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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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.