Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Sept. 11 Fallout Has Serious Implications for Turkey's Fragile Economy, Regional Role

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Sept. 11 Fallout Has Serious Implications for Turkey's Fragile Economy, Regional Role

Article excerpt

TALKING TURKEY: Sept. 11 Fallout Has Serious Implications for Turkey's Fragile Economy, Regional Role

Jon Gorvett is a free-lance journalist based in Istanbul.

While most Turks were as shocked by the events of Sept. 11 as the inhabitants of any other country, the fallout from across the Atlantic had a particular effect here, with dark forecasts for the future being made.

Of major concern was the possible effect on Turkey's fragile economy. After major economic crises in November 2000 and this past February, unemployment and bankruptcies have been soaring, while economic output has been shrinking. An IMF/World Bank-backed rescue package has been implemented, with widespread cutbacks in government funding and pressure to speed up privatization and economic restructuring.

All of which would have been hard enough under any normal circumstances, but, after Sept. 11, began to look almost impossible. Planned privatizations--such as that of the national carrier, Turkish Airlines--have been postponed, while tourism sector gurus are predicting a disaster for an industry that all had been relying on to boost the nation's liquidity.

Trying to put a different spin on these events, however, and attempting to play Turkey's strategic significance as a financial card, State Minister Kemal Dervis, the man appointed by the government to manage the economic restructuring, began a round of meetings in October with IMF and World Bank officials, followed by a road show through European capitals. The idea was that Turkey now should be given more aid than ever before, as it forms a bulwark of secular values against rising Islamist militancy.

Turkey could provide a large number of tanks, as well. In fact, on the military front, the fallout from Sept. 11 so far has been quite positive for the generals in Ankara. It seems likely that U.S. congressional restrictions on Turkey's weapons buying--the result of pressure from Greek, Armenian and human rights lobbies--will be dropped. Local media reported in mid-October that all it would take would be "a slight nod" from President Bush for the guns to start flowing.

Too, with "terrorism" apparently now a concept that needs no more definition than any "anti-state group"--and anti-any state--many Turkish politicians and columnists began to use the attacks on the U.S. to lambaste the Europeans for "sheltering terrorism" over the years. "Good Morning Europe!" screamed the headline in Hurriyet, a rightist popular daily, when EU countries moved to curtail the activities of certain Islamist, leftist and Kurdish groups based within the Union. Another gift for the generals, courtesy of Osama bin Laden.

Discussion then focused on a proposal reported in the U.S. media for an Islamic peacekeeping force to be sent to Afghanistan once the Taliban had been removed. This received enthusiastic coverage, despite the fact that it was nobody's official position and, indeed, despite the fact that after weeks of bombing, the Taliban did not appear to be going. The appeal of the suggestion, however, was that this force would be led by Turkey.

Foreign Minister Ismail Cem reacted more coolly to the idea. Naturally, he said, Turkey would meet any international obligations the world community might wish to place on its shoulders, but Turkish troops would not be going to Kabul unless there was already a "safe environment" and a water-tight U.N. resolution behind the plan.

The most schizophrenic reactions to all this, however, came from the far-right, which is represented by the National Action Party (MHP), the second largest member of Turkey's three-party coalition government. …

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