Answer To Steven Cook’s Atlantic Article by Ceylan Özbudak
I frequently witness many Western analysts of the Middle East making various errors concerning developments and possible outcomes due to their lack of “getting” the structure of these lands. Don’t get me wrong.
I think that many have the right and the potential to remain one step ahead of events. However, too often I see that the forecasts of disaster that is widespread among many pundits prevents them from seeing a number of statistical and societal truths. Unlike others, Steven Cook is a frequent visitor to our region. With all respect, I still found myself disagreeing with his recent article on Turkey-Israel relations. If you will permit me to set some of these out, I would like to start with the following:
“The Turks themselves have led foreign observers to believe that a change in Turkey-Israeli relations was possible.”
If one of the conflicting sides wishes to make peace, then it is possible. If Turkey wishes to do away with a division that emerged through decisions taken by Israel, a division that is completely political, then it will do so. No conflict lasts forever. Recent history suggests these two countries will not have this dispute ad finitum. These words are self-contradictory.
“Israel is not popular in Turkey and never really was, despite the blossoming of strategic relations between Jerusalem and Ankara in 1996. Those ties served the Turkish General Staff’s specific national security and, importantly, domestic political interests at a time when the officers’ power was at its height.”
I am not sure how you arrived at the above conclusion, but I am sure it was not through statistical analysis. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the state of Israel, founded in 1948. Until Prime Minister Erdoğan assumed office, Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish Parliament only once, but seven official visits have been made since 2005, during the AKP’s time in government. Mutual gestures have continued to be made between Turkey and Israel even after the Mavi Marmara incident. Before the transfer and repair of the drones , Erdoğan being the first leader to end assistance to help fight a forest fire in Israel, Israel being the first country to respond to calls for help in the wake of the Van earthquake in Turkey, the strengthening of bilateral investments by business figures, and the volume of trade between Turkey and Israel rising by 30% in 2011, after the Mavi Marmara incident, show that Israel has lost none of its popularity within Turkish society. The volume of trade between Turkey and Israel is in the area of $3 billion for the year 2012, despite the regional uncertainty and the economic downturn in both America and the European Union.
In terms of the Turkish public and Turkish politicians, Israeli citizens have been kept out of political tensions and continue to be regarded with affection by most Turks. Shas Party founding member and Knesset Member Nissim Zeev, Cabinet minister for three terms Shimon Shetreet, Shas Party secretary Tsvi Jacobson, Turkish former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış (AK Party) and Former Minister of Health Halil Şıvgın (ANAP) recently came together on a live program in the Turkish A9 TV studios and openly discussed the need for the two states in the region to be the closest to one another and what needed to be done for political division to be eliminated. Former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış’s words that, “We are delighted at Israeli Jews living as they wish in the Promised Land. The Promised Land extends as far as Harran in Turkey. Our Jewish brothers must come and live here in safety in large numbers” reflected the general outlook of the Turkish nation.
“The U.S. government believes that in Turkey’s last elections (June 2011), which Erdogan won with almost 50 percent of the vote, Turks voted on two “P’s” — their pocketbooks and Palestine.”
Economic growth and the economic crisis that has affected the rest of the world being kept at bay in Turkey through highly flexible policies, and when the flow of refugees in the last year is also considered, economic growth approaching 12% of course means that Turks are happy to vote for the AKP. Many Turks who reject Islam on an ideological basis are still ready to vote for the AKP. The other ‘P,’ however, rather misses the mark, Mr. Cook. The ‘P’ there should have read “aeto” because one of the main reasons why Turks vote for the AKP is that the legal proceedings against the alleged Ergenekon terror organization are still ongoing. The alleged terror organization, which had tendrils at every level of the state, inflicted many difficulties on the Turkish people over the decades and is still a dangerous organization that has prevented a full transition to democracy to date. Many Turks believe that in order to deal with this organization it is vitally important for the AKP stance and aggressive operations against Ergenekon to be maintained.
Even as Erdogan plans his path to the Cankaya Palace, he is currently content to be “King of the Arab Street.”
The office of Prime Minister is all important in the Turkish administrative system, while the office of President is a purely honorary one, and one that cannot hold Cabinet meetings. It is one that definitely is of no interest to Erdoğan, who has proved that his eyes are firmly set on active politics If he had the opportunity to serve as Prime Minister for a few more uninterrupted terms, Erdoğan would always have preferred the active role of Prime Minister to that of President. But the Turks have shown with a large percentage of the vote that they support three terms, and do not look at all warmly at what Erdoğan, who recently underwent surgery, said about “leaving politics.” They want to see Erdoğan in charge for a much longer period of time. Therefore, they are even prepared to go along with constitutional changes to experiment with the presidential system with Erdoğan, even if that involves the risk of uncertainties in the Southeast.
The Turks were already suspect in the Arab world given the legacies of Ottoman colonialism, the Jacobin secularism of Mustafa Kemal, and Ankara’s institutional ties to the West through NATO and its efforts to join the European Union.
For better or worse, the Ottoman Empire maintained its multinational structure in peace for 650 years, and it was not a colonial power. It cannot be said that Ataturk was a Jacobin secularist because the revolutions led by Ataturk were translated into reality with popular support. On the other hand, we have seen how opponents of the regime in places such as Russia, China, Cuba and the former Ba’athist regimes of North Africa were intimidated with the most violent punishments. The Turkish Revolution was brought about entirely with popular support, and even with the Palace turning a blind eye in the last days of the Ottoman Empire.
While I appreciate your technical analyses of Turkey and the language and intellectual structure you employ, I think you ignore the general structure of the region and the character of its people. People in the Middle East are conservative by nature, religion has always existed here for thousands of years, and will continue to do so. I was surprised that in your analysis of Israel, you looked at only various political developments and made estimations from these. The aim behind the foundation of Israel was religious. The present-day state of Israel re-established the Sanhedrin Rabbinical Court after thousands of years and brought it back to life. Many Jewish members of the Knesset serve there in religious apparel. Turkey is a country in which 83% of people describe themselves as “religious”, 30% of whom describe themselves as “very devout,” and that has elected Erdoğan, a fully trained imam and expert reciter of the Qur’an, to power over three terms with more than 50% of the vote. It would be a mistake to evaluate these levels in terms of the American political system, because more than 20 parties stand in elections in Turkey, and even the strongest rivals of the AKP have rarely managed to attract more than 9% of the vote. Behaving and speaking as if religion had no place in the lives of the people of the Middle East is an error made by Western analysts. I am not, of course, advising you be religious here; but speaking of the Middle East without ever mentioning religion is like enrolling in a class of theoretical physics without having learned any math first. That is why no Western analysts managed to predict the Arab Spring. The Holy Books in which these two states believe counsel peace and adopt the principle of getting on well with their neighbors apart from the case of being attacked. Therefore, even if there are fluctuations in the intervening period, like we are seeing today about Syria, of course Israel and Turkey will be closer, being the only two countries with no Marxist history in the region. And for the public criticism Erdogan inflicts on Israel, you have to understand he does not consider human life collateral damage, thus will never airstrike villages inside Turkey to oppress PKK militants because of the possibility of taking even one innocent life. So when there is any action in the region without his precise sense of meticulousness, he will keep criticizing it. But this will never mean he is burning the bridges. I hope through ongoing debate and dialogue we can further develop our ongoing analyses of Turkey and the region.
Steven Cook’s Article On The Article’s Web Site www.theatlantic.com
Title: Can Israel’s New Coalition Fix Relations with Turkey?