Saturday, May 14, 2011

Which image of Turkey needs protection?

The U.S.-Islamic World Forum convened in Washington this week for the first time since its inception in 2004 to attract attention from the American public and make it more convenient for U.S. policymakers to attend and exchange views with the impressive number of participants joining from Muslim countries.
İbrahim Kalın, the top adviser to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was also in town to attend the conference, though he also met with U.S. governmental officials, Congressional leaders and some Washington think tanks to talk about current foreign and domestic issues of Turkey.
It is a well-known fact that Turkey’s image in Washington has been damaged by the latest abusive actions in the media. Previously, it was the extreme tax fine on the Doğan Media Group that was highlighted as the principal proof while referring to the governmental pressure on the outspoken press. To be fair, the link between the tax authorities and the administration was far too obvious for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, officials to deny.
In recent months though, that was replaced with the growing numbers of arrests of journalists tied to the Ergenekon coup-plot trial, which has been going on for about four years now. And this time, AKP officials claim that they cannot do anything, since Turkey has a full, independent judiciary.
On the one hand, Turkey is conducting the seemingly “unfair” practice of holding hundreds of suspects in long periods of detentions without conviction at the same time that the prosecution is unable to prove those actions as absolutely necessary for the fairness of the trials; on the other, the Turkish press is under heavy pressure from the government in so many ways. And for some, raising these critical issues in Western capitals runs against Turkey’s interests and also damages its image and unity.
It is equally very difficult to see any merit in the arguments that suggest that no department in the U.S. government can and should assess and condemn abuses happening around the world, as the U.S. “has its own share of sins, as well.” Are we supposed to cheer for more bad behavior? If the Turkish administration really cares about abuses in Guantanamo or Abu Ghaib, then it should take a lead in creating an international commission to scrutinize U.S. standards. It is simple.
Nonetheless, it might be useful to focus on a bigger question here, rather than the superficial and discredited arguments of the last century.
Turkey’s distorted secularism for decades indeed clamped down on the demands of the religious and ethnic minorities; cries for international attention in those decades were well deserved, and I think they received a lot of heed, though maybe it was still not enough.
While we agree on the idea that Turkish secularism often treated various minorities very unjustly in the last century, it proved to be difficult to get any sort of hint from Kalın about what he thinks about secularism’s role in the Turkish model going forward.
Kalın, during a conversation with a half-dozen journalists, conceded that freedom of the press is a universal value and that his administration should not be resentful toward criticism from abroad, but it is an approach that greatly differs from Erdoğan, who, on the very same day, was exchanging serious barbs with U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Francis Ricciardone. Ricciardone, with his frankness and clarity on the issue, has proven that the misgivings about his nominations in the past were unfounded.
Nevertheless, Kalın strongly believes that all reputable human right reports around the globe “treat Turkey unfairly,” who also disagreed with the claims suggesting any deterioration about the standards of democracy and freedoms in Turkey. (Therefore, the argument goes; Turkey’s lead in the world in jailing 54 journalists, almost double the numbers of China and Iran, does not mean anything.)
Kalın recognized that the terms of arrests are growing too much in the high-profile coup allegation trials, much like Erdoğan’s position on the matter. He also stated that his administration’s clear wish was to see the trials ending as quickly as possible.
Right after it, however, Kalın evoked a comparison again that draws parallels between the Ergenekon case and the Gladio trials in Italy. According to Kalın, “the Gladio trials took 9-10 years; there were about six thousand arrests and thousands of pages of indictments.” The parallel sounded somewhat worrying, signaling that the current trials might go on for quite a long time.
We had a chance to talk over Turkey’s Libya policy as well with Kalın who said he doesn’t understand why the Libyan opposition is angry with Turkey, or why they are protesting, “since Turkey has not caused the current killings” or “problems.”
A day before, I asked Ambassador Ali Aujali, the representative of the Libyan Transitional Council in Washington, what he thinks about Turkey’s Libya policy. Aujali had plenty of angry arguments toward Turkey and then concluded his remarks by saying “Turkey is guilty until it proves otherwise;” earlier, he had said, “Erdoğan needs to stand by Libyan people just as he did with Egyptian people.”
The Libyan opposition is also angry with Ankara especially for Ankara’s striking inaction in terms of freezing the assets of members of the Moammar Gadhafi regime in accordance with the UNSC 1973 resolution. Kalın said it was just some “technical difficulties” that prevented Turkey from observing it. According to one Washington source who deals with the region closely, Turkey, by letting the Gadhafi regime operate freely, “gave a lifeline to the Gadhafi regime to satisfy its needs.”
According to a source who is close to the State Department, David Cohen, a new appointee who recently replaced Stuart Levy as undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, will be traveling to Ankara on April 20, primarily to hold talks on Iran sanctions, but also to freeze problem will be well on the agenda if Turkey does not move to fulfill its international obligation by then.
It must be noted that Kalın, who has a background as a religious scholar, appeared at ease during his panel performances at the conference, and he also seemed to be well versed on the administration’s policies in a wide variety of foreign affair issues. However, the arguments he used to rebuke criticism about Turkey’s worsening freedom record melted quickly when faced with the international reports.
It is also great to see the conservative and pro-Islamic portion of Turkey finally feeling comfortable enough to start taking on a mission to protect its image in world capitals. However, we all need to realize Turkey’s image can only be improved when we all push the Turkish state to elevate its freedom rankings instead of protecting it while it is sinking.

2 Comments   Bookmark and Share  printer friendly PRINTER FRIENDLY


Guest - Me
2011-04-16 17:19:42
  It is oh so common in Turkey for the AKP to stike back when criticized, instead of taking it constructively and moving on. This is especially aparent when Turkey is so in the wrong and has not a leg to stand on. In order for Turkey to move forward to a more democratic society, they must first face their own shortcomings and address the issues. I don't see that happening any time soon. It is so much easier for the PM to get a red face and "teach" France" that they have less religious freedom than Turkey. This is hilarious on the world stage.  

Guest - Roger
2011-04-16 01:51:07
  Excuse makers may appear at ease but calling black as white and up as down won't convince anybody of anything.

No comments: