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“The EU and Turkey Need Each Other”: Interview with Ambassador Selim Yenel

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: the recent failed coup in Turkey has made the country subject of non-stop world attention, with media focusing on politics and speculations over the coup’s sponsors. But largely lost in the current media frenzy has been the pre-existing issue of Turkey-EU cooperation on the migration crisis, the country’s relations with Balkan neighbors, Germany and Britain, as well as many other issues.

Over the past year, the urgent need for managing the migration crisis has accelerated the EU-Turkey dialogue. After long negotiations, Turkey committed to act as a buffer for asylum seekers, in exchange for EU financial assistance and fast-tracking EU visa liberalization for Turkish citizens.

In the following exclusive interview, Balkanalysis.com Brussels contributor Maria-Antoaneta Neag gets the insight of Turkey’s Ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, regarding the latest developments in the EU-Turkey dialogue, as well as Turkey’s enhanced role in regional security, in view of the recent coup attempt.

Background: Introducing the Ambassador

With an academic background in political science and a long diplomatic career in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Selim Yenel has served in posts in Paris (Third Secretary and Second Secretary at the Permanent Representation of Turkey to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), Kabul (First Secretary at the Turkish Embassy), New York (First Secretary and Counsellor at the Permanent Representation of Turkey to the United Nations) and Brussels (Counsellor and First Counsellor at the Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the European Economic Community). He was also the Turkish Ambassador to Austria from 2005-2009 and, after a short period back in Ankara, has served since December 2011 at Turkey’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels, and will leave for Ankara after the summer.

Turkish Ambassador Selim Yenel- Interview with Balkanalysis

According to Ambassador Yenel, despite the attempted coup the Turkey-EU migration deal “will stand because nothing has changed in Turkey with regards to our commitments.”

The Migration Crisis and Visa Liberalization

Maria-Antoaneta Neag: It must have been a very active period for you, taking part in all EU-Turkey negotiations on the migration crisis and visa liberalization. How do you see these negotiations? Is the provisional outcome fair for all parts involved? Would the deal stand? How do the events in Turkey affect these negotiations?

HE Ambassador Selim Yenel: After three summits (meetings of the EU heads of state or government with Turkey), we reached an important deal in which we will actually normalize our relations. For a long time, the relations were unfortunately far apart. I have to say this has been an opportunity to normalize the relations. We had taken enough measures to prevent the flow of illegal migrants but the most important thing was the deal on the 18th of March 2016, because that deal mentioned that Turkey will take back everybody, whoever goes to the Greek islands, whether they are Syrian or non-Syrian, and that was the trick that did it. People saw they would go to the Greek islands for nothing. The traffickers, the smugglers also saw that their lucrative business was coming to an end, and that people won’t spend money to go there if they were going to be sent back.

After the deal was done, we saw the numbers drop dramatically. Before the deal the Germans and others said that success would be measured by the numbers and if it would be as low as three figures, it would have been a success. Now, it’s down to two figures and sometimes none at all, so this is a major success. And this will continue. On this side, we have asked the EU to speed things up and we opened one chapter during the Dutch presidency on their last day, Chapter 33. We have asked that the financial assistance for Syrians to be speeded up. That took some time but now it’s under control.

Thirdly, the most important thing was to obtain an early agreement on visa liberalization. We have fulfilled 67 out of 72 benchmarks but the last five were difficult to achieve in time, and the most difficult one was the change that the EU asked for regarding the terrorism law. As you know there is a lot of terrorist activity going on, not just in my country but all over the world and we expect some understanding from everyone to know that this is going to be difficult to change any legislation.

Hopes for September, but Delays Possible

Nevertheless, during the talks, when we opened the chapter, our foreign minister and the EU minister came here and had held discussions with Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president, and we said that if we can agree on the rest of the benchmarks and that if we know that what the EU wants will not hurt our fight against terrorism, then we can look for ways in which we can come to a mutual understanding. So we haven’t closed the door on this issue.

We hope to have a deal by September, when the European Parliament meets again, first of all because the Commission has the right to write these reports regarding the remaining five benchmarks; secondly, the Council has to give its approval, as well the European Parliament. We are aiming for September.

Now, what has happened in Turkey, because of the attempted coup might delay matters a little longer, though it is too early to say. With regard to what the EU considers very important, the deal itself will stand because nothing has changed in Turkey with regards to our commitments. We believe that the most important thing is that the Syrian crisis comes to an end. This is very difficult. As spill-over, the migration issue is very important for us. I believe people have forgotten that last year people were saying this is an existential issue for the EU. That’s what they were saying. And now it’s gone. The death toll has dramatically dropped. Nobody is dying in the Aegean Sea anymore. People forget the good things and remember unfortunately the bad things and we have to remind them that this deal has been a success and it will continue.

Scenarios for EU Inaction on Visa Liberalization and Turkey’s Likely Response

MN: What are your views on the possible contingencies? Could an EU refusal to fulfil its visa liberalization promises lead to a situation in which Turkey could again allow migrants to go to Greece and follow the Balkan route?

SY: No, this will not be the case. If the EU, despite everything that we’ve done, despite our efforts, if we have fulfilled the criteria and the EU still doesn’t give us visa liberalization then, then we would not apply the readmission agreement.

And that is what we have always said, even before signing it, during the signing of the agreement and afterwards. We said, if we fulfil everything and the EU still does not grant visa-free travel because of political reasons, one reason or another, then we won’t adhere to the readmission agreement, but the migration crisis is something else.

MN: Can the EU manage borders and migration without Turkey- with the help of Greece and other newly created EU bodies or initiatives, such as the European Border Guard, or the Italian Plan for Africa? Could migrants try to go through Cyprus? To your mind, is the EU‘s plan B for the migration crisis without Turkey feasible? Should we still worry about unclear scenarios? What is Turkey’s plan B?

SY: The fact that they want to have this kind of border control is important but that would take time and it’s not going to be easy. The borders are long and large and difficult to manage so they would need cooperation, they would need assistance from third countries. And the best assistance would be coming from Turkey, as we’ve proven it during the last few months. Turkish cooperation, Turkish partnership is essential and we will not shy away from it, so there is no Plan B. There should be no Plan B, there should be only cooperation.

Turkey’s EU Accession: Geography, Religion, Size and BREXIT

MN: In the process of EU accession, when considering Turkey as a candidate country, the geography argument is always resurfacing. Many also fear there is a strong West-East and North-South divide in the country, Istanbul being the only cosmopolitan hub.

This argument was also exacerbated to the brink of misinformation and used in the BREXIT campaign. How would you comment on this? Is Turkey a European country, from a cultural point of view but also geographically? To your mind, what would be Turkey’s greatest contribution to Europe and the EU?

SY: We were very disappointed by the arguments during the BREXIT campaign. They were making a lot of allegations, some of them outright lies, as if Turkey is going to join the EU very soon, as if 12 million Turks are going to come to the UK to live there. These were outright lies and unfortunately the government of the UK did not manage to convince the people of the truth about this, so we were very dismayed.

Regarding the contributions to the EU, Turkey is a European country whether we become members of the EU or not. That has always been the case, historically and geographically. If Cyprus is a member and if Georgia is considered to be a candidate in the future, then Turkey is of course a European country, geographically.

And, the fact that Turks have shown their strong support for democracy during the coup attempt during the last weekend is another demonstration that Turkey has become a truly democratic country. Lastly, I don’t think that we have to prove anything to anybody, because the other countries didn’t have to prove their credentials to become EU members- why do we have to do it?

MN: How much does it matter that Turkey is a populous and mainly Muslim country? Do you see any problem with this? How do people of different religions feel in Turkey? Is it religion or the size of your country that raises the EU’s anxieties?

SY: I think it’s both in Europe. It’s wrong because the EU is a 500 million-person entity and Turkey has 75-76 million people. We are not afraid of joining the EU and we don’t understand why the EU is afraid of Turkey.  This is a really strange situation, but is something that we see all the time.

The point is if Turkey joins, it would have the same rights as Germany in the institutions because of our population. That could be the main worry of the Germans, of the French and others, that Turkey would become a powerful member of the EU. So we have to prove that, if we do join, we will not rock the boat, and that we would actually strengthen the EU, that we would support the EU and have nothing against it. And Turkey is a secular country- yes, it’s a Muslim country but France is a Christian country [with a secular government]- the same thing. People shouldn’t read anything into it. You have seen that democracy is much more important than anything else.

MN: We mentioned BREXIT, how would Turkey be affected by this development? If the UK does leave the EU, would this leave a power void?

SY: Up until the referendum was announced, the UK was our strongest supporter in the EU with regard to accession. Since then, that support has gone and if the UK leaves the EU, that would be gone forever.

We believe that the EU should remain strong- and the UK is what makes the EU strong. We are very disappointed with this result. We hope that the negotiations will bring a beneficial result for both sides. I am not sure what kind of exit it will be, it is very early to say, nobody could guess. There will be a lot of factors to consider. Maybe it won’t happen at all and I do hope that it won’t happen at all.

MN: There have already been rumors that Turkey might have its own referendum on EU talks- is this likely?

SY: there is no reason to have a referendum right now, we are not there yet. People made allegations that we could have a referendum but on what grounds I’m not sure, because the negotiations are limited and much depends on the Cyprus question. If there is a solution on Cyprus, then the accession talks can start again but if they fail – this will be the last chance – then there is no possibility of Turkey advancing on accession, so that will already be a de facto way of cutting off negotiations. So we don’t need a referendum on this.

International Affairs

MN: At the beginning of June 2016, the German Parliament passed a resolution on the 1915 Armenian massacre by the Ottoman forces, which stirred the waters and angered Turkey over the Bundestag’s interference in these affairs. The resolution was harshly criticized by Erdogan, who recalled Germany’s own 20th century history, but also by the Armenian Patriarchate in Turkey. Furthermore, Germany pledged to help end the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. How do you weigh Germany’s role in improving Turkish-Armenian ties?

SY: We don’t need anybody else to help us on this and Germany is the last country to tell us something about these kinds of events.

MN: Is Germany’s position towards Turkey influenced by the traditional German parties? How do you see the future of the German political parties’ configuration and what role could the ethnic Turks of German nationality play in broadening views and political representation?

SY: The Turkish-origin peoeple in Germany have usually voted in one direction, basically for the Social Democrats. Up until recently, this is what we’ve seen. And of course they will look at the situation, at who supports Turkey or not.

We have no influence and we don’t want to have any influence. The Turks themselves can see what they need to see. Turkish-German relations have gone through a lot of difficult times. I am sure that we will get out of it. It is unfortunate, what we are seeing. Fortunately, the Chancellor [Merkel] and the President [Erdogan] talk to each other very often and they are able to overcome the difficulties.

MN: Turkey-Israel relations also went cold for a while, in view of the Mavi Marmara Israeli attack. But Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy made way for new talks in July 2016. What would be their probable outcome and how would the result read for the security in the region?

SY: Finally we have come to an agreement with Israel and soon we will send ambassadors to each other. This was something that both sides needed, especially with what’s happening in the region, with Syria and other conflicts around there, and especially the fight against Daesh and others. We are very happy that we were able to come to an agreement and this will actually strengthen the democracies in the region.

Turkey-Western Balkan Relations

MN: As this interview is for Balkanalysis.com, which covers the Balkan countries, what are your general comments on the state of bilateral relations with Serbia and Macedonia?

SY: We have excellent relations with all the Western Balkan countries and we have tried to strengthen them. We have supported their accession to either the EU or NATO. In NATO, of course, we have a role to play as we are members there but even in the EU, we have always supported their accession and we had a lot of talks, discussions to share our experiences, so we believe that it’s a good thing to have the Balkan countries in both organizations as soon as possible.

MN: Turkey also plays an important economic role in the Balkan area…

SY: That’s true. We have a lot of investments, a lot of trade going on with all these countries. Turkish Airlines is flying to all of them many times and we attract a lot of tourists from the region to Istanbul and beyond, and we hope they will continue to come despite these terrorist activities, as nowadays such activities happen all around the world.

Managing Refugees from War Zones- a Risky Business

MN: With Turkey being the forefront for migrant waves coming from Syria and the surrounding countries, there are worries that among the migrants, refugees in Turkey or among the Turkish people coming to the EU, there might be ISIS fighters.

SY: We have good cooperation on countering the foreign terrorist fighters, good information sharing with regard to people coming from the EU in support of Daesh. We stop them at the border or if we have information, we send them back. This cooperation has been going on for three or four years already and therefore we believe that this cooperation will continue as it affects all of us.

MN: Do you think the refugee situation currently dealt by Turkey is among the factors adding to the risk of terrorist attacks (such as the tragic Ataturk airport one)?

SY: Nobody can be safe anywhere in the world because of these terrorist attacks. In Turkey, there are close to three million refugees and it is very difficult to know who is who. So we always have this danger and that’s why we are trying to have more control, but you can never be sure about these things.

MN: Any last comments you would like to share with us?

SY: We need each other. The EU and Turkey need each other. We hope that the normalization of relations that has happened over the last year will continue as strong as before. We need the support of the EU for democracy in Turkey, as we have stood against the attempted coup and nobody should be worried about the future as we uphold the same values, such as human rights and the rule of law.

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*Note: Maria shares her personal views, which are intended to be neutral and for research purposes. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of the European Parliament.

The Coming Migrant Wave

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: confusion and panic following the Brexit vote, and preparations for the imminent Warsaw NATO Summit have distracted the focus of European leaders northwards to Britain and eastwards towards Russia. Relatively little attention is being paid to a scenario this website has consistently warned of– a renewed migrant surge towards the now-closed Balkan Route. The author, a former US diplomat, discusses the issue in the context of Europe’s current moment of crisis.

By Gerard M. Gallucci*

Significant attention is now focused on what happens after the Brexit vote. It seems everyone in the remaining EU countries are fed up with perfidious Albion, and just want them to leave and get it over with. Everyone, that is, except Merkel; she seems willing to give the English time to reconsider. She understands the particular costs to Germany if it must finally step out of its history to lead the EU alone. (No one else can lead as they are either caught up in their own populist uprising or unable – France – to think with one head).

Yet Brexit and its repercussions – political, economic, financial, etc – may actually not be what breaks Europe. What breaks Europe and the EU may be the coming wave of refugees that will hit the Balkans first.

Brussels policy for dealing with the refugee flow that threatened to overtake its members’ willingness to tolerate open borders has been mostly about getting Turkey to stop them before reaching EU borders.

Currently, some 2.7 million Syrians, Iraqis and others are piled up in Turkey either in camps – a small minority – or at the bottommost rungs of Turkish society and economy. A second element of the EU’s approach has been to allow thousands to die while trying to cross the sea, or pile up in Greece (officially 57,000) and Italy (where 4500 were rescued from the waters in just one day in June) if they succeed. The third piece has been to bottle up in the Balkans the rest that manage to get through.

Focus on Turkey

The key piece is Turkey. The deal the EU struck with Erdoğan requires Turkey to stop those fleeing the Mideast chaos from crossing over into Europe. Turkey has done so, allowing only a comparative trickle to move beyond. But the deal seems to be seen differently on both sides. Erdoğan appears to believe that in turn for stopping the refugee flow, Turks will get visa-free travel and Turkey will be allowed to move forward into the EU.

The EU – meaning Brussels and Berlin – apparently believe that they are already paying for Turkey allowing the refugees to pile up in its territory – and for belated efforts to close its southern border – with the “aid” it is providing to handle those refugees. For the other EU advantages – including visa-free travel – Turkey must meet “benchmarks” (including “anti-terrorism” measures) that it has failed so far to do.

As far as the Germans are concerned, Turkey must meet EU conditions if it can get anywhere near EU membership. In effect, Turkey must “act European” – including on human rights and democracy – before qualifying to enter Europe. That is not part of Erdoğan’s plans for rebuilding his caliphate.

Turkey is just pocketing most of the EU’s “aid” while Erdoğan accuses the bloc of double standards and “Islamophobia.” Both the EU and Turkey agree that there is no final deal and neither side appears to be getting close to one. Erdoğan probably understands that EU membership is far off the table but has political reasons to insist on visa-free travel.

Given the populist/nationalist backlash across the EU – only most noticeable in Hungary, which is allowing a bare trickle through to travel onward to Austria and Germany – and now the Brexit vote, there is no reason to assume Turks will be allowed free travel into the EU any time soon. The current impasse – which so far has prevented a renewed refugee flow – is not stable.

At some point in the next few months, Erdoğan may simply decide to let those millions move on. He may do it all at once and out loud, or slowly and quietly to build pressure on Berlin to surrender to his terms. He has the leverage because the EU has no plan B to handle another crisis.

Implications of a Second Migrant Wave

If the flow across the Aegean begins anew, it will be Greece and the Balkans that get overwhelmed again. Greece is in the EU but has been left to slowly twist on its own petard since its financial crisis. It will have no choice but to allow them to move on, but the strain will still be immense.

Macedonia and Serbia will then face the same problems as last year but with the northern routes into the EU now closed. They, meanwhile, have been left outside the EU staring in.

Merkel is perhaps the most effective and farsighted leader in the entire West. But even she will be challenged to build any effective EU response while her remaining partners face even more backlash from their own various domestic Orbans. Whatever happens with Brexit – perhaps Merkel and certain British leaders will find a way to walk back from the edge – renewed crisis over refugees will break the EU, leave chaos across the Balkans and leave hundreds of thousands of desperate people with nowhere to call home.

The only long-term solution remains, as it has for some time, strenuous EU and US efforts to bring real stability to Syria and Iraq.  This cannot be done at arm’s length.

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Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He has a PhD in political science, taught at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Arkansas, George Washington University and Drake University and now works as an independent consultant.

Southeast Europe Security: Trends to Watch in 2016

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: the turbulent year of 2015, marked by financial near-meltdown in Greece, political subterfuge and infighting in Macedonia and Kosovo, the all-pervasive migrant crisis, disputed elections and terrorism issues in Turkey, and so on. In short, 2015 was one of the most memorable in the post-9/11 period. Could 2016 be even more dramatic? Here is our annual list of trends watch.

By Ioannis Michaletos

The emerging security trends for 2016 in the greater region indicate the continuation, and even worsening of some situations present in 2015 and previous years. There will also be new trends, and institutional tactical reactions, meant to counter the threats through experience gained in the past year.

Libya: Crisis Continuation

Balkanalysis.com covered the disintegrating security situation in Libya, and the threat of ISIS penetration there, in an extensive study back in March 2015. As we predicted then, the situation has since worsened.

Libya has become a sort of typical failed state. Dozens of factions are vying for power, while at the same time the Islamic State is making inroads in places like Sirte and Dernah. Oil production has effectively collapsed, while corrupt officials are removing capital from the country on a massive scale.

Illegal migration is a perennial issue and Libya has been used as a launching pad for an outflow towards Europe for years now- and especially since the death of Moammar Gaddafi created sudden lawlessness and a power vacuum that was readily exploited by human traffickers.

Expect this to grow even more, as local population will seek capital, while Boko Haram and the various Sahel and Maghreb Islamist guerilla groups continue to drive out thousands of civilians. Potential turbulence in Africa could also exacerbate migration, such as civil strife in Burundi, and the impact of low oil prices on Nigeria’s ability to fund social services.

Finally, the Islamic State (which has recently filmed its own ‘Islamic police’ riding around Libyan streets in the usual Toyota trucks) will make its move and establish a “second front” in the Mediterranean. As we have noted, this move has been in preparation for some time. If the terror group succeeds in establishing any kind of presence in Indonesia (as Australian security officials have recently warned), the North Caucasus or Central Asia, the proliferation of fronts will become a real headache for security services worldwide.

A Further Migration Wave- and Preparations for Long-Term Derivative Industries

The huge refugee and migrant flow that is essentially a re-allocation of Middle Easterners and other non-Europeans into the EU is gathering pace, even as countries are trying to put a brake on it.

With the European bloc slowly getting into motion, more EU police arriving in Greece, and a robust migration policy in Skopje, expect creative new by-routes to be developed.

Some new arrivals may attempt to travel overland from Greece through Bulgaria or Albania, and the short crossing from the latter to Italy (by speedboat, as in the 1990s) could even be revived. Refugees might even try to travel from Middle Eastern shores directly to the EU via cargo ships or private vessels.

Another creative maritime route could see migrants travel from Turkey to the Black Sea shores of Bulgaria (and even Romania and Ukraine), which would require new smuggling networks to form in those places. We have already seen isolated cases of migrants traveling to Norway via a Russian Arctic border crossing, so it seems clear that despite EU efforts, desperate people will continue to exploit weaknesses in ‘Fortress Europe.’

Migration policy will actually be the litmus test for EU unity and Brussels’ resolve. Libya does not have a unified government to talk to, thus solutions of a solid nature are not expected there. And, even if the Syrian war ends in the upcoming year, that country will take years to rebuild, making life abroad seem advantageous for most people.

Amidst the continuing crisis, expect NGOs to become bolder regarding their ‘right’ to a permanent presence. This is already the case in economically-deprived Greece, a country with unemployment, where hundreds of well-paid jobs offered by international NGOs are now being regularly advertised; and with contract durations of one, two and even three years, this phenomenon clearly shows that the immigrant flow will grow and is of a long-term nature.

Generally speaking, what we are witnessing is the ‘NGO-ization’ of the local economies of certain islands, such as Lesvos. Islands, which depend on tourism and some agriculture, have been hit hard by unpopular tax increases and face the challenge of isolation from the mainland. The big island currently boasts 150 NGOs with more than 1,500 permanent and ad hoc staff, compared to a total local population of merely 90,00 people.

Expect this to grow even more, especially as ‘bad press’ in the outside world keeps tourists from coming to the otherwise quite popular Eastern Aegean islands afflicted by the migration phenomenon. As in 2015, the foreigners you will see there this year will include far more NGO types, conflict journalists and EU specialists than ever before.

Thessaloniki is another major NGO hub, for migrant issues and many other ones too. Greece’s second-largest city has also witnessed a boom in “Syrian tourism,” since Syrian passport holders officially comprised the fifth-largest hotel occupancy by nationality in the city over the past year. However, the powerful NGO Solidarity Now, -financed by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, is reportedly aiming to provide funds for subsidizing housing rental for the Syrians. Local hotel owners surely will not like this, as they will lose profits.

A final aspect that certain EU politicians will relate to migration policy is the provisional plan to give Turkish citizens visa-free travel by October. The debate surrounding this issue will almost certainly include concerns about domestic Turkish issues, as well as security concerns and the relative likelihood that Erdogan would grant passports to potentially large numbers of non-Turks (i.e., Chinese Uyghurs and other ‘ethnic kin’) to build his own power projection goals in Europe.

More Terrorist Attacks and Plots Likely in 2016

Islamic State has obviously made significant inroads in the Western countries, as the attacks in France and the US have highlighted, along with numerous disrupted plots elsewhere. Expect more to come as hardened fighters find a way to return to Europe from the Middle Eastern battlefields, armed with experience, new modus operandi and fanaticism.

New attacks are only a matter of time and as recent history has shown, will primarily be against “soft targets.” We expect that Islamic State will respond to its gradual territorial losses in Syria and Iraq by infiltrating civilian populations, and calling on its supporters abroad to perform acts of ‘revenge’ against the Russian and Western coalitions fighting the group.

In the Balkans Bosnia (where several further arrests recently happened) is in particular danger, while a threat remains in currently fractious Kosovo. Certain areas of Istanbul have been known to shelter ISIS members and, with government forces expected to continue targeting the Kurds in Southeast Turkey, relatively less energy will be spent on confronting Islamic fighters- fighters which the government had anyway been supporting for years.

The Turkish Economy’s Potential Decline, and Implications for the Black Market

Speaking of Turkey and its government, few have mention the extent to which the continuance of a strong economy benefited the AKP, coming to power as it did following a period of hyperinflation and corruption. Election results since, that have been portrayed as an endorsement of Erdogan’s social and religious platform, may actually have more to do with satisfaction at the unprecedented continuous growth of a Western-styled consumption economy until relatively recently.

However, Turkey has managed over the past few years to blow up its relations with all of its neighbors and key trade partners, including Russia, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The “green funds” from Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been decreasing rapidly as the price of hydrocarbons worldwide stays low. The Saudis especially have their own major concerns to deal with (Yemen, dynastic domestic brinkmanship, social welfare costs, and El Sisi’s regime in Egypt, amongst other). Israel has recently made signs that it will resume relations with Turkey, but this cannot replace the losses suffered by the break with Russia. Renewed ties with Israel would also be controversial among Turkish Islamists still angered by memories of the 2010 Mavi Marmaris incident.

While it remains unclear how long the Turkey-Russia cold war will last, we can expect the impact on Turkish agriculture, tourism and other business to be extensive, due to losing the Russian market. Social tensions that have successfully been kept under control during a period of economic growth will come out in the year ahead. Perceptions of instability will also damage Turkey’s tourism industry, and the providers are adjusting (indeed, some Turkish resorts working with travel agencies in Skopje have recently communicated that they will not be offering the usual generous resort packages this summer).

Regarding other exports, Balkan economies are mostly stagnant and too small to strengthen Turkish exports, while the appreciation of the US dollar and the Fed’s interest rates hike makes the future more difficult for Turkey’s economy, as it exports mainly in euros and imports mainly in dollars.

It is uncertain to what extent the black market associated with Islamic State and refugee smuggling will be affected. Turkish farmers in the border areas that had turned to more lucrative, war-related contraband may not be happy to go back to their traditional livelihoods. Damage to informal economic relationships that also were feeding local political control and even intelligence activities, will fuel the need to find different budgetary sources to cover the gaps.

While the state will be happy to take the billions of euros of refugee-related aid from the EU, any true crackdown on migrant smuggling is bound to make the business more violent and lucrative, as those wishing to pass through Turkey will have to pay a much higher price per head. Confronting this threat could open a ‘fourth front’ for the Turkish security apparatus, in addition to fighting the Kurdish PKK, monitoring Russian activity and preventing Islamic State operatives from carrying out domestic attacks. The cumulative result is that Turkey will be more insular and inward-looking in 2016.

Change in Priorities for the Turkish Navy and the Anatolian Curse

The standoff between Ankara and Moscow will make the former review its order of battle in the Black Sea, which anyway is far less covered than it should be, especially when having to deal with a resurgent Russian Navy.

Expect changes that could include a new concentration of the Turkish Navy on Black Sea bases and in monitoring the Bosporus Straits. Of course, the more traffic in the latter increases the chances of accident in a bottleneck already congested with commercial shipping.

Russia’s main naval bases and ports in the Black Sea are at Sevastopol, Kacha, Utes, Novorossiysk, Feodosia, Otradnoe and Yalta. We should also not forget that since November 2014, Russia has enjoyed a bilateral military cooperation deal with Georgia’s breakaway republic, Abkhazia. The latter’s small naval forces are based at the western Black Sea ports of Sukhumi, Ochamchira and Pitsunda.

On the southern side of the sea, Turkey’s main naval bases are fewer and less dispersed, at Bartın, Samsun, Trabzon and Erdemir. Turkey is not used to looking to its northern seas as an area of threat but the current impasse with Russia will cause military planners to turn their attention there, at least for assessment purposes.

This could then lead to a changed balance of powers in the Aegean, with Greece perhaps even enjoying an advantage in that theater. This will in fact become a particularly ‘European’ theater, considering the new deployment of Frontex personnel in the Greek islands and waters.

This means that any provocations or confrontations with Turkey will be instantly known to Brussels and EU member states. Creating a situation with such conditions was the thinking behind Defense Minister Kammenos’ comments in May, that Greece should host a new NATO base in the eastern Aegean. The Frontex deployment will perhaps work even better, since Turkey is not an EU member and cannot claim any right to participate, though it might try in the case of a NATO base on its flank.

Indeed, the disastrous Turkish foreign policy of the last five years has come back to haunt it, in the same way that such cases have damaged the strength of previous powers controlling Anatolia. The strategic subcontinent has always been the subject of great interest from neighboring and outside powers.

In Anatolia, the capacity for use of force (rather than actual use of force) on any border is what sustains the perceived strength of any government controlling it. But any creation of enemies, or breakdown of order on multiple fronts simultaneously, has historically been a recipe for trouble. Turkey is now in one of those historical periods marked by simultaneous vulnerabilities on several Anatolian fronts, and this could increase the potential for its leaders to act erratically or out of paranoia.

The Chinese Are Coming

The introduction of the Chinese Yuan into the IMF’s reserves (at the substantial amount of 11%), along with the gradual increase of European and Chinese investments and trade, will bring about an expansion of the Chinese banking system in the EU.

Most likely the entry point will be the Balkans where already Chinese entities have been settled for years and forging ties in Serbia, Romania, Albania, Greece and Turkey. Business loans in Yuan will become a possibility in 2016.

It is true that the Chinese perceive the Balkans less as a series of states than as a unified energy and transport corridor. But they also have security concerns. As the US and Japan continue to pressure China militarily in its own backyard, look for China to develop more bilateral military deals in Southeast Europe in return.

The expansion of Islamic State eastward is also going to increase Chinese terrorism fears, with the Uyghur Turks particularly of interest. However great its technological capacities might be, Chinese HUMINT capacities in the region are at a very low level. Whether or not the Chinese decide to expend more resources in this direction will be determined by their business investment interests and security concerns.

Political Drama in Balkan Countries and Likely Results of International Involvement

Leaving aside the special case of Turkey, Greece and most Balkan states all have, for economic, political or social reasons, tendencies toward periodic political upheaval. Premature elections, changes in government and turbulent early elections can be safely predicted.

In 2016, expect an increasingly strong presence (politically, diplomatically, and through media and NGO proxies) of Western countries in influencing such regional dramas. The insistence on a criminal court in Kosovo was one foreign-sponsored endeavor of 2015 leading to persistent internal divisions, and the debate over NATO membership in Montenegro has already caused recent protests. These are far from the only countries where Western interests are involved.

However, these powers generally fail to understand local realities, regarding events through their own lenses. This can cause distortions and lead to wrong assessments. For example, Russia’s intervention in Syria and the migrant crisis are two potent, big-picture factors that will cause paranoid, disproportionate policy reactions and failed implementation in 2016: it will be remembered as the year in which the concept of ‘hard soft power’ was put to the ultimate test, and failed.

We expect that manifestations of this approach will fail to comprehensively ‘obtain the desired result’ in certain cases. This could lead to more extreme incidents, such as proxy attacks and even assassinations of political leaders, causing widespread public anger and destabilization.

The Return of HUMINT

The counter-terrorism challenges of today include the surveillance of previously unknown terrorism suspects, and the general need to constantly assess the upheaval all across the MENA region. These exigencies will undoubtedly provide the impetus for the re-introduction of long-range HUMINT operations by most intelligence service providers.

The geographic dispersal of the major issues, such as the migrant routes and war zones, means that coverage is needed at all points in a rapidly-changing environment. This trend is most likely in the Middle East and the Mediterranean- and especially North Africa, where HUMINT is completely lacking in terms of surveillance of jihadist groups.

Also, the fact that Europe has taken in over one million migrants, whose identities are hardly known, is both a gold mine for technology firms and a challenge for intelligence services lacking capacity and communications with partners that could make proper verifications, considering the current state of the Middle East and North Africa.

All information available to Balkanalysis.com supports the conclusion that, since the migrant crisis began in spring 2015, countries all along the route have failed to either collect accurate and detailed data about migrants passing through, or to communicate it properly with other European countries (which can also be criticized for making little effort to obtain the relevant information).

The topical and geographic nature of this challenge also lends itself to a network based approach, which will be handled, increasingly discreetly, through ‘grassroots’ social media networks, ‘independent’ NGOs and other entities with dedicated, HUMINT coverage across the nodes.

The return of HUMINT will also be abetted by the current state of alarm over SIGINT vulnerabilities, including the emerging challenge of the need to differentiate identical SIGINT source data for hostile activities purposes. Above all, there are even cases of self-inflicted damage to internal processes at the highest levels of technology (for example, the recent debacle of an alleged NSA backdoor in Juniper Networks hardware, that puts the most sensitive US government agencies at risk).

Further, in the Balkan theater, historically marked by political upheaval and infighting, HUMINT will become a particularly important focus. It is a ‘rebuilding year’ for several of the big players, who have seen their existing networks compromised or uprooted completely in the past year due to failed actions. However, the general decline in professionalism witnessed over the past five to 10 years means that new, up-and-coming networks will exhibit more clownishness than covert mastery in today’s ‘golden age’ of renewed Cold War espionage.

Nevertheless, regardless of their capabilities and orientation, expect big players to make major efforts to outwit one another in the field, with considerable collateral damage likely and, quite possibly, spectacular public failures in 2016.

EU-Turkey Dialogue Reboots amid Migrant Crisis

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag

Since the Syrian conflict started in 2011, Turkey has been taking in refugees, with 2.2 million currently residing in camps and being taken care of at the government’s expense (an estimated cost of 6.7 billion EUR). Its humanitarian assistance has been impressive, as were its logistical efforts: tent camps and caravan cities along the Syrian border.

The refugee situation has greater ramifications for Turkey than for the EU, as the number of refugees hosted there is also higher. Many Syrians were already integrated, but the structure of the Turkish society and economy, as well as the linguistic and ethnic differences, represent challenges for Syrians.

Economic Factors

Further, unlike Germany, which can make use of the migrants on its labour market, Turkey is already over-saturated with unskilled workers and unemployment figures are already high (including youth unemployment). Turkey’s moves on the Syrian front also affected foreign direct investment (according to official figures, a drop from $22 billion in 2012 to $12.5 billion in 2014) as well as stability of the lira (dramatic devaluation).

Political and Foreign Policy Aspects

The political situation is by no means brighter, with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) losing absolute majority in the summer elections, and then failing to create a coalition. At the same time, the other political forces in Turkey have still failed to produce a strong leader capable of competing with President Erdoğan.

Nevertheless, critics argue that Turkey under Erdoğan passed from “zero problems with neighbours” (the former Davutoğlu doctrine) to a ‘neighbourless’ foreign policy, in which neighbours are either torn by civil wars or unfriendly towards Turkey. In the east, violence persists and the Kurds – including the Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), partner of the allegedly terrorist group Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – are becoming more vocal due to Russia’s intervention in Syria which some perceive as a slap in the face for Turkey and as proof of its failed diplomacy.

Brussels’ View on Syria as a Turkish Election Issue

Early elections are expected for 1 November. In Brussels, leaders fear Turkey’s interest in Syria is partly an electoral campaign move, being also linked to Erdoğan’s broader strategy in the region and his way of dealing with the PKK. In the summer elections, Turkey’s Kurds made historic parliamentary gains, alarming the AKP.

Manifestations of this polarization have occurred recently in the Turkish and Kurdish European diasporas. Indeed, the anti-terrorism political rallies that took place in Strasbourg (4 October) and Brussels (5 October) confirmed an0 inclination to make sure the Turkish position would be heard loud and clear by Western leaders. Following the recent rise of terrorist attacks by the PKK, and Turkish military action against the group, Erdoğan’s message focused on the Turkish soldiers killed in the recent clashes with Kurdish separatists and did not mention ISIS or other threats. On the Kurdish side, many NGOs also participated in a rally voicing criticism against the Turkish president.

How Did the EU End Up in this Crisis?

Before returning to the subject of the latest EU-Turkey developments that came with President Erdoğan’s recent visit to Brussels, we should note what other efforts the EU has pledged to take regarding the overall migrant crisis.

In August 2015 the number of asylum applicants peaked, reaching a record high of 720,000 applications being registered in the EU from the beginning of the year. Some 33% of applicants are of Syrian origin, 13% Afgani, 8% Iraqi, 4% Eritrean, and so on. Acc0rding to the European Asylum System Office (EASO) standards, the highest recognition rate (that is, the chance of receiving a positive response to the asylum claim) is mainly granted to 93% Syrians followed by 85% Iraqi claims, 84% Eritreas and 83% stateless persons. Although they are facing conflict and possible persecution, Ukrainians and Nigerians have very low recognition rates.

Setting aside the roots of the latest migration wave, such as the Arab Spring and Western military interventions in the Middle East, the EU’s main internal challenge came from the lack of coherent implementation of EU legislation in most of its Member States, especially the receiving ones (Greece and Italy).

Although EU funding was available to implement the Common European Asylum System, many Member States were caught unprepared by this influx of refugees/migrants. Some of the problems they face are a lack of proper welcome and reception conditions, overburdened capacities, the scarce availability of social workers and the lack of a proper identification mechanism.

Another challenge relates to the fact that migrants are choosing to keep on the move, refusing to stay in the first country in which they arrive. The Dublin rules in place stating asylum seeker should lodge their applications in the first country they arrive fail to apply.

Besides migrants’ economic interests, this is a consequence of the unequal treatment and outcome of the asylum claims between Member States, migrants heading to the Western and Northern countries that offer better conditions and are known to accept asylum claims.

Assisting EU Front-line Countries, International Organizations and Third Countries

With the EU’s newest measures and proposals, the front-line states (e.g. Italy and Greece) will be assisted in welcoming, identifying and digitally finger-printing the migrants in reception and registration centers at ‘hotspots’, from where they will be either returned or relocated to another Member State.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Programme (WFP) will also receive some EU funding (200 million EUR) to help cope with the humanitarian situation, which is worsening due to insufficient international funding. It is not yet sure where the money will be coming from, whether from the EU budget or from national contributions, but the signal is that external partners should be assisted with coping with the refugees’ crisis.

More Diplomacy and Coordination: Luxembourg and Valletta

More international diplomatic efforts, including from the countries in the region, are needed to fight against the root cause of this wave of migration and to bring peace to Syria and in the region. High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Mogherini underlined that the UN and EU, alongside the key regional and global partners, should lead the way to negotiations.

In this sense, some future meetings hold hope for finding solutions. There will be a high-level conference on the Western Balkans route in Luxembourg on 8 October and a Summit in Valletta on 11-12 November (called upon at the European Council in April 2015), focusing on assistance to partner countries, strengthening cooperation on returns, and better targeting of development cooperation and investments in Africa.

Syria’s neighbouring countries, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are already hosting millions of refugees. With the aim of better securing the EU’s external borders, substantial aid will be offered in exchange for strengthened cooperation with these third-countries.

A stable situation must be reached soon not to threaten the existence of the Schengen Zone, or the EU’s capabilities in the future. Many Member States recently reintroduced temporary border checks or closed their borders altogether, leading to a turbulent end to September in the Western Balkans and Central Eastern Europe. The Western Balkans and Africa will also be supported by the EU in dealing with the migratory waves.

The EU’s Regional Trust Fund to Increase

The EU will now increase its Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian crisis (the ‘Madad Fund’). When it comes to the southern corridor sea route, Turkey is also a key partner in this light. The European Commission has cooperation with third countries in mind, ready to mobilize up to 1 billion EUR to Turkey over the next two years. Humanitarian aid for refugees will account for 1.7 billion EUR, and 17 million EUR are planned for Serbia and Macedonia.

Regarding the shipwrecks that frequently occur on migrant vessels headed to Italy, the EU plans to enhance its ties with Libya and call for an EU-UN surveillance-based naval operation. The European Union military operation in the Southern Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED), as it is known, was already agreed upon on 22 June 2015, targeting Libyan human traffickers.

Stronger External Borders Measures Bely the EU’s ‘Humanitarian Face’

Having in mind the European Agenda on Migration, as part of the implementation package, on Wednesday 23 September, the European Commission came up with a new series of initiatives focusing on the EU’s external border management with a more generous envelope (1.3 million EUR) to be allocated to the EU agencies (FRONTEX, EUROPOL, EASO) and emergency funds for managing the influx of migrants and refugees.

It seems, therefore, that in spite of the humanitarian face it has been trying to show in the media, that the EU is doing all it can to keep out refugees. EU leaders’ conclusions following the extraordinary Council meeting, convened by Donald Tusk on 23 September, was meant to “tackle the dramatic situation at our external borders and strengthen controls at those borders” that are confronted with a high influx of refugees and illegal passing.

Croatian Comments on the Turkey-Greece Migrant Situation, and Restrictions on Frontex’s Role

According to European Commission data in 2014, with the help of smuggling and trafficking networks, more than 276,000 migrants (mostly from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Mali and Kosovo) irregularly entered the EU.

Since 2014, the Eastern Mediterranean route has been the predominant one for migrants. Greece has been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants – by late August 2015, with more than 160,000 entered the country – from Syria and Afghanistan reaching its islands (e.g. Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Kos) from Turkey.

At the 23 September European Council meeting, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic asked for effective measures to control the maritime routes between Turkey and Greece. In order to tackle this matter, Frontex and its joint operations (e.g. Triton) support Member States in case of increased migratory pressure.

However, Frontex has no executive power and only coordinates joint operations for the purpose of border checks and surveillance at the EU’s external borders. Furthermore, according to its mandate Frontex is limited to operations on EU shores, and thus in this context, Turkey must play an important role on the non-EU part of the sea.

EU Expectations from Turkey

This migrant crisis has also brought sporadic a trade war to the Western Balkans and revived old disputes on the control of external maritime borders. Greece and Turkey have a historic Aegean border dispute, while Turkey and Israel argue over which has the right for search and rescue in overlapping waters. The same problem applies to Morocco and Spain and, within the EU, between Italy and Malta. Diplomatically speaking, Russia’s emphatic new presence in Syria will only stir the waters even more.

In an attempt to ease the refugees’ situation, Turkey proposed the establishment of safe zones in the north of Syria to welcome the refugees, also creating a buffer zone on Syrian soil against any group antagonistic to Turkey. However, Russia’s moves in Syria might hamper Turkey’s Syrian policy, and its attempts to limit the territorial advances of the Kurdish YPG along the border. Indeed, preventing the Syrian Kurds from creating a territorial linkage with Iraqi and Turkish Kurds has been a strategic goal of Turkey’s since the beginning of the conflict.

EU leaders are of the view that the dialogue with Turkey will in future have to be strengthened at all levels. A first step in this sense, they say, was President Erdoğan’s 5 October visit to Brussels (his most recent previous one had been in 2014). On his latest visit, the president met top EU leaders like Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Martin Schulz. Separately, Erdoğan met the king of Belgium.

During the talks, the EU focused on setting up “hotspots” for refugee reception in Turkey, on strengthening the borders and increasing the fight against people smugglers. The Union is asking Turkey to cooperate with Greek coastguards, coordinated by Frontex, for preventing refuges from reaching EU shores.

Turkey’s Expectations from the EU, and Common Criticisms of It

Turkey has already expressed its criticism of what it sees as insufficient financial assistance offered by the EU for setting up the six new camps (partly financed by the EU). Turkey also contends that these are an insufficient number of camps, considering the large number of refugees.

Furthermore, though the EU will probably take up to half a million asylum seekers, Turkey will be assisted to socially integrate more Syrian refugees into its own society, and pushed to make more efforts, together with Greece, to prevent them from taking the clandestine journey to the EU in the first place. There seems to be some resistance from the Turkish side, sources note, indicating that the government is unhappy with these financing offers and general proposals from the EU.

President Erdoğan’s visit, which came on the occasion of the opening of the Europalia Arts Festival (in which Turkey is starring this year) was thus far from a ceremonial visit. His discussions with EU leaders also covered Russia’s alleged violation of Turkey’s airspace, which was called ‘unacceptable’ by the secretary-general of NATO. Officials in Brussels indicate that the approach might vary; the EU is worrying about Russia in general, whi1le Turkey’s focus is on the implications of Russia’s involvement in Syria with regard to the Kurdish rebels.

While Turkey still hopes to resume accession negotiation with the EU, it remains to be seen what role the refugee crisis will play in the Readmission Agreement negotiations and the visa liberalization dialogue, one of the only negotiating card of real value for Turkey.

Indeed, it is interesting to note that despite the heated domestic disagreements between the AKP of President Erdoğan and the CHP opposition party, led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, both parties fundamentally criticize the EU for the migrant crisis and denounce the PKK as terrorists.

In his own five-day European tour, Kılıçdaroğlu himself recently met with top EU leaders and reiterated these issues, warning that Turks are feeling like the EU wants their country “to be part of the Middle East” and not Europe, according to a press release. According to the opposition leader, it is the EU, not Turkey, which is “losing” from the current impasse.

In this light, it will be interesting to see how the expected fierce elections of November will re-orient Turkish policy to the EU – and vice versa – as the migration crisis continues into the winter.

Turkey-Africa Relations: A Partnership under Review

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: almost five years since this website first isolated Turkey’s developing relationship with Africa, we are providing new insights into the current state of affairs in the relationship, in the context of the Arab Spring, Syrian refugee crisis and other political and security events that have recalibrated the dynamic.

By Mohammed Sanusi Adams

The forays of developed Western countries into Africa, whether as slave merchants, colonizers or investors have constituted a ubiquitous trend for the past three centuries. Nonetheless, the dominant trend now, and particularly for the past decade or so, has been the phenomenon of large emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil staking their own claims to the continent. The motive of these countries has been a source of debate among experts working on Africa. However, a considerable number of scholars have assigned the current trend to largely economic motives.

The latest country to embark on African ventures is Turkey. Over the past decade, Turkey has steadily ramped up its diplomatic and foreign policy presence in Africa. This activism has led to the creation of diplomatic missions, expansion of economic activities and humanitarian diplomacy on the continent. This burgeoning relation between Africa and Turkey culminated in the declaration of 2005 as the “year of Africa.”

Recent Events Affecting Turkey’s Engagement

The sustainability of this partnership has been called into question in the wake of the Arab Spring, coupled with the Islamic State’s (ISIS) advances and terrorist attacks by the Kurdish PKK inside of Turkey in recent weeks. These attacks provoked the Turkish government to reverse course, and begin a series of air strikes inside Syria and against the PKK rebels in Iraq. The long negotiations with the US over American use of Turkish air bases, and the drama of the Iran nuclear program negotiations, have simultaneously distracted Turkish attention from events in Africa.

Indeed, the recent developments involving Turkey’s immediate periphery have brought about Turkey’s deepest form of engagement in the region in the last decade. For Africans and Turkish supporters of a strong Africa policy, it also has awakened fears about the long term prospect of the Turkey-Africa partnership and what these regional dynamics mean for its future.

The present evaluation thus considers the major aspects of the current Turkey-Africa partnership and the challenges facing it, and considers future prospects for the relationship within the contest of Turkey’s engagement within its neighborhood in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Reasons for a Concentration on Sub-Saharan Africa

Specifically, the present analysis focuses on sub-Saharan Africa, for two reasons. Firstly, Turkish society generally regards North Africa as part of its immediate surroundings, both in terms of geography and religion. Geographically, Turkey has always regarded North Africa as a part of its near-abroad, not a far-away region. The Ottoman legacy has played an instrumental role in this regard. For centuries, countries in North Africa were part of the empire especially for the most part of the 15th and 16th centuries. Secondly, about 98 percent of the population in North Africa is made up of Muslims, and this is not markedly different from the Muslim population in Turkey.

Hence, the political and economic relations that have been developed with North Africa have never been questioned and the region has always been seen as an important part of the general Turkish foreign policy drive. Sub-Sahara Africa, on the other hand, has always been regarded by Turkish society as distant, constantly wallowing in abject poverty and ravaged by war. The Ottoman Empire had a limited engagement with the eastern and western part of the continent in the 15th century; nonetheless, this involvement was not significant and never attracted real attention.

Roots of Modern Turkey’s Sub-Saharan Policy Development and Diplomatic Activities

Turkey’s enhanced presence in sub-Saharan Africa today, therefore, is something novel. It actually began in 1998, with the writing of the “Action Plan”- a document prepared by the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs, which constituted the framework of political and economic engagements between Turkey and the continent. Since foreign observers have tended to associate Turkey’s engagement with Africa as a unique initiative of the current AKP government, noting the engagement in the context of this diplomatic Action Plan indicates that Turkish policy-makers had already been eyeing Sub-Saharan Africa well before that government came to power in 2003.

To further enhance and broaden the scope of engagement envisioned by the 1998 plan, the “Improvement Strategy on Trade and Economic Relation with African States” paper was developed in 2003. The two documents laid the foundation for all of the progress that has been made in the partnership within the last decade.

At the same time, it is important to note that in the deeper history of the modern Turkish Republic, significant diplomatic engagement with Sub-Saharan Africa has been going on for decades. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of some Sub-Saharan African countries, when they were emerging from the shackles of British and French rule in the 1950s and 1960s. This led to the opening of embassies in these newly independent countries, notably Ghana and Nigeria.

Budgetary constrains due to economic crisis facing Turkey in the 1980s meant that some politically and economically unviable embassies (such as the one in Ghana) were closed down. The 1998 Action Plan, and the subsequent Turkey-Africa Summit in 2008 in Istanbul, however, ushered in a new era and gave impetus to the partnership. Since then, Turkey has more than doubled its diplomatic representation in Sub-Saharan Africa, bringing the total number of its embassies in the region to 33.

At the same time, Turkey has also joined six other countries at the African Union as an observer country, become a non-regional member of the African Development Bank, increased its trade and Foreign Direct Investment to more than $6 bn and increased humanitarian development assistance through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).

Humanitarian Development Aid and an Information Campaign

The Turkish government’s humanitarian and development assistance is channeled to and disbursed by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA). Founded in the early 1990s with a focus on Central Asia, TIKA gradually expanded its area of activities to the Middle East, Caucasus, Balkans and then to Africa in 2005, when the year was declared the “Year of Africa.”

Since then, the agency has undertaken many development projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, making it one of the largest international development donors to the continent. Since 2005, the agency has financed projects in Sudan, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia and Somalia. While Official Development Aid (ODA) from most DAC countries fell in 2011, Turkey’s net ODA increased from 770 million to $1.3 billion, representing about 38%.

About 50% of this funding was spent on projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Somalia being the largest beneficiary. Having been bedeviled by drought and famine, Turkey became the largest donor country to Somalia, when it extended a much-needed humanitarian aid package that came largely in the form of construction of road network, hospitals, schools, renovation of the airport and water wells, as well as scholarships for students to study in Turkish universities. This made Somalia the top recipient of Turkish development aid in the world in 2011, with Liberia, Kenya and Ethiopia making it into the top 20.

The period also saw a massive campaign and a number of conferences organized in Istanbul to mobilize the international community to channel funds to Sub-Saharan Africa and solve the crises in Somalia and Darfur. Huge billboards were mounted in the major cities of Istanbul and Ankara and in public transport, all in an attempt to galvanize and support the Turkish activities in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, discourse in the general Turkish society, both in the mosques and in donations to NGOs, was specifically requested to be sent to Sub-Sahara Africa.

A Wrench in the Works: the Fallout of the Arab Spring and the Re-Routing of Turkish Humanitarian Aid

In recent years, however, the picture has changed almost completely. All the pageantry that characterized the initial years of the partnership has dissipated. The Arab Spring and the war in Syria in particular have generated a refugee crisis for Turkey. The country currently accommodates about 2 million Syrian refugees. This makes Turkey the top host of refugees in the world. The Turkish government mobilized all the public agencies such as AFAD and the Turkish NGOs to channel their resources to alleviate the suffering people of Syria.

Thus, since 2012, over 55% of Turkish developmental aid has gone to the Middle East and Syria with the figures for Sub-Saharan Africa continuing to plummet. In 2012 alone, Turkey spent $1.02 billion out of the total ODA of $2.5 billion on Syrian refugees. This figure increased to $1.76 billion in 2013, out of an ODA of $3.3 billion that year. This figure is set to increase in 2014 and 2015 when the official report of TIKA is made available by the end of the year.

While donations to Syria alone accounted for over 50 percent of the ODA, the development aid figures for Sub-Sahara Africa are seeing a drastic decline and the number of beneficiary countries have also been reduced. The highest recipient of Turkish ODA in Sub-Sahara Africa during 2012 was Somalia, with $86.6 million. Sudan was the only other African country to make it into the list of top-20 recipients. But the year 2013 saw only Somalia make it into the top 20 recipients of Turkish ODA.

The Turkish government’s scholarships to Sub-Saharan countries have also declined since 2012. Preference and focus of attention is now on Syria and Palestine, with thousands of students coming every year to study in Turkey.

Developments in Turkey-Africa Economic and Political Relations

The private sector, however, has been less affected by geopolitical changes that have reoriented the path of state funding. The volume of trade and Turkish foreign direct investment (FDI) to Sub-Saharan African countries have been steadily increasing since 2000.

In 2014, the volume of trade between Sub-Saharan Africa countries increased to $8.4 billion compared to about $750 million in the year 2000. Total Turkish FDI is also estimated at around $6 billion, with the major destination of these investments being Ethiopia, South Africa, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia. The Turkish schools and Turkish Airlines have been very instrumental in this regard. The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), the business wing of the Gülen network of schools in Sub-Sahara Africa, organizes trade and investment delegations to and from potentially viable countries as part of their Trade Bridge Programs. TUSKON delegations to Africa have in past been led by the president of Turkey and the relevant Turkish cabinet members.

The delegations from Africa to Turkey have also been high-profile and led by the presidents’ of Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Turkey has also started to implement visa facilitation to African countries’ businesspersons and other eligible citizens who have fulfilled valid passport and visa requirements, while increasing the number of visa exemption agreements for diplomatic and official passport holders with African countries.

Turkish Airlines’ Strategy in Africa

The Turkish national carrier, in addition, has aided Africa’s easy accessibility to Turkey, through its frequent flights to the region. Turkish Airlines commenced flights to Mogadishu, Kigali, Abidjan, Kinshasa, Djibouti, Nouakchott, Mombasa, Niamey, Ouagadougou and Libreville in Sub-Saharan Africa, bringing the total number of THY flights in the Continent to 34 destinations. In addition, THY is expected to reach 40 destinations in the next few years, with an aim to be the first airline out of the continent to have the highest number of flights in Africa.

Turkey’s Role in African Energy Projects and Potential Risks

With an impressive annual economic growth rate of five percent over the last decade, which is expected to continue in the coming years, Turkey looks set to continue its economic engagement with the region and the volume of trade is generally expected to increase. The energy sector has been the latest addition to the economic dimension.

In June 2014, the government of Ghana entered into a 10-year agreement with Karpowership, a subsidiary of Karadeniz Holding, to supply the country with 450 megawatts of electricity to supplement the national grid. This is expected to cost the government of Ghana about $1.2 billion. With a major power crisis facing the continent, the firm is already looking beyond Ghana. with sights set on the rest of the Sub-Sahara region.

Nonetheless, the current impasse between the AKP government and the Gülen movement poses a potential threat to the increasing volumes of trade and investments between Turkey and Africa. The December 17 corruption scandal, which brought the alliance of the AKP and the Gülen movement to an abrupt end, could potentially have a devastating effect on economic relations. The existence of the Turkish schools in Africa is under threat and TUSKON has a limited engagement and influence within the Turkish government and in Africa.

Conclusions: an Enhanced, though Somewhat Precarious Partnership

There are both challenges and opportunities for enhanced cooperation and partnership between the African continent and Turkey. As the foregoing has indicated, the relationship between the two is a historic one, and its revitalization in the last decade is also occurring at a historic time in modern history for the wider region, and indeed the world.

As has been seen, Turkey’s diplomatic involvement with Sub-Saharan Africa has waxed and waned, depending on domestic economic, security and other factors. At times of strength, Turkey has projected power more robustly, while it has retracted – though leaving the door open for future re-engagement – when domestic constraints have arisen.

Turkish diplomatic involvement, coupled with educational outreach, humanitarian activities and private-sector investments, have already given Turkey a deep footprint on the continent. Unlike other emerging economies like China and India, Turkey’s objectives in the country are not limited to business alone, which gives it a more sustainable future in the region, since it enables both a grassroots social presence and continuous political engagement.

However, as the recent internal turbulence in Turkey has shown, the close connection between the state, private sector and influential personalities can be as much a risk factor as a benefit. Time will tell how and to what extent Turkish actors will resolve their interests towards the greater good of deepening an African engagement. If they do not succeed in finding internal rapprochement, the country could risk losing the ground it has gained through so much time, effort and investment. Nevertheless, as the continual increase in FDI shows, the private sector is more impervious to political disruptions, and may in this respect keep relationships strong until that moment when Turkish leaders are on the same page.

At the same time, the eventual resolution of the crisis in Syria will free up more funds from the Turkish donors for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is thus more likely than not that the positive inroads Turkish leaders have made in recent years do in fact have long-term viability.

Tourism on Turkey’s Black Sea Coast: Interview with Dr. Gülçin Bilgin Turna

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: in this new interview, Turkish professor and tourism expert Dr. Gülçin Bilgin Turna shares her knowledge and experience of the issues regarding Black Sea tourism development with Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso.

 Born in Istanbul in 1981, Dr. Turna received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Business Administration, with a major in Marketing from Yeditepe University, Istanbul in 2004. She subsequently worked in the corporate marketing department of Anadolubank, and served as a management trainee in Istanbul for two years. She later taught English for three years at Rize’s Bilge Primary School.

 Dr. Turna received a scholarship from The Scientific and Technological Research Council for her PhD at Karadeniz Technical University, Trabzon. With the support of European Union-Erasmus Scholarship funds, she studied in Halmstad University, Sweden in 2010 and worked as a visiting researcher in Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2013. She is presently assistant professor at Recep Tayyip Erdogan University in Rize. Dr. Turna has written several research papers about the effects of country image on consumer behavior. Her main research aim is gaining a better understanding of consumer choices in relation to a country’s reputation. Dr. Gülçin Bilgin Turna can be contacted by email at: gulcin.turna@erdogan.edu.tr

The Current Tourism Situation, Nationally and Locally

Chris Deliso: Professor Turna, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

Gülçin Bilgin Turna: I would like to thank you for your time. I am happy to answer your questions.

Balkanalysis interview with dr gulcin bilgin turna

For Dr. Turna, “the combination of Black Sea and high mountains” is what makes the Rize area appealing to visitors.

CD: Firstly, can you tell us something about the Turkish Black Sea coast, particularly the east, where you are located, and how this differs from other shores of the same sea? What do you like most about the area, which is obviously very different from your home city of Istanbul?

GBT: Rize, the city where I have lived since 2005, and which is located in the east of Turkey’s Black Sea coast, is totally different from my home city of Istanbul. Istanbul is a metropolitan located in the west of Turkey with more than fifteen million inhabitants. It is Turkey’s economic, cultural and historical heart. Rize, on the other hand, is a small city with 330,000 people.

What makes it different and special is that it is highly mountainous which means it has a different climate and lifestyle. What I like most about the area is that we have the combination of Black Sea and high mountains. Virgin nature in different shades of green fascinates the tourists. Tea grows only in Rize in Turkey. The crime rate in the area is low, which makes tourists and inhabitants feel safe. The city center of Rize is small, so it is easy to get around and get things done. Everybody knows each other.

 CD: Please tell us more about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University in general, and particularly the work done on the tourism research topic at your university. What are the objectives of the center, and what kind of research is being done there? Do you think it makes an impact on the policy discussion or tourism development program in your country?

 GBT: Our university was founded in 2006. There are various faculties including the faculty of tourism. I work at the department of Business Administration as an assistant professor. We recently founded the “Centre for Black Sea Strategic Studies” in order to cooperate with the countries in the Black Sea, to improve the area economically and culturally, and to come up with scientific research and publications. Attending the symposium in Athens organized by ICBSS and the meeting of Black Sea Universities Network were our first interactions.

Studies at our university are being done not only in the area of tourism, but also in the development of agriculture and fisheries. I cannot be certain about the impact of our center on the policy discussion or tourism development in our country, because our centre is quite young. However, I can say that since our university takes its name from Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whatever we do attract attention from the public and government. There is also a development foundation within our university supported by philanthropists from Rize. They provide scholarships for students and funds for all kinds of research at our university.

 CD: In terms of national tourism visitor numbers, you have noted that Turkey is the 6th most-visited country in the world, and 12th among world countries in terms of tourism sector income. And you have noted that among BSEC countries, Turkey is first, ahead of perennial tourism powerhouse Greece. However, are you aware more specifically of what percentage of overall tourism visitors/figures is specific to your region of Turkey? If so, what percentage is it, and how important to the eastern Black Sea economy is tourism presently?

GBT: Yes, Turkey is very successful in international tourism in the world and among BSEC thanks to its Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara Regions. I am not sure about the exact percentage of overall international tourists in our region of the east Black Sea but I believe it is extremely low.

CD: You have also noted that the Turkish government plans to make ‘a huge leap’ in increasing tourism between now and 2018, and then after that to be sustained at an even level of growth, and that in executing this policy it plans to increase spending. Are you aware of any specific policies in this regard, and if so, what amount of attention is Ankara giving to tourism in your region?

GBT: Yes, Turkey had this leap in the last five years and has plans for the upcoming five years. The general strategy is to build more hotels, improve infrastructure and direct flights from abroad. Foreign tourists enjoy Turkey due to its climate, hospitable people and reasonable prices. I believe Turkey will be successful in its tourism plans. About the development of tourism in our region, certain areas were chosen as priority regions. In particular, Ayder, Anzer, Ovit and Kuspa are the four areas chosen to be improved in tourism by our government. They will build a ski resort on Ayder Mountain.

CD: Given the current uncertainties in the region such as instability in Syria and Iraq, and recent violence in southeastern Turkey, do you think the government will fail to make this ‘huge leap’ come true? Or is it also possible that the Black Sea area, being far from any of these crisis zones, could possibly benefit in comparison with other parts of the country in terms of visitor numbers?

 GBT: Turkey had been struggling with terrorism in southeastern Turkey for many years. Given the current uncertainties in Syria and Iraq, tourism numbers decreased in southeastern Turkey, but not in other regions. The other regions of Turkey are very safe. X-ray machines are operated both in the entrance of airports and shopping malls. I don’t think that the crisis in southeast of Turkey affect the tourism in Black Sea area.

Challenges and Solutions

 CD: You have mentioned that Rize tourism professionals could use some insight and experience from Turkish tour operators and other professionals who come from the far more popular Aegean and Mediterranean coastal areas. What kind of insights or knowledge do you think they could provide? And, considering the very different physical conditions and appeal of the two areas, how relevant would the input of those persons be?

GBT: They could provide their general knowledge in the area of tourism. We can never be sure until we consult them. I believe it is worth the effort. They and local tourism authorities may form synergies.

CD: So, mentioning Turkey’s warmer coasts and seas brings us to the hard question: to be brutally honest, why should someone go to the frequently stormy, cold and dark Black Sea when they have those other enticing options? Or are you looking for a different kind of tourist profile altogether?

GBT: The Black Sea is not cold; it has more of a tropical climate. And when you swim in the Black Sea in summer, you don’t feel cold at all. However, there are no beaches suitable for international tourists. You can experience different weather by the coast and in the mountains. It is stormy only in winter. The problem in our area is the scarcity of land. The number of hotels is not sufficient.

So, first the infrastructure and bed capacity should be improved. The Black Sea does not offer nice beaches and nightlife like the Mediterranean does. The Black Sea, especially in the east, is famous for its high and mystic mountains, so people think that the Black Sea region is something totally different. Given its traditional values, the region does not offer the same type of entertainment as other areas do. So yes, different kinds of tourists visit our area. Mostly adventurers (sports and hiking) and tourists, who like the rain and fog in the mountains, trying to escape from the very hot weather elsewhere in Turkey, visit the Black Sea.

 CD: You have said that Rize and Black Sea tourism professionals need more language skills. What is the current level of English or other foreign languages spoken there? Should an independent foreign visitor expect to get by without speaking Turkish, or would it be difficult?

 GBT: Hotel receptionists and tour guides can speak English, however local people cannot. Yes, unfortunately it would be difficult for an independent visitor to get around without speaking Turkish. But I’m sure all the locals will try to help using body language and talking Turkish very loudly, heh heh. The local government provides free English courses for all the professionals.

CD: What is the situation in Rize for local and foreign companies that want to get involved in the tourism sector? Is the bureaucracy difficult, and if so are they working to fix this? What is the balance of different responsibilities and power shared by local or national authorities, for example, with regards to giving permissions to build, collection of taxes, regulation of tourist activities and so on?

GBT: To the best of my knowledge, the bureaucracy is not difficult. Government provides incentives for investors. However, due to the scarcity, it is very expensive to buy land in Rize. That is the problem.

Local Activities and Initiatives

 CD: You have pointed out that Rize will increase its offerings of health tourism and some culture/history tourism, as well as outdoor sports like hiking, rafting and heli-skiing. Can you give us some more specific details about these plans and these attractions and where readers can learn more about what is available?

GBT: There are spa hotels in Ridos and Ayder. There are many hiking, rafting and off-roading clubs. These clubs address Turkish tourists; there are no websites available in English as far as I know. But once the foreign tourists are in the area, they can benefit from all these activities. Heli-skiing, on the other hand, totally targets foreign tourists, especially French. Many websites in English are available.

CD: I have seen in other parts of Turkey, such as the Taurus Mountains to Egirdir, the popularity for European hikers of the St Paul Trail. Are there any historic or symbolic hiking trails in the Rize area that can be exploited in such a way, maybe creating linkages with other areas of Turkey or neighboring countries like Georgia or Armenia?

GBT: Yes, it is “Kaçkar Mountain Trails”. Armenians and Georgians settled early in the Pontic Alps, now the Kaçkar, later building wonderful stone monastery churches hidden in the mountains. The Turks gradually occupied the area from the 11th century but the area remained ethnically mixed; Turkish, Hemşin and Laz languages are still used. More information about the trail can be found on the Internet.

CD: On the sub-regional level, what does Rize have to offer in particular, compared to other Turkish Black Sea coastal towns like Trabzon or Samsun? Is there anything specific to Rize that cannot be found in other coastal towns in Turkey?

GBT: Trabzon and Samsun are big and industrialized cities. Rize is more agricultural. Rize is small, more mountainous and natural, people are more hospitable. Tea and kiwi grow here.

CD: Can you say at the present time, what kind of tourists are you seeing most in your region? I mean, whether independent or package tourists, from what countries, what ages and so on? And, do you have any data or other information on how do these tourists find out about the area and decide to visit, compared to any other part of Turkey they could go?

GBT: As far as I have observed, independent tourists are from Europe; package tourists are from Arabia. They are usually middle-aged. Independent tourists find about the area by their guidebooks. An American friend of mine followed the route her travel guide offered. She flew to Trabzon from Istanbul, went to Kackar Mountain Trail, and then to Sumela Monastery. She went to Cappadocia and the Lycian Way afterwards. Visitors to the Mediterranean are usually package tourists, and people who want to visit Istanbul can find a lot of information online.

CD: In terms of the cultural tourism aspect, what is the current situation of the historic minorities of the mountains, mentioned in the Byzantine and Ottoman sources, people such as the Laz and Tzan? Are they integrated in any way yet into the tourism offering of the area, and do you seem them playing any role in the future in increasing the interest value of the area?

GBT: I have never heard Tzan. Laz and Hemşin people have their own language. It is only spoken. They are very nice people and integrated into the tourism offering of the area. They have a different life style and clothing style which increase the interest value of the area.

CD: What about the region’s main attraction for foreign visitors- the Byzantine cave monastery of Sumela, in the forests near Trabzon? When I visited a few years ago, I recall the frescoes being in a precarious state, with graffiti scrawled across them. Do you know of any restoration plans, and how does this medieval attraction play into your region’s future tourism strategy?

GBT: Whenever I have visited Sumela in the last five years, it was being restored. Sumela Monastery is the most attractive tourism value in our area and I am sure it will keep its importance in the future.

Infrastructure Development Plans

 CD: Regarding infrastructure and the wider region, I understand that a proposed Black Sea Ring Highway will be built, a four-lane motorway some 7100km in length, to connect the various countries along the coast. Do you have any news about the state of this project and when it might be completed, as well any idea how it will affect the visibility and economy of Rize and the eastern Black Sea coast?

GBT: I am not sure when it will be completed by all the neighboring countries. Turkey’s side of the highway is finished. From Samsun to Artvin-Georgia border (from mid- to east-Black Sea Region). The highway is along the coast, which may sound convenient; however, that is one of the reasons we do not have nice beaches along the coast. For example, I live by the seaside in Rize and I have to listen to the sounds of cars and trucks because there is a highway in front of my apartment.

When the ring road is completed, all the areas will benefit from this for sure. There is also another project in Turkey called “Green Road” which will connect all the plateaus in our area (from Samsun to Artvin). The road will allow tourists to visit all the plateaus easily; they do not need to go to the city center every time they want to visit a plateau. The density of the population is really high in the city center of Rize, so at the moment tourists may not enjoy the city center but the mountains. On the other hand, the locals in the mountains are not looking forward to the “Green Road” project because they are afraid they will lose their privacy. They do not want their nature to be destroyed.

CD: Again about infrastructure, I recall that it was a bit complex getting to Georgia from Trabzon and the Turkish Black Sea, requiring multiple changes of bus and minibus just to get to Batumi. How is the situation now? Are there any improvements, or is still mostly a route used by locals?

GBT: It is not complex anymore. People can go to Georgia by one bus. We [Turkish citizens] don’t need a passport to go to Georgia which makes traveling more appealing for us.

CD: We have also heard about a maritime highway plan for Black Sea ferries, but there is less information. Do you have some further information on this, and how it could affect Rize and other Black Sea ports?

GBT: I also have little information on that. I know that from Samsun, people can travel to Batumi (Georgia) and Novorossiysk (Russia); from Trabzon to Sochi (Russia); from Istanbul to almost all destinations in the Black Sea region. In Rize we do not have a suitable international port for cruise ships. Trabzon, our neighbor city, benefits from this. I believe both the highway and maritime highway plans will be beneficial economically for all BSEC member countries.

CD: At the current moment, are there any ferries from Rize, or else Trabzon, to other points on the Turkish or international parts of the Black Sea coast? If so, is this something that presents or will present a nice opportunity for tourists?

GBT: Unfortunately there is no ferry from Rize or Trabzon. Trabzon hosted some cruise ships during summer. If you want to travel from Istanbul to Trabzon by ferry, it is not possible. People prefer airlines. It is a 1.5-hour flight from Istanbul to Trabzon and it is extremely convenient, at reasonable prices. The interesting thing in our area is not the city center (the coast is the city center), it is the mountains that attract tourists’ attention to the area. So they would not prefer traveling by ferry.

CD: Back on land: in regards to the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Kars rail route, a part of the ‘new Silk Road.’ Kars of course is inland and east of Rize. But is there any chance the existence of such a line could benefit tourism in the Black Sea, given the geographical challenges and existing infrastructure, is this of any relevance to your area’s tourism development?

GBT: Some 76 km of the 180-km rail road pass through Turkey. Once the “Marmaray Project” and “New Silk Road” are finished, it will be easy to transport goods from Europe to China directly. These are very big projects. Once the railroad connects Rize, then we can benefit from it. For now, I do not think we can benefit from the “New Silk Road”.

However, Rize will benefit from another project called “Mount Ovit Tunnel” very soon; it connects Erzurum and Rize. It is said that it will be Turkey’s longest, and the world’s 4th longest tunnel. Also there is another project, the “Rize-Mardin Highway” that connects the north of Turkey to the south. I believe the abovementioned “Green Road” that connects the plateaus will be the most beneficial for the tourism in the East Black Sea of Turkey. Once it is finished, I hope both visitors and locals will be happy about it.

CD: Finally, the town of Rize is served by air from nearby Trabzon Airport. Can you tell us how this airport’s capacity is developing now and the coming years, with expansion of budget flights and other operators Turkish and foreign alike?

GBT: Trabzon Airport is developing over the years at a rate of 10 percent. People from Artvin, Rize, Bayburt and Giresun also benefit from this airport. Three million people flew from this airport last year. Turkey’s main operator, Turkish Airlines, and Pegasus, which provides low cost flights, fly to Trabzon Airport. There are direct flights from Germany to Trabzon in summer. By the way, an airport will be built in Rize in three years.

CD: Dr. Turna, thanks very much for your time and good luck with your work in working towards tourism development on the Black Sea coast.

GBT: Thank you very much.

 

Remnants of Byzantium in London

Editor’s note: this special report comes to us from Dr. Jonathan Harris of Royal Holloway, University of London. It recounts the proceedings of an absorbing workshop recently held at London’s Hellenic Centre, which brought members of the general public into contact with some of the world’s leading experts on Byzantium- this time, in the unique context of its little-known, but lengthy relationship with the British capital. Photos appear courtesy of the author.

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By Dr. Jonathan Harris

On Saturday, February 28, a special public seminar was held at the Hellenic Centre. Attended by some forty people, the workshop aimed to explore the links between Byzantium and London by investigating the ways in which the two societies interacted in the past and by exploring the reminders, remnants and reflections of Byzantium that can be found in London today.

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Christchurch, on London

The five talks delivered during the day approached that task from different angles.

Anthea Harris of the University of Birmingham looked at Byzantine artefacts that have been found in datable contexts in London and the Thames valley.

While the evidence from London itself is sparse, finds from burials both to the north and south of the Thames suggest that Byzantine luxury objects were reaching Britain during the so-called Dark Ages (c.450-c.650).

Silver spoons and bronze bowls of Constantinopolitan manufacture have been found interred in high-status graves, probably those of chiefs or kings.

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Byzantine spoon from an Anglo-Saxon burial site in Prittlewell, Essex

For his part, Scot McKendrick, Head of Western Manuscripts at the British Library, described some of the Byzantine manuscripts in the library’s collection and how they came to be there.

He ended with a description of the BL’s Codex Sinaiticus online project, which is making the text of the oldest complete copy of the New Testament available on the internet.

In the afternoon, Geoff Egan of the Museum of London’s archaeological service recounted how an excavation on the foreshore of the River Thames had revealed some unexpected finds: Byzantine coins and lead seals.

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The Codex Sinaiticus

When these were sent to experts for identification, they proved to be of eleventh-century date. One of the seals bore the Greek word €šÃ„òGenikon,’s suggesting that it was once attached to a document issued by the imperial treasury in Constantinople.

The presence of these objects in London might have been connected with the recruitment of English mercenaries for the Byzantine army, and the famous Varangian guard.

Eugenia Russell, who recently completed a doctorate at Royal Holloway, University of London, looked at Andronicus Kallistos, a Byzantine scholar who died in London in 1476 in circumstances that are slightly obscure. His lonely end is almost foreshadowed in a lament that he wrote for the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and which highlights the themes of exile and dislocation.

Finally, George Manginis of the Archaeological Museum in Ioannina looked at neo-Byzantine architecture in London. As well as discussing the well-known monuments such as Westminster Cathedral and St Sophia in Bayswater, he showed pictures of obscure buildings such as a Primitive Methodist chapel that show a pronounced Byzantine influence. His presentation left the audience eager to learn more about London’s neo-Byzantine survivals.

Among the many satisfied participants at the event was Londoner Martin Hall, currently embarking on a post-retirement MA in Crusader Studies at Royal Holloway. Mr. Hall says that he was “particularly impressed” by George Manginis’s discussion of Byzantine remnants in London, considering it “a highly professional presentation which caused you to look at London buildings in a new light and with a new understanding.”

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This Primitive Methodist Church on Caledonian Road in London boasts Neo-Byzantine windows

The workshop was funded by the London Centre for the Arts and Cultural Enterprise and by the Hellenic Centre, and organised by the Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London.

A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire

A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire

By M. Sukru Hanioglu

Princeton University Press (2008), 288 pp.

Reviewed by Seth C. Elder*

Far too often, the narrative of the collapse of an empire becomes a moral drama. Wealth is drained away by decadence, and power undercut by corruption. There are attempts at recovery, reform, re-consolidation; perhaps a war, or a grand alliance, or another gamble which seems mad in hindsight. Private fiefdoms emerge, tribes break away, and hostile external powers chip away at the borders.

These are the lessons of imperial overreach, of hubris – simple enough, even cliched, but never truly learned. Few empires better exemplify these characteristics than did the Ottoman Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In modern retrospective views of this period, histories largely formed by former subject nations of the Ottomans, medieval brutality is administered by a faceless bureaucracy. European powers nip at the edges, subject peoples fight for autonomy or outright independence, while an inefficient Sublime Porte hopelessly navigates between Islam and the West. One wonders what the Ottomans were thinking: wasn’t it obvious to them that their empire was bound to fall as well?

It is exactly this sort of historical determinism that Professor M. Sukru Hanioglu seeks to correct in A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. “The usual human failure to take account of historical contingency,” he writes in the introduction, “has been reinforced by prevalent nationalist narratives in the Ottoman successor states… this retrospective approach to late Ottoman history has become, it seems to me, a major obstacle in viewing the period as it really was.”

In a mere 212 pages, Hanioglu attempts to present the period “as it really was”, using contemporary histories and Ottoman archival evidence to portray a sprawling, chaotic, and tension-filled empire over the course of more than 100 years. Bureaucrats, authors, treaties and battles barrage the reader to the point of incomprehension, while diplomatic and military endeavors with Great Powers and autonomous regions within the Empire itself bewilder with their complexity. Hanioglu jumps from an almost-independent Egypt to a loyal Albania, between Istanbul conservatives and Rumelian radicals, all within a few pages.

Yet amidst this confusion, Hanioglu accomplishes his goal. Consider the following anecdote from the first chapter, ‘At the turn of the Nineteenth Century’:

“In 1917, the Ottoman Foreign Ministry charged two ambassadors with the preparation of an official memorandum on the history of the Southern Arabian region of Hadramawt in order to substantiate Ottoman claims to this territory after the war. As an exhaustive search through the Ottoman archives yielded no data whatsoever on the area, the ambassadors resorted to composing their memorandum on the basis of the entry in the Encyclopedia Brittannica.”

To readers used to histories framed in nation-states, within definite borders, the power structure of the Ottoman Empire is nearly impossible to visualize. Hanioglu does not explain these political arrangements; working from an Istanbul-centric perspective, he briefly mentions the autonomy of certain regions and the near-independence of others. Individual Ottoman states sign independent treaties, and occasionally engage in unilateral wars, and the reader is left to his or her own understanding.

This is, of course, the point. The Ottoman Empire was so vast and convoluted as to be beyond full comprehension to the Sultan, his court, and his ministers; so it is to Hanioglu’s audience as well. Hanioglu divides his chapters among military, diplomatic, economic, and cultural headings; his stated themes are the conflicts of attempted centralization, modernization, and integration into Europe. However, ungovernable vastness remains the unifying concept within the book.

The unmanageability of the Empire becomes especially clear during the Tanzimat reform period, as the secular ‘Ottoman’ identity is introduced as a centralizing measure. HanioÆ’ülu writes:

“The idea of an overarching ottoman identity clashed with the increasing autonomy of religious communities within the empire; bureaucratic centralization conflicted with political fragmentation; the ideal of participation came up against the principle of top-down reform; the conservative spirit… contradicted the progressive drive to emulate the French penal code; new civil courts coexisted uneasily side by side with the traditional shari’a courts; a modern university with old medreses; an academy of modern science with the ulema gatherings of the past; European theater with the time-honored shadow puppet show; and the novel with the Divan poetry.” (pp. 104-5)

These listed tensions were only internal; the Tanzimat period saw diplomatic difficulties with the Great Powers of Europe which became more complex at the beginning of the 20th century.

Yet as the reader follows the ever-mounting internal and external tensions which pull the Empire in numerous directions, it is never wholly clear what course will actually be taken by its leadership. The late Ottoman Empire, while most certainly in a state of chaotic decline, could not be said to have been collapsing until the Balkan Wars, which Hanioglu acknowledges as “one of the least expected developments of the early twentieth century.” (p. 170) The effect of this trauma on the Ottomans is described by the author thus:  “a defeat of this magnitude at the hands of former subjects was a very difficult pill to swallow. Reducing an empire of three continents to an Asiatic state, it shattered Ottoman pride and self- confidence.” (p. 173)

Reduced to begging for alliances in order to maintain what was left of their territory, as well as the rise of Turkish nationalism within Anatolia, the Ottomans attempted a handful of consolidating and reformist measures. Nonetheless, the Empire would be completely dissolved following its defeat in the First World War. Hanioglu summarizes how and why this collapse occurred, but there is never a sense that the collapse had to happen.

Hanioglu, therefore, largely succeeds in presenting the Ottoman Empire as it was – that is, to a one without the benefit of hindsight, without the obscuring notion of the inevitability of collapse. The author necessarily moves at a frenzied pace, which will overwhelm a patient reader interested in facts and figures, and may frustrate anyone who chooses the book as an introductory Ottoman text. However, to readers familiar with the Ottoman Empire through the Balkans, A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire is especially commendable as a fresh introduction to a bygone view from Istanbul.

……………………..

*Seth C. Elder is an American researcher and US State Department Fulbright Scholar in Skopje, Macedonia. His primary research interests include archeology, cultural heritage protection and economic development in rural communities. He is a graduate of DePauw University in Illinois.

Turkish Intelligence Activities under Increased Public Scrutiny in Turkey and Greece

By Ioannis Michaletos and Christopher Deliso

A number of high-impact incidents over the past few months have revealed that the historic feuding of Turkey and Greece is not a thing of the past. Some of these have been well-known, and overtly demonstrated in political events. Others have however received little mention, leaving the public curious to know what is going on behind the scenes.

At the same time, procedural issues concerning the Turkish intelligence service’s jurisdiction and allowed methods have also been the subject of intense scrutiny among the Turkish public and media in recent weeks, raising dark memories of past indiscretions such as mass wiretapping scandals from an aggressive intelligence apparatus.

Most recently, Turkey has demonstrated political gamesmanship by blocking the direct cooperation of NATO with the EU’s justice and security advisory mission in Kosovo, EULEX, which hopes to take a larger role in the self-declared Balkan country since the enactment of a Kosovo constitution on June 15. The EU’s gain has come to the detriment of UNMIK, the UN’s nine-year-old mission in Kosovo, which has been restricted further in its mandate by these ‘facts on the ground.’

The Turkish move comes as opposition to Cyprus, an EU but not NATO member: Turkey had already blocked the Greek Cypriots from sending peacekeepers to Kosovo. According to Deutsche Welle, “The move makes it unclear how the KFOR-EULEX relationship can now function on an official level.”

There are clear interrelations with other regional issues as well. France, notably, has supported Greece on the Macedonia name issue, with President Sarkozy’s avowed Hellenism perhaps bolstered by his country’s sale of billions in arms to Greece. The two countries held a joint military exercise in May

As Balkanalysis.com reported last year, France has also been keenly interested in reported oil deposits off the coast of Cyprus, which the country opened to foreign exploration last year- despite vociferous Turkish protests. At the same time, Israel is threatening war with Iran, something that would not fail to impact on both Turkey and Greece in different ways. It is abundantly clear that the present moment is a very complex and volatile one in the Balkans and East Mediterranean.

Turkey‘s modern intelligence service, Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (National Intelligence Organization,’ abbreviated MIT) was established by parliament on July 22, 1965, with Law no. 644. It was envisioned as being run by an undersecretary reporting to the prime minister. The body specifically replaced the Milli Emniyet Hizmeti (MAH). Earlier intelligence organizations dated back to the time of Ataturk, and before him, the Ottoman Empire. However, whereas Ataturk’s era led his developing country to emulate the leading European countries’s intelligence services, the Cold War reality of the 1960’s inspired key NATO ally Turkey to follow the American and NATO models especially. MIT headquarters today consists of a gardened compound in the suburbs of Ankara with a total surface area of more than 300 hectares, of course, very well secured.

The murky activities of the organization have fascinated the Turkish public for decades. On the domestic front, Turks in early June became transfixed by a legal battle over the MIT’s wiretapping rights and simultaneous claims from a political party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), that claimed a wiretapping operation had been carried out against it by the government. This claim appeared following the publication, in late May, of a transcript was published in the newspaper Vakit of a private meeting held between Secretary-General Önder Sav and a guest in his office.

According to pro-government Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, the incident “struck a chord in the recent memory of the nation, which has seen many a wiretapping scandal in years past.” However, it was soon proven to be a false allegation, Vakit reported, as it turned out that Sav had simply forgotten to turn off his phone after speaking with a journalist. The intrepid reporter then simply proceeded to transcribe what he heard over the following 42 minutes of Sav’s meeting.

Former Interior Minister Sadettin Tantan, who ironically was involved in earlier similar scandals, lamented that continual rumors of bugging will continue indefinitely, so long as the country continues to lack a proper legal apparatus. Tantan pointed out other cases, including one in Greece, in which the authorities were able to control indiscretions through the kind of proper legislation enforcement he believes is missing in Turkey. According to the article in Today’s Zaman, he stated:

“Intelligence services, institutions and even ordinary people have access to the possibilities of high-tech products. It is really difficult to struggle with these people under the article that defines the crimes committed through the overstepping of legal powers. There is no infrastructure in Turkey regarding this matter. The Turkish legal system has no security department. And this gap can be filled by national and foreign forces. We even don’t know what foreign [intelligence] services have been wiretapping. When similar scandals broke out in Germany, Austria, England, France, Switzerland and Denmark, these countries took very serious steps with regard to communications security. It is evident that some officials in Turkey have been engaging in professional misconduct.”

After the exposure of a wiretapping scandal in 1996, parliamentarian Sabri Ergül and 19 other deputies from his CHP party deputies submitted a resolution demanding a parliamentary investigation. According to Today’s Zaman, Ergül recently stated that a “famous intelligence official” told the commission that “everybody was being wiretapped.” According to this officer’s secret testimony, “there were bugs in the houses of prime ministers, ministers, opposition leaders and that even opposition leaders had one another wiretapped.”

Ergül continued, noting the officer’s claims that “there was such fierce competition between intelligence services [in 1996]. That’s why they sometimes exposed their weak sides. For instance, a fight between the Police Department, the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organization [JITEM] and MIT came to light in those days. Those wiretapped before started having others wiretapped when they came to power. We even found out that directors of state institutions were wiretapping ministers. All of the bidding processes going on for public properties used to be wiretapped.”

Nevertheless, significant legal challenges have indeed been raised in recent weeks on the issue of wiretapping. On June 5, Hurriyet reported that Turkey’s Supreme Court overturned on appeals a decision of the High Criminal Court that had authorized the Turkish police (gendarmerie) with country-wide monitoring, “saying no institutions can be given an authority that covers monitoring in the entire country.”

According to Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin “the decision by the Supreme Court was quite extensive. My personal view is that the decision will cover the National Intelligence Organization and police, too.”The issue arose when the Justice Ministry objected to the criminal court’s authorization of the MIT and the gendarmerie to tap all phone, SMS and email traffic, citing potential abuse of authority and international human rights conventions.

Naturally, given a turbulent common history, the issue of Turkish intelligence methods and practices is also of interest to many Greeks, and the subject is the subject of periodic discussion in the Greek media. However, as is inevitable in such scenarios the testimony of genuine experts is often confounded by uninformed speculation and conjecture. As in Turkey, where the public has reacted at various levels of hysteria regarding the most recent wiretapping charges- which turned out to be false – so it is in Greece that the public is prepared to expect the worst from its historic neighbor.

The role of Turkish intelligence in large-scale human trafficking has also captivated the Greek public in recent months. In the early morning hours of Friday, April 25, a Greek coast guard vessel in the Eastern Aegean captured a Turkish craft which was carrying illegal Asian immigrants, some 3.5 nautical miles off the island of Lesvos. Also in the boat was a 38-year-old Turkish Army officer, Serkan Kaya.

According to EmprosNet and other Greek news reports citing Greek intelligence sources, Kaya is a special unit operator who was also involved with the Turkish MIT. These reports claimed that Kaya was involved in the human trafficking partially in order to launch an intelligence gathering activity in the Greek islands. Moreover the Turkish officer was carrying with him Army credentials and a special weapon “used only by secret services,” that identified him with the security apparatus of Turkey.

An interesting aspect of the role of the Turkish secret services in trafficking via the Aegean is illustrated by American demands, first made in 2006, to establish a customs control facility in Turkish port cities, beginning with Izmir.

The request, so far stonewalled, is part of a program, the Customs Container Security Initiative, envisioned for over 30 foreign countries. In these countries, the US would like the ability to inspect all maritime traffic bound for American shores, to secure against nuclear components and other possible terrorist weapons.

While several other countries have gone along with the American initiative, Turket has not. In fact, it has been the MIT in particular that has refused the US demands, reports Zaman, “over concerns of the ramifications for Turkey’s sovereignty rights. In a letter sent to the Undersecretariat for Customs and Foreign Trade, MIT enumerated its concerns, saying such a system could turn into an environment for espionage activity.

Although the number of containers shipped from Istanbul to the US is three times the number of containers shipped from Izmir, it is not known why the US wanted Izmir to be the first port for such a system.” Whether Greek lobbying or concerns raised by the Greek intelligence services in Washington had anything to do with this choice would be an interesting question for researchers to explore.

One recent claim that got attention in Athens was made by Greek journalist Aris Spinos, a well-known specialist in security matters. He spoke about the subject of Turkish intelligence practices in the first week of May 2008, on the late show of Greek nationwide television network, Extra Channel.

Spinos claimed that certain private clinics in Ankara are actually owned by MIT, which uses them to perform plastic surgery on its best spies who are then sent ‘in disguise’ for missions abroad, something in line with the Soviet KGB model.

Greeks have also claimed in recent years that MIT agents persuaded tourists from other countries to spy for Turkey. Usually, cases were reported during tourist season, when tourists come back and forth between places such as Bodrum-Kos (2 miles apart), or between islands like Lesvos, Chios and Samos and their respective Turkish port destinations, to try to capture videos and photos with Greek military bases, in order to sell them to the Turks and receive payments- sometimes, allegedly, in the form of paid vacations. However, this sort of speculation is the least likely to be corroborated and the most prone to exaggeration and misuse.

Greek experts have also disclosed other aspects of the MIT’s believed operating habits. According to several articles in the Greek journal Stratigiki, the MIT has a special psy-ops unit, named TIB that has an extensive network in Europe and especially in Germany, where the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe resides.

It is a large sector that employs academics, journalists and Turkish diaspora professionals, functioning broadly along the lines of Israel’s MOSSAD. Similarly, it is widely assumed that domestically the MIT maintains a very large network of civilian informants that span all levels of society and professional life in Turkey- something that goes back to the Cold War and likely even earlier.

Following the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the resulting anxiety for both Turkey and Greece, a ‘hot’ period ensued between 1989-1996, when a ‘secret war’ erupted between Greek and Turkish intelligence services, that involved assassinations, arson, high-level psychological attacks, and heavy espionage activity.

The Turks accused Greece on supporting the Kurdish PKK fighters (PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was later protected in Greece and Greek diplomatic installations until being kidnapped by the Turks in Kenya in 1998). The tensions escalated to the point of potential armed conflict over the contested islet of Imia near Kalymnos in early 1996.

Today, numerous unfolding events indicate that Greek and Turkish machinations are going to be amplified by the actions of larger powers. For example, Israel recently conducted a robust air force exercise over Greek waters, which American and other analysts interpreted as a warning of an impending strike against Iran.

Turkey, on the other hand, has had to develop closer ties with Iranian security services, as both countries share the problem of Kurdish separatists.

How the fortunes of Greece and Turkey would wax or wane in the event of an Israeli (and, potentially, American) war with Iran is just one of the many fascinating questions to emerge from this. Given the complexity and high stakes of international relations in the Balkans and Middle East today, it appears likely that the traditional war of one-upsmanship between Greece and Turkey will continue into the foreseeable future, and that their intelligence services will, as always, be at the forefront of this battle.

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Fethullah Gulen: Threat, Benefactor, or Both?

By Mehmet Kalyoncu*

Turkey is a country where there is seemingly no end to oddities. As the majority of Turks (and foreign observers of Turkey) ponder how it is possible to shut down a ruling political party that has been more pro-European, reformist and economically successful than any other party in the history of the republic, the case of Fethullah Gulen adds another to many such oddities. Gulen has been prosecuted in his own country for alleged attempts to destroy the current state system and replace it with a government centered on religion. Yet Gulen is widely revered both home and abroad for his ideas and the work that inspired a world-wide civic movement focused on education and intercultural dialogue.

The Economist magazine has recently drawn attention to Gulen and the schools across the world that his vision has inspired. A New York Times article suggested that these Turkish schools inspired by Gulen offer such countries as Pakistan a gentler vision of Islam. Various Western scholars have argued that Gulen is a bridge between Islam and the West. Foreign Policy Magazine considers him one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals. Few marginal commentators view him as a grave threat. Finally, a Reuters report described Gulen as an advocate of moderate Islam rooted in modern life and asked whether he is a threat or benefactor.

What is he really? Is he a threat or benefactor? As a matter of fact, Fethullah Gulen – and the world-wide movement he has inspired – is neither a threat nor a benefactor, but both. After all, both descriptions are relative and depend on where one stands.

Why Gulen May Look Like a Threat to Status-quo Protectionists

Fethullah Gulen enjoys unprecedented popularity in Turkey, and increasingly abroad. He has touched the lives of the last three generations of Turks and continues to do so through writings and speeches broadcast through mass media and the Internet. The Gulen phenomenon, later developing into a broad non-contentious civic movement, had its origins in the early 1960s when Gulen began preaching at mosques and delivering open-to-the-public conferences throughout Turkey. His audience consisted primarily of middle-aged conservatives and older teenagers (both high school and university students). The former of these two groups later opened and financed university preparatory courses and private secondary-high schools, and the latter ran and taught at these schools. These courses met with unparalleled success in preparing students both for national university entrance exams and for successful competition in international science contests, thus attracting more and more pupils to schools and more and more volunteers to the movement’s service projects. Though none of Gulen’s teachings have literally been taught at these institutions, the morals of the teachers were telling all about who has inspired them and these schools.

Gulen’s early teachings are generally characterized by his emphasis on religion and science as complementary, not contradictory. In addition to the extensive number of books he authored directly, many more have been compiled from his lectures and made available to public. Audio and video cassettes of his lectures have reached an even wider audience. Through putting into practice what Gulen has preached, the schools have achieved national and international success. This has convinced the majority Turkish public that while preserving their Islamic values they can aim high. Those of the majority Turkish public who have been stuck in the periphery ever since the induction of a strictly secularist regime have realized that people can indeed remain observant Muslims and simultaneously become bureaucrats, judges, diplomats, or even generals, prime ministers and presidents.

It would certainly be an overestimation of Gulen’s influence to attribute the entire social transformation in Turkey to the Gulen movement. Nevertheless, its impact cannot be denied. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute argues that so-called “Gulen members dominate the Turkish police and divisions within the interior ministry. Under the stewardship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of Gulen’s most prominent sympathizers, tens of thousands of other Gulen supporters have entered the Turkish bureaucracy.” It may be a real challenge for thousands (or millions) of Turks to prove that they are not foot-soldiers of Gulen just because they admire him. In the meantime, they continue to pose a threat to both Turkey’s exclusivist elite – who have traditionally occupied political, economic and judicial space – and to the vested interest abroad who have enjoyed the freedom of influencing, if not manipulating, Turkey through that elite.

Why Gulen May Look Like a Benefactor

Given the operation of schools all across the globe and the ongoing interfaith-intercultural dialogue he has inspired, Gulen may well be seen as a benefactor. He is seen so mostly by those who have benefited from his work and inspiration one way or another. For example, Kerim Balci of Turkey, a prominent columnist at Turkish newspaper Zaman, notes that the movement took him from his village and made him what he could not even dream of becoming then. Muid Rasul of Kenya, graduate of Nairobi’s Light Academy (founded by Gulen movement volunteers), mentions the role of his dedicated teachers in his success, when he proudly notes that he has accepted a full-scholarship from Harvard University while declining the same offer from Yale. A Ugandan businessman in Kampala thanks his Gulen-inspired Turkish counterparts for setting an example for him and his Ugandan colleagues of how to open schools with their own resources and without expecting help from the state or other donors. Similarly, an ethnic Kurdish mother from a distant village in southeastern Turkey who cannot even speak Turkish expresses her gratitude to Gulen because his admirers helped her teenaged daughter go to school: “I did not have any say even during my marriage arrangement, let alone my childhood. But, my husband asks my daughter’s opinion frequently on issues and she is able to influence his decisions.”

Moreover, Gulen has touched lives through the massive interfaith dialogue that, initiated in Turkey, now spans through continents. An Assyrian Christian man in Mardin says, “Up until Fethullah Gulen and the Journalists and Writers Foundation started the interfaith dialogue process in the mid 1990s, people around us used to merely view us as ‘unbelievers’. After Gulen initiated dialogue with the Christian and Jewish leaders, people started to respect us as ‘People of the Book.'” Gulen may seem like a benefactor to this Christian man and many others who have had a similar experience. In addition, Gulen may seem a benefactor to a Jew who heard him publicly denouncing suicide bombings.

On the question of power, it is hard to make a convincing argument that Gulen is after political power given the fact that there does not seem to be any tangible attempt in his seventy-odd year lifetime to establish a political organization or take over the government. However, one can reasonably argue that Gulen may be seeking influence, for he advocates moderate Islam rooted in modern life, freedom of speech, and freedom of individual practice of faiths. In the final analysis, it is only normal that Gulen may be seen as a threat by some while a benefactor by others. What matters really is where one stands and how he or she perceives Gulen and the world-wide civic movement he has inspired.

……….

* Mehmet Kalyoncu is a political analyst and author of A Civilian Response to Ethno-Religious Conflict: the Gulen Movement in Southeast Turkey.

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