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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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.