Balkanalysis.com

Turkey

Capital Ankara
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
Country Code 90
Mobile Codes 532,533,542,505
ccTLD .tr
Currency Turkish Lira (1EUR = 1.95TL)
Land Area 783,562 sq km
Population 72.6 million
Language Turkish
Major Religion Islam

“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.

…………………………………..

*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.

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.

 

Business Development in Turkey: Interview with Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce Chairman Metin Güler

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: in this exclusive new interview with the leader of the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gives readers an inside view of the economic development of one of Turkey’s most dynamic emerging cities. Set at an important transport crossroads in Anatolia, and home to leading universities, Eskişehir is an up-and-coming city that will become more known to both foreign tourists and businessmen alike in the coming years.

We would also like to give a special thanks to Mr. Arda Genç of the Chamber of Commerce, for his assistance with this interview.

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Chris Deliso: Mr Güler, thank you for speaking with us today. How did you first become involved with developing the economic potential of your city? What sort of related economics coordination or business work has this involved?

Metin Güler: Since I have been on duty at the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce (ECC), we have been working to shape the future of the economy of Eskişehir and trying to turn Eskişehir’s potential into new opportunities. This is because we believe the values of Eskişehir don’t only come from it being a crossroad of lands and civilizations, but we believe also in its potential for becoming the crossroad of economies.

Metin Güler Balkanalysis Interview

According to Chairman Güler, “our companies in the field of air defense, machinery industry, food and construction components are both cooperating and competing with the biggest companies on the global scale.”

Since I was nominated as President of the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce on 18 December 2013, we have been coming together with the organizations and institutions from Eskişehir. We have been setting meetings about export, new investments, innovation, R&D, entrepreneurship and problems of merchants and industries. Also, we have been meeting together with the ambassadors and international commerce delegations to discover new commerce strategies.

CD: What is the main function of the Economic Chamber in the city? For example, facilitating trade relations on the national and international level, attending trade fairs, providing contact for legal and legislative support, etc. What are the key priorities of the chamber?

MG: Besides its own authorizations, Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce is responsible for bringing in new opportunities and developing the export capacity of its members. On the other hand, we have to help these members in solving their problems. Our members also define us as having broad vision, as being an up-to-date organization, capable of providing opportunities for its members on a global scale, and as a leading organization in the country. To achieve our goals, we are working with our international trade, ECC academy, R&D and strategic research, as well as a project office, visa office, EU information center, plus law and tax advisory departments.

CD: Most foreigners have not heard of Eskisehir. What do you consider the main benefits of the city for foreign investors? What are the main most interesting sectors for foreign investment there?

MG: First of all I want to point that Eskişehir is now a more famous city than it was before abroad. Eskişehir is becoming an attraction for not only Turkey but for the world. This is because Eskişehir is located on the crossroads of railway and highway systems, and thus connects many cities to one another. In addition, we have one of Turkey’s most extensive industrial zones. We have rich sources of boron, thorium, coal, and so on. We are receiving more tourists with our two universities and recently accelerated tourism in our city.

Moreover, our companies in the field of air defense, machinery industry, food and construction components are both cooperating and competing with the biggest companies on the global scale. Foreign investors are aware of the high-technology industry, educated human resources, high-value mines and logistical advantages of Eskişehir.

CD: The Turkish government has plans to increase foreign investment in Turkey. Is there some benefits (taxation rules, business incorporation, local municipal support, etc) that Eskisehir has an advantage on over the national average?

MG: In this sense, Eskişehir is well-developed and has attracted investments by itself, so the government hasn’t needed to provide much of a boost. In fact, Eskişehir was placed at the lower end of the government’s ‘boost’ list, because so many investors are already investing Eskişehir. Every passing day a new company is built here.

CD: A lot of attention was given to the new high speed railway to Ankara and Bursa. What is the situation with the planned railway to Istanbul? Is it possible to quantify the increased benefits this rail link has brought to Eskisehir, in terms of improving logistics/speed of business, arrival of more businessmen and tourists, etc?

MG: The new high-speed train project has been actively working for about a month now. During this 24-day period, approximately 35,000 people entered Eskişehir using the high-speed train. We think that in the near future, high-speed trains will carry at least 4 million passengers who will come, stay and contribute to tourism. After all, several new hotels have opened, which supports this view.

CD: Eskisehir has been long known as a liberal, student-friendly city, whereas much of Turkey and especially Anatolia is more conservative. Do you think your city’s special character is something that can be used to create an ‘urban brand’? Do you plan to cater to certain types of tourists because of its unique offerings?

MG: First of all, we need to indicate that Eskişehir, from its past to its future has been a province that has received immigrants. When it comes to cultural heritage, Eskişehir has traces of the ancient Phrygian culture, the Byzantine era, the Selçuk Turks and the Ottoman Empire. So, it resembles a mosaic of cultures. Our town has received immigrants from a lot of countries and areas, from the Balkans, Crimea and Caucasus. In this sense our immigrant-citizens have contributed to Eskişehir’s identity and personality.

On the other hand, we mustn’t forget one person who lived in Eskişehir- Yunus Emre, well-known around the world for his generosity and philosophy. He said, “come, let’s meet. Let’s make everything easier.” Famously known for his humor, and an important person of value to the country, Nasrettin Hoca also lived in Eskişehir. Eskişehir has 50-year-old universities that have contributed to the social life and city’s fabric Of course, this image of the city as modern and integrated in the wider world contributes to Eskişehir’s image and brand value. When you put them all together, the colorful and polyphonic characteristic of Eskişehir reveals itself.

CD: Statistically, does the Chamber have information on the number of foreign investors in Eskisehir, their sector, their annual turnover and contribution to local employment and taxes? If so, is the trend towards more investment value or less in the projected period 2014-2020? What are the main drivers of growth?

MG: Certainly, we are following foreign investments carefully. Without a doubt, Eskişehir’s most important feature in this aspect is its close proximity to the Marmara industrial area and perfect industrial infrastructure. In addition, our landing costs are quite reasonable. Therefore, we can easily remark that, Eskişehir is going to be more popular day by day.

CD: Turkey has been in the news a lot because of the security problems in Syria and Iraq. Is it possible that any of these tensions can be felt in your city, or do you believe that it will be insulated from any possible spillover of violence from those areas?

MG: Of course political and social instabilities in the same geography interfere with commerce and industry. Definitely Eskişehir’s economy is being influenced by these complications. As long as we are not on the borders, this situation doesn’t present any danger. However, our members who are carrying on business with these territories can experience problems.

CD: The Russian one-year ban on food imports from European and other countries has been seen as a great export opportunity for Turkey. Are there any specific agricultural or other products from your region that could be exported in large quantities to Russia, and thus benefit from this situation?

MG: Eskişehir already has an important position in the foods market. We have companies active on the global market. So yes, the Russian food export boycott of EU and other countries will be an advantage for Eskişehir.

CD: Finally, what are the sectors of economy that you see most vital for your city in the coming decades? Are the local universities and business growth lobbies aware of this, and training the students and young employees towards the relevant industries?

MG: Eskişehir will be strong in the aviation defense industry, machinery manufacturing, food, construction components and the textile industry, as it already is now. Also it’s unavoidable to add new universities to Eskişehir’s current two universities. Tourism will be one of the biggest gains for our city.

Of course our business audience is aware of all of this, and they are structuring their future activities with consideration of this. Foreign investors are also following Eskişehir’s activities for the future. As the Eskişehir Chamber of Commerce, we are continuing promoting Eskişehir’s potential to the world.

Where Turkey Stands with the EU Today: Interview with Ambassador Selim Yenel

By Maria-Antoaneta Neag

Ambassador Selim Yenel, leader of the Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the EU, recently defended Turkey’s interests in the EU during several meetings at the European Parliament, allowing Balkanalysis.com contributor Maria-Antoaneta Neag the opportunity to survey the ambassador on the latest developments in the EU-Turkey dialogue, as well as Turkey’s enhanced role in regional security.

Background

 With an academic background in political science and a long diplomatic career in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Selim Yenel was assigned to 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).

“Turkey does not want to rebuild any empire” in the Balkans, stated Ambassador Yenel, adding that “if the economic and social situation in these countries improves, it will serve everyone’s interest.”

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.

Symbolic Resistance and Stereotypes against Turkey

 EU public opinion is generally restrained, or opposed outright to Turkish membership. The degrees of intensity here differ from one Member State to another, and take into account national political agendas. Among the reasons set forward by politicians are Turkey’s poor record on human rights, its controversial borders, its migration potential and the fact that Turkey is allegedly outside Europe’s geographic, cultural and symbolic borders. Given this general attitude, is Turkey undertaking any current initiatives aimed to changing these stereotypes, and making a better case for the country’s added value to the EU?

The Ambassador emphasized that this is “a country-to-country undertaking and in this sense leadership is essential. If all parties from the political scene of a country are against Turkey, inevitably the public opinion in that country will be against Turkey as well. This was the case in Austria, where I served as an Ambassador.”

Turkey has a strategy for the other sort of countries, too. “Regarding the remaining critics, we are trying to do our homework and tangible improvements can already be spotted. There are several laws that will be passed during the summer addressing some key problems.”

Commenting on the issue of Islam being perceived as a threat to the EU, he mentioned that many European politicians argue that EU is a Christian-led project: “all EU countries have Muslim minorities, but this is the key word: minorities.”

Asked whether Turkish lobbyists, associations, businessmen or Turkish living abroad are helpful in the EU efforts, Mr. Yenel mentioned that while Turkish citizens who live abroad and did not integrate in their host country do not serve Turkey’s EU interests, there are some lobbyists and Turkish associations that sometimes have proven helpful at improving Turkey’s image.

Proficient Turkish Representatives in the EU

 Turkish representatives in Brussels are very well educated and prepared to confront the challenges of the EU perspective. However, many politicians fear that average Turkish citizens have not shown they possess the same abilities and understanding of EU topics.

The Ambassador replied that in every MS there is a gap between ‘normal’ citizens and European decision-makers. There are numerous technicalities involved, he underscored, and this makes it difficult to explain the EU’s decisions to the EU. Even though the Euro-sceptics are growing in number throughout Europe, Turkish citizens continue to see the EU’s achievements as appealing, though these are actually “usually taken for granted by EU citizens,” attested Ambassador Yenel, who also mentioned his concern at the rise of xenophobia and nationalism within EU.

Turkey- Too Big a Country for the EU?

 Under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, from 2014/2017, a system known as ‘double majority voting’ will be introduced in the Council. For a legislative proposal to go through, the support of two types of majority will be needed: 55% of EU countries (minimum 15) and at least 65% of the EU population. Since Turkey has such a numerous population, under this new system, it can have a good position for achieving the requisite majorities, thus promoting its interests. Is this looming provision one of the reasons explaining some MS’ reticence towards accepting Turkey as a MS?

The Ambassador replied that this is not a concerning issue. When a country will accede to the EU, the figures in the “European architecture” will have to change. If it becomes an EU member, Turkey will most probably receive the same number of MEPs and votes as Germany. Unfortunately, big countries like Germany and France are not willing to share their power and this may be a cause of concern for Turkey.

For this reason, it is important that “the Turkish relationships with Germany and France are the first ones to be assessed,” the ambassador stated. Turkey had some difficulties with France during Sarkozy’s presidency, but the political changes following the elections make it high time for the dialogue to advance, added the ambassador.

What Next?

Despite the fact that Turkey is showing good economic results in a time of crisis, and that it has started some long-awaited reforms, it remains highly criticized by the EU, mainly over freedom of press and minorities-related issues. Given the situation, an important question concerns which issues Turkey should work on most thoroughly, and how the EU could assist the process to progress in a more efficient way? The ambassador sought to point out some examples of positive developments achieved by Turkey due to the EU perspective.

For Ambassador Yenel, the new EU Commission-launched “positive agenda”, that foresees joint progress by both the Commission and Turkey on the chapters that have been blocked so far, is a positive sign. (The Commission came up with this idea to revive Turkey’s EU momentum).

Enhancing the EU’s institutional coherence (in light of existing divergent opinions between the Commission, Parliament and Council) can be useful in the actual advancement of the EU dialogue and enlargement strategies in general, the ambassador also mentioned. He noted too that the EU has no more economic concerns regarding Turkey. However, he conceded that Turkey’s business success, the trade volume between Turkey and EU or the economic aspect in general does not really have an influence on the EU’s agenda.

Turkey – a Hazardous Adventure for the EU?

Another cause of concern expressed by some countries is Turkey’s foreign policy, and in particular its difficult relations with Cyprus and Israel. Moreover, the EU is apprehensive about having such powerful neighbors at its borders (i.e. Syria, Iran and Iraq).

“It’s not the EU that will have to defend the borders- the Turks will be the ones living here and not any other Member State citizens,” noted the ambassador when asked about the issue. “So we will be facing them. The EU has no reason to fear, as Turkey is already NATO’s border as well.”

Commenting further on Turkey’s relationship with its neighbors, he mentioned that a couple of years back, Turkey was trying to be a mediator between Syria and Israel. They have always tried to keep a good relationship with Israel, he added. On Cyprus, the ambassador explained that Turkey is proactively seeking a solution for the island, and that the Republic of Cyprus is not considered an enemy.

The United Nations finds itself at a standstill here, as EU member states failed to properly voice their positions, and no action has thus been taken on Syria, out of fears of Russia or Iran who have different standpoints. This in turn complicates Turkey’s position vis-à-vis the countries still favoring the regime in Syria.

In addressing this issue, Mr. Yenel emphasized that this situation can change and that Russian or Iranian policy positions might also experience shifts in the future based on the developments on the ground in Syria. Turkey is cautious, and seeks to avoid conflict, he added. Even in the context of the recent Turkish warplane downing without prior warning by Syrian forces, Turkey refrained from retaliation or any military action whatsoever, concluded the ambassador.

New Natural Resources

 As Balkanalysis.com reported in January 2012, considerable reserves of natural gas have been discovered off of Cyprus. According to the US Geological Survey, there are 122 trillion cubic feet of gas, almost double the reserves of all EU countries combined.

Addressing this, Ambassador Yenel first underlined the need for accurate estimation. “We don’t really know how much gas there is. However, if the Greek Cypriots will start the exploitation, you can be sure you’ll see the Turkish Cypriot drilling ships right next to them.”

This discovery of gas in the Levantine Basin will thus quite possibly have an effect on Turkish policies. “Any discovery of natural resources in the area has to be shared by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots,” maintained Yenel.

Neo-Ottoman Demography

 Visa liberalisation is one of the most sensitive topics for Turkey. Visa dialogues have been advancing with Russia and other Eastern Partnership countries and even with the oft-controversial case of Kosovo. The migration potential issue has been often raised by the countries opposing a a straightforward visa approach for Turkey.

“Turkey does not want to rebuild any empire,” attested Ambassador Yenel, when asked about public speculation that Turkey wishes to rebuild the Ottoman Empire by means of a demographic surge. “That was in the past. The EU fears possible waves of migrants from Turkey, but experience shows that with the new economic developments in Turkey, more and more Turkish citizens living abroad are deciding to come back and look for their opportunities at home. In the past, the EU similarly feared the Eastern European migrants’ invasion, but the reality on the ground showed that this was not the case.”

In the interview, the ambassador also expressed his disappointment regarding the long waiting period for the visa liberalization roadmap. The EU has justified this delay by the lack of a readmission agreement. “Turkey waited for the Council’s decision to give the Commission the mandate to negotiate and sign with Turkey the readmission agreement,” he pointed out. “Following the signing of this agreement on 21 June 2012, the green light was given for opening a comprehensive visa dialogue which may lead to the liberalisation of visas in the Schengen area in the years to come,” he revealed.

Turkey’s Presence in the Western Balkans

 Both Turkey and Russia have a special interest in the Western Balkans. Turkey has a special affinity with the Balkans, dating from the Ottoman times. However, the ambassador stressed that “there is no competition concerning EU accession. Turkey wants to play a special role in the Balkans. Important investments have been done in the Western Balkans and other countries, such as Romania.”

Reaffirming the country’s vision of itself as an enabler of wider growth, the ambassador added that “Turkey’s policy in this sense is that if the economic and social situation in these countries improves, it will serve everyone’s interest.”

When Patience is a Virtue

 Concluding the interview, Ambassador Yenel was asked how long he anticipates that Turkey will have to wait to receive a coherent answer from the EU, and a provisional target accession date. Moreover, in the best-case scenario – one in which Turkey fulfils the remaining commitments with regard to the EU aquis – it becomes important to predict what message the EU might send to Turkey.

“Turkey is still patient and will continue to work hard to achieve the EU’s requested benchmarks,” stated the ambassador. “The moment when all concerns will be addressed will be a victory for Turkey.” Nevertheless, he concluded that the EU’s feedback for Turkey, when that moment arrives, remains unknown for now.

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Turkish Diplomacy, Economics and Political Developments: Interview with Doga Ulas Eralp

By Gergely Nagy*

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: in this new interview with noted Turkish policy expert Dr Doga Ulas Eralp, Hungarian researcher Gergely Nagy gets insight on a fascinatingly complex range of issues in which Turkey has a stake today- from investment in the Balkans, political and economic outreach in Africa, managing crises in Syria and Iraq, as well as the expected freeze on relations with the Cypriot Republic in June 2012.

Doga Ulas Eralp is non-resident Research Fellow at the SETA Foundation in Washington, D.C. He is currently also working as a Public-Private Dialogue Expert for Fragile and Conflict Affected States at the World Bank Group. Before his assignment to Washington, Dr Eralp was working as an assistant professor of conflict resolution at Sabanci University, Istanbul. He has also taught at George Mason University and the Brussels School of International Studies (BSIS).

Dr Eralp is also the author of a number of articles and book chapters on the Western Balkans, Cyprus and Turkey. His forthcoming book, The European Union in Bosnia Herzegovina: An Actor of Peace? (Lexington Books) will be out in winter 2012.  Dr Eralp received his Ph.D. from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He also holds a BA in Business Administration from Koc University, and a MA degree in Political Science from Sabanci University. His areas of expertise include governance, democratization processes, conflict resolution mechanisms, accountability, sustainable development partnerships, election monitoring, consociational systems, anti-corruption measures, inclusive dialogue platforms, human rights regime in Turkey, third party intervention roles in the ECA and MENA regions.

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Gergely Nagy: Turkey in recent years has experienced rapid economic growth, both exports and imports have also increased at a great pace and, according to these developments Turkish foreign policy has also become more active in the political, economic and cultural fields too. Do you see any major events or issues that could put hurdles in front of this rapid growth and have considerable, negative effect on development during the next few years? How would you evaluate the domestic and foreign factors in this question, which part could be of greater risk, if there is any?

Doga Ulas Eralp: There are two major developments in the Middle East that would affect Turkey’s policies in the coming year. The first such challenge is the withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq; following the departure of the US troops it is likely that the fragile political stability in Iraq will be altered at the expense of the autonomous Kurdish region in the north.

Turkey is the biggest trading partner of Iraqi Kurdistan and there is considerable Turkish investment in that region. Turkey would not like to see its investments and soaring trade relations with Iraqi Kurdistan put in jeopardy. Similarly Turkey started enjoying better cooperation with the Barzani leadership in the fight against the PKK. In the case of a renewal of hostilities between the Iraqi central government and the Kurds, Turkey might find itself in a position where it would need to act as an intermediary between the Arab parties and Iraqi Kurds.

Secondly, the political uncertainty in Syria is bound to worsen in the coming year as the Assad government struggles to find a solution and plunges into an all-out civil war. Turkey would be forced to establish a buffer zone [across] its border with Syria to thwart the flow of refugees before they reach the Turkish border.

One major development will be the freezing of relations with the Republic of Cyprus, when it takes over the rotating presidency in June 2012 for six months. Relations between South Cyprus and Turkey are already tense due to a crisis over the sharing of the oil resources on exclusive economic zones. Turkey’s progress toward EU membership has not been progressing due to the veto of the RoC and it seems that Turkey is in no hurry to push for reforms.

GN: Do you consider these events and risks – like Iraq, Syria or Cyprus – as long-lasting ones, or can some improvement could be expected in the upcoming year? Can these issues have a major impact on the economy of the affected Turkish regions?

DUE: 2012 will be the decision year for Cyprus. It is highly possible that Turkey actively might start pushing for the recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus among its partners. Turkey will remain the biggest donor and trade partner keeping the Northern Cypriot economy afloat; this is especially crucial in a period where the South Cypriot economy is going through a tough financial crisis and had to concede to Russian and Israeli influence over the island. It will not be surprising to see the South Cyprus government eventually reaching out to Turkey to share the oil resources.

Similarly, for Iraq, 2012 will be an important year that would test the maturity of the Iraqi security structures. The first six months could prove to be politically volatile, and this might indeed affect Turkey’s trade with Iraqi Kurdistan substantially, but once the authorities in Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders agree on the control and distribution of oil revenues, Turkish-Iraqi relations will continue to grow at an even faster pace.

[The year] 2012 will definitely be a difficult one for Syria. As Syria’s former partners in the Arab world have begun to turn their backs on the Assad regime and started supporting economic and political measures, Syrian economy will stagnate and more segments of the once burgeoning Syrian middle class will pull their support from Bashar Assad. Turkey is expected to play a controversial role, to coordinate economic support for the insurgent groups in Syria. Many Turkish cities near the Syrian border have been benefiting from the good relations with Syria like Urfa, Gaziantep, Mardin and Hatay. The local businesses in those cities will definitely be negatively affected, but considering the bigger economic gains in place for Turkey following a possible regime change in Syria, these losses will be tolerated.

GN: In connection to this issue, do you think that the developing relations with several Balkan countries could offset the problems and possible partial political negativities on the Eastern and Southern borders of Turkey? To what extent could these steps affect Turkish domestic politics?

DUE: Turkey’s economic relations with the Balkan countries will continue to grow steadily, regardless of the developments in the Middle East. Turkey already has well developed relations with Bulgaria and Romania with billions of US dollars worth of investment. In the Western Balkans, Turkey will benefit even further from the political stability in Serbia, especially at a time when Serbia is bound to be recognized as a candidate to the EU. As Turkey-Serbia relations will continue to evolve into a partnership, there would definitely be more opportunities for Turkish investors in the region, in terms of infrastructure projects such as the construction of highways and energy transit lines.

GN: Turkey is also diversifying its foreign policy, widening and deepening relationships that had previously not been well-maintained. Do you consider this as an opportunity for maintaining, or even speeding up the current growth? Which countries could fuel Turkish growth, in terms of increasing exports, trade, investments etc.? Are these countries complementary to the existing export, investment countries or can they substitute for the existing ones?

DUE: Turkey’s primary focus in the coming decade will be diversifying its trade portfolio with the Middle Eastern and North African countries and the Sub-Saharan African countries that are projected to sustain a high growth rate, on the condition that they achieve political stability. Turkey is not considering substituting the European Union market with the MENA region and Sub-Saharan African countries, but diversifying the trade volume as a way of offsetting its over-dependency on the European markets and leveraging its influence in the Islamic world.
GN: Turkish foreign policy highlights the country’s economic achievements. However, considering the current negative trends in the European economy for example, what do you think about the possibilities in Turkish growth regarding the close future?

DUE: A significant portion of Turkey’s trade is still with the European Union. The crisis in the Eurozone has already started affecting Turkey’s projections for growth in the coming two years.  The sound state of the Turkish banking system is Turkey’s biggest asset in sailing through the crisis, but conservative fiscal policies of the Eurozone countries in the short-term might affect Turkey’s efforts to mitigate its current account deficit.

GN: What do you think would happen if Turkey does not prove able to sustain the current pace of growth? To what extent is this expansionist foreign policy – e.g. many new consulates around the world – built on the need for new markets? Is this growth only fueled by foreign trade and exports, and how could this trend develop in the years ahead?

DUE: Turkey’s growth will continue regardless of the developments in the Eurozone, albeit at a reduced rate. Building more sustainable relations with the rising economies of the world like the BRIC, via following a more active role in G-20 and leveraging its partnership with the US, Turkey’s economic growth will continue. The key element is political stability in Turkey. The AKP government is currently going through a difficult time in balancing its desire to maintain political stability in the country and the need to liberalize the political regime. If Turkish politics completes its liberal transformation, Turkey has the potential to become the primary peacemaker in the Eastern Mediterranean.

GN: How do you see this political stabilisation process developing? What are the main issues that AKP needs to address in order to achieve the liberal transformation of Turkish politics? Is this move of the AKP compatible with the current atmosphere in the Turkish politics, public?

DUE: The AKP government is in a political dilemma; on one side, the government acknowledges that the liberalization efforts of the Turkish political culture need to keep on track, especially in the fields of the judiciary and military-civilian relations; on the other hand, the government wants to maintain its grip on the regime without losing ground on the issue of the Kurdish problem and on the issue of freedom of expression. This is not an easy task and there are many challenges in place, such as the long periods of detention in place for the journalists in prison for different cases of the Ergenekon trials and KCK (the so-called political arm of the terrorist organization, PKK).

GN: Summing up the previous points, to what extent is Turkish economic growth facilitated by this active foreign policy, and how do the new export and investment markets contribute to Turkey’s more and more robust voice and stance in the regional and global field?

DUE: Turkey’s export-led growth has so far been the engine for Turkey’s assertive foreign policy in its near abroad and global foreign policies.  One significant development will be a more assertive Turkey in African politics.

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About the Interviewer

*Gergely Nagy is a Hungarian researcher who has written for various news outlets, research institutes and think tanks in Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Balkans, such as TransConflict and Transitions Online. He holds an MA in International Economic and Political Studies from from Charles University in Prague, with a thesis on recent Turkish foreign policy developments towards Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

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Turkish Foreign Policy and Ongoing EU Dialogue: Interview with Egemen Bağış, Turkish Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator with the EU

Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: more than 50 years ago, Turkey started its EU accession project, with its first application to join the European Economic Community made in July 1959. Negotiations were delayed, however, because of several domestic political developments.

In 1999, the Helsinki Council concluded that Turkey would be accepted as a candidate country. Accession negotiations started in October 2005 but were subsequently suspended. Turkey showed more commitment to achieving the demanded reforms and the negotiations were resumed in January 2007. Even though some argue regarding the legitimacy of Turkey’s accession, some advantages of a strong EU partnership with Turkey could not be ignored. They refer mainly to its geo-strategic position, its economic prosperity and trade balance.

With key parliamentary elections coming up in just one week, Balkanalysis.com is providing insight into the foreign policy goals and strategies of the Turkish government with the following interview. Speaking with with Brussels-based Balkanalysis.com correspondent Maria-Antoaneta Neag, Mr. Egemen Bağış, Turkish Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator with the EU, shares his experience and opinions regarding Turkey’s dialogue with the European bloc, as well as his country’s new foreign affairs policy and economic growth targets.

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Turkey’s Dialogue with the EU

Maria Neag: What would be the assets deriving from Turkish membership in the European Union?

Egemen Bağış: It is a fact that Turkey is key to Europe’s future, through its dynamic economy, young population and wide role in global affairs. Today, Turkey is not a meek candidate waiting at the European Union’s door. On the contrary, it is a country which plays a key role in global affairs, in energy security and in the global economy.

According to Egemen Bağış Turkey is “determined to continue reforms on freedom of expression and press, which are not only crucial for our path towards European Union accession, but also for deepening democracy.”

The European Union’s main problem today is economic stagnation. Europeans need economic dynamism. Imagine the power of the European Union when the continent’s fastest growing economy and youngest working population joins it. Imagine the impact of the strong Turkish market and dynamic Turkish industries.

Turkey’s membership is not only related to economy. Turkey will be an important player in Europe’s security and defense policy. It will be an indispensable partner in its quest for energy and a major contribution to its cultural diversity.

MN: Ria Oomen-Ruijtenm a MEP a d the EPP rapporteur for Turkey, adopted by the European Parliament, expressed concerns regarding the transparent functioning of Turkish institutions. The rapporteur argues that the pre-trial detention periods are excessively long and there is a need for effective judicial guarantees for all suspects. Do these reports and criticism have any influence on the government’s decisions in this sense? Is Turkey working to achieve an independent and democratic judiciary system?

EB: Turkey is determined to carry out its reform process in order to achieve full compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria. We consider the judicial reforms as one of the key components of this process.

This is indeed reflected in the 2010 Constitutional amendments, which aimed to bolster the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. This reform package amended the independence of the judiciary, ensured Turkish citizens’ access to justice through introducing the right of individual application to the Constitutional Court and limited the jurisdiction of the military courts.

As a result, the Law on the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors went into force on 18 December 2010. Civil Procedure Law was enacted on 2 February 2011. The Law on the Establishment of Constitutional Court and Trial Procedures followed on 3 April 2011, taking the Venice Commission’s recommendations into account.

Constitutional amendments also paved the way for the establishment of the Ombudsman institution which will increase the transparency and the accountability of the administration. Currently the Draft Law is on the agenda of the Parliament.

One of the significant developments is the enactment of new provisions of the Criminal Procedural Code (CPC) on 1 January 2011, which decrease maximum terms of arrest and give suspects in the criminal proceedings the constitutional and legal rights to object and appeal against decisions during every phase of the judgment process. Besides, decisions on arrest are subject to regular examination of a court in every month at the latest.

Further amendments, passed on 9 February 2011, also serve to speed up the appeals process and shorten trial periods.

The increase in the number of chambers of the Court of Cassation as well as its members ensures fast access to justice. These measures will ease the workload of the higher courts that will eventually decrease the pre-trial detention periods.

MN: What is Turkey going to do regarding the freedom of the press? The definition of terrorism in Turkey makes it hard for journalists to express their views without being held accountable in front of a court. Are there reforms under way as to clarify this legislative “trap”?

EB: Freedom of expression and press are safeguarded by the Constitution and other relevant legislation in Turkey. We are determined to continue reforms on freedom of expression and press, which are not only crucial for our path towards European Union accession, but also for deepening democracy.

We are determined to enhance the scope of freedom of expression through the means of participatory democracy. To ensure this, we have to reform not only legislation, but the mindset of all professionals working to safeguard these freedoms. This, naturally, takes time and political determination.

One of the first priorities of our Government when it came to power was to have a new and more liberal Press Law. Corresponding changes were made in the Constitution and relevant laws that enhanced freedom of expression and press freedom. In seven of the EU Harmonization Packages out of eight adopted between the years of 2002 and 2004, major legal improvements had been made concerning freedom of expression.

The Turkish Penal Code has been amended in July 2005, with a more liberal approach regarding freedom of expression and media. In order to enhance the awareness of judges and prosecutors, the Ministry of Justice issued a Circular reminding that investigations pertaining to the misuse of freedom of thought and expression shall be made in accordance with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

The “infamous” Article 301, which was used against many Turkish intellectuals has been revised. Ambiguous terms in the article have become clear and the Minister of Justice’s permission is brought as a condition to open an investigation. After the introduction of this amendment, there was a substantial decrease in the number of cases opened. In 2010, only 10 cases citing Article 301 were carried out, out of 403 applications.

MN: What is your opinion concerning the ongoing trials against Turkish writers (the most famous being Orhan Pamuk)? They exiled themselves in various European countries or the US for fear of imprisonment. How can Turkey regain its credibility regarding the freedom of expression?

EB: It would be very unfair to refer to one of Turkey’s greatest and best-selling writers, currently at the prestigious Colombia University, as in exile. Just because Milan Kundera has chosen to live in Paris does not mean that he is on exile either.

In the case of Mr. Pamuk, he is sufficiently anchored in Istanbul where he wants to create a museum.

The law that was invoked to bring a case against Mr. Pamuk no longer exists. He was prosecuted for insulting “Turkishness” under Article 301 of the Penal Code in its old version. The charges against Orhan Pamuk have been dropped when it was amended.

Although painful, the trial of Mr. Pamuk, Turkey’s best-selling author, taught us an important lesson on laws on freedom of expression, a lesson that we have taken to heart.

As I have mentioned, the Turkish Penal Code was further amended on 8 May 2008, which made it even more difficult to evoke Article 301.

MN: Women’s rights represent a sensitive subject in the Turkey-EU discussions. Even though Turkey has passed legislation protecting women against domestic violence and honor killings, it is said that the implementation of these laws is deficient. Do you agree with this criticism? What efforts are made in order to enhance women’s rights in Turkey? Do you think that we will soon be able to see more women active in politics?

EB: Following the footsteps of Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, we are determined to strengthen and protect women’s rights. There have been remarkable legal developments in recent years to eliminate discrimination against women.

The most recent development is the constitutional amendment on Article 10, bringing positive discrimination for women.

Last year, the Women-Men Equality of Opportunities Commission in the Parliament was established to review the applications regarding the claims on breach of gender equality.

In order to ensure efficient combating of violence against women, a national action plan has been put in place. This National Action Plan identifies six main fields: legal arrangements, social awareness and mental transformation, advancement of women’s socio-economic status, protective services, curative and rehabilitation services and inter-sectoral cooperation. Furthermore, a protocol has been signed between the Ministry of Justice and the State Ministry responsible of Women and Family in order to raise awareness on fight against domestic violence and promote gender equality.

MN: Turkey is aiming to reach a visa liberalisation agreement with the EU. Some of the technical conditions regarding the visa waiver have already been fulfilled by Turkey (i.e. biometric passports). Certain efforts are ongoing within the framework of integrated borders management system. However, a problem remains regarding the readmission agreement, one of the conditions for lifting up the visas. Would signing such an agreement be so costly for Turkey? How could Turkey get the same facilitations as the Western Balkan countries did?

EB: Turks have difficulty to understand why, despite their long-standing relations with the European Union and their status as a negotiating candidate, they have to get visas to enter into EU countries, unlike other candidates and a good number of third countries.

Our demarches to the EU Member States and institutions for visa liberalization to Turkey were met by a request to fulfil the obligation of signing a Readmission Agreement. We were ready to do that, provided that the conclusion and initialling of the Readmission Agreement was in parallel to the initiation of the visa dialogue process between Turkey and the EU Commission towards a visa-free regime.

Negotiations that were carried out in the most constructive manner to conclude the Readmission Agreement with the EU resulted with a balanced and applicable text in May 2010, where Turkey displayed an attitude of good will despite the difficulties raised by some member states.

Yet, all this work was undermined by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which failed to give a mandate to the Commission to start negotiations on a detailed action plan with Turkey and present the associated road map with the ultimate goal of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. Turkey will only sign the Readmission Agreement if this is done.

Although disappointed, we will continue to work with the EU on the common challenge of irregular migration. In this framework, Turkey will implement effective regulations on integrated border management.

Turkey as a Global Player

MN: The forthcoming Polish Presidency declared that it will support Turkey in the visa question, hoping that the partnership with the EU will be thus strengthened. Can we translate this as being an EU concern that Turkey will slowly abandon its commitment towards the EU in favour of an axis shift?

EB: Turkey certainly welcomes the Polish Presidency’s inclusion of its intention to continue the accession process of Turkey in its programme. Poland is a country which has one of the highest levels of support to enlargement and we are confident that we will work closely with Warsaw on the visa question and other priority issues of the Presidency, from energy to defense, from agriculture to border security.

I do not think that any European Union member state needs to be concerned that Turkey is shifting its attention away from the European Union. In view of our multilateral policy, we have certainly many areas of focus, from the Middle East to Balkans, from Caucasus to North Africa. This, I believe, is actually one of our assets in our accession talks with the European Union and one of the benefits we will bring to the EU as a member state.

MN: What role will Turkey play when the revolutionary wave from the Middle East and Africa will come to an end?

EB: As the wave of uprisings sweep over Middle East and Northern Africa, Turkey’s democratization process coupled with its socio-economic transformation particularly in the last one decade, has been attracting extensive attention. Turkey emerged as a “source of inspiration” to the pro-change groups of the region.

Historical ties with the countries of the region dating back to the Ottoman era contribute to Turkey’s popularity. Yet, the source of inspiration is rather about what Turkey symbolizes today – that is, a strong regional actor with major socioeconomic transformation backed up with democratic development.

The firm anchoring of Turkey within international structures has definitely strengthened the internal dynamics of the country. The orientation of Turkey in such organizations acted as a strong stimulus of the consolidation of democracy. Particularly in the last decade, Turkey has taken bold steps on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, privacy of individual life, freedom of religion, freedom of association. The death penalty has been abolished. Civil-military relations have been normalized. The Turkey of today has become a “beacon of democracy” for those people who are trying to overthrow authoritarian regimes in their own homelands.

The uprisings have brought Turkey to the forefront of Arab minds – and, in the process, have underlined how important is the integration between Turkey and the EU. When a Moroccan taxi-driver in New York or an Egyptian waiter in London asks whether Turkey will someday be a member of the EU, there is now no surprise at the question. The people, media, and governments of the Middle East closely follow Turkey’s EU vocation.

The Arabs who are trying to overthrow authoritarian regimes are seeking freedom and change today, and democracy and prosperity tomorrow. Turkey’s accession to the EU would send a positive signal to them.

It would also be a good sign for the millions who for centuries have felt marginalised by Western structures. In the Muslim world, the double standards that Turkey faces in its accession bid feed these old sentiments, and they keep alive questions about whether the EU truly represents a set of values or merely defines itself narrowly as a ‘Christian Europe.’

Turkey’s Democratic Tests: Constitutional Reform and General Elections

MN: How will the new Turkish constitution be designed? What outcome is to be expected from this reform?

EB: It is too early to speculate on the new constitution before the elections but there are three certainties in that regard.

First, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Turkish citizens have voted in favor of the 2010 Constitutional Amendment Package demonstrated that not only the government but the people of Turkey support a new, more liberal and non-military constitution.

Secondly, the new constitution will be a “constitution of consensus” – unlike the 1982 Constitution which was the remnant of a military regime.

Thirdly, it will be a constitution befitting an EU member state. It will consolidate Turkey’s democratic reforms. It will ensure Turkish citizens to benefit fully from fundamental rights in a more democratic system by lifting the restrictions of the military regime. Thus, it will further strengthen the institutions guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law in Turkey.

MN: There will be general elections on June 12. What rhetoric should we expect from the parties involved?

EB: Politics, particularly in electoral periods, are volatile. Especially in a great country like Turkey, you have big issues, big promises and sometimes big divergences of view between competing parties.

I am happy to say that Turkey’s accession to the European Union is not one of those points of divergence. I am glad that the EU issue is not being used as a propaganda tool in the elections. It is a positive sign that issues about the EU are not being brought into the election discourses of opposition parties. This is a sharp contrast to some European Union member states where Turkey is used as some sort of scapegoat or “tete de Turc” in their election campaigns.

The priority of the parties running for the elections is to serve the citizens and the social good. A sound rhetoric shares the vision for the future of Turkey by responding to these social and economic needs in the context of international economic circumstances.

My own party envisions the year 2023 as the target date for a prosperous, developed and powerful Turkey. We believe that all of our citizens, every single one of them, deserves the best and we have written our programme accordingly.

Assessing Turkey’s Economic Growth

MN: The 2010 figures revealed an unexpected 8.9% growth rate of the Turkish economy. Moreover, the trend is expected to continue in 2011 and 2012, with rates between 4.5% and 5.5%. What are “the engines” laying behind this evolution?

EB: When you look at it from a pure economic point of view, strong domestic demand, strong investment growth, rising industrial output, improved foreign trade and foreign direct investments all contribute to Turkey’s growth, which is higher than the EU expectations.

We think that Turkey’s position as the fastest growing economy in Europe is sustainable in the coming years.

From a wider perspective, I think our macroeconomic stability and predictability is, ironically, the result of the bitter lessons of a decade ago, when Turkey had its worst financial and economic crisis in its modern history. The Turkish economy has been involved in a structural transformation process afterwards. From then on, stability became the main focus of our macroeconomic policies with the support of significant structural reforms.

The role of the EU accession period is also significant. EU membership perspective have played an anchor role for stability and sustained economic growth during this transformation process. Our government has preserved price stability with the help of sound economic policies as well as fiscal discipline. As a result of this, any negative effects of the global financial and economic crisis on our economy have been limited in terms of both duration and scale and we have been able to recover rapidly with a remarkable growth rate in 2010.

In the light of impressive growth performance of Turkish economy over the last decade with the exception of 2009, we take the economic success in 2010 as a continuation of this trend rather than as a surprise.

MN: You mentioned in a speech held in the European Parliament on the occasion of the event “The Turkish children’s perception on the EU and the Turkish accession perspective”, organised by the Friends of Turkey (on 4th of May), that Turkey’s economic goal is to become the 20th economic world power by 2023, which will be the date celebrating 100 years since the formation of the Turkish modern state. What are the policies Turkey will employ in order to achieve such an ambitious target?

EB: Turkey, as a dynamic emerging economy, is determined to catch up with the bigger actors of the global playground. In order to reach our target, Turkey will continue to follow sound macroeconomic policies, fiscal discipline and structural reforms in order to further improve stability and growth.

To this end, we have already launched our development strategies for the improvement of the physical infrastructure and research & development to boost the economic activities. These strategies refer also to the priorities like environment, energy, transport, innovation, education, health and SMEs.

With the help of these extensive structural reforms and strategies, Turkey will be able to unlock its untapped capacity and improve its potential. By 2023, Turkey will reach its targets like income per capita worth 25,000 USD, exports volume amounting 500 billion USD, and being one of the top 5 agricultural powers of the world. And this will bring Turkey up to the league of the world’s top 10 economies.

Last but Not Least…

MN: Turkey is a Eurasian country whose territory spreads across different regions, with different historical and cultural backgrounds. One might stress that people from Anatolia, for example, don’t have the same EU aspirations as do Istanbul inhabitants. Is there a general support for Turkey’s accession to the EU? What do people expect from the EU?

EB: Turkey is a country where continents and cultures meet – and whose own heritage is deeply entwined with that of the European Union. The “Sick Man of Europe” of the 19th century is now the “Robust Man” of Europe.

Turkish people from multicultural metropolises to Anatolian cities want to be a part of the European Union if that means better living standards, more democratic rights, and prosperity.

However, this desire is dimmed by what they perceive as the unfair attitude of the European Union. From the perspective of the Turkish public, the question is a “trust” issue – “Can we trust the European Union to treat our candidacy fairly and make a fair decision when we have met the criteria?” The European Union has to work with us, Turkey’s government and its people, to readdress its somewhat battered image and credibility in the eyes of Turks.

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Turkey’s Developing Role in Africa: Interview with Mehmet Ozkan and Birol Akgun

In the following interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets the views of Mehmet Ozkan and Birol Akgun, two leading academic experts on Turkey’s burgeoning diplomatic and economic engagement with Africa.

The work of Mr Ozkan, a PhD scholar at Spain’s Sevilla University, focuses on how cultural and religious elements shape foreign policy mentality in South Africa, Turkey and India. Prior to that, he studied at Istanbul University in Turkey, the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and Linkoping University in Sweden. For his part, Birol Akgun is a professor of international relations at Selcuk University in Konya, and has affiliations with the Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE), an Ankara based think-tank. Professor Akgun concentrates on Turkish domestic and foreign policy and global security issues in general.

Readers interested in learning more about the topic should read an important article co-authored by Ozkan and Akgun, entitled “Turkey’s Opening to Africa” and published in Cambridge University Press’s 2010 Journal of Modern African Studies. References in the following interview are to comments made in that specific article.

Background and Ideologies

Chris Deliso: When did Turkey start to really perceive the value of expanding its diplomatic and economic reach in Africa? In your article, you point to 1998 – four years before the current AKP government took power – as a key date, a year after the EU failed to give Turkey candidate status at its summit. You point to this rejection as one part of the reason why the then-foreign minister, Ismail Cem, created the ‘Opening up to Africa’ policy document. Historically speaking, do we know what were the other motivations or influencing parties behind the creation of this doctrine?

Birol Akgun: As a matter of fact, there were some political initiatives made by Turkey in the 1960s to reach out to the third-world countries, in order to develop political relations with the non-Western world, and for a couple of reasons. To start with, after American President Lyndon Johnson wrote a letter explaining that the US might not be willing to defend Turkey against the Soviet Union in case of Turkey’s use of force in Cyprus, Turkey’s political elite began questioning the value of NATO’s security umbrella for Turkey.

Therefore, the Turkish government sent some ambassadors to different African countries and tried to reach out to the Non-aligned movement as well. Again, when the US Congress imposed an arms-sale embargo against Turkey (a NATO ally) because of Turkey’s involvement in Cypriot affairs, a large majority of people in the country lost their belief in the US, and some political parties including leftists, Islamists and nationalists advocated that Turkey must follow a more diversified foreign policy, one that should look at both the west and east at the same time.

In the 1980s, Turgut Özal somehow found a way to develop good relations with many Middle Eastern countries for economic reasons. When the Cold War ended, then, again it was Özal who successfully explored ways of further deepening ties with the countries of the ex-Soviet bloc, including the Central Asian Turkic states. The expansion of the three-party Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) into Central Asia, and the creation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) were part of Özal’s new opening strategy to the neighboring regions.

Thus, when Ismail Cem took over the MFA post in the coalition government of 1997, Turkey had already developed economic ties and political frameworks within Turkey’s immediate geo-political environment. Now it was time for Turkey to further its vision for the African continent across the Mediterranean Sea.

Therefore, it would be a simplistic view to explain Turkey’s rapprochement with Africa merely in the context of its rejection by the EU in 1997, if we do not take into consideration Turkey’s growing interest in various parts of the world in the last three decades. In sum, Turkey’s opening to Africa is not a reactionary move but rather a visionary approach.

CD: In the article, you also note that it was only after 2005 that a “massive effort” began to increase Turkish presence in Africa. So, to what extent should the credit be shared between Cem and Davutoğlu, the latter with his expansive foreign policy vision of “strategic depth” for Turkey? Was this simply a continuation of the late 1990s-era policy, being implemented finally at a time when the opportunity arose?

Mehmet Ozkan: Ismail Cem had some thoughts about reshaping Turkey’s foreign policy in the new era. But he was serving as foreign minister in a three-party coalition government that made his efforts difficult to organize in a coherent way. Also, the economic crisis in 2000-2001 in Turkey was so severe that Turkey could not look beyond or commit itself to Africa by undertaking coherent and coordinated diplomatic work.

It would be unjust, however, to say that now Ahmet Davutoğlu is just simply following what Cem already started. It certainly helped and was important; however, what Davutoğlu has brought is the sophistication and connection of Turkey’s relations with different regions. Davutoğlu believes that every [Turkish] move in Africa or in Latin America has implications for Turkey’s relations with other regions as well. So Turkey now acts considering all in a single approach. Of course, it was [necessarily] Turkey’s political stability and high level of economic growth under the current AK Party government that have provided the opportunity for Davutoğlu’s vision to be fully implemented in the 2000s.

CD: The current realization of this policy is now becoming tangible. You cite that Turkey is opening 15 new embassies in various African countries, while in the 1990s some of the few that were there had to be closed due to lack of budget. Where is all the money coming from to do so? What other regions of the world have suffered in terms of foreign ministry budget being taken from one priority to the new one in Africa?

BA: You open an embassy if your country gains in economic and political terms. Before Turkey’s trade with Africa was very limited, and mostly with a few countries. Now, as Turkey opens to the world and develops economic relations, new embassies are a necessity. As far as we know, there is no other region that has suffered from a lack of budget [as a result]. Beside, Turkey’s growing export sector is also demanding political support, to expand their business in Africa as well.

CD: On the same theme, have the foreign ministry budget and the Africa expansion plans in specific had to be defended against any criticisms from the Turkish opposition parties? Or is there a feeling that the new diplomatic opportunities that will arise will help the new embassies to “pay for themselves.”

MO: When Turkey announced 2005 as the ‘year of Africa,’ many people were so critical and many journalist and former diplomats saw this as a waste of time and energy and resources. However, when Turkey’s opening to Africa started to pay off, those critics went silent. In that sense, the Erdoğan government has changed the conception of Africa in Turkey. The image of Africa in Turkey is now much more positive than it had been before.

CD: Historically, has the security sector played any role in the ‘opening to Africa’ for Turkey? After all, Turkey’s most famous moment in Africa in modern history is probably the abduction of Kurdish PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, by Turkish secret agents in Kenya in February 1999. Did that operation transpire successfully because of renewed Turkish activities in Africa? If so, in what respects?

BA: Neither the security sector nor the capture of Ocalan in Kenya have contributed to this opening, nor been influential for this opening in a meaningful way. It is a civil society-driven opening, and the state has to follow it most of the time [to keep up].

Institutions, Organizations and Economics

CD: You note that in 2005, Turkey was granted ‘observer status’ at the African Union. Practically speaking, what does this mean for a country such as Turkey? What new capacities can the observer build, what new sources of information are opened, etc?

MO: This ‘observer status’, if nothing else, will help in one thing: to overcome the lack of knowledge on both sides. In Africa, even little kingdoms require a visa for Turkish citizens- not because they see Turkey or Turks in a different way, but just because they don’t even know where Turkey is, and if such a country exists at all.

Both sides thus need time to understand each other and to see the potential. We think that permanent contacts will facilitate this and lay the foundation for future relations. Briefly, observer status and political communication help both sides in changing mutual perceptions.

CD: This new institutional cooperation also involves military training for various African forces in Turkey. That said, have there been any concerns from NATO or NATO states about the potential for exfiltration of sensitive information or other potential compromising of classified NATO material? If so, what was the reaction?

BA: Turkey’s military relations with Africa are still very basic. Mostly, it involves police training. There is no need for NATO to have concerns.

CD: Your research cites that Turkey’s volume of trade with African countries shot up from $5.4 billion in 2003 to over $16 billion in 2008- with the government hoping to clear $30 billion per annum soon. What industries and companies in particular have benefited most from this rapid trade increase?

MO: Construction companies and those who produce mechanical parts benefited most.

CD: What are the major Turkish investors in Africa? Do you expect these to increase their role in coming years? Are there others, yet to emerge, who have shown interest in African markets?

BA: Mostly they are medium-sized companies. Their economic activities will increase in coming years, as many new companies are entering into African market.

CD: A major new trade organization in Turkey, the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON), is discussed in your treatment of Turkish-African relations. Founded in 2005, it apparently represents 11,500 businessmen and has organized (among its other trade conferences) three sessions with Africa, in which thousands of Turkish businessmen have been informed of opportunities in Africa.

Considering the implication that the TUSKON is also in some respects an ally of the AKP government, along with your observation that Turkish society still has many ingrained negative stereotypes about Africa, what can we make of this concerted action? Is it a case of politics driving economics, or vice versa? That is, does the government want more Turkish investors in Africa to bolster its political and ideological agenda, or are the  businessmen pushing the politicians to develop new economic opportunities in Africa for purely financial reasons?

BA: Both the government and business community are helping each other. It is a perfect example of a convergence of interest between civil society and the state.

CD: You note that the inaugural Turkey-Africa summit was held in 2008 in Istanbul, and will be held next in 2013, somewhere in Africa. Considering that South Africa and Nigeria are Turkey’s biggest trade partners on the continent, can we expect one of these to host the event? Or are there any other likely hosts in the running?

MO: So far, there is no information about the next Turkey-Africa summit. Our guess is that it will take place in a central or east African country (e.g. Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia) rather than in Nigeria or South Africa.

Development, Religion and Politics

CD: In your article, you mention the important role that the TIKA, Turkey’s international development agency, has played in humanitarian work in Africa. Can we compare the TIKA’s role to those of similar development agencies from the US or EU states, of course accounting for the relative wealth and capacities of each respective to one another?

BA: Yes, it is very much comparable with development agencies in European countries. In the end, it is the official aid agency of Turkey, and acts in accordance with Turkey’s priorities and planning.

CD: Has the TIKA presence been able to help Turkish diplomacy and intelligence in any tangible ways? Do the Turkish aid authorities choose their destinations of work in Africa based solely on perceived humanitarian need, or for political and strategic goals as well? If so, are there any examples you can point out?

MO: TIKA has tried to cover all of Africa, and it acts with a balance between strategic planning and humanitarian needs in Africa. TIKA is not an intelligence agency, and Turkey’s approach to Africa is more driven by economic and trade interest than political concerns at this stage.

CD: In your article, you cite a very interesting detail involving Turkey’s little-known Directorate for Religious Affairs. In November 2006 in Istanbul, you note, the government organized a historic “Religious Leaders Meeting of African Continent Muslim Countries and Societies,” Apparently, the African leaders present emphasized that they wished to restore the Ottoman legacy which they saw as positive. To what extent do you believe this was a genuine feeling of enthusiasm? After all, it was obviously the response that the Turkish hosts wanted to hear…

MO: Interest in the Ottoman legacy is very much alive among Muslims in Africa, especially in Eastern and Western Africa. We think it is an expression of genuine feeling. We think in the future that we will see this playing a greater role in relations, as both Turkey and Africa are reshaping their historical narratives.

CD: Again, regarding the Directorate, your research reveals that in 2009 the government invited through its embassies 300 African Islamic students to study theology in Turkey. The implication, as far as I understand, was that Turkey was and is selling this as a positive alternative to radical Islamic teachings being conducted elsewhere in Africa. To the best of your knowledge, is this new development sort of a policy point that Turkish leaders have sought to emphasize when meeting with Western diplomats concerned with radicalism in Africa?

BA: There is no official discourse on it, nor any information regarding such a conversation with Western diplomats. Inviting African students to study in Turkey, in theology and other fields, is part of Turkey’s soft power effort in Africa. Turkey has long experience with providing support to students of developing countries as well.

CD: According to your research, the Turkish charity Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) is now present in 41 African countries, and has spent many millions of dollars on humanitarian operations. Since in many cases it has been the first Turkish contact with locals, you have dubbed it a sort of “pioneering” organization. Yet considering its orientation as an Islamist proselytizing organization, to what extent does the group and its members represent the general mainstream of Turkish society? Is there a risk that Africans might get a limited sense of Turkey and its people from exposure to only one such group?

MO: The secularist elite in Turkey has no Africa vision, nor have they an interest to develop one. The IHH goes to Africa with the intention of [providing] humanitarian aid. Today, the IHH is considered one of most credible aid organization in Turkey. It enjoys a huge legitimacy among the vast majority in Turkey.

Besides, there are many other organizations that have projects in Africa as well. Many businessmen have connections with Africa. Africa has already been exposed to all layers of Turkish society through different channels. In addition, so far the IHH has not played a missionary role; rather its activities are mostly focused on tangible developmental and humanitarian projects in Africa.

CD: Again on the IHH, this group is dealing with famine relief, other natural disasters, and infrastructure issues. Another example was the large-scale, free cataract-removal operations for poor Africans, accompanied by a marketing slogan- that Turkey would ‘open the eyes of 100,000 Africans’ by these operations. However, considering the group’s religious goals, can we understand this slogan in another sense? If so, are there records being kept of Turkey’s ‘successes’ in bolstering Muslim faith and expanding Islam in Africa?

BA: No. We don’t think any organization in Turkey, be it IHH or others, hold such a record.

CD: You note that Turkish influence has also been stepped up in the form of schools. I understand there are now large areas in African countries where the Turkish language is being spoken or understood for the first time by the local peoples. Has language knowledge transfer helped Turkish political and economic aspirations in any specific ways?

BA: It only helps Africans to know Turkey and Turkish culture first-hand. It may help Africa to aspire to develop political and economic relations. Some graduate of these schools also continue their higher-education studies in Turkey. They can thus naturally serve as a bridge between Turkey and African nations.

Future Likelihoods

CD: Whether or not the AKP government’s contentious relationship with the Turkish military causes damage for Turkey’s military-industrial sector, will we see Turkish military industry begin to sell more weaponry to African states?

MO: I doubt it. Actually, the Turkish military is interested in buying, rather than selling. For example, Turkey has had a long-time interest in buying the Rooivalk attack helicopters for the Turkish army from South Africa.

CD: Commentators sometimes portray Africa as the ground for a global economic exploitation war between China and the United States. How has Turkey’s new positioning on the continent benefited it there in relations to these two superpowers?

MO: Turkey’s move is more modest comparing to that of India, China, US and others. Therefore, such a rivalry has almost no influence on Turkey’s opening at this stage.

CD: You say that Turkey needs Africa for ‘diversifying energy resources’- can you clarify more about what this means?

MO: As is well-known, Turkey’s energy resources very much depend on various countries, such as Russia. Turkey is desperately looking to diversify it energy resources for its high-speed development. Africa has a share in that planning too. That is why we look at trade statistics between Turkey and Africa; energy resources play an important role in Turkey’s import from Africa along with other things.

CD: Turkish leaders have recently stated their support, as you indicate, for Africa in terms of being a ‘voice’ for the continent on the international stage. Western states are usually quite skittish about getting involved in interventions in Africa, and dealing with widespread instability such as the recent killings in Ivory Coast are not high on the Western agenda. That said, do you feel that there could be possible cases in which Turkey would push for military intervention in African disputes?

BA: Turkey’s willingness to act as the voice of Africa is true when it comes to humanitarian and developmental issues, not so much in security matters. For instance, Turkey in the UN Security Council and in other platforms, such as the G-20 and UNDP, always consulted with African nations and defended their priorities in the official meetings- as was the case in the UN Millennium Development Goals meeting in September 2010. The fact that Turkey in May 2011 will also hold a large LDCs meeting in Istanbul is also an indication of its commitment to African issues.

However, when it comes to political and security matters, Turkey has always been cautious about involvement in foreign countries’ domestic conflicts; rather, it has always acted with the international community, paying utmost attention to international law and legitimacy. It may take part in peace-building missions in Africa, such was the case in Somalia in the early 1990s, but it never unilaterally considers sending troops to any country. But diplomatically speaking, we expect, Turkey will always be willing to help friendly countries in Africa.

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Adventures with the CIA in Turkey: Interview with Philip Giraldi

In the following exclusive interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Christopher Deliso speaks with Philip Giraldi, a former CIA deputy chief of base in Turkey. Through the interview, readers get a first-hand introduction to the cloak-and-dagger reality of undercover work in one of the world’s most important strategic areas. Iranian assassinations, Turkish eavesdropping and other eye-opening stories allow the reader an intimate inside look into the shadowy, high-stakes game of international espionage.

Mr. Giraldi’s biography and career information are provided after the interview.

Christopher Deliso: First of all, please share some background information about your mission. What exactly was your position in Turkey? For how long were you stationed there?

Philip Giraldi: I served as deputy chief of base of Istanbul from 1986 to 1989. In the CIA, a station is in the capital city, Ankara, in this case, and is subordinate to the Embassy. All other field elements in any given country are called bases.

CD: Right. But I would imagine that as “bases’ go, Istanbul was a fairly important one, no? What were you tasked with doing, primarily?

PG: Istanbul was the largest CIA base in Europe when I was there. Since the Cold War was still going on, most officers were involved in monitoring the Soviet Navy, which had to pass through the Bosporus to get into the Mediterranean.

Intelligence Gathering in Turkey: a “Highly Sensitive’ Operation

PG: We thus paid a lot of attention to the other intelligence agencies operating in Istanbul, most notably the Russians and the Egyptians, both of whom had managed to penetrate the Turkish intelligence services, something that we had been unable to do.

CD:: Really! A Muslim state like Egypt is understandable, but how did the Soviets manage to get inside? And on that note, were there any dramatic Cold War showdowns that you saw?

PG: Re. the Russians in Turkey, there were no dramatic incidents because the Turks were all over their diplomats through surveillance and monitoring. How they managed to penetrate Turkish intelligence I never quite understood, though I assume it was an ideological “fellow traveler” who had volunteered his services. It is my understanding that the Turks never discovered who the miscreant was.

As for the CIA, we did not do much on Turkish internal affairs, leaving that to the US Embassy’s political officers.

CD: Why? Was spying on the Turks out of the question, or too difficult or what?

PG: The CIA did not make much of an effort to develop good sources among Turks because it was extremely perilous to do so, both in terms of US broader equities and because the Turks were very aggressive in a counter-intelligence sense.

CD: That’s interesting- and a little surprising, since Turkey is a very important country for the US. By “broader US equities,’ do you mean diplomatic relations?

PG: Turkey was a key player in NATO and it was therefore considered to be highly sensitive from an intelligence viewpoint. To run an operation to recruit a Turkish official would require coordination at the highest level, because of the potential for serious blowback were it to be discovered.

CD: So are you saying that the CIA did not even try to recruit any Turkish officials?

PG: I knew of only one senior Turkish official who was on the payroll and he was not actually recruited — he volunteered in exchange for lots of money. He was met carefully outside of Turkey by an officer whose identity was not known to the Turks.

CD: I don’t suppose you are at liberty to identify that official?

PG: Honestly, I never knew his name or his job. It was very strictly “need to know’ information, solely for higher-ups.

CD: So there was no formal or tacit agreement between the two governments to not spy on one another, being NATO allies and so on?

PG: There was no agreement between the US and Turkey that we would not spy on each other- I believe that only Britain enjoys that status. Indeed, the Turks did spy very actively on our diplomatic missions, mostly through co-opting the local employees who worked there.

Life under Surveillance

CD: So combining this with your statement that “the Turks were very aggressive in a counter-intelligence sense”- how did this affect you and your colleagues?

PG: Embassy officers who were known or suspected to be CIA were surveilled whenever they went out, had their phones tapped, and their apartments were bugged.

My apartment had microphones in the table lamps, for example, and everything I said on the phone was taped and analyzed. I was routinely surveilled when I went out to lunch, sometimes by teams of as many as one dozen survellants using cars and radios.

CD: That sounds stressful. How did you handle yourself, under the circumstances?

PG: When your apartment is bugged as mine was, you just talk normally and never ever talk about work.

CD: Would it have been foolhardy to remove those devices?

PG: If you remove the microphones, they would just put more in- in the end, it’s better to know where they are than to have to guess.

CD: Did you ever try to deceive them by speaking nonsense, or code, or things that would send them on a wild goose chase?

PG: No- you don’t play games with them, because then they really get mad and come after you with everything. And you don’t want that.

Persian Assassins and a Foiled Plot

CD: So if you did not work on recruiting Turkish officials, what were some of your other focuses?

PG: Well, what we did do was a great deal of work on international terrorism, often working closely with the Turks. In fact, I worked almost exclusively against terrorism-mostly Iranian.

The Iranians and Libyans were the big terrorism players in those days. The attacks were all state-sponsored. For example, the Iranian regime would send hit teams of Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) to Turkey and Western Europe when they wanted to kill critics and political opponents.

CD: How did the CIA do against this threat? Were you able to stop them?

PG: We were reasonably successful, but the Iranians in particular were very good and often were able to identify and assassinate our agents.

CD: Wow! Are you saying that roving teams of Iranians were able to go around eliminating CIA officers?

PG: Not exactly- when I say “agents’ I mean in the broad sense of the definition- these were sources of information who were Iranians, not Americans.

CD: Do you have any specific names or examples?

PG: I don’t recall their names, but if you were to go back to the late 1980s and search in papers like the IHT, as well as the European press, you would find some names of Iranian dissidents who were assassinated in Turkey. These were people who were providing information to the US Embassy and CIA station in Ankara.

Later, after my time in Turkey, the Iranians also rolled up at least two large groups of CIA-recruited agents who were reporting with invisible writing from inside Iran, one in around 1991, and one about ten years later.

This was also reported in the international press. The arrested agents were tortured to death. The first group was exposed when a CIA clerk sent letters to all of the agents all at the same time, from the same mailbox, and all in the same handwriting- the Iranians picked up on it immediately and arrested the whole group or nineteen.

CD: What a disaster? Was there any agency political fallout because of this fiasco?

PG: No- nobody in CIA was punished for the egregious “error in judgment,” and the chief of the field element responsible was, in fact, promoted.

CD: If we speak about underlying causes, how do you explain the Iranian government’s ability to identify and eliminate CIA-associated Iranians?

PG: They were very successful, first of all because Turkey was the door into Europe; it was the only country bordering Iran that did not require Iranians to have visas to enter. It also harbored a very large Iranian expatriate community.

CD: Was the Turkish government unable to stop their assassins? Or were they allowing them to take out your agents for some reason?

PG: No, they weren’t “allowing’ them, but in a sense they had to tolerate them. The Turkish police and intelligence service were very active against the Iranians, but the problem was beyond their capabilities. Hit teams would cross the border, travel to Ankara or Istanbul, kill someone, and be back across the border by the next day. The Turkish government did not make waves about it, because Turkey was very dependent on Iranian oil at that time.

CD: Can you point out any specific successes on the anti-terror front during your time in Istanbul?

PG: While I was in Turkey, we did manage to thwart one terrorist operation, in which two Libyan agents were preparing to bomb a wedding at the US airbase in Ankara. We stopped the attack before it happened, fortunately.

Another successful operation that I recall, dramatic in a different way, again involved a Libyan agent. He produced the doctor who had appeared on television with Moammar Gadhafi, after President Reagan bombed Tripoli. The doctor was holding what appeared to be the body of a young girl, claimed to be Gadafi’s daughter who was reportedly killed in the attack.

According to the doctor, Gadhafi had no daughter and the whole thing was staged. It was one of those rare instances where the report had immediate impact, going to Reagan and to Margaret Thatcher directly.

CD: Were you aware of any connections between Iranian terrorist groups in the Balkans, and/or Turkish intelligence and Balkan Muslim groups, Bosniaks, Albanians, etc? For example, some reports have claimed that the nascent Kosovo Albanian militant movement was nurtured in Turkey, with the assistance of MIT in the 1980’s.

PG: We were aware that MIT was meddling in the Balkans in support of local Muslims. This was somewhat of a legacy of the Ottoman Empire. However, as far as I know, we never had any more precise details regarding the MIT activities in the Balkans.

CD: Now, with the Cold War long gone and a totally different power dynamic in effect, do you think that the CIA preoccupations of your time have now changed- and that they now do do more on Turkish internal affairs?

PG: I assume CIA is now doing more reporting on Turkey, but I don’t know that for a fact. It would be a very tough target and considered very sensitive if it were to be exposed, so I don’t think there is much likelihood that much is going on.

Thoughts on the Sibel Edmonds Case

CD: Let’s speak for a moment regarding the case of former FBI translator and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. Your summary of the case in the American Conservative was rated the best such one so far by Sibel herself. How much of what she has disclosed can be verified independently?

PG: I have not attempted to corroborate Sibel’s story as I have no resources to do so. And it would appear that the government gag order she is under precludes the type of confirmation that would be desirable.

CD: Can you elaborate at all on the role of neocon and other actors mentioned in your article, who were allegedly involved with illegal arms sales and more, such as Doug Feith, Richard Perle, Eric Edelman, Steven Solarz and Marc Grossman?

PG: As my article stated, the preoccupation with Turkey of the key neocons named is curious indeed. It is plausibly explained by their interest in Israel and their connections to the weapons industry in the US, Turkey, and in Israel.

I can recall Solarz showing up in Turkey in 1986 after he left Congress, and the connection with Perle and Feith in particular is well documented. I don’t know if the illicit arms sales are still going on, but I would suspect they are. Weapons dealing is big business and there are many players in it.

CD: You also mention Turkey and false end user certificates in association with illegal proliferation to dangerous states. Was this something you were involved with monitoring when in the CIA? What about special teams like the Brewster Jennings outfit? Did they operate or have a predecessor working with you at the time?

PG: I have no inside information on CIA or US government monitoring of arms sales to third parties a la the work of Brewster Jennings. When I was in Turkey, I was not aware of any US government interest in such matters and there was no non-proliferation staff at headquarters.

CD: The exact period in which you were in Turkey, 1986-1989, was important for the Pakistani nuclear program. Did you have any awareness of the oft-attested Turkish-Pakistani cooperation in this regard?

PG: I don’t know anything about Turkey-Pakistan re. proliferation – I suspect the [CIA] station did not have any interest in it at that time.

The Future of US-Turkey Covert Relations

CD: Many observers, and most pointedly the neocons, have declared that there has been a breakdown in relations with Turkey since the invasion of Iraq and the Turkish refusal of a northern attack route for the US. How bad are things really?

PG: I certainly know that the relationship is regarded as cool and that the Turks are extremely mistrustful of the United States, primarily due to our failure to suppress PKK activity in northern Iraq. The neocons, of course, would like to see Turkey join in a new crusade against Syria and Iran, but that is not about to happen.

CD: So has the CIA’s intelligence-sharing cooperation with Turkey also suffered because of this chill?

Intelligence cooperation with Turkey has always been so-so. They share information only when it is completely in their interest to do so, not otherwise.

CD: So is Turkey now being categorized at the policy-making level as more of a hostile power than a friend? If so, Will the US be able to win back Turkish trust?

PG: Turks really dislike the US because of the mess in Iraq and the impending mess that our unquestioning support of Israel means for the region. And the Turkish government has reflected that antipathy. If you want to change the perception, you have to change the policy. Not likely to happen, is it?

CD: Indeed. But, speaking pragmatically, do you think the CIA has sought to reach out more to allies such as Greece, Cyprus, Georgia or Bulgaria, for example, to make up for any information deficit that may have occurred since 2003?

PG: I don’t know, but anyway it wouldn’t matter substantially. The Greek, Bulgarian, Cypriot, and Georgian intelligence services are no substitute for Turkey, which is both geographically and culturally pivotal to our ability to monitor developments in Iran and elsewhere.

CD: What can you say about how the current Israeli war in Lebanon will affect the traditional Israeli-Turkish alliance?

PG: Well, concerning the impact of [what is happening now in] Lebanon, you must be aware of the fact that the so-called “friendly” relationship between the two countries is very narrowly focused. It is largely the Turkish Army’s General Staff that keeps the relationship going, because it provides access to US military assistance and weapons that would otherwise be embargoed.

The Turkish public and the government, on the other hand, are rather ambivalent, if not hostile, to the relationship. And they are now very angry about the attacks on fellow Muslims in Lebanon.

CD: After you left the CIA base in Turkey in 1989, have you continued to keep in touch and to visit the country?

PG: Yes- since 1989, I have visited Turkey frequently and have good friends there. My most recent trip was a year ago. I follow Turkish political and security developments closely.

CD: Mr. Giraldi, thanks very much for your time and insights. Much appreciated!

PG: Thank you- my pleasure.

………………………………..

Philip Giraldi served as a staff officer in the Central Intelligence Agency for sixteen years, culminating in his selection as Chief of Base in Barcelona from 1989 to 1992. He was designated the Agency’s senior officer for Olympic Games support, and was named official liaison to the Spanish Security and Intelligence services. During the lead-up to the Games, he also expanded his liaison activities through contacts with the Security Services of a number of European, Asian, and Latin American countries. Working closely with the Barcelona Olympics Security Committee, Phil helped develop the overall Olympics security plan and became the principal briefing officer on security preparations for the United States Government.

Prior to Barcelona, Phil specialized in intelligence collection and counter-terrorism operations throughout the Middle East and Europe, often working in coordination with the local government security services. In Istanbul, he successfully worked against a number of Middle Eastern terrorist targets. In Hamburg, he developed information on illegal technology sales in Western Europe. In Rome, he ran operations focused on economic espionage and counter-terrorism.

Since 1992, Phil has been engaged in security consulting for a number of Fortune 500 corporate clients. He is the founder and President of San Marco International, an international security consultancy, and is also a partner in Cannistraro Associates of McLean, Virginia.

Over the past four years, he has specialized in post-September 11th issues for his clients and has also done contract work for the United States government. Phil has been designated by the General Accounting Office as an expert on the impact of illegal immigration on terrorism. As a counter-terrorism expert, he has been brought in to assist the Port Authority of the City of New York in its planning, has assisted the United Nations security organization, and has helped develop a security training program for the United States Merchant Marine. He has conducted security surveys at a number of international airports and ports in Latin America and Asia.

Phil was one of the first American civilians to travel to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, and he has assisted multinational corporations in the upgrade of their security at overseas sites to help them comply with the Patriot Act. Prior to September 11th, he specialized in international risk assessments and “due diligence” investigations. In many cases, his investigations have developed information that led to corporate decisions not to go ahead with planned overseas joint ventures. To meet the needs of clients, he has traveled extensively, most particularly in Latin America, south Asia, and Europe, and has built up a world-wide network of working-level contacts in the security, political, and economic sectors.

Phil is a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues. He appears frequently on National Public Radio and is a Contributing Editor who writes a regular column called “Deep Background” on terrorism, intelligence, and security issues for The American Conservative magazine. He has written op-ed pieces for the Hearst Newspaper chain, has appeared on “Good Morning America,” MSNBC, and local affiliates of ABC television. Phil has been a keynote speaker at the Petroleum Industry Security Council annual meeting. He has been interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, FOX News, 60 Minutes, and Court TV. He also prepares and edits a nationally syndicated subscription service newsletter on September 11th issues for corporate clients.

Phil was awarded an MA and PhD from the University of London in European History, and also holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honors from the University of Chicago. He speaks Spanish, Italian, German, and Turkish.