. Babül covered many of the issues with the training programs during and after the programs were completed. It is important to note that after the failed coup attempt in 2016, the government programs became insignificant as the government reverted from the reform employed by the programs. The findings Babül covers are from her time working in the programs before the coup attempt.

Babül used two theoretical frameworks to analyze the programs. The first, was standards and standardization, which created complexities due to the diversity of the programs and the individuals participating. The second, was legal transformation and transplantation, which is used as a form of social control and is a good indicator of reform. However, this created contestation and civil society challenged it. Babül stated many of the programs shortcomings were due to the employment of foreign Human Rights trainers. The programs required translation into Turkish. This also created a credibility problem. The individuals of Turkish civil society were expected to be culturally enthusiastic because the programs were considered a form of “Western influence.” Babül noticed that there would always be criticism of the programs between the bureaucracy and government officials; however, it would be hidden to the foreign actors conducting the training. In addition to the linguistic translation, because of the unease with “Western” ideas, the programs ideas would be translated into ideals that would be accepted by Turkish society. There was a reframing of human rights discourse in order to achieve acceptance. Babül discussed the political discourse surrounding human rights in Turkey which grouped Human Rights into anti-state and opposition party ideals. To avoid political backlash, the programs were introduced as separate from politics. However, human rights programs require a conducive political environment to be successful. Babül also reported that the measurement of the programs’ success was invalid because the political environment was counteracting the programs’ goals.

Babül’s lecture highlights Human Rights ideals are a social norm that need to be employed through a society's fundamental legal and social culture. She claims because of the risky business of governance the government workers were compelled to display cynical persona during the training programs in order to maintain their respective positions in governance. Babül reported a general effect of the harmonization process was “generating a community of knowers of bureaucratic secrets instead of a community of believers in Human Rights values.” As   explained before, this was due to the “bureaucratic intimacy” created by the training programs through the collaboration of State Government and Civil Society in a structure previously identifying the bureaucracy as “outsiders” of government processes.

Middle East Institute –What Does 2018 Have in Store for Turkey

 AHI attended an event at the Middle East Institute tilted, “What does 2018 have in store for Turkey?” on January 24, 2018.   Panelists included: Soner Cagaptay, Beyer Family fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program, Washington Institute for Near East Politics; Howard Eissenstat, associate professor of Middle East History, St. Lawrence University; and Max Hoffman, associate director of National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress.

 Soner Cagaptay believes Erdogan is right to strike Afrin, clarifying that the U.S. has no cooperation with the Kurdish dominated YPG and SDF in Afrin, and therefore the U.S. and Turkey are not on a collision course. He is confident the U.S. will not ruin its relationship with Turkey by choosing to back the Kurds in Afrin. He went even further in his praise for the operation, referring, to it as a “masterstroke.” The operation will enable Russia to choose cooperation with Turkey over the Kurds and will weaken the Kurds to the point where they will not be invited to Syrian peace talks—all while not attacking a U.S. ally.  He expressed confidence the operation will also boost Erdogan’s electoral standing and snap elections may even be called (which they were in June).

 In Eissenstat’s view, in the long term, the Syrian regime will emerge from the civil war in the strongest position, and he predicts the YPG will make a deal with the regime at some point.  But he fears that in the near-term, if Turkey attacks Manbij, the U.S. will be in an extremely precarious position. He poses the ominous question, what happens if the U.S. imposes a hard line on Manbij and Turkey crosses it? He does not expect the Trump Administration to back down, which would be showing serious weakness. The lack of clarity between the U.S. and Turkey over Syria policy has hurt the bilateral relationship. According to Professor Eissenstat, there is frustration with Turkey in Congress and the Executive branch unlike anything seen before, and some are beginning to view Turkey as an ally in name only. Unlike Cagaptay, he does not believe Erdogan’s decision to strike Afrin was politically motivated, as he does not believe Erdogan is concerned with his electoral opposition. In the opinion of the Professor, the Turkish opposition has not shown that they are organized and motivated enough to mount a credible challenge.

 Max Hoffman strongly disagreed with Cagaptay’s assertion that the Afrin operation is an Erdogan “masterstroke.” It is questionable whether Turkey can isolate the Kurds from both Russia and the U.S., and there is no guarantee the operation will be as militarily successful as Erdogan expects. The Turkish military lost many of its senior officers after the coup attempt, and Afrin will be an interesting test for the Turkish military. Even if the offensive goes well, it will ultimately strengthen Assad, who will benefit from the propaganda that Turkey is prolonging the civil war. In dealing with Turkey, he believes Congress could institute a wide range of sanctions. Turkey could potentially be sanctioned for their purchase of Russian missiles, as well as for keeping U.S. citizens in detention.

SETA – Current Challenges in U.S.-Turkish Relations

AHI attended a panel discussion at the SETA Foundation titled, “Current challenges in U.S.-Turkey Relations,” January 25, 2018.  Panelists included: Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Sarah Alison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation; Ambassador James Jeffrey, Philip Solondz distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Iraq, and Albania; and Kilic Kanat, research director at SETA.

Kanat opened the discussion by arguing a lack of proper communication, primarily on the part of the United States, is hurting the U.S.-Turkey relationship.  The U.S. repeatedly has told Turkey its support for the YPG in Syria is “temporary, transactional, and tactical,” but the academic opined the U.S. has done little to assuage Turkey’s concern the U.S. has no intention of ending its relationship with the YPG. Turkey views the YPG as an offshoot of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is considered to be a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. Kanat also pointed to a phone call between President Trump and President Erdogan as another instance of the two sides failing to maintain proper communication.  According to the White House, President Trump expressed strong concern with the Turkish military operation in Afrin and asked Erdogan to limit military activity in the area. However, Erdogan’s government refuted this account, claiming Trump never expressed any reservations about the operation in Afrin during the phone call. Kanat posited that the increasing divergence between the two countries on Syria is the greatest impediment to improving the U.S.-Turkey relationship.

Ambassador Jeffrey stressed there are no long-term goals the U.S. can achieve in Syria without working with Turkey. Both Iran and Russia are the greatest force for destabilization the region has seen since 1979, and he believes it is important to reorient Ankara away from these powers and back toward the West. However, the issue of terrorism has become a major source of divergence in the U.S.-Turkey relationship.  The U.S. and Turkey are both committed to fighting terrorism, but the U.S. sees ISIS as the main issue, while Turkey views the PKK as an existential threat. He believes the continued U.S. relationship with the YPG and the American presence in northern Syria should be better explained to Turkey, and for that matter, members of Congress. He does view the supposed direct threat the YPG poses to Turkey as a little bit of diplomatic hyperbole. The U.S. is training the YPG in urban warfare, which would be of little help in a conflict against the sophisticated and multi-faceted Turkish military. Ultimately, he believes Turkey is a “status-quo” country without an expansionist mindset that would accept a U.S. presence in Syria provided it was not linked with the YPG.  He concluded by suggesting the U.S. should end its relationship with the YPG and instead arm another militia on the ground in Syria known as the Free Syrian Army.

Luke Coffey began by criticizing the Obama administration for prioritizing the defeat of ISIS at all cost, and subsequently arming the YPG at the expense of our relationship with Turkey. He also chastised the Trump administration for continuing this Obama-era approach. Apart from the strategic consequences of supporting the YPG, he stressed that U.S. citizens would not be happy to know that their tax dollars were going to support a neo-Marxist organization with ties to terrorist activity that has killed American tourists in Turkey. Not only can it not be guaranteed that American arms will not be used against Turkey in Syria, but even more concerning, the disjointed messages coming from the State Department, Pentagon, and White House, about creating a border force with the YPG have rightly startled Turkey. Coffey supports the Turkish operation in Afrin, as long as it remains limited in scope, and he believes the U.S. likely told the YPG that they would have to give up Afrin to retain American support. For Coffey, the consequences of backing the YPG are severe, and conversely, Kurdish rule in northern Syria could lead to a revival of ISIS in the area.  He is hopeful the U.S. and Turkey will not ruin their friendship over the events of the past seven years.

On Refugee Integration and the Global Compact on Refugees: Lessons from Turkey

AHI attended a lecture at the Brookings Institution on the integration of refugees, January 30, 2018. The panelists included: Izza Leghtas, senior advocate for Refugees International; Murat Erdogan, director of the Migration and Integration Center at the Turkish-German University; and Elizabeth Ferris, research professor at the Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University. The moderator, Kemal Kirisci, is the TUSIAD senior fellow and director of the Turkey Project at Brookings.

Kirisci opened the event by providing background on the topic. He clarified most refugees (around 90%) tend to live in urban centers and not in camps. This changes the dynamic of the relationships between the refugees and citizens of Turkey. The refugees may have been welcomed at first; however, as the Syrian conflict perseveres, and the refugees remain in limbo between “home” and their host country, the host country’s attitude toward the refugees has become increasingly negative.

The panelists used Turkey as a guide for avoiding the issues their refugee population has faced concerning integration. Kirisci assumes the logic behind the Turkey deal was that “Muslim refugees from Syria would be more likely to be integrated into a society with a Muslim majority.” Hence, this is why the European Union is in favor of the Turkish migration deal instead of increasing their acceptance of refugees, he said. The panelists continued with a discussion of the issues of integration in Turkey.

Murat Erdogan identified the differences in Arabs and Turks which are very distinct. He claimed that “80% of Turkish society viewed themselves as culturally different than the Arab refugees. In addition, the refugees were expected to stay in Europe only until they could “go home” and now this seems very unlikely. Erdogan expressed his concern with moving the Syrian refugee population, which has grown to millions, out of Turkey. The refugees have shops, houses, babies, and one million of them even have the right to vote in Turkey. Erdogan says the government is at fault, avoiding the passage of integration policies because of Turkish society's difficulty to accept the duration of the refugees stay. The increasing refugee population at border cities and lack of resources (both financial and basic necessities) are main reasons that integration is an issue.

Izza Leghtas outlined the difficulty refugees are encountering to securing income.  The refugees have low prospects for work in Turkey. Leghtas highlighted the bureaucratic and administrative challenges to refugees getting work permits. Without citizenship, the work permits are their only option for working in the formal sector. However, the permits are expensive and difficult to acquire per Turkish guidelines. Many refugees “subsequently work in the informal sector.” The refugees tend to work for very low wages and many of the family members, including children, must work to survive. Many countries are involved in the process of providing laws and regulations for refugees.

Elizabeth Ferris discussed the global compact on migration and refugees. The UNHCR, in charge of the process for the compact on refugees, has had minimal success. The relationship between refugees and integration is unclear, according to Ferris. She stated that governments of host countries are unaccepting of integration, which creates issues for refugees in the host country. Ferris and Kemal cited a lack of international cooperation and responsibility sharing as the main issue in Turkey. Turkey has taken too much responsibility and needs more international assistance to succeed in providing a higher standard of living for the refugees without being a hinderance to Turkish citizens.

The Making of the Modern Greek Nation-State

AHI attended a lecture at The George Washington University Elliott School on the making of the modern Greek nation-state by Harris Mylonas, February 22, 2018. Mylonas highlighted the factors that influenced Greece’s transition into an independent state from being under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Prior to the modern Greek nation-state, there were Greek-speaking individuals who still considered themselves connected to the roots of the “ancient” Greece. From the renaissance to the enlightenment period, there was a renewed interest in Greek culture and art. This Greek culture was considered “high culture” because of the prestige of written language, philhellenism, and culture praised by the West. This philhellenism created support for Greek independence from the “Great Powers.” In addition, the deep-rooted Greek Diaspora increased support throughout the West. The geopolitical correlation of Greece was an important factor to the success of the support for Greek independence. 

Global Leaders Forum: Opposition Leader and President of Greece’s New Democracy Party

AHI attended an interview with Greek Opposition Leader and President of New Democracy Kyriakos Mitsotakis, at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, March 13, 2018.  Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia and the Artic, and director of the Europe Program, led the interview.

In his opening statement, Mitsotakis stated Greece has been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent times, he and expressed his desire to see Greece undertake an aggressive reform agenda. He advocated for deep structural reforms that will enable Greece to truly rise economically and play a greater geopolitical role.

On the question of Greek-Turkish relations, Mitsotakis noted the policy of Greece has long been to advocate for good relations with Turkey because the two countries will always be neighbors. Although he believes Greece and the EU should consider strengthening political and economic ties with Turkey, he has obvious reservations with the current state of affairs in Ankara. “It takes two to tango,” Mitsotkais said. Turkey needs to respect the rule of the law, and likewise, stop its increasingly aggressive behavior in the Aegean. The opposition leader specifically blasted Turkey for frequently blocking oil-drilling ships in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, referring to the matter as an unacceptable violation of international law. He also appealed to Turkey to quickly release the two detained Greek soldiers, calling what transpired a minor incident and not an international matter. He criticized the Tsipras administration’s lack of a coordinated response to the incident.

Turning west toward the Balkans, Conley citied remarks by Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell, who sees a “tremendous window of opportunity” for progress in the Balkans. However, Mitsotakis, at least on the name dispute with FYROM, appeared less optimistic than his American counterpart. While he acknowledged the current government in FYROM is more open to dialogue than in years past, he believes Prime Minister Tsipras has mishandled the delicate situation domestically. According to Mitsotakis, Tsipras failed to address adequately the concerns of the voters who are skeptical of any compromise with Skopje before he met with FYROM’s prime minister. Not only was this a mistake, but Tsipras made the situation worse when he referred to all those in Greece protesting the situation as “far-right.” Thus, the Greek prime minister has already missed the chance to have a united domestic front in any further negotiations with Skopje. For Mitsotakis, any deal over the name dispute must include significant Constitutional and educational changes in FYROM.  Greece’s national identity is not something that can be shared or negotiated. Shifting to the Balkans at large, Mitsotakis bemoaned the loss of Greek leadership in the area, which he pinned on the economic crises and lack of interest in the region from the current administration. 

When the conversation shifted to Russian influence in Greece, Conley asked Mitsotakis to respond to Russian oligarch Ivan Savvidis, who stated that Mitsotakis will never become Prime Minister of Greece. Mitsotakis retorted that the question would be better suited for Mr. Tsiparas because “Savvidis and Tsipras are in bed together.” He added he will not be blackmailed or intimated and Greece must address the troubling trend of new oligarchs who are fostering cozy relationships with the Greek state. Greece is not a failed post-Soviet state and cannot be run like one. Its democratic institutions must remain strong, he said.

The conversation turned to U.S.-Greece relations and President Trump’s announcement of his intention to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum.  Mitsotakis is a proponent of free trade and expressed disappointment in Trump’s decision, viewing the potential trade war as a “lose-lose” proposition. He is concerned the U.S. is removing itself from the post-WWII arrangement of economic and political cooperation. However, he credited the Tsipras administration with maintaining strong bilateral relations with the U.S., and also with the U.K. and Israel, while at the same time joking that the promotion of strong relations with these countries used to be considered a right-wing political position in Greece. He suggested he would do even more to strengthen the U.S.-Greece bilateral relationship by way of encouraging more foreign direct investment and negotiating a long-term agreement on the use of the naval base at Souda Bay that can be a win-win result for both countries.

With Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party well ahead in the polls, Conley concluded the interview on the subject of the bailout program and the next election in Greece.  Misotakis argued that in 2014, Greece was on a path of sustainable recovery, and the subsequent third bailout program, negotiated by the Tsipras administration, was unnecessary and almost led to a Grexit. With the electorate clamoring for change, he does not believe Mr. Tsipras will be given a third chance. If he becomes Prime Minister of Greece, he promised to put together a reform agenda geared toward the future that improves the life of the average Greek.

Turkey's "Operation Olive Branch:" An Update on the Political and Military Situation

The American Hellenic Institute joined a teleconference hosted by the Turkish Heritage Organization, March 20, 2018, that provided an update on Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch.” The speakers included: former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert S Ford and Oubai Shahbandar, fellow of the International Security Program.

The conference call reviewed the current situation in Syria with “Operation Olive Branch” and the dynamic it has caused between the United States and Turkey. Ambassador Ford discussed how “Operation Olive Branch” has become an increasing concern to the United States as Turkish forces closed in on the city of Afrin. Turkish forces have caused U.S.-backed YPG forces to divert their attention from ISIS to fighting Turkish forces in the region.

According to Ambassador Ford, the Turkish government made it clear it has interests in the region that are imperative to the country’s security, which the U.S. has ignored.  However, Turkish forces, in the attempt to gain more security, have added to the complexity of the Syrian conflict.  He stated their forces were a “disgrace” in Afrin, looting the city and not being held accountable to a higher standard of a military force. Shahbandar added that if the Turkish government could hold its forces accountable to acting in an appropriate manner it would help ease tensions between the United States and Turkey.

In addition, Ambassador Ford stated the Trump administration’s actions have not been consistent with its goals. The Trump administration has reiterated the goals of the Obama administration, focusing on reducing Iranian influence in the region, defeating ISIS, attempting to negotiate solutions, and has added a focus on nuclear security. However, the current administration lacks a clear strategy on how those goals can be achieved, which has postponed action. Ambassador Ford encouraged the U.S. and Turkish administrations to “stop blaming each other and establish and clarify mutual interests in the region.” 

The New Geopolitics of Turkey and the West

Eric Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Roger Hertog distinguished practitioner-in-residence at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at SAIS.
Kemal Kirisci, TUSIAD senior fellow and director of Turkey Project, The Brookings Institution
Amanda Sloat, Robert Bosch senior fellow, The Brookings Institution
Stephen F. Szabo, senior fellow, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies

Moderator: Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of International Relations and European Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced international Studies


Lisel Hintz opened the discussion by acknowledging the EU-Turkey summit that took place that today in Bulgaria in an effort to “normalize” relations.

Former Ambassador Edelman identified the main challenge of the United States-Turkey relationship is Erdogan’s domestic political agenda. The anti-Western rhetoric, hostage diplomacy, and illegal procedures internationally (such as the bodyguard incident in Washington, D.C.) create little hope for cooperation with Turkey. Amb. Edelman highlighted the U.S. moral hazard in expressing the importance of continuing a relationship with Turkey and ignoring Turkey’s anti-democratic actions. He recommended to “stop pretending they act as an ally” and to “take a transactional approach” instead.

Amanda Sloat elaborated on the idea of a transactional approach as seen by the refugee deal with Europe. However, she states there are limits to a transactional approach when it challenges US values such as good governance and rule of law in Turkey. The EU accession of Turkey, which has been left out of the question should not be completely abandoned but instead used “as a tool for dealing with Turkey.” In addition, Sloat recommended principle engagement in order to “widen aperture on relationship; dealing with a wider set of actors in Turkey” and not just Erdogan. The relationship should look holistically on economics and politics. A relationship based only on security issues is not appropriate. She clarifies that it will be difficult to implement principle engagement in the next year because of the upcoming elections set for November 2019 and Erdogan’s strong anti-Western campaign. Lastly, Sloat reiterated the “U.S. should be more vocal on human rights and rule of law abuse in order to uphold our own values.”

Amb. Edelman added, “Not abandoning rule of law is the most important thing we should be looking at with Turkey.” Addressing the hostage situation, he recommended taking action against the abuse of rule of law by working within legal measures. He claimed the United States has options such as “closing consulates to deal with rule of law abuse like foreign national hostages.” He said closing the consulate in Los Angeles would hurt Turkey. The United States also needs to make changes such as providing a united front on foreign policy toward Turkey. Sloat elaborated on this topic later in the discussion by addressing President Trump and his administration sending mixed messages about U.S. involvement in Syria. Edelman also agreed with “maintaining EU process as a framework for good governance.” Lastly, regardless of Turkey’s actions, Edelman stated, “Turkey is a NATO member. No one is suggesting abandonment as NATO member.”

Kemal Kirisci began the discussion on Turkey-EU relations with the statement, “the EU has stronger leverage (with Turkey) than the U.S.”  He contends the EU has leverage through economics, citing the stat that 49% of Turkish exports go to the EU while a very small percentage go to countries such as Russia. Kemal highlighted the benefits of the EU customs union for Turkey.  In addition, the EU has leverage for historic reasons via a large Turkish diaspora in the EU and high foreign direct investment from the EU in Turkey. There is recognition by Erdogan of Turkey’s economic issues and the importance of economic cooperation. While there is a slight decrease in popularity for Turkish immigration into EU countries (which also have economic issues), Kirisci explains, “Turkey has no where else to go but the West.” Kirsci also attributed the rise of the AKP in Turkey to freezing Turkish accession negotiations due to the Cyprus dynamic.

Stephan Szabo entered the discussion toward the end of Turkey-EU relations, specifically Germany and Turkey’s relationship. The relationship is unique because of the large Turkish population living in Germany. Germany takes a long-term approach to Turkish relations creating “Turkish policy; not an Erdogan policy.” He agreed with Sloat in keeping the relationships with Turkish officials below top level (Erdogan) and developing a strong foundation for future relations. While Germany is having its own governance issues with Merkel’s weakest “chancellorship,” the Germans still have economic leverage with Turkey (unlike U.S. security leverage). The engagement in transactional politics, for example, the refugee deal builds cooperation which can be helpful for future relations.

The Q&A addressed U.S. involvement in Syria, the Kurdish peace process with Turkey, and the overall options within U.S. and Turkish involvement in Syria.

AHI Capital Report September-October 2017

Volume 9, Issue 4

Turkey and Germany: Approaching a Breaking Point?

AHI attended “Turkey and Germany: Approaching a Breaking Point?” at the Middle East Institute (MEI), September 8, 2017. Dr. Gonul Tol, director for Turkish Studies, MEI, moderated the panel, which included: Michael Meier, representative to the U.S. and Canada, Freidrich Ebert Foundation; and Cengiz Candar, Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies.

Dr. Tol prefaced the discussion with an explanation of how Turkish relations with Germany had soured to the point of impacting other parts of the EU in August 2017. She then asked Meier to discuss the potential impact of three-million-plus people in Germany who are of Turkish descent on the then-upcoming German elections. Meier believed foreign affairs did not play the most significant role in German elections. To German voters, issues of migration, integration and assimilation of refugees, were important. The lack of a coherent refugee policy in conjunction with assimilation programs has given rise to the presence of a far-right party in the German parliament for the first time in a long time, according to Meier.

Dr. Tol turned the conversation to Candar, asking him if Turkish voters in Germany would listen to Turkish President Erdogan’s call to vote for non-mainstream parties. Candar stated that voting patterns would persist, and Turkish-Germans would not heed Erodgan’s calls.

A discussion of Chancellor Merkel’s uncharacteristically strong stance against Turkey regarding EU accession, and the threat of not renewing the Customs Union, ensued. Meier stated this stronger position against Turkey reflected public polling. The polls in the run-up to the election suggested:  88% of German voters desired a tougher stance on Turkey, 77% wanted economic sanction, 84% disapproved of Turkish accession to the EU, 85% said they would most likely not travel to Turkey, and 70% said they would not travel to Turkey under any circumstances.  Candar was pleased to see German leadership returning to their senses and ending Germany’s appeasement policy toward Turkey. He believed this was not just a part of campaign rhetoric, but that a tougher stance would continue after the elections.

Finally, Dr. Tol raised the topic of German companies doing business in Turkey, which number about 7,000. She asked if they supported Merkel’s tougher stance and asked the panelists what these companies may think of the turbulent relations. Meier pointed out the business community is already reacting. There is almost no new investment in Turkey to date. Candar noted one-third of Germans cancelled their trips to Turkey in 2016 and that tourism revenue will decline even further. Erdogan worries the economic situation might cost him in the elections, which may reign in his outlandish rhetoric in the future, Candar opined.  

The roller coaster of Turkey-Russia Relations

AHI attended a panel discussion hosted by The Brookings Institution titled, “The roller coaster of Turkey-Russia relations.” The discussion was based on the article, “An ambiguous partnership: The serpentine trajectory of Turkish- Russia relations in the era of Erdoğan and Putin,” written by Pavel K. Baev and Kemal Kirişci, two of the panelists. Torrey Taussig, of Brookings, led the discussion.  

Turkey-Russia relations have held uncertainty for several decades and will continue to require constant vigilance and analysis of the situation. The two countries have conflicting world views, currently highlighted in their responses to terrorism, and often find themselves at odds with one another.  However, according to Baev and Kirişci, the relationship is held together by mutual ideology against the West, along with strong economic ties.

According to Baev and Kirişci, the main points that frame the Turkey-Russia relationship are: growing anti-Western (anti-democratic) ideology, similar government types (widely considered authoritarian) and the interests of specific party coalitions, and Turkey’s attempt to stabilize the Kurdish issue in its favor. The ideological link between the countries forms a relationship of understanding.  This is fueled by both nations being left out of the EU and each having strong anti-Western globalization views.  Turkey, though, tends to often create strong international relationships in pursuit of its interests, for example, its economic link with the EU and its security link with the U.S. Essentially, Turkey’s relationship with Russia creates possible future implications to those relationships with the EU and U.S.

Baev and Kirişci conclude the development of the Turkey-Russia relationship into a “strategic partnership” that could threaten Western interests is not likely because of the tension that is instilled in the relationship from the basis of their world views and different experiences.

Academic Article Discussed:

Event attended on: 9/19/17

Refugee Crisis in Europe and Turkey

On October 10th, The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) moderated a discussion pertaining to the challenges and solutions of the current refugee crisis in Europe and Turkey in the Russell Senate Office Building.

Matthew Reynolds, regional representative, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), provided an update on the crisis.  He stated an influx of immigrants has occurred because of the ISIS conflict and instability in the Middle East.  During the last year, there has been a 20% increase in arrival numbers than in 2016.  However, there has been a significant decrease in that percentage since July. Greece and Italy are receiving most of the refugees in Europe because of the accessibility of the routes into those countries. The restrictions of other routes have created overflow into these countries. Greece is receiving three times more refugees than Italy. Greece has received around one million refugees, he said.

Turkey has received an extensive influx of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. It has received around 3.1 million registered Syrian refugees (more unregistered). Throughout the country there are 23 refugee community camps, however, most of the refugees are spread through Turkey in urban areas not in the camps. The number of refugees has been a burden. The acceptance of refugees by other European countries has been a slow process as many countries have restricted access to refugees. The conditions in which these migrants are traveling and living in are poor at best.

Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, who represented Catholic Relief Services, discussed the organization’s heavy involvement with providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers. According to Gerschutz-Bell, more than 11,000 deaths have been recorded and attributed to the refugee crisis. The journey for refugees is difficult and dangerous. Upon their arrival, the overflow of immigrants is unorganized, and many remain in temporary camps for months. The conditions of these camps are terrible because of overcrowding and a lack of resources, she said. Moreover, due to the lack of regulation, migrants in unsafe conditions also become human trafficking targets.

The solutions discussed for the crisis require global action for reform. The participants broadly stated the Dublin System is inefficient and needs to be replaced or reconfigured. All countries should have a shared responsibility of the crisis, which would create solidarity toward a more effective management of the crisis. The safe pathways (such as visas and relocation services) for asylum should be reorganized and made more accessible. Individuals should be better monitored and documented (fingerprints, data, names, etc.). Essentially, there needs to be more binding agreements and contracts between countries globally to conduct humanitarian assistance to the refugees. Countries need to take some responsibility for individuals who are recognized internationally as needing assistance instead of deeming immigrants a security threat unable to gain access. Funding is a basic necessity for effective improvement of conditions. While many NGOs have become involved and are providing assistance countries and institutions such as the EU should increase their funding of humanitarian aid.

Turkey in Uncharted Waters

The Institute for the Study of Diplomacy organized a discussion on Turkey’s course in our current international environment, October 23, 2017. Ziya Meral, a fellow at the United Kingdom’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, led the discussion.  Meral is an expert on Turkey and the Middle East. He believes Turkey is regressing as a society because of the crisis of governance. Turkey has experienced decreases in freedom of the press and social and human rights. The religious conservatives are causing rifts in the fluidity of society due to their unhappiness with governance. In addition, the complex social violence issue creates low levels of happiness of Turkish citizens and migration from the country. Turkish society’s experience with the manipulation of ethnic and social divides has developed into a lack of trust in both the social and political context.

Meral described Turkey’s foreign policy crisis as unpredictable. Turkey is developing anti-Western rhetoric that contradicts with its attempt to join the EU, to develop U.S. relations, and to develop Turkish business interests with Europe. Turkey cannot risk losing the direct investment from Europe with risky foreign policy. Meral discussed the issue of joining the EU, which is highly unlikely until Turkey respects Cyprus’ sovereignty. Turkey, he said “is a surprising country, they can take 180 degree turns.”  The Turkish government is unpredictable in its foreign policy actions; therefore, it is difficult to assess Turkey’s future in international relations. This is identified in Turkey’s relationship with the United States, which has been up and down. Turkey funds many public relations projects in the U.S. and attempts strong diplomatic relations; however, as of late, Turkey has undertaken risky actions that hinder relations. Meral believes Turkey has the ability to change and move onto a progressive cooperative path, but there will need to be a reorganization of the consistency of government policies.

Crisis in the U.S. Turkey Relations and the Path Forward

The Turkish Heritage Association hosted a discussion, October 31, 2017, on the current state of U.S.-Turkey relations after the suspension of visa services between the two countries. Matthew Bryza, a former U.S. ambassador and former deputy assistant secretary for Europe & Eurasia; and Professor Ilter Turan, professor of political science, Bilgi University, and president of the International Political Science Association, were the participants.

Due to many factors, the U.S.-Turkey relationship is the worst it has ever been, says Bryza.          It can be argued Turkey responded to the United States’ action of visa suspension in a “traditional” sense. The Turkish government displayed uncertainty about how to proceed, and it was at a loss for a course of action due to the U.S. actions, which the panelists found surprising to suspend the issuance of visas to an entire population of a NATO ally.  The panelists were unclear from what level of the U.S. government the United States’ response came. A decision of this importance could not have been made by just an ambassador, they said.  Rather, the decision must have been the result of several U.S. senior officials consulting together.

The suspension of visas affected not only security issues, but Turkish society, said Turan, who cited academic professionals, students, educated individuals, all of who were affected by this decision. The people-to-people aspect of foreign relations and international cooperation is hindered. There have been attempts at de-escalation; however, both sides were trapped by domestic politics, which created an unwelcoming environment for resolution.

Priorities and Challenges in the US- Turkey Relationship

The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on the “Priorities and Challenges in the U.S.- Turkey Relationship,” September 6, 2017.  Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) presided over the hearing.  The witnesses included: Dr. Steven A. Cook, who is an Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; and Dr. Amanda Sloat, a fellow for Democracy in Hard Places Initiative, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. 

The hearing discussed the uncertainty within the U.S.- Turkish relationship questioning Turkey’s actions towards the U.S.  

In opening remarks, Chairman Corker clearly stated Turkey was an ally of the U.S. However, he described the productivity of the bilateral relationship as not being up to U.S. standards. The crackdown on the free press, mistreatment of American citizens, which creates uncertainty about the safety of U.S. citizens living in Turkey; and Turkey’s actions which have been incompatible with NATO standards. 

Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) outlined the importance of the bilateral relationship.  He cited Turkey’s role in being a critical NATO ally, providing examples such as: dealing with refugee outpour, fighting ISIS, and the U.S.- Turkey economic partnership.

Dr. Steven A. Cook outlined the difficulties in the U.S.-Turkey relationship after the failed coup attempt in Turkey.  Dr. Cook cited 130 news outlets have been shut down, foreign news journalists have been arrested, and human rights abuses.  He also testified that Turkey’s policy choices have contracted U.S. interests.  For example, Turkey’s challenge of Iraqi sovereignty, its determination to complicate U.S. efforts to fight ISIS, and the consistent decline of democratic values. American officials have relied on diplomatic actions to get Turkey to adhere with their goals and this has not worked.  

Dr. Amanda Sloat stated upfront Turkey is a complicated ally that remains significant to the United States, and Turkey requires continued U.S. engagement. The indefinite state of emergency hinders the continued threat to the security of Turkish society, weakening democracy in the name of “protection.” The difference in priorities between the United States and Turkey vis-à-vis Syria continues to complicate the relationship.  In addition, Turkey is not living up to democratic standards, which is supposed to be the basis of the relationship. The U.S. needs to seriously consider security concerns, according to Dr. Sloat.

The hearing highlighted the necessity of U.S. counteraction to the Turkish anti-democratic values. In addition, there needs to be a reassessment of the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey.  In summation, if Turkey does not change its course of action toward authoritarianism, there is a lack of credibility in the democratic foundation of the relationship.

Hearing can be found: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/priorities-and-challenges-in-the-us-turkey-relationship_090617

Prime Minister Tsirpas Speaks to Brookings

During Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ October visit to the United States, AHI attended a discussion titled, “Greece in a new era, a discussion with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Greece’s economic and foreign policy future.”  The Brookings Institution hosted the prime minister. 

Prime Minister Tsipras conveyed a message of optimism and confidence that Greece’s most difficult economic times were behind it. He appealed to the United States, and the international community, to “trust Greece,” as the prime minister praised Greece’s growing economy and highlighted its expanding industries and successful privatization efforts around the country.  Prime Minister Tsipras specifically touted Greece’s emerging role as an energy leader, citing the Trans Adriatic Pipeline.  The pipeline is scheduled to begin operation by 2020.  It will transport natural gas from Greece via Albania to Italy and Western Europe.  Prime Minister Tsipras also mentioned the recent progress being made toward another pipeline that would link the oil fields of Israel and Cyprus with Greece.  Tsipras maintained Greece was now, more than ever, an attractive destination for tourists and investors.  He urged Americans to help create a new era for the Greek people.

Prime Minister Tspiras defended his decision to agree to a third bailout program, arguing he was able to get a better deal with less austerity requirements from Greece’s European creditors.  He added that potentially leaving the Eurozone, which would have been the likely result of not accepting the negotiated terms, would have been disastrous for Greece’s most vulnerable population, who rely heavily on Greece’s social welfare programs. Tsipras also gave a strong endorsement of the 8.5 billion debt reduction agreement reached between Greece and its creditors in June, indicating the agreement helped stabilize markets and improved investor confidence in Greece.  In addition, Tsipras suggested he is open to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) involvement in the discussion of a fourth bailout of Greece. However, he found it ironic that while the European creditor nations may pressure the IMF to hold a financial stake in the bailout programs; they are much more hesitant to accept the IMF’s stipulation that Greece still requires more debt relief from its creditors before another bailout should take place.

Prime Minister Tspiras linked Greece’s economic well-being with its national security and its critical geostrategic relationship with the U.S.  He spoke of Greece’s enduring commitment to NATO and the requisite military spending.  He also stated his desire to negotiate a long-term agreement regarding the use of NSA Souda Bay in Crete.  On the ongoing refugee crisis, Tsipras praised Greece’s commitment to humanitarian values and international law, despite the difficult burden on Greece. He noted Greece is the only country in the eastern Mediterranean to put forth an agenda on how to stabilize the region. Ultimately, Tsipras envisions a plan to restore and secure the Middle East and North Africa modeled after the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt postwar Europe.

On Turkey, Prime Minister Tsipras called his Turkish neighbors “aggressive and unpredictable.” He joked he would not need to spend billions on defense and purchase new F16 fighter jets from the United States if his neighbors were Luxemburg and Belgium. Tsipras expressed dismay at the repeated Turkish violations of Greek airspace as well as serious concern that Turkey wishes to revise the Treaty of Lausanne and expand its borders. However, Tsipras mentioned he has visited Turkey three times since becoming prime minister and stressed the importance of having good relations with his neighbors.  The prime minister made it clear that Greece will continue to support Turkish accession to the European Union, hoping that Turkish admittance to the EU would help to reorient the increasingly autocratic nation back on the path of democracy and the rule of law.

AHI Capital Report May-August 2017

Volume 9, Issue 3

What is the Future of EU-Turkey Relations? (Webcast)

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a panel discussion titled, “What is the Future of EU-Turkey Relations?” held April 24, 2017. Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated.

Constanze Stelzenmueller, a public policy scholar at the German Marshall fund, began the discussion. He believes from each perspective, European and Turkish, that each side wants to prevent a tipping point from occurring between relations. Neither side is willing to break off accession talks, despite talks being de facto frozen, as that would push the ball out of their own courts, he said. Adding to the topic, Michelle Egan, fellow, Wilson Center, and professor and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam, American University, School of International Service, stated the EU’s internal credibility problems have contributed to the deterioration of accession talks. Accession talks with Turkey are all the more complex because of Hungary and Poland’s track records on human rights and the rule of law, which undermine the EU. Regarding NATO, Egan believes no other member is willing to throw Turkey out because of a history of non-democracies in NATO, including current members who have questionable democracies such as Hungary and Poland.

Egan also addressed the Cyprus problem. Egan argued that a deal could fundamental and symbolically shift relations forward also while opening new issues that cannot be anticipated. On the other hand, a lack of solution also gives EU member states reason to stop accession talks because of a lack of solution. Considering this, Egan cited Cyprus as an example of one of the EU’s lack of successes regarding the resolution of territorial issues prior to joining. She added that finding a solution remains unlikely. Regarding EU-Turkey relations moving forward, Egan emphasized the harsher measures and EU standards set in place regarding security and the rule of law. If Turkey shows a serious and persistent breach of civil rights and rule of law, one-third of the commission can freeze Turkey’s accession, Egan noted. This comes with the reality there is a hollowing out of support for Turkey’s accession to Europe. Egan argued the focal points of cooperation between EU and Turkey today lie in the customs union between the EU and Turkey that requires modernization and greater cooperation on energy and migration.

Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a member of the Turkish Parliament (Republic Peoples Party), shifted discussion toward “The Turkey Question.” Erdemir offered that moving forward, President Erdogan will take a more offensive defense. Scenarios such as full-scale assaults through government funded NGOs and state institutions, and Turkish support for political parties in Europe, are likely. Moreover, Erdemir argued Erdogan is pivoting away from Transatlantic alliance and values, which is what he wants. Erdogan is back full circle to his Islamist, authoritarian self, and he is serious about it. Nevertheless, Erdemir posited that Turkey does lose out from accession talks coming to a halt. Erdemir highlighted Turkey received more FDI after candidacy status than during the entire republic’s history. The talks ending means an exit of Western and local capital from Turkish economy, leaving every Turkish citizen and company with their bank account, business, and assets unprotected. This means they can be taken, frozen, or controlled by Erdogan’s cronies at any point, leaving Turkey vulnerable.

As a final thought upon reflection, Erdemir stated Turkey never had a serious vision for the EU. Turkey never thought like the EU because it did not realize a European vision. Erdogan’s EU vision was to use the EU as instrumental tool to counter balance Turkish judiciary and military momentarily. Moving forward, Erdermir argued the question is whether we want the EU to border Russian buffer states (Ukraine and Turkey) or if we want the EU to control those buffer states.

Turkey and the United States: Assessment and Prospects

Georgetown University hosted the Institute of Turkish Studies for two panel discussions on “Turkey and the United States: Assessment and Prospects,” May 12, 2017. Gonul Tol, senior fellow and director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, moderated the first panel, Issues in Turkish Domestic Foreign Policy.

Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies, began the discussion. He explained President Erdogan is under great public pressure to have some success in his foreign policy, and at the time, was looking forward to his May 16 meeting with President Donald Trump to strike a deal favorable to Turkey as a chance to regain the support of the 48 percent who voted against him in the referendum. Barkey posited that the YPG stands between Trump and Erdogan reaching a deal. For Trump, seeing Raqqa fall is of pivotal importance, but defeating ISIS will only be possible by using the YPG. For Erdogan, removing the YPG from Raqqa is of equal importance. Barkey argued the U.S. administration must be smart enough to give Erdogan something that he can prove to his people is a victory for the purpose of discouraging Erdogan from taking further drastic measures.

Steven Cook, an Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and African Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, added to Barkey’s insights. He believes no trust exists between Turkey and the U.S. regarding the YPG because previously the U.S. had forced the Turkish hand on the YPG. What Erdogan will take from the meeting is an advertising opportunity for himself to boost his public support. Nevertheless, Erdogan will adamantly resist any international interference in restarting negotiations between the government and the PKK, making it hard for the U.S. to use the meeting to negotiate for leverage.

Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan, Neil Moskowitz Endowed professor of Economics, University of Maryland, turned the conversation to argue that Erdogan will have no leverage during his trip to Washington, aside from gaining legitimacy at home. Ozcan argued Turkey economically cannot continue to finance the war. Moreover, the U.S. and EU’s lack of involvement with Turkey during the past few years has led to a disengagement of relations and an embittered Turkey. Ozcan argued with the EU and United States’ weakened hand in Turkey, negative repercussions are arising; an unstable Turkey means an unstable Middle East. Turkey’s authoritarianism will continue to grow with no serious intervention, Ozcan said.

Cook reaffirmed Ozcan’s notion the EU unfairly has treated Turkey with failed accession procedures, but added Turkey must also do more to meet the EU half way. For Europeans, Turkey’s growing authoritarianism is a huge problem because of the importance Europeans place on values, Cook noted. Although this is not as important to the U.S., the EU and US must begin meeting Turkey half way, he said. Complicating matters, Barkey argued Erdogan’s inner circle is problematic because he is surrounded onlyl with yes-men. No one in his inner-circle provides him with honest answers. Furthermore, Cook emphasized that Kemalism was a set of ideals that never became important in Turkish society, and in that, Erdogan continues to represent an old-fashioned form of autocracy, not theocracy, making the future of Turkey’s foreign policy with the West seem even more complex.

The topic of the second panel discussion was Immigration and Migration in the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Kent Schull, associate professor of History, Binghamton University, moderated. The panel focused on the development of international law vis-à-vis Turkey and the EU, and the historical roots of refugees and internally displaced people in the Middle East and Africa. The ramifications of the movement of displaced peoples during the past 150 years, and how they manifested into what is happening today, received particular attention.

David Gutman, assistant professor of History, Manhattanville College, introduced the topic by highlighting that migration and mobility control have always been central to the Ottoman Empire. Gutman argued the Ottomans used documents to control mobility for centuries. Out of this grew vast and important smuggling networks that increasingly became sophisticated and important in their geographic scope. These networks continue to grow and prosper today. Gutman argued the major difference between the late 19th century, 20th century, and the refugee crisis today, are the vast number of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to migrate. Gutman posited that it increasingly dangerous to travel through these smuggling routes today because of the international mobilization of military control and the close interaction of states, which have created a level of danger that never used to exist when taking on these routes.

Will Smiley, assistant professor of History and Humanities, Reed College, advanced this notion regarding law. Smiley argued International Law was never considered to be part of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, today, while migration continues for similar reasons as it did a century ago, the rules and laws have changed. As a result, the ability to migrated has become complicated and the scope for crime and corruption has worsened.

Lisel Hintz, visiting assistant professor, Department of Political Science, Barnard College, shifted the conversation to consider how Turkey has used the refugee crisis for its own political gain. Hintz argued the way the AKP handled the refugee crisis from the outset, was quite commendable. The Turkish government initially refused international help and foreign aid, giving them moral standing and an upper hand in bargaining with Europe. Since then, Turkey has welcomed more than three million Syrian refugees, even overlooking a 1951 refugee law that said it would not grant refugee status to individuals who were not European.

Domestically, Lintz explained there have been several outcomes from the huge number of Syrian refugees that Turkey has accepted. First, Lintz identified that less than 10% of Syrian refugees live in refugee camps and instead chose to travel to big cities such as Istanbul to find work. This has led to a domestic backlash in terms of the number of refugees that Turkey is hosting. However, on the other hand, Turkey has managed to turn the migrant crisis around from an economic crisis to an economic boom. With Syrians making up 4% of Turkey’s population, Erdogan seeks to gain loyalty from Syrian refugees. With the AKP failing to get the support it needed during the referendum, this 4% of the population, if given citizenship, may vote for the AKP, creating an important foundation of support for Erdogan. Moreover, Erdogan has been trying to take advantage of the intellectual capital that a lot of the refugees have brought with them, replacing those who have fled Turkey, or who were purged from their jobs, with highly educated refugee Syrians.

Congressional Hearing: Lessons from the IMF’s Bailout of Greece

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade held a hearing titled, “Lessons from the IMF’s Bailout of Greece,” May 18, 2017. U.S. Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) chaired the hearing. Witnesses included: Paul Blustein, senior fellow, Center for International Governance Innovation; Meg Lundsager, public policy fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center; Professor Anna Gelpern, professor of Law, Georgetown Law and non-resident senior fellow, Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics; and Dr. Rebecca Nelson, specialist in International Trade and Finance, Congressional Research Service.

In his opening statement, Chairman Barr reflected on Greece’s continued state of deep recession, despite the systemic exemption Greece has received, stating the Greek bailout has made a mockery of the IMF lending rules. Chairman Barr expressed shock the IMF is considering a third bailout and argued the IMF’s bailout will serve only to help Eurozone politicians in upcoming elections. Moreover, Chairman Barr stated a third Greek bailout will show the IMF has not learned from its past experiences and that its decision making has become hopelessly politicized.

Blustein stated the IMF’s role in the Greek bailout was to aid Greece in paying its debt to avoid catastrophic default. In return, Greece was to implement strategic reforms. Blustein contended even if Greece had complied with all austerity measures, and fulfilled all of the IMF’s conditions, the Greek economy would still not have been able to revive itself. Nevertheless, despite the misgivings of the IMF bailout package, Blustein maintained the funds provide a global public good—global financial stability. The crisis in Europe showed IMF’s work is important and that even advanced countries need the IMF.

Lundsager posited that while the IMF’s early response to the Greek crisis was key in containing the crisis, IMF lending to Eurozone countries strained IMF principles and weakened the IMF’s lead role in designing economic adjustment programs and financing packages. This is because IMF lending programs have been shaped more by European needs than by IMF standards, which eroded the IMF’s ability to deal with countries uniformly. In her opinion, it is unlikely Europe will adjust its internal rules and regulations to accommodate the IMF. Therefore, the preferred future approach is for European countries to not seek IMF lending and begin to address their own internal inconsistencies. In support of her opinion, Lundsager referred to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which she argued creates little financial need for a parallel IMF program. Therefore, the Eurozone should assert its lead role in addressing its internal economic challenges and move forward without an IMF program for Greece.

However, Lundsager added that under the IMF’s articles of agreement, Eurozone members can seek the right to request IMF financing. Therefore, the IMF should have a policy in place establishing its program design and seniority in lending to all IMF members. The IMF should work toward establishing a policy that governs how it will lend to members in a currency union. With that said, the IMF contribution should be relatively small and a shorter term than some of the recent programs with Eurozone countries. The approach should include a process for the IMF to participate in the design of a country’s economic reform program and monitoring its performance without necessarily providing financial assistance.

In testimony, Professor Gelpern presented the opinion the IMF remains indispensable in sovereign debt restructuring and has more policy sway today with less money on the line than it has previously. Professor Gelpern argued the lesson of Greece is that we need a stronger IMF as the IMF plays a vital coordinating role. The IMF is the only actor capable of bringing together diverse domestic and external constituents around a reform program and has developed unparalleled expertise in crisis management, the professor stated. Moreover, the IMF ideally is positioned to promote more transparency and intelligibility.

Dr. Nelson stated after seven years, Greece’s economy remains in crisis despite IMF programs that have helped to limit the spillover from Greece to the global economy. This raises substantial policy questions, she said. First, should there be limits of the size and length of IMF financing? Long-term financing veers from the IMF’s mandate to provide temporary financial support. Additionally, long-term programs give rise to the potential for moral hazard; governments may be prudent to apply stringent economic policies if they believe the IMF will step in, regardless of the cost. On the other hand, limiting the resources the IMF can deploy during crisis may pose risk to the broader global economy. Second, co-financing with European creditors limits the IMF’s ability to design programs for Greece. Third is the issue of IMF policy accountability and flexibility. Nelson argued that providing the IMF discretion to make policy changes allows the IMF to respond to unforeseen and time-sensitive crises. On the other hand, this allows for a risk that the IMF adopts policy changes that donor governments do not support and may make the IMF less predictable as an institution. Finally, Dr. Nelson touched upon currency unions. The IMF does not design programs for currency unions and how the IMF responds to crises with countries inside a currency union remains a challenge.

In Q&A with the witnesses, Chairman Barr concluded the IMF’s involvement has done little to improve the lives of Greeks because of Greece’s domestic politics. He believes Greece’s leaders have been slow-walking reforms for years. Moreover, Chairman Barr noted how Prime Minister Tsipras criticized the IMF for its unconstructive attitude and fiscal and financial issues and indicated the IMF should stay out of any future bailouts, and he responded the IMF should be happy to do so in the future. In response to Chairman Barr’s statement, Blustein argued Greece has their arms tied and believes it should be asking for IMF help. Additionally, Tsipras scores political points by attacking the IMF because the IMF has been tougher than European creditors by insisting on various structural reforms and for targets to be met. Chairman Barr replied the IMF is creating a moral hazard. If the IMF gives Greece a third bailout, it would give them another credit card to max out, incentivizing the very behaviors that got Greece into trouble in the first place with little meaningful prospect for a long-term solution.

Congresswoman Moore asked the panelists why belt tightening was not achieved in Greece, inquiring if the conditions imposed on Greece were too great. Blustein responded in Greece’s defense, arguing Greece complied and delivered on fiscal conditionality, even to the extent it may have killed its economy. Blustein argued the issue at-hand was time. The structural reforms would take so long to work that the effects of austerity would be felt much greater even if Greece had delivered on all the structural reforms. Congresswoman Moore agreed, adding in the long-run, austerity was not the answer and the IMF did play an important role in stemming contagion.

The Geo-Strategic Importance of Southeast Europe

The German Marshall Fund hosted a panel discussion focused on the future of Southeastern Europe, June 20, 2017. Jonathan Katz, resident fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States, moderated.

Katz outlined the critical value of the Balkans as allies to the EU and United States. He emphasized the need for the U.S. and EU to step-up and help the region transition. Katz also highlighted the growing challenges posed by external factors such as Turkey, China and Russia that are hampering European integration for Balkan nations. Other challenging factors include ongoing political and economic corruption and a rise of populism that is increasing the urgency to battle radicalization.

Lisa Rhoads, Private Equity; Network 20/20 board member, discussed the Balkan region’s ‘Plan B’ in the likely event the EU accession process fails for the Balkan countries. Rhoads emphasized the importance of private sector investment in the region, particularly regarding the small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector. She stressed the Balkan region needs to transition away from sectors such as coal and iron and move toward creating conditions conducive to investment and growth. Rhoads stated the region is hopeful because of a new generation’s seeking new entrepreneurial opportunities. By providing individuals with know-how, removing the risk of investing, and creating mentorship and development programs, good progress is expected in the region.

Daniel Vajdish, president, Yorktown Solutions, argued the contrary. Today, the region is facing a much bleaker picture than four years ago, he offered. Specifically, the Brussels dialogue has fallen stagnant, there has been a lack of progress in interethnic relations, and the national challenges that plague individual Balkan countries continue to persist. Vajdish highlighted what has changed, which the region’s problems are exacerbated by outside actors such as Russia who is using the Balkans for political leverage in the West. Considering the present-day situation, Vajdish argued regional leaders are clamoring for greater U.S. involvement. However, with the region’s persistently weak economy fueling nationalist rhetoric, and few incentives for outside private investors to invest in the Balkans, it seems unlikely the Trump administration will get involved in the Balkans.

Dr. Daniel Serwer, academic director of Conflict Management, Johns Hopkins University discussed the Balkan region’s future vis-à-vis the European Union and NATO. Serwer stated NATO membership is more important than ever, especially as EU membership seems increasingly unlikely. However, NATO membership currently is blocked by each Balkan country’s own issues. Serwer argued the only way for the U.S. to be able to do something in the region is to solve each country’s individual problems, which is a tall order of commitment to ask of the US and unlikely to be undertaken.

Ambassador Fioreta Faber reminded the audience the Balkan countries still look very positively upon the EU and have not put that option to bed. However, moving forward, the region has no good models of a market economy to strive toward and this holds Balkan nations back. The Balkan region is not an export region or business hub, and therefore, it lacks what it takes to bring multinational companies into the region. On this topic, Rhoads argued the object of a ‘Plan B’ is to ensure that SMEs are supported and given the expertise needed to create a self-sustained region in the long run.

U.S. – Greece Relations & Eastern Mediterranean Strategy with U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt

The German Marshall Fund hosted U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt for a roundtable discussion on U.S.-Greece relations and Eastern Mediterranean strategy, June 21, 2017. Jonathan Katz, resident fellow at the German Marshal Fund, moderated.

Ambassador Pyatt stated the United States’ bilateral relationship with Greece is as positive as it has been since the 1970s. Both governments have been vocal about the importance of their strategic relationship. The ambassador argued the Obama administration strengthened this sentiment by supporting Greece through its years of economic hardship, and the Trump administration has ensured this positive trend continues. Ambassador Pyatt contended military and security relations are at their historical best, both at a soldier-to-soldier level and politically. He added the United States is 100% committed in Souda Bay with its geographic location being irreplaceable for U.S. strategic interests. He said the U.S. is seeking to expand its operations at the base. Ambassador Pyatt argued Greece is an important strategic partner because Souda Bay is the only facility between Norfolk and the Gulf, allowing the U.S. to continue providing security assistance to Europe.

Regarding the Greek economy, Ambassador Pyatt stated following the recent completion of the second review bailout, the big systemic crisis is over. Greece is now able to handle its debt and will be able to once again enter the market, he said. The ambassador cautioned that moving forward, Greece can only grow via foreign investors as it does not have enough money to do it alone. However, substantial foreign investments have already been made, and he cited most notably U.S. companies such as Calamos Investments, and China, which recently acquired the Greek port of Piraeus, granting China access to EU markets. Regarding foreign direct investment, Pyatt argued the debt overhang is not the most important issue affecting Greece, and while it must be addressed, it is not urgent. Moreover, the EU takes precedence when it comes to Greece’s economic matters. For the U.S., it is more important that Greece remains a strong EU and NATO ally because of its geostrategic importance.

Ambassador Pyatt also cited numerous negative outside influences affecting Greece internally. Pyatt argued that Russia’s influence in Greece and the Western Balkans is particularly troubling. The Kremlin seeks to reset the terms of engagement with Greece with efforts to infiltrate Greece via the Church and major acquisitions such as the buyout of major Greek companies, private and public, ranging from major local football teams to television networks.

Regarding Cyprus, Ambassador Pyatt reflected on the positive relationship that Turkey and Greece have been working to maintain so to keep channels open. Nevertheless, hampering progress is the issue of energy between Greece and Turkey wherein a solution has yet to be reached. On a positive note, he cited hydrocarbon energy findings in the Ionian Sea and the progress of the Trans-Adriatic pipeline. The pipeline is changing the regional energy dynamic because it will transit the first non-Russian oil to reach Europe.

In conclusion, Ambassadr Pyatt stated the United States desires to see continued democracy and economic growth in Greece. He believes the future looks bright because Syriza and New Democracy are very supportive of the U.S. and the bilateral relationship.

SETA Foundation Hosts: Turkey: A Year after the July 15th Coup Attempt

The SETA Foundation hosted a conference to examine Turkey a year after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Between panel discussions, General Yasar Guler, General Commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie Forces, presented the Keynote Address, reflecting upon the coup attempt.

Gen. Guler recalled the time prior to the coup as one of relative stability; Turkey was in process of stabilizing their political system, there was no economic crisis, and there was no major challenge that would peril the integrity of the state within the public order. It is within this environment the general argued FETO was able to orchestrate the coup.

He identified FETO as a terrorist organization and denounced them. Moreover, FETO members are hiding their radical identities under the pretext of a relief agency and religious community. All the while, FETO places its members in government institutions from the lowest to the highest ranks, General Guler said. Within this context, the general stated the perpetrators of the July 15 Coup were an organized movement that infiltrated the army, led by Fetullah Gulen. Guler commented on the growing global problem of radicalism, arguing that individual terrorist organizations are not the problem, but rather radicalization as a whole is a problem both in Turkey and globally. Gen. Guler emphasized FETO is a forty-year organization with a hazardous organizational structure against which the world should be on alert. Moreover, Gen. Guler argued the world’s public opinion should come up with policies to counter terrorist organizations and radicalization over principles, not over persons and countries.

THO Hosts: The July 15 Coup Attempt in Turkey: One Year On

The Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) hosted an event at the National Press Club to discuss the aftermath of the July 15th coup attempt in Turkey, July 13, 2017. Ali Cinar, THO president, in opening remarks asserted that THO agrees the Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO) was behind the 2016 coup attempt.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey, the Philip Solondz distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discussed the state of U.S.-Turkey relations. Leading up to the coup, Ambassador Jeffrey stated the lack of U.S. support in fighting Assad frustrated Turkey. Similarly, Turkey’s lack of involvement in fighting ISIS frustrated the U.S. These factors, along with the U.S. alliance with the YPG in Syria, and the U.S.’ delayed response to the coup, have poisoned U.S.-Turkish relations, he said. On a more positive note, Amb. Jeffrey believes U.S. attention will be directed toward strengthening U.S.-Turkey relations in greater terms with the ISIS campaign concluding soon.

Former Congressman Cliff Stearns, executive director of APCO Worldwide’s Washington DC office, advanced Ambassador Jeffrey’s analysis, stating Turkey has been, and remains, an essential ally to the U.S. Turkey is the only country in the MENA region that is a NATO member. Turkey holds one of the largest armies of all NATO members, is a Muslim majority nation, a democracy, and is strategically located. In this context, Stearns emphasized the need for greater person-to-person relations with Turkey, especially considering the number of complications present today that have the capacity to worsen relations.

Ambassador Matthew Bryza, a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and Global Energy Center, stated there is no clear picture on how to fix this relationship today in light of all the issues already discussed. Nevertheless, Ambassador Bryza expressed confidence Turkey would not shift into Russia’s orbit. Historically, Turkey has associated itself, and its identity, with the Middle East, Anatolia and Europe, and never with Russia. Moreover, Bryza believes Turkey’s geopolitical agenda stands firm with NATO.

Mark S. Hall, an award-winning producer and director of movie “Killing Ed,” a film discussing the corruption and corrosive influence of the Gulen movement, discussed the Gulen movement’s chain of taxpayer-funded charter schools in America. Currently, 72,000 students in the United States attend Gulen-affiliated schools with the U.S. government granting $729 million a year to help fund the 167 Gulen charter schools in America. Hall stated the schools have political friends at the local, state and federal level who do their biddings, allowing the Gulenist schools to take advantage of the system. Hall noted the growth of the charter schools particularly is troubling, especially in middle-America where their growth has been exponential with law enforcement and state legislatures doing little to stem the discrimination of the Gulenist schools. Moreover, under the Trump administration, there has been a strong theme of education privatization, helping Gulenist schools thrive. In addition, FETO allegedly spends a lot of money investing in U.S. politicians. Congressman Stearn attested to Halls points, stating U.S. politics is too heavily influenced by money, which is needed for campaigns. In this context, Hall believes professors, journalists, and politicians in the U.S. are all financially influenced by the Gulenist movement, indicating a failure of the system to control the spreading of an outside force.

Mujeeb Khan, a Fulbright research scholar in the Persian Gulf, identified and further explained the nature of the Gulenist movement. Khan stated FETO is a rigidly hierarchical movement and highly coordinated in nature. Khan stated there is “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” the coup was orchestrated from the top of the Gulen movement. Nevertheless, there is no smoking gun to validate this position. The establishment of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Committee’ is an important priority for Turkey because it can bring the country together and eliminate the scope for guilt by association while also strengthening the Turkish constitution, Khan said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu advanced the anti-Gulenist rhetoric, arguing the coup wanted to destroy the constitution and the foundations of the Turkish state. Specifically, Cavusoglu argued FETO remained an underground organization for so many years so that it would be able to infiltrate all aspects of society.

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee: Examining the Presidents FY 2018 Budget Proposal for Europe and Eurasia

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats held a hearing to review the State Department’s 2018 Fiscal Year budget submission for the Europe and Eurasia region. Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated the president’s budget proposed a 46 percent reduction of the for Europe and Eurasia, with the government’s decision to reduce spending having created a divide within the political landscape. Nevertheless, he emphasized how this is an opportunity for fresh thinking on how to solve problems and on the need for strong U.S. diplomacy. The discussions revealed the importance of the U.S. to use its diplomatic hand to enact change and stability in Europe, rather than military might, especially in the Ukraine region. This would help stem the backsliding of democracy and persistence of frozen conflicts and secure a prosperous region. The threat the Kremlin poses to the regional security of Europe, and in turn, to U.S. national security, also received plenty of discussion.

Ambassador John A. Heffern, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, outlined the United States’ four main goals in Europe which remain: countering Russia’s pressure and malign influence in the region, supporting front-line states, specifically Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia; supporting stability and resilience in the Balkans, and defeating ISIS and other terrorist organizations. As a result of the proposed budget cuts, Ambassador Heffern stated the most effective programs and measures will have to be prioritized and cuts will have to be made in many areas.

The hearing placed emphasis on the need for the United States to maintain a sustained commitment and engagement to Europe and Eurasia. Specifically, Chairman Rohrabacher stated Ukraine and Russia must be brought back into the economic market and into the European Union, especially as the U.S. played a big role in the destabilization that took place in Ukraine.

AHI Capital Report March-April 2017

Volume 9, Issue 2

Middle East Institute – The Impact of Shifting Geopolitics in MENA energy

The Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted a panel discussion, February 28, about how major Middle Eastern states are navigating far-reaching change in the energy market and shifting relations between the players.

Molly Williamson, an MEI scholar, moderated the discussion. She summarized the current state of the energy market. Williamson argued the world presently is watching the emergence of a new oil order with ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding its evolution. Furthermore, with the large deposits of gas found in the Eastern Mediterranean, followed by the upsurge in shale gas in North America that led to the collapse of international oil prices in 2014, the structure of oil pricing and the movement and ability of price manipulation are in a state of upheaval. These factors, in addition to the unrest plaguing the Middle East, have pushed the region to try to use more of its own oil to diversify and grow.  It has also led nations to apply other commodities in the region to boost economic growth.

Justin Dargin, an energy scholar from the University of Oxford, continued with Williamson’s perspective. Dargin reasserted the importance of enormous oil reserves in the gulf region and discussed the three main challenges the industry faces moving forward. The first challenge regards the rising energy intensity in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. With energy intensity rising throughout the Middle East as countries are attempting to industrialize rapidly, governments are subsidizing low cost power to give them a head start. This is coupled with low energy efficiency, leading to unsustainable energy consumption rates and ultimately an energy deficit in the long run. Dargin argued that as a solution to this problem, instead of fostering economic growth based on low cost fees, MENA countries should focus on operational efficiency. The second issue is the rising gas demand in an increasingly gas consuming/receiving region. The final problem the MENA region faces is unlocking unconventional gas production. This requires a high level of technical know-how, pushing many countries to align with international oil companies (IOC) to transfer their expertise.

Ralf Mammadov, a resident scholar on energy policy at the Middle East Institute shifted the conversation to the power struggle that oil creates within the international arena. Mammadov argued the balance of power is shifting from OPEC to non-OPEC countries. Russia and the United States are becoming more prominent gas distributors and there is growing ambiguity surrounding how the U.S. and Russia may use their oil and gas industries to leverage themselves within the international arena in the future. Meanwhile in Europe, with domestic production and consumption on the decline and a large reliance on Russian oil, infrastructural problems to procure gas in Europe are rising. With Ukraine being the major transit for oil to Europe, pressure on pipeline projects are growing, especially with regard to Europe’s landlocked countries that are solely reliant upon pipelines. Additionally, Mammadov stressed the importance of the U.S. promising its energy security to Europe via liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Professor Brenda Shaffer, senior fellow, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, furthered the discussion on the changing nature of the natural gas industry. Shaffer argued the natural gas industry will have a much more political nature than oil because of the long-term nature of its contracts.  Oil is a more commercial transaction. Shaffer posited that the nature of the natural gas trade may not reach a global market as the previous U.S. administration struggled to find contracts for its reserves and the new source of oil in the Eastern Mediterranean expanding pipeline options and influencing the geopolitical distribution of energy in the world.

Professor Shaffer also brought attention to how the gas found in Cyprus, Israel, and parts of the Middle East may help solve conflicts in the MENA region. But, Shaffer emphasized that pipelines should not be perceived as solutions to peace between states.  Rather, pipelines represent relationships within the region. Little gas trade exists between the GCC countries themselves, showing the bad relationships that currently exist and the scope for cooperation that can be built upon if only the GCC states are willing to come to the table. Shaffer also highlighted the importance of Russia in the region due to the Eastern Mediterranean being a major point of Russia’s oil exports and gas exploration.

Jean-Francois Seznec, an MEI scholar, shifted the conversation to the policy of the current U.S. administration toward oil.  Seznec highlighted how recent changes in the administration are altering substantially the nature of the energy game, contradicting Shaffer’s argument that LNG gas may not be as important as people think.

Brookings: The Future of the European Security Order

The Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion on The Future of the European Security Order, March 1. Fiona Hill, then senior fellow and director of the Center on the U.S and Europe, Brookings (prior to her departure to join President Trump’s National Security Council), introduced the program by addressing the changes that have taken place since 2015. Hill emphasized the increasing internal and external challenges facing Europe: the growing populous movement casting worry over upcoming European national elections, the continuing economic crises in Greece demanding greater bailout agreements, the Brexit referendum, the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis flooding European borders, and the political consequences of mass migration movements to Europe generating even greater pressure on the Union. Meanwhile, with the new U.S. administration, the question of its commitment to the transatlantic relationship is casting a cloud of doubt over European and U.S. relations.

Costanze Stelzenmuller, a Robert Bosche senior fellow, moderated the discussion and directed the conversation toward security challenges in Europe, and in particular, Eastern Europe, following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.  

Justyna Gotkowska, senior fellow, Department for Germany and Northern Europe, Center for Eastern Studies in Poland, detailed Poland’s greatest preoccupations following the Ukraine crisis. Gotkowska emphasized how Russia is Poland’s prime security concern today, presenting a long-term challenge for Polish and Western security.

Gwendolyn Sasse, director, Centre for East European and International Studies, discussed the bottom-up approach the Germans are taking regarding international security. Sasse argued societies are polarized because present international norms are coming under pressure and failing to spread the liberal order amid an increasing populist wave.   National governments need to first fix their own states before they can begin to fix the EU.

Christopher S. Chivvis, associate director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, and senior political scientist at RAND Corporation, summarized the three main concerns presently facing Europe. Chivvis argued the first issue Europe needs to deal with is Euro-terrorism. Euro-terrorism is likely to get worse in time as the flow from returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria may increase at a time when Europe hasn’t managed to strengthen its population. Chivvis suggested that solving this problem will take more law enforcement and intelligence resources alongside closer cooperation between European members and other nations, for example, the United States. The second issue facing Europe is deterring Russia.  Chivvis stated Russia wants a 1990s relationship with the EU; realpolitik and military dominance. The final challenge facing the EU is avoiding the impulse to turn inward and delink with Washington.  At present, it is important for Europe to give the U.S. time to play itself out and not engage in short-term decision taking, adding America has not changed irrevocably overnight despite a new administration.   Chivvis reminded the audience the transatlantic relationship was built to create a liberal democracy. To move away from such a relationship would be a major victory to opponents of a system the West constantly seeks to defend.

From the opposite spectrum, Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center, and a Kremlin insider, offered what he perceived to be the current Russian perception of the state of world affairs. Rojansky argued that generally, when Russians look toward the U.S., they hold a considerable amount of uncertainty and concern. The Russians have taken on a ‘defensive crouch’ toward the U.S.  They are not willing to engage in conflict but are willing to defend themselves using any means.  

Panel 2 – Trans-Atlantic relations and European Security: A Break with Past?

The second discussion panel moderated by Thomas Wright, fellow and director of the Project on International Order and Strategy, The Brookings Institution, focused on the future of the transatlantic relationship and European security. Wright began the conversation with Kurt Volker, former U.S ambassador to NATO and executive director of The McCain Institute for International Leadership. Wright presented a variety of messages coming out of the Trump administration and asked Volker whether there appeared to be a coherent message coming out of the administration toward transatlantic relations.

Ambassador Volker stated it was still too early to predict the direction the Trump administration will take. However, Ambassador Volker posited that two central issues are complicating matters further. First, the rising populism movement against traditional foreign policy that President Trump amassed during his presidential campaign is placing pressure on the administration. Secondly, during his presidential campaign Trump was especially good at shaping the dialogue via the media. Nevertheless, despite these foundational complications, Ambassador Volker argued that so far, the Trump administration has made good decisions regarding foreign policy with Vice President Mike Pence pulling together a coherent and consistent U.S. foreign policy message for Europe.

Theodore Bromund, senior research fellow, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, added to the discussion on the Trump administration’s transatlantic relations. Bromund presented a view that the Trump’s administration will depart from the post-1925 American policy of seeking to advance positively the European mission. The administration instead will show a polite disinterest for the EU and this comes down to economics, security and history. Secondly, the EU and the U.S. do not see eye-to-eye on transatlantic security cooperation, he opined. For instance, if Europe increases its spending, then the U.S. believes it can invest less in European security. Meanwhile, Europeans perceive their increased security spending to be in conjunction with continued American support that will allow the whole structure to benefit. The rift between the two beliefs will serve to strain transatlantic relations, he believes. Finally, historically, Bromund argued that following the Cold War, the United States should have stopped supporting Europe and taken a more neutral approach to Brussels while maintaining support for NATO.

Daniela Schwarzer, director of Research, The German Council on Foreign Relations, argued that meanwhile, across the Atlantic, what has happened in Washington in the past month has created a new dynamic. Germany has its own reevaluations to make.  Germany is aware that some of its own partners are weak, and it must take responsibility for them.

Ambassador Volker added that both Brussels and Washington are experiencing populist, anti-establishment movements. In both instances, the establishments are experiencing what Ambassador Volker termed as ‘elites in denial,’ elites who do not understand where their own publics are. Volker opined that what elites in Europe need to do is figure out how to be more responsive to the publics’ concerns: immigration, culture and identify, job loss to newcomers, security and terrorism.

Julianne Smith, senior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program for the Center for a New American Security, continued with this sentiment. Smith posited there exists a democratic deficit on both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly regarding the value of the European project. With that said, the U.S. administration must consider how much it is willing to make the case to the American public about the value of the European project. Nevertheless, Smith argued that the question of how willing the U.S. administration is to get involved in this debate and how willing it is to defend, support and preserve the European project, is something that is not yet clear.

Daniela Shwarzer expanded on the democratic deficit issue. She contended the European Union is only ‘half way integrated,’ and more must be done to stop the system from falling apart. Shwarzer stated to make that step, EU national governments need to transfer sovereignty in sensitive areas. Ultimately, Shwarzer emphasized the message to President Trump should be that the U.S. and Europe have a lot to lose if they do not cooperate.

SETA DC: The U.S – Russia – Turkey Triangle on Syria

The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research held a discussion regarding the U.S – Russia – Turkey Triangle on Syria, March 31, 2017. Kadir Ustan, executive director, SETA Foundation, moderated a panel of four speakers with regional expertise.

Faysal Itani, senior fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, provided a broad perspective on the triangle. Faysal argued that presently, the prospect of reaching a diplomatic solution in Syria is limited because of the divergent interests that external actors face.  The fight against extremist groups and the complexity of creating a military zone require coordination and cooperation among the three states that is unfeasible within the current political context. For Turkey, Faysal argued that its number one objective is clearing its borders and unseating ISIS. Nevertheless, Turkey’s referendum, military casualties in Syria, and bumpy foreign relations with Russia and the U.S. are constraining its actions. Meanwhile, Russia’s primary interest is breaking the crusade in Syria, gaining Syria as an important ally, and by doing so, strengthening its position in the West. The core problem that Russia faces is a time constraint.  The longer it takes to transform the conflict from military to political, the weaker Russia seems, Faysal explained. Concurrently, the United States’ primary interest is destroying ISIS and limiting Iranian influence. Yet the U.S. has a shortage of suitable partners in Syria and simultaneously is struggling to negotiate with Russia. The only goal that all three powers share is destabilizing ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Murat Yesiltas, director of Security Studies, SETA Foundation, added to Faysal’s views, stating there are too many conflicting interests in Syria and an ambiguity of actors. Following the battle of al-Bab, Yesiltas posited that there are some major conflicts of interest arising among the three powers. Importantly, Turkey is trying to recalibrate its national security priorities by expanding its military operations against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a left-wing Kurdish political party to ensure the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a Kurdish militia in Syria. Simultaneously, the U.S. and Russia have sent special military forces to prevent Turkey from attacking the YPG, with Russia using the YPG to counter an escalation of Turkey’s strategic plan in the region, Yesiltas believes.

Mark Perry, an independent author, directed the conversation toward U.S. strategy in Syria regarding ISIS. Perry argued that under the Trump administration, the new military and foreign policy strategy in the Middle East is defensive, but strategic. Perry stated President Trump is “bomb[ing] the hell out of ISIS,” as he promised during his campaign.  The Trump administration has expended 27% more ammunition in three months than under a comparable period during the Obama administration. Perry contended this action has economic implications on Capitol Hill with the Budget Control Act, which limits President Trump’s access to funds. Perry argued these budgetary issues are driving the Trump administration’s strategy.  There are many ongoing conflicts around the world the U.S. is dealing with that the Trump administration is looking for a win. Perry argued, “if you want to find out what the U.S. will do in the Middle East, follow the money.” Additionally, President Trump has given the decision of targeting to the Pentagon, thereby increasing the level of violence and loosening the rules of engagement in Syria.

Richard Weitz, the Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute considered the growing relationship between Russia and Turkey. First, Russian analysts still see Turkey as a rising power and appreciate the new flexibility within Turkish foreign policy. Second, the alienation of both countries from Europe brings them closer together.  Furthermore, Russia views the differences between Turkey and NATO as an opportunity for Russia to gain leverage in the Black Sea. Finally, the Turkish and Russian governments share a growing impatience with President Trump. Weitz contended President Trump has not been forthcoming in his campaign promises and this has disillusioned the opposition in Russia and Turkey.

Kadir Ustan closed the discussion by reflecting on the varying degrees of priorities that all three actors have within Syria and within the Middle East in general. Ustan put forward a final question, asking “If ISIS is a common threat, what would be a common end game, and how can this conversation be reversed?”

Richard Weitz hypothesized that in the case of U.S. and Russia, once could envision a compatible end game whereby the U.S. destroys the ISIS base in Raqqa, then turns Raqqa over to Russia, and then focuses on Iraq. The problem is whether Assad will have the authority to take control.

Contrarily, Faysal concluded if there is no ISIS, then there will be someone else.  Although Russia and Turkey view ISIS as a common threat, ISIS is much less important than it is for the U.S. For a solution to be reached, Faysal speculated the YPG needs to be eliminated, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) needs to be ok passively with the situation, and Assad needs to be able to govern Syria.

Atlantic Council: Strategic & Sustainable Development for a Unified Cyprus

AHI attended “Strategic & Sustainable Development for a Unified Cyprus” held by The Atlantic Council, March 8. Ambassador Victoria Nuland, former assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, provided opening remarks.  She stated the current negotiations are a refreshing and conducive framework to solving the Cyprus problem, a settlement she believes is close to fruition. She cited a reference to U.S. support for the ongoing negotiations in the very first public briefing of the Trump administration as a reason for encouragement.

Panel 1: Scene-Setter

John Harkrider, executive director, One Cyprus Now, spoke about the problems a lack of international support can create and discussed how his organization is working to prevent such an issue from arising in Cyprus. Damon Wilson, executive vice president of Programs and Strategy, The Atlantic Council, spoke about the in-depth look at the eastern Mediterranean undertaken by the Atlantic Council. He mentioned that Europe cannot be whole, and at peace, until Cyprus is resolved.

Panel 2: Laying the Groundwork for a Prosperous Unified Cyprus

Jonathan Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State, presented first. He said the current talks have a strong chance at opening economic, security, and political opportunities that have been closed for over forty years. He added that every Turk he communicates with can agree to fill in the details of the Cyprus solution while we wait for the results of the Turkish referendum. Turkey’s incentive to resolving the Cyprus issue comes down to the opening up of a gas deal between Israel and Turkey. On the Cypriot side, the market of eighty million Turks has been shuts for years. Reopening the Turkish market to Cypriot businesses would make Cyprus even more prosperous, he believes.  DAS Cohen also believes Erdogan has built his reputation on the protection of Turks and solving Cyprus would solidify that reputation as the Turkish hero who protected the Turkish Cypriots. The Cyprus issue has long blocked NATO-EU cooperation and a settlement is more important than ever to work on common security cooperation, according to Cohen.

Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Cyprus, Minister Espen Barth Eide, cited the strong support he received in multiple meetings with U.S. officials for the peace process. The minister hailed the exchange of maps for the first time by the two community leaders as a huge milestone in the process for a Cyprus solution. According to Edie, following that exchange, the conference consisted of some of the richest conversations on the fears of both communities. He is absolutely convinced that all parties would like this to be solved now. While everyone may not agree on the details, it is in the strategic interests of all. Eide conveyed concern with how much the Turkish Cypriot side allowed the untimely Enosis vote to impact and undermine the process.

Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, chief negotiator for the Republic of Cyprus, spoke about the reluctance of the Republic of Cyprus government to attend the conference in Geneva. Though President Nicos Anastasiades received heavy criticism, it was important to attend the conference, according to Mavroyiannis. The ambassador added the conference in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland, was the first time everyone sat around the table and discussed substance rather than just statements. He stated the peace process is at its furthest point than ever before because negotiations were being led by Cypriots.  However, the keys to a solution are in Ankara. A solution would be achieved if it were up to the two leaders.  The main issue is with Turkey, and the issue of maritime rights, according to Ambassador Mavroyiannis. Cyprus is in a very strategic location at the outermost point of the EU. There is incredible potential in Cyprus that can only be reached by looking to the future.

AHI Questions Panel

AHI President Nick Larigakis asked the panelists about their confidence in the Turkish Cypriots’ ownership of the negotiations with the possibility of Ankara controlling the strings. DAS Cohen responded the U.S. stands prepared to help in any way that the leaders find useful. “We’re prepared to have a tough conversation with Turkey if necessary,” he said. Ambassador Mavroyiannis stated the current situation should not be confused with what is trying to be achieved.  Greek Cypriots want a political success with Turkish Cypriots so that the latter are free from their political reliance on Turkey. Greek Cypriots do not want to cut the cultural links between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.  Eide mentioned the Turkish Cypriots do not want to break that link either. The format needs to be adjusted so that the linkage of one’s security does not threaten the other.  

Panel 3: Getting to Growth: New Models for Development on Unified Cyprus

David Bonanno, managing director, Third Point LLC, spoke about his company’s investment in the Cypriot banking sector. Cyprus holds a very attractive profile for international investment, and it has energy and infrastructure projects that need capital to complete, he said. The island has always had an excess of capital but a lack of investable projects. Bonanno believes the reunification of Cyprus will bring with it building projects and the start to an economic wheel of prosperity. Energy, infrastructure, and tourism are the best places for investment, he said.

Dr. Rachel van Elkan, an adviser for the European Department for the Mission Chief for Cyprus and Switzerland to the International Monetary Fund, spoke about the need for an economic plan to be in place prior to “Day One” of reunification. Such a plan would be instrumental to the future of the Cypriot economy.  Dr. Elkan added that currently a lot of money is waiting in the wings, but the IMF does not want it to be used inefficiently by flowing into Cyprus on “Day One.”

Harkirder discussed the need for an economic roadmap prior to reunification. He believes local investment from the ground-up would kickstart economic growth, but no one on the island is well informed about the benefits of investment in Cyprus. He believes the economic matters of a solution should be left to the private sector, and he was confident that a united Cyprus could become the Singapore of the Mediterranean.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu Discusses Future US-Turkey Relations

AHI attended “Turkey-U.S. Strategic Partnership: Looking to the Future,” a special address by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, organized by the Turkish Heritage Organization, March 21, 2017.  Dr. Brenda Shaffer, senior fellow, Atlantic Council, moderated.  Dr. Shaffer noted Turkey’s relations with Europe are at an almost unprecedented low. She blamed the strained relations on a lack of European appreciation for the security threats facing Turkey and a result of three consecutive U.S. administration policies in the Middle East.

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu noted two issues that currently overshadow U.S.-Turkey relations: Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) and American support to the Kurdish YPG in Syria. The foreign minister expressed a desire to work with the new Trump administration to address these concerns and work on common interests. One such shared interest is NATO, where Turkey desires to help the U.S. “revitalize the organization.” In an allusion to President Trump’s claims that NATO members do not share the burden equally, Cavusoglu criticized the Europeans for not doing more to support the organization. He claimed Turkey has rescued effectively the EU by stemming the tide of illegal migration.  He also promised to answer President Trump’s call to reach the 2% target of spending on defense.

The foreign minister spoke extensively on the Cyprus issue. He claimed that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have shown nothing but a constructive approach, while “the Greek Cypriots have ignored our positive steps.” Foreign Minister Cavusoglu also falsely equated the recent Enosis vote in Cyprus with a desire by Greek Cypriots to “still have this dream to unite with Greece.” He conceded that a solution in Cyprus would be a significant step in peace, stability, and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean, but he believes this is the last chance for a solution.

On the topic of regional issues, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu expressed his support for the territorial integrity of Georgia, Ukraine, and even Israel. He voiced concern with U.S. support for the Kurds in Syria, which Turkey believes to have direct ties to the Kurdish terrorist organization, PKK, saying a policy of using one terrorist organization to fight another will fail. The foreign minister reminded the audience that Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country and is “the most generous humanitarian actor in terms of GDP allocated for humanitarian assistance in the world.”  He added bilateral relations with Bosnia and Croatia have served Turkey well.

In the Q&A portion, Cavusoglu berated Armenia for occupying 20% of another country, in reference to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory on the Azerbaijani border. The foreign minister called upon Armenia to withdraw immediately and expressed support for any policy Azerbaijan may adopt in response.

The Turkish Referendum and Its Potential Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations

AHI attended the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) event, “Turkey’s Proposed Presidential System and Its Potential Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations” held March 30, 2017.  The speakers included: Dr. Gulnur Aybet, professor of International Relations, Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul, and Mr. Howard Beasey, president, American-Turkish Council. Yenal Kucuker, THO executive director, moderated.

Dr. Aybet, an appointed advisor to President Erdogan, explained the current Turkish system of government is not a classical parliamentary system, but rather, it is a de facto semi-presidential system with no presidential accountability. She stated the whole argument around the upcoming Turkish referendum is centered on one person rather than the merits of the proposed changes. The new system, in her opinion, would remove the presidential immunity and allow for criminal investigations by the parliament.

Beasey noted there is no English translation for the eighteen recommendations on the referendum, making it very difficult for outsiders to comprehend the details of the referendum. The key concern for American companies is how the referendum will impact stability and the economy on the ground in Turkey. By strengthening the executive branch, President Erdogan will be given the power he has said he needs to handle the Turkey’s challenges. There will no longer be any excuses, and President Erdogan will be compelled to improve Turkey’s economy and security in order to be reelected, said Beasey.  

On the topic of how the referendum would impact U.S.-Turkish relations, Beasey did not believe it would lead to any immediate changes in the relationship. Dr. Aybet argued Turkey does not view its relationship with the U.S. in the same sphere as its relations with NATO and the EU. Instead, Turkish policy toward the U.S. is one of realpolitik. The rising anti-Americanism in Turkey is not a result of domestic incitement, but rather, a result of American behavior following the July coup attempt.

SETA Hosts Turkish Presidential Referendum Talk

AHI attended a SETA Foundation event titled, “Turkey’s Presidential System Referendum,” March 30, 2017, at the Loews Madison Hotel. The speakers included: Abdulhamit Gul, AKP member of Turkish Parliament, and Nebi Mis, director of Domestic Policy, SETA Foundation.

In remarks, Gul clarified that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has always been a democratic party seeking reform on behalf of the Turkish people. According to Gul, the current system lacks a separation of powers and transparency, and the referendum promises to address those concerns. The new constitution will result in the closure of military courts, grant the power to propose new legislation specifically to MPs, and allow Parliament to check emergency law powers granted to the president. Under the proposed system, the president will no longer have immunity and the percentage of MPs needed to bring him to court will decrease from 70% to 66%, Gul added.

Mis explained that successive Turkish administrations have always asked for a change to the current system. Turkey’s democracy has seen six different coup attempts since the 1950s. A deepening institutionalization of Turkish democracy is necessary to prevent a coup attempt every 10 years, he stated. Following the discussion, a member of the audience asked the panelists about the credibility of such a referendum given the fact that everyone who speaks out against Turkish President Erdogan is arrested and threatened. Gul outright denied any allegations that Turkey does not have freedom of speech or press. Gul blamed the notion of a crackdown on freedoms in Turkey as outside propaganda and claimed Turkey is a free country where no one is wrong for expressing their opinions, especially following the coup.

The Turkish Referendum: European and American Responses

AHI attended a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars teleconference discussion titled, “Ground Truth Briefing: The Turkish Referendum, European and American Responses.” Aaron David Miller, vice president for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholars, Wilson Center, moderated the briefing, which was held April 20, 2017. The speakers included: Henri J. Barkey, director of Middle East Programs, Wilson Center; Alan Makovsky, founding director of the Turkey Research Program, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Kati Piri, member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands.

Barkey and Makovsky touched on the referendum and its lack of credibility during the process. Makovsky mentioned the acceptance of unstamped ballots, a first for Turkey, at the polls as the easiest way to stuff a ballot box. In fact, Turkish law prohibits such practices yet they were ignored for the referendum. Issues of validity continued when many of the nation’s Kurdish minority, a majority of which opposed the referendum, had no access to ballot boxes. Barkey noted that historically, the results of an election in Turkey have never been questioned since the birth of the Republic. Despite the military coups and political instability, massive suspicion of an election’s results is unprecedented until now. For the first time in Turkey’s tumultuous political history, there is massive suspicion of the referendum results.

Piri discussed how the EU and Turkey currently are going through transformation periods. These transformations are pushing the two apart, not closer together. She mentioned the majority of the Turkish middle class is oriented toward the West. These voters were responsible for the success of the referendum’s “No” vote in the majority city centers of Turkey, according to the Dutch minister. Piri added, when 14 opposition members of Parliament were arrested, the international outcry was too low. She believes, in the end, President Erdogan will be forced to move back toward the West once the economy slows down. An audience member asked what would happen to the migrant agreement if EU-Turkey relations deteriorate. Piri responded the EU is much more prepared to combat migrant flows than it was a year ago, but added the Greek islands are already overrun and cannot continue to handle the burden. In her opinion, the EU did not do enough to help, and if one country will suffer the most from a break in the migrant deal, it is Greece.

What Do EU-Turkey Relations Hold in the Future

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a panel discussion titled, “What is the Future of EU-Turkey Relations?”  Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program, Wilson Center, moderated the panel, which was held April 24, 2017.

Constanze Stelzenmueller, public policy scholar, German Marshall Fund, contended Europeans and Turkey desire to prevent a tipping point from occurring between relations. Stelzenmueller believes neither side is willing to break off accession talks, despite talks being de facto frozen since December 2017.

Michelle Egan, professor and Jean Monnet chair ad personam, School of International Service, American University, added the worsening of accession talks create an internal credibility issue within the EU. Accession talks have become all the more complex, citing Hungary and Poland’s track records on human rights and the rule of law undermining the EU.  The combination of an unwillingness by EU members to throw Turkey out, a history of non-democracies in NATO, and current members with questionable democracies, further complicate the matter.

Egan then addressed the Cyprus problem. Egan argued that a deal could fundamental and symbolically shift relations forward while also opening new issues that cannot be anticipated. On the other hand, a lack of solution also gives EU member states reason to stop accession talks for Turkey because of a lack of solution. Considering this, Egan suggested that unfortunately, Cyprus has been one of the unsuccessful attempts by the EU to resolve territorial issues before joining.  She added that finding a solution remains unlikely. Regarding EU-Turkey relations moving forward, Egan emphasized the harsher EU measures and standards set in place regarding security and the rule of law. Egan noted if Turkey shows a serious and persistent breach of civil rights and rule of law, one-third of the commission can freeze its accession. This comes with the reality there is a hollowing out of support for Turkey’s accession to Europe. Egan argued the focal points of cooperation between EU and Turkey today lie in the customs union between the EU and Turkey that require modernizing and greater cooperation on energy and migration.

Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a member of the Turkish Parliament (CHP), shifted discussion toward “The Turkey Question.”  Erdemir suggested that President Erdogan moving forward will take a more offensive defense. Scenarios such as full scale assaults through government-funded NGOs and state institutions, and Turkish support for political parties in Europe, are likely. Moreover, Erdemir argued Erdogan is pivoting away from Transatlantic alliance and values, which is what he wants. Erdemir added, Erdogan is back full circle to his Islamist authoritarian self, and he is serious about it. Nevertheless, Erdemir opined Turkey does lose out from accession talks stopping. He highlighted Turkey’s receipt of more foreign direct investment after candidacy status than in the entire country’s history. An end to accession talks would mean an exit of Western and local capital from Turkish economy, leaving every Turkish citizen and company with their bank account, business, and assets unprotected, and furthermore, meaning they can be taken, frozen, or controlled by President Erdogan’s cronies at any point, which would leave Turkey vulnerable.

As a final thought, Erdemir stated Turkey never had a serious vision for the EU. Turkey never thought like the EU because it did not realize a European vision. President Erdogan’s EU vision was to use the EU as instrumental tool to counter balance Turkish judiciary and military momentarily. Moving forward, Erdermir argued the question is whether the West wants the EU to border Russian buffer states, such as Ukraine and Turkey, or if the West wants the EU to control those buffer states.

Diplomatic, Security, and Energy Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean

The Johns Hopkins SAIS Energy, Resources, and Environment (ERE) Program hosted the event “Diplomatic, Security and Energy Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean: Forecasting the Next Five Years” in coordination with the Greek Foreign Affairs Council and the SAIS Israel Club, April 21, 2017.  The panelists included: Andrew Novo, associate professor, Strategic Studies, National Defense University; Nikos Tsafos, president and chief analyst, Enalytica; Simon Henderson, a Baker fellow, Washington Institute; and Omer Taspinar, director of the Turkey Project, The Brookings Institution.  

The discussion began with Novo stating the U.S. cares more about how the eastern Mediterranean connections other regions, than it does about the region itself. The U.S. is solely interested in stability, compromise, and growth in the eastern Mediterranean.  When handling Greek-Turkish relations and Cypriot-Turkish relations, a compromise has been illusive to the U.S. The reason is the U.S. risks antagonizing one ally when it bolsters the other. In Cyprus, he stated the economic opportunity in infrastructure and energy is large should a solution to the Cyprus issue be found. Tsafos, however, cautioned that eastern Mediterranean gas has too many possible options and routes, with none of them being particularly good options.

Henderson discussed the Israeli desire to export gas to the Turkish market. Such an agreement on exporting gas requires a minimum twenty-year commitment, however. According to Henderson, President Erdogan is a perplexing politician, and he is unlikely to commit to a stronger economic tie with Israel for twenty years. He also mentioned the ongoing conflict between Turkey and Cyprus over Cyprus’ EEZ makes the underground pipeline option from Israel to Greece dubious and non-lucrative for energy companies.

Taspinar cautioned that a warming of relations and stability between Turkey and Cyprus is not likely to happen in the short term. President Erdogan’s victory in the referendum shows that he is weakening. Despite the crackdown on opposition, emergency law, mass purges of the military and civil service, Erdogan only won by a narrow margin. The past shows us that when Erdogan is weak and vulnerable he favors nationalism, an unfavorable shift in the eyes of Cyprus. Taspinar stated the only reason Erdogan would compromise with Cyprus would be if there was a hope on the Turkey-EU front. He then discussed Turkey’s current desire to buy S-400 missile defense from Russia. Should this deal go through, President Putin will successfully lure Turkey away from NATO and Turkey will continue to be dependent on Russian gas.

AHI Capital Report January-February 2017

Volume 9, Issue 1

Turkey Under the Trump Administration

AHI attended a series of panels on the issue of US-Turkish relations under the new administration hosted by The SETA Foundation titled, “Turkey and the Middle East Under the Trump.” The first panel, “Syria & Iraq’s Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations,” included Luke Coffey, director, Center for Foreign Policy, Heritage Foundation; Hasan Basri Yalcin, director of Strategy Programs, The SETA Foundation; and Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, president and co-founder, People Demand Change. The second panel, “The Trump Administration & Middle East Policy” included Nicholas Heras, fellow, Center for New American Security; Kilic B. Kanat, research director, The SETA Foundation; and Hassan Hassan, fellow, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

Syria & Iraq’s Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations

Coffey focused on what the Trump administration might do about the friction points between Ankara and Washington. He believes President Trump will question the idea of U.S. support to some rebel groups, possibly even the Kurds. The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is a reaction to U.S. policies, with Turkey seeking to hedge its bets on who will dominate Syria. Coffey likened a shared interest in Syria by Russia and Turkey to the same interest a customer and robber would have in a bank. He later stated the failed coup in Turkey has impacted the readiness of the Turkish military. Ghosh-Siminoff had a different view. He believes Turkey’s military has provided more stability and support to Syrian opposition forces than the United States has in northern Syria.

Yalcin spoke about the strained relations between the U.S and Turkey under the Obama administration and pointed to the American rejection of Turkish requests in Syria to be the center of this disagreement. He believes there is not much to be optimistic about in Trump’s rhetoric on the Middle East and highlighted three possible policy scenarios under the Trump administration. The first scenario involves U.S. intervention in Syria, which he believes to be Turkey’s preference. The second scenario involves a non-interventionist strategy by the U.S., which would create a balanced relationship between the U.S., Russia, and Turkey. The final scenario involves the continuation of Obama’s policies including cooperating with the Kurds at the expense of the Turkish government. Yalcin stated that this scenario would cause Turkey to swing toward Russia and Iran, the least preferable option in Turkey’s eyes.

The Trump Administration & Middle East Policy

Heras argued that a Trump administration would take the stance laid out by former National Security Adviser General Flynn in a November media interview. This strategic view would ultimately involve a Balkan-style type of intervention. He argued that a fragmented territorial control of Syria has become more solidified as the Syrian civil war has progressed. Kanat believes Trump’s policy in the Middle East will be like President George W. Bush’s strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump has built a similar cabinet in which the various heads of agencies have conflicting view points on a Middle East policy. Hassan stated the U.S. policy in the Middle East has had a boomerang effect for too long, preventing any sense of stability. No local partners want to assist because as soon as the U.S. views a situation to be over, it leaves the locals susceptible to revenge attacks by extremists. Hassan argued that the U.S. has a sphere of influence in Syria, but Trump must take the extra step of turning that into policy.

Atlantic Council Talks Next Chapter in U.S.-EU Relations

AHI attended the event, “European Growth and the Next Chapter in U.S.-EU Relations,” Jan. 26, 2017, hosted by The Atlantic Council.  Panelists included: Ana Palacio, former foreign minister of Spain; The Honorable Boyden Gray, former U.S. Ambassador to the EU; George Alogoskoufis, former finance minister of Greece; and Shekhar Aiyar, deputy chief of the European Department of the IMF.

The moderator asked the panelists to provide concrete steps for the EU to take in strengthening its union as well as its relations with the United States. Former Minister Palacio emphasized the need for a stronger and more unified effort on security. She also proposed liberalizing the labor markets. Palacio pointed to the example of her home country, Spain, and how it rose from being bankrupt to growing at 3% annually. She warned it would not be easy to liberalize markets due to the entrenched culture within Europe, but argued its necessity to create growth. Gray reiterated the need for deregulation within the EU and pointed to the U.S. as a success story. The former ambassador also cited the example of Germany, which was considered ‘the sick man of Europe’ in the spring of 2006. By deregulating its markets, Germany became the ‘Superman of Europe’ by the end of 2006.

The former Greek finance minister took a more long-term approach to European growth. He argued the biggest problem in Europe was a rise in economic populism and nationalism. The resurgence of populism has economic underpinnings rooted in the rapid rise of globalization. Alogoskoufis argued the rise in nationalism is a result of governmental indifference to the losers of globalization. The EU cannot continue to ignore those who lose in globalization, or it will continue to play into the hands of populist politicians. Further economic integration, new European programs, and a new European objective were needed as long term plans to grow the EU and eliminate populist fervor. Aiyar agreed the competitiveness gaps within the EU needed to be closed and that there is not short term fix for such a plan. He agreed with Palacio and Gray on the need to liberalize retail services, labor markets, and professions as a new policy change.

Mediterranean Future 2030: Transatlantic Security Strategy

AHI attended The Atlantic Council’s “Mediterranean Futures 2030: Towards a Transatlantic Security Strategy,” Feb. 1, 2017, where The Atlantic Council released a report bearing the event’s name. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, former deputy secretary general of NATO, provided the Keynote Address. The subsequent conversation included: Ambassador H.E. Armando Varricchio, Italian ambassador to the United States; Amanda Sloat, former deputy assistant secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean, U.S. Department of State; and Lisa Aronsson, visiting fellow, The Atlantic Council, who is one of the co-authors of the report.

Ambassador Vershbow addressed the need for closer EU-NATO cooperation. He highlighted the current challenges to a stronger, safer and more stable Mediterranean, including illegal migration, terrorism, economic instability, and the rise of populism. The EU needs to generate far more resources and political will in order to establish peace and stability in the Mediterranean, he offered.

Aronsson proceeded to summarize the official report which can be found here: Mediterranean Futures 2030: Towards a Transatlantic Security Strategy.

Ambassador Varricchio warned against short term solutions to the issues of the Mediterranean. Investment in Africa and tackling the root causes of migration from the Arab world is necessary in order to create stability in the region, he said. Varricchio viewed the southern flank of NATO as being absolutely vital in the Alliance’s geostrategic strategy. To build a stronger NATO, more investment is needed along the Mediterranean, according to the Ambassador.

Sloat discussed the growing recognition of the role of the Eastern Mediterranean during the last five years. She emphasized the important role of Southern Europe in the future and called for more action on behalf of the EU to disseminate the refugee population currently centralized in Greece and Italy. Sloat also pointed to the handful of conflicts that Turkey has with its neighbors, including Cyprus. She stated there is cause for concern about how things will shape out domestically in Turkey, including the crackdown on dissent, civil society and the constitution. The former deputy assistant secretary even referenced a debate within the White House over whether to keep Turkey in the European division or move it to the Middle East division.  

Sloat spent considerable time discussing Cyprus in her remarks. She spoke about the progress of the negotiations and how it could serve as a beacon of hope from the volatile region as a way to resolve conflict through diplomacy rather than violence. A solution to the Cyprus problem would also alleviate complications between NATO and the EU and would streamline energy production in the region. Aronsson also touched on her visit to Cyprus in December. The positive momentum on the ground among Greek Cypriots, despite negotiations breaking down, inspired her. She believes it could profoundly change the Eastern Mediterranean if resolved. The Italian ambassador referenced the Cyprus problem as being the longest issue on the UN Security Council and voiced his support of the U.S. efforts to resolve the issue. He warned that Cyprus must not become a battleground for other issues due to its energy potential.

Turkey – U.S. Relations: A Clean Slate?

AHI attended “Turkey-U.S. Relations: A Clean Slate?” hosted by the Global Policy Institute, Feb. 2, 2017. The Global Policy Institute’s president, Paolo von Schirach, moderated.  Presenters included: Retired U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who is a former assistant secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs; Walid Phares, former policy advisor to Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign; and Burrak Kuntay, president, American Studies Center, Bahcesehir University.

Schirach spoke of the motto at the Canadian Embassy of “Friend, Partner, Ally, and Neighbor” and likened the U.S.-Turkish relationship to holding all of the same values with the exception of neighbor. Kimmitt urged the United States to improve its relationship with Turkey because it is surrounded by a sea of instability. Phares pointed out that the Trump administration will have to decide if it will continue to support the Kurds in Syria, against Turkey’s wishes, or consider a new shift in policy. Kuntay argued that the problem between the U.S. and Turkey is over which terrorist group should be given priority to be eliminated, the Kurdish PKK or ISIS. He stated sinister forces backed by the Gulen organization were attempting to undermine and destroy U.S.-Turkish relations.

Gallup Talks Media Consumption in Turkey   

AHI attended “Media Consumption in Turkey,” a panel discussion hosted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and The Gallup Organization, Jan. 8, 2017.

Benjamin Ryan, a consulting specialist from Gallup led the discussion by presenting a general overview of the populace perception in Turkey vis-à-vis the government and its institutions. His findings were based on results from Gallup World Polls four waves of phone surveys conducted in Turkey between 2014 and April 2016, just months before the most recent failed military coup. Ryan’s statistical findings of Gallop’s surveys noted some key takeaways. Specifically, Ryan noted confidence in the Turkish military remaining consistently high, never falling below 75% of support from the people.  However, confidence in judicial system has fallen.

The economic outlook for Turks has improved since 2008 although there are significant demographic distinctions in confidence levels.  For example, Turks within a younger age demographic and lower levels of education tended to be more confident in the economy than those within an older age demographic and greater education levels. Interestingly, Ryan shared that generally, fear of expressing political views has declined in recent years, but it remains high in Southeast Anatolia. Regarding freedom of media, Ryan reported that as of April 2016, 38% of the population felt media in Turkey are free. Ryan noted that although this statistic has been relatively consistent during the past few years, it has seen a slight decline.

Following Ryan, William Bell, director of Research, Voice of America, shared his findings from BBG’s 2016 research. Overall, Turks have a large number of media outlets available to them though press freedom is increasingly circumscribed. However, despite this, a significant portion of the population, especially among the better educated, express some degree of dissatisfaction with Turkish media. Moreover, no single media outlet enjoys clear dominance. Widespread access to satellite TV and digital technologies means those who desire to, and are able, do take advantage of foreign media. Bell highlighted particularly the greatest disparity in data was found when considering education levels, citing the higher the level of education, the greater the dissatisfaction with media freedom within Turkey, which corroborated Ryan’s findings.

Defense Priorities for the Trump Administration

The Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institute hosted a panel to discuss defense recommendations for the Trump administration, Feb. 21, 2017.  Panelists included: Thomas Wright, fellow and director of the Brookings Project on International Order and Strategy; Robert Hale, former comptroller of the Department of Defense; and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Moeller of Pratt and Whitney. Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow, Brookings, moderated.  The discussion centered on an evaluation of the current U.S. defense budget and how the Trump administration will seek to adapt and implement it moving forward. The discussion also considered today’s most pressing security challenges for the U.S.

O’Hanlon summarized the current state of the U.S. defense system, emphasizing that the U.S. defense budget currently stands at $600 billion dollars, an amount above the cold war average of $525 billion. He argued that although military spending seems to consume a relatively large portion of the budget, it only comprises one-sixth of the federal budget. He cited a decrease in armed forces by 35-40%. Meanwhile, the Budget Control Act has remained, which means spending caps (sequestration) loom for fiscal year 2018.  Looking forward, the Trump campaign promised to build up the military by 15%, which would push up the annual defense budget to around $700 billion.

Wright reflected upon the global security pressures the Trump administration is facing. He explained that in the past five to six years, the world has seen significant divergence as Russia and China moving in opposite directions and no major traditional security balancing in the way. Wright said Russia, China and the Middle East are the three major security challenges, and at the same time, these three regional orders are deteriorating simultaneously. Wright offered that the question that will define the Trump administration’s approach to these issues is whether the president wants to bolster the regional orders or not.

Hale opined on where he believes Trump and Secretary Mattis will focus the defense budget. He expects to see a defense budget that supports the European Reassurance Initiative and one that places a continued emphasis on special operation forces in addition to added funding toward the fight against ISIS. Moreover, Hale highlighted how big procurement programs currently underway will place enormous pressure on the defense budget.  However, these procurement programs are necessary to meet the base needs when looking forward to 2020.

As a final topic of discussion, the panelists reviewed the current state of the Trump administration and its developing security strategy.

AHI Capital Report November-December 2016

Vol. 8 Issue 3

Former Turkish Chief of General Staff Discusses US-Turkish Relations

AHI attended the event “Turkey Before and After July 15” sponsored by the Turkish Heritage Organization, November 16, 2016.  Former Turkish Chief of the General Staff, General Ilker Basbug (ret.), was the main speaker. He spoke extensively on the history of the Gulen organization and how it gained a stronghold on Turkish institutions. Basbug boldly claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies knew about the plans for a coup before the events of July 15 transpired. He was cautious to state that U.S. knowledge of the coup did not translate into the U.S. supporting the coup.

Basbug pointed to two specific problems between Turkey and the United States. The first one identified was U.S. support for the Kurds in Syria. The second problem was the U.S. response to Turkish requests for extradition of Fethullah Gulen. Turkey disapproves of the U.S. support for the Kurds in Syria, and it has become a source of diplomatic tension throughout. Basbug believes U.S. support for the Kurds is only a short term tactical policy and admitted that Turkey’s strategy of supporting the Free Syrian Army was also wrong. Also, he expressed concern about the continued rejection of a no-fly zone by the U.S.

The retired general suggested the U.S. should cut support to the Kurds in Syria and expressed his hope the new Trump Administration would bring positive cooperation between the two nations. During questioning, an audience member asked about the state of U.S.-Turkish military relations following the purge of NATO supporters from within the Turkish military. Basbug said the notion of pro-NATO/U.S. purges within the Turkish military was simply propaganda. He concluded by stating, “For the Turkish army to be strong that is something very good for the United States.”

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Congressman Mike Turner on the State of NATO and U.S. Foreign Relations

AHI attended the presentation “Congressman Mike Turner on the State of NATO and U.S. Foreign Relations” hosted by the Hudson Institute, November 30, 2016. Congressman Mike Turner had returned from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Istanbul where he ended his term as the President of the annual assembly. He reviewed what the NATO assembly accomplished in Istanbul during the last weekend in November. The congressman stated the U.S. and NATO as a whole were concerned about the trends in Turkey. He met with Turkish President Erdogan and expressed the U.S.’ concerns about the rule of law and judicial processes in Turkey. The Turkish delegation was willing to engage in this discussion and stated that they desired to be held accountable, according to Turner.

Moreover, Turner highlighted that Congress has passed the European Reassurance Defense Initiative in which $3.4 billion will be used for NATO defense. He warned that Europe needs to play its part in sharing the cost of the NATO budget as a sort of American Reassurance Initiative. According to the congressman, the Europeans should be ashamed by how little they commit to the alliance. As a follow up, he did thank the five nations who did commit the minimum 2% of their budget to NATO; Greece being one of them. He spoke briefly about Russian aggression against NATO allies and the expansion efforts of the NATO alliance.

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Turkey’s Transition to Presidentialism: From Populism to Authoritarianism

AHI attended an event at the Institute for Turkish Studies at Georgetown University titled, “Turkey’s Transition to Presidentialism: From Populism to Authoritarianism.” Dr. Sinan Ciddib, director of the Institute, moderated. The panelists included: Dr. Steven Cook, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and Dr. Aykan Erdemir, former Turkish MP and senior fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Ciddib began the discussion by reviewing Turkish President Erdogan’s progression toward a presidential system. Ciddib explained that Erdogan has ruled Turkey under a single party since 2003 and now suggests eliminating the restrictions on his mandate to rule by giving Parliament a secondary role in the government.

Cook stated he has not viewed Turkey as a democracy for the last decade. Since 2007, the AKP Party has hollowed out Turkey’s democratic institutions towards a consolidation of political power in the hands of Erdogan and his close allies, he said. The proposed constitutional amendment in Turkey will only formalize a system of a presidency which already exists. This is a system of rule by law, not rule of law, according to Cook. He argued the Turkish people should not be so quick to praise the election of an anti-establishment Trump because the American establishment has been very pro-Turkey in the past.

Erdemir spoke briefly about his opposition experience in Parliament that included the lack of debate and review of any legislation during his time in office. Erdogan and the AKP would ram legislation through at midnight and even some AKP Parliament members would be unaware of what they were voting on. He stated Turkey lacks good governance today because the Turkish people conflate the ideas of strong leadership with the centralization of power. Erdemir stated this Presidential proposal is one of the first few instances of fear shown by Erdogan. Erdogan fears not being able to reach a majority as a repeat of June 2015 elections and has proposed this legislation as a way to rule until 2029.

During Q&A, AHI asked about the impact of a presidential system on Erdogan’s foreign policy as it related to the Cyprus problem and the questioning of the Lausanne Treaty. Erdemir responded that a presidential system would make Erdogan more empowered and less restricted. In the short term, it is too risky for him to take a stance on Greece and Cyprus. If the constitutional amendment passes, Erdogan will be able to make whatever decision he wants to in Cyprus, whether that be good or bad, without any checks and balances. Cook said Erdogan will do whatever serves his domestic political interests at the moment. He warned that Erdogan will not concede in Cyprus in the short term because of his reliance on the nationalists in Turkey. He does believe Erdogan will seek to resolve Cyprus in the long run.

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Greek Foreign Policy Dilemmas Following the 2010 Financial Crisis

AHI attended an event hosted by the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University titled, “Greek Foreign Policy Dilemmas Following the 2010 Financial Crisis,” November 29, 2016. The Hellenic Society of Washington, D.C. co-sponsored the event.  The speaker, Eirini Cheila, is a visiting scholar from Panteion University in Greece.

The Greek economic crisis has led to a drop of twenty-five percent in the GDP of Greece over the last six years. The public debate has focused solely on the economy, pushing foreign policy issues into a secondary position, according to Cheila. The amount of money invested into foreign policy activities, salaries, consulates and expenses related to Greek foreign policy has seen a dramatic cut. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs alone has seen a cut of twenty-two percent in their budget. Therefore, Cheila argues that Greece must build a new multidimensional foreign policy in the wake of an economic crisis and political upheaval.

Greece has always been a pole of stability for U.S. interests in the region, she stated. The positive relations Greece values with a plethora of Middle Eastern and north African countries can be used as a platform for the United States, she argues. Cheila also discussed the growing relationship between China and Greece to the point that sixty percent of Chinese exports are now being transported by Greek ship owners.

During Q&A, AHI asked Cheila about her view on the direction of the name dispute with FYROM. Cheila responded FYROM is delaying and buying political time in order to gain recognition by other countries. In her opinion, the best thing to do is to find a mutual agreement on a geographic qualifier.

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The EU’s Current Predicament and Challenges

AHI attended “The EU’s Current Predicament and Challenges” at the Wilson Center, December 8, 2016. James J. Black, corporate attorney, Morrison and Foerster, moderated. The panelists included: Federiga Bindi, senior fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS John Hopkins University; Michelle Egan, professor, School of International Service, American University; and Ambassador Corrado Pirzio-Biroli, former Head of the EU Delegation to the UN.

Ambassador Pirzio-Biroli discussed the toxic mix of austerity, unemployment, and uneven recovery in Europe and how it was detrimental to the EU’s future success. He argued that Europe needed debt forgiveness notably for Greece, and that everyone knew this, but Germany is still unwilling to do so. Pirzio-Biroli said security was also a challenge that continuously cannot be ignored and left to NATO. A study showed Europe’s lack of security and defense cooperation cost the EU nations an average of $20-100 billion annually. Bindi expanded upon the need for defense cooperation, and the opportunity that existed in the aftermath of Brexit and Trump, to realize the goal of a common European Defense.

Egan spoke extensively about the EU’s fiscal and economic challenges. She pointed to austerity and rising debt levels within the EU as reasons for backlash against capitalism and democracy. According to a poll in 2007, 63 percent of Greeks were happy with democracy in their government, and by 2012, the percentage had dropped significantly to 12. A question was raised on the topics of defense, economic challenges, expansion, and rule of law in Europe and how that relationship should play out with Turkey. Pirzio-Biroli replied the EU enlargement toward Turkey was largely a mistake. The U.S. pressured the EU into bringing all NATO nations into the EU and vice versa. It would have been wrong to incorporate Turkey into the European Union in his mind. He stated Turkey is not a European nation but more of an Asian country. Protecting the borders of Turkey would be “a mess” with the sheer amount of conflicts that surround its borders, he said.

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U.S. Helsinki Commission Hosts Briefing on the Retreat of Human Rights in Turkey

AHI attended a briefing “Turkey: Human Rights in Retreat” held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Capitol Hill, December 9, 2016.  The Commission is independent U.S. agency created to monitor and encourage compliance with the Final Act of 1975. The panelists included: Dr. Y. Alp Aslandogan, Executive Director, Alliance for Shared Values; Dr. Nicholas Danforth, senior policy analyst, Bipartisan Policy Center; and Dr. Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression, Risk Programs, PEN.

Dr. Aslandogan stated the attack on Turkey’s democracy did not end on July 15, adding it got worse. He blamed President Erdogan for not just targeting those allegedly tied to the coup, but by extension, minority groups, political opponents, teachers, and doctors alike. Dr. Asloandogan laid out the twelve categories of human rights violations committed by the Erdogan government in the post coup purge. The violations included inhumane detention conditions and torture which have led to the death of at least twenty people in detention so far. This extreme response to the coup was unacceptable for a NATO ally, he stated.

Karlekar reaffirmed the violations of human rights and condemned Erdogan for using the State of Emergency to silence all critics of his regime. Since the failed coup, Turkey has now jailed more journalists than any other country, including notorious human rights violators such as Iran and China. She called on the United States to urge Turkey to respect its obligations under international law.

Danforth continued by stating the government has been noticeably candid in showing no effort to distinguish between innocent and guilty individuals during the purge. The rule of law in Turkey has eroded to such an extent that Turkey has shifted from a known partner to a known risk. Danforth argued the United States should reduce its reliance on Incirlik Air Base, which Turkey uses as leverage against the U.S and utilize other air bases in the region. He highlighted Jordan and Cyprus as two allies with promising strategic potential. 

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org.For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.orgor follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC

The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

AHI Capital Report September-October 2016

Vol. 8 Issue 2

European Parliament Secretary General Discusses EU’s Future

AHI attended “Europe Today and Tomorrow: Preparing for the Next 25 Years,” sponsored by The German Marshall Fund (GMF) on September 1, 2016. The discussion featured European Parliament Secretary General Klaus Welle, and GMF President Karen Donfried moderated.

Welle opened the discussion with a short synopsis on the growing success and influence enjoyed by the European Parliament in the post-Soviet era. The moderator then initiated a conversation pertaining to the notion of Euroscepticism and the growing discontent and trust of European citizens in the EU. Welle responded that the trend was not unique to European sentiment, but rather that it shared another name in America - anti-globalism. He added that this anti-establishment was the result of aftershocks from the financial crisis that has raised European debt levels to those of war time spending. In order to resolve this issue, European member states must cooperate at the regional, national and federal levels.

The issue of Turkey’s accession into the European Union was posed to Welle, especially in light of the recent failed coup attempt and the continued issue of refugee resettlement. Welle stated the refugee crisis has resulted in the establishment of a European Parliamentary Crisis Fund to aid Greece in easing the burden. A question on the topic of visa-free travel followed. Welle stated that it will not occur until all EU requirements are met like the removal of re-introducing the death penalty in Turkey. Welle transitioned to the successes in Turkey’s economic development, signifying that it created a large enough incentive on the Turkish side to continue economic, social, and humanitarian reforms for EU membership. Visa status and EU membership would not be granted until the Turkish government first and foremost meets all requirements by EU standards, Welle emphasized.

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Understanding Post-coup U.S.-Turkish Relations

AHI attended a Turkish Heritage Organization-sponsored conference call titled, “Post Coup Attempt Turkey-U.S. Relations” on September 2, 2016. The conference call featured former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Adam Ereli, and Dr. Karabekir Akkoyunlu, who is a professor in the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the London School of Economics and University of Graz.  

Ambassador Ereli stated U.S.-Turkish relations were at a watershed moment and that while both nations need each other like never before, their views of each other have never been more divergent. Ereli expanded on this issue by stating Turkey is moving away from the democratic institutions of Ataturk. Following the July 15 coup attempt, the United States and Turkey have doubts about the other’s intentions, calling it a “crisis of confidence.” He warned that although Turkish politicians benefit domestically by pandering to anti-Americanism that they are only impairing diplomatic relations.

Dr. Akkoyunlu saw a clear distinction between the U.S. and Europe’s relationships with Turkey. In his view, the European-Turkish relationship is built upon a shared identity. The United States, on the other hand, views its Turkish relationship as one of strategy and not identity. Akkoyunlu proceeded to state that the coup created a sense of insecurity in the state, even without succeeding. This insecurity is poisoning Turkey’s ability to resolve issues and forcing it to resort to coercion with its populace.

AHI asked the panelists what impact the coup attempt would have on the ongoing negotiations in Cyprus. Ereli claimed Cyprus presented the ideal framework through which the U.S., Turkey, and Greece could finally find common ground, assist in finishing the negotiations, and reunite Cyprus in due course. Akkoyunlu responded that Cyprus has successfully isolated itself from regional issues, revitalizing its path towards unity. During his recent trip to Cyprus, Akkoyunlu heard nothing but cautious optimism in regards to the negotiations, which is a rarity in that region of the world.

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Kurdish Center Discusses Consequences of the Turkish Intervention into Syria

AHI attended “Turkey’s Intervention in Rojava and Its Consequences” sponsored by The Kurdish Policy Research Center (KPRC) on September 9, 2016.  Panelists were: Salih Muslim, co-chairman, Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Kurdish controlled northern Syria; Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, founding president of the Middle East Research Institute; and Aliza Marcus, a former correspondent for the Boston Globe.

Mr. Muslim began the discussion via Skype, as he lives in the de facto Kurdish region of Rojava in Northern Syria. In his statements, he claimed it is against international law to occupy land of another country, referring to the Turkish intervention into Syria. Professor Ala’Aldeen continued the discussion by explaining that Turkey intervened in Syria to prevent the semi-autonomous Kurdish territories from uniting in Northern Syria. This intervention occurred to prevent such a de facto Kurdish state along Turkey’s southern border. Marcus stated Turkey has a legitimate fear of a Kurdish region along its border, especially given the Kurdish Workers Party’s (PKK) ability to use it as a launching ground for terrorism against Turkey. She advised the U.S. to include the Kurds in the peace negotiations in Syria because they are now a legitimate force that will remain after the civil war. Working with the Kurds could help establish stability in the region, a stability which desperately is needed.

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SETA Talks Turkey’s Offensive into Syria

AHI attended “Turkey’s Jarablus Offensive” sponsored by the SETA Foundation on September 15, 2016.  Panelists included: Bassam Barabandi, political advisor to the Syrian High Negotiations Committee; Nicholas Heras, a Bacevich fellow, Center for a New American Security; Kilic Kanat, research director, SETA Foundation; and Denise Natali, a senior research fellow, National Defense University.

Mr. Kanat discussed the pretenses for the Turkish intervention into northern Syria. One such pretense was the costly burden of the refugee crisis in Turkey. The aftermath of the coup resulted in a major change of leadership in the Turkish military. This, in his opinion, played a major role in the decision to begin the offensive into Syria, known as Operation Euphrates Shield. Mr. Heras added that Turkey’s success in Syria depends on its ability to unite and expand the opposition against ISIS. Mrs. Natali claimed the largest strongholds for ISIS continue to be the Sunni Arab communities.  However, Mr. Baradandi refuted that Sunni Arabs are the only sub-national group capable of successfully defeating ISIS. The only problem is that the United States refuses to trust or support Sunni Arabs in Syria.

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House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Turkey’s Deteriorating Democracy

AHI attended a U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threat Subcommittee hearing titled, “Turkey After the July Coup Attempt,” September 14, 2016.  U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) chairs the subcommittee.  Witnesses included: Ms. Nina Ognianova, coordinator, Europe and Central Asia at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ); Mr. Aalan Makovsky, senior fellow. Center for American Progress (CAP); Ahmet S. Yayla, deputy director, International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism; and Aaaron Stein, resident senior fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East Atlantic Council.

In his opening statement, Rep. Rohrabacher refuted Turkish claims regarding Gulen supporters alleged involvement in the coup conspiracy. He believes Turkey has made a huge error in releasing over 38,000 criminals from jail, including murders, rapists and thieves to make room for political opponents. Rohrabacher stated he wanted to see a Turkey that is at peace at home and with its neighbors. Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA) expressed a sense of unease about the Erdogan regime and its relationship with some of the Christians in Turkey. In his opinion, democracy does not exist in Turkey right now. This fear has led Rep. Cook to question the bilateral military cooperation and sale of military equipment to Turkey.

In her testimony, Ognianova gave a detailed explanation of the deteriorating situation of press freedom in Turkey. She stated that more than 100 media centers have been shut down, 100-plus journalists have been arrested, and the prime minister’s office has revoked more than 600 journalists’ press credentials since the failed coup in July. Makovsky’s testimony exhibited a sense of anti-US government scapegoating by the Turkish government. Citing a Turkey poll, Makovsky showed that 25% of Turks believe the United States was behind the coup and 90% of Turks have an unfavorable view of the U.S.

Yayla testified about his time as the chief of Turkish counterterrorism for over 20 years. During his tenure, Yayla realized that free speech, free media, and the rule of law began to mean nothing in Turkey. The speed with which military officials were rounded-up around the country points to a predetermined hit list on behalf of the Erdogan government, according to Yayla. After writing an article criticizing the government’s response to the coup, Yayla’s son was arrested in Turkey. When asked whether U.S. military personnel in Turkey were in danger, Yayla responded by saying they were in danger because the Turkish media has pointed the finger at the U.S. government.

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Deputy Secretary of State Blinken Testifies on Trip to Turkey to Senate Foreign Relations Committee

AHI attended the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled, “Regional Impact of the Syria Conflict: Syria, Turkey and Iraq” on September 29, 2016.  Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) chairs the committee.  Deputy Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken testified. The hearing occurred just after Blinken’s return from Turkey where he met with various officials on the conflict in Syria.

In his oral testimony, Blinken stated the conflict in Syria was fueled by complex and divergent interests and their proxies. During his trip to Turkey, Blinken worked toward building resilience in the countries with the heaviest refugee burdens. That resilience effort was successful in opening an additional one million schools and jobs to refugees in the surrounding countries such as Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) criticized U.S. foreign policy in the region, stating a lack of hubris as the reason. The idea of a clear alternative to a solution in Syria and the idea of a safe zone, established by Turkey, were all examples of “fantasies” as he put it.

In response to questions posed by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Blinken confirmed Turkish officials were uncomfortable with the Kurdish elements of the Syrian Defense Forces. While the main priority of the U.S. is countering ISIS in Syria, the Turkish government is more concerned with curtailing the territorial gains of the Kurds. This shows a divergence of priorities between the two nations. Blinken reaffirmed that the Kurds were effective in liberating Manbij, Syria and uncovering a “treasure trove of information about [ISIS’] external plotting.” Such support for the Kurds by the U.S. has caused some tensions with the Turkish government, according to Blinken. He stated the U.S. must continue with its efforts on the ground in Syria, but also do it in a way that respects the concerns and interests of the Turkish government.

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MEI Hosts Its 7th Annual Conference on Turkey

AHI attended the 7th Annual Conference on Turkey hosted by the Middle East Institute on September 30, 2016. The conference consisted of three separate panels with a variety of panelists representing a diverse set of occupations with expertise on their respective panels.

Panel 1: Turkey’s Political Dynamics after the Attempted Coup

Gonul Tol, founding director, MEI’s Center for Turkish Studies, moderated this panel. Panelists included: Mucahit Bilici, associate professor, City University of New York; Gareth Jenkins, nonresident senior fellow, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center; Garo Paylan, member of Turkish Parliament and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDPP); and Omer Taspinar, professor, National Security Strategy at the U.S. National War College.

According to Bilici, Turkey is undergoing a re-nationalization under a new identity centered on Islam instead of a secular Turkish state. He observed that Turkey has been going through a silent and bloodless revolution; one in which religious parties took back power from the secularists through both legitimate electoral means and illegitimate bureaucratic means. The failed coup attempt in July marked the second chapter in this revolution. It has given rise to a Turkish state that is no longer a simple nation state, but rather a rational actor seeking power maximization under a post-coup Erdogan, who many view as above the law.

In Jenkins’ words, he finds it deeply disturbing that Turkey is moving toward a fascist state. Jenkins clarified that there is a plethora of people, even within Erdogan’s own AKP party, who disagree with his aggressive authoritarian grab for power. The problem lies in the fear of being the first one to speak out. Those who are discontent with Erdogan are each waiting for the other to speak up first. Turkish MP Paylan brought up the injustice of the Armenian Genocide as an example of the unpunished crimes that plague Turkish society. Erdogan continues to push out old allies who expose his corruption, labeling them as terrorists. According to MP Paylan, Erdogan has the power to make Turkey a democracy again, but he prefers opportunism, instead encouraging those around him to go back to war with his people.

Taspinar focused on public polling and its implications in Turkey. He stated only thirty to forty percent of Turks support the presidential system, indicating that people want a stronger democracy with more check and balances and more decentralization. Turkish political opposition is weak because of Erdogan’s control over media, associations, and every other tool necessary to grow the opposition. According to Taspinar, Erdogan plays on three feelings for support: Turkish independence, nationalism, and grandeur. Erdogan’s AKP party draws its support from the services and infrastructure development it supplies. An official from the Turkish embassy asked for clarification on the various labels used to describe Erdogan by the panelists. Taspinar responded by stating it must be difficult to be a Turkish diplomat these days. The difference of opinions on the panel is reflective of Washington D.C. where we can have a pluralistic society unlike in Turkey, he added.

Panel 2: U.S., Turkey, EU Relations: A Balancing Act

Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson moderated this debate about Turkey’s external issues. Panelists included: member of Turkish Parliament, the AKP Party, and former Minister of EU Affairs, Volkan Bozkir; Ambassador James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq; and Caroline Vicini, deputy head of Delegation of the EU to the United States.

Bozkir discussed the legislative reforms adopted by Turkey in its quest to become an EU member. He briefly stated that “because of a Cyprus related argument,” Turkey has been unable to discuss eight chapters of EU membership that have been blocked. Bozkir invoked a sense of victimhood when discussing the failed coup attempt, calling it a broken-hearted story. He stated the coup was organized by a “clandestine, illegal, unexplainable group of terrorists,” which left Turkey stranded without an official visit or solidarity for forty-five days.

Jeffrey suggested that we are dealing with the most dramatic political revolution in Turkey since Ataturk. In his opinion, the United States has replaced the knowable and manageable crisis and dysfunction of Turkey with the unknowable and unmanageable ones of present. Vicini offered a European perspective on the matter when stating that there are many different opinions of Turkey among EU member states. According to Vicini, the EU’s main interests are not refugees, but rather, resolving the Syrian conflict. The refugee situation has created a massive strain on Europe; one that Vicini believes is manageable, but contentious.

A member of the audience asked about the role Turkey plans to play in the Cyprus question, a topic which had not come up in their discussions about Turkey’s EU aspirations. Bozkir said Turkey has tried to isolate the issue of Cyprus to prevent it from hindering their EU negotiations. Vicini said that Europeans dislike the Cyprus conflict because it creates conflict within the EU, but she is optimistic that Turkey will do what it needs when it comes to negotiating a Cyprus solution because it will benefit Turkey. Jeffrey believes that the current Cyprus negotiations are a unique opportunity in which the two sides have never been closer. He presented the gas finds in Cyprus as a way to work with Turkish pipelines for a new European future. Unfortunately, Jeffrey believes that Russia has a vested economic interest in ensuring the Cyprus problem is not resolved for fear of competition in the gas industry.

Panel 3: Regional Predicaments and Turkey’s Role

CBS News Correspondent Margaret Brennan moderated this discussion about Turkey’s role in Middle Eastern conflicts. Panelists included: Haim Malka, deputy director, Middle East Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Bill Park, senior lecturer, King’s College London; Karim Sajadpour, senior associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie; and Amberin Zaman, public policy fellow, Middle East Program & Global Europe Program, Wilson Center.

Malka believes Israeli-Turkish reconciliation will continue but warned that no one is enthusiastic about the prospect. Israeli-Turkish relations are strictly tactical, and not strategic, due to deep and lingering mistrust that still exists on both sides. Sadjadpour likened Turkey to Iran in the sense that both once existed as great empires but have since been reduced to simple nation states. He claims that Turkey and Iran suffer from an inferiority and a superiority complex simultaneously. Before the rise of Erdogan, Turkey was not among Iran’s top ten trading partners.  However, since then it has risen to the top three. There was once a hope that Iran would emulate Turkey’s democracy, but it seems as if Turkey is now emulating the authoritarianism of Iran. Zaman argued that now is the time for the United States to use its leverage over the Syrian Kurds and Turkey to resume the Syrian peace process.

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Brookings Institute Hosts, “Solving Cyprus? The Need for New Realities”

AHI attended the discussion titled,”Solving Cyprus? The need for new realities” on October 5, 2016, at The Brookings Institution. Kemal Kirischi, Turkey project director, The Brookings Institution, moderated. Panelists were: Harry Tzimitras, director, PRIO Cyprus Center; Diana Chigas, professor, Practice of International Negotiations and Conflict Resolution, Fletcher School, Tufts University; and Andrew Novo, associate professor, Strategic Studies, National Defense University.

Tzimitras emphasized there are two phases to the Cyprus problem: reaching an agreement and then applying it. The Cyprus negotiations have a local focus and an international one. After 50 years with no substantial progress, it is imperative to think outside of the box in terms of new solutions to old problems. Tzimitras was unsure about how much longer Turkey will support the peace process as it does in its current state, thereby requiring a sense of urgency to solve the issue now. With the current U.S. administration and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon completing their terms at the end of this year, a transition period will take place in which negotiations might reach a standstill. Confidence building measures must be set in place for peace to be achieved on the island. Tzimitras argued that regardless of the outcome of the current round of negotiations, the two Cypriot communities must do a better job at establishing linkages that will achieve interdependence and bridge the gap between them. The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities can build upon the commonalities of economics, trade, education, tourism, and energy as a way to establish a new sense of homegrown negotiations without having to rely on outside actors. Both communities can work together to establish Cyprus as an educational hub, helping to bridge the gap between the two.

Chigas agreed with Tzimitras’ thoughts on the issue and specifically the need for confidence building and linkages. Local linkages are necessary to overcome the deeper issues of stereotypes, fear, and distrust that exists between the two communities. Chigas stated a Cyprus solution must not just look good in rhetoric, but also be beneficial to Cypriots in reality as well.

According to Novo, politically orthodox notions such as Turkey being a strong NATO ally, or Turkey aspiring to join the EU, are no longer absolute. He was optimistic about the fact Cyprus is finally in the news for positive reasons for the first time since 2004. Cyprus has always existed in a very important geographical location, and it serves as a nexus for the regional relationships, according to Novo. If a settlement is reached, it would assist in three major categories: ending over two centuries of Greco-Turkish conflict, improving regional energy cooperation, and bolstering a security partnership with the U.S. In Novo’s opinion, ownership of the negotiations on the part of Cypriots implies legitimacy, which in turn establishes stability. He believes parental and colonial guidance is no longer necessary because Cyprus is a legitimate nation within the EU. Such ownership, however, comes with the responsibility of Cypriots being able to distance themselves from their motherlands, both Greek and Turkish.

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Former Greek Minister of Finance George Papaconstantinou Discusses Greek Crisis in New Book

AHI attended the event titled, “Game Over: The Inside Story of the Greek Crisis A Book Talk with the former Greek Minister of Finance George Papaconstantinou,” on October 13, 2016.  The German Marshall Fund (GMF) hosted the event.  Hans Kundnani, senior transatlantic Fellow, GMF, moderated.

Papaconstantinou discussed the difficult decisions he was forced to make as Greek finance minister from 2009-2011. He began his discussion by stating that the characters in the story are all real and that no identities needed to be protected because no one was innocent. Papaconstantinou placed blame for the Greek Crisis on broader European policies as well as national level politics within the political ruling class. The crisis has shrunk the Greek economy by roughly twenty-six percent and skyrocketed unemployment to the highest levels in the Western world.

The news is not all bad. According to Papaconstantinou, the Greek state can finally count the quantity of employees and spending, a major reform he cited. Also, Greece has made strides toward addressing the policy issues that created the crisis. 2009 marked the start of the collapse of the old ruling class system, and gave way to the rise of populist parties in Greece. Under the current ruling party, Papaconstantinou believes the politicians have favored the populists too much. The values of evidence-based politics, free choice, and protection of the middle class, have all disappeared.

When asked how and why the crisis persists to this day, Papaconstantinou listed several reasons. The first reason was that Greece was an accident waiting to happen, but no one wanted to admit or address it. The second failure resulted when France and Germany warned creditors three years in advance that they would lose money on Greek bonds in 2010. This preannouncement encouraged investors to flee, and thus, the Greek crisis persist to this day while Spain and Ireland have been resolved. Third, Germany delayed the bailout to Greece and discussed the possibility of a ‘Grexit’ from the EU for far too long, resulting in a costly expansion of the crisis.

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org.For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.orgor follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC

The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

AHI Capital Report January-July 2016

Vol. 8 Issue 1

Wilson Center Event Takes a Look at Turkey

The American Hellenic Institute attended a Woodrow Wilson Center event titled, “Turkey in 2016: Domestic Politics, EU Relations and Beyond,” on January 21, 2016.  It featured Bulent Aras, Senior Fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University and Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center; Michelle Egan, Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Professor and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam at American University’s School of International Service; Fuat Keyman, Director of the Istanbul Policy Center and Professor of International Relations at Sabanci University; and Amberin Zaman, Columnist, Al Monitor and Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, moderated.

Aras emphasized the long historical connection between Turkey and the West. He noted the primary point of interest between the EU and Turkey focuses on the refugee crisis. The focal point between the U.S. and Turkey remains the Syrian conflict. Domestically, particularly on the issue of democratization, Turkey has kept the West at arms’ length. However, in terms of security, Turkey has the ability to leverage the extent of its involvement with Daesh and the refugee crisis. Therefore, Turkey remains motivated to recalibrate and wield itself into a regional power.  

Egan focused her remarks on Turkey’s accession to the European Union. She believes the EU may be hesitant at the moment to proceed with the processes of enlargement given fears of further destabilization in the aftermath of the acceptance of Bulgaria and Romania. She also mentioned the need for a Cyprus solution prior to there being a serious possibility for Turkey’s membership.  Her presentation outlined three possible future scenarios. First, is the potential for a continuation of a stalled accession process. The second is the effect of disintegration trends within the EU and the potential consequences of Britain exiting the union. This is particularly significant because of Britain’s longstanding support for Turkish acceptance, Egan added. The third scenario would be the necessity of a membership guarantee in order for Turkey seriously to implement reforms. She concluded her argument by mentioning that the strategic value of Turkey as member of the EU is often recognized for the wrong reasons.

Keyman ventured to make an argument that Turkey can be regarded as a buffer state for crises in the region. He referred to the tendency to equate the AK party with Turkey as a whole when criticizing its foreign policy.  He called the current situation a puzzle between the tendencies to drift from the West and the rapprochement (at the time) with Europe.  This revitalization of relations he argues is based solely on security concerns and issues of democracy and rule of law are left to the side. He warned against the dangers of focusing on security and neglecting other areas. He argued Turkey has the capacity to work as a buffer when it comes to the refugee crisis and the Syrian conflict. The revitalization encourages the West to redefine the role of Turkey as either a neighborhood partner or a future member. He remained confident that the appropriate way to engage Turkey would be as a partner; however, this role is heavily reliant on a currently uncertain state of domestic stability.

To conclude opening remarks, Zamanv provided a different angle to the discussion. Her observations began with her perspective of the inseparable nature of domestic and foreign policy issues. Her comments focused on the domestic issues that in her opinion must be equally analyzed. She focused on media freedom and the treatment of Kurds along with the conflict in the southeastern part of the country. She also cautioned against the distinctions made by analysts between the YPG and the PKK. In her opinion the two are the same, understanding Kurds as segregated into different groups misses the basic understanding of the Kurdish people.

During Q&A, the moderator asked the panel to address Turkey’s true motives as a regional actor. The general agreement among the panel stood in regard to Turkey’s domestic discord. Aras mentioned the significant leverage Turkey maintains to promote its interests in the MENA region. Keyman argued that Turkey may be better regarded as a soft power actor to resolve security concerns. Zaman emphasized Turkey’s domestic turmoil and therefore should not be considered as a reliable global actor until its domestic affairs are in order. Egan pointed out that Turkey is not a unified singular actor and that interests are divided because the country itself is divided. An audience member asked the panel if Turkey had missed its opportunity for accession into the EU.  Egan replied that many members in the EU have different perspectives on accepting Turkey into the union. Furthermore, it is not an insignificant detail that the question of Cyprus has yet to be resolved. On the question of allowing self-governance for the Kurdish people, Zaman mentioned that Turkey needs to come to terms with this request. The breakdown of institutions in Turkey was a topic of dispute amongst the panelists. In Turkey, the delineation between law and politics is blurred while some argued that is an unalterable reality; others argued that it must be changed.

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FYROM Defense Minister Talks Security and the Refugee Crisis at GMF

The German Marshall Fund (GMF) held a talk on “Security and the Refugee Crisis in the Western Balkans,” featuring FYROM Defense Minister Ambassador Zoran Jolevski, February 2. Ivan Vejvoda, senior vice president for Programs, GMF, moderated.  AHI attended.

In opening remarks, Vejvoda stated he did not think a “stronger” border between Greece and FYROM would be a great idea.

Ambassador Jolevski opened with an overview of the state of the refugee influx and offered that the EU needed a comprehensive strategy and work to improve things in Syria. He mentioned FYROM had been working with Greece on the refugee crisis. He also cited as an issue the ability to identify refugees accurately.  Major information discrepancies are present.  He added, the fence FYROM built along its border with Greece is important to streamline inflow of migrants.  He shared his concern about the potential “domino effect” if northern European countries begin closing their borders and reiterated the importance of the European Commission inviting the Balkan countries to Brussels for further discussion.

During Q&A, AHI raised the issue of the consequences upon Greece of closing the FYROM/Greece border, which resulted in a swelling of numbers of refugees trapped in economically-strapped Greece and could therefore destabilize it. Ambassador Jolevski replied the Ministries of Interior between the two countries have improved their communication and cooperation dramatically and made the decision in August 2015, in Brussels, to allow only individuals from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to pass through.

Vejvoda raised the FYROM-name recognition issue following Q&A, asserting the stability of the region and the stability of Euro-Atlantic integration is at risk as a result of the issue.  Vejvoda asked if the ambassador saw hope for FYROM to join NATO without a resolution to this issue. In response, the ambassador stated FYROM was and continues to be engaged in good faith to find a mutually-acceptable solution.  He said an invitation for FYROM to join NATO would benefit the whole region, including Greece.  The ambassador added the 1995 UN-brokered Interim Accord stated that FYROM should be allowed to join international organizations under “the reference,” and with the situation in Europe, it is important that NATO’s presence in the region is stronger. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t committed to working with Greece” because we still will be reminding summit attendees that as of the 2008 NATO summit, FYROM has fulfilled all necessary criteria only to have the process still blocked.

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NPC Discussion: Energy Dependency and Future of Energy Politics around Turkey

AHI attended a discussion on the future of Turkey’s energy security at the National Press Club, February 3.  The speakers at the event titled, “Energy Dependency and Future of Energy Politics around Turkey,” were Douglas Hengel, senior resident fellow, German Marshall Fund; David Livingston, an associate in the Energy and Climate Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and David Romano, associate professor of Politics and Government in the Middle East at Missouri State University.

Hengel opened with how energy security is defined differently throughout the world. In the United States, energy security is based on the price of gasoline. In Europe, energy security is defined by the supply of gas. Hengel stated that Turkey is a rapidly growing economy and the demand for natural gas will drastically increase. He discussed a bill in the Turkish Assembly that would open up the gas supply market because the storage of natural gas is quite low in the country.

On Turkey, Livingston added the country could be a gas hub by 2030. The challenge for Turkey will be moving from the formative stage of being a gas hub to transitioning into a more mature, liquid market in competition with other gas hubs in Europe. It will be extremely difficult to compete with Russia and Iran since both countries have significant gas reserves.

Romano transitioned the discussion to the politics in Turkey. The AKP government came into power in 2002 with the promise to increase energy and job creation. The economy and the need for more gas in Turkey has steadily grown since 2002. Because of this, Turkey is currently searching for multiple sources of gas, including Iraqi Kurdistan and potentially Israel.  

Hengel remarked there have been two potential sources of gas to Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. One, the Aphrodite Field in the Republic of Cyprus, is not enough to supply Turkey with natural gas.  Therefore, Turkey must discuss buying natural gas from Israel. Hengel stated he does not see Israeli natural gas exported to Turkey until 2020.  As such, natural gas from Azerbaijan, Qatar, and the United States are all possibilities.  

During Q&A, it was asked if the discovery of natural gas in Cyprus would assist in the unification of the island. The panelists did not give a concrete answer on whether the discovery of natural gas on the island would help or hinder reunification. Hengel did say that Cyprus has not been this close to unification since 2004.

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Brookings Examines Populism in Turkey

AHI attended a presentation at the Brookings Institution by Nora Fisher Onar on her paper about Turkey titled, “The Populism/Realism Gap: Managing Uncertainty in Turkey’s Politics and Foreign Policy,” February 4.  The paper explores the tensions between populism and realism as a driver of uncertainty in Turkey’s domestic and foreign affairs.  Following the presentation, Sonar Cagaptay, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Alan Makovsky, Center for American Progress; and Kadir Ustun, SETA Foundation; offered commentary. Kemal Kirisci, TUSIAD Senior Fellow and Director of the Turkey Project at Brookings, moderated.

Nora Fisher Onar opened with an overview of what populism is and its prevalence in countries around the world, including the United States. Populists claim to champion the masses, however, they seek to ultimately strengthen their power through established political elites, she said. The common practices of populists programs include the use of dramatic imagery and simple language. Articulating the grievances of those who feel disenfranchised often resorts to sexist and xenophobic rhetoric. Onar transitioned this to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s role as a populist leader and his impact on foreign policy-making. She argued that in Turkey such populist agendas impede level-headed assessments of national and geostrategic interests. The paper divides the recent history of AKP rule into three periods of domestic populism and the impacts on geopolitical realism. The first period is defined as the ‘EU Era’ between 2002-2008 and is characterized by a pro-Western orientation. From 2009 to 2012, deemed the ‘Neo-Ottomanism’ phase, is significantly more Euro-skeptic and anti-western in nature. This strategically arose from the global economic crisis, which Turkey weathered better than the West. Most recently, from 2013 to 2015, Turkey has become increasingly polarized following an election cycle. Following the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey pursued a policy of regional leadership. However populist patterns of governance, the personalization of policy-making and a projection of partisanship onto the geopolitical arena marked foreign policy moves. The paper goes into more detail on regional policies involving the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian conflict, and the Kurdish question.

Sonar Cagaptay and Alan Makovsky praised her thesis and agreed with the link between domestic and foreign policy of Turkey. Cagaptay noted that Russia would be the most significant challenge to Turkey in future foreign policy decision-making. Makovsky noted that domestically, Erdogan is striving to develop a ‘pious’ generation through education heavily influenced by religion.  As such Makovsky argues that upholding human rights both domestically and in Turkey’s foreign policy will be tested. Finally, Ustun disagreed with the premise of Onar’s paper and argued instead that the populist Erdogan does not dictate the strategic and security driven maneuvers of Turkish foreign policy.

During Q&A, the panelists were asked about what Erdogan will do moving forward in the negotiations on Cyprus. Kadir Ustun argued that Erdogan would not obstruct a potential deal. According to him, the policy toward Cyprus will be considered through the lens of achieving better ties with the European Union. He went on to mention that the same would be true for Israel and expressed the need for positive relations between the two nations because of energy complications. Makovsky argued that Erdogan would not be the obstacle to a solution in Cyprus; he would not reject a deal as long as he does not seemingly ‘sell out’ the Turkish Cypriots. Kirisci and Cagaptay agreed with this point. Cagaptay continued the discussion on Cyprus by mentioning that Turkey recognizes the need to normalize relations with Cyprus and Greece. However, he maintains that Russia is the greatest challenge and barrier to reaching a solution in Cyprus.

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Georgetown Hosts 2016 Transatlantic Policy Symposium: Divided Europe? Straining the Limits of Unity

AHI attended three panels of an all-day symposium concerning issues of importance facing Europe, February 19, at Georgetown University.

Panel One: Challenges from Within: Navigating Internal Divisions

The speakers addressing the first panel were: Luke Devenish, graduate student at the College of Europe; Fatlum Gashi, graduate student at Central European University; Amaleia Kolovos, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Denver; and Silvia Merler, Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University.

Merler began by noting the economic and financial issues between northern and southern Europe that have caused political fracturing within the EU. The unemployment rate within the southern countries of the EU has dramatically increased while unemployment in the northern countries is relatively stable. In some southern countries, youth unemployment is up to 25%, causing southern countries to be increasingly dissatisfied with the EU. Nearly every country within the EU is increasingly skeptical of its institutions and there is a rising perception of a democratic deficit within the population of the EU. A discussion (at the time) to send troops to the FYROM-Greece border to stem the flow of refugees in Europe has not helped the problem of trust between the people and EU institutions.

Kolovos followed with the potential implications of a Greek exit to the EMU. If Greece were to exit the EMU, it is very possible that other countries would exit as well, including Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Italy. This would further decrease monetary instability within the EMU. The idea of a Grexit occurred due to catastrophic trade imbalances. Austerity measures in Greece have been very disruptive toward growth.  Kolovos proposed several recommendations including: enhanced fiscal integration and discipline within the EMU, a supranational taxing system, and fiscal harmonization. A lack of political will with EMU countries poses a challenge to implementing any recommendations. The Greek debt crisis would have been less severe if there was a stronger fiscal union in Europe, she said. Poor governance in Greece would have been acted upon more quickly and the country would not have ended up in an extreme fiscal crisis if there was a stronger fiscal union, she maintained.

Gashi presented on the migrant crisis in Europe. The crisis has caused an increase in catastrophes like the attacks in Paris and an increase in human trafficking, Gashi opined.  Due to a lack of established rules to deal with the refugee crisis, European leaders are having trouble finding consensus to resolve the issue. Gashi stated the EU should create a Migration and Refugee subcommittee within the European Economic and Social Committee. The subcommittee will protect human rights, provide access to healthcare and education, and coordinate with NGOs that work with refugees.

Devenish spoke about the rise of Euro-skeptic parties in the EU and how to increase European identity. Since 2009, there has been a significant rise in the proportion of Euro-skeptic parties within the EU. In order to increase a European identity to decrease the rise of Euro-skepticism, the EU must be granted exclusive competence within the field of education. Curriculums must also be harmonized through a European perspective. There should be an increased focus on mandatory foreign language classes in primary education, increasing the possibility of relating to other European countries.  

Panel Two: European Insecurity: Addressing External Threats and Pressures

Motria Chaban, assistant program officer, International Republican Institute; Thomas Cunningham, energy diplomacy officer, U.S. Department of State; Dr. Peter Engelke, resident senior fellow, Atlantic Council; and Brent Goff, chief news anchor and talk show host at Deutsche Welle; addressed European Insecurity.

Chaban discussed how corruption within EU countries has become a significant problem. Corruption makes these countries extremely vulnerable to external intervention. There must be enhanced linkages between civil society and governmental officials to decrease the amount of corruption within the EU.

Engelke spoke about the need for Europe to accept as many refugees as possible. Europe has a dramatically low birthrate and a very aging society compared to the Middle East and North Africa, where the majority of refugees are coming from. The refugee crisis has exposed vulnerability in the EU. The refugee crisis has questioned European identity and it will be questioned for the foreseeable future while more refugees from the Middle East and North Africa continue to arrive in Europe for safe haven.

Goff believes there is a democracy deficit in Europe. It is very unlikely the public will ever know the major decisions made in the EU because decisions are made behind closed doors, Goff said. This process makes it hard for EU citizens to identify with the EU. Therefore, there is a significant lack of knowledge and disconnect between the general population and EU institutions.

Cunningham discussed rising countries such as China and Brazil. Leaders from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) must work together in order to be competitive against the rising economies. There must be increased transatlantic partnerships because of the new economic actors. Europe is currently interested in a common energy union, which is extremely important for energy integration in order to be competitive with external forces.

Panel Three: United in Diversity or Fortress Europe? Tackling the Evolving Migration Crisis.

Dr. Philipp Ackerman, Embassy of Germany; Klaus Botzet, from the EU Delegation to the U.S.; David DiGiovanna, U.S. Department of State Department; Dr. Elzbieta Gozdziak, professor, Georgetown University and Dr. Demetrios Papademetriou, Migration Policy Institute, discussed Europe’s migration crisis.

Papademetriou stated the EU is not built to deal with geopolitical issues. The lack of leadership and the flaws in the relocation formula has not adequately addressed the migration crisis, he said. The fundamental problem comes down to the unwilling member states being intimidated by the council to accept conditions. However, upon taking those conditions to their respective countries, the unwilling member states fail to follow through with their promises.

Gozdziak focused on the human factor of the migration crisis. She referred to the true crisis as one of reception. Hostile public opinion in certain member states has led many refugees to refuse their relocation assignment. Gozdziak emphasized that a shift in mentality must be made to encourage reception. In her opinion, this change can only come from the bottom up.

Botzet followed by pointing out the phenomenon of global migration outside of just the Syrian refugee crisis. He mentioned it is a global responsibility and the EU may just be the first to deal with it, but the EU cannot be the only one. He mentioned the EU objectives to save lives and ensure protection of refugees through the organization of hotspots, increasing Frontex capacity, establishing joint action plans with Turkey, and focusing on the common security and defense policy. He mentioned the importance of NATO as a mediator between the Turkish and Greek governments to encourage full communication on the topic of boarder security.

Ackerman spoke to the importance of civil society and a working bureaucracy. He believes this will not be the last of migration crises. At this moment, the refugees may be fleeing conflict but in the future more migration crises could emerge from displaced people due to natural disasters. Ackerman pointed out all EU countries need to understand that their low birth rates makes it logical to accept refugees.

DiGiovanna addressed the transatlantic angle of managing the migration crisis. He focused on the commitments the U.S. has to addressing the Syrian conflict, increasing resettlement and humanitarian aid, and increasing cooperation between the US-EU. On the last point, he emphasized the importance of sharing best practices. His conclusion is that the U.S. has many things it can do, and is trying to do, in the face of this crisis.

Following the conclusion of their remarks, panelists were asked if migration is the new normal, what are the solutions for the medium term? Papademetriou said a solution would include focusing on the importance of rethinking different structures in our societies, adding that that people will manage rather than normalize the phenomenon.  Other panelists emphasized the importance of integration along with education and job creation.

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CSIS Examines the Global Refugee and Humanitarian Crisis Implications for International Development

AHI attended an event on the refugee crisis hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 23, titled, “The Global Refugee and Humanitarian Crisis: Implications for International Development” Andrew Natsios, currently director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs and professor at Texas A&M University, keynoted the event.  The remarks were followed by a panel discussion on the same topic.  Panelists included: John Brause, director, World Food Programme in Washington; Kelly Clements, deputy high commissioner, UNHCR; William Garvelink, senior adviser, CSIS; and Catherine Wiesner United States Department of State.

Natsios, who is a former USAID administrator, addressed the “how and why” of the refugee crisis. Primarily he focused on the Syrian conflict and framed it as a great power rivalry. In his opinion, there are three revitalized empires vying for control. Putin’s ‘czarist’ empire, Erdogan’s ‘caliphate’ and Iran’s ‘Persian Empire.’ He claims that this proxy war is evidence of a new global power structure with no clear identity. On the topic of United States response to the issue, Natsios argued that the little the U.S. is doing is not enough. His recommendations for the U.S. aid system involves an almost complete overhaul driven by the Departments of Defense and State.  He also emphasized the importance of training programs within the structure of a U.S. aid agency rather than relying on graduate school programs.

The panel opened with a discussion about the challenges facing international development organizations during this refugee crisis. Brause mentioned there are not enough resources, particularly in terms of funding. He stated the only way to mobilize resources is to make the case of self-interest. He also recognized the importance of investing before a crisis happens rather than reacting to it.

Garvelink addressed the reasons why refugees are suddenly fleeing to Europe. He cited the increase cost of living in Syria’s neighboring countries, the lack of job availability, and access to education as issues that are pushing refugees away. For refugees who have been saving to flee to Europe, it has also recently become significantly cheaper to do so.

According to Wiesner, it is the United States’ role, as the global leader in humanitarian response, to share responsibility and improve its aid and political leverage to encourage others to do the same. Potential partners include: Canada, Japan, Korea, and the Gulf states.  

In terms of the importance of inclusion and self-reliance of refugees, Clements mentioned that these are long-term goals that can only be achieved through a collaborative effort among humanitarian aid organizations. Brause mentioned the knowledge and skills of the refugees could be used to improve conditions in refugee camps. As an example, Brause cited the use of agricultural expertise to establish farms would encourage self-reliance and address the food shortage issue. Garvelink emphasized the importance of mobilizing the leaders at the local level willing to utilize refugee skills and provide job opportunities. Wiesner highlighted the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit as a forum for the U.S. government to promote its initiatives for the protection of women and girls with regard to gender-based violence.

During Q&A, the panelists were asked to explain how the international development community could influence governments moving forward. Clements pointed out that governments must understand that their participation can aid economic growth and be politically viable. Only once that is established would governments be willing to actively participate in addressing the refugee crisis. On the topic of the link between economic migrants to refugees, Wiesner mentioned there is a wide spectrum of migrants many of whose situation involves a humanitarian dimension.

Natsios offered an opinion about UN conferences needing to be abolished, which generated some controversy. His argument was that most of the conferences are more rhetoric and less than 5% action. He also wanted to reemphasize that in his opinion, USAID has to be decentralized in order to be effective in the field.

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NPC Panel Discussion: Turkey's Crackdown on Journalists - Spotlight on Can Dündar's Detention

AHI attended a panel discussion on Turkey’s crackdown on journalists hosted by Reporters Without Borders at the National Press Club, February 24.  The event focused on the recent imprisonment of renowned journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül. The panelists were: Can’s wife, Dilek Dündar; Dana Priest, an investigative journalist for the Washington Post; Tolga Tanis, Hürriyet’s Washington DC correspondent; James Risen, investigative journalist for the New York Times, and a special video message by award-winning investigative journalist Carl Bernstein.

Bernstein, who received a Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward for their coverage of Watergate, stated in his video message that Turkey has “instituted a methodical crackdown on the media, using the smokescreen of terrorism to justify the arrest and detention of numerous distinguished journalists whose only crimes have been the pursuit of the truth.”

Tanis echoed Bernstein’s statement.  She said when journalists do their job in Turkey, they end up in jail.  Also, if they question the policies of the government in Turkey, they end up in jail. The judicial system is used for the politicians for their own benefit, she added.

Priest, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, stated Turkey is being compared increasingly to countries with very little press freedom such as Egypt and Russia. She pointed out that U.S. journalists rely on foreign journalists to tell the truth, and the U.S. should advocate for the truth in journalism.

Risen emphasized the importance of the U.S. to be more vocal about Turkey’s crackdown on independent reporting. He added that the protection of journalists should be a top priority in American - Turkish relations. The U.S. should also concentrate on the story of Turkey supplying arms to terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Post-script: On February 25, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that Erdem Gül and Can Dündar’s rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press were violated and they should be immediately released.

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The Migrant Crisis:  Can It Be Managed? A Conversation with the OSCE 

AHI attended a discussion on the migration crisis with Secretary General of the OSCE, Ambassador Lamberto Zannier, May 19.  Wilson Center Director, President/CEO Jane Harman introduced Ambassador Zannier.   James Hollifield, director, Tower Center for Political Studies and Public Policy Scholar at the Wilson Center, moderated the event, which was titled, “The Migrant Crisis: Can it be Managed? A Conversation with OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier.”

In her introduction, Harman reminded attendees that the EU’s biggest challenge is the control of its external borders, the commitment of all EU nations on the issue of security, and the realization that there is no solution within the confines of EU.

Amb. Zannier opened with how there was resistance from various nations at the start of the crisis. He stated it took some time for the EU to react, and among certain countries, there was no discussion about it.  Serious conversations about the crisis began only last year, he added. The ambassador continued by discussing how the crisis has created many additional issues such as organized crime, human rights violations, and problems related to tolerance and discrimination. Countries now realize that the challenge is political in nature, he said.

Amb. Zannier also shared details of the OSCE’s organized “Security Day” in Rome in March.  The event focused on changing migration realities, the emergence of new security needs, and the call for regional and international attention. He stated countries now realize that they cannot ignore the issue.  He added, 50% of the refugees are from the Syrian crisis and the rest are from other countries, he said.  

The ambassador delved into security problems presented by the crisis, stating that security needs to be addressed on every level.  Organized crime is a big issue and especially its connection to the movement of migrants, he said. Furthermore, there is a high level of concern regarding the increased potential for terrorism. Most countries presently do not have the proper screening tools, he cautioned.

Amb. Zannier concluded with his observation that the EU needs to address its lack of solidarity.  The refugee crisis constitutes a real display of the unwillingness of EU members to work with all EU institutions and mandates, he said.

During Q&A, the panel was asked if any other strategies might be used in dealing with Turkey besides “paying them.” Amb. Zannier stated the strategy among all international institutions is to push governments to act and the OSCE’s goal is to align all countries and try to build a consensus.  Europe cannot be isolated.

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org.For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.orgor follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC

The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

AHI Capital Report July-December 2015

Vol. 7 Issue 2

Open or Closed Borders? Understanding Europe's Migration Challenge

AHI attended a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the migration challenge facing Europe, Oct. 7, 2015. Panelists included: Deputy Prime Minister of Liechtenstein Thomas ZwiefelhoferCatherine Wiesner, deputy assistant secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; and Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR’s regional representative for the USA and the Caribbean. Heather Conley, director, CSIS Europe Program, moderated. 

Deputy PM Zwiefelhofer described the catastrophic effects migration has had on Europe in 2015. Millions of refugees from Syria and other parts of the Middle East are leaving their homes, undergoing life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean in their attempts to reach Europe. Italy and Greece are overrun and overburdened.  Because some countries have border controls in place and others are merely serving as a way of transit, the European Commission has started creating an action plan to address the issue. However, the ensuing debate has only weakened the European Union, he stated. In July, a relocation program led to the relocation of 20,000 refugees from Italy and Greece. The existing Dublin legislation is under scrutiny for member states that are struggling the most and it has since been determined that Europe must strengthen its assistance towards these members. Before closing, Zwiefelhofer briefly highlighted the strategy of Liechtenstein and its continued support of the EU and any future decisions on migration made by the European Commission.

Pitterman reminded attendees that 60 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of the ongoing turmoil in Syria and Iraq, where residents continue to face a mega humanitarian crisis. Many displaced persons and refugees are at high risk of starvation and it is not limited just to those in refugee camps. Lebanon, for example, has extraordinary numbers of refugees and very few resources to house them. Europe needs a unified response to this crisis, Pitterman stated. The more restrictions and limitations Europe imposes upon refugees, the higher the chance they could become marginalized and resort to more dangerous means of entering Europe, such as human traffickers or smugglers. 

Wiesner emphasized that when examining this crisis, distinctions should not be made between “deserving” or “less deserving” individuals; rather, priority should be given to saving human lives, regardless of where they are from or how intense the conflict may be at their country of origin. Transit and host countries need humanitarian aid and fundamental assistance.  Wiesner added the United States needs to cooperate with Europe and take on a much more active role. 

During the Q&A, moderator Conley asked the panel whether the world should be anticipating more mega-conflicts in the future (in other words, are displacements of this size the new norm?) and also asked for the panelists’ suggestions on how the screening process in the United States can be expedited. Thomas addressed the “new norm” by stating the solution to migration is solidarity and a step-by-step approach. Europe’s borders need to be managed in such a way that a system of legal and controlled immigration could be created and subsequently enforced. Shelly added her belief that a way to resolve this crisis is to bring together world leaders in order to create actual humanitarian solutions.

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The Role of Natural Gas in the European Energy Security

AHI attended a Brookings Institution presentation by Eurogas president, Gertjan Lenkhorst, on the role of natural gas in European energy security, Oct. 23, 2015.  Lenkhorst discussed the challenges presented by oil imports and exports, Russia’s role in the sector, environmental implications of Europe’s increased coal usage, security issues within the European Union, and the role of the United States. 

Lenkhorst provided an overview of the impact of natural gas usage on Europe in recent years. Low CO2prices, low supplies of oil, warm winters, and slow-growing economies have decreased gas demand in Europe. There has been a 23% drop since 2010. Low demand has resulted in low investment yet investment is still needed to complete the internal European market and to safeguard gas supply security and complete the EU market transformation.

Lenkhorst pointed out the recent attempts of renewed energy-sector interest on the part of the political leadership from Russia. The recent doubling of the pipeline system from Russia to Germany will result in higher dependence on Russian gas, but fortunately, few European countries are completely dependent on Russia for their natural gas needs. Lenkhorst pointed to (an at the time) forthcoming January 2016 commission, whose purpose will serve to revise the intergovernmental heating and cooling strategy, as an effort to combat dependency on Russian gas.  The commission’s goal is to reduce gas demand and lower dependency on Russian imports. One suggestion could be to manufacture an additional, west-to-east pipeline connecting Russia to Europe. This will inevitably make the market more competitive, especially if the pipeline originates in Germany. 

In his comparisons between the United States and Europe, Lenkhorst cautioned that Europe will not copy the American gas revolution. Europe’s resources are different as is public opinion; gas in Europe is viewed more negatively and is often linked with opinions on coal and of Russia. These negative impressions will most likely continue for at least the next five years. New approaches should be identified in order to combat negative perceptions and attitudes. Lenkhorst predicted a convergence of goals between the United States and Europe on problems relating to natural gas production and usage but a divergence as to how these can be resolved.

During the Q&A, Lenkhorst was asked whether there was enough demand for investors in the European gas market. Lenkhorst said it required political interference and better European infrastructure in order to draw more investment, a goal which was not totally unattainable and could ultimately be attained by regulated parties. Europe has always been more dependent on imports for gas, especially from Russia. At the moment, the Netherlands is the only country (apart from Russia) that exports gas to European markets. If Europe’s infrastructure was more sophisticated, potential investors would feel more secure, Lenkhorst concluded.

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Turkey’s snap elections: Resuscitation or relapse?

AHI attended a panel discussion at Brookings Institution on the aftermath of Turkey’s elections, Nov. 2, 2015. Panelists included: Ömer Taşpınar, Brookings nonresident senior fellow; Gönül Tol, director, Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute; Kadir Üstün, SETA executive director; and Robert Wexler, president, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Taşpınar addressed the reasons why the large margin of victory occurred for President Erdogan and what he may do next as president. The biggest loser was MHP (the ultra-nationalist party). Supporters were disappointed with party leaders’ post-election performance in June and their adamant refusal to join any coalition in governance. The hope was that MHP supporters would have then gone for the CHP. The conservative ties between the MHP and the AKP remain strong as voters instead deflected to the AKP, which was exactly what Erdogan wanted. When Erdogan began the peace process with the Kurds in 2013-2014, he lost a lot of conservative support which led to his loss of the nationalists in the June elections. By trying to get back the nationalists, he lost the Kurds, leading to a situation of controlled chaos. Erdogan wanted early elections hoping people would reward the AKP with their votes, i.e. the only party anyone can trust for stability and prosperity is the AKP. Turks see political stability under the last 13 years of AKP rule and respectable levels of growth. The 1990s was a decade of coalitions, chronic inflation and intense instability. In juxtaposition with the days of Erdogan, he only looks more appealing, according to Taşpınar.

Taşpınar then asked, “Were these elections free and fair?” He found them to be free but not fair. In his opinion, citizens need access to unbiased information and they did not have this in many parts of the country. The media is overwhelmingly controlled by government. That being said, it is a very good thing that the HDP (the Kurdish party) passed the electoral threshold and made it into parliament. According to Taşpınar, Turks now again find themselves in an environment where Erdogan will try to create a presidential system, requiring the AKP to change the constitution (something not all party members may want). The electorate will have to go to a referendum in order to approve this new system, which means Erdogan is required to deliver on the economy, to resume Kurdish peace process negotiations and some democratic reforms. These factors being the price for a presidential system could ultimately make this a better outcome for Turkey than improved EU relations. Whether Turkey attains what it truly needs - decentralized power with checks and balances – remains to be seen, he said.

Ustun followed Taşpınar’s presentation by adding the electorate truly believed it voted for the party that could successfully and feasibly govern.  The electorate did not see an alternative option that could deliver for the country.  Therefore, 4.5 million voters switched sides in five months. Most parties campaigned on an anti-Erdogan platform, but the PKK’s actions and rhetoric ended up indirectly punishing the HDP.

Furthermore, Tol commented on the Kurdish reaction, highlighting one of the biggest election surprises which was Kurdish voters returning to the AKP during a time of civilian casualties and ultra-nationalist rhetoric. After Kobani, it was assumed the AKP lost the Kurds and that the Kurds would begin voting for the HDP more regularly.  The biggest victory from the election is the HDP making it into parliament, considering how much the government tried to marginalize it.  This resulted in large part because of the deteriorating security situation in the country and conservative Kurds’ disappointment in the post-electoral performance of the HDP. The AKP campaigned in Kurdish regions for economic stability and safety which made voters act in a way they perceived as “punishing” toward the Kurds. There are other factors now that are making the Turkish administration very nervous such as U.S. support for the PYD in Syria and Russia’s heightened involvement and support of Assad. 

Wexler said the United States will not continue to tolerate Turkey’s overt opposition to its strategy in Syria, adding it will be difficult for Turkey to continue to disagree with the American perspective (in Syria). He reminded attendees that he first started the Congressional Turkish Caucus with Congressman Whitfield because he believed there was a void in the promotion of the U.S.-Turkish relationship on Capitol Hill, despite being warned that the “Greek, Cypriot, and Armenian community are not going to be happy with you.” He maintained that if Erdogan behaves rationally moving forward, there will be an opportunity for him and President Obama to improve their now-struggling relationship. 

During the Q&A, Wexler stated Turkey should be treated as if it is already an EU member (with regard to ongoing trade and TTIP negotiations). He believes Turkey has the right to pressure the EU to speed up the accession process. Regarding the upcoming G20 summit, Wexler added that Obama should be sensitive to the interests of Turkey but that “he (Obama) is going to promote the interest of America, which in this day is…defeating ISIS. That’s what he's going to do in private. He should make every allowance possible to allow American policy to assist the Turkish policy, but in public it's about defeating ISIS, and that’s what Americans want to hear, and quite frankly that’s what our allies want to hear as well.”

# # #

After Turkey's Elections: Implications for the Future

AHI attended a German Marshall Fund event on the recent Turkish elections, Nov. 4, 2015. Sir Michael Leigh, GMF senior fellow and Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director, GMF Ankara Office, were panelists.

Unluhisarcikli offered his takeaways following Turkey’s election, including Turkish society’s strong desire for long-term political stability, the “pull” of the leadership, and the Turkish tendency to rally around the leader in the face of danger. He observed that many who lost faith in the Turkey of today, or who no longer find it to be a democratic place, have been voluntarily excluding themselves from Turkish society. Unluhisarcikli expressed hope that Prime Minister Davutoglu would deliver when it came to ending polarization, corruption and the tensions in Turkish society, speculating that he may want to leave a legacy. Unluhisarcikli also asked attendees to consider what Turkish voters may truly want. Before the June elections, President Erdogan asked for mandate to change the constitution and voters took away his majority. However, in November he asked for a simple majority and the voters gave him much more, proving ultimately that they want him in power but do not feel comfortable with regime change.

Sir Michael Leigh opined that Turkish voters want a stable government and believed their “strongman,” President Erdogan, would protect them.  He added, the HDP discouraged many of its conservative Kurdish voters by being more openly liberal and even “Kurdish,” proving to be too much for this group of voters. 

Further, Leigh addressed whether the election was a free and fair one.  Although the OSCE found the election, as a whole, well-organized, it also found the election was not held in “far conditions.” The election may have been reasonably free but the atmosphere of violence and intimidation that reigned since June’s results created unfair circumstances. One cannot forget that nearly 80 percent of the media is controlled by groups that are controlled by government, Leigh said.

In addition, Leigh noted that Turkey was warned about increased security challenges and media restrictions when Prime Minister Davutoglu received congratulations from the EU.  Also, Turkey was asked to restart the peace process with Kurds. This brings to mind the dilemma the EU faces with regard to Turkey’s accession, Leigh stated.  For example, can the EU really continue to treat Turkey as a candidate with the assumption that Turkey shares fundamental values with the EU?  This dilemma was further demonstrated by the EU delay in publishing its highly critical EU Commission report (until after the elections) and Chancellor Merkel’s hasty visit to Istanbul shortly before elections to solicit support for controlling the refugee flow. Her potential offer to Turkey sent a lot of wrong messages that she cannot deliver on, such as faster visa travel to the EU, the quick opening of important EU accession chapters and three billion euros in aid. These actions also undermine the principle that EU negotiations proceed on a member’s own merit.

During the Q&A session, Leigh reiterated his belief that the EU is misguided in its hope that Turkey could be any sort of policeman of refugees and that this has created a bad strategy. The controls need to come from Europe, not Turkey. The idea Turkey could more effectively filter political versus economic refugees is an illusion. In response to questions about a lack of media freedom in Turkey, Leigh stated Turkey’s allies should do what they can to encourage Turkey to reform although Unluhisarcikli disagreed.   Regarding increases in Islamization within Turkish society, Leigh reminded attendees that even when specific international agencies are dedicated to monitoring religious freedom, little is done. These initiatives are often responses to domestic pressure or lobbying that do not lead to changes in policy.  The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and its progress reports were cited as examples.

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Europe’s refugee crisis: Hospitality and its discontents 

AHI attended a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on Europe’s refugee crisis, Nov. 18, 2015.  The panelists were: Matteo Garavoglia, visiting fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe; Kemal Kirişci, TÜSİAD senior fellow; Nathalie Tocci, deputy director, Istituto Affari Internationali and Leon Wieseltier, Isaiah Berlin senior fellow in Culture and Policy, Foreign Policy, and Governance Studies. 

Kirişci addressed the root causes of the refugee crisis. He first mentioned Syria, a conflict in which the regime and extremists groups have been displacing people many of whom have fled to neighboring countries, namely Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Without little international support, Kirişci cited the second root cause of the crisis in Europe – the decision by many refugees to resettle on their own and trust smugglers to enter Europe. 

Garavoglia continued the discussion by mentioning the bipolarity found in Europe on this topic. He divided the reactions into three dichotomies. The first was a geographical dichotomy between European countries with an open policy and countries whose borders are closed off to refugees and asylum seekers. The second can be found amongst the institutional structure of the EU. Finally, he shed light on the discord between proposed answers (such as closing borders or working towards an integrated European common asylum and refugee policy). Garavoglia stated his belief that there would most likely be a compromise between these two solutions.

Within the same European framework, Tocci continued by addressing the problem, the response and what should be done. The problems in the refugee crisis are humanitarian, political, societal, and security-related. The response so far consists of counteracting the crisis at its source: dealing with the issue of smugglers at European borders.

Wieseltier, the final panelist, focused his commentary on the cultural and political response to the refugee crisis in the United States. There are two distinct sides to this debate: xenophobia versus acting in “bad faith” neither responding appropriately in addressing this crisis. Wieselter referenced recent comments by Republican candidates as being wholly un-American and rejecting fundamental American values. He found America to be a “gift” to this world because of its’ multicultural and multiethnic roots, something that seems to be forgotten when such comments are made. Even as the Obama administration rejects any of the aforementioned responses, Wieseltier argued that although they may understand the issue at a moral level, they are too cowardly to act accordingly. All parties too frequently mistake the refugee crisis as being only one with security repercussions. Refugees and immigrants cannot be confused, the same way that any solution to the Syrian conflict cannot be confused as a solution the refugee crisis.

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The Role of the IMF in Greece 

AHI attended a discussion on the IMF’s involvement in Greece at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Nov. 30, 2015. Cinnamon Dornsife, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute and Senior Advisor of the International Development Program at SAIS, moderated.  Remarks were made by Elena Panaritis, a Greek economist and former member of Greek Parliament, and Jaime Marquez, a senior adjunct professor of International Economics at SAIS. 

Panaritis answered four questions that provided an overview of the economic crisis in Greece and the involvement of the IMF.  First, she addressed what went wrong in Greece. The state of the economy in 2009 consisted of high-risk sovereign bonds, high unemployment, growing debt, a deficit and close to zero GDP growth. The role of the European Union (EU) was complicated and the banking industry of Greece faced high risk if Greece were to default on its loans. The EU decided on the necessity of a bailout for Greece to contain the crisis and ultimately repay the loans held by EU banks. The inexperience of the European Commission as well as the European Central Bank in providing such bailouts led Panaritis to explain how the IMF got involved. The IMF, with its experience bailing out countries, was brought in to partake in this process. Panaritis made it very clear that despite the IMF’s expertise, it did not have experience bailing out banks. As such, the IMF did not have the necessary understanding to take into account the structural deficiencies in Greece. A vicious cycle of interest and limited to zero growth prevented the sustainable servicing of loans. The crisis was addressed as a liquidity issue despite being one of solvency. Additionally, the volatile tax laws in recent years discouraged investment in Greece. The results, after six years, showed a country addicted to loans and a lack of income generating productivity. With regard to a “Grexit,” Panaritis stated Greece would have no resources without the Euro; it does not have the luxury to wait for oil and gas reserves (which will not materialize for at least another 40-45 years). Greece needs to work toward developing a more productive economy and harnessing the power of innovation. 

JMarquez continued the conversation by pointing out the similarities between the Great Depression in the United States and the current state of the Greek economy. He went on to criticize the IMF program for being based on an underestimated fiscal multiplier (he elaborated on this point by explaining that the fiscal multiplier is the ratio of change in national income to the change in government spending). Underestimating the fiscal multiplier meant that any government policy, such as a tax hike, had a greater effect on GDP than was previously assumed by the IMF program. Marquez also pointed out why the IMF matters to the United States – a misuse of IMF resources could, in turn, require a bailout of the organization by the United States. 

During Q&A, the speakers were asked what a plan to create growth in Greece might entail. Panaritis responded that it would involve structural reform that would improve the investment climate, allow the formal sector to grow, and encourage entrepreneurship and productivity. The limitation of bureaucracy and an increase in transparency in order to better address corruption would also prove essential. Another question addressed the credibility of the IMF following the failure of its program in Greece. The speakers collectively noted that the organization’s credibility has been preserved through the acknowledgment of its mistakes and could be further strengthened if more of its decisions were based on economic principles rather than politics. Ultimately, the future of Greece and the European Union is uncertain and the current crisis cannot be resolved without significant structural reforms, Panaritis concluded.

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Is it time for the United States to Pivot back to Europe?

AHI attended a debate hosted by the McCain Institute on the United States’ relationship with Europe, Dec. 3, 2015.  Those for a “pivot” to Europe were Ian Brzezinski, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and Constanze Stelzenmuller, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Debating against a pivot to Europe were Patrick Cronin from the Center for a New American Security and Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation. 

Brzezinski began by explaining that today’s world is becoming increasingly more dangerous and complex. As such, the US needs allies that possess a combination of economic resources, military capability and political legitimacy. He argued that all of this can be found in Europe’s $18 trillion economy and NATO’s unmatched military capability. The transatlantic community has a proven record of unity through collective action and like-minded democracies and is once again the stage for confrontation between the West and Russia. Brzezinski acknowledged that Europe has its faults but emphasized that they provide a better set of allies with which to collectively promote freedom and security. He stated that the United States must invest in this relationship by leading the transatlantic community from the helm.

Stelzenmuller also defended a pivot back to Europe. She disagreed with the idea that the United States pivoted away in the first place, pointing out the constructive level of cooperation between the White House, State Department, Department of Defense and their counterparts in Europe. Disagreements between partners are often on technical issues. This codependency should never be marked by resentment on either side. 

Cronin commenced the argument opposing a pivot to Europe by sharing that the rebalance to Asia has not detracted from the longstanding transatlantic alliance and relationship.  He added it was a strategic and separate policy decision and should not be confused with a long-term reorientation. He stressed that strengthening alliances applies in Asia as it does in Europe. 

Gardiner continued with this perspective by first taking issue with the term “pivot,” claiming it is used by administrations to disguise a lack of strategy and policy in certain areas of the world. The United States should not pivot back to Europe but instead rebuild key partnerships with important individual allies across the Atlantic such as Great Britain, Poland and key eastern and central European countries needed for there to be a more assertive counterforce towards Russia. Gardiner stated that the EU should not be elevated and believed the project to be undemocratic and a disaster. The United States should strengthen its leadership and lead from the front as well as ending the State Department’s obsession with advancing any idea of a European super state.

All participants agreed the United States must remain engaged in Europe but differed on level of involvement. In conclusion, policy recommendations from the pro-pivot side included a more engaged United States, especially at the military level. The other side of the debate asserted the United States must focus on all regions to exhibit its global strength and cease engagement with the European Union as an entity, instead supporting self-determination, national sovereignty and freedom in Europe.

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Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist

AHI attended a presentation by Niall Ferguson on his new book, Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist, Dec. 9, 2015. Ferguson’s first book of an anticipated two volume official biography of Henry Kissinger evaluated his subject’s early years just prior to his appointment as National Security Advisor to President Nixon. 

Ferguson spent the majority of his presentation explaining five points he learned from his subject and his research. He first emphasized that this publication was about the “idealist” Kissinger of the early years and not about his time as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during which many consider him a practitioner of realpolitik. 

The first point Ferguson highlighted is an analogy made by Kissinger: history is to the state what character is to an individual. The second point was, as Ferguson described it, the problem of conjecture.  He explained that because preemptive action is often not recognized, policy makers are therefore faced with a choice to wait for catastrophe or rely on data to make decisions. Data can have flaws and does not provide the desired clarity most policy makers expect; most policy is based on ideals and values that policy makers have chosen to uphold. Ferguson argued that Kissinger understood this very well in his early years. 

Ferguson’s third point was that foreign policy is inherently about a choice between two evils. He underscored this extensively, stating that any decision would be an evil decision because there is essentially no other option. He went on to remind attendees that historians who are quick to say that Kissinger’s actions or choices were evil are simply pointing out the obvious. The fourth point Ferguson addressed was the common comparison between Kissinger and Bismarck. Ferguson argues that the idealism Kissinger subscribed to in his early years did not provide the necessary solutions to the challenges he faced during his time in as a federal employee. At times, it would have been necessary for Kissinger to draw upon Bismarckian diplomacy to address challenges such as Vietnam. 

Finally, Ferguson’s fifth point was what he called the greatest “puzzle” – the mystery of how the American public reacts to foreign policy. American foreign policy is just a series of moves that leads to results which are not necessarily expected but are ultimately accepted. Ferguson’s underlying conclusion was the importance of applied history in foreign policy decision making which, he argued, Kissinger knew very well. In the forthcoming second volume on the former Secretary, Ferguson hopes to focus on how theories that Kissinger studied were put into practice in the situation room. 

During Q&A, Ferguson offered his thoughts about the effect of Kissinger’s personal history, mentioning that Kissinger’s most formative years were when he returned to Germany in World War II as well as his experiences at Harvard and fascination with Emmanuel Kant. Another question addressed how Kissinger managed to obtain such a high level position in the United States government. Ferguson shared that he had tried to work with Walter Isaacson’s description of a ruthless, calculating and ambitious Kissinger, but that this ultimately could be contradicted.  Kissinger’s doctoral thesis on the Congress of Vienna and his association with Nelson Rockefeller serve as contradictions to Isaacson’s theory.  His rise to positions of power, Ferguson argued, was merely the product of a series of coincidences and not careful manipulation.

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Turkey-Russia Conflict: What’s Next?

AHI attended a panel discussion on the future of the Turkey-Russia conflict sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Dec. 15, 2015. Panelists included: Michael Cecire, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Kemal Kirişci, Brookings Institution, and Maria Snegovaya, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University. 

Kirişci opened his remarks with two questions; what Turkey’s motivations in Syria might be and where the Turkish-Russian relationship is headed. He believes there are “two Turkeys.” The first depends on trade to determine foreign policy decisions and the second, after the events of the Arab spring, views itself as a central power that has the ability to shape its neighborhood via its foreign policy. The only thing that stands true for Turkey is its two enemies who will always take precedence over the threat of ISIS: Syrian President Assad and the Kurds. 

With regards to the recent escalation with Russia as a result of Turkey’s “stab in the back,” to borrow Putin’s words describing the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey, Kirişci saw this as a bad sign for their future relationship. He pointed out there are still high levels of economic interdependency between the two ranging from the fields of energy to tourism. He also questioned whether or not Putin may purposefully push Turkey back to the West.

Snegovaya continued the conversation by analyzing Russian responses and whether or not the downing of the plane was expected by Moscow. Snegovaya shared that Russia constantly violates airspace around the region and in the Balkans and have never been shot down; this incident with Turkey was therefore unexpected. The emotional response to the downing of the plane from the Russian side further emphasized this point. Russia has a lot to lose from a real conflict with Turkey especially with regards to the strategic importance of the Bosphorus and the potential damage for Russia from sanctions against Turkey.  Snegovaya also addressed Russia’s involvement in Syria, which Turkey opposes immensely. Syria had the potential to be the stage upon which Russia could repair relations with the west but this remains now. Ultimately, this incident was neither tragic nor dramatic; rather, it served as a reminder to keep an eye on the proxy war in Syria between the two powers (among others).

Finally, Cecire discussed the implications on the Caucasus region, one which is equally divided between Russia and Turkey. Armenia could be described as a Russian client state and the recent increase of Russian troops on the Armenia-Turkish border could be a potential pressure point. Georgia is an aspiring NATO member and a state with close ties to Turkey in energy, trading and security. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, is close to Turkey yet has been moving toward Russia. Azerbaijan considers Russia a strategic partner and Turkey a cultural partner with whom they have a mutual defense treaty. Turkey and Russia may be searching for a new theater to compete in and Nagorno-Karabakh may provide that opportunity. In the North Caucasus, Cecire pointed out Abkhazia as another potential pressure point. Ultimately, Cecire argued there are a few pressure points that may ignite a full armed conflict.   

The Q&A focused on domestic public opinion in Turkey and Russia (after the downing of the plane), Russian and Turkish interests in Syria, and the roles of their economies. Reference was also made to the potential revival of the Minsk Protocol. Snegovaya said public opinion in Russia is constantly centered on working toward attaining a status of greatness for Russia. Kirişci indicated that in Turkey, concern over the economy has outweighed interest in maintaining involvement in Syria. The economies of both countries have become so intertwined that it will prove to be quite complex and messy if both powers continue attacking each other economically. Turkey’s re-pivot to the West may push them to play a more active role in global affairs; however, it is Turkey’s economy that will drive most decision-making. In conclusion, all panelists agreed there could be a future conflict slowly brewing between the two powers but other factors may play a role in pacifying the tension.

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org.For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.orgor follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC

The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

AHI Capital Report January-June 2015

Volume 7, Issue 1

Book Presentation: Greece and EEC Membership: Was it a Mistake?

On February 3, AHI attended a book presentation by Eirini Karamouzi, a lecturer in contemporary history at the University of Sheffield. Karamouzi discussed her latest publication, Greece and EEC Membership: Was it a Mistake? The book delves into the history of the European Economic Community (EEC), focusing on Greece’s membership and the history behind the application process, exploring the 1970s in more specific detail. 

Karamouzi reminded attendees that Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and discussed the complicated process of joining an organization whose members can change the rules of admission during any given country’s application process. Since 1981, many EU officials and statesmen have begun drawing direct links between Greece’s membership and its subsequent crisis. For example, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing stated in 2012 that it was a mistake to let Greece join. In order to better understand the role of the EEC in Greece and Greece’s economic crisis, Karamouzi offered a brief history on Greece’s membership.

It was Konstantinos Karamanlis senior who first surprised Europeans by publically verbalizing Greece’s desire to join the EEC. Greece’s many structural weaknesses and the precedent of accepting Mediterranean countries provided EEC members with a dilemma. They also wanted to avoid becoming embroiled in any type of Greco-Turkish dispute at all costs. However, Greece’s heavily pro-democracy rhetoric was making them a difficult candidate to turn down. This outweighed concerns over structural weakness and economic unpreparedness. Protecting democratic ideals became a goal that tied in nicely with the Cold War forces at play during the 1970s. As James Callaghan, former Prime Minister of the UK once said to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissenger, “(we) shouldn’t take for granted the long term stability of democracy in Greece and its commitment to the West.” He believed that focusing on Greece was one of the best ways to dispel anti-western sentiment in the country. 

During Q&A, Karamouzi was asked to speculate on what may have happened had Karamanlis stayed in office instead of Andreas Papandreou. She shared that Papandreou came at a time when Greece’s membership was already guaranteed. Although PASOK’s l980s program was based on fiscal expansion, even Papandreou asked for monetary assistance when he realized Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy. Within six months, his fiscal expansion programming had resumed. Karamouzi still believed that Greece wouldn’t have done anything differently; joining was definitely the best policy for them at the time.

The role of Germany was also raised during Q&A.  Karamouzi replied that Germany led the way for the EEC through this process. They were willing to pay for expansion of the EEC but hesitations led to a lengthening of the process.  The EEC members believed that making countries such as Greece a member would be akin to their development much like the Marshall Plan was in the post-World War II years.  Germany more decisively accepted the idea of Greece joining once the United States did. 

The only initial problem to Greece joining the EEC was Turkey and geostrategic concerns in the southeast Mediterranean.  Karamanlis’ strategy throughout the process was that he was the most powerful, pro-western leader that Europe could ever have in Greece.  He also guaranteed that he would not use Europe against Turkey.  More to this point, she added that Cyprus was a major issue for NATO and its credibility at that time since no one wanted two major allies on the verge of going to war.

# # #

Turkey's economic transition and transatlantic relations

On February 18, AHI attended a panel discussion on Turkey’s economy and transatlantic relationships at the Brookings Institute, moderated by Brookings TÜSİAD Senior Fellow and Turkey Project Director Kemal Kirişci.  Panelists were: Martin Raiser, the director of the World Bank Office in Turkey; Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan, professor of economics at the University of Maryland; and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. ambassador to the EU, former deputy secretary of the Treasury and current partner at Covington & Burling LLP.

Kirişci began the discussion by sharing some facts about Turkey’s economy. Foreign trade still constitutes 50% of Turkey’s GDP.  Since 2007, Turkey remains in a middle income trap, remaining short from making it into a high-income group of countries. 

Raiser and Kalemli-Ozcan shared the results of an extensive research report on the customs union Turkey shares with the EU. They focused much of their commentary on Turkey’s recent transitions, what other countries could learn from Turkey’s economic trajectory and the low quality of its institutions and how this will keep it from becoming a high income country. Two themes affect Turkey’s economic transition: integration (by virtue of its trade, finance, enterprise and infrastructure) and inclusion (by virtue of its labor, cities, welfare and fiscal space). 

The potential for Turkey to raise itself out of the middle income trap rests on its ability to sustain growth in the face of structural stagnation, boost participation in its job force, and deepen institutional reforms in order to open access growth and root itself within the rule of law. Kalemli-Ozcan also focused on necessary structural reforms such as education, the gender gap and its effect on an already-rigid labor market, and struggles with improving institutional quality.

Ambassador Eizenstat shared his thoughts on the importance of Turkey belonging to the West. Since his time spent working to lift the arms embargo against Turkey, he continues to desire a more western-integrated Turkey. He is a strong supporter of a customs union with Turkey and believes that these relationships encourage Turkey to be more open to taking on substantial reforms. He admitted the Erdogan administration has clearly backslid on democratic reforms but still maintains that “it is in our deepest interest to engage Turkey.” Turkey should not be permanently excluded from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Amb. Eizenstat continued. If anything, Turkey should be kept informed of the TTIP talks and the U.S. should begin a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) process which would send a strong geopolitical signal, he stated. 

Amb. Eizenstat also provided his perspective on Turkey’s status as an EU candidate country. Although there is no practical likelihood of Turkey getting into the EU, he is of the opinion that saying the door is forever closed would be “a tremendous mistake.” When accession talks began, it was not coincidental that reforms escalated. The eight chapters of the acquis that Turkey must complete that remain frozen because of Cyprus are a hindrance, Amb. Eizenstat stated. “Is that really so critical?” he remarked. He suggested creating a new status for Turkey, bringing it closer without necessarily admitting them and expressed his belief that with Turkey, the US also has an opportunity to forge a deeper relationship with a NATO member.

For Amb. Eizenstat, the bottom line is to show Turkey that we care and how important it is that they are part of the global economy, reaching out to them at every dimension.  According to him, this will accelerate the reforms Turkey desperately needs to make.

# # #

The Future of Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean

On February 19, AHI attended a panel discussion on energy developments and potential regional cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean sponsored by the Energy Security and Climate Initiative (ESCI) and the Center for Middle East Policy (CMEP) at the Brookings Institute. The discussion centered around three papers recently launched by Brookings. The papers examine gas discoveries in the Palestinian Gaza Marine; Israel’s energy polices since large gas discoveries were made in its waters; and the effects that hydrocarbon findings off Cyprus will have on its neighbors. The panelists were the papers’ authors:  Tim Boersma, acting director, Energy Security and Climate Initiative and Foreign Policy Fellow; David Koranyi, director of Eurasian Energy Futures Initiative at the Atlantic Council; Nathan Sachs, Foreign Policy and Center for Middle East Policy fellow; and Harry Tzimitras, director of the PRIO Cyprus Centre.

Sachs began the discussion by providing an overview of recent natural gas and hydrocarbon discoveries in Israel, something which he addressed in the paper he coauthored with Boersa. The discoveries have been transformative and have led to many difficult questions regarding monopolies, market share and how much should be exported. Boersa added that there are hopes that Israelis and Palestinians might come closer together through mutual gas field discoveries and benefits to be gained. A major concern among Israelis is that a portion of any Palestinian gains or profits could flow back to Hamas.

Tzimitras continued, providing the Cypriot angle and how the climate has grown increasingly pessimistic in light of Total S.A., a French integrated oil and gas company, asking to be released from its contract, and other companies such as ENI finding little to nothing. Cyprus has alienated many of its allies in this process and the situation in Greece, their strongest regional ally, continues to be problematic. Tzimitras said that much time was wasted on the illusion that larger discoveries existed and on discussing how to build an LNG plant instead of focusing on prospects for viable solutions to regional problems. He added that Turkey and the Cyprus issue are two factors that have generally hijacked energy prospects in Cyprus. 

During Q&A, Tzimitras responded to questions about the Cyprus issue.  He contended, “there are powerful arguments on both sides…it is for Cyprus to suggest a solution.” He also reminded attendees that in 2004, few people read through the Annan Plan in its entirety or fully understood both sides being presented. Ultimately, Cypriots will be the ones deciding on a future settlement. 

During his presentation, Koranyi expressed pessimism on the future of existing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.  He elaborated on his belief that several moments of opportunity have been lost.  He reiterated the importance of the European security angle, especially in the areas of domestic use, regional conciliation and European security in light of the Russia/Ukraine situation.

# # #

Crackdown: Independent Media and Civil Society in Turkey and Azerbaijan

On March 18, AHI attended a panel discussion on the status of media freedom in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Panelists included Arzu Geybullayeva, Istanbul-based blogger and freelance journalist, 2015 Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow at RFE/RL; Jeff Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst for Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations; Richard Kraemer, Senior Program Officer, Middle East & North Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy; and Nate Schenkkan, Program Officer for Eurasia at Freedom House.

Geybullayeva and Goldstein outlined the obstacles journalists continue to face in Azerbaijan; many continue to be jailed on bogus charges because of the regime. In 2014, when the government developed a more intricate plan for jailing well-connected journalists and activists, they began to jail human rights lawyers knowing that they would then be unable to assist. The crackdown always intensifies in the run-up to large international events in order to protect Azerbaijan’s reputation (such as, for example, the Eurovision competition). Goldstein shared that much of the Azerbaijani leadership believes they are unfairly treated with regards to their human rights’ record and that the West is biased. Ultimately, he believes that the leadership is scared of what an open and free society might do to Azerbaijan. They fear movements and revolutions and do not want Azerbaijan to be next. It is clear that the Azeri administration cares; they put a lot of money towards their reputation both in DC and Brussels. The US needs to do more to encourage them to take fewer steps backwards.

Schenkkan moved on to discuss media freedom in Turkey. He stated that indeed, the media in Turkey has never been “free” and there has never been freedom of expression.  Schenkkan outlined four ways in which the Turkish government controls public expression. The first is media ownership control and involves the government directly engaging in changing news coverage and even directly contacting the owners of media groups. This is a distinct characteristic, something first seen during the government corruption scandal with the release of videos of high level government officials, including Erdogan himself. The second mechanism for controlling topics of discussion is stifling media coverage; examples include the Soma mining disaster and the Mosul hostage crisis. The Radio TV Higher Council (RTUK) has the authority to band and limit coverage. The third mechanism, control of the internet, was achieved through the passage of Law 5651 in 2007, which allows for the blocking of sites with and without a court order. The National Intelligence Agency Law, passed in 2014, also expands the powers of the MIT and allows for the usage of court orders to force social media blocking. Lastly, Turkey exerts total control of the discussion. Examples here include the usage of the same exact headlines produced by "different" media outlets.

Kraemer also discussed Turkey and drew on his experiences with the Middle East & North Africa Program at the National Endowment for Democracy. He made mention of Turkey’s improved balance between the military and the leadership and the increased rights provided to the Kurds. Elections in Turkey continue to be free and fair; however, the elected majority should not be able to take advantage of, or discount the needs of, the minority. Turkey still needs respect for property rights, an effective civil society, and cooperative branches of government. The government and the people need accountability, transparency and cooperation but freedom of expression is paramount. Turkish political culture always has had a tendency for a strong central state to the detriment of other, smaller groups, even dating back to Ottoman times. This continues to affect its political environment today. Robust political debate and investigative reporting are healthy for a democratic society. A society that is afraid does not do the state or the people any service.

During the question and answer portion, questions addressed Turkey’s EU aspirations and any potential pressure the US may exert on Turkey in the future, a question asked by AHI. Kraemer pointed out that Turkey responds to pressure on some levels but not others. As a result, the US can push back on certain issues, such as fundamental freedoms. Regardless, the time has come for the US to start thinking long term about what they would like from their relationship with Turkey. For example, what will the US do if and when Turkey does not make it into the EU? He went on to say that what gives him hope is when he considers how far Turkey has come, despite their dramatic recent regression.

# # #

Strained alliances: Israel, Turkey, and the United States

On March 23, AHI attended a forum on the relationships between Israel, Turkey and the United States at the Brookings Institution. Panelists were: Dan Arbell, Nonresident Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy and Center for Middle East Policy; Nimrod Goren, Founder and Chairman of Mitvim; and Sylvia Tirvaki, Deputy Director of the Global Political Trends Center. Kemal Kirisci moderated the discussion.

Tiryaki began by providing some background on Turkey and Israel’s relationship. He reminded attendees that Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in 1949. Despite the fact that the two countries seem to be making progress towards restoring diplomatic relations, given the prevailing circumstances, any progress is slow and stagnant. 

Goren elaborated, sharing that the relationship with Turkey is very important for Israel, regionally and economically. Things may not be normal politically but cooperation persists economically and within civil society. Yet many attempted agreements on matters of more substance continue to fall through. For example, Turkey’s insistence that the Gaza blockade be lifted has not changed Israel’s habit of backing out of all drafted agreements. Turkey also has not made things easier with the persistent ratcheting up of the administration’s anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli rhetoric. In Israel, the political conditions are much more favorable; Turkey was a non-issue for those running for office. Goren believes that if the United States could create more communication channels, the two sides could be encouraged to normalize relations.

Arbell continued discussing a potential US role for future normalization. After the Mavi Marmara incident, no one expected the freeze between Turkey and Israel to continue for this long. Obama was clearly more invested in 2013, which was apparent as he orchestrated the Netanyahu apology. There are different realities and different priorities today and relations are now strained between the United States and both parties as well. Everyone has grown accustomed to the status quo and the U.S. has too many pending priorities to step in and mediate now. The trilateral partnership has deteriorated since the time when they used to conduct joint military exercises.

# # #

Turkey-U.S. Relations in the 21st Century

On March 24, AHI attended the keynote address by Cemil Cicek, Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, given at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cicek spoke with the use of a translator. He began by stating that there are many shifts in regional power balances and Turkey is searching for a new order. The US and Europe are still going through tough economic times, following problems they have had with Russia, Ukraine, and the Middle East. Turkey is currently focusing more on global security and safety and is in a position to encourage peace and stability in the region by focusing on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Cicek went on to say that the foreign policy agendas of the US and Turkey overlap in many ways, which helps pave the way for bilateral cooperation on many levels. He provided extensive statistical evidence which he said proved Turkey’s role as a ready and active member of the anti-ISIS coalition. He was adamant that Turkey never allowed for the transfer of terrorists into Syria and that public opinion lacks the necessary facts on all that Turkey has done to combat ISIS thus far. He asked that the US take its own border difficulties with Mexico into consideration before addressing what Turkey needs to do in order to further combat terrorism at its doorstep. He also discussed Turkey’s position on the state of domestic affairs in Iraq, Ukraine and Armenia.

In response to questions on Cyprus, he stated Turkey wants a comprehensive solution and fast resumption of talks. The Greek Cypriots began unilaterally drilling for hydrocarbon reserves without taking “Turkish Cyprus” into consideration and that it was Turkish Cypriots who had many more reasons to pull out of the talks, even though they did not. He claimed Greek Cypriots used “resources” to create security issues in the eastern Mediterranean and that they must return to the negotiating table in order to eliminate concerns that other parties have. He also reminded attendees that EU accession is indeed still a priority for Turkey and that the EU should eliminate its own double standards.

# # #

The Greek economy and its global partners: A conversation with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis

On April 16 AHI attended the address of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis at the Brooking Institute. Varoufakis discussed the challenges facing the Greek economy, possible reforms that will allow for an economic renewal, and the future of Greece’s relationships with its European partners and the IMF.

Varoufakis began by reiterating the importance of the on-going negotiations between Greece and its partners.  He went on to talk about Greece’s domestic struggles, in the public and private sectors, and how Greeks elected their new government because they were tired of austerity. To understand Greece’s present depression, it is necessary to understand the Eurozone’s design of the debt, and how it resulted in producing a crisis which has degenerated into a humanitarian emergency of a global significance. The outcome of Greece’s negotiations with the Troika will play a major role in determining whether or not Europe and the rest of the world fails and also will serve as a reminder of the crash of 2008 and its stubborn repercussions. Prolonging talks with its creditors leads to a continued asphyxiation of the Greek economy.  There is an eagerness in Greece to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion. 

He criticized past governments’ programs which today have presented multiple obstacles. The current administration does not want to sign up for reforms that cannot be economically sustained and the fiscal austerity imposed on Greece led to the country’s greater collapse. Varoufakis believes that Greece is a classic outlier that took a hit for Europe because of its own economic and social failures and the Eurozone’s design faults.

Varoufakis explained how Greece’s economy moved from being in a recession to a depression by the high levels of debt, bank failure and dried up investments. All of these factors contributed to the shrinking Greek economy. The Greek government already has an existing program to which it is committed and it remains bound to these policies, even though the administration was elected to challenge them.  However, the new government has a mandate to challenge the philosophy of the program it inherited and this should make a difference.

Greece is trying to convince its European partners that common ground on which to build new conditions – a new start – is desperately needed.  Trying to renegotiate is an opportunity for two things: to be heard in good faith and to project the proposals of an investment program. Many EU members need to be convinced that new programs are needed in Greece because the existing ones have failed. These negotiations must succeed.

Greece believes that its new government is offering its European partners a chance for pluralism and democracy to prevail within a monetary union – a union that knows how to acknowledge its errors. Varoufakis closed by saying that the Greek government is eager to come to an arrangement with its partners - an arrangement that will create greater efficiency and genuine growth while overcoming the investment and productivity failures of the past years. This type of agreement is for EU members to remain in the EU, and he underlines, SYRIZA places itself squarely within that camp.

# # #

Eurozone at a crossroads (again): A conversation with Wolfgang Schäuble

On April 16, AHI attended an address by the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, at the Brookings Institute. Schauble spoke about recent fundamental questions concerning European economic policies.

Schäuble began by pointing out the failures of micro-economic policies using Japan as an example.  Economic policies should be designed to create sustainable growth; despite its current debt levels Europe, for example, is growing with consistency with policies that will also be more successful in the long term. The most important question for the Eurozone is whether or not all members can adhere to the rules, and subscribe to methods of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms.  Members of the Eurozone have trusted their monetary rights to the European Central Bank, another reason why it is of utmost importance that the ECB and its members continue to adhere to the rules that consequently keep the common monetary area intact.

Schäuble went on to say that Europe is succeeding in overcoming its current challenges, and it will continue to stand as a model of transnational governance and he remains confident in the EU model of governance. He then outlined three main priorities of the European agenda: low government spending (so as to continue the reduction of the debt to GDP ratio), the implementation of structural reforms aiming at improving economic conditions, and boosting investment. Many European countries have already implemented real reforms and are starting to see their efforts bear fruit. Countries that have successfully completed reform programs - such as Ireland, Spain, and Portugal - are growing faster than other countries as their unemployment begins to decline. 

Schäuble reminded attendees that Europe will not provide financial assistance without demanding something in return; Europe will not help a country that does not begin by helping itself. If decision-making, accountability, opportunity and risk are kept separate, then success is possible. Individual EU members must accept responsibility for their own fiscal and economic policies and any future liability must not be dumped on Europe. Providing debt relief will not help societies improve the long term performance of their economies or solve a single structural problem. On the contrary, it could very well weaken the incentive to carry out needed reforms. 

When questioned on Greece, Schäuble stated that the EU needs to ensure that Greece follows the programs they have agreed on in order to lower its debt, attain a surplus and fully access financial markets. Restructuring its debt is not a priority; the goal is regaining competitiveness and acquiring a primary surplus.

# # #

Does Greece Pose A Threat To The Euro?

On April 17, AHI attended a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute on whether Greece poses a threat to the Eurozone. Panelists included Ann Krueger, a senior research professor of international economics at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Study; Ashoka Mody, the Charles and Marie Robertson visiting professor in International Economic Policy and lecturer in public and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University;  Athanasios Orphanides, professor of global economics and management at MIT; and Plutarchos Sakellaris, professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. 

The discussion began by addressing the status quo in Greece in light of its recent elections. The new government makes no secret of its commitment to ending austerity and therefore continues to collide with its European partners. Speculations as to whether or not Greece will default on its debt and possibly exit the Eurozone are rampant.

Krueger shared her belief that Greece will stay in the Eurozone but is due for a massive debt restructuring in order to promote economic growth.  She maintained that it is only a slight possibility that reforms would help Greece get matters under control, but that above all, an improvement of the world economy would help. The European Commission is more prepared today for an exit than they were in the past.  A Grexit could economically impact EU countries but more importantly, it would be a risky exchange of control.  Despite any short-term damage a Grexit could create, Krueger remained skeptical that it could, in the long run, end the Euro experiment.

Moody stated that any Grexit would create a chaotic environment but Greece cannot survive under the austerity measures imposed by its creditors. Low interest rates, although sustaining deflation, keep debt rising. Debt restructuring would only provide a temporary relief that could get worse with time. Greece’s debt should be forgiven, Moody maintained, so that they can start fresh with more limited EU supervision.

Orphanides added that the decisions of the IMF have contributed to Greece’s present circumstances. The IMF should have acted without the interference of the European Union and each individual government’s opinion. Much of the failure of the imposed austerity in Greece is partly due to the fact that Germany and other administrations involved themselves in the IMF’s decision-making, putting the safety of their own economies above the overall greater good of the EU.

Sakellaris summarized his remarks under two themes: the political element and funding issues. He reminded attendees that Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone, and more importantly, it is in their best interest. A compromise consisting of debt restructuring combined with less fiscal austerities is what Sakellaris would most like to see.  This strategy will help Greece achieve productivity and grow economically within the framework of the EU.  The strategy calls for Greece to reform their economic and political institutions.

# # #

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, address at the Carnegie Peace Endowment

On April 20, AHI attended the address of Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu at the Carnegie Peace Endowment. Çavuşoğlu’s remarks provided a high level overview of Turkey’s relations with its neighbors, from the Middle East and Mediterranean to across the Atlantic. He outlined three aims of Turkey in its foreign relations: comprehensive political solutions, making headlines through cooperation, and expanding trade. Çavuşoğlu maintained that Turkey has been an active member of the anti-ISIL coalition but reiterated the need to support an interim government to counteract the Assad administration. He then went on to discuss the ongoing support Turkey has provided Iraq and the need to recognize Palestine as an independent state. 

In his comments on Cyprus, Çavuşoğlu mentioned the current window of opportunity to find a settlement. He stated that Turkey believes 2015 will be an important year and that his administration is ready to go the extra mile. He went on to state that unfortunately, “it takes two” to tango, and if Greece showed strong political will, there was no reason why there cannot be a solution by the end of the year.

Several questions during the question and answer portion addressed the Armenian genocide and media freedom. Çavuşoğlu’s answers were noncommittal; in response to the Armenian genocide recognition, he said Turkey was for conciliation and that the Armenian diaspora is trying to negatively influence world public opinion on the occasion of the centennial. He commented on the passing of a genocide resolution by the European Parliament, saying that politicians, parliaments and international organizations should not be the ones making decisions or politicizing these issues. In response to questions about Turkey’s widely-condemned press freedom record, he shared his conviction for freedom of expression and the importance of media freedom in a democratic society. He then shared that only seven journalists were imprisoned in Turkey at present and all were being prosecuted for serious crimes. He reminded attendees that the United States had many journalists in prison and that no one is immune from prosecution.

# # #

Turkey: Still a US Ally?

On April 23, AHI attended a new paper release and discussion on Turkey’s domestic politics and foreign policy and its relationship with the United States at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Participants included Ambassador Eric Edelman, Co-chair, BPC’s Turkey Initiative and former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey; Dr. Svante Cornell, Member, BPC’s Turkey Initiative and Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program; and Ambassador James Holmes, Former President, American-Turkish Council. 

Ambassadors Cornell and Holmes began the discussion by pointing out various obstacles in the relationship between the United States and Turkey. Cyprus became a bone of contention and has continued to be. More recently, the rise of non-state actors has resulted in the entire region being up for grabs. Turkey is always looking for transactional opportunities and the relationship with the United States has always been based on what one can get from the other. Amb. Holmes maintained that the situation today is no different except for the domestic unrest facing the Erdogan administration. Amb. Cornell reminded attendees that Turkey was always quick to criticize the United States for disturbing the regional status quo yet now the United States is more open to reign Turkey in for its behavior. The Erdogan administration has continued, regardless, to steer the country away from the West.

The panel then began to discuss Turkey’s role in the fight against ISIS. Amb. Holmes pointed out that Turkey, with more than 2 million refugees, is in the midst of the crisis and surrounded by violence, thereby deserving credit. Had President Obama followed his own “red line” about chemical weapon use in Syria, the situation would be different today. Turkey felt misled when the United States shifted gears. 

According to Cornell, Turkey had a clear goal in Syria, which was a Muslim Brotherhood takeover. When this did not occur in Turkey’s favor, it began supporting any anti-Assad government. This latter goal differed greatly with that of the United States.  Thus, Turkey began to serve as a willing transit point for fighters heading to Syria. In a country where thousands of websites are blocked, ISIS recruitment is still on the rise. Cornell found a lot of similarities could be drawn between Turkey and Pakistan, especially in their support of various militant groups.

Edelman provided examples of how Erdogan continues to try to make himself into a Sultan figure. Indications of electoral fraud, the new palace and a public desire to change the constitution are all causes for concern. The United States should begin making things more clear to Turkey, both privately and publically. The Obama administration made a mistake by allowing Turkey, an ally, to speak about the United States the way it does.  

During the question and answer portion, the panel addressed democratic backsliding in Turkey, the potential for increased radicalism, and how these things may affect the relationship with the US. The erosion of democratic values does have an effect on relations but it should not be a dominant issue; the US can be patient while being openly critical. 

AHI asked the panel how much they truly believe that Turkey, under its current administration, would like to see matters in Cyprus resolved and to what degree they foresee the United States potentially pressuring Turkey a bit more openly with regards to Cyprus. Amb. Edelman stated that if the US “put its shoulder to the wheel,” he believes that the issue could be resolved and that it would also be worth the effort, especially considering security in the southeastern Mediterranean. Many alliances have shifted over the last few years and will continue to do so in the next decade. 

Erdogan sees no personal gain from perpetuating this, Amb. Holmes shared. There used to be a special envoy within the State Department specifically for Cyprus; that position no longer exists. The US has tried to bring it back but Greek Cypriots have always said “no.” The will for the US to get more involved depends on how much Cyprus really wants American involvement. Cornell, alternatively, said that he did not see Erdogan taking any chances. He is trying to keep nationalists at bay and does not see him taking chances or putting his reputation on the line for Cyprus.

# # #

Helsinki Commission Hearing on the Armenian Genocide

On April 23, AHI attended a Helsinki Commission hearing titled, “A Century of Denial: Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice.”  The panel consisted of expert witnesses Dr. Taner Akçam (Clark University), Kenneth Hachikian (Armenian National Committee of America), Van Krikorian, (Armenian Assembly of America), Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou (Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, The Fletcher School, Tufts University), and Karine Shnorhokian (the Genocide Education Project).  Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) also stopped by and spoke on the subject of the genocide.

Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) opened the hearing by presenting an “appeal to President Obama to recognize the genocide of the Armenians.”  He explained that Obama’s aides had met with Armenian Leaders earlier in the week and said that the President will not use the term “Armenian genocide” this year, despite promising to in his campaign platform. In addition, Smith condemned Turkey for denial of the genocide.  “It is scary to think that a NATO ally will threaten its relationship with the United States over this issue,” he said. 

 The first witness, Dr. Taner Akçam, is an advocate for the Armenian genocide and a Professor at Clark University of Turkish nationality. Akçam identified the Turkish Government as operating under “a code of denial.” He explained that history books portray Armenians and other minorities in Turkey as “the enemy”. He then spoke about many movements within Turkey where Turkish citizens hold events in recognition of the Armenian genocide, independent of the government. “If Turkey wishes to create a democratic government, it needs to acknowledge violations of human rights,” he said.

Kenneth Hachikian presented the moral implication of President Obama’s neglecting to use the term “Armenian Genocide.” He said that we must never silence America’s moral voice… the cost of not recognizing the genocide is setting a poor precedent for other countries in the world that have experienced or may experience similar atrocities. He believes that the President has missed an opportunity to follow the Pope and the European Parliament in recognizing the genocide. Van Krikorian agreed with Hachikian’s statements and asked what will it take to get President Erdogan to respect the unmarked graves of the victims of the Armenian Genocide? Krikorian then described how Erdogan has recently shown cynicism in his treatment of the Armenian community, holding various events as a means of acting antagonistically toward the community.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou explained the architecture of genocide and the negative effects of Turkey’s behavior of denying the genocide. She used the example of desecrated churches in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus. She stated that “churches and other religious places have been destroyed or transformed into stables, public toilets, night clubs and mosques.” She used this point to emphasize Turkey’s lack of respect for religious freedom. Prodromou argued that “denialism” should be rejected because it is holding Armenia back from healing the wounds of the past and it is holding Turkey back from reconciliation. 

Karine Shnorhokian gave a heartfelt account of her husband’s grandmother who was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide and advocated for awareness in Congress.  Congressman Sherman posed the question “How do we have a basis for world leadership if we do not recognize injustice? We have provided 23 billion dollars in aid to Turkey over the last several decades and advocated for them on many issues. After that they demand us to be accomplices of genocide denial… And we do!”

# # #

Previewing Turkey’s Parliamentary Election: Status Quo, Executive Presidency, or Progressive New Chapter?

On June 5, AHI attended a panel at the Brookings Institution on Turkey’s upcoming elections. The panelists discussed the upcoming Turkish election, including possible outcomes and what the future is for Turkish foreign policy and democracy. Panelists included Kemal Kirisci, TUSIAD Senior Fellow and director of the Center on the United States and Europe’s Turkey Project at Brookings, Suat Kiniklioglu, Mercator senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, Omer Taspinar, professor of National Security Strategy at the U.S National War College and the director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institute, and Nora Fisher Onar, a fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington and research associate of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford.

Kirisci started the presentation with background information on the Turkish parliament and how it has changed dramatically over the years. In March 2014, Turkey held local elections. In August 2014, Turkey held the first presidential election. He mentioned that this upcoming election is crucial because it is the last chance for the citizens of Turkey to have input and exercise their voting rights until 2019.  Former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently president representing the AKP party. The AKP party is expected to win and hoping to have their fourth consecutive term to serve. The big question though is if the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) will pass the 10-percent threshold and change the election completely to where the AKP party does not have the majority of the vote, therefore cannot change the constitution and have executive presidency.

Following Kirisci remarks, Mr.Kiniklioglu touched on the different dimensions of the HDP and how it has changed over the years. He said that “the party is no longer the party I joined in 2007”. HDP used to have 6.5 percent of the voters and today they have close to 10 to 12 percent which is almost 50 percent more than they used to get. He mentioned that people are now becoming strategic voters for HDP so they get above that 10 percent threshold. He also mentioned that the elector is very sensitive to chaos and disorder which leads to the conservative voters and how they are scared of what they are seeing on the television and will vote for whoever can create order, security and stability. “I hope it continues to be a normal democracy”, Kiniklioglu said.

Taspinar then touched on the issues that he feels will impact the outcome of the election. “I am a strong believer in that people vote based on economic issues,” Taspinar said. If HDP is able to pass that 10 percent threshold the Turks are in control of their won democracy. AKP voters are not happy, but Erdogan manages to make them not have an alternative party. He states that there is a lot of institutional weakness and there is no rule of law. “Corruption issue should be neutral, but is still being shown as a fight between AKP and HDP,” Taspinar said.

Onar continues the presentation looking at the other 50 percent of voters who are not voting for AKP. The old establishment consists of CHP and MHP, these are the social democrats and the Kemalists who take 25-28 percent. The MHP-ETHN are the religious nationalists who take 15-18 percent, they presume that all Turks are indeed Muslim. Then there is the (new) old opposition, the Kurds who take 9.5 to 11.5 percent. She then mentioned the new forms of opposition which include urban millenials, they are the urban middle class who expect and demand change and women, who want legislative change and believe that they will not strive under executive presidency.

In the question-and-answer session of the panel, Kiniklioglu was asked if there will be a political crisis if HDP does not meet the 10 percent threshold.

Kiniklioglu responded saying it is highly likely that they will pass the 10 percent threshold but if not people will indeed outrage. If HDP passes the threshold AKP will have coalition which will be difficult but not unlikely. 

The panel was then asked-In Cyprus we have the most promising peace talks right now but still have Turkey hovering over, what will be Turkey’s contribution to these peace talks be after the election.

Kiniklioglu responded saying that the domestic turmoil in Turkey is very overwhelming and it is depressing that no domestic foreign policy issue is looking positive. “I don’t see a deal coming with the current president Erdogan, the Turks are fatigued and don’t care about Cyprus anymore, and peoples priorities are in Turkey and not in Cyprus”, Kiniklioglu said.

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Breaking Down Turkey’s General Election

On June 9, AHI attended a panel on the aftermath of Turkey’s election, hosted by the Center for American Progress. The panel spoke about the results of the election, the new future for Turkish politics, and U.S. - Turkey relations. The panelists included Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Research program at The Washington Institute for Near East Peace, Alan Makovsky, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Nora Fisher Onar, a fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington and research associate of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford, and Suat Kinikhoglu, Mercator Senior Fellow for the Center for American Progress.

Suat started off by saying that he was not surprised by the results of the election. “As a Turk I am beyond happy that we have overcome an extreme democratic step”, he said. The election turned out to be a clean one, which is an important turning point for the people of Turkey. In his mind, HDP ran a perfect campaign, which is why this is an important message to AKP that they need to get back to their core values. He also mentioned that he believes a coalition will be formed, but Erdogan is taking his time looking at all his options.

Onar gave her presentation on the future for HDP. She too discussed the forming of a coalition and said that in order for it to work, everyone will need to find some type of middle ground. There is a possibility that HDP could become a mainstream party but if a coalition were to be formed there would be a lot of political instability. There are a lot of uncertainties in the short term, including a very diverse parliament, but the long term looks positive. Onar believes that political liberalism is the way to go because it targets the younger generation.

Cagaptay touched on the implications of the election for Turkish-U.S. relations. He stated that foreign policy was not a big part of this campaign.  The biggest issue between Turkey and the U.S. has been Syria. If you were to have an AKP-HDP coalition, HDP would strongly enforce strong US relations involving Syria and the preventing of Islamists from crossing the border from Turkey into Syria. CHP as a coalition would also insist in stronger border control. Turkey seems to becoming more liberal which is good for foreign policy.

Makovsky then spoke about the possibility of an early election. No one is sure what AKP is going to do, but there are some signs that are pointing to them heading in the direction of an early election. There is the question of whether Turkey wants to go back to how it was in the 90’s when there were unstable coalitions or do they want to move forward. He mentioned that he believes an HDP-AKP coalition is out of the question because they both are not willing to give up much, especially AKP. “This is a new Turkey, not the Turkey that Erdogan was talking about, but an HDP liberal Turkey,” Makovsky said.

In the question and answer portion, Suat was asked what boundaries or irrationalities could be expected from Erdogan. Suat answered by saying that we should consider all options even including Erdogan leaving his presidency and becoming the head of the AKP, but in doing so Erdogan becomes a lot more legally vulnerable.

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Turkey: Parliamentary Elections and their Aftermath

On June 9, AHI attended a panel on Turkey’s recent parliamentary elections hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center. The panel spoke about the most recent election in Turkey, possible outcomes, and how it is going to affect Turkey in the future. Panelists included Henri J. Barkey, a professor at Lehigh University and Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center as of July 1, Steven A. Cook, the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and Gonul Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies.

Barkey started the presentation by offering his general view and opinion on the results of the election. “Maybe AKP (Turkey’s Justice and Development Party) knew what was coming but it still came as a surprise,” Barkey said.  With HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) getting over the 10 percent threshold, it caused AKP and Erdogan a chance at executive presidency. Barkey said it was not a defeat for AKP, but HDP had managed to get votes from people who traditionally were AKP strategic voters. These voters saw that voting for HDP was the only way to stop Erdogan; the Turkish population is not ready for “one person rule.”  In Barkey’s opinion, the class act of this election was CHP (Republican People’s Party), because at no point in time did they go after HDP voters. 

Following Barkey’s presentation, Tol expanded on the results of the election. She said that this was a historic moment for HDP and that their approach had paid off. They focused on Kobani, the government, and capitalized on the anti AKP sentiment, appealing to liberals and young people. Although there was an almost 9 percent decrease in the majority vote, AKP still maintained the most seats, but will most likely have to create a coalition. According to Tol, there is a dilemma: HDP could become more ethno and pro-Kurdish, but at the same time has to be careful not to scare away pro-Western voters. “HDP won the 10 percent threshold at the expense of AKP,” Tol said.

Cook later spoke more on the HDP party and possible coalitions. HDP is the “feel good” story of the election, he said. There seems to be some concern that because they are less experienced, they are more than likely to be disorganized. The HDP got a huge boost from liberals, but Cook does not believe that they are the savior of the Turkish elections. Regarding a coalition, Cook said that an AKP-CHP coalition will most likely not happen. This is because AKP will most likely not be willing to give up a lot considering they still garnered around 41 percent of the votes. In any coalition there is going to be a lot of political instability, but an AKP-MHP coalition is where a lot of people see this going.

In the Q&A session of the panel, Cook was asked if foreign policy played a role in the election. He replied that he did not see the election take a turn on foreign policy; rather it was about Erdogan’s ambition to change the system.

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