- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

It’s kiss-and-makeup time for the United States and Turkey, and July is likely to see the completion of this reconciliation with a visit to Washington by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

Uncle Sam and Hacivat, the personification of the educated Turk in traditional shadow-theater shows, have decided one needs the other too much to allow the unpleasantness to go on about Turkey declining to allow the United States to use its territory as a staging area during the war on Iraq.

“We have got a lot of shared interests and certainly value Turkey’s friendship,” said Phil Reeker, the State Department’s deputy spokesman. “And our strategic partnership is one that will endure.”

He spoke on the eve of the visit to Washington of Ugur Ziyal, the No. 2 man at the Foreign Ministry in Ankara.

Mr. Ziyal, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on June 17, stressed that Ankara and Washington share strategic visions: fighting terrorism, settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, reforming the Middle East, uniting Europe, ending conflicts in the Caucasus, consolidating the independence of Central Asian republics and stabilizing the Balkans.

A look at the map shows why the United States regards Turkey as strategically important: Turkey occupies part of southeastern Europe, as well Anatolia in Asia. Bordering the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, it is at the crossroads of Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Caspian basin, the Arab world and Iran. Although a secular nation, it’s the only predominantly Muslim democracy in what is generally agreed to be a tough neighborhood.

NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels at midmonth made the NATO base at Izmir on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast the command center for the alliance’s new southern wing air operations.

But Turkey’s refusal to allow the United States to create a northern front in Iraq from its territory threatened an alliance that began in 1947 with the Truman Doctrine, a promise of protection for Turkey and other countries menaced by the Soviet Union. U.S. warplanes were first based at Incirlik in the south of Turkey in the 1950s, and stayed there throughout the Cold War. Between the end of the 1991 Gulf war and the war with Iraq this year, U.S. and British planes, based at Incirlik, flew patrols that protected a safe haven for the Kurds in northern Iraq who enjoyed freedom from Saddam Hussein’s rule and developed a liberal and proto-democratic society.

By mid-June, the threat to close Turkish-American relations had receded. During three days of talks with, among others, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Ziyal offered to send as many as 2,000 Turkish troops to help in Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz, outspoken in his criticism of the Turkish failure to accommodate the Bush administration, declared approvingly, “Turkey is now eager to assist us in the reconstruction of Iraq.”

Significantly, the Turkish troops are reported to be posted in the Shi’ite south of Iraq, away from the Kurdish north. Under the terms agreed upon before Turkish cooperation in the Iraq war fell through, the Turks would have been permitted to station as many as 40,000 troops in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to 5,000 or so estimated to be there already. This delighted Ankara, which does not want the Iraqi Kurds to set up an independent state, and infuriated the Iraqi Kurds, who fear that Turkey seeks to undercut their autonomy.

Ankara has said it would regard an independent Kurdish entity as a war provocation. The Kurds seizing the oil centers of Kirkuk or Mosul would also be a reason for military action, Ankara said. Neither has happened, and the Turks have muted talk about such “red lines.”

Turkey’s own problems with terrorism were on Mr. Ziyal’s agenda. Militants of the Marxist Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK, began an insurrection in 1984 that has taken 35,000 lives. Small clashes still occur with Turkish security forces, but the bulk of the PKK, 4,000 or so fighters, withdrew from Turkey after the arrest and trial of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999.

They have shifted to the border between Iraq and Iran. Iraqi Kurds, who loathe the PKK, say the enclave could not have been established without Iran’s connivance and that indeed the PKK has good relations with the Iranians.

The Turks accept that their further “democratization,” necessary if they are to gain the membership in the European Union they seek, requires that the problems with their own Kurds be resolved. Some among these Kurds, who make up roughly 20 percent of the population, have assimilated to the Kemalist demands for a single Turkish identity. But millions of others, whether in their impoverished rural homeland in the southeast of the country or the shantytowns around the cities, refuse to abandon their language and culture.

The Turkish-American crisis, which had been brewing for months, erupted March 1, when the Turkish national assembly did not adopt a resolution to allow the United States to use Turkish territory as a base from which to send the 4th Infantry Division into northern Iraq.

Matters were made worse by what the Turks regarded as American bullying during negotiations about the terms of the proposed deal. The Turks were particularly galled by cartoons in the U.S. media depicting them as haggling traders and women of easy virtue.

For some, the national assembly vote simply reflected deep public opposition to the war. Polls showed that 90 percent of Turks were against it. The ruling Justice and Development Party, known by its initials in Turkish as the AKP, led an intense if futile effort to find a way of avoiding war. It was hardly surprising that the national assembly did not adopt the resolution, though it missed doing so by three votes.

Later in March, the assembly voted to allow coalition aircraft to carry troops into Iraq and to use Turkish air space to reach Iraqi targets, though it did not authorize the use of Turkish bases. But by then Washington was no longer interested and had taken off the table an aid package of $15 billion that could have been leveraged into loans worth $26 billion.

As something of a consolation prize, the Bush administration recently pledged a $1 billion aid package to Ankara.

Prior to the assembly vote, the Turkish General Staff, highly influential in determining policy, kept mum about the resolution. Some analysts say they believe it did so to embarrass the AKP that swept into office in November. So great was its success at the polls that for the first time in 15 years, a single party has been able to rule without forming a coalition.

The AKP casts itself as moderate and centrist, but it has Islamist antecedents that make it suspect in the eyes of the military, bureaucratic and political establishment. The Turkish armed forces feel a historic duty to ensure the secular character of the republic, given to it by its founder Gen. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and to see that religion is kept out of public affairs. To this end, it has carried out three coups and in 1997 pressured a pro-Islamic government out of office.

Pentagon hawks took a jaundiced view of the failure of the chief of staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, to make the case in good time for letting in the American troops. Mr. Wolfowitz criticized the Turkish military for not “playing the strong leadership role that we would expect.”

In Turkey, critics saw the March 1 vote as evidence of party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then-Prime Minister Abdullah Gul’s being inexperienced in government at the national level. Before becoming leader of the newly founded AKP in 2001, Mr. Erdogan did have a reputation as a politician at a lower level.

He was admired for his success as mayor of Istanbul, the country’s biggest city, but ran afoul of the military and was tried and jailed in 1999 on charges of spreading religious hatred. He was also banned from running for an assembly seat. Having one is a requisite for becoming prime minister.

Mr. Erdogan’s offense was to read in public an Islamic poem that included the lines, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

So when the November election gave the AKP 364 seats in the 550-seat chamber, Mr. Gul became prime minister until a change in the constitution allowed Mr. Erdogan to win a seat in a by-election March 9. He became prime minister five days later, with Mr. Gul stepping down to take up the foreign affairs portfolio.

The AKP is the fifth in a series of Islamist parties stretching back to the 1970s. All the earlier ones were dominated by Necmettin Erbakan, and all were banned for agendas that smacked of Islamic “fundamentalism.” Nevertheless, Mr. Erbakan succeeded in becoming Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister, in 1996. The next year he was forced to resign under pressure from the military. He now leads the small Felicity Party that failed to make it into parliament.

The disparity in support for the AKP and the Felicity Party reflects a generational gap. Old-time Islamic politicians such as Mr. Erbakan no longer attract the votes of a younger generation that has arisen from modest backgrounds to become a new elite. This new generation is religiously pious but also enterprising and computer literate, and speaks the international language, English. It wants democracy, an end to Turkey’s besetting corruption and a liberal economy.

Mr. Gul displayed this outlook in an impressive display of brass last month. He told a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, held in Tehran moreover, that Muslim countries must strive to be modern, become democratic, ensure good government, respect human rights, fight corruption, ignorance and violence, and ensure gender equality.

Whatever the effect on the other participants in the OIC meeting, Mr. Gul’s words went down well with those back home who have doubts about the AKP. His words also prompted Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to pick up the phone and congratulate Mr. Gul.

As for Mr. Ziyal’s visit, its success was signaled by the invitation he took home for his boss, Mr. Gul, to drop on by, perhaps sometime next month. Mr. Gul’s visit is expected in turn to pave the way for one by Mr. Erdogan.

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