Erdogan and the Decline of the Turks? December, 2011

Watching Turkey and Israel, two genocidal partner-states in their respective neighborhoods, at each other's throats recently has been an absolute pleasure. Just read the rantings of a Zionist (and a former Turkophile) in the following New York Times article. Since Ankara has decided not to play ball with Tel Aviv and Washington, they are all of a sudden the bad guys in the neighborhood, a nation on the verge of collapse... Despite what these shameless Zionists would like you to believe, however, the fact of the matter is that Turkey has been going through a golden age during the past ten years when Turkey's increasingly Islam oriented government began transforming Ankara's political and economic character. With their farsighted politics, their good work ethics, their discipline, their fierce love towards their nation and with their unwavering obedience to their nation's leaders, Turkey today has in essence transformed itself into Europe's China. Turkey's industrial sector is very large and growing. Turkey also continues to be a major transportation hub and a nation with one of the highest number of billionaires in the world. Despite what its former friends want to believe, Turkey's economic and social progress is real and it won't be going away anytime soon.

For understandable reasons we Armenians tend to approach matters pertaining to the Turkish nation very emotionally, which translates - irrationally. The most dangerous thing we as a nation can do is to underestimate our competitors and/or our enemies, or delve into paranoia based fears or inaction. Barring any major future clash between Turkey and regional major powers such as Russia, Turkey will continue to be a powerful nation at our doorstep, a nation that we Armenians simply have to learn to deal with. With the Arab world hopelessly in disarray and the specter of a major war looming over Iran, Turkey is poised to become a leader in the Muslim world once again. The long-term fear for a nation like Armenia is a well organized pan-Islamic militant movement evolving in the region. [militant Islam today is very weak and fragmented and at its highest levels, controlled by Western intelligence and their proxies in the Middle East]

Although we are some time away from a well organized and independent pan-Islamic movement taking hold in the region, there are nevertheless some contemporary signs of its presence. The Middle East's increasing pressure under the combined weight of Washington, London and Tel Aviv, coupled with the impotence, complicity and duplicity of various Western backed Arab governments, the region's distraught Muslim populations have been forced to seek a savior, a new Salahadin. A secular form of nationalism that had appeared in the Middle East and Iran during the middle of the twentieth century was crushed by the West during the 1960s, 1970s and more recently in Iraq. With the region's secular nationalists all but crushed, a void had been created. As a result, a leaderless form of pan-Islamic militancy has been evolving in the region to fill this major political void. As in Ottoman times, Turkey today is in essence competing with Iran to fill this void and to represent the region's Islamic world. And armed with one of the most dynamic economies in the world today, Turkey may be wining its competition with a more backward and embattled Iran.

Israel or no Israel, when the West is done exploiting every last drop of the region's energy resources (which actually seems to be within sight), have no doubt - it will move on to greener pastures. Their job in the Middle East will be done and they will no longer give the area political or economic priority. And that's when we can expect widespread chaos throughout the region as one Western backed dictator after another is deposed and replaced with Islamic nationalists. I personally have no doubt that the region's Muslim world will eventually unite to cooperate against what they deem to be foreigners on their soil. While the West and the rest can simply pull back to their respective corners of the world, like in past times, Armenia will be left in the middle of the volatile mess.

A pan-Islamic unity, one that will no doubt be reinforced by a strong sense of vengeance, is my fundamental concern for the region. When European Crusaders entered the Near-East during the middle ages, it took the region's Muslim population over a hundred years to get their act together and begin driving out the Frankish invaders. There is a strong probability today that the region's tri-ethnic Muslims will again come to a general understanding or cooperation, if not total unity. Looking at their utterly pathetic state today one would have a hard time forecasting such a thing. However, we need to realize that what we have been seeing in the Middle East during the past century or so is somewhat misleading. The sense of Muslim disunity in the Middle East is given off by the region's handpicked dictators who happen to be on CIA pay roles.

Nevertheless, a hundred years, historically speaking, is a very short time span. I have no doubt that the Arab street, as well as the Turkish and Iranian streets will begin seeking their new Salahadin and they will eventually find him - because history has a curious habit of repeating itself. Needless to say, Western actions in the region during the past century, including the recent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the upcoming violation of Iran's sovereignty is accelerating the inevitable. We may actually be reliving the 12-13 centuries; where Western forces as well as the Western backed Zionist state of Israel are the Crusader fortresses in the Muslim heartland.

If we Armenians don't get our act straight we may again end up suffering the same fate our Cilician kingdom suffered in 1375 - abandonment, destruction, isolation, subjugation. By saying getting our act straight, I mean keeping as close to the Russian Federation as possible, keeping the United States at an arms-length, all the while genuinely and proactively engaging our Turkish and Iranian neighbors in a dialogue - without forsaking our national interests. Armenia needs farsighted leaders who are not afraid of breaking away from the old modus operandi. We need leaders who can look ahead, we don't need leaders that still resides in the Ottoman era or the Soviet era. Despite what many of our emotionally handicapped and politically shortsighted people think these days, president Serj Sargsyan has been a leader with such foresight. By firmly entrenching Armenia in the Russian camp, by maintaining good relations with Iran, by keeping the West at an arms length and by starting to engage Ankara in a dialogue, the current administration in Yerevan may have actually safeguarded Armenia's very existence in the twenty-first century. We need our future leaders not only to simply follow this strategic path but to build on it.



Erdogan and the Decline of the Turks

Israeli special forces and their commanders were apparently shocked to find their boarding attempt on the Mavi ("Blue") Marmara met with violence. They should not have been. I have no doubt that the Turkish "peace activists" aboard the ship regarded Israeli troops as something akin to the second coming of Hitler's SS. To follow Turkish discourse in recent years has been to follow a national decline into madness. Imagine 80 million or so people sitting at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. They don't speak an Indo-European language and perhaps hundreds of thousands of them have meaningful access to any outside media. What information most of them get is filtered through a secular press that makes Italian communists look right wing by comparison and an increasing number of state (i.e., Islamist) influenced outfits. Topics A and B (or B and A, it doesn't really matter) have been the malign influence on the world of Israel and the United States.

For example, while there was much hand-wringing in our own media about "Who lost Turkey?" when U.S. forces were denied entry to Iraq from the north in 2003, no such introspection was evident in Ankara and Istanbul. Instead, Turks were fed a steady diet of imagined atrocities perpetrated by U.S. forces in Iraq, often with the implication that they were acting as muscle for the Jews. The newspaper Yeni Safak, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's daily read, claimed that Americans were tossing so many Iraqi bodies into the Euphrates that local mullahs had issued a fatwa ordering residents not to eat the fish. The same paper repeatedly claimed that the U.S. used chemical weapons in Fallujah. And it reported that Israeli soldiers had been deployed alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and that U.S. forces were harvesting the innards of dead Iraqis for sale on the U.S. "organ market."

The secular Hurriyet newspaper, meanwhile, accused Israeli soldiers of assassinating Turkish security personnel in Mosul and said the U.S. was starting an occupation of (Muslim) Indonesia under the guise of humanitarian assistance. Then U.S. ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman actually felt the need to organize a conference call to explain to the Turkish media that secret U.S. nuclear testing did not cause the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. One of the craziest theories circulating in Ankara was that the U.S. was colonizing the Middle East because its scientists were aware of an impending asteroid strike on North America.

The Mosul and organ harvesting stories were soon brought together in a hit Turkish movie called "Valley of the Wolves," which I saw in 2006 at a mall in Ankara. My poor Turkish was little barrier to understanding. The body parts of dead Iraqis could be clearly seen being placed into crates marked New York and Tel Aviv. It is no exaggeration to say that such anti-Semitic fare had not been played to mass audiences in Europe since the Third Reich. When I interviewed Prime Minister Erdogan (one of several encounters) in 2006, he was unabashed about the narrative.

Erdogan: "I believe the people who made this movie took media reports as their basis . . . for example, Abu Ghraib prison—we have seen this on TV, and now we are watching Guantanamo Bay in the world media, and of course it could be that this movie was prepared under these influences."

Me: "But do you believe that many Turks have such a view of America, that we're the kind of people who'd go to Iraq and kill people to take their or gans?"Erdogan: "These kind of things happen in the world. If it's not happening in Iraq, then its happening in other countries." Me: "Which kind of things? Killing people to take their organs?"

Erdogan: "I'm not saying they are being killed. . . . There are people in poverty who use this as a means to get money."

I was somewhat taken aback that the prime minister could not bring himself to condemn a fictional blood libel. I should not have been. He and his party have traded on America and Israel hatred ever since. There can be little doubt the Turkish flotilla that challenged the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza was organized with his approval, if not encouragement. Mr. Erodogan's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is a proponent of a philosophy which calls on Turkey to loosen Western ties to the U.S., NATO and the European Union and seek its own sphere of influence to the east. Turkey's recent deal to help Iran enrich uranium should come as no surprise.

Sadly, Turkey has had no credible opposition since its corrupt secular parties lost to Mr. Erdogan in 2002. The Ataturk-inspired People's Republican Party has just thrown off one leader who was constantly railing about CIA plots for another who wants to expand state spending as government coffers collapse everywhere else in the word. What's more, Turks remain blind to their manifest hypocrisies. Ask how they would feel if other countries arranged an "aid" convoy (akin to the Gaza flotilla) for their own Kurdish minority and you'll be met with dumb stares. Turkey's blind spot on the Kurdish issue is especially striking when you recall that Turkey nearly invaded Syria in 1998 for sponsoring Kurdish terrorism. Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan then bounced around the capitals of Europe, only to be captured in Kenya and handed over to the Turks by the CIA. Turkey's antiterror alliance with Israel and the U.S. couldn't have been more natural.

Yet Prime Minister Erdogan was one of the first world leaders to recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas government in Gaza. And now he is upping the rhetoric after provoking Israel on Hamas's behalf. It is Israel, he says, that has shocked "the conscience of humanity." Foreign Minister Davutoglu is challenging the U.S: "We expect full solidarity with us. It should not seem like a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong." Please. Good leaders work to defuse tensions in situations like this, not to escalate them. No American should be deceived as to the true motives of these men: They are demagogues appealing to the worst elements in their own country and the broader Middle East. The obvious answer to the question of "Who lost Turkey?"—the Western-oriented Turkey, that is—is the Turks did. The outstanding question is how much damage they'll do to regional peace going forward.


Turks Pass Constitutional Changes


Turks voted to amend the nation's constitution by a wide margin Sunday, according to unofficial results, delivering a surprise boost to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic-leaning government ahead of elections next year. The referendum on a package of 26 constitutional amendments has been touted as a key battle in the struggle to determine Turkey's future by both sides: the country's secular establishment and a rising conservative elite that Mr. Erdogan represents. On Sunday, Mr. Erdogan appeared to win convincingly.

State television channel TRT1 reported that the amendment package won approval with a vote of 58% to 42%, with a turnout of about 78%. Most opinion polls had predicted a much tighter margin. The results aren't final. "Once more it has been seen that transformation is possible within democracy," Mr. Erdogan said in an hour-long victory speech to party faithful in Istanbul on Sunday night. "Today, tonight the mind-set of those enthusiastic for coups has lost."

Opponents of the changes, which include a transformation of the country's top judicial bodies, warned they would remove essential checks on the government. In campaign rallies across the country, Mr. Erdogan said the changes would instead strengthen the rule of law, ending an era in which generals and judges held ultimate power, toppling four governments since 1960, and blocking legislation they considered too Islamic. U.S. President Barack Obama "acknowledged the vibrancy of Turkey's democracy" shown by the high turnout, in a telephone call to Mr. Erdogan, according to a White House statement reported by news agencies. Mr. Obama was calling ahead of the World Basketball Championship final between the U.S. and Turkey. Turkey lost 81-64. The European Union, meanwhile, called the amendments "a step in the right direction" for Turkey's bid to join the bloc, though it called for further reforms to ensure freedoms of speech and religion.

The constitutional amendments include much that is widely supported, including improvements to individual rights such as privacy, gender equality and the right to strike. Also popular are amendments to submit military officers who commit crimes to civilian courts and to remove immunity from leaders of the 1980 coup that produced the current constitution. But two changes have proved controversial. One expands membership in the Constitutional Court to 17 from 11, and a second expands the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors to 22 members from seven. Turkey's parliament, where the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, enjoys a majority, and President Abdullah Gul, of the AKP, would play important roles in the appointments.

Both judicial bodies currently are controlled by a small group of self-described secularists. In 2007, the Constitutional Court struck down legislation passed by parliament that would have lifted a ban on wearing headscarves at Turkey's universities. Mr. Erdogan's daughter Sumeyye is among the thousands of daughters of wealthier conservative families who studied abroad rather than take off their headscarves. In 2008. the court came within one vote of banning the AKP as a threat to Turkey's secularist foundations.

The changes to the two bodies worry many Turks concerned by what they see as signs that Mr. Erdogan and his party are interested less in democracy than in securing control over all the levers of power in order to crush opposition. They cite as evidence a series of mass trials against alleged coup plotters, and a massive tax fine against the nation's biggest media group. On the campaign stump and in a letter sent to Brussels ahead of the vote, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party warned against the creation of a "civilian dictatorship" in Turkey.

"We need judicial reform, but if implemented with ill will, these amendments could really damage the separation of powers in Turkey, and the separation of powers is key to any democracy," said Sedat Ergin, a senior columnist with Hurriyet newspaper, Turkey's establishment daily, who opposed the changes. Mr. Ergin said the vote had confirmed the fault lines in Turkish society, with the country's more secular coastal regions voting "No," and conservative central Anatolia voting "Yes." Ethnic Kurds, meanwhile, appeared to have mostly boycotted the vote. "Forty-two percent is still a big chunk of society," he added.

Economists and businessmen said investors were likely to welcome the clear vote of support for Mr. Erdogan, as they look for indications that his party will be able to win a third term of stable, single-party government in elections due next summer. "Many were suspicious about the government's intentions, but the markets like stability and this result will contribute to that. ... I hope it will make us richer," said Sinan Eroglu, a 37-year old advertising executive in Istanbul, as he watched Turkey take on the U.S. in basketball. The referendum result should "make the ruling party more comfortable about its popular support, possibly reducing temptation to loosen fiscal policy in the run-up to elections," said Wolgango Piccoli, a director at Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy.


Turning East, Turkey Asserts Economic Power

For decades, Turkey has been told it was not ready to join the European Union — that it was too backward economically to qualify for membership in the now 27-nation club. That argument may no longer hold. Today, Turkey is a fast-rising economic power, with a core of internationally competitive companies turning the youthful nation into an entrepreneurial hub, tapping cash-rich export markets in Russia and the Middle East while attracting billions of investment dollars in return. For many in aging and debt-weary Europe, which will be lucky to eke out a little more than 1 percent growth this year, Turkey’s economic renaissance — last week it reported a stunning 11.4 percent expansion for the first quarter, second only to China — poses a completely new question: who needs the other one more — Europe or Turkey?

“The old powers are losing power, both economically and intellectually,” said Vural Ak, 42, the founder and chief executive of Intercity, the largest car leasing company in Turkey. “And Turkey is now strong enough to stand by itself.”

It is an astonishing transformation for an economy that just 10 years ago had a budget deficit of 16 percent of gross domestic product and inflation of 72 percent. It is one that lies at the root of the rise to power of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has combined social conservatism with fiscally cautious economic policies to make his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., the most dominant political movement in Turkey since the early days of the republic. So complete has this evolution been that Turkey is now closer to fulfilling the criteria for adopting the euro — if it ever does get into the European Union — than most of the troubled economies already in the euro zone. It is well under the 60 percent ceiling on government debt (49 percent of G.D.P.) and could well get its annual budget deficit below the 3 percent benchmark next year. That leaves the reduction of inflation, now running at 8 percent, as the only remaining major policy goal.

“This is a dream world,” said Husnu M. Ozyegin, who became the richest man in Turkey when he sold his bank, Finansbank, to the National Bank of Greece in 2006. Sitting on the rooftop of his five-star Swiss Hotel, he was looking at his BlackBerry, scrolling down the most recent credit-default spreads for euro zone countries. He still could not quite believe what he was seeing. “Greece, 980. Italy, 194 and here is Turkey at 192,” he said with a grunt of satisfaction. “If you had told me 10 years ago that Turkey’s financial risk would equal that of Italy I would have said you were crazy.” Having sold at the top to Greece, Mr. Ozyegin is now putting his money to work in the east. His new bank, Eurocredit, gets 35 percent of its profit from its Russian operations.

Mr. Ozyegin represents the old guard of Turkey’s business elite that has embraced the Erdogan government for its economic successes. Less well known but just as important to Turkey’s future development has been the rapid rise of socially conservative business leaders who, under the A.K.P., have seen their businesses thrive by tapping Turkey’s flourishing consumer and export markets. Mr. Ak, the car leasing executive, exemplifies this new business elite of entrepreneurs. He drives a Ferrari to work, but he is also a practicing Muslim who does not drink and has no qualms in talking about his faith. He is not bound to the 20th-century secular consensus among the business, military and judicial elite that fought long and hard to keep Islam removed from public life. On the wall behind his desk is a framed passage in Arabic from the Koran, and he recently financed an Islamic studies program just outside Washington at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where Mr. Erdogan recently spoke.

Whether he is embracing Islam as a set of principles to govern his life or Israeli irrigation technology for his sideline almond and walnut growing business, Mr. Ak represents the flexible dynamism — both social and economic — that has allowed Turkey to expand the commercial ties with Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria that now underpin its ambition to become the dominant political actor in the region. Other prominent members of this newer group of business executives are Mustafa Latif Topbas, the chairman and a founder of the discount-shopping chain BIM, the country’s fastest-growing retail chain, and Murat Ulker, who runs the chocolate and cookie manufacturer Yildiz Holding. With around $11 billion in sales, Yildiz Holding supplies its branded food products not just to the Turkish market but to 110 markets globally. It has set up factories in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine and now owns the Godiva brand.

The two billionaires have deep ties to the prime minister — Mr. Erdogan once owned a company that distributed Ulker-branded products, and Mr. Topbas is a close adviser — but the trade opportunities in this part of the world are plentiful enough that a boost from the government is now no longer needed. In June, Turkish exports grew by 13 percent compared with the previous year, with much of the demand coming from countries on Turkey’s border or close to it, like Iraq, Iran and Russia. With their immature manufacturing bases, they are eager buyers of Turkish cookies, automobiles and flat-screen televisions. This year, for example, the country’s flagship carrier, Turkish Airlines, will fly to as many cities in Iraq (three) as it does to France. Some of its fastest growing routes are to Libya, Syria and Russia, Turkey’s largest trading partner, where it flies to seven cities. That is second only to Germany, which has a large population of immigrant Turks.

In Iran, Turkish companies are building fertilizer plants, making diapers and female sanitary products. In Iraq, the Acarsan Group, based in the southeastern town of Gaziantep, just won a bid to build five hospitals. And Turkish construction companies have a collective order book of over $30 billion, second only to China. On the flip side, the Azerbaijani government owns Turkey’s major petrochemicals company and Saudi Arabia has been a big investor in the country’s growing Islamic finance sector. No one here disputes that these trends give Mr. Erdogan the legitimacy — both at home and abroad — to lash out at Israel and to cut deals with Iran over its nuclear energy, moves that have strained ties with its chief ally and longtime supporter, the United States. (Turkey has exported $1.6 billion worth of goods to Iran and Syria this year, $200 million more than to the United States.)

But some worry that the muscle flexing may have gone too far — perhaps the result of tightening election polls at home — and that the aggressive tone with Israel may jeopardize the defining tenet of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: peace at home, peace in the world. “The foreign policy of Turkey is good if it brings self-pride,” said Ferda Yildiz, the chairman of Basari Holding, a conglomerate that itself is in negotiations with the Syrian government to set up a factory in Syria that would make electricity meters. Even so, he warns that it would be a mistake to become too caught up in an eastward expansion if it comes at the expense of the country’s longstanding inclination to look to the West for innovation and inspiration. “It takes centuries to make relations and minutes to destroy them,” he said.


Syrians’ New Ardor for a Turkey Looking Eastward

Well-heeled Syrians had already been coming to this ancient industrial city, drawn here by Louis Vuitton purses and storefront signs in Arabic. But local shop owners say Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-led flotilla to Gaza in May has solidified an already blossoming friendship between Syria and Turkey, the new hero of the Muslim world. “People in Syria love Turkey because the country supports the Arab world, and they are fellow Muslims,” Zakria Shavek, 37, a driver for a Syrian transport company based in Gaziantep, said as he deposited a family of newly arrived shoppers from Aleppo, which competes with Damascus for the title of Syria’s largest city and is about a two-hour drive from here. “Our enemy in the world is Israel, so we also like Turkey because our enemy’s enemy is our friend.”

The monthly pilgrimages of tens of thousands of Syrians to this southeastern Turkish city — which intensified after the two countries removed visa requirements last September — are just the latest manifestation of the growing ties between Turkey and Syria, part of the Turkish government’s efforts to reach out to its neighbors by using economic and cultural links to help it become a regional leader. Turkey’s shift toward the Muslim world — from the recent clash with Israel to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s description of Iran’s nuclear program as peaceful — has prompted concerns in the United States and Europe that Turkey, an important NATO ally, is turning its back on the West. But in Turkey, where 70 percent of all exports go to Europe, businesspeople insist that the government’s policy of cultivating friendly ties with all neighbors reflects a canny and very Western capitalist impulse to offset dependence on stagnating European markets while cementing Turkey’s position as a vital economic and political bridge between east and west.

Indeed, most Arab states, including Syria, enthusiastically support Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, viewing Turkey as a vital intermediary to Western markets that might otherwise be off limits. At the political level, Turkey’s influence in the Middle East is also deeply enhanced by its strong Western ties — a fact recognized by Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, who shocked many in the Turkish capital this month by warning that the latest crisis between Israel and Turkey could undermine Ankara’s role as a mediator in the region. Only 10 years ago, relations between Syria and Turkey were strained, with Turkey accusing Syria of sheltering Kurdish separatists and Syria lashing out at Turkey over water and territorial disputes. Syrians also harbored historical resentments of Ottoman subjugation, while many secular Turks, defined by the Western orientation of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, saw Syria as autocratic and backward. With the recent elimination of border restrictions, however, Turkish exports of everything from tea to textiles to diapers are booming, along with a newfound ardor. “Today, Arab countries that once resented us want to be like us, even if they are looking to Turks more than we are looking to them,” said Emin Berk, a Turk who is coordinator of the Turkey-Syria Trade Office here.

Trade between Turkey and Syria more than doubled from $795 million in 2006 to $1.6 billion in 2009, and is expected to reach $5 billion in the next three years. Last year the Middle East received nearly 20 percent of Turkey’s exports, about $19.2 billion worth of goods, compared with 12.5 percent in 2004. In Iran, Turkish companies are making products including fertilizer and sanitary products for women. Iran, in turn, is an important source of energy to Turkey. Here in Gaziantep — whose past is so intertwined with Syria’s that it was part of Aleppo Province during the Ottoman Empire — the signs of the new honeymoon between Turkey and Syria are everywhere. Every Friday, several thousand Syrians descend on the center of town. Lured by bargains and Western brands, most head immediately to the Sanko Park shopping mall, the largest in town, where their lavish shopping sprees have made them coveted customers. In the city’s bazaars, pistachio vendors summon passers-by in Arabic, while Arabic courses for Turkish businessmen are flourishing. Marriages between Turks and Syrians have become more common.

In Syria, meanwhile, where the alliance with secular Turkey represents a move away from its courtship with Iran, Turkey’s blend of conservative Islam and cosmopolitan democracy is increasingly viewed as a model in the younger generation. Turkish soap operas and films are attaining cult status, while “Made in Turkey” labels near the cachet of Paris or Milan. On a recent day at the gleaming Sanko Park mall, Mays al-Hindawi Bayrak, a chic 27-year-old Syrian who was buying a Pierre Cardin shirt for her Turkish husband, observed that for Syrians, Turkey had become synonymous with European modernity. After Turkey recently lashed out at Israel, she said, her 21-year-old brother told the family he wanted to apply for Turkish citizenship. “In the past, many Turks thought that all Arab women wear burqas and that all the men drive camels to work,” she said. “Now, we are getting to know each other better.”

Turkish businesspeople here say that regardless of whether the governing party’s politics is driving economics or the other way around, what matters is that the new openness to the east is enhancing the bottom line. Cengiz Akinal, managing director of Akinal Bella, a large shoe manufacturer, said that the Islamic-inspired politics of the governing Justice and Development Party had helped ease relations with Arabic clients. The company, which exports a majority of its shoes to Europe, increased its exports to Syria by 40 percent last year.

Mr. Akinal, whose ancestors imported leather from Syria during the Ottoman Empire and produced shoes for the sultans, recently shifted part of the company’s manufacturing to Aleppo and Damascus, where monthly wages are about half those of Turkey. But he said Syria was still decades behind Turkey when it came to quality standards and technical know-how. “Turkey may be 15 years behind Europe, but Syria is still 30 years behind Turkey,” he said. Indeed, businesspeople say the shift toward the Middle East is forcing them to change the way they do business after decades of trying to cultivate Western European attitudes. Mr. Akinal noted, for example, that negotiations with Arabic corporate clients over price were reminiscent of a Middle Eastern bazaar rather than a boardroom. “With Europeans, you can have a deal in a half an hour,” he said. “With Syrians, I sometimes spend the whole day bargaining.”

While most people here welcome the Syrian invasion, some Turks complained that the Syrians were pushing up the prices of everything from hotels to designer dresses. Others lamented that Syrians’ religious conservatism was out of place in secular Turkey. “We are more liberal than they are, and it can sometimes be uncomfortable when the women arrive covered from head to toe and the men leer at you,” said Deniz, a Turkish teenager in ripped jeans and a T-shirt, who declined to give her last name for fear of antagonizing her Syrian boss.


Is Turkey Still a Western Ally?

I spent part of 2008 in Turkey to figure out whether Ankara could still be considered a Western ally. That it's necessary to raise this question at all is an indication of how far the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has isolated the country from its traditional partners. For years Turkish foreign policy was driven by shared Western values, including democracy, membership to institutions like NATO and a sense of common destiny with Europe and the U.S. Since the AKP assumed power in 2002, Turkish foreign policy is increasingly driven by two new factors: religion and money. Over the past year, the neo-Islamist AKP government has hosted a series of anti-Western leaders, including the presidents of Iran and Sudan, with whom Ankara seeks closer relations. At the same time, Turkey has ratcheted up its verbal attacks on its traditional Western allies, especially Israel. While the AKP seems to mirror Western policies toward such countries as Sudan, Iran or Russia, it fosters intimate ties with these governments.

Last July in Istanbul, for example, I witnessed Turkish joy over the capture of Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the "butcher of Bosnia" who was indicted for genocide at The Hague tribunal. Just days later, however, the AKP welcomed Omar Al-Bashir, the even bigger butcher of Darfur. Ironically, the visit of the Sudanese president to Turkey coincided with The Hague court's prosecutor request that Mr. Al-Bashir be arrested for committing genocide in Darfur. Yet President Al-Bashir received a warm welcome in Turkey, where he alleged that his government "had restored peace to Darfur," and defended the implementation of Shariah law in resolving the Darfur conflict. The AKP, the governing party of a secular state, did not challenge these statements. Instead, it chose to discuss oil investments in Sudan.

Later on in August, the AKP welcomed Iran's president to Istanbul. Turkey officially stands against Iran's nuclear project. But the AKP embraced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shutting down Istanbul's busy beltway for his travel comfort. In another favor to Mr. Ahmadinejad, the AKP departed from the tradition of having visiting Muslim heads of state pray in the isolated Dolmabahce Mosque which has served as Istanbul's protocol mosque. Instead, the government allowed him to pray in the central Blue Mosque with thousands of other worshippers, whereupon he put on an anti-American and anti-Israeli show which I had the displeasure of witnessing after attending Friday prayers there.

The Iranian leader left Istanbul happy, with a security cooperation treaty under one arm and a draft treaty for Turkish investments in Iranian gas fields under the other -- the latter in violation of Western financial sanctions against Tehran. Turkish media reported that U.S. pressure prevented the investment treaty from being finalized. Nevertheless, in November Turkey's energy minister visited Tehran for further discussions on energy deals.

The AKP empathizes with the Islamist regime in Sudan -- which it sees as a victim of the West -- and with the mullahs in Iran because it sees Turkey in religious communion with these states. In March 2006, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed an Arab League summit in Khartoum, saying, "the West is using terrorism to sell us weapons." It appears that Mr. Erdogan has finally answered the question of where Turkey belongs -- and that in his opinion, it's not with the West. On Iran, Mr. Erdogan told a Washington crowd on Nov. 14 that the AKP's policy is that "countries that oppose Iran's nuclear weapons should themselves not have nuclear weapons."

At the same time, the Iranians know how to exploit Turkey's security concerns. Ankara is upset about insufficient U.S. and European assistance against the terror infrastructure of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq and Western Europe, respectively. Tehran courts Turkish hearts and minds by bombing PKK camps in Iraq and by providing Turkey with intelligence support against the PKK. Financial instincts cement this religious sympathy. As polls show that Turks increasingly value Iran's friendship, energy and other cooperation projects with Iran will go down well in Turkey.

Energy politics also bring Ankara closer to Moscow. Only days after the U.S. condemned Russia's invasion of Georgia, calling for Moscow's isolation, the AKP invited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Ankara for consultations. In 2002, Russia was Turkey's sixth-biggest trading partner. Bilateral commerce has skyrocketed since then, turning Russia into Turkey's top trading partner in the first half of 2008. Accordingly, few Turks question the close ties with Moscow, and realists point out that Turkey depends on Russia for two-thirds of its gas.

Last but not least, Israel has become Mr. Erdogan's sandbag while Hamas sits in his heart. Turkey has long had warm ties to the Jewish state, since Turks did not wear ideology or religion on their sleeves in their relationship with Israel. But under the AKP, those relations are getting frostier. The conflict in Gaza has given the AKP an excuse to bring Turkish-Israeli relations to their lowest level in decades. Shortly after Jerusalem launched its offensive, Mr. Erdogan started a disingenuous initiative to "end the war in Gaza," traveling to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Egypt -- but not to Israel.

Mr. Erdogan's rhetoric, meanwhile, has reached Islamist fever pitch. Earlier this month he suggested that "Allah would punish Israel" for attacking Hamas, and that Jerusalem's actions would lead to its own "destruction." On Jan. 16, he questioned whether the Jewish state should still be allowed in the U.N. While accusing Israel of deliberately attacking civilians, Mr. Erdogan claimed that "Hamas's rockets are not causing any casualties in Israel." His attacks worked. After Mr. Erdogan bashed Israel almost daily on national TV since the beginning of the operations in Gaza, 200,000 Turks showed up on Jan. 4 in the freezing rain in Istanbul, calling for the "death" of the Jewish state. Pro-AKP papers, meanwhile, question Turkey's military cooperation with Israel.

Now, Turkey's tiny and well-integrated Jewish community feels physically threatened for the first time since 1492, when it found safe haven in the Ottoman Empire after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. There have been threats of violence against Jews and, even more shocking, banners have been plastered on Jewish-owned businesses, asking people to boycott them. U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and the European Union face a challenge in Turkey. The country's messy foreign policy is a harbinger of things to come. Under the AKP, Turkey will increasingly side with its radical, anti-Western neighbors, even if it remains committed, at least verbally, to the West. I hate to say it, but this is not your mother's Turkey.


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.