Spotlight Refocus: The Latest on Turkey

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By: Hamlet Tamazian & Bobby Avakian

The American spotlight on the unrest in Turkey has faded since the worst of the Taksim Square riots, Gezi Park protests, and anti-Erdogan rallies. However, there is still much turmoil in Turkey and the region, and new problems are developing – making old issues more complex. Still, the democratic and human rights progress made during the protests has registered a permanent cultural shift among the people of Turkey. The Turkish government is the one part of the equation that has been slow to change, and several situations developing outside of the American media spotlight further proves this resistance to progress.

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First, the U.S. Department of State is warning Americans living in or traveling to Turkey that the U.S. Consulate General in Adana “has been authorized to draw down its non-emergency staff and family members because of potential threats against U.S. government facilities and personnel,” and “recommends that U.S. citizens defer non-essential travel to southeastern Turkey.”[1] Interestingly enough, this “warning” has been issued despite the absence of any emergency action (technically speaking) taken by the U.S.

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Second, and more alarming, is Turkey’s blatant disregard for the West, specifically NATO and U.S. allies, as concerns mount over Turkey’s announced decision to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system with the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC), a firm under U.S. sanctions for having violated the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act. “‘We have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish government’s contract discussions with a U.S.-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be inter-operable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities,’ a State Department spokeswoman said.”[2]  About half of Turkey’s air defense system has been paid for by NATO, and integration of third party equipment is impossible without the consent of NATO partners.[3] Absent NATO integration, Turkey’s defense system will lose half of its capabilities. Worse is the possibility that Turkey would allow the transfer of NATO technology to China. Why would Turkey make such a decision? What are they planning for the future? A European and NATO ambassador said that this move signals a clear nod to the Shanghai Security Cooperation (SCO) whose members include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Simultaneously, the ambassador says that this act is a “powerful message to [Turkey’s] NATO allies… that Turkey may no longer be the staunch ally it used to be.”[4] Under the directive of Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, Turkey sought to upgrade its status with the SCO to “observer state” earlier this year, after they had elevated their standing with SCO to “dialogue partner” in 2012.[5] Erdogan also raised the question of SCO membership on January 25th with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying, “include us in the Shanghai Five and we will forget about the EU.”[6] Seeking this membership would appear to be a clear signal to NATO, as SCO is “often viewed as a rival to NATO.”[7] If membership status is granted to Turkey, NATO may have some immediate worries. Murat Bilhan, vice chairman of the Turkish-Asian Center for Strategic Studies, believes the reluctance on SCO’s part is that Turkey is viewed “as a Trojan horse of the West.”[8] If SCO membership is granted to Turkey, who will be housing this Trojan horse?

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Coupled with Turkey’s CPMIEC missile project is an attempt at becoming a major player in space and related programs by 2023. To meet this date Turkey is planning on synchronizing three ventures: “building a national long-range air defense and anti-missile architecture, developing long-range missiles and constructing the country’s first satellite launching pad.”[9] But are these space intentions pure? In 2001, “Turkey announced plans to develop a missile with a maximum range of 2,500 kilometers….” and the Turkish cabinet minister has confirmed that the country already has the capability to make a missile with a range of 800 kilometers.[10] In regards to Turkey’s planned satellite launching pad, the site will be operated by Turkey’s Air Force, which has led Western diplomats to express fear that the launching site might also be used in the future as a launching pad for 2,500-kilometer-range missiles.[11]

Drawing similar international attention and concern has been Turkey’s offshore energy activities. Continuing to grow progressively worse, Turkey’s oil and gas exploration efforts have been coming at the expense of Cyprus’s efforts in the Mediterranean. In the coming weeks a Turkish vessel may enter the exclusive economic zone of E.U. member Cyprus. So far the vessel “has been conducting offshore oil and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean….” but may soon aggravate already inflamed tensions with Cyprus. Turkey has been doing anything it can to hinder and impede Cyprus’ rightful exploration efforts. In a provocative move, “Turkey has strongly protested against Greek Cyprus’ energy exploration in the Mediterranean, branding the moves illegal and starting its own exploratory drilling off Turkish northern Cyprus.”[12] Additionally, Turkey has been discouraging companies from getting involved with Greek Cypriot energy exploration work by threatening to shut them out of future investments in Turkey’s energy infrastructure. It appears Turkey is not bluffing on this issue, as “Turkey decided in March to suspend energy projects with Italian giant Eni in retaliation for the company’s involvement in oil and gas drilling off the coast of Greek Cyprus.”[13] Conversely, Turkey is a willing partner in the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which may one day connect Azerbaijani gas to European markets via Turkish, Greek, and Albanian territory to Italy.[14]

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While Erdogan makes decisive moves in the international sphere, he is also attempting to stabilize his interests at home. In response to the recent collaboration and dialogue developing between Turkey’s restive Kurdish population and Armenians, Erdogan has announced major political reforms in hopes that it will help him regain the status quo ante and bolster his popularity with the liberal left-wing and Kurdish voters ahead of next year’s first-ever direct Presidential election. One proposal has been lowering the 10% electoral threshold which would help Kurdish and other small parties enter parliament. Towns will be able to use their original Kurdish, rather than Turkish, names and “education will be broadened.”[15] Kurdish Members of Parliament have expressed their displeasure of Erdogan’s reform package, claiming that it does not meet their expectations, but they seem to find some benefit from the process since a “commitment to further reform in the future,  […] could set the wheels of the peace process back in motion.”[16] The problem is that the real issues, the actual political and humanitarian concerns that were raised, are not being addressed.  It seems that these other concessions are being made in order to distract the public from what is actually important. “The anti-terror courts are still working. Around 1,000 Kurds will not be released from prisons,” said a Kurdish politician critical of the reforms.[17]

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All of these issues, and a stagnant government that has for the most part gotten away with their actions after slipping away from the spotlight, is resulting in a more distinct divide between the Turkish government and its people. “After the summer of 2013, Turkey is more polarised than ever.” “Turkey’s people are changing faster than its politicians. And the gap is increasingly visible.”[18] Hopefully Erdogan and his government will listen to the grievances brought forth by the Taksim Square protesters and do what is necessary for the people of Turkey at home and on the international stage. “I am relieved that the student oath that we repeated every morning has been abolished… drumming into us that we were not individuals but part of an undifferentiated mass and had delegated our existence to the state and the nation. That mentality is changing. We are individuals. We owe this cultural shift to the young protesters of Taksim Square.”[19]

Hamlet Tamazian is an international business and conflict management student at Pepperdine University. Bobby Avakian is a business administration and management student at Boston University.  They recently completed the Assembly’s Terjenian-Thomas Summer Internship Program in Washington, D.C. You can follow Hamlet and Bobby on Twitter @htamaz and @avak_b.

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[1] Travel Warning: Turkey, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Sep. 6, 2013

[2] U.S. concerned about Turkey’s choice of Chinese missile system, Paul Simao, Reuters, Sep. 28, 2013

[3] Concerns Mount Over Turk-China Defense System, Burak Ege Bekdil, Defense News, Sep. 29, 2013

[4] Concerns Mount Over Turk-China Defense System, Burak Ege Bekdil, Defense News, Sep. 29, 2013

[5] Turkey seeks observer member status in SCO, Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 1, 2013

[6] Turkey seeks observer member status in SCO, Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 1, 2013

[7] Concerns Mount Over Turk-China Defense System, Burak Ege Bekdil, Defense News, Sep. 29, 2013

[8] Turkey gets cold shoulder from Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Aydin Albayrak, Today’s Zaman, Sep. 24, 2013

[9] Turkey striving to synchronize aerospace ambitions by 2023 , Burak Bekdil, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 24, 2013

[10] Turkey striving to synchronize aerospace ambitions by 2023 , Burak Bekdil, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 24, 2013

[11] Turkey striving to synchronize aerospace ambitions by 2023 , Burak Bekdil, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 24, 2013

[12] Turkey may drill for oil and gas in Cyprus: Minister, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 25, 2013

[13] Turkey may drill for oil and gas in Cyprus: Minister, Hurriyet Daily News, Sep. 25, 2013

[14] Trans Adriatic Pipeline Homepage, http://www.trans-adriatic-pipeline.com/

[15] Turkey’ Erdogan announces Kurdish reforms, BBC News Europe, Sep. 30, 2013

[16] Turkey’ Erdogan announces Kurdish reforms, BBC News Europe, Sep. 30, 2013

[17] Turkey’ Erdogan announces Kurdish reforms, BBC News Europe, Sep. 30, 2013

[18] Ankara fails to deliver on democracy, Elif Shafak, The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2013,

[19] Ankara fails to deliver on democracy, Elif Shafak, The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2013,

About Armenian Assembly of America

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.
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