In 1926, Vartoohi Galezian -- a 15-year-old refugee from the genocide in Armenia -- arrived at the White House to pay a visit to President Calvin Coolidge. She had come to view the rug she and 1,400 other orphans living in Ghazir -- then part of mandate Syria, now in Lebanon -- had woven as a gift to the United States in thanks for the humanitarian assistance provided to the refugees of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during World War I. In June 1995, the Ghazir rug, a huge, beautiful work exemplary of the Middle East's legendary weaving traditions, was shown once more to Galezian and her family, but it's now been more than 17 years since the White House has displayed what has come to be known as the Armenian orphan rug. Now it is unclear when the rug will ever be shown again.
That rug, seen in the photo above, is now caught in a tug-of-war with historians and Armenian advocates on one side pulling for the rug to be displayed and the White House on the other, which seems reticent to release the rug for an exhibit. Many suspect the White House of kowtowing to Turkey, which refuses to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide and objects to the display of Armenian artifacts -- and the implicit acknowledgement of Turkey's responsibility in the 20th century's first large-scale ethnic cleansing. But the rug has powerful supporters, who are now pushing a White House loathe to antagonise Turkey to put the rug on display.
As strange as it sounds, the memory of a nearly century-old genocide is now being litigated over the future fate of a rug.
Armenian Cultural Foundation
Responding to apparent pent-up demand for tacky bachelorette parties, the 38-year old Turkish entrepreneur Haluk Murat Demirel has opened the country's first halal (permissible in Islam) sex shop online. It's not the first such enterprise in the world -- successful predecessors can be found in such varied locales as Bahrain, the Netherlands, and Atlanta, Ga. -- but the existence of such a market still raises some interesting questions. For instance, what makes a sex shop halal? And what's behind their spread?
According to Hamza Yusuf, an American Islamic scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the trend is, if anything, reflective of the adaptive qualities of capitalism -- not any trend in the Muslim world, where items like herbal aphrodisiacs have been commonplace but under the radar for centuries.
"Muslim countries have all of these but they don't advertise them," he told Foreign Policy by phone. "It all goes back to the monetization of religion."
ADAM JAN/AFP/Getty Images
On Monday night, beginning at 6 p.m., Turkish performance artist Erdem Gunduz walked to the middle of Istanbul's Taksim Square, which was cleared of protesters on Sunday, and, facing Turkish flags and a portrait of the country's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, stood quietly. Within hours, his silent protest had gone viral -- pictures of Gunduz proliferated across social media, memes like the #duranadam (Turkish for "standing man") Twitter hashtag cropped up, and people across Turkey began imitating his understated protest (as a rule of thumb, never underestimate the power of a solitary protester). By 2 a.m., the crowd standing with Gunduz in Taksim Square had swelled to several hundred people. Police then dispersed the protesters, arresting several people.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
Overnight, Turkish riot police moved into Istanbul's Taksim Square in an effort to evict thousands of protesters following nearly two weeks of demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In some of the most chaotic clashes yet, police deployed tear gas and water cannons while protesters lobbed stones and fireworks. By Wednesday morning, the square was largely clear -- "strewn with wreckage from bulldozed barricades," according to Reuters.
As Turkey's leaders call for dialogue and protests continue to crop up in other locations, here's a look at some of the most striking footage from Tuesday's clashes.
With tear gas rolling down a narrow street, a protester dances joyfully with his middle fingers in the air:
Here's a good overview of how the protests played out during the day:
When night fell, the fireworks came out in Taksim:
With fires burning in the background and tear gas wafting through the square, a group of protesters face down a police water-cannon truck:
Fireworks in Taksim:
RT's camera crews have a knack for finding themselves in the center of the action:
It was chaos in Istanbul's Taksim Square yesterday, but a handful of valiant doner kebab stand owners remained open amid the clashes to serve police, protesters, and journalists. Even the most hardcore activist has to eat, right?
In the comments section, give us your best caption for the photo above, courtesy of journalist Dimiter Kenarov, who was on the square on Tuesday.
Update: We have a winner!
1st place: "You want white sauce, hot sauce, or tear gas?” – Lonnie J. Brown, via Facebook
Runner up: “You said extra spicy, right?” - BruceMcL, via comments section.
Thanks for playing!
World leaders don't always have the liberty of choosing their allies, but they do get to pick their friends. And while Barack Obama has been criticized for his Vulcan-style diplomacy, the U.S. president has made a few buddies in office. Now, as anti-government protests grip Turkey, one of them is embarrassing him.
In an interview with Fareed Zakaria in January 2012, Obama spoke candidly about the world leaders he had befriended, as The Cable reported at the time (emphasis ours):
Obama replied that he couldn't compare his relationships to those of past presidents, but "the friendships and the bonds of trust that I've been able to forge with a whole range of leaders is precisely -- or is a big part of what has allowed us to execute effective diplomacy."
Obama then went on name the five world leaders he feels especially close to and explained that he isn't exactly shooting hoops with them, but they at least have good working relationships.
"I mean, I think that if you ask them -- Angela Merkel, or Prime Minister Singh, or President Lee, or Prime Minister Erdogan, or David Cameron would say, we have a lot of trust and confidence in the President. We believe what he says. We believe that he'll follow through on his commitments. We think he's paying attention to our concerns and our interests," Obama said. And that's part of the reason why we've been able to forge these close working relationships and gotten a whole bunch of stuff done."
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington last month, Obama mentioned that, in addition to discussing developments in Syria and peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the leaders had also exchanged parenting tips. An administration official told Politico that Obama and Erdogan's friendship has helped them weather a series of diplomatic challenges in Obama's first term -- though a New Yorker profile of Erdogan chalked that cooperation up to American desperation to maintain allies in the Middle East as much as to Obama and Erdogan's personal relationship:
President Barack Obama has developed a close relationship with Erdogan, whom he regards as a dynamic and democratically minded leader. A White House official told me that Obama has regularly voiced his concerns about the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. On the rare occasion that an American official has made his criticisms public, Erdogan has easily dismissed them....
One explanation for American passivity, repeated by a number of Turks, is that Obama is desperate for allies in the Muslim world and is determined to hold on to Erdogan as a friend in an increasingly combustible region. When I mentioned this to a Western diplomat, he said that Erdogan had proved to be a positive leader for Turkey. As the diplomat told me, "Turkey is Muslim, prosperous, and democratic. There isn't another country like that." And yet some Turks compare Erdogan's Turkey less to the democracies of the West than to the Russian and Chinese models, in which free-market economics are championed and domestic dissent is repressed.
Obama speaks to Erdogan frequently (in 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that the president had placed more calls to Turkey's prime minister than to any world leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron) -- enough for Mark Kennedy, writing for FP's Shadow Government blog today, to suggest Obama ring him up again to discuss the recent unrest in Turkey.
So far, though, Obama has left discussion of the protests to the State Department. "I have no calls to report," Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday, in explaining the administration's assessment of the protests. "Turkey is a very important ally. And look, all democracies have issues that they need to work through and we would expect the government to work through this in a way that respects the rights of their citizens." Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters yesterday that the State Department has been working through the U.S. ambassador to Turkey to communicate the administration's position to Turkish officials. It's a roundabout way for the president to send a message to one of his closest friends on the world stage.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
What's happening in Turkey? If you're actually in the country, that may be hard to tell, since many Turkish news outlets have stayed relatively quiet on the spread of protests and clashes with police across the country. While scenes from Istanbul have been splashed across the front page of U.S. newspapers, the news has been relegated to later pages in Turkish dailies. Photos posted on social media (like the one above) have shown side-by-side comparisons of CNN International and CNN Turk, the news network's Turkish affiliate. While the global broadcast showed a live feed of protests, the Turkish channel offered up a cooking show and a documentary, Spy in the Huddle, about penguins.
Zeynep Tufekci, who studies the societal effects of social media as a fellow at Princeton and has been tracking the Internet-fueled spread of the protests, cited this disconnect as "a striking example of what media cowardice and self-censorship looks like." Nor is it a new occurrence in Turkey, she points out:
Many major news events, recently, have been broken on Twitter including the accidental bombing of Kurdish smugglers in Roboski (Uludere in Turkish) which killed 34 civilians, including many minors. That story was denied and ignored by mainstream TV channels while the journalists knew something had happened. Finally, one of them, Serdar Akinan, was unable to suppress his own journalist instincts and bought his own plane ticket and ran to the region. His poignant photos of mass lines of coffins, published on Twitter, broke the story and created the biggest political crisis for the government. Serdar, unfortunately, got fired from his job as a journalist.
CNN Turk has been tweeting about the protests and posting content to its website, but the lack of broadcast coverage of the protests has led to some strong critiques (including this one, in GIF form, via Uproxx). A Change.org petition calling on CNN to pull its name from the Turkish affiliate has already gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
CNN is only a partial owner of the CNN Turk channel. Though it helped advise the station before its launch in 1999, CNN quickly withdrew from the day-to-day operation of the network, according to an article by Laura Peterson in the American Journalism Review in 2000. "[M]any Turkish journalists believe CNN's image as an ethical standard-bearer has the potential to raise the bar in a country where nightly news generally consists of celebrity gossip, political machine-gunning and salacious stories of the deviant and depraved," Peterson wrote, while noting some editorial choices at CNN Turk, including referring to a contested region of Cyprus as "the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" and branding Islamist groups "fundamentalist" and "terrorist" in advance of the election of the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist party that swept into power in 2002.
In recent years, Turkish news outlets have had to contend with an extensive government campaign against journalists. In its 2012 annual report, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Turkey "the world's worst jailer of the press" -- with 49 journalists imprisoned on various charges as of Dec. 1, 2012.
What do Texas and Turkey have in common? Aside from sharing the same first letter, probably not too much. But starting today, they will be able to add something else to the list: similar alcohol policies.
On Friday, after a marathon debate lasting well past midnight, Turkey's parliament adopted a proposal restricting the sale of alcohol in the country.
The move has been a source of tension in the week leading up to the vote. On Tuesday, members of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mocked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion that ayran -- a salty non-alcoholic yogurt drink -- is enough to satisfy the Turkish people by passing out the beverage while exchanging barbs with members of the ruling party. As Hurriyet, Turkey's leading English-language daily, reported, things quickly got heated:
However, tension soon rose during the session, despite the fact that it started with witty japes. The row between Tanal and Bilgiç grew following a break in the session, when the two had to be separated by other deputies after reportedly coming close to exchanging blows.
Critics have suggested that the legislation is an infringement on individual liberty and an attempt by Erdogan's party to impose an Islamic agenda on the country. "No one can be forced to drink or not to drink. This is a religious and ideological imposition," stated Musa Cam, of the CHP. "This is not a struggle against the ills of alcohol but an attempt to re-design the society according to [the ruling party's] beliefs and lifestyle." Turkish columnist Mehves Evin even went so far as to accuse the government of "alcohol McCarthyism."
And while Americans might bristle at the comparison, it's worth noting that Turkey's alcohol restrictions bear some similarities to restrictions in several U.S. states. Take Texas.
Turkey's law shrinks the window during which it is legal to purchase alcoholic beverages from retailers to the hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. In Texas, there's a slightly longer window: 7 a.m. to midnight on weekdays for stores selling beer and wine, and a shorter timeframe for liquor stores. On Sunday, limits are even greater, with no liquor stores open across the state. The state also boasts 19 dry counties where the sale of alcohol is forbidden.
True, the Turkish bill includes some other rules that are less comparable to laws in the United States -- including strict prohibitions on advertising alcohol and selling alcohol near mosques. But when it comes to one of the law's odder provisions -- banning the sale of alcohol in vending machines -- Texas did it first. In 1998, the Lone Star State's attorney general ordered the removal of vending machines that dispensed adult beverages.
Members of Erdogan's party have been quick to point out that the new law is simply in keeping with Western norms. "In Sweden, [the retail sale of alcohol] is forbidden after 7 p.m. on weekdays, 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 24 hours on Sundays," Lutfu Elvan, the head of Turkey's Planning and Budget Commission noted. "There are similar restrictions in all Scandinavian countries." As far as we can tell, he did not go on to mention Texas.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Traditions aren't traditions if they're not a little weird, right?
"We have decided to prepare the body of our 'Comandante President,' to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people," Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro declared on Thursday, in announcing plans to preserve Hugo Chávez's body and showcase it in a glass tomb at a military museum near the presidential palace. "Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong."
In fact, it turns out Maduro was missing a few names. The practice of embalming national (mainly communist) leaders and boxing their bodies in glass for posterity may have gone out of vogue with the end of the Cold War, but Chávez still has distinguished company. Here are the most notable members of the exclusive club:
Vladimir Lenin, Russia
Died: Jan. 21, 1924
Call him a trendsetter. Lenin was the first communist revolutionary to be encased in glass upon his death, and his body is now on display in Moscow's Red Square at Lenin's Mausoleum, commonly known as Lenin's Tomb. But that might not last forever given public opposition to the memorial. In 2011, for instance, a member of the ruling United Russia party created a website where people could vote on whether to bury the former Soviet leader (the vary majority of respondents voted in favor of burial).
Mao Zedong, China
Died: Sept. 9, 1976
The founder of the People's Republic of China ruled the nation from its establishment in 1949 until his death. Though he reportedly wished to be cremated, the chairman's mausoleum went under construction immediately after Mao died and was completed by the following May.
Kim Il Sung, North Korea
Died: July 8, 1994
Like his neighbor to the north, Kim Il Sung ruled the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from its inception in 1948 until the day he died. Draped in a Workers Party of Korea flag, his body is on display at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, also known as the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum.
Kim Jong Il, North Korea
Died: Dec. 17, 2011
Kim Jong Il, who led North Korea from his father's death in 1994 until his own demise nearly two decades later, was put on display in the same shrine that houses his father. Dennis Rodman visited the remains of both former leaders during his recent trip to North Korea.
Ho Chi Minh, North Vietnam
Died: Sept. 2, 1969
The communist revolutionary established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 at Ba Dinh Square, where his body now rests. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow, and his body is watched over by an honor guard.
Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images
Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines
Died: Sept. 28, 1989
Marcos was president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, but died in exile in Hawaii. Nonetheless, his remains were returned home in 1993, and his body was put on display inside the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in the city of Batac. This week, the mortician who embalmed Marco offered some advice (and his services) to Venezuela. "They must not delay" choosing an embalmer," he told AFP, adding that he would not use resin to preserve Chávez as was done with Lenin.
Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images
Pope John XXIII, The Vatican
Died: June 3, 1963
Angelo Roncalli led the Catholic Church from 1958 until his death, and his body is now on display at St. Peter's Basilica. He was known for forging better relations with other religions, and was beatified on September 3, 2000. In 2001, the BBC reported that Vatican officials had found the pontiff's bodily remarkably well-preserved when they opened his coffin after nearly four decades as part of an effort to transfer his remains from a Vatican crypt. His body was soon put on display in St. Peter's Square, with the pope's face covered in a thin layer of wax.
Of course, we could go further back in time. You could always visit King Tut.
A Dead Sea's worth of water has disappeared from the Middle East. It sounds like something out of Carmen Sandiego, but it's actually the finding of a joint study by scientists from NASA, the University of California, Irvine, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, published today in the journal Water Resources Research.
Using gravity-measuring NASA satellites -- which allowed them to bypass political boundaries and gather data from space -- the scientists learned that between 2003 and 2009, the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet of stored freshwater. Jay Famiglietti of UC Irvine described the findings:
GRACE data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India.... The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise, and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.
According to the researchers, the countries directly impacted by this trend are Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- not exactly the world's most politically stable states.
So how will this play out? While "water wars" are often forebodingly cast as the next big source of global conflict, water security researcher Peter H. Brooks, writing in Foreign Policy, has dismissed some of the hype as alarmist and not all that new, citing Mark Twain's own observation that "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fightin over." But, he adds that the Tigris and Euphrates basins -- which are ripe with border disputes, conflict over Kurdish minorities, and now major conflicts in Syria and Iraq -- might be more prone to the insidious effects of water instability than other places around the globe.
In 2009, responding to severe water shortages, Iraqi parliament demanded an increase in the share of Turkish river waters. Despite this and continued droughts, Turkey has continued building dams. As broader regional instability permeates into Syria and Iraq, expect water to play an increasingly important role in future local and international disputes between these three countries.
Already, there have been pitched battles over dams in the Syrian civil war, and regional dynamics could shift as Iran seeks water from Afghanistan. As if countries in the Middle East need something new to fight about.
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
From Beijing to Moscow from Rio to Sydney, the Olympics have spanned continents, traversed intense political terrain, and remained competitive for bidders of all colors and creeds. That said, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan recently questioned the IOC's fairness:
"No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics," Erdogan said in London after watching the Turkish women's basketball team beating Angola 72-50 in its first Olympic match.
"This is the third time for London, Madrid was the host twice," he said. "Tokyo has hosted three games. Istanbul has bid to host the Olympics five times but has never been handed the rights. This is not a fair approach."
Not yet jaded by his fourth rejection since the 2000 Olympics, Ergodan has been working to bolster Turkey's fifth bid to host the 2020 Games in Istanbul and to understand why Turkey's never won the bid. With a 75,000-person stadium already built, Ergodan's sparing no line of argument to help sway Jacques Rogge, head of the IOC.
While a number of other cities in Islamic countries have vied for the games in recent years including Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, and Doha, the winner won't be announced until September 7, 2013, in Buenos Aires.
Islamic practice has already caused some controversy in this Olympics with the dispute over whether Saudi Arabia's female Judo competitor Wojdan Shaherkani will be allowed to compete with her headscarf.
This morning, Turkey made the startling announcement that it had lost contact with one of its F-4 military jets near the country's southern border with Syria, and that it had launched search-and-rescue efforts for the plane's two pilots.
Details about the incident are still fuzzy. Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News is reporting that Syrian authorities have apologized to their Turkish counterparts for downing the aircraft (and cooperated on the rescue mission), while the BBC notes that the Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting and that witnesses in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia have told BBC Arabic that Syrian air defenses shot down an aircraft. But none of the key details -- the plane's mission, the cause and location of the crash, the whereabouts of the pilots -- have been nailed down.
"We've lost a plane and as yet we don't know have any information as to what happened and whether it was brought down," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference on Friday.
Even with the shifting facts, it's worth asking: Could this incident -- or an incident like it -- trigger more aggressive action against Syria by the international community? After all, Turkey is a member of NATO, and Article V of the Washington Treaty outlines the alliance's commitment to collective security:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
A day after 9/11, NATO invoked this very provision for the first (and, to date, only) time, pledging to support U.S. military retaliation if it were determined that the terrorist attacks had been perpetrated by foreign nationals. The United States soon satisfied this condition in briefings with NATO members, but ultimately chose to topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan outside the NATO framework. (It's also worth noting that NATO forces are involved in plenty of operations that don't involve Article V.)
If Turkey has reason to believe that Syria shot down its plane, might NATO respond in a similar fashion? It's not an entirely unreasonable question. The bloody and protracted crisis in Syria has poisoned relations between Ankara and Damascus, and Turkey suggested in April that it might turn to NATO under Article V to help protect its border in response to incursions by Syrian forces -- a threat Syria condemned as "provocative."
But Kurt Volker, the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, points out that Article V simply offers NATO allies an opportunity to consult with one another and does not necessarily entail a military response. If Turkey wanted to bring today's incident to the alliance, it would most likely instruct the Turkish ambassador in Brussels to work with NATO's secretary-general on calling a formal meeting to discuss the episode and formulate an appropriate response.
"A response could be anything from a statement reiterating the inviolability of security guarantees to members coordinating activities so that they can respond to further attacks on Turkish interests," Volker says.
He doesn't believe today's incident alone will alter the international community's response to the Syrian conflict, but he does think a NATO meeting on the matter could nurture a broader discussion about how to intervene militarily in Syria outside the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have repeatedly opposed such action. One scenario, he adds, could be Western and Arab countries joining forces to create "safe zones" in Syria, support the Syrian opposition, and conduct aerial strikes against Syria's offensive military assets.
"I do get the feeling that the patience of the international community is growing thinner," Volker explains. "With the recent village-by-village slaughter [in Syria] and brazenness of the Russians in trying to arm the Syrians, I think we may be approaching a point at which this kind of coalition intervention is more thinkable than it was a couple months ago."
James Joyner, the managing editor of the Atlantic Council, points out that if Syria shot down the lost Turkish plane in Syrian air space, it would not be considered an attack under NATO's charter. Even if NATO determines that Syria attacked Turkey, he adds, he doesn't think the alliance has any appetite for going to war with Syria.
"It would be one thing if Syria sent ground troops into Turkey and started shooting," he says, "but shooting down a plane that might have been surveilling Syrian air space is just a different animal than that. This is more of a harsh words and sanctions kind of thing, and frankly there's not much more of that that we can do in terms of Syria."
Update: After an emergency security meeting, Prime Minister Erdogan's has issued a statement indicating that Turkey believes it was indeed Syria that shot down its fighter jet and that the pilots have yet to be found. Most ominously, the statement added that Turkey would respond decisively once it had established exactly what took place today, according to the BBC.
A Syrian military spokesman also issued a statement on the Turkish jet, noting that "an unidentified aerial target" had "violated Syrian airspace" on Friday morning and that "the Syrian anti-air defenses counteracted with anti-aircraft artillery, hitting it directly as it was 1 kilometer away from land, causing it to crash into Syrian territorial waters west of Om al-Tuyour village in Lattakia province, 10 kilometers from the beach." The aircraft, the spokesman added, "was dealt with according to laws observed in such cases."
Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Over the weekend, Israeli authorities finally contained the wildfire that devastated parts of northern Israel, near Haifa. The fire, which killed 42 people, including Israel's highest-ranking policewoman, is being called the worst natural disaster in the country's history. Today, a 14-year old boy admitted to throwing a piece of coal from a hookah pipe into the forest, starting the blaze.
Israel prides itself on its self-reliance and is usually a provider of rescue teams and medical personnel during other countries' natural disasters. The government was reportedly ill-equipped to handle a blaze of this magnitude, and had to take the unprecedented step of asking for help from abroad. Noting that both the United States and Russia have asked for international help in fighting major wildfires, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "We also did not hesitate, nor were we ashamed in requesting such assistance." (Netanyahu also reportedly looked to President George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina as an example of how not to respond to a natural disaster.)
What's most surprising is the not the help Israel received from the United States, European Union, and Russia, but that from Turkey and the Palestinian Authority. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained since May's deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American. Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time since the raid to thank him for sending two airplanes to help battle the blaze. "We very much appreciate this mobilization and I am certain that it will be an opening toward improving relations between our two countries, Turkey and Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement released to the press after the call.
Netanyahu also spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday for the first time since direct talks broke down in September. Abbas volunteered to send three fire trucks to the area.
Will disaster lead to diplomacy? Turkey has already engaged in "hurricane diplomacy" with Greece after a series of earthquakes devastated both countries in 1999. Greece and Turkey had maintained fraught and conflict-ridden relations for centuries. In the aftermath of the earthquakes, each sent rescue teams to help the other and newspapers were full of stories about Turkish citizens offering to donate kidneys to Greek victims (and vice versa).
Turkey doesn't seem as enthusiastic about improved relations this time. Erdogan said he still expects an apology and compensation from Israel for the flotilla deaths, noting that the aid for the fire was purely humanitarian.
"We would never stand by when people are being killed and nature is being destroyed anywhere in the world," Erdogan told CNNTurk. "No one should try to interpret this any differently." In a dig at Netanyahu, who said Turkey's gesture could help improve Turkish-Israeli ties, he continued:
"Now some are coming out and saying, 'Let's begin a new phase.' Before that, our demands must be met ... Our nine brothers martyred on the Mavi Marmara [the vessel raided by Israeli commandos] must be accounted for. First an apology must be made and compensation must be paid."
When Barack Obama took the podium before Turkey's parliament in April 2009, in his first overseas trip as president, he delivered a speech that echoed much of the happy talk that has characterized U.S. rhetoric toward Turkey over the past decade. "Turkey is a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together -- and work together to overcome the challenges of our time."
U.S. officials have repeated variations of this line since the rise of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. When I visited Turkey in March, a well-placed American source made the same point: Sure, the United States was concerned about Turkey's warming relationship with Iran and Syria, and its war of words with Israel -- but those differences paled in comparison with areas where the two countries worked together, such as on Iraq and Afghanistan.
The recent WikiLeaks document dump, however, proves that the U.S. diplomatic corps' concern about Turkey's drift away from the Western alliance runs deeper than it let on publicly. One cable reportedly describes Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister (and No. 7 on Foreign Policy's 2010 Global Thinkers list), as exerting an "exceptionally dangerous" Islamist influence on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
And that's just the beginning of it. Davutoglu and other AKP leaders have scant understanding of how their foreign policy will be understood outside of Turkey, because their knowledge is "handicapped... by their Turkey- and Islam-centric vision of how they want the world to operate," according to another cable. The same cable expresses dismay at Erdogan's inability to view Islamist groups as terrorists. The report summarized the prime minister's views thusly: "Hamas and Hizballah are the result of Western policies gone awry, a response from desperate people -- not truly terrorists."
The leaked cables also show how U.S. views toward the AKP shifted since its early days in power, when it was actively pushing a number of economic and judicial reforms meant to bolster its case for joining the European Union. One document, written in 2004 and signed by then-ambassador Eric Edelman, concludes that Erdogan "is the only partner capable of advancing toward the U.S. vision of a successful, democratic Turkey integrated into Europe."
Even this broadly positive impression, however, contains a few nuggets that the State Department undoubtedly wishes had been kept private. While praising Erdogan as an uncommonly talented politician, it accuses him of "unbridled ambition stemming from the belief God has anointed him to lead Turkey" and "an authoritarian loner streak." Perhaps most embarrassingly, the cable charges the prime minister with harboring "a distrust of women," leading him to exclude them from any prominent role in the AKP.
By 2010, however, U.S. diplomats' frustration with Turkey's government had escalated. A cable written in January by Edelman's successor James Jeffrey condemns Turkish leaders' "special yen for destructive drama and rhetoric," and says that the government possessed "Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources," which led to it throw its supports behind "underdogs" such as Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The problems are not merely in the realm of style and rhetoric. The cable laments Turkey's habit of presenting itself as the Islamic conscience of NATO, noting that "[e]xtrapolating that behavior into the even more diversity-intolerant EU is a nightmare." In the intervening six years since the 2004 cable, U.S. diplomats tempered their hope for a broad-based strategic partnership with Turkey in favor a "more issue-by-issue approach, and a recognition that Turkey will often go its own way."
Throughout the AKP's transformation of Turkish foreign policy, U.S. diplomats largely expressed their concerns in private. Publicly, their rhetoric was closer to Obama's happy talk to the Turkish parliament -- and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday largely echoed that line ahead of her meeting with Davutoglu in Washington. State Department officials assumed, no doubt correctly, that heavy-handed ultimatums from Washington would only confirm Turks' beliefs that Washington would never support their newly independent role on the international stage. Now, of course, their careful discretion has been blown apart -- and the U.S.-Turkish relationship could become one of the most prominent casualties of the WikiLeaks' document dump.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
As the debate over "don't ask, don't tell" rages on in the United States, it seems Turkey is also facing its own domestic dilemma over military participation.
While gays are barred from military service in Turkey, the armed forces allegedly are "asking for 'photographic' proof that people seeking an exemption from compulsory military service on the grounds of their homosexuality are actually gay," Hurriyet reports.
The practice is not official, and the military has firmly denied the claims but there have been consistent accusations from Turks who were allegedly subject to the practice, and the 2009 European Union progress report also cited concerns over the issue.
Turkey's dilemma is not so much "don't ask, don't tell," -- it's more over "show and tell."
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Many believe that America's greatest export is its culture; from blockbuster Hollywood films and TV series to jeans and iPods, there is little doubt that American cultural products have profound dissemination and market consumption around the globe.
But few would have imagined that one day Turkish citizens would be cheering on pro-wrestlers in Istanbul.
That's right, WWE SmackDown went to Turkey.
Much like American parents, though, many Turks were quite reticent in allowing their children to watch shirtless men in costumes beat each other up on stage. As Hurriyet reports,
Many parents who brought their kids to the WWE show... [expressed] reluctance about exposing their children to something that could contribute to violent tendencies.
As someone who remembers the glory days of "The Rock" and the playground simulations which inevitably followed, I can say with certainty these parents have a point.
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At this point it's a tired cliché to compare Turkey's booming economy and increasing international relevance to the resurgence of the Ottoman Empire. The news that Prime Minister Erdogan is visiting Kosovo today probably won't help put a stop to that trope.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said on Wednesday that his visit to Kosovo would be first visit in prime ministerial level from Turkey to Kosovo.
"The kinsmen there constitute a serious bridge for cultural ties," Erdogan told reporters at Ankara's Esenbo?a Airport prior to his departure for Kosovo.
Yes, it seems that Imperial Istanbul is extending its influence back to its old haunts in the Balkans. By coincidence, Erdogan's visit came as Kosovo's government collapsed thanks to a no-confidence vote. Perfect timing for a Turkish takeover? Highly unlikely. Should we expect an attack on Austria next? No.
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Syria is ready to resume peace negotiations with Israel, but only if Turkey acts as the intermediary. Let's see how that works out.
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Sunday that only Turkey can act as an intermediary in any indirect peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.
"Turkey has shown itself to be an honest intermediary. Indirect talks must therefore be under Turkish mediation, and begin in Turkey at the point where they stopped" in December 2008 when Israel attacked the Gaza Strip, he said.
He ruled out any country other than Turkey being involved in indirect talks, telling reporters: "Any efforts by other parties will consist of helping the Turkish role."
Turkey mediated between Israel and Syria before, starting in May 2008. Those talks broke down in December after Israel began Operation Cast Lead, the assault on Gaza that enraged much of the Muslim world -- including Turkey.
Even after the break down in talks, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert publicly stated that Turkey was a "fair" mediator.
But relations between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated considerably since December 2008. The biggest flare-up, of course, was when Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish activists (and one Turkish-American) on their way to Gaza in May. Even before that, though, the current Israeli government didn't look like it would too happy to have Turkey as a mediator. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a year ago that it would be impossible for Turkey to act as an honest broker.
There hasn't yet been any response from the Israeli government to the news out of this weekend's Syria-Turkey meeting, but don't expect any encouragement.
It's worth adding some additional pessimism to all of this. Even when the Turkish mediated negotiations were going well, the closest Damascus and Tel Aviv ever came to success was nearing an agreement to sit down for direct talks. Once that happened, who knows how far those negotiations would have gone, but probably not far. Syria remains, at least rhetorically, committed to getting the Golan Heights back from Israel, which has been occupying the territory since 1967. Netanyahu has said unequivocally that Israel "will never withdraw from the Golan," as has his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.
With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on the precipice of collapse after only a month, it's hard to imagine why anyone else in the region would choose to sign up for more ill-fated negotiations.
Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias gave Foreign Policy an interview earlier this week, where he offered an eloquent explanation of the factors that have conspired to leave his country his country divided, even after 36 years of diplomacy. But his answer to why the average U.S. citizen -- or even the average diplomat in Foggy Bottom -- should care about Cyprus's plight was rather unsatisfying. "The United States of America is a bastion of freedom and human rights, isn't it?" he said. "I call upon the Americans to respect the Cypriots as they respect themselves."
That's true, of course. Human rights are inalienable and universal, and if the approximately 1 million Cypriots are forced to live in a bifurcated nation, and the quarter million citizens of northern Cyprus exist in a state of international isolation, that's an issue that deserves our concern. We should also be concerned with the treatment of the Uighur population in China, the work of Cambodia's international tribunal, and the ongoing chaos in the Congo. In a world of finite resources, however, concern doesn't necessarily translate into the United States spending time and money to resolve a problem.
However, there is a good reason that the United States should be paying active attention to the progress, or lack thereof, in resolving the Cyprus dispute. It just has less to do with the plight of Cypriots themselves, and more to do with the fate of Christofias's primary rival: Turkey. The Turkish government, which is increasingly throwing its weight around in the Middle East, still refuses to recognize the Republic of Cyprus or let its vessels dock in Turkish ports. Cyprus, as a full member of the European Union, can be expected to continue to block Turkey's EU accession bid until a resolution is reached. The fear is that, if Prime Minister Erdogan's government finds its path blocked to the West, it will increasingly drift into the orbit of Iran and Syria.
Indeed, the lack of progress on the Cyprus issue is just one instance of how Erdogan's ambitious foreign policy has been unable to resolve issues closer to its borders. While Erdogan travels the globe blasting Israel for its policy toward Gaza or mediating the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, his diplomats have also made little progress in normalizing relations with Armenia; efforts to resolve the increasingly violent conflict with Turkey's Kurdish population have also stalled. Issues like Cyprus, Armenia, and Kurdish integration might not command the international spotlight in the same way as Iran and Israel can, but they are arguably more important for Turkey's long-term well being.
Birol Bebek/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier today in Ankara, David Cameron was eager to display a facility with the Turkish language: Tabii ki Tuerkiye - "of course, it's Turkey," in English - was the refrain of a speech advocating Turkey's admittance to the EU. Judging from his argument though, Cameron would have benefitted from a better acquaintance with the Latin phrase non sequitur, or the colloquial Americanism straw man.
There are many good reasons that Turkey should be an EU member state. This is not one of them:
When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a NATO ally and what Turkey is doing today in Afghanistan alongside our European allies it makes me angry that your progress towards EU Membership can be frustrated in the way it has been. My view is clear. I believe it's just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent."
Whatever this excerpt says about Cameron's personal integrity, it doesn't have much purchase as a political argument. NATO and the EU are two entirely separate entities, with different histories, different mandates and overlapping, but different, membership rolls. Participation in the one doesn't require, nor imply, participation in the other; membership in NATO is supposed to be its own reward. Or is Cameron suggesting that the United States line up alongside Turkey for EU accession, followed shortly thereafter by Albania?
Then there's Cameron's tidy summary of the case against Turkey. There are apparently three groups of European Turkey-skeptics: the protectionist (who see Turkey as "an economic threat"), the polarized (who are in thrall to a vision of a "clash of civilizations"), and the prejudiced (who "willfully misunderstand Islam"). Cameron proceeds to show just how mistaken those troglodytes are.
But does Cameron really think the reasons of the EU states holding up Turkish accession fall under his categories? France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel are both on the record resisting Turkish entry. Which are they: the polarized? Or is it the prejudiced? Or, perchance, might they be motivated by national interest? (Wait: Might the U.K. itself be motivated by national interest?)
There's no doubt that including Turkey would mean changes for the EU. Those changes may be for the better - from increased soft power, to a more dynamic internal market - but it's only prudent for each country to evaluate those changes on its own. France is right to wonder whether accepting Turkey into the club would put an end to its dream of a deepened EU foreign policy, much less its annual bounty of EU agriculture subsidies. Demographic trends being what they are, Germans should be forgiven for clinging to the EU voting rights commensurate with their status as Europe's most populous country. They'd also be deluded not to consider the impact of potential Turkish migration to German cities with large numbers of Turkish immigrants.
Name-calling accomplishes little in such a fraught enterprise. And making it all seem obvious and uncomplicated is only condescending.
The Turkish surely know this. Perhaps Cameron was calculating that earning good graces in Ankara was worth risking scorn in Berlin and Paris. But I wonder whether all he's done is lose credibility all around.
Or, most frightening of all, maybe he actually believes this argument accurately describes European institutions and European concerns. Even if Cameron skipped his rhetoric classes at Eton and Oxford, here's hoping he didn't sleep through all the rest.
When I flipped open Evan Kohlmann's 2006 report on Insani Yardim Vakhi (IHH), the Turkish organization that helped organize the Gaza-bound flotilla raided by Israel on Monday, I was half-expecting a series of thinly-sourced allegations that attempted to tie the group to Islamic extremist movements. After all, Kohlmann's credentials have been raked over the coals in recent days, in an attempt to discredit the report. Surely, the source document would be equally thin on facts?
It isn't. Kohlmann's report is a relic from a time when one could express concern over an obscure Turkish NGO's connection to terrorists without the issue becoming hopelessly entangled with one's loyalties in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. And Kohlmann convincingly describes the group's extensive ties to jihadist groups in Europe, Turkey, and North Africa.
Drawing on a French intelligence report, Kohlmann describes how the group fell under the scrutiny of Turkish security forces in the late 1990s, who "uncovered an array of disturbing items, including firearms, explosives, [and] bomb-making instructions" in the organization's Istanbul offices. The Turks determined that the IHH's members were planning to join the mujahideen in Bosnia and Chechnya, and that the president of the organization had worked to send men to Muslim countries for "jihad," and trasferred weapons to those countries. An analysis of the group's telephone records also revealed phone calls to an al Qaeda guesthouse in Milan, and Algerian terrorist networks in Europe.
Overall, Kohlmann paints a picture of an organization that maintains close working relationships with extremist organizations, and which has often run afoul of Turkish authorities. In 1999, following the disastrous earthquakes that struck northwestern Turkey, the Turkish government eventually banned the IHH from distributing aid, naming it as one of several "fundamentalist organizations" that refused to provide information on its activities. It is not Israeli PR flacks that provide the damning facts about IHH, but French and Turkish authorities. In today's New York Times, Henri Barkey, no hard-line Kemalist himself, also refers to the IHH as a "quite fundamentalist" organization that has dabbled in inflammatory rhetoric against Jews.
Of course, none of this changes the fact that Israel's actions aboard the flotilla on Saturday constituted a tragedy, and a disaster for international peace. The Israel Defense Forces are tasked every day with confronting people who despise them, and Israel can only be truly protected by not killing them. Still, the IHH's history does shed light on the challenges that the IDF likely faced aboard the Mavi Marmara, and why it failed so spectacularly in its mission.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department's press operation works in mysterious ways. For instance, this short transcript just arrived in my email in box, under the grandiose headline "Remarks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Before Their Meeting":
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, do you expect Turkey to finally agree on sanctions against Iran?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are working every day and making progress.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
I feel better informed already. For a more complete accounting of U.S-Turkish relations, see Josh Rogin's latest.
In the latest development in the Armenian genocide resolution row, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted at expelling thousands of Armenians from the country. The threat was made as a result of genocide resolutions progressing in the U.S. Congress and Swedish parliament.
About 100,000 undocumented Armenians live in Turkey (and another 70,000 legal residents), many performing menial work.
Obviously Erdogan's words aren't helpful (and would seem particularly crass given the issue), but they're nothing new. Aris Nalci, editor at Agos, a Turkish-Armenian weekly, downplayed the remarks:
We are not taking it as a serious threat.
Checking the scorecard, the impact of the committee vote is now a threat to the use of Incirlik Air base, a crucial link in the supply train to Iraq; damaging the peace process and rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia; and now a warning that tens of thousands of poor, migrant Armenians might get deported.
Does the foreign affairs committee still think it was worth it?
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