Will Turkey force Obama's hand on Syria?
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walks with President Obama after a bilateral meeting in March.
June 14th, 2012
09:23 AM ET

Will Turkey force Obama's hand on Syria?

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

By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN

Washington’s ties with Ankara have improved significantly in recent years thanks to a personal relationship between President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two leaders have been in frequent contact, building a rapport that has translated into closer Turkish support for the U.S., including Ankara’s 2011 decision to participate in NATO’s crucial missile defense project.

Yet a crisis could be waiting in Syria.

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Topics: Politics • Syria • Turkey
Turkey, Israel: Potential for a fresh start?
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
May 31st, 2012
08:23 AM ET

Turkey, Israel: Potential for a fresh start?

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. Tyler Evans is a research assistant at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay and Tyler Evans.

By Soner Cagaptay and Tyler Evans, Special to CNN

Soner Cagaptay

Thursday marks the two-year anniversary of the 2010 flotilla incident, a crisis on the high seas that triggered a tailspin in Turkish-Israeli relations.

In the aftermath of the incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador and demanded an apology from Israel as well as reparations for the nine slain activists. Ankara even announced that its warships would escort future missions to Gaza.

Attempts to mend fences have stalled over the issue of an Israeli apology. With Turkey willing to accept nothing less than a full apology, and Israel for the moment unwilling to accommodate this demand, the two sides seem to be at an impasse.

Yet below the surface, not all is grim in Turkish-Israeli relations. Remarkably, economic ties have been flourishing between the two countries.

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Topics: Israel • Turkey
What drives Turkey's new Syria stance? A fear of two Kurdistans
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in February that his country stands by the Syrian people, not the regime.
May 23rd, 2012
12:45 PM ET

What drives Turkey's new Syria stance? A fear of two Kurdistans

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN

When the Syrian uprising began last spring, Turkey initially stayed behind Washington. It shied away from criticizing the regime of Bashar al-Assad, instead asking al-Assad to reform.

When Damascus refused, however, Ankara moved ahead of Washington, taking an aggressive posture against al-Assad and suggesting it was ready to take action to force him to step down.

Recently, though, Ankara has backpedaled, abandoning its aggression and sliding back toward Washington’s position. With this, Turkey has entered the third phase of its Syrian policy, falling nearly in line with Washington’s policy of “wait and see and hope for an orderly transition — for now.”

What could explain Turkey’s new posture? Many factors come to mind, from the fear of getting bogged down in a war with a neighboring country to being left alone to fight al-Assad. But one key factor is its fear of two Kurdistans.

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
May 3rd, 2012
03:48 PM ET

Flooding out terror? Turkey’s Ilisu dam project

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow and Altay Sedat Otun is a research intern at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

By Soner Cagaptay and Altay Sedat Otun - Special to CNN

You may have heard of dams being built for water management purposes or electricity production, but probably not one being built for counter-terrorism purposes. Turkey’s proposed Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River would satisfy just that end.

When Ankara completes the proposed construction on the dam in 2013, a large artificial reservoir would flood canyons across the rugged terrain of southeastern Turkey, thus effectively flooding out the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) from the area and scoring a rare “hydro-victory” against terrorism.

The Ilisu Dam project is part of the government-funded Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which traces its origins to the early days of the Turkish republic when plans to utilize the Euphrates and Tigris rivers for energy generation and irrigation were first developed. However, GAP it still awaiting completion. Major fighting between the PKK and the Turkish military has prevented completion of the project since the 1990s. FULL POST

Kemalism is dead, but not Ataturk
Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk (1881 - 1938).
May 2nd, 2012
11:18 AM ET

Kemalism is dead, but not Ataturk

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay – Special to CNN

Has Turkey’s twentieth century experience with Kemalism - a Europe-oriented top-down Westernization model - come to an end?

To a large extent: Yes.

Symbolically speaking, nothing could portend the coming end of Kemalism better than the recent public exoneration of Iskilipli Atif Hoca, a rare resistance figure to Kemalism in the early twentieth century. However, even if Kemalism might be withering away, ironically its founder Ataturk and his way of doing business seem to be alive in Turkey.

But first the story of Iskilipli Atif Hoca: In November 1925, Ataturk carried out perhaps the most symbolic of his reforms, banning all Turkish males from wearing the Ottoman fez in order to cement his country's commitment to European ideals. Ataturk wanted make Turks European head to toe and the abolition of the fez embodied this effort. FULL POST

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Topics: Turkey
April 17th, 2012
03:27 PM ET

Are Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis the same?

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay - Special to CNN

Could Turkey really go to war against Syria?  If it were to do so, Ankara would need to find a way to deal with the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict in Syria and its potential ramifications inside Turkey.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad has enjoyed overwhelming support among Syria’s minority Alawite population. The country’s Sunni majority, on the other hand, is leading the anti-Assad rebellion.  Turkey’s push-back against al-Assad has drawn attention to a possible risk for Ankara: A sectarian Sunni-versus-Alawite conflict in Syria could potentially spill over into neighboring Turkey, causing tensions between Turkey’s Alevis and the government in Ankara.

This is especially surprising since the Alevis are not Alawite.  Despite semantically similar names - -both Alawites and Alevis derive their names from their reverence for Ali, a close relative of the Muslim prophet Mohammed - Alevis and Alawites represent different strains of Islam.  Alevis are not Alawites, just as Protestants are not protestors.

Furthermore, the Alawites are Arabs and the Alevis are Turks.  Even Alevi populations among the Kurds and Balkan Muslims pray in Turkish, testifying to the essentially Turkish nature of Alevism.  FULL POST

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Topics: Islam • Turkey
April 9th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

A piece of Turkey lies in the middle of the Syrian desert

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay - Special to CNN

Turkish-Syrian ties are slowly unraveling. Each day, thousands of Syrian refugees cross into Turkey, fleeing persecution. Ankara has been hinting that it will take action against Bashar al-Assad by setting up a safe haven across its border with Syria to protect civilians. On April 1, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the international community has to defend Syrian people's “right to self-defense.”

With Syrian soldier firing across the border, wounding Syrian refugees as well as Turks, all eyes are on the Turkish-Syrian border for a potential confrontation between the two countries. Yet there is another area where Turkey and Syria meet: A little-known Turkish exclave, Caber Kalesi (Qal’at Ja’bar in Arabic), a sliver of sovereign Turkish territory that is smack in the middle of Syria. On April 4, Turkish daily Today’s Zaman wrote about Caber Kalesi, drawing attention to its unique character as Turkey’s only exclave. FULL POST

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Topics: History • Syria • Turkey
March 22nd, 2012
12:00 PM ET

Cagaptay: Don't expect Turkey to invade Syria

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay – Special to CNN

A visit to Gaziantep, a Turkish city near the Syrian border, suggests that Turkey’s policy on Syria is evolving in parallel to Bashar al-Assad's crackdown: The more brutally al-Assad acts against its own people, the more serious Ankara’s steps.

When the uprising began a year ago, Ankara initially took the more diplomatic road, suggesting that al-Assad launch political reforms and refrain from using violence when dealing with the demonstrations. Damascus, however, chose not to listen to Ankara’s advice. Locals in Gaziantep who have relatives and business partners in Syria add that the regime’s crackdown has only intensified over the past months.

Increasing violence against the civilian population brought Ankara to the second phase of its Syria policy - namely taking the issue to the U.N. in the hopes of securing a Security Council resolution to call for an end to the regime’s brutality. That effort, too, did not bear fruit: Russian and Chinese vetoes have thus far blocked U.N.-sponsored action to end the conflict in Syria. FULL POST

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Topics: Syria • Turkey
Why delayed intervention in Syria could cause radicalization
Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) take position in Idlib in northwestern Syria on February 22, 2012. (Getty Images)
March 2nd, 2012
01:59 PM ET

Why delayed intervention in Syria could cause radicalization

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay – Special to CNN

A new argument against intervention in Syria is that since the opposition consists of radical Islamist elements, the United States and other countries should shy away from supporting the rebellion against the Bashar al-Assad regime for fear that they might empower Islamists.

I recently visited Turkey, stopping in cities near the Syrian border such as Antakya and Gaziantep. During this trip, I talked to people who are in daily contact with Syrians, including professors at Zirve University in Gaziantep, an international school that has Syrian students, and American journalists who had just returned from Syria. I did not find any evidence that Islamists run the uprising, yet I left Turkey thinking that delayed intervention against the al-Assad regime could surely lead to building Islamist resentment towards al-Assad to the point of empowering radicals in Syria. FULL POST

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Topics: Islam • Syria
February 10th, 2012
12:02 PM ET

Can dictators survive new media?

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay – Special to CNN

The Arab uprisings suggest that recently developed “protest technology,” from cell phone cameras to social media, are changing the way people behave under dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.

Prior to the rise of “protest technology,” individuals had to endure under the tyranny of authoritarian regimes because there were few tools available to organize the masses without evading detection. Quite simply: the average citizen lacked the necessary instruments to outsmart their rulers. Autocratic regimes possessed the capabilities to swiftly crack down on dissidents before their ideas could evolve into a network of mass movement.  FULL POST

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Topics: Syria • Technology
Cagaptay: Five ways al-Assad may fall
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Getty Images)
February 2nd, 2012
11:22 AM ET

Cagaptay: Five ways al-Assad may fall

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay.

By Soner Cagaptay - Special to CNN

Soner Cagaptay

The uprising in Syria has taken a crucial turn. The opposition has become powerful enough to liberate parts of the country from Bashar al-Assad’s rule, even reaching the suburbs of Damascus. The question now is not if al-Assad will fall, but how.  The fate of other dictators, from Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia and Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti, provides a political menu of five options for how al-Assad may go.

1. Milosevic’s Miranda Rights: Al-Assad holds on to power, turning the popular uprising into a sectarian conflict between Alawites and Sunnis.  Syria descends into a war of ethnic cleansing. In the long term, however, this ushers in an economic and moral collapse of his regime similar to that of Milosevic’s rule in Serbia.  Although the dictator of Belgrade instrumentalized Yugoslavia’s break to foment ethnic war and cling to power in the early 1990s, in the end he failed. International sanctions and continued unrest brought down his regime in a decade.  Milosevic ended up being arrested in 2001 and then turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague which read him his Miranda rights.  In 2006, fifteen years after the uprising against him, Milosevic died of a heart attack in his prison cell. FULL POST

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Topics: Syria
Op-chart: Turkey's changing world
Source: Turkish Republic Ministry of Economy official website (http://www.ekonomi.gov.tr)
January 30th, 2012
03:26 PM ET

Op-chart: Turkey's changing world

Editor's Note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Hale Arifagaoglu is a research assistant at the Institute. Bilge Menekse is a former research intern at the Institute.

By Soner Cagaptay, Hale Arifagaoglu and Bilge Menekse - Special to CNN

Over the course of the 20th Century, Turkey’s world became increasingly Eurocentric. The country joined European and broader Western institutions, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while also moving to become a member to the European Union (EU).

Today, however, the country’s single-minded European trajectory appears to be a thing of the past. Turkey, which has experienced phenomenal economic growth in the past decade, no longer feels content to subsume itself under Europe.

Since 2002, the Turkish economy has more than doubled in size, reaching a magnitude of $1.1 trillion. Gone is the Turkey of yesteryear, a poor country begging to get into the EU.

Enter the new Turkey: A country that feels confident, booming as the world around it suffers from economic meltdown. In the third quarter of 2011, the Turkish economy grew by a record 8.2%, outpacing not only the county's neighbors, but also all of Europe. FULL POST

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