on the silk road


Gaza a Tool for Turkey’s Great Game in Middle East

Prime Minister Erdogan gets a heroes welcome at the Istanbul Ataturk airport.

BY ALLEN YEKIKAN

For some time now, Turkey has been posturing for a more influential role in the geopolitics of its region, step by step working to recreate the Ottoman Legacy by mediating conflicts in the Middle East and establishing footholds in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

To advance its image among the Arab world and carve for itself a new and larger role in the region, Turkey has taken up the mantle of the Palestinian Cause, damning Israel at every turn for its human rights violations in Gaza.

Until recently Turkey had, by and large, tried to portray itself as a neutral arbiter of peace between Israel and Hamas, ostensibly working for the interests of regional stability. Lately, however, Turkey has taken a sharp turn from its previous position, accusing Israel of war crimes and using it to bolster its already strong diplomatic position in the region.

The latest and harshest jab at Israel’s dismal human right’s record by Turkey came Thursday when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed at the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, during a televised panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Erodgan blasted the Israeli President with a lengthy and prepared condemnation for his government’s inhumanity.

“I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it is not humanitarian,” Erdogan said, responding to a lengthy monologue by Peres defending Israel’s operations in Gaza. “You know very well how to kill people.”

Erdogan’s harsh criticism at Davos follows weeks of similar denunciations in which he has accused Israel of “savagery”  and “crimes against humanity.” Many analysts are predicting Erdogan’s verbal jabs have strained relations between Turkey and Israel, two countries who have close diplomatic and military ties and a long history of working together to lobby the US government against recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Sure enough, the influential American Jewish Committee slammed Erdogan on Friday for his remarks, saying his behavior was “a public disgrace that may well encourage further outrages against Israel and Jews.”

Earlier, on January 23, five major Jewish organizations called on the Turkish prime minister to “urgently address” the wave of anti-Semitism in his country manifesting through anti-israel protests. The organizations warned that Turkey’s recent condemnation of Israel will make it difficult to continue supporting Turkey’s attempts to prevent US recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the US congress.

But while some analysts predict that Turkey may have torpedoed its strategic alliance with Israel and thus the west, as well as burned its bridges with its allies in the Israeli Lobby, others see Turkey’s geopolitical position as having actually benefited from its harsh criticism of Israel.

“Turkey’s international profile has risen as a result of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of Israel in the wake of the conflict in Gaza,” said Stratfor, a Texas based Private Intelligence agency. “Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party are making use of the Gaza crisis to further their goals of reasserting Turkey’s leadership of the Arab Middle East, and of the wider Muslim world.”

With a seat on the UN Security and a lock on the regions energy supply, Turkey is begining to weild the same crafty politics that built the Ottoman Empire, using the shrewed diplomacy of the Sultans to exploit the vacuum being left in the region by the slowly departing US Army.

On the international level, Erdogan’s condemnation of Israel may harm Turkish foreign policy positions, but in the streets of the Arab world Erdogan is becoming a ‘new Nasser’,” The Jamestown analysis noted, adding that a Turkish TV channel has reported Palestinians are planning to organize rallies after Friday prayers to show their appreciation for Erdogan’s comments.

According to Stratfor, Erdogan is “gaining tremendous respect and appreciation” in the Arab world for his recent condemnations of Israel, especially “at a time when the Arab masses perceive their leaders as either actively supporting Israel or at least doing nothing to stop it.”

With its continued survival dependent on Muslim divisivness, Israel would not be keen on having to deal with a Middle East united behind Turkey against Israel.  Peres was quick to nip any speculation Friday that Turkish-Israeli relations had tanked, saying that Turkey is an ally and that the public argument with Erdogan at the World Economic Forum will neither affect the relationship between Israel and Turkey nor between Peres and Erdogan, The Associated Press reported.

Aside from the diplomatic gambit this move may have given Turkey in its dealings with the regional players, Erdogan seems to also have benefited domestically as well, arriving in Turkey Friday to a hero’s welcome from thousands of Turks gathered at Istanbul’s Atatruk Airport waving Palestinian and Turkish flags while chanting slogans in support of the prime minister. Banners proclaimed Erdogan the “delegate of the oppressed.”  The passions, the New York Times reported Friday, reflected widespread anger about the Gaza war spreading throughoutTurkey, a secular nation whose population is mostly Muslim.

“I only know that I’m responsible for protecting the honor of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish nation from A to Z,” Erdogan was quoted by the Times as saying as he returned to Istanbul in the early hours of Friday. “I am not a leader of a tribe. I am the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey. I do whatever I need to, so I did it, and will continue to do so. This is my character. This is my identity.”

Where Turkish-Israeli relations will go from here is unknown, according to the Jamestown Foundation, which said Friday that Erdogan’s risky move in Davos has made him a hero to Turkey’s masses, assuring him “victory in the municipal elections in March.”

According to Hurriyet, it has been revealed that the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to arrive in Turkey on Feb. 7 at Ankara’s request. No further details have been made clear.

Turkey occupies some of the most valuable real estate on the planet, according to Stratfor. “It sits astride the land routes connecting Europe, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East–not to mention the straits connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean,” a January 30 report by the intelligence agency said. “It is the only country in the world that is positioned to project influence readily into all of these regions.”

“Any time in human history that the Anatolian Peninsula has not been a leading force in geopolitics has been an aberration,” Stratfor aptly noted in its analysis. “And although the direction of its movement remains up for debate, Turkey–after more than 90 years of quiescence–is moving again.”

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Armenian Apology Causes Brawl in Turkish Parliament

Turkish politicians from the Republican People’s Party and the ruling Ak Party fight during a debate last May in the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

Turkish politicians from the Republican People’s Party and the ruling Ak Party fight during a debate last May in the Turkish parliament in Ankara.

Asbarez.com is reporting that a Turkish parliament member’s request Sunday that the legislature apologize to Armenians for the “events of 1915” has caused an uproar in parliament, with members hurling personal insults at one another.

Democratic Society Party (DTP) member Osman Euzcelik brought the matter up during parliament’s discussion of the education ministry budget and went on to recall the Armenian massacres by using the Kurdish word that describes Genocide.

The remarks prompted a member of the ruling AKP party to walk toward DTP members and begin screaming at his fellow parliamentarians. Another parliament member intervened to stop what could have become a physical altercation.

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US warns Turkey over energy deal with Iran
August 15, 2008, 5:39 am
Filed under: The Silk Road, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

From the Financial Times

By Andrew Ward in Washington and Alex Barker in Ankara

The US on Wednesday warned Turkey not to strike an energy deal with Iran that undermined diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran’s nuclear programme, on the eve of a visit to Ankara by Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president.

A deal to increase Iranian natural gas supplies to Turkey is expected to form the centrepiece of the visit, giving Mr Ahmadi-Nejad a much-needed diplomatic boost as he attempts to defy pressure to isolate Iran.

The US state department said it expected Ankara to avoid a deal that would harm diplomatic efforts but made clear its opposition to any agreement that eased pressure on Tehran.

“Such a deal by Turkey with Iran would send the wrong message at a time when the Iranian regime has repeatedly failed to comply with its UN Security Council and IAEA obligations,” the state department said.

The meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, marks Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s first bilateral visit to a Nato member. Mr Erdogan is seeking to strengthen energy ties with Tehran, step up co-operation against Kurdish separatists and intensify Turkey’s efforts to defuse the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The centrepiece of the visit is likely to be progress on an energy initiative that Ankara and Tehran launched last year. That could see a deal signed to increase Iranian natural gas supply and set rates for the transportation of Turkmen gas across Iran.

The US state department said Washington was opposed to any country deepening economic ties with Tehran. “This is not the time to do business with Iran,” it said.

“It is time for the international community, including our ally Turkey, to begin considering additional measures to pressure Iran.”

Ankara and Tehran have good relations, particularly where interests on energy and tackling Kurdish militant groups overlap.

But the standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has tested the relationship. Turkey wants to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon but is concerned about the risk of military confrontation.

“Increased tensions between Iran and the US will put Turkey in a very awkward position,” Ihsan Dagi, professor at Middle Eastern Technical University, said. “After the Iraq war, [Turkey] learned it could no longer remain indifferent to regional developments.”

One western diplomat welcomed Ankara’s “useful” engagement over Iran’s nuclear programme but said Iran “has yet to request that Turkey acts as a formal mediator”.

Turkey, which is reliant on energy imports, is keen to diversify its supplies and establish itself as a hub between Europe and the energy rich nations to its east.

Washington and some EU states have expressed deep concerns over its energy ties to Iran, which pave the way for Iranian and Turkmen gas to be transported to Europe via the planned Nabuko pipeline from eastern Turkey to Austria.



Erdogan Travels to Russia, Georgia for Talks

From Asbarez

ANKARA (Combined Sources)–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a visit to Russia and Georgia for talks over the conflict between the two countries, a statement from his press office said on Wednesday.

It said that he will meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow later Wednesday and with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on Thursday.

“We believe the prime minister’s trips to Moscow and Tbilisi will contribute to securing a climate of sustainable peace and stability in the region,” the statement said.

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“Fire in Neighbor’s House” has Turkey on Edge
August 13, 2008, 1:41 am
Filed under: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Asbarez Reports that the conflict between Russia and Georgia threatens to undermine NATO member Turkey’s ambitions to become an energy hub and could exacerbate misgivings among EU states about expanding the bloc right up to the Caucasus.

The fighting over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which has unsettled oil markets, is another reminder that Turkey, a country that wants to join the European Union, sits in a volatile region bordering Iran, Syria, Iraq and former Soviet republics.

With no energy resources of its own, Turkey has worked hard to become a transit route for Caspian and Central Asian oil and gas exports as Europe tries to reduce its dependence on Russia.

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Turkey Walks Tightrope Over Iran Ties

Asbarez reports that a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Turkey on Thursday reflects a desire by the NATO member to remain on good terms with an unpredictable neighbor and secure future energy needs.

President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have come under criticism at home and abroad for inviting Ahmadinejad, a visit that marks a diplomatic coup for the firebrand leader who has been shunned by European countries.

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Gul Calls For Caucasus Union, Says ‘Essential’ for Peace in Region

Asbarez Reports ANKARA that Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul Tuesday echoed calls by his Prime Minister for the creation of a Caucasian Union, which he said would be essential for preventing the outbreak of future conflicts in the region.

Gul’s remarks come as Georgia is embroiled in an intense conflict with Russia that began after Georgian forces launched a surprise offensive in the breakaway territory of South Ossetia last Friday. The Georgian attack has resulted in the deaths of at least 1,600 people, most of whom were Russian citizens. It also attack triggered a Russian response that culminated in Russian forces seizing several key towns and a military bases deep in western Georgia on Monday.

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