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Turkey: Between the Iranian-Syrian Axis, Israel, and the West

 
Filed under: Iran, Israel, Radical Islam, Syria, Turkey
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 7, No. 21    November 20, 2007

  • In the 2002 elections in Turkey, the Justice and Development party came to power with 34 percent of the vote. On July 22, 2007, the Turkish people gave the Justice and Development party 46.7 percent. The Justice and Development party has decided to write a new Turkish constitution that includes lifting the ban on the turban, which is viewed by the majority of Turkish society as a political symbol.
  • A few years ago the major mobile phone carrier, Turkcell, was chosen in a major tender as a carrier for Iran, jointly with the Iranian government. Turkcell went through all the stages, and as they were going to merge the system with their local Iranian partners, the Iranian parliament stopped the joint venture, out of the blue. Millions of dollars were wasted as a result.
  • We in Turkey are more afraid of Iran being successful in Iraq than we are of Iran launching missiles at Turkey. Having an Iranian-influenced Iraq on our border is the more immediate problem. However, three hours after the September 6 incident involving Israel and Syria, the  Iranian government sent a warning to Turkey saying that if it was involved in support of Israel and the United States, Turkey would not get away unscathed.
  • Iran is not exporting its Shi’ism into Turkey, but it is exporting radical Islam into Turkey, feeding it to the Sunni population.
  • In 1999 after a major earthquake in Turkey, Israel was the first nation to come to the rescue. They were looked upon as angels and heroes by the victims of the earthquake and they saved many lives. This has really touched the hearts of the Turkish people. We should build on this positive relationship.

 

Rise of the Justice and Development Party

In the 2002 elections in Turkey, the Justice and Development party came to power with 34 percent of the vote and a good majority in parliament. On July 22, 2007, the Turkish people voted again for the Justice and Development party, which this time received 46.7 percent of the vote, though it lost some seats in parliament due to the entry of a third party.

During its first 4 1/2 years the Justice and Development government was very successful, especially emerging from an economic crisis that began in 2001. The government has maintained economic stability, working jointly with the IMF. Due to their economic record, the Turkish people decided to vote for them one more time.

The Justice and Development party today has decided to write a new Turkish constitution, saying the existing constitution was written by the military and people who were chosen by the military commanders. Therefore, they are claiming to support the writing of a Turkish civil constitution. This has a lot of support in Turkey from the business world, from the NGOs, from the labor unions, from all walks of life. However, the party has also decided to include a number of questionable items in the new constitution, such as lifting the ban on the turban, which is forbidden in Turkish universities. Lifting the ban on the turban at universities began raising eyebrows. The majority of Turkish society views the turban as a political symbol.

 

Turkish Relations with Syria

Turkey’s relations with Syria have always been quite unsettled, due to the fact that Syria was the home of the Kurdish PKK terrorists until 1999. Then a Turkish military commander, Chief of the Turkish Land Forces Gen. Atilla Ates, went to the Syrian border and said, “You either deliver the terror group and its leader to us or we are coming in to get them.” The leader of the terror group was captured and is in jail in Turkey today. Is there still a territorial dispute between Syria and Turkey? According to the Syrians, there is, but according to Turkey, there isn’t. When compared to Syria, Turkey sees Israel and the U.S. as its reliable allies.

 

Turkish Relations with Iran

There have been fears of Iran exporting radical Islam into Turkey in the past, but on July 26, 2007, the Turkish Minister of Energy signed an agreement with the Iranian government to transport natural gas from Iran to Turkey.

Economic relations between Turkey and Iran are not always smooth. A few years ago the major mobile phone carrier, Turkcell, was chosen in a major tender as a carrier for Iran, jointly with the Iranian government. Turkcell went through all the stages, and as they were going to merge the system with their local Iranian partners, the Iranian parliament stopped the joint venture, out of the blue. Millions of dollars were wasted as a result. Something very similar happened to a major airport logistics company in Turkey, Akfen Holding, which was chosen by the Iranians to operate the Teheran airport. Just before they started operations, the Iranian parliament failed to confirm the joint venture and, again, a lot of money was wasted.

We in Turkey are more afraid of Iran being successful in Iraq than we are of Iran launching missiles at Turkey. This is because having an Iranian-influenced Iraq on our border is the more immediate problem. Therefore, from the Turkish perspective, we must first prevent Iran from coming into Iraq, and then we can deal with Iran itself. This is the basic thinking of the Turkish people. However, three hours after the September 6 incident involving Israel and Syria, the  Iranian government sent a warning to Turkey saying that if it was involved in support of Israel and the United States, Turkey would not get away unscathed.

 

Turkey and Israel

In 1999 after a major earthquake in Turkey, Israel was the first nation to come to the rescue. They were looked upon as angels and heroes by the victims of the earthquake and they saved many lives. This has really touched the hearts of the Turkish people. We should build on this positive relationship.

Turkey is becoming an energy corridor between the East and the West, and we foresee building pipelines between Turkey and Israel for water and natural gas. One day, the existing oil pipeline between Turkey and Iraq may be extended to Israel as well.

There is a perception in certain circles in Turkey of a conspiracy: that Israel tends to prefer its new friends, the Kurds, to its old friends, the Turks. But Turks are doing business in Northern Iraq and this is in the best interests of Israelis, Turks, and Kurds, to live in peace. A lot of Turkish businesses are operating in northern Iraq and have been doing so since 1990.

 

The Armenian Issue

The American Jewish lobby has always been on Turkey’s side in the American Congress, especially on the issue of blocking the Armenian genocide allegations. A sudden change has led to disappointment in Turkey. However, I think Turkey and Israel and the American Jewish community today have more important matters to look into and cooperate on rather than talk about allegations from 1915.

Our task is to cooperate today for today and tomorrow, and not to discuss what happened in 1915. Just leaving it to the interpretation of historians will suit us fine for the time being. This is not the time to talk about the Armenian genocide when we have issues like Iran going nuclear, chaos in Iraq, radical Islamism and terror, and Turkish children dying from PKK terror every day. Maybe in a few years we can get back to the issue of whether this was a genocide or not, but we must now put it aside. Furthermore, the allegations are stemming from some in the Armenian diaspora who have been making a living on these allegations since 1952 when Turkey joined NATO. Therefore, the allegations have become more of an issue of lobbying rather than dealing with the facts.


Turks Unaware of Sunni-Shi’ite Division

Until the recent clashes between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, the average Turk was not very knowledgeable about the separate sects among the Islamic nation. Most Turks are Sunnis as is the government, and they are not familiar with the separation of Sunnis and Shi’ites. In Turkey, the only significant minority are the Alevis, who accept some Shi’ite beliefs but would not describe themselves as Shi’ites. Who is an Alevi and who is a Sunni was never an issue until after 2000. The previous administration of the Justice and Development party had no Alevis among them, but this time they corrected this by putting Alevis on the ballot as candidates. Iran is not exporting its Shi’ism into Turkey, but it is exporting radical Islam into Turkey, feeding it to the Sunni population. The Iranians have no bonds or communication with the Turkish Alevis.

Some EU politicians tell us we have to recognize the Armenian genocide, and that Turkey should give a little bit of its territory to all these other nations too. First, the Europeans should deal with the issue of Cyprus before they say anything to Turkey. Second, I will vote against Turkey joining the EU. I would vote for Turkey being a member of the customs union. Trade volume between Turkey and the EU is obviously great. But I’m not sure about the idea of joining the EU.

I personally do not see a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli situation unless Israel’s borders are secure and the children of Israel live in peace as well as the children of Palestinians. In addition, I do not take it upon myself as a citizen of Turkey to help the Palestinians when they’ve got closer brothers like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.

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Ms. Aydan Kodaloglu is a former advisor to the President of Turkey, Turgut Ozal, and has been actively involved in U.S.-Turkish and Israeli-Turkish relations. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on her presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on September 25, 2007.