Now Obama needs to pressure Turkey
March 27th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Now Obama needs to pressure Turkey

By Jonathan Schanzer and Emanuele Ottolenghi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S Department of the Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Emanuele Ottolenghi, author of ‘The Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,’ is a senior fellow. The views expressed are their own.

In a surprise development on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an apology to Turkish Prime Minister Yayyip Erdoğan over the ill-fated May 2010 flotilla conflict on the high seas between Israeli commandos and Turkish-backed activists seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The clashes left nine Turks dead. Erdoğan has been demanding an apology ever since, while ramping up his anti-Israel rhetoric – most recently, comparing Zionism with fascism. With relations at their nadir, the Israelis had nothing to lose by issuing this apology – Netanyahu's apology was clearly a concession to U.S. President Barack Obama, who just garnered a great deal of goodwill during his much-heralded trip to Israel.

But if Obama plays his cards right, he should make demands of Erdoğan, too. The relationship between the two men is already warm. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Obama has logged more phone calls to Erdogan than to any world leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron.” But the president has ignored the fact that Turkey has also become one of the more troubling epicenters of illicit financial activity.

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Topics: Iran • Turkey
How Turkey should respond to PKK overtures
March 26th, 2013
10:39 AM ET

How Turkey should respond to PKK overtures

By Fadi Hakura, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Fadi Hakura is associate fellow on the Europe Program at Chatham House. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Kurds are celebrating the arrival of spring amid hopes of a breakthrough between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government. Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s imprisoned leader, announced last week that he has negotiated with high-ranking intelligence officials a ceasefire and a vague promise of withdrawal of PKK militants to northern Iraq.

But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has cautiously welcomed the move, must be careful not to raise expectations too high.

He has, for a start, so far shown no willingness to countenance PKK demands for separate Kurdish schooling, devolution of substantive powers to local administrations and reform of the constitutional definition of citizenship. He has also steadfastly refused to contemplate a general amnesty to the PKK – unsurprising given the hostility of Turkish popular opinion to these demands.

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Topics: Turkey
February 6th, 2013
10:55 AM ET

Can Turkey seize the ‘Kurdish card’ for itself?

By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. His publications include the forthcoming book 'Turkey Rising: The 21st Century's First Muslim Power.' The views expressed are his own.

Turkey’s Syria policy now seems to have one goal: take down the al-Assad regime. With this in mind, Ankara has become actively involved in the Syrian uprising, supporting the opposition and allegedly allowing weapons to flow into Syria to help oust Bashar al-Assad. But not everyone vying for power in post-al-Assad Syria has welcomed Turkey’s helping hand.

Enter the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Ankara’s archenemy for decades. The PKK and its Syrian franchise, the Party for Democratic Unity (PYD), which holds sway over the Syrian Kurds, have recently secured parts of northern Syria adjacent to Turkey.  This suggests that when the al-Assad regime falls, Turkey will be confronted with PKK and PYD-run enclaves across from its border with Syria.

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Topics: Turkey
February 1st, 2013
05:12 PM ET

Ankara attack a sign of things to come?

By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN

Soner Cagaptay is a Beyer Family fellow at The Washington Institute and author of 'Turkey Rising: The 21st Century's First Muslim Power.' You  can follow him @sonercagaptay. The views expressed are his own.

Today’s attack against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara suggests Turkey’s radical leftist Marxist groups, as small as they might be, could be mobilizing against America.

Turkey’s political landscape continues to bear the vestiges of violent leftist movements from the 1970s, laden with deep-rooted Cold War-style anti-Americanism. These small but active movements have rallied against the deployment of U.S. and NATO Patriot missiles in southern Turkey, and are believed to have been behind a January 21 protest aimed at Patriot teams arriving in the port of Iskenderun.

Although such groups operate at the political margin, they could have an outsized impact. Iranian and Russian media have covered these incidents extensively, no doubt in order to feed into anti-NATO sentiment and to increase the political costs for Ankara supporting the Syrian opposition. Indeed, small Turkish Marxist groups could even emerge as nodes of broader opposition to Ankara’s effective policy of working to help oust the al-Assad regime.

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Topics: Middle East • Syria • Turkey
A new era for the Eastern Mediterranean?
January 21st, 2013
10:48 AM ET

A new era for the Eastern Mediterranean?

By Joseph Szyliowicz and Sigurd Neubauer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Joseph Szyliowicz is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. Sigurd Neubauer is a Washington, DC-based defense and foreign affairs specialist. The views expressed are their own.

Celebrating nearly a decade as Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed confidence in his 2011 election victory speech that newly emerging political actors across the Middle East would look to Ankara for leadership, revealing a clear ambition to establish his country as a preeminent power in the region. However, nearly fifteen months later, instead of achieving this goal, Turkey appears increasingly marginalized, lacking the ability to shape events even along its own southwestern border with Syria and Iraq. Indeed, Turkey’s “zero-problems” foreign policy has resulted in the aggravating of its relations with Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Moreover, as the Syrian crisis lingers into its second year, President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled Alawite regime struggles to contain a rapidly increasing Sunni insurgency, and a particularly serious toll has been taken on Turkey as policy stirs domestic violence and dissent. It has also had to accommodate approximately 200,000 refugees who have crossed the border for shelter against successive Syrian air strikes.

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Topics: Turkey
December 28th, 2012
05:48 PM ET

Erdogan's troubling shift toward repression

By Mehmet Yuksel, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mehmet Yuksel is the BDP representative in Washington, DC. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Many U.S. officials still consider Turkey a model for the Middle East, crediting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with ushering in reforms that have excised the presence of the Turkish military from the political sphere. They are wrong. Erdoğan’s recent treatment of political opposition suggest that rather than democratize Turkey, he is instead following the model employed by Vladimir Putin in Russia or Mohamed Morsy in Egypt.

Erdoğan entered office promising a new approach on the Kurdish issue, a topic which the predominantly Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] holds dear. But his outreach was insincere. On September 5, 2012, he demanded the judiciary investigate BDP members of parliament, and called for the AKP to use its supermajority to strip parliamentary immunity from 10 BDP members of parliament. Security forces and Erdoğan’s backers interpreted his remarks as open season on the BDP. Even sitting BDP members of parliament faced police abuse and attacks. The irony is that all cases against the BDP boil down to political dissent, whereas the several dozen cases pending against not only AKP deputies but also Erdoğan himself are over corruption and fraud.

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Topics: Turkey
Turkey in 2013: Will Erdogan shake up the region?
December 28th, 2012
02:16 PM ET

Turkey in 2013: Will Erdogan shake up the region?

By Güneş Murat Tezcür, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Güneş Murat Tezcür is an associate professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

It has been a decade since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey, and its achievements are certainly noteworthy. Since experiencing its worst economic crisis in recent history in 2001, Turkey has achieved sustainable, high growth rates. The AKP’s foreign policy, meanwhile, has been characterized by increasing activism, contributing to Turkey’s image as a rising regional power. The AKP has also dismantled the power of the military and judiciary, forces that frequently intervened in electoral politics. With the advent of the Arab uprisings, Turkey has promoted itself as a role model that combines democratic rule with Muslim piety.

Yet, the AKP democratizing agenda that was initially triggered by the EU accession process has gradually lost steam. As the AKP has consolidated its power, it has lost its appetite for addressing the demands of historically marginalized groups such as the Kurds and Alevis. Another casualty of the AKP’s overconfidence has been press freedom. In Reporters Without Borders’s Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranked 103th out of 173 countries in 2008. Now it is ranked 148th out of 179.

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Topics: 2013: What's Next? • Turkey
December 4th, 2012
10:59 AM ET

Putin’s visit rekindles the Russia-Turkey affair

By Dimitar Bechev, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Dimitar Bechev is a senior policy fellow and head of the Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.

Are Turkey and Russia still friends? This is the question analysts are mulling as Russian President Vladimir Putin completes his visit to Ankara. Critics of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan are often heard fretting about “Putinization” in Turkey, but is the Russian leader a welcome guest in a country that is now the principal supporter of the Syrian opposition?

The answer, I would argue, is a cautious yes.

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Topics: Russia • Turkey
Turkey needs to change course over own insurgency
November 9th, 2012
03:30 PM ET

Turkey needs to change course over own insurgency

By Hugh Pope, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Hugh Pope is International Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus project director and the co-author of Turkey Unveiled: a history of modern Turkey.

Amid the many challenges thrown up for Turkey by the worsening civil war in Syria is the way it adds fuel to the flames of Ankara’s domestic conflict with insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Clashes have worsened dramatically in Turkey’s southeast over the past year. A PKK-affiliated group is now dominant in Kurdish areas along northern Syria’s Turkish borders. And Turkey is accusing Syria of resuming its previous support for the banned group, listed as a terrorist organization.

But it is important for Turkey to face the fact that the Syrian connection is merely a symptom of its most important internal problem. A U.S. Patriot missile shield along the Turkey-Syria border, as suggested by the Turkish government this week, is not going to be much help against the PKK. The real test for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to find a way to use the current turmoil to perform a U-turn to escape from the failed PKK/Kurdish policies of his government in the past 18 months.

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
Turkey's 'inkblot' test
October 24th, 2012
05:22 PM ET

Turkey's 'inkblot' test

By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find his other posts here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

Ankara is struggling to accommodate the tide of Syrian refugees looking to enter Turkey.   As of this month, there were more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in the country, a number that Turkey has already declared as the “psychological limit” in terms of the number it can host. Ankara can also be expected to try to accommodate many refugees on the Syrian side of the border. Indeed, without apparent interference from the Syrian government, temporary zones are already forming like inkblots across the national boundary from Turkey into Syria.  But can Turkey cope?

The refugee influx poses potential security concerns for Turkey, not least because of the potential for armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members in Syria to use this as an opportunity to cross into Turkey. As a result, Ankara has already temporarily closed some of its border crossings and increased security controls for refugees fleeing across the border.  This has translated to increased waiting times for entry, which has in turn only added to the back-log of refugees on the Syrian side of the border.

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Topics: Middle East • Syria • Turkey
August 23rd, 2012
12:18 PM ET

A tough liberation for Syria’s Kurds

By Maria Fantappie, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Maria Fantappie is a Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. The views expressed are her own.

While the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are determined to hold onto Aleppo, they’ve already reportedly abandoned some of their positions north of the city, in Syria’s Kurdish populated regions. Yet the retreat of Syrian troops may not bring the liberation that Syrian Kurds have long desired. Now more than ever, Syrian Kurds are caught between the ambitions of their fellow Kurdish parties in neighboring Iraq and Turkey, and the strategies of a Syrian regime struggling to survive.

Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) controls most of Syria’s Kurdish populated areas under the mantle of its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan hold the reins of Syrian Kurdish politics, specifically, 15 Syrian-Kurdish parties under the umbrella of the Kurdish National Council (KNC). While the PKK aims to turn Kurdish Syria into a strategic front to combat Turkey, Iraqi Kurds plan the foundation a Kurdish Syrian region under their sway. But even if the regime falls, Syrian Kurds might have a long road ahead to secure their own freedom.

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Topics: Middle East • Turkey
August 22nd, 2012
04:17 PM ET

Turkey’s Syria split

By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find his other posts here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

Following this week’s suicide bombing in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Turkey’s government has hinted at Syrian complicity in the attacks, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu noting, for example, parallels between the bombing and the Syrian regime’s tactics.

Such a mindset brings Turkey a step closer to taking action against Damascus. Yet despite such comments, the country is far from united around a policy for taking down Bashar al-Assad’s regime anytime soon. These domestic differences have some interesting echoes from almost a decade ago, when Turkey was torn over involvement in another conflict – the Iraq war.

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
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