Today's Zaman, Turkey
Dec 30 2011

Crises between states and societies


According to the official press release, two topics were discussed
during the National Security Council (MGK) meeting last week: punitive
measures against France and terrorism.

There were almost certainly other subjects that were discussed during
this meeting, but mentioning only these two particular ones in the
press release gives the impression that Turkey considers them to be of
equal importance.

Turkey has a serious problem with foreign parliaments that discuss the
genocide issue in order to put pressure on Ankara. One at least
expects these countries to provide some kind of explanation as to the
real reasons behind their pressure. The Armenian issue has
unfortunately become a struggle between two opposing currents: While
one group tries to make sure that foreign parliaments continue to
adopt similar laws to increase pressure on Turkey, the other one tries
to stop this process and to deter third countries from adopting these
laws. This environment poisons all kinds of relationships between
states, but also between societies.

Turkey will seemingly insist on its `punitive measures policy,' as the
recent MGK meeting decisions indicate. However, there are practical
problems with their implementation. For example, in the economic and
financial domain, only indirect pressure can be applied as there are
many international agreements that Turkey must respect. Furthermore,
the business world in general is opposed to any kind of radical
measures. Punitive measures in the military domain will probably not
cost Turkey much; however, there is always the risk of seeing France
develop its security cooperation with Turkey's rivals in the region.
In fact, maybe the real problem between France and Turkey is nothing
but this strategic rivalry.

Other punitive measures are also envisaged, especially in the
political and cultural field. Nevertheless, ending cooperation in
cultural, educational or scientific areas in order to punish the
French state will prevent ordinary people from being in contact with
each other. France also lacked sense in this area as it did not agree
to add to the genocide denial law a clause exempting academic research
on the Armenian issue from being treated as an effort at denial.

The Turkish government last week thoroughly discussed the measures
and, following detailed talks with the relevant ministries and
institutions, the Turkish authorities have emphasized that, despite
all, they don't want academic or scientific cooperation to be harmed
by this crisis.

However, recent developments indicate that even these kinds of
relationships will be damaged as well. For example, just before this
bill, there were preparations for an academic meeting between a French
think tank and a research center from a Turkish university. Given the
bilateral crisis, the French participants informed their Turkish
counterparts that they would not be able to come to Turkey under these
circumstances. In other words, it was not upon the Turkish side's
request, but due to the French party's hesitation that this scholarly
meeting was cancelled.

Yet, crises between states can be softened through human interaction.
It is always easier to break the ice between the countries when there
are multiple cooperation and partnership efforts between the peoples.
The Turkish state or most Turks may be angry at France not only
because of the genocide bill but also because of France's attitude
toward Turkey's EU bid. However, one mustn't make the mistake of
punishing all of the French because of Nicolas Sarkozy's policy
choices. Similarly, Sarkozy should not think that all of the people in
France are turcoskeptic like him.

Let's hope this crisis will turn into an opportunity to strengthen
friendships. Happy New Year!