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.