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turkey & the middle east

Wednesday 25 May, 2011

The Niagara Foundation invited us to lunch to listen to Kerim Balci, Journalist & Chief Executive Editor of Turkish Review, talk about TURKEY AND THE RESTRUCTURING OF THE MIDDLE EASTERN REGIMES.  Turkey is changing.   9/11 marked the beginning of the 21st century with the death of liberal capitalism & a return of Islam to history.  World War I took hope from the Muslim world.  Change is now accelerating, as Tunisia’s leader left in 3 days, much to the surprise of protestors there.

In Turkey, the Justice & Development Party has more potential to contribute to change.  They’ve set new policy objectives, such as the “No problems with neighbors” policy, which the EU mandated as a condition to apply for membership.  Historically Turks were educated to believe that they were surrounded by enemies in Greece & Bulgaria, & other nearby countries differ in religions, Iraq’s Kurds & Iran’s Sunni’s vs. Turkey’s Shia.  Turks were led to believe that the world was against them & that they have no friends, so there was no cooperation with anyone.  It bred a fear of an us vs. them mentality.  His daughter is now Facebook-educated, so her generation knows that they have plenty of friends, on Facebook & elsewhere.

Social mobilization occurred horizontally & vertically in Turkey.  Rural populations moved to urban areas in the 1980’s & this changed their understanding of the world.  The periphery moved to the center as villagers moved to the cities, which changed the perception of what Turkey can do.  They entered productive dialogues with the Greeks.  In 1998 Turkey almost went to war with Syria, but is now in a common market with them that’s growing.  The EU was the best peace project in history.

Turkey has turned into a moderator & bridge-maker between east & west as there has been an axis shift from west to east.  They won’t leave the west because it’s attractive to the Muslim world.  Support for EU membership is higher in Kurdish Iraq than it is in Turkey.  EU allies are less willing to accept Turkey, but that”s OK because the EU is sick financially & socially.  Turkey will be the biggest economy in the EU if it enters the EU by 2050.  Turkey has good relations with the Middle East, India, & China, which gives it more bargaining power with the EU.

The current regime made 2 major mistakes lately:

  1. it’s decision to abstain on the nuclear issues in Iran
  2. Arab states need Turkey to talk with Israel.  They don’t trust Americans & Turkey can talk to both.  As moderator, Turkey needs to talk with all sides.

Q&A

  • Turks don’t use the term Ottoman empire, which is simply an ethnic identification. It was more of a multinational alliance. Turkishness became a creation years later & they’ve lost the feeling of belonging for an identity.  Turks were not even in the majority of the Ottoman regime.
  • Turkey’s decision to not allow the Americans to enter Iraq from the north reflected the national sentiment.  A closed vote was taken twice & rejected.  There were domestic incompatibility & capacity issues as they did good without knowing it after seeing the results.  In the Arab view, March 1 is the day American imperialism was resisted.  They are hopeful that the Arab Spring will flow into central Asia, but legitimacy is lost when western powers bomb opponents in those areas.
  • Egypt is in an embryonic stage of democracy.  As bridge-maker between east & west, they were 1 step ahead of the Oslo negotiations between Israel & Syria.  Turkish multi-party democracy is a good example to follow while single party bureaucracies must change so that governments can govern.
  • The Arab world can learn from Turkey’s mistakes.  There is no new world order; it’s a new human order.  Turkey has been active in Ireland moderation between the Catholics & Protestants.
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