Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Where Is Turkey Going and Why?: A Panel Discussion

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Where Is Turkey Going and Why?: A Panel Discussion

Article excerpt

Panel Discussion*

On January 22, 2009, the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, the U.S. Department of State's International Information Programs in Washington D.C., and the Public Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Israel jointly held an international videoconference seminar focusing on recent changes in Turkish politics and foreign policy. The discussion has been updated and edited.

Brief biographies of the participants can be found at the end of the article. This seminar is part of the GLORIA Center's Experts Forum series.

Prof. Barry Rubin: Turkey is always interesting, always important, but right now it is even more interesting and more important. The question is the country's direction. The current regime, which has been in power long enough and has won enough elections by large margins, is getting more confident. It is doing what it wants, rather than being restrained by fear that if it were to go too far toward Islamic, or Islamist, policies it would alienate the voters. Clearly we have seen the regime move toward Iran and Syria, and away from the United States and Israel. The European Union (EU) seems no closer to admitting Turkey, a source of frustration for Turkey and a process likely to be made more difficult by the government's behavior. Let me stress that the issues here involve not only foreign policy but the Justice and Development (AK) party's systematic effort to gain what seems to be intended as an irreversible hegemony over Turkish politics and society.

HOW HAS TURKEY CHANGED?

Dr. Soner Cagaptay: I think Turkey is changing and has changed on four levels. The first is the erosion of certain liberal democratic values, such as media freedom and gender equality, especially gender equality. For example, in government employment, the number of women in high-level positions is decreasing. As for the media, about half is now owned by the government or by progovernment interests, far more than a few years ago. One part of the media continues with fairly reasonable journalistic standards on issues, while the other half follows the government line. The weakening of such institutions and values is an important element in undermining democracy.

The second area of change is Turkey's relations with the EU. We were all very excited when accession talks with the EU began. Now this train is stalled, and there are several factors to blame for it. The French have objected to it, the Greek Cypriots have provided the alibi, the Austrians don't want Turkey, but the government of Turkey as well has not been pushing for reforms or making them the main focus of its agenda. For instance, in 2005, Turkey started the talks with the EU. That was the year we really saw the dream of Europe and Turkey come close to being a reality. But in 2005, the AK government declared it was not the year of Europe, but the year of Africa. So how serious are they in this regard?

If the process has now come to an almost complete halt, there is also an aspect of domestic politics, and we should all question to what extent the AK is committed to Turkey's accession. After all, it would have to go through a politically costly set of reforms that it is not interested in pursuing because these would cost it domestic popularity.

Third, is Turkey's lower commitment to Turkey's traditional Western alliances, including, for example, Turkey's position on Iran, which is weaker than even before. Whereas Turkey's position until recently was that it did not object to Iran's pursuit of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in December 2008, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Washington, he gave a speech saying that countries that objected to Iran's nuclear weapons should themselves not have nuclear weapons. The country has thus moved further from the U.S. position.

Turkey's position on Israel is another example of this phenomenon. Typically, Turkey would have responded to Israel's military operations in Gaza by urging restraint on both sides and hoping the hostilities would end quickly. …

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