Considering Greece and Armenia's Support of Turkey's EU Candidacy

Aside from the ongoing drama between the PKK and the Turkish military, a great deal of Turkey's most recent foreign affairs activity has been tied to its potential accession to the European Union (EU). Most observers of Turkey derive the majority of their analysis of Turkey's potential EU membership from the stoic proclamations of President Gul or the anti-Turkish rhetoric of President Sarkozy. However, an additional angle from which one can develop further understanding of the EU issue is by exploring the perspective of Turkey's traditional foes, Greece and Armenia.

This past week featured Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and Greek Foreign Minister Theodora Bakoyianni exchanging incredibly sugar-coated words concerning Turkey's EU candidacy and also on the general subject of relations between their two countries. With Greece wholly behind Turkey's EU bid, Turkey has gained a very valuable source of support given the fact that the relations between the two countries have been historically sour at best.

Some observers consider Greece's strong support for Turkey's bid as somewhat inevitable given the growing amount of humanitarian cooperation between the two countries since they were struck by the same earthquake several years ago. Cross-border investment is growing in both directions and young Turks certainly do not harbor the same acrimonious feelings about Greece that their grandparents possess. The recent inauguration of a gas pipeline between Greece and Turkey to serve European markets further highlights the growing strategic connections.

There is no question that the positive momentum that increasingly characterizes the relations of Turkey and Greece is real. While Turkey's motivations are clear, it is nevertheless important to take a closer look at why Greece has chosen to extend its support. To understand Greece's motivations in greater depth (and beyond their interest in seeing the Cyprus issue resolved at some point during this century), it is helpful to jump to Armenia in order to consult that nation's conversation concerning Turkey and the EU. Whether due to the historical issue of the Armenian Genocide or the ongoing Turkish (and Azerbaijani) economic blockade, Armenia's affairs and future are very much tied to those of Turkey.

While largely unnoticed by the Turkish media, there is a heated debate between Armenia's long-time former president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, and the current president, Robert Kocharian, concerning Turkey's future in Europe. While both are interested in greater normalization of ties with Turkey, Ter-Petrossian is much more aggressive about pursuing cooperation and dialog. Concerning Turkey's candidacy for the EU, Ter-Petrossian's views are quite logical as exhibited in the following article from armenialiberty.org.
“Isn’t it obvious that Turkey’s membership in the EU is beneficial for Armenia in the economic, political and security terms? he added. "What is more dangerous: an EU member Turkey or a Turkey rejected by the West and oriented to the East?
“Or what is more preferable? An Armenia isolated from the West or an Armenia bordering the EU? Our country’s foreign policy should have clearly answered these questions a long time ago.”
Ter-Petrossian's comments are just as applicable to Armenia as they are to understanding Greece's interest in Turkey becoming a member of the EU. In addition to the regional economic benefits of Turkey joining the EU, both Armenia and Greece are very aware of the value of the horse-and-carrot strategy that the EU has used to prompt Turkey to pursue internal changes. This EU strategy has been implemented in order to force stubborn Turkey to pursue a path that is complimentary to the Western European system of political, economic and social values. Most Turks, in turn, have become embittered by what they see as a series of false promises, which have provoked a dizzying contortion of Turkey's identity. Both Greece and Armenia could not be more pleased by this painful process and will rue the day that Turkey is no longer tempted to join the European fraternity.

It is of course irrelevant to either Greece or Armenia whether joining the EU is truly the best direction for Turkey. Both nations realize that Turkey would pose a bigger threat to their interests today if Turkey had not been under the EU microscope for roughly the past decade. As long as it continues to seek entrance, the EU will increasingly deny Turkey's ability to pursue its traditional agendas. It therefore appears likely that Greece and Armenia are hoping to use Brussels as the means for realizing their own historic interests vis a vis their greatest rival.


Turkey and Iran: Further Reading

The following article by John C.K. Daly in United Press International offers readers a nice overview of Turkey's latest string of energy dealings with Iran. Daly's article also considers the American view of these growing energy ties. He reviews the frequently referenced array of diplomatic exchanges, which have communicated Washington's aggravation with Turkey's creation of a small, yet symbolic, hole through the wall of international sanctions against Turkey's southeastern neighbor.

The second half of Daly's article documents the highly over-emphasized saga of estrangement between Turkey and the U.S. To his credit, Daly makes the very astute observation that Turkey has crossed Washington due to its practical energy needs. He also makes the rather novel argument (for a Western journalist) that it is Washington's responsibility to propose workable solutions, which do not involve Iran, if Washington is truly dismayed by energy cooperation between Turkey and Iran.
It is time for the Bush administration to realize, however belatedly, that its inattention to Turkish domestic and foreign policy concerns has produced the growing estrangement between the two nations and that Washington has nothing to offer Ankara in the energy sphere except criticism. The Erdogan government, as a necessity, has accordingly moved national energy concerns ahead of placating U.S. foreign-policy initiatives.
It is the opinion of this observer that the Erdoğan government was absolutely correct to prioritize Turkey's energy concerns over U.S. foreign-policy initiatives. Moreover, there is little evidence that closer ties with Iran are an example of the AK Party's religious agenda other than its interest and success in doing business with religiously conservative countries like Iran, as well as Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia.

While Daly should be lauded for his analysis of Turkey's rationale, he places too much importance on the cool distance that currently marks the relationship between Washington and Ankara. As George Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy have demonstrated, relations between two countries with historic ties can be repaired overnight if there exists the common interest to do so.

Pursuing energy trade with one's neighbors is a very healthy practice. In fact, growing regional energy integration breeds an atmosphere of greater normalcy through interdependence. While it is true that Iran is an exceptional case, selling electricity and other forms of energy to Turkey is absolutely the type of activity that the international community should condone. It is constructive compared to Iran's typical machinations. Perhaps this is why neither Washington nor the European community have accorded much punch to their criticisms of Turkish-Iranian energy ties.


Turkey's Foreign Affairs Blitz

While of minor importance to most Turks in comparison to their national football team's efficient victory over a weak Bosnia-Herzegovina side and the team's resulting accession to the Euro 2008 tournament, this past week also featured the Turkish government culminating an impressive flurry of foreign affairs activity. Although the Turkish national team has little chance under its coach, Fatih Terim, whose arrogance shadows his remarkable flair for dramatic dress-shirt and jacket collars, the government's latest efforts will surely give Milli Takım fans something to talk about beyond their team's early exit from the European football championship tournament this summer.

Turkey's latest foreign affairs campaign began almost a month ago. Motivated by Turkey's highly theatrical bluff to invade northern Iraq, Ankara hosted a rather awkward summit with Iraq's Prime Minister Al Maliki. This visit was followed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and his delegation of 11 planes. Erdoğan and Gül would then elegantly contrast the King's visit by hosting Israel's President Peres, in addition to Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Other than the usual series of forced handshakes in front of photographers, Turkey announced that it would lead the development of the Erez Industrial Zone in order to promote foreign investment to a destitute region prone to terrorist activities.

The pace did not slow during this past week. Prime Minister
Erdoğan inaugurated a gas pipeline between Turkey and Greece, a key component of the Nabucco pipeline project that transports Central Asian gas supplies to Central Europe. President Gül then participated in ground-breaking ceremonies for the new Baku-Tblisi-Kars railway, which has greater symbolic importance than practical potential due to the dilapidated nature the rail networks in all three countries. Turkey's efforts to pursue peace in Palestine were ultimately awarded with an invitation to the Annapolis Summit, which was a significant acknowledgment of Turkey's (otherwise weak) presence in Middle Eastern affairs.

In December, Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan will visit Greece to strengthen ties and promote Turkey's candidacy for the EU.

The Turkish media has been bubbling with suggestions of Turkey's emergence as a regional hegemon. These sentiments are typified by an article by Fatih University academic,
Gökhan Bacık:
Turkey seeks to take concrete actions in the Middle East to move regional politics from its current abstract content to a more practical and implemental level. This is also not surprising because Turkey has the ability and capacity to achieve this. The Erez Industrial Zone, which will be constructed under Turkey’s leadership in the West Bank, is exemplary...There is one simple fact behind Turkey’s ability to offer concrete options and opportunities: that Turkey is a historical actor that has many aspects in common with all the actors of the region. For this reason, its contribution to make the devised projects operational is vital. The operational opportunities of the other actors including the EU are limited.
There is no doubt that Turkey should be commended for its recent surge in foreign affairs activity related to the Middle East. The country must do a better job of defining its modern identity in foreign affairs and this past month has been beneficial to that end.

However, this observer suspects that the ultimate success of Turkey's efforts will be tied to the true motivations for its involvement. If Turkey seeks engagement in a front-page issue like Palestine to self-promote its status as the EU's future bridge between Europe and the Middle East, it is doubtful that they will accomplish anything of note. However, if Turkey believes that it is in its own self-interest
to develop such involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, with or without EU membership, then success will be much more likely. It is quite possible that Ankara is genuinely interested in forging stronger relations with Israel as a strategic advantage for the future.

However, Turkey has been making a big push of late to secure public declarations of support for its EU candidacy from multiple EU members. It is consequently the opinion of this observer that Turkey's most recent efforts, and particularly those involving Palestine, are nothing more than an attempt to pursue newspaper headlines in order to influence the opinions of Brussels Eurocrats. Gül's plan to establish an economic zone in order to address the relationship between unemployment and terrorism seems particularly inane given Turkey's own domestic problems with terrorism. Perhaps Turkey would grab even more European headlines if it first solved the unemployment problem in its volatile southeastern region.


Pipeline Politics: Israel

Details were released last week concerning an advanced proposal for a pipeline from Turkey to Israel, which would provide Israel with a new source of natural gas, oil, electricity and water. The project is a notable development in Turkish-Israeli relations during a month that has been highlighted by Shimon Perez's diplomatically significant visit to Ankara today.

(Please review either this article from Zaman for the Turkish perspective or this piece from the Jerusalem Post for an Israeli view of the proposed pipeline.)

If the proposed connection is indeed constructed, this project will represent an intriguing addition to Turkey's growing web of energy pipelines. As an estranged member of the Muslim Middle East, it has been relatively easy for secular Turkey to cultivate a relationship with financially capable and technologically advanced Israel. Perez's invitation to Ankara, which was officially offered by President Gül, reflects the degree to which Turkey's supposed "neo-Islamists" are distinct from other political movements in the Middle East. Perhaps to a lesser extent, the move underscores the historic mistrust that undermines Turkic-Arab solidarity whether in Anatolia, the Caucasus or in Muslim Central Asia.

While the deal appears to be mutually beneficial in terms of Turkey adding a new market to its energy transfer network and Israel diversifying its energy needs, this observer is skeptical of the greater oil export applications for the pipeline suggested in the Jerusalem Post article. In particular, it is unclear what basis there is for the assertion that it is "more practical" to deliver oil to Asian markets via Israel compared to overland routes.

First of all, this observer wonders what real advantages oil transited through Israel has over shipping it from the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan and onto Asia through the proven Suez Canal route. Since the oil will originate in either Iraq or the Caspian Sea, it furthermore seems rather odd to first move the oil west to Ceyhan and then south to Israel and finally onto a destination in Asia. It would make far more sense to ship the oil from Basra or from a port in Pakistan through the growing network of pipelines crossing that country.

It is ultimately of little concern to Turkey whether or not such dreams of exporting oil to the "Far East" via Israel are in fact realized. Of far greater importance is the considerable geopolitical leverage Turkey will acquire through this increased cooperation with Israel. If the proposed pipeline proves successful, Israel will ultimately come to depend on it for a relatively significant portion of its subsistence. Therefore, Turkey will possess a greater means to "lean on" Israel for certain types of military or diplomatic support that the US or Europe will otherwise be reluctant to provide.

Playing Poker and the Turkish Economy

The following article from Business Week offers a good review of most of the main themes of the Turkish economy and its prospects in the event of a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq.

The article finishes on a positive note with a comment by the AKP appointed treasury minister and former Merrill Lynch economist, Mehmet Simsek. Simsek believes that the Turkish economy has become sufficiently strong to carry the economic burdens that will inevitably surface in the [unlikely] event Turkey were to invade northern Iraq. While this certainly makes good print for the Turkish electorate and foreign investors, this observer is skeptical that Turkey's economy is really as firmly situated as the treasury minister suggests.

It seems rather odd that the author of this Business Week article chooses to end with Simsek's comment given his tacit reference to the debilitating economic circle Turkey would enter if it were to invade Iraq. A Turkish invasion of Iraq would cause global oil prices to explode and the U.S. stock market would take a further dive as a result. In this scenario, the Turkish economy would likely be impacted in three main regards.

I.) A fall in the U.S. stock market would cause the lira to loose strength relative to the dollar as it always does when there is economic uncertainty in the U.S. The Turkish economy would therefore be forced to pay even more dearly for the higher oil prices for which the Turkish invasion was originally responsible.

II.) Higher oil prices would have to negatively affect the global economy at some point. While Turkish exports might become cheaper in an invasion scenario, there would most likely be fewer buyers for these products.

III.) Since when do foreign investors flock to countries at war? A "bumpy ride" would assume that the Turkish military could eventually destroy every last whimper of PKK support. The possibility of that happening is zero. Whereas the chance of bombs going off in Izmir in the aftermath of an invasion is tremendous. A war in the south-east would also discourage tourism and depress real estate values, which are largely supported by foreign investment. The country's deficit, which would be already exacerbated by higher oil costs, will also be widened by greater military spending.

Turkey's political leadership may pretend that their actual reason for delaying the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq was in order to extract concessions and greater support from the U.S. There is no doubt that the Turkish government has played a solid hand of poker with its string of ultimatums. However, it is the opinion of this observer that the country's leadership is privately aware that the economy cannot overcome a war and the effects of its aftermath. The economy has certainly come a long way in less than a decade, but it has not reached a point where its fundamentals are truly sound.


Economic Take: The Kurdish Issue

Traveling through the southeastern regions of Turkey can be a bittersweet experience. Not only is the region's geography breathtaking at times, but so is the hospitality and incredible warmth of its people. Unfortunately, the living standard of most of the region's ethnic-Kurdish population is tragically low. While the historic economic situation of this part of Turkey has never been as robust as in the country's littoral areas, the Turkish military's reaction to the Kurdish uprising during the early 1990s was responsible for considerable regression.

Turks are understandably frustrated when they discuss the conditions of their country's southeastern region. They point to the preponderance of Kurdish families with seven, eight or more children and question why they should have such large families if they do not possess the financial means for their support.

It is very possible that there exists a degree of irresponsibility or irrationality in the family planning logic of Kurds living in southeastern Turkey. However, during the travels of this observer through places like Diyarbakı
r, Van and Urfa, it was apparent that there also exists a statistical rationale for having so many children. More offspring, and boys in particular, increase the likelihood that one of those children will be able to financially support the family one day. For an economy in which there are very few 9am-5pm jobs offering pensions, the family unit becomes much more important. This contrasts with urban centers, where people can literally afford to be self-focused. The reality presented is of course not exclusive to Turkey. In fact, it is relevant to many other parts of the world, including in my own country.

The Turkish economist,
Mustafa Sönmez, has recently added a great deal of refreshing perspective to these issues as they relate to Turkey. His report entitled, "Increased Poverty in the East and Southeast and Solutions: Peace", is reviewed in the following Today's Zaman article. The conclusions of Mr. Sönmez are not particularly earth-shattering. Nonetheless, they highlight the fact that activity and discussion in Turkey of economic development in the southeast has been relatively superficial to date.

Turks will frequently reference the Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi (GAP), or Southeastern Anatolian Project, as proof of the country's genuine conviction to develop the region. Ideally, this grandiose public-works project will do just that by harnessing the regions (rapidly depleting) water resources through a series of hydroelectric dams and irrigation systems. However, the execution of the GAP project has been slow and it appears that its funding has not been consistently supported by the country's politicians. In addition, this observer wonders whether the Turkish government enjoys playing God with the water supplies of its southern neighbors more than helping its Kurdish citizens.

Traveling through the southeastern regions of Turkey can be a bittersweet experience. Not only is the region's geography breathtaking at times, but so is the hospitality and incredible warmth of its people. Unfortunately, the living standard of most of the region's ethnic-Kurdish population is tragically low. While the historic economic situation of this part of Turkey has never been as robust as in the country's littoral areas, the Turkish military's reaction to the Kurdish uprising during the early 1990s was responsible for considerable regression.

It is often noted that PKK activity in the region has slowed the project's rate of completion. While the PKK is often a legitimate scapegoat in Turkey, it is truly not a viable excuse for those citizens, who fear the tide of terrorism. As NATO peacekeepers in Afghanistan or US soldiers in Iraq can tell you, people of any ideology are less likely to start shooting if they have reliable electricity and running water.


Keeping up Appearances: Turkey, PKK and N. Iraq

The feverish media atmosphere generated by the potential Turkish invasion of northern Iraq is on its way to reaching almost Cuban Missile Crisis proportions. Even Prime Minister Erdoğan has chastised certain Turkish media outlets for the manner in which they have covered the events of the past week. Having sold a lot of newspapers due to the most recent deaths and abduction of many out-numbered Turkish conscripts, there is little doubt that this type of media coverage will continue to carry the legacy of William Randolph Hearst for at least another few weeks.

It is the ambition of this observer to approach the question of a possible Turkish assault on N. Iraq in a way that touches on a number of factors and possible scenarios, which will undoubtedly influence the decisions made in the very near future. In addition, two recently published pieces about the potential Turkish invasion by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, the general manager of Al-Arabiya television, and by Gareth Jenkins of the Jamestown Foundation offer a number of very compelling insights for consideration.

Military: Television images of green Turkish military trucks rolling towards the border and comments by the BBC that, "Turkey has deployed up to 100,000 soldiers, backed by tanks, fighter jets and helicopters, along the border" are somewhat meaningless; it is very seldom that the Turkish military is not massing at the border with Iraq. It is likely that this most recent heavy military buildup began at the end of spring 2007 and has been reported in the media to have escalated at different times in response to PKK activity. As the saga of Abdullah Ocalan's pursuit and ultimate capture demonstrates, the Turkish military has had success in the past with bullying its neighbors (in that case Syria) by projecting military strength on their borders.

Unless they are completely gripped by hubris, General Büyükanıt and friends must have learned something from the US military's haunting experience in Iraq and even the Israeli army's most recent foray into southern Lebanon. With these two events in mind, it appears highly unlikely that the Turkish military could deal an enduring tactical blow to a very evasive and malleable guerrilla foe like the PKK. At the very least, the PKK can go underground in order to fight another day.

prime minister Erdoğan must be very careful about the expectations he defines for any type of military venture. As George Bush has demonstrated over the course of his tumultuous tenure as president, the military expectations of the public can have serious political repercussions when deaths and casualties mount.

Northern Iraq, domestic: A significant percentage of Kurds have probably disassociated the PKK from the struggle for an independent Kurdistan. Nevertheless, the PKK still possesses a great historical legacy that includes funding-ties to governments and organizations, who traditionally oppose Turkey. Indeed, the PKK has been of great help to Iran and Syria in destabilizing Turkey and it is widely argued that the likes of Greece and Armenia have supported the PKK in the past. It is therefore little wonder that the relatively new Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has never appeared to have the ability to dislodge a political dinosaur like the PKK.

While the KRG and others are probably more widely associated with the fight for an independent Kurdish state at this time, a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq would probably blur this distinction. The presence of Turkish troops on Iraqi soil would likely increase sympathy among Kurds for the PKK cause. Assuming the Iraqi government in Baghdad proves incapable of providing any support, which would most likely be the case due to their current level of frailty, the Kurds in N. Iraq would gain even more resolve to pursue their own state in order to better protect their interests.

Turkey, domestic: An invasion of Iraq would almost certainly cause a very sharp rise in PKK sympathies among the large numbers of economically marginalized Kurds living both in the east of Turkey as well as the larger numbers living in Turkey's western cities. This is a particularly scary thought if viewed in the context of the rising popularity of neo-fascist and nationalistic groups, which was most recently evidenced by the MHP gaining ground in the July parliamentary election. The AKP was a surprisingly popular choice of the Kurdish vote in July, and neither Erdoğan nor Gül would want to compromise this vote or give the country's right-wing any more reason to disrupt the social peace.

Conclusion: In the view of this observer, the numerous big-picture issues strongly rival the more widely-reported short-term political reasoning for a full-scale military assault in northern Iraq. An invasion would most likely further destabilize Iraq. It would furthermore cause social and political unrest within Turkey, which would not bode well for the political fortunes of the AKP. It is for this reason that such a large-scale invasion is quite unlikely. Like Gareth Jenkins, I believe it is much more realistic that there will be narrowly-focused commando raids and aerial strikes, if anything at all. This approach ultimately represents the safer political course for Turkey's political leadership.


Russian Whispers and the PKK

Turkey has been the unequivocal star of this week's news agenda. Turkish cable news has featured a mindless stream of images featuring mortars being fired into the anonymous distance, well-equipped commando units waiting at attention, and other staged military exercises involving men with big guns and intimidating face paint. While Erdoğan and Gül are bathing in the warm light of nationalist sentiment generated by the recent deaths of soldiers and policemen, as well as the Armenian genocide legislation, it is the opinion of this observer that the current media and diplomatic buildup will amount to nothing more than the usual sabre-rattling. It would be surprising if future military actions amounted to something more than limited raids and aerial assaults. Full-scale invasions are expensive propositions and Turkey doesn't exactly have the financial resources of the United States or even Russia.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a comment that was rather surprising in light of his country's recent experience with full-scale invasions.
We urge all parties in the conflict to exercise maximum restraint and demonstrate the ability to assess the long-term effects of their actions, including those that might further aggravate the situation.
This comment seemed rather strange in light of the fact that Turkey's ordeal with the PKK is ultimately an issue of a minority ethnic group's will to politically separate. In many regards, Turkey's situation in northern Iraq and south-eastern Anatolia is analogous to Russia's debacle in Chechnya. Depending on one's point of point of view, the underdogs were either "freedom fighters" or "terrorists". Over the years, Russia has had its fingers burnt in a number of such blistering-hot pies ranging from Afghanistan to the northern Caucasus.

While there was some oil to be lost if Chechnya had successfully broken away, the main threat was the dismemberment of the very ethnically and regionally-complex puzzle that is the Russian Federation. This was especially a concern when Boris Yeltsin was proving rather incapable of running the show in Moscow. Vladimir Putin arguably reignited the disastrous campaign in Chechnya in order to rally the country around a single nationalist cause. Russian history is full of similar examples of the country's political leaders using the "foreign threat" to their political advantage. It would seem that Turkish politicians have often capitalized on the "PKK-threat" for this same purpose.

Clearly, Russia's voice concerning the PKK-issue is not as potent as it would be for an event related to Armenia or Central Asia. It is quite possible that Russia has already established certain economic ties with the Kurdish government in northern Iraq, which they do not want compromised. Vladimir Putin is apparently scheduled to visit Iran in the very near future. Hopefully, we will gain some greater clarity concerning this rather surprising statement at that time.


Pipeline Politics: Turkey's South Pars Project

Turkey and its state-owned oil company, TPAO, have made an uncharacteristically bold move in the theater of geopolitics. Despite intense political and financial pressure from the Bush administration, Turkey has taken a brave step forward, choosing to independently finance the $3.5bn necessary to initiate the South Pars natural gas development project in Iran. Turkey was unable to secure the outside financing, which is typical of a project of this scale, due to the recent American-led financial embargo on Iran.

Ankara apparently considers the strategic opportunity presented by the development of the South Pars fields as having sufficient long term value to outweigh the short term diplomatic turmoil, which will most likely ensue from this decision. From the prospective of this observer, the choice to independently pursue this opportunity should be strongly lauded for being very shrewd in both political and economic regards.

By disregarding Washington's warnings concerning any type of engagement with Iran, Ankara has tacitly communicated the obvious: President Bush is a lame duck. This blatant, yet well-calculated, act of defiance is a healthy gesture for Turkey as it tries to forge its own future as opposed to relying on heavy-weights like the US or hypothetically even the EU. If one considers this act along with Turkey's decision not to allow the US military to use Turkey as a northern invasion route for the second invasion of Iraq, it would seem that Turkey is no longer simply an acquiescent member of the Western/NATO camp. The Cold War is over and Turkey is very right to adjust its geopolitical posture accordingly.

In terms of its economic significance, the South Pars decision confirms the general consensus that Turkey's development of these natural gas fields will play a very important role in its future rapport with Europe. In particular, the supply of gas guaranteed by the project will further promote Turkey's goal to position itself as a critical energy transit corridor for Europe. Europe, like Turkey, currently depends on Russia for the majority of its natural gas needs. Once the flow of resources from South Pars join those energy resources already flowing from Central Asia, Turkey's pipeline network will emerge as a preferable alternative to Russia's divisive behavior regarding energy supply. (For further reading about Turkey's emerging role as an energy transport corridor, please read this Bosphorus Watch article from July.)

It is of course another matter whether the South Pars fields actually get developed by Turkey in the near future. Although this observer is not particularly convinced that there will be an invasion of Iran, a military conflict nonetheless represents one of a myriad of other factors, which could ultimately stall or even terminate the project. Chief among these factors would be the character of the current Iranian regime, which has shown its penchant for the unpredictable.

Another factor suggested by a a friend of mine, who is a Turkish businessmen, concerns the true intentions of Ankara. By demonstrating its ability to self-finance and independently cooperate with Iran, Ankara has gained a very valuable geopolitical bargaining chip with both the US and possibly even the likes of France. As my friend astutely pointed out, it is possible that Ankara has in fact no intention of actually realizing the Iranian project, but will instead use it to diplomatically extract certain equally valuable concessions from the West. Either way, South Pars is a win-win situation for the Turks.


Considering the Turkish Economy and the Conditions of its Success

The Turkish economy is currently moving at full throttle. Not since the privatization reforms of the venerable Turgut Özal has there been such a sustained stretch of economic progress. While the average Turk will point to the fact that unemployment, which probably unofficially hovers at 14-16%, remains a sizable dampener to overall well-being, a considerable cross-section of Turkish society would nonetheless agree that the country's economy is enjoying unprecedented prosperity.

Taxi drivers in Istanbul and even the heads of conglomerates
will tend to point to the same rationale for this long period of positive growth: the political stability experienced under the AK Party. There is little dispute that Turkey's current period of economic success correlates nicely with the starting date of the AKP's leadership of the Turkish political system. In a country that is accustomed to military coups, hyperinflation and dramatic terrorist attacks, the AKP's tenure has been quite serene by Turkish standards. This point was not lost on the AKP during the July parliamentary election and Abdullah Gül's subsequent successful bid for president. Many Turks voted for the AKP simply due to economic issues and not as a result of the party's much ballyhooed portfolio of social views.

These calm conditions have given foreign investors cause to increasingly reward Turkey with much needed sources of investment. Foreign capital inflows have been quite often directed toward the very large number of government assets, which the AKP has aggressively sought to privatize. The growth of exports have also played a prominent role in the country's economic resurgence. According to the head of the Turkish Congress of Exporters (TIM), Turkey's exports exceeded $100bln during the past 12 months for the first time in the country's history. Exports of automobiles took the lead, followed by clothing and textiles and steel-iron in a distance third.

The numbers would indeed seem to indicate that AK Party is doing something correct. However, "the numbers" only tell a small sliver of the entire story as is often the case. In addition to the AKP's adept management and calming presence, one must also consider certain other factors that have equally contributed to the situation.

There has been a great prevalence of "petrodollars" in the Middle East looking for "shariah-compliant" homes for investment. Under the unprecedented political auspices of the religiously conservative AKP, Turkey emerged as a much more viable option for this capital. In this regard, the Turkish economy of the AKP era has been a direct beneficiary of the oil-crazed world and its oil market. Second, the availability of inexpensive products from China has also had a great influence on the Turkish economy. In addition to increasing the buying power of the Turkish consumer, cheap Chinese products have so far been a benefit to the non-textile sectors of the Turkish economy. This has particularly been the case for the outsourcing of component parts, which are used for goods manufactured in Turkey.

All of this should be reconsidered in the increasingly gloomy shadows cast by the foreign trade deficit, which Turkey currently maintains. In addition to considerable spending in the public sector, Turkey's great affinity for imports is strongly driven by its energy consumption needs. While this situation is more palatable during periods of reliable foreign investment, the continued strength of such inflows is certainly ephemeral.

In the opinion of this observer, it is time for the AKP to stop riding on its somewhat false laurels concerning economic management. The AKP must instead use its strong political mandate to take the types of tough measures, which are necessary to cushion the Turkish economy's inevitable descent into more turbulent economic waters. If the AKP chooses not to take such steps, it will eventually find itself in equally hostile circumstances.


Turkey's Silence On Iran Question

During the past week, the global press has enjoyed a multimedia feast over the comments about Iran made by France's Foreign Affairs Minister, Bernard Kouchner. While these remarks were subsequently tempered by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, this week's exchange nonetheless underscores the increasing weight that the Iran-question currently receives in diplomatic and political circles outside of Washington.

The press in Turkey has also been following this story quite closely, which is only natural for a country that borders on the pariah-nation in question. What has particularly puzzled this observer is the general absence of Turkey's political elite in the overall international dialog related to Iran and its potential development of nuclear weapons. While there does seem to have been discussion between Ankara and Washington concerning the Bush Administration's view that Turkey should freeze all trade with Iran, there has been little proactive commentary about the Iranian issue on the behalf of Ankara. Such relative silence on the part of
Erdoğan and Gül would seem to be misguided for two main reasons.

Even a limited military attack on Iran would most likely have disastrous effects on the relatively fragile Turkish economy. In addition to losing its direct trade with Iran, the Turkish economy depends on increasing future levels of foreign investment in order continue its positive growth trends during the coming years. Needless to say, investors will be very reluctant to sink meaningful amounts of capital into Turkey if Iran is launching missiles through Turkish airspace as a retaliatory measure.

Moreover, the Turkish economy has come to rely on the flow of natural gas from Iran during the past two decades. A military action against the country would clearly necessitate the cessation of this supply and force Turkey to further rely on Russia for its energy needs.

The second important concern related to Ankara's silence is related to how Turkey views itself as a regional player. The now cliche reference to Turkey functioning as Europe's bridge to the Middle East and Asia would suggest that Turkey is consistently active in the affairs of the region. While Iran and Turkey do have very clear religious and cultural differences, the current drama in Iran would seem to be a perfect opportunity for Turkey to show the world its ability to act as a regional facilitator.

Although this observer does not believe in the practical value of "Camp David-style" political summits, which are meant to reconcile the differences between two foes through a series of photo opportunities, it would seem that Turkey could gain incredibly valuable recognition by demonstrating its ability to play such a role.

Instead, it appears that Turkey is content to remain in the shadows of the West instead of embracing this looming disaster as a potential diplomatic extravaganza. Such opportunities are few and far between. Turkey's unwillingness to seize the initiative in this scenario ultimately communicates a rather petty self-image in regard to its involvement in the region.


Considering Turkey's Transport System

A recent article in Zaman about the state of Turkey's highway system encouraged this observer to consider the current and future state of transportation in the Republic of Turkey. Visitors to Turkey will no doubt remark the ease with which the individual traveler can move from one part of the country to another. Turkey's private bus, dolmuş and taxi network arguably represents one of the most formidable achievements of the Turkish experiment with capitalism. The not so uncommon image of a sheep strapped to the roof of a dolmuş minibus underscores the importance of this network to the development of the domestic economy over the past decades.

As is the case in all countries, the suitability of logistics network is one of the keys to economic growth. In its position as an emerging market economy, Turkey is faced with the typical challenge of upgrading its logistics infrastructure in order to meet the criteria of foreign investors. The aforementioned bus, dolmuş and
taxi network is not particularly relevant to the logistic needs of modern industry.

The challenge of strengthening a country's logistics infrastructure has traditionally fallen on the back of the public sector. More recently, there has been a growing liberalization of state control over strategic assets. A deluge of worldwide private investment has ensued. Turkey's ruling AK Party has embraced this trend, having already sold off significant portions of Turkey's infrastructure portfolio. Most recently the port of Izmir was sold to Hong Kong-based Hutchison-Whampoa for $1.25 billion. Similarly, Germany's Fraport bought the operating rights to Antalya's airport for $3.2 billion. Although such sales inevitably arouse suspicion concerning whether the government received fair value, the fact remains that these infrastructure assets are better off in private hands in terms of the future investment that they will receive.

While seeking suitors for its existing assets, Turkey's government has turned its attention toward the development of the country's road system. In line with the seaports and airports, the government is trying to sell the management rights to the country's existing toll-roads and toll-bridges. This strategy of selling toll-road concessions is the key to Turkey's ability to afford the creation of new highways across the country. The construction of a highway linking Gebze-Orhangazi-Bursa-İzmir is already underway, and another such project linking Ankara with Izmir will most likely begin in 2008. When the AK Party took power in 2002, it aimed to build 15,000 kilometers of new roads. Roughly 4,000 kilometers have already been completed.

Like public works projects all over the world, the AK Party's program is not without its inequities. For example, the number of roads built in the region of Kayseri (770km), which is a traditional stronghold of the AKP, is greater than any other part of the country by more than 100 kilometers.

Beyond this type of age-old political dilemma, there exists the broader question of whether the AK Party's emphasis on roads is in fact prudent. Istanbul's traffic is already horrific and the construction of a system of wider roads elsewhere will only cause this phenomenon to spread to other locales. In light of the rising costs of petroleum of which Turkey has nearly none, this observer wonders if is truly wise to concentrate so much of the country's infrastructure investment on motorized transportation.

As it turns out, Turkey has a very long, albeit largely unfruitful, history of train transportation. British military activity in Egypt and Iraq during WWI was largely motivated by an urgent need to stop Germany's ambition to build a rail connection between Berlin and Baghdad via Anatolia. A subsequent effort by Ataturk to expand the country's rail network was cut short by the leader's death.

Therefore, the majority of Turkey's contemporary railroad network was built at the beginning of the 19th century by German engineers, who were paid by the kilometer. As a result, Turkey's rail routes are far from direct. A cross-country train voyage is not only dangerous, but it also takes an eternity. This state of affairs exists in stark contrast to the modern Mercedes coach buses and trucks, which can complete the same journey in half the time and twice the comfort, safety and reliability.

If Turkey is to improve the competitive position of its economy in the future, it ought to pay more attention to the realities of today's world. European governments are aggressively investing in linking together their rail infrastructures since they realize the economic benefits this will add to their increasingly integrated economies. Even America, which boasts the world's most impressive highway network, relies on its railways for a great deal of freight transportation. Initiatives like the Trans-Asian Railway Network are the future and are highly complimentary to Turkey's desires to function as a gateway between Europe and Asia.

Developments such as fast-train service connecting Istanbul to Ankara (and eventually Ankara with Konya) as well as the recent announcement of the reconstruction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad in the near future are encouraging although insufficient. To meet Turkey's future economic ambitions, laying new and reliable track would not only benefit interior Anatolia's highly agrarian economy, but it will also encourage more dynamic industrial development.

The construction of more roads possesses the short term benefit of helping the country's growing automobile industry as well as the pockets of its bus company tycoons. However, this decision would appear to have unfortunate consequences for the Turkish economy's long term competitive position.


Fortress Turkey: Turkey - Iraq Security Wall

The Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak, which is affiliated with the AK Parti, reported this week that the Turkish military plans to build a security fence that will span Turkey's border with northern Iraq. The planned fence, for which an anonymous source estimated a cost of $2.8 million, is meant to bolster Turkey's defenses against trans-border military activities sponsored by the PKK.

For additional information about the wall, please read the following article.

Throughout the spring and summer months of this year, the Turkish military has made much ado about a possible invasion of northern Iraq and most likely the Qandil region in particular. In terms of their rhetoric,
Büyükanıt and the rest of the military have taken a page from the "Bush Doctrine", arguing that the best defense is a good offense.

The building of a great Turkish security wall would be appear to be inconsistent with this philosophy. While the Israelis have consistently proven that the military usage of a wall does not restrict a military from frequent proactive or offensive operations, Turkey's wall will protect a much longer and less dense swath of territory. This observer wonders whether such a long fence will truly offer greater protection against PKK incursions originating from northern Iraq? Will security cameras and possibly even infrared equipment really tip the scales in favor of the Turkish military? If the Turkish military can't stop the PKK in the current environment of fluid trans-border movement, it seems unreasonable to think that a (seemingly inexpensive) $2.8 million fence will make much difference from a military standpoint.

Time will tell whether such talk concerning the creation of "Fortress Turkey" will indicate a shift in the Turkish approach to the PKK nuisance in northern Iraq. Talk of a Turkey invading northern Iraq will probably continue in the future, but the creation of a wall will certainly change the Turkish psyche
to a certain extent vis a vis the PKK .


Abdullah Gül's Upcoming Constitution Proposals: Looking at the Glass Half-Full

Now that the Turkish upper classes have returned from their sacred beach holidays and cool winds have at last prevailed on the torturous summer temperatures, Turkey watchers are settling in to observe what should prove to be a rather protracted debate. Turkey's man of the hour, Abdullah Gül, will drop his first bomb shell during the next few weeks. The country's secular elite is more than ready to sound the alarm while the ever enigmatic Turkish military bides its time in the shadows prepared to pounce at any moment.

The substance of this impending commotion will be directly related to Gül's plans to reform the Anayasa, which is Turkey's constitutional document. The spirit in which he plans on carrying out these reforms, as well as some of the particulars of his plan, has been neatly outlined an article from this weeks Economist.

Yet the 56-year-old former economist [Gül] hinted at a looser interpretation of Turkey's unique brand of secularism. Until now this has been defined by Ataturk's renunciation of Islamic symbols and rigid state control over all aspects of religious life. Secularism, said Mr Gul, was a precondition for “social peace” but also offered a model “for different lifestyles”. Some seized on his words as proof that he will support loosening restrictions on the headscarf and religious education.

As Mr Gul approved a new pro-EU cabinet this week, another clash loomed over a “civilian” constitution that Mr Erdogan proposes to adopt next year to replace the current text, written by the generals after their last coup in 1980. Draft clauses leaked to the media are nothing short of revolutionary: senior officers will no longer be immune from prosecution in civilian courts, military appeals courts will be scrapped, Kurdish will be taught as a second language in government schools and the definition of Turkishness will be expanded to embrace citizens from different backgrounds and creeds.
Almost all of the issues above strike at the heart of the national psyche and generally define the way any given Turkish citizen perceives their country. The idea of "social peace for different lifestyles" , whether they be ethnic or religious, is an extremely sensitive one. Particularly among pro-secular and prosperous segments of society, there exists a very strong conviction that there is a single secular, Turkish model by which all citizens of Turkey should abide. When the point is made that certain segments of the country's society, such as the Kurds, might have a different orientation toward "their country", a commonly heard refrain is that, "We are all Turkish people and there is no reason why we shouldn't live together in harmony."

From the perspective of this observer,
the idea of Gül's initiative to achieve legal tolerance for other lifestyles is extremely attractive in theory. Particularly in the realms of education and freedom for cultural expression (including language), there are many segments of Turkey's population, which are explicitly denied the types of opportunities that one takes for granted in Western Europe. Indeed, one could argue that if these segments of the population, which exercise alternative lifestyles or cultures, were not the victims of a political agenda, they would cease to represent such debilitating political issues.

For example, less than a decade ago it was legally forbidden to speak the Kurdish language in public. Did not the easing of this restriction help relations between Turkey and its largest ethnic minority? Would not the continuation of this trend as proposed by
Gül further augment the level of content felt by Turkey's Kurds?

Similarly, scholars have often wondered whether there is a correlation between the traditional campaign waged by the Turkish government against head scarves and the increasing numbers of Turkish women, who choose to wear head scarves as a political statement. Perhaps an easing on this issue would actually diminish the use of the head scarf as a political issue over the longer term.

These would all be positive developments if it is indeed the case that
Abdullah Gül's true intention is to make Turkey a more tolerant of its multiple cultures or "lifestyles". However, it remains to be seen whether his real agenda is in fact religious in nature; a near-term goal to make Ataturk's secular nation more tolerant of other persuasions in order to fulfill a long-term goal of becoming the next Iran.

Whatever the intentions of
Turkey's new president, it is the sincere hope of this observer that the Turkish military gives Gül the benefit of the doubt in the near-term at the very least. Anything short of such restraint by the military would make a further mockery of the institution of democracy in Turkey.


Pipeline Politics: Further Reading II

In its August 23rd print edition, The Economist magazine published an article, which echoes many of the same observations that were made in the July Bosphorus Watch piece entitled, "Turkey's Pipeline Politics: Russia, Iran, Greece, Italy".

To view The Economist article, please click here.

The Economist posits that Prime Minister Erdogan's effort to cultivate greater energy ties with Iran will help his country's chances to join the European Union in the future. It believes that Turkey's heightened role as an energy transportation corridor will only increase its strategic value to the EU.

While these energy developments will certainly not hurt Turkey's bid to join the EU, it seems unlikely that they will represent a deciding factor in the EU's admission process as The Economist might be suggesting.

Simple economic and geographic realities dictate that Europe is by far the most important and logical market for any energy supplies flowing through Turkey. This will be the case whether or not Turkey is eventually offered the opportunity to join the EU.

It is therefore the opinion of this observer that that the EU would not gain any meaningful, strategic energy advantage by drafting Turkey into its ranks. The lack of formalized political ties between the Republic of Turkey and the EU will not influence the realities that govern Turkey's future energy transportation business with Europe.

Azerbaijan - Iran Relations: Further Reading

In light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent state visit to Baku, Rovshan Ismayilov of Eurasianet.org has published an excellent article detailing the current state of relations between Iran and Azerbaijan.

Click here

In addition to Azerbaijan's close geopolitical ties with the United States, Iran is primarily concerned with Azerbaijan's territorial claims in the resource-rich Caspian Sea.


Turkey's Future in Central Asia

Discussions with Turkish citizens concerning topics related to the ethnic diversity of their country, such as the infamous "Kurdish problem", tend to return to the same idea: Turks and Kurds came from lands in Central Asia and settled in Anatolia along side ethnic Armenians, Greeks and Arabs. Due to manner in which it is depicted in their school books, ethnic Turks in Turkey have a rather romantic impression of their Central Asian Oğuz ancestry.

While ancestry plays an important role in anchoring Turkish interest in Central Asia, more contemporary interests related to economic and political influence have developed this relationship further. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkey's connection to its Turkic cousins in Central Asia was considerably limited due to the Soviet Union's suzerainty in these areas. When the fall of the Soviet Union opened the Turkic countries of Central Asia to outside influences, Turkey considered itself in a prime position to augment its influence in Eurasia.

Turkey's contemporary attempts to make inroads in Central Asian affairs peaked in the middle of the 1990s. Hoping to renew older attempts to forge Pan-
Turkism under the direction of the secular and western-oriented direction of Ankara, Turkey set out to promote new modes of cooperation in the Turkic world. Although Turkey was successful in realizing the adoption of Latin script in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, their efforts to create greater cultural, political and economic cooperation were stymied. Progress was made in Azerbaijan due to a shared antipathy for Armenia, but Turkey was unable to overcome the lingering obstacles related to the Soviet era in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Since meaningful progress was not made during this first post-Soviet attempt, the cause of Pan-Turkism seems to have been abandoned for the time being.

American military activities and the new Great Game to control the flow of Central Asia's energy resources have dominated the region's geopolitical headlines during the past decade. Compared to its political initiatives in Europe and along its southern borders, Turkey has not been particularly active in the east. Making deals to transport Central Asian energy through Turkey's system of pipelines represent the recent highlights of Ankara's dealings in Central Asia.

Foust of Registan.net recently wrote a piece about the future of Central Asian geopolitics entitled, "Iran and China Rise; Shall Russia and the U.S. Fade Away?" While his insights are all quite sound, it is remarkable how Foust does not feel it necessary to mention the possibility of Turkey playing a bigger role in Central Asia's geopolitics. When asked about this omission by this observer, Foust answered:
I certainly see Turkey trying (they’ve made a few weak stabs at it), but I don’t see how they can overcome the heft of Iran, Russia, China, the U.S., or the EU. The Turkic connection exists, but it’s also fairly weak, as you rightly said. There remains more cultural affinity for, depending on the country, China, Russia, or Iran—no one seems to want to announce Turkey as their best friend. Which, I think, is too bad. I would prefer Turkey to Russia or Iran or China any day.
It would seem that Turkey can not afford to continue this course of treading lightly in Central Asia. Central Asia simply has too much economic significance for Turkey's future. Although the United States currently protects Turkey's interests as a conduit for Central Asian energy, Turkey should not depend on this arrangement alone. While Ankara does not possess the same financial resources as Beijing or Moscow to back its policy in Central Asia, it will become more capable as the Turkish economy receives more foreign investment.

If Turkey does not pursue its interests in Central Asia more aggressively, it ultimately risks losing Central Asian energy to ports on the Persian Gulf and to pipelines built by Russia and China. Such a fate would significantly diminish Turkey's standing in the region.


Pipeline Politics: Further Reading

For further information concerning the transportation of natural resources in Eurasia, please refer to the article "Putin’s battle over Caspian energy resources and transport routes" in Turkey Financial. Click here.

This piece outlines Russia's energy strategy and competitive interests related to future pipeline development in the region. Its consideration of Chinese interests in Central Asia is also noteworthy.

In July 2007, The Bosphorus Watch featured its first article about Turkey's recent maneuverings concerning
pipeline politics in Eurasia.


Turkey - Iraq Security Cooperation against PKK

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki and Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan agreed on Tuesday to joint cooperation between Iraq and Turkey to combat PKK guerrilla activities in northern Iraq. The agreement represents yet another installment of an ongoing saga surrounding the Turkish military's growing frustration with pursuing PKK forces based in northern Iraq.

Over the course of the summer the Turkish military shelled positions inside the Iraqi border, causing a buzz among pundits concerning the possibility of a full-scale invasion. On July 30th, Robert Novak broke the news that the Turkish and the American military were preparing a joint operation meant to suppress PKK guerilla activites in the border areas. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's media outlet reported on August 6th that significant numbers of Turkish special forces are currently operating in Iraqi territory.

While Tuesday's agreement does have diplomatic significance for the relations between Iraq and Turkey, it is of little military significance in the eyes of this observer. The Iraqi military is a set of statistics in the minds of Pentagon bureaucracy. Middle East pundits are foolish to think that Iraqi cooperation will somehow improve Turkey's efforts to eradicate the PKK in Iraqi territory.
Moreoever, al-Maliki was not able to actually formalize Tuesday's agreement since he was required to seek approval from his parliament. Even if he does receive such approval, al-Maliki has had little success realizing such divisive initiatives through his country's fractured government. If anything, Tuesday's agreement coupled with the news of American military cooperation has merely paused the discussion in Turkey concerning the possibility of military actions in Iraq.

Turkey observers should also be cautioned for their tendency to hang onto every word expressed by Turkey's generals concerning an invasion of Iraq. A sustained and full-scale invasion of northern Iraq with its substantial border force would be a very expensive proposition. While Turkish forces would certainly inflict considerable damage on the PKK guerillas, it would seem very unlikely that an invasion would result in their total destruction. As the events of America's war in Iraq have shown, it seems likely that PKK forces would evade Turkish military incursions by slipping into neighboring Syria or Iran. Although these countries are by no means friends of the PKK, they have sporadically used the PKK as a destabilization tool against Turkey for almost two decades.

Finally, economic issues related to a Turkish assault on northern Iraq deserve greater consideration in the opinion of this observer. In his article entitled, "PKK Insurgency Grows as AK Party Renews Debate on Cross-Border Operations", Gareth Jenkins of the Jamestown Foundation refers to a series of pieces in the Turkish newspaper, Milliyet, which outline Turkey's growing economic presence in the Kurdish region of Iraq. To compromise the surplus of trade, jobs and investment opportunities that Turkey enjoys in northern Iraq would not appear to be prudent.

In addition, extensive Turkish military activities in the Kurdish areas of Iraq would certainly disrupt the ongoing positive economic trends experienced in the region. The certain cessation of foreign investment in the area governed by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), due to Turkish military operations in the region, would give the KRG reason to push for more autonomy and possibly the creation of a new Kurdish state. Such a scenario would certainly cause Ankara greater consternation than the current situation involving pesky PKK guerrillas based in northern Iraq.