3 October 2006
Recently, there is an inflation of claims in Turkey arguing that hatred against the US is surging and so-called anti-Semitism is on the peak. In particular, after the Iraq War in 2003, some circles in the US claim that Turkey is ruled by an Islamist government, and that the government supports anti-American and anti–Israeli groups. According to this view, Turkey is an obstacle in the implementation of the American and Israeli policies in the Middle East. There are those who maintain that the current government should be toppled in order to overcome this situation.
First of all, one must admit that there has recently been a notable reaction particularly in Turkey against the American and Israeli policies. In the surveys conducted by our organization, ISRO (USAK), in March 2005, we found the emergence of a reaction against the US and Israel. The study found that 91 % of the Turkish public did not approve the policies of US President George W. Bush. Those who support Bush’s policies was only 0,5 %. In the USAK’s friend-enemy perception survey, the US and Israel got the lowest ranking. However, these statistics don’t imply that Turkish people are exception in global trends. The US’ policies on Iraq and global terrorism are largely disapproved by the world as well. Bush’s policies are a subject of mockery even in the US. The same survey also suggests that Turkish people don’t hate the US or Americans, and reactions are conjectural as a result of current American policies. For example, 74 % of the respondents still see the US as an ally of Turkey. Those who state they hated the US were only 4 %. There is a fact that Turks dislike Bush but appreciate Clinton very much. Same is true for Israel. Turkey is one of the countries where anti-Semitism has no historical roots. Turks and Turkey are against the Israeli policies, but not Israel. In this sense, Turkey isn’t more anti-Israeli than any other country in the globe.
So, why is there an increasing concern in the US that Turkey is going anti-American? Why are some people trying to give the impression that Turkey has become an al-Qaeda base?
There are various reasons for that:
- The Turkish government is blamed for the rejection of the proposal in March 1, 2003 (tezkere), which would have allowed the US troops to use Turkish territory for military passage to Iraq. Some neo-cons in the US cannot accept this result. They think that they were betrayed by Turkey. The US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the most prominent person in this group. Rumsfeld has blamed the inability to gain permission to invade Iraq through Turkey for the power of the insurgency that the US now faces. (1) For Rumsfeld, had Turkey given the permission, the US wouldn’t have suffered this many of fatalities and Iraq would have been a totally different country. Rumsfeld may be right on that point in some degree. However, it can be seen that the US lacked proper understanding of Turkey’s importance before the March 1 voting. Before the war, the US thought that Turkey would definitely approve the proposal, and in a way, confused Turkish Assembly with the other ones in the Middle East. Moreover, the approval became much less likely because of the US’ indifferent attitude. They treated the subject like a horse trading. They were so arrogant in very minor topics that they attracted great negative reaction from the Turkish public. Secondly, it wouldn’t be fair to blame the government for the rejection of the proposal in the Assembly. It is true that the government did some small mistakes. However, the Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan still says that “the proposal should have been approved”. The government did its best to get the approval from the Parliament. As a matter of fact, all of those who voted for the approval were the governing AKP’s (Justice and Development Party) MPs, who were blamed for being “Islamist” and anti-American. In addition, the proposal was rejected with only a few vote-margin. Besides, those who voted affirmative were more than those who voted negative, but there was no simple majority due to abstentions. As opposed to the general belief, it is the traditional leftist party, CHP (Republican People’s Party), which voted “no” collectively, that caused the proposal to be rejected. Even today, the party leader Deniz Baykal tells this story as one of the party’s biggest successes. Another reason of rejection was the Army’s implicit message a day before the voting that the result was not very important for itself. The Turkish Army, expressing its views in almost every case, did not make any statement in such a crucial matter. In the National Security Council meeting which was held a day before the voting, the Army’s silence on the issue was perceived as the Army was against the approval.
- Some right-wing Jewish groups in the US see AKP and al-Qaeda identical. These groups characterize governing AKP as “Islamist”, and claim that Turkey is leaning towards Islamism at the expense of Westernism. However, AKP leadership totally rejects “Islamism” idea. The AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with an inspiration from Christian Democrats, defines his party as Muslim Democrat. One can also say that AKP, like the early years of ANAP (Motherland Party), is an umbrella party embodying many different groups, including liberals and leftists. But claiming that Turkey has become an Islamist state during the AKP rule is a quiet exaggerated assessment. During this period, Turkey has achieved the most notable reforms in its history in the fields of democratization and Westernization, also thanks to the EU process. Negotiations for full membership have begun with the EU, and the Turkish economy has achieved a dramatic growth in integration with the Western economies during this period ironically called by some Islamist.
- The third important reason is the claim that Turkey has shifted towards an anti-Israeli posture with the AKP government. It is true that the PM Erdogan has harshly criticized Israel. In one of his speeches, Erdogan went as far as asserting that Israel has had some conducts which might be termed as “state terrorism”. However, this firm attitude against Israel is not peculiar to AKP’s Erdogan. His predecessor Bulent Ecevit, a leftist politician, also blamed Israel for committing “genocide” against the Palestinians. Similarly, the leftist opposition party CHP’s leader Deniz Baykal also makes very harsh statements criticizing Israel. The far leftist and rightist parties in Turkey all also criticize Israel sharply. In other words, we cannot say that the Turco-Israeli relations have deteriorated during the AKP government. On the contrary, the Israeli Ambassador to Ankara, Pinhas Avivi, has stated that the good relations between the two countries have reached its peak in history during the current Turkish government. Delivering a speech at ISRO (USAK) on September 6, 2006, the Ambassador said that the economic relations between two countries have for the first time passed $10 billion and described the relations as “strategic”. In other words, the relations are getting stronger and stronger regardless of the discourses. In this context, one should remember that it was the Turkish leftists which opposed most outspokenly to the Galataport investment project in Istanbul by the Israeli businessman Ofer, and it was leftist CHP which initiated campaigns to cancel this deal. On the other hand, it is interesting to see that Prime Minister Erdogan, who was accused of being “Islamist”, warned the left-wing parties “not to act like the economic anti-Semitics”.
- The fourth, and maybe the most important, reason is the complaints to the US from Turkey. Those who cannot win the elections or who doesn’t trust his personal or institutional influence in Turkey think that the road to power passes through the US. For this reason, many politicians and bureaucrats (civilian or not) have recently visited the US. During these visits, the most prominent argument of the groups opposing AKP government was that there was a polarization of Islamists vs. secularists in Turkey. Stressing that this government was “Islamist” and “anti-Western”, these opposition groups asked for American support to topple the government. The visitors from Turkey not only talked to officials but also paid visits to the ethnic-religious and political lobbies to share their views. The effects of these groups perhaps are much more influential than anything else in the emergence of an anti-Turkish atmosphere in the US.
- The Turkey experts of Turkish origin in the US: Some of the Turkey experts of Turkish origin, who have difficulty in maintaining their posts or maintaining their posts with some preconditions, are trying to retain their posts by giving an impression in the US that there is a strong polarization in Turkey. The extension of their contracts is conditioned to defend certain views, and these contracts are usually offered by groups which see Turkey as we defined above. In addition, the institutions in the US only want to hear what they want to hear and ignore criticisms of the US, and this keeps the Turkey experts under grave pressure. Because of this, many “experts” have to defend the views which they don’t approve just to maintain their projects and grants. Some other Turkish experts, who are less in number, present their personal ideological positions as the views reflecting Turkey.
Who is the Enemy of the US in Turkey?
It is clear for many that there has been a strong anti-Americanism in Turkey since the World War II. The US Congress’ support to the Armenian radicals and also its support of the Greek side in the Cyprus issue are some of the reasons for the Turkish dislike of the US. The most important reason undermining the image of the US in Turkey was the arms embargo imposed on Turkey in the 1970s with the influence of the Greek lobby in the US. In the following years, the PKK terror and the Kurdish issue in Turkey have been the main problems in Turco-American relations. It is noteworthy to see that it has been the Jewish lobby which defended Turkish interests in the Congress during this period. Another striking point is that, contrary to the general belief in the West, the basis of anti –Americanism in Turkey is not Islamist movements, but secular leftist ideologies. The anti-Americanism and –Westernism in Turkey is, generally, a leftist movement. What is more, one can even say that being a leftist, being anti-Israeli and anti–American are almost synonymous. For example, the demonstrations protesting the arrival of the US 6th Fleet in Turkey in the 1960s has been one of the legends of the Turkish left. On the other hand, Turkish right-wing has always been willing to improve the relations with the US. As a matter of fact, it is not coincidence to see that the most noticeable improvements in relations with the US have taken place during the conservative rightist governments (Menderes, Demirel, Ozal etc.) in Turkey. Even the far rightist groups such as Islamists and nationalists have never been as critical as the leftists about the US. Both groups criticize the US and Israeli policies as a populist method to draw support from the masses during election campaigns. However, when any of these parties were in power, they refrained from any action which could harm the relations. Furthermore, the Islamist governments, in their coalition governments, improved relations with the US and Israel just because they were concerned with secular reactions to their political leanings. It is striking to note that the most significant security agreement between Israel and Turkey was signed by the government of Necmettin Erbakan, known to be an Islamist, in 1996.
However, anti-American and anti–Israeli stand has been an important part of CHP, the centrist and moderate leftist party. Many MPs in CHP take the issue back to the Turkish War of Salvation (1919-1922) and claim that the West still wants to divide Turkey. For CHP, the PKK is supported by the Western powers, and there is a Western bloc against Turkey in Cyprus and Armenian problems. CHP also sees the US’ Middle East policies as conspiracies to divide Turkey. CHP opposes not only political liberalism, but also economic one, and it has been the political party which resists privatization the most. In particular, the sale of Turkish state companies to Israel and the US is unacceptable to CHP. Its strong opposition to the investments of Ofer, an Israeli businessman, in Turkey and its campaign to prevent these investments are indications of CHP’s posture on this issue. Not only CHP, but DSP, another left-wing party, is also very critical of the US and Israel. The campaign “no sale of Turkish property to foreigners” initiated by Rahsan Ecevit, one of the most influential figures of the party, is the peak of distrust against Israel and the West. According to Ecevit, Israeli citizens are buying large areas of land from the southeast of Turkey and this will be a process which will eventually lead to the division of Turkey.
The anti-Americanism is much more sharper in far leftist groups, and this may turn into terrorist activities as in the case of DHKP-C (The Salvation Party-Front of Revolutionary People). The far leftist Worker Party, led by Dogu Perincek, is quiet sure that the US and Israel wants to divide Turkey. Perincek strictly opposes privatization, liberal economy, Turkey’s NATO membership, its cooperation with the US and Israel, and even sees all of these as treason.
For some groups in the US, the Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer acts as a balance against the so-called Islamist government in its anti-Israeli and –Western policies. First of all, the MPs of Erbakan’s Islamist party gave full support to Sezer’s election in 2000. So to say, Sezer was elected thanks to the votes of the “Islamist MPs”. It is true that Sezer is a fanatic secular, and his radical stand against Islamism is evident. However, it is impossible to say that President Sezer is pro-Israeli and –Western, and that he counterweighs Erdogan on this issue. In fact, Sezer’s anti-Westernism is incomparably stronger than that of Erdogan’s. His close relationship with the Syrian President Beshar al-Assad, his views that Turkey should establish regional alliances and should improve relations with Iran and Russia instead of the US and the EU indicate that he is closer to the “ulusalcilar” (leftist-nationalists). Sezer’s skepticism towards the West is so strong that he has serious reservations regarding Turkey’s full membership process in the EU. His opposition to privatization and market economy are also noteworthy. In 2005, he insisted to visit Syria challenging the US’ open warnings. In brief, one cannot say that President Sezer is a pro-Israeli and –American. In this sense, Erdogan’s government is closer to the US, the EU and Israel than Sezer is.
Though less in number, another voiceful group is “ulusalcilar” (leftist-nationalists). This group, which sometimes cooperate with the right-wing nationalists, is perhaps the forerunner of opposition to the US and Israel. This group is anti-Israeli and hostility against the US is at the center of their policies. They cannot even get 1% of the votes in the elections, yet they are still influential to some extent on the President and some media companies.
Finally, the Turkish Army, claimed to be a balancer against the current government, has no obvious anti- or pro-Western attitude. Traditionally, the Turkish Army sees the future of Turkey in the West. However, this affiliation can be defined as locating Turkey in the West despite the West, i.e., it is based on never fully trusting the West. Regarding Israel, it is seen that there is a considerable distrust against Israel within the Army and this has been growing recently. Many military officers think that the US and Israel plan to strengthen PKK and found a Kurdish state in North Iraq. In addition, the anti-imperialist thoughts are still strong within the Army, which originate from the Turkish War of Salvation. The most important reason for Turkey’s ‘passivity’ to cooperate with the US during the Iraq War has been the Army’s indetermination or skepticism. Had the Army shown its willingness in favor of the proposal to involve in Iraq War, the proposal would definitely have been approved in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM). The Army’s unwillingness to send troops to Lebanon was also observed by many circles. It is also quiet meaningful to see that the Chief of General Staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, rejected at once the NATO’s request to send more troops to Afghanistan, without even consulting to the government. In the Gulf War in 1991, the Army also strongly opposed the decision of President Turgut Ozal to act together with the US. The then-Chief of General Staff, Necip Torumtay, did not want to take side with the US in Iraq in a moment when almost the entire world was acting together with the US. Eventually, the Chief of General Staff had to resign due to the disagreement.
To sum up, we must admit that the anti-American sentiments in Turkey have been on the rise. However, this trend is not in contrast with the world. The general tendency in Turkey is quiet similar to that in, say, France, Germany or Egypt. In addition, it is not possible to define the current government as Islamist or anti-Western. Furthermore, the AKP government even has had no serious opposition in any of the decisions concerning Israel or the US. The government every time voted in favor of the policies adopted by the US and Israel. Hence, it can be said that there is a significant illusion and manipulation in the US towards Turkey.
Trns. by Noyan OZKAYA; USAK
Sedat LACINER: Director, International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) & Davos Economic Forum Young Global Leader 2006 Award
BA (Ankara), MA (University of Sheffield), PhD (King’s College, University of London)