By Harout Ekmanian
Last week Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin delivered the keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said that the economic crisis came as unexpectedly "as winter comes to Russia unexpectedly every year".
In the frameworks of the World Economic Forum a discussion panel was organized to address the latest developments regarding the situation in Gaza. Ban Ki-moon, Amr Musa, Simon Peres and Recep Tayyip Erdogan were the only politicians who gave speeches during the panel. And it appears that this panel caught them by surprise like the Russian winters.
Simon Peres, who publicly denied the Armenian Genocide in 2001 for the sake of good relations with Turkey, was being undiplomatic during his speech in the presence of other political representatives. Erdogan left the panel and said that he is never going to come back to Davos again as a sign of protest to Peres’ behavior. Seeing this, Amr Musa was confused whether to join Erdogan or to stay in the hall. He stood up, shook hands with Erdogan but sat down at Ban Ki-moon’s subtle motion of the hand.
If we are going to analyze this spectacle as a single incident, we may find Erdogan justified. But is it possible to detach his stance from the political history of Turkey?
Turkey criticized the crimes committed by Israel in a very harsh manner since the beginning of the attacks on Gaza. It went as far as accusing Israel of perpetrating genocide against the Palestinians. In fact, it is not a stretch to name what happened in Gaza an act of genocide. However, what does it mean when such a statement comes from the Turkish prime minister?
It was only a year ago when Turkey welcomed the President of Sudan, Omar Hasan al-Bashir, who was convicted by the international courts for committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Indeed, it seems that those innocent victims falling in Darfur did not carry much weight for Turkey’s political interests. Also, a few months ago, Turkey invaded Northern Iraq with the same pretext, which Israel used to invade Gaza. In addition, minorities have suffered from restrictions and harassments for many years in Turkey, and they still do. And if we are willing to go even further back in history, we see the invasion of Cyprus, the minorities-only super high taxes in the 40’s, and the Armenian Genocide.
Therefore, trying to announce Erdogan and his government as Human rights champions only through their political stances regarding the latest atrocities in Gaza would be very naïve.
The Turkish elections are coming up. A weak stance on the Gaza offensive could lose Mr. Erdogan's AK party crucial support from more religious voters. But the prime minister's condemnation of Israel strikes a chord with most Turkish citizens, religious or otherwise, as it should.
On the other hand, the Turkish-Israeli relationship is a relationship between the Turkish Army (TSK) and the Israeli Army more than anything. Hence, the ruling Islamist Government’s anti-Israel attitude delivers a strong message to other circles in the Turkish society, such as the Laics and the Military.
Also, it is noteworthy to mention that 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. 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. Thus, with a seat on the UN Security Council and a lock on the regions energy supply, Turkey will be able to exploit the vacuum left in the region by the slowly departing US military.
However, contrary to Venezuela, Bolivia, Qatar and many other states who cut their relations with Israel, Turkey still values its relations with Israel as a “strategic partner”. Therefore, we can conclude that Erdogan’s dramatic spectacle was just a populist move on his part to feed anti-Israeli sentiments in Turkey and the Middle East. And when its effects are gone, many unsolved problems will emerge and force their weight. For example, it was only last week, while the world was busy with news from Gaza, the Turkish Parliament decided to create a commission to follow the cases of Turkish citizens who have property in Syria, which are considered to be more than 800 thousands hectares of real estate.
Apart from all these, after Turkey’s de facto recognition of Hamas and Hamas’ Leader Khaled Mashaal’s visit to Turkey, things started to develop in the opposite way for Turkey last year. Hundreds of American-Jewish organizations recognized the Armenian Genocide and a group of chief rabbis and other public figures made their way to Dzidzernagapert Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan. This was followed by the House Resolution #106, of the foreign relations committee of the US Congress recognizing the Armenian Genocide. It was only then when Erdogan started to pull his efforts to stop the passage of the bill. Several groups of Turkish parliamentarians, militants and other important personalities lobbied the Istanbul-Washington-Israel triad to prevent the recognition.
It won’t be a misjudgment if we conclude that the political arena today is as polarized as it was in the past couple of years, and maybe more. It is an excellent opportunity for the Armenian political circles to give a fresh start to a serious political process, which can result in big achievements if it is conducted in a productive way.
As to Erdogan, if he is indeed serious enough to change the political scene of Turkey, he should get over his Davos complex first by going to Switzerland again next year, but before that he should make some indispensable changes in the various spheres of life in Turkey.
Aleppo, 01 February 2009