Saturday, March 26, 2011

Turkey’s special role, Ricciardone and an Armenian-Turkish concert

“Normalization of history,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said while describing what has been taking place in Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed, Davutoğlu’s great emphasis on the end of the Cold War and hailing of the post-Cold War period as getting rid of abnormal relations and borders in especially the Balkans and the Caucasus must be noted as an important portion of his strategic viewing of the upcoming new world's diplomatic order.
However, Davutoğlu said during a recent interview with Cansu Çamlıbel from daily Hürriyet that unnatural borders and anomalously powerful state structures in Middle East have survived to this day. The reason the change is finally coming to Middle East and Arab world now, according to Davutoğlu, is because “like the whole world, the Middle East lived through a communication revolution. Before, there were only official and semi-official television channels; now there are hundreds of private Arab television channels. The things that were recognized as signs of power before are now perceived as signs of weaknesses. People started to see the reason for this weakness in the state. WikiLeaks [Cablegate] drove this [belief] to the top. There are things deciphered [in the cables] about the foreign policies of Arab leaders that have shaken people’s confidence and trust in their leaders and states.”
When the Cablegate saga first began, only about two months ago, I argued with excitement about why these revelations are so thrilling and how big of an earthquake they will create across the world, contrary to those who saw the leaks as “overblown.” Since, as a sign of serious testimony, Turkey’s foreign minister confirms my early analysis about the monumental magnitude of the Cablegate revelations in terms of their decisiveness to help bring serious transition to the region, it is imperative for Turkish foreign policy-makers now to get ahead of the curve.
U.S. diplomacy ran hard to catch up with Egypt’s revolution since its start on Jan. 25 and according to common wisdom among Washington’s foreign policy wonks, it still barely responded to events a day behind. The Wilsonian diplomacy, which preaches values-based democracy as leading principal of early 20th century U.S. foreign policy, in essence offers substantial groundwork for U.S. diplomats for such sudden demands today. That is why, at the end of the day, the demand for freedom that made waves across Egypt echoed in Capitol Hill and found a bipartisan support in Washington among heavyweights of the Republican opposition and Democrat administration alike. Egyptians’ loud outcry for universal rights cluttered Washington’s post-World War mentality of going and staying in bed with dictators, and urged it to throw its iron handed Mubarak under the bus within a mere week. And this was done, despite its strongest ally in region, Israel’s, deep concerns of post-Mubarak regime or no matter how bad the abandonment move looks to other U.S.-ally dictators in the region.
There is no doubt that last two weeks have been a delicate test for Turkey’s conservative democrats, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP as well. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan appeared not one day, but a week behind Egyptian revolution when he at last unequivocally told Mubarak to step down with an Islamic-blended message on Tuesday: “No government can survive against the will of its people. The era of governments persisting on pressure and repression is over ... All of us are mortals, transient things. All of us will die and will be judged on what we have done. Our resting place as Muslims is two square meters of earth."
Even though it was such a belated reaction, nevertheless the region’s rising star’s stance on the Egyptian people’s side registered with the world media. The Egyptian test, in a way, was the easiest for Ankara for its well known not-so-good relations with Cairo for a number of reasons.
Davutoğlu’s vision, in its originality which can be seen best in his book “Strategic Depth,” published 2001, pursues “no conflicts” in the neighborhood and aims to bring peace and stability that can be cultivated further through increased economic activities and cultural exchanges. This vision appears more fragile now than ever if the domino effect continues to take a hold in countries like Syria and Jordan, with whose leaders Turkey enjoys great friendships, counter to Egypt.
Since Davutoğlu admits that changes in Arab world are triggered by social networking sites and transparency of information through sites like WikiLeaks, and we know that this transformation is simply irrevocable, Turkey’s near abroad and strong friends' lands have a contingency to witness significant upheavals in coming times.
And that is why Turkey now must be a special voice as a leading democratic country in the region to spread universal and democratic values. Instead of a leader-by-leader tap-dancing-great-balancing act, while being fully aware of every country has its own set of circumstances, Turkey must begin honing its moral leadership and guide them by the best example.
That is why Turkey’s critical post-June of 2011 general election period, in which a new and civilian constitution is expected to be created, will not only matter to Turkey, but to the whole region, especially for its success in terms of its inclusiveness and orientation toward freedom.
Ambassador Ricciardone’s tough week
The United States’ newly appointed Ankara envoy Francis Ricciardone was back in Washington this week for the U.S.’ first-ever Global Chiefs of Mission Conference and had a tough week because of some very disturbing statements allegedly he made about Mubarak and Egypt’s political scenery when he was serving as an ambassador in Egypt between 2005 and 2008.
I asked Ambassador Ricciardone this week following Turkish-Armenian concert what he thinks about allegations that he was too soft on Egyptian leader in terms of human rights. Ricciardone briskly described the allegations as “nonsense” and told me “don’t believe,” without going into details. He gave the same short response when I repeated other quotes from Foreign Policy magazine.
The third time I asked Ricciardone how he would now describe Egypt’s level of political openness during his service years, he said: “While I was in Egypt, I noticed a similar situation vis-à-vis the construction of freedoms. You [in Turkey] made great progress rapidly and what makes me optimistic is that you want more... You want it and you will reach it. You will reach the desired point not by U.S. pressure but by the pressure you put on yourselves. We are friends and on your side.”
Since the links provided to a Foreign Policy article about Ricciardone’s interviews are no longer working (how, why and by whom?), we have no reason not to take the ambassador’s words over the “alleged” quotes.
Turkish-Armenian concert
Probably for the first time in Washington, a group of Armenian and Turkish musicians got together two back-to-back nights this week to give two great musical performances.
While the first concert, at Cosmos Club, drew an Armenian audience as well as Turkish, two Armenian attendees I talked to following the concert were disputing the benefit the event; they argued that in such circumstances politics dominates the air and the whole meaning of the artistic performance gets lost.
On the second night, this time at the Turkish Embassy residence, even though the concert hall was packed by a Turkish and American audience, there were only very few representatives from the Armenian community but no participation from the Armenian Embassy. Still, pianist Ayşe Taşpınar, who took the initiative to put together the concert, soprano Garineh Avakian, violinists Petros Boyadzyan and Movses Posossian and duduk player Albert Vardanyan filled Washington with their epic musical performances which were ended with “Sarı Gelin,” a folk song which they dedicated to the memory of Armenian Turkish hero Hrant Dink.
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Guest - Mine Ozcelik Bagrationi
2011-02-06 10:27:29
 As an ethnic Turk married to a loving and fine Armenian man, my heart fills with joy seeing Armenians and Turks who, against all odds, come together, albeit for very short times, to sing and perform together..sometimes. When will this pain and animosity between our peoples end? I will ask my Turkish friends, to refrain, or at least try to write non inflamatory posts here. I strongly believe that "Hurriyet English" is a non-biased, neutral and in a way ahead of its time online marvel. It has repeatedly posted almost all posts written by my husband, Preston Bagrationi. I hope that in the future, we can, both peoples, sing and celebrate every happy ocassion together. 
Guest - Random Armenian
2011-02-05 08:43:24
 "... two Armenian attendees I talked to following the concert were disputing the benefit the event; they argued that in such circumstances politics dominates the air and the whole meaning of the artistic performance gets lost." Unfortunately this is true since the Turkish embassy hosted the Hrant Dink concert, and yet in Turkey, the trial of Hrant Dink has been deliberately delayed and mismanaged. If this concert was put forth by the same Turkish and Armenian artists without the orchestration by any government, then the political aspect of this concert would not dominate the artistic and emotional content of the concert. I see this as a charm offensive put on by the Turkish government. That said it's highly likely that Turkish and Armenian artists can put on concerts like this on their own. There are an increasing number of non-governmental initiatives and dialogues between Armenians and Turks. 

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