Monday Morning
Nov 30 2009

Analyses and commentary in newspapers published in Paris, London and
Berlin on the "awakening" of the Turkish role in the Middle East. Most
of these comments note the linkage between this revival of Turkish
interest in its neighboring region with the barriers put up against
its adhesion to the European Union. There is no doubt that this reason
is part of the explanation, but it does not fully explain the U-turn
of the power now knocking at the gates of the European citadel. At the
head of these causes is the rivalry between the Islamist party in power
and the secularist military establishment set up by Ataturk, which
wants to tame the Kurds in Northern Iraq and crush them militarily
before making a transaction with them.

The Turkish game may seem "surrealistic", according to the French
researcher Elisabeth Picard, who has devoted a large part of her
study and travels to deciphering Turkish policy, beginning with the
"peace of the pipelines". And the American researcher Joyce Starr,
who tries to dissect the present tense relationship between Ankara
and Tel Aviv after they signed a strategic pact in 1996.

It is necessary here to recognize that Israeli support for Ankara in
the field of intelligence has not changed much in the equation on the
ground. The Kurdish rebels are developing their methods, inflicting
big losses on the Turkish forces and the village guards. And the
fundamentalist danger exists on the Turkish internal front. That is why
a force of a million men has been deployed to confront terrorism and
the circle of fire surrounding Turkey. The Turkish general staff has
announced that measures to reduce the duration of compulsory military
service and renovating the armed forces were a mistake. The statements
by the generals have coincided with an outbreak of violence. Analysts
consider this a sort of effective mobilization against 10,000 Kurdish
rebels and 400,000 partisans in Southeast Anatolia. In the same way,
the Turkish intelligence service has for the first time been tasked
with undertaking external operations to arrest suspects, especially of
the Kurdish movement, in addition to persons residing in Athens and
Moscow. Ankara has accused these two capitals of training members of
the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) of Abdallah Ocalan and financing
their activities. We recall that Moscow hosted a PKK conference
attended by Kurds from a number of countries.

The deadlock is clear and the fundamentalist fire has reached the
interior. In a recent report of the Turkish intelligence agency,
it is stated that extremists have succeeded in infiltrating all the
state services and the security forces, and that they possess sources
of finance. More dangerous still is the fact that extremists have
penetrated the army and the intelligence services. It is a fact that
all presidents of the Turkish Republic have been military officers
except Celal Bayar, Turgut Ozal and the present incumbent, Abdallah
Gul. The renovation of the armed forces recalls the movement of
"reforms", which goes back to 1938. The army has always been the
guarantor and guardian of Ataturk's secular legacy. But the earth has
moved under the feet of the Ataturkists. The Justice and Development
Party has registered precious points in the camp of the generals.

In his stop in Istanbul, President Obama posed the question of a
partnership between East and West, between Christendom and Islam,
and told a mixed group of religious figures who wanted to show the
tolerant face of Islam and of the Justice and Development Party:
"Islam is not America's enemy, nor are Americans the enemies of
Islam". This stance was magnificent and historic. It was a crucial
statement in the process of rebuilding Islam and of reaching concord
among civilizations, societies and religions. But the problem lies
in Turkey, not in Paris, London or Washington. It lies in ignorance
and fanaticism, and in assassinations which have even struck down
priests in Anatolia. It lies also in ignoring the Armenian genocide
and the fundamental rights of the Kurds.

History is preferable to geography for the reading of the Turkish
situation, be it by infra-red or ultra-violet. Mustafa Kamal Ataturk
seized power from the sultans in the 1920s. But now, 80 years on,
Necmettin Erbakan introduced fundamentalism into the institutions
of secular power. He was followed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another
Islamist. The result has been a kind of schizophrenia, with duality
in all sectors, raising questions like the relationship between
Asia and Europe, Islam and secularism, Pan-Turanianism, Kurdism,
not to mention the headscarf. These questions have origins going
back not to the advent of the Gul-Erdogan duo but to the foundation
of the Republic in 1923. Marc Simon wrote in Libération: "Without
Mustafa Kamal, the Taliban would be on the shores of the Bosphorus,
and there would be no dancing of the waltz in Istanbul". The nub of
the matter is therefore in Turkey, nowhere else, in the hands of both
the military men and the clerics.

There is no doubt that the Justice and Development Party is in a
strange situation regarding the relationship between democracy and
fundamentalism. Is there a contradiction between Islam and democratic
governance? It is a conundrum that goes back to Ataturk.

The Democratic Party also has much to answer for, in view of its
laxity in the 1950s, when it allowed fundamentalism to return to
public life, and that has led to the present situation, which is like
a growing fireball.