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.