Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Darfur is Different from Gaza, and here is the Jaw Dropping Why


By now, everyone has witnessed the clash between Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Simon Peres during the recent Davos summit in Switzerland. During the discussion, after Israeli President Peres’ fervent speech, David Ignatius’ touchy moderating style upset the Turkish Prime Minister and he stormed off the stage, breaking all the diplomatic rules that the international stage requires.
Since then, various surveys show that Turkish people are clearly behind the Prime Minister’s angry reaction. Popular support is so high that even the main opposition Republican People Party’s leader Deniz Baykal back up Erdogan’s retort under the pressure. Ordinarily is it almost impossible to see these two men agree on anything.
There are various interpretations of this unexpected incident: premeditated, unarticulated, out of sincerity or sensitivity, only some of them. Also some well-known Turkish columnists thought this could be a calculated conspiracy! that was set up by the moderator David Ignatius with the collaborative effort of Israeli President Peres.
On the other hand, the Turkish Prime Minister’s recent policy approaches and some of his remarks have been long stirring in the circles of Western intellectuals and policy makers whether Turkey is really drifting away from the West. For example, in the Obama Administration’s new envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell decided not to drop by Ankara to see Turkish officials despite previous reports that he would. Many see this as a message from President Obama that Turkey has lost her honest broker role, and the peace process should go on with more moderate and balanced voices.

With all the positive sides, living in Washington, DC also brings some interesting encounters. For example, the people that you randomly meet might have vast insight about your country that you could only imagine. Contrary to common belief, the American people, especially in cities like Washington, DC with its great think tanks, NGOs, and academic institutions, offer a wide range of mind games and intrigued conversations at these random acquaintances. The reason I bring this up is to explain the logic behind the question I have been asked many times in these Washington, DC streets in recent years.
Genocide in Darfur is widely identified in Washington, DC, because there are many International Aid Organizations and scores of non-profit organizations that do humanitarian work for Darfur. Also the policy makers, academics or sole intellectual people without any additional title have vast disgusted interest in this systematic brutal killing, raping, bombing and torching effort. So the question I received many times is, why are Turkey’s leaders are getting along with the Sudanese leader Omar Al-Bashir so well. In addition, why would Turkey want to host the Sudanese leader in Turkey with the full honors that Turkish protocol bestows on a visiting head of state, including military guard of honor and a 21-gun salute? I asked this question to many Turkish people who have come to Washington, DC occasionally over the years and never received a satisfying answer.
The Economist reported that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), concluded in his indictment last summer that the mastermind of the genocide in Darfur is Sudan’s own president, Omar al-Bashir. It is expected that the ICC will grant a request for an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir later this month. Meanwhile, the Turkish government still receives other representatives of the Sudanese government happily like Vice President Ali Uthman Mohammed Taha just a couple of days ago.
Speaking at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, DC, Hugh Pope, the Turkey/Cyprus project director for the International Crisis Group, pointed out a problem of double standards in Turkey's approach, noting that it was hard to claim the moral high ground towards Israel over the high death toll in Gaza at the same time as engaging in a close-long term relationship with the leadership of Sudan, despite Khartoum's ruthless campaign in Darfur.
When the Israeli attacks started to hit hard on the Gazans, the Turkish Prime Minister gave probably one of the angriest condemnation remarks against Israel around the World. And he explained why he was so angry: he said repeatedly that he sides with the Gazans not because of race or religion issues, but because he sees the Israeli assaults as one of the biggest tragedies of the world and feels deeply attached to it. Then the question looms−how about Darfur? How about trying to denounce Darfur genocide for once and rebuke the leader?

Finally I received the answer to my question from a ruling party official who can know the reasons behind this warm approach to Sudan. This official said that there are various oil investment contracts and Turkey’s policy approach to Sudan is chiefly affected by this outlook. It was that simple. I was also told the story of how the Sudanese leader received an invitation from Turkey. According to this source, the Sudanese leader ran into the Turkish Prime Minister at an international summit and when the Sudanese leader said that he would like to visit Turkey, the Turkish Prime Minister replied positively as politeness requires. However nobody was expecting this polite encounter to be taken seriously. Afterwards, when the Sudanese leader went after this invitation with persistence, Turkish officials could not reject it. If the story is true, it shows how Turkish diplomacy lacks necessary skills to avoid such an embarrassing visit. Though it still doesn’t explain, even if this visit was planned by accident, why and how the Sudanese leader gets the highest protocol when he arrives! In addition, according to a Jamestown Foundation Report from January 2008, during his visit Ankara, al-Bashir in fact received briefings from a delegation from the Turkish Energy Ministry and the state-owned oil company Turkish Petroleum. So my recent discussion with the AKP official could be the first time confirming that the Sudanese visit, and the overlooking of the systematic killing that has been going on for years in Darfur, in reality, was being vastly influenced by the hope to receive oil investment awards from the Sudanese Government.
Erdogan’s harsh remarks and heated encounter was not meaningless. I think that Erdogan had to respond to Peres and told the world that despite all of the rhetoric, Isreal still can’t sufficiently explain its heavy-handed military operations in Gaza. However, many still believe that Erdogan’s degrading and excessive style attracted the international lights on Erdogan rather than on the Gazan people’s tragedy, and might have better served Erdogan’s AKP’s local elections prospects more than smoothing the peace process the Gazans need. For us Turkish populace, once we lost traditional Jewish lobbying support in Washington, DC, and will pay a high price for it very soon, we hope the economic profit from Sudani oil contracts will cover our loss of national self esteem.
In an email exchange with Washington Post writer David Ignatius, now infamous in Turkey and one of the most respected columnists in the world, he said: “…I am sorry that we ran out of time at Davos … [for] the panelists to have a second round of comments. The role of ….. PM Erdogan will be crucial over the next several months in whether a peace process can be put back together after the pain of the Gaza war. That's what I have to say for now.” We are making some oily but bloody new associates, but what kind of friends we are losing on the other hand is hard to grasp.

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