AKP closure case, Russian-Georgian conflict, and proposal on “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform”

Turkey’s polit­i­cal agen­da in the sec­ond half 2008 was dom­i­nat­ed by a com­bi­na­tion of inter­nal and exter­nal issues. The AKP[1] clo­sure case, Russ­ian-Geor­gian con­flict and the pro­pos­al on “Cau­ca­sus Sta­bil­i­ty and Coop­er­a­tion Plat­form” were some of the top­ics that dom­i­nat­ed the agen­da togeth­er with oth­er issues such as the US elec­tions, glob­al cri­sis, and the upcom­ing local elections.

The AKP closure case

The final deci­sion by the con­sti­tu­tion­al court on the AKP clo­sure case was giv­en on 30 July 2008. The court ruled against clo­sure but imposed finan­cial penal­ties and announced that this was a seri­ous warn­ing to the AKP. Politi­cians from main­ly the AKP stat­ed that the deci­sion was a land­mark vic­to­ry for democ­ra­cy. The oppo­si­tion, on the oth­er hand, argued that this was actu­al­ly iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the fact that the AKP is a focal point of anti-sec­u­lar activ­i­ty but the court was not able to deal with the cri­sis. How­ev­er, expec­ta­tions that this may lead to a change in the polit­i­cal par­ties law and the elec­tion law did not materialise.[2]

Russian-Georgian conflict

The Russ­ian-Geor­gian con­flict had exter­nal and inter­nal impli­ca­tions for Turkey. Turkey imme­di­ate­ly react­ed to the attack by the Geor­gian forces in South Osse­tia and the esca­la­tion of events with the Russ­ian inclu­sion. From the very first day onwards, Turk­ish experts argued that Turkey as a region­al pow­er with friend­ly rela­tions with both par­ties should assume an active role and medi­ate between the parties.[3] Both Geor­gia and Rus­sia are con­sid­ered as strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant for Turkey. Geor­gia is con­sid­ered impor­tant as Turkey’s gate to Azer­bai­jan and Cen­tral Asia – giv­en prob­lems with Arme­nia – and cru­cial in the trans­fer of oil from the East to the West. On the oth­er hand, sim­i­lar to the EU, Turkey is depen­dent on Russ­ian nat­ur­al gas. In addi­tion, the com­mer­cial rela­tions between Rus­sia and Turkey have increased con­sid­er­ably since 1990 mak­ing Rus­sia an impor­tant mar­ket for Turk­ish exports, for con­struc­tion ser­vices and Turk­ish tourism sector.[4] More­over, the cri­sis was cou­pled with a trade dis­pute between Turkey and Rus­sia com­pli­cat­ing Turkey’s for­eign pol­i­cy fur­ther. The two issues were lat­er decou­pled by argu­ments that the main rea­son for the trade dis­pute was the process of restruc­tur­ing that Rus­sia was going through.

Turkey, indeed, fol­lowed an active for­eign pol­i­cy to medi­ate between the two sides being one of the few states which man­aged to meet both Rus­sia and Geor­gia dur­ing the con­flict. While doing so, Turk­ish lead­ers fol­lowed a cau­tious and a bal­anced approach empha­sis­ing dia­logue and peace­ful means for the res­o­lu­tion of the crisis.[5] The events were per­ceived by the elites and the pub­lic in gen­er­al as a devel­op­ment tilt­ing the sta­tus quo in the Black Sea region. As such Turk­ish lead­ers expressed their con­cern over the preser­va­tion of ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty and polit­i­cal uni­ty of Geor­gia in an aim to empha­sise the sta­tus quo, an issue that was reit­er­at­ed by For­eign Min­is­ter Ali Baba­can, Prime Min­is­ter Erdoğan, and Pres­i­dent Abdul­lah Gül.[6] Anoth­er inter­pre­ta­tion of the events was that the Russ­ian move was a mes­sage at the glob­al lev­el, fol­low­ing on Koso­vo inde­pen­dence, the mis­sile shield row etc., from her back yard. The claims by the Russ­ian side con­cern­ing the sale of arms and train­ing of Geor­gian sol­diers by Turkey, along with oth­er NATO mem­ber states, and prepar­ing it for a war were per­ceived as a way to put pres­sure on Turkey and oth­ers in order to force them to retreat in the Black Sea region.

Anoth­er impor­tant devel­op­ment in this respect was the US deci­sion to send human­i­tar­i­an aid to Geor­gia which brought to the fore the use of Turk­ish Straits. This cre­at­ed con­cerns, espe­cial­ly for Rus­sia, over the imple­men­ta­tion of the regime of pas­sage through the Turk­ish Straits which is gov­erned by the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion of 1936 reg­u­lat­ing the size of ships and requir­ing dec­la­ra­tion of pas­sage. Russ­ian warn­ings found cov­er­age in the Turk­ish press empha­sis­ing the fact that Rus­sia will hold Turkey respon­si­ble for any non-com­pli­ance as the con­ven­tion deter­mines the time that non-lit­toral ships may stay in the Black Sea. The warn­ings were also accom­pa­nied by reports claim­ing that Rus­sia con­sid­ers Turkey as impor­tant and would like to see the Turk­ish posi­tion clos­er to the Russ­ian posi­tion. Turkey paid due atten­tion to com­pli­ance with the regime on the Straits as it is impor­tant for her as well.

An impor­tant aspect of the inter­nal dimen­sion is pres­ence of a large Cau­casian dias­po­ra in Turkey. The “Fed­er­a­tion of Cau­casian Asso­ci­a­tions” was crit­i­cal of the Geor­gian mil­i­tary offen­sive, claim­ing that the Geor­gian author­i­ties were pur­su­ing a pol­i­cy of eth­nic cleans­ing in the region and demand­ing the Turk­ish recog­ni­tion of Abk­hazia and South Ossetia.[7] The North­ern Cau­casian dias­po­ra, peace­ful­ly protest­ed against the Geor­gian oper­a­tion in front of the Geor­gian rep­re­sen­ta­tions in Ankara and İstanbul[8] demand­ing from the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment to step in, medi­ate and stop the Geor­gian attacks that are being car­ried out with the weapon­ry pro­vid­ed by Turkey itself.[9] The fed­er­a­tion also sent a let­ter to Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Medvedev, ask­ing Rus­sia to recog­nise Abk­hazia and South Ossetia.[10] Indeed, Turk­ish offi­cial cir­cles have been silent on these issues.

The proposal on “Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform”

The Turk­ish pro­pos­al on “Cau­ca­sus Sta­bil­i­ty and Coop­er­a­tion Plat­form” was inter­con­nect­ed with the Russ­ian-Geor­gian con­flict. The pro­pos­al that the Turk­ish lead­ers coined on 11 August 2008[11] was a reit­er­a­tion of the Cau­ca­sus pact that was put for­ward by the then Pres­i­dent of Turkey, Süley­man Demirel, in 2000. At the time, the pro­pos­al was sup­port­ed by the EU, how­ev­er, reject­ed by the Rus­sians per­ceived as a plan that intend­ed to iso­late Rus­sia in the Cau­ca­sus. The recent pro­pos­al was pre­sent­ed to the lead­ers of the region first dur­ing when Prime Min­is­ter Erdoğan met with Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Medvedev and Prime Min­is­ter Putin on 13 August 2008 and Geor­gian Pres­i­dent Saakashvili on 14 August 2008. The pro­pos­al which seems to have been wel­comed by the coun­tries of the region aims to facil­i­tate peace, secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty in the Cau­ca­sus. How­ev­er, the oppo­si­tion par­ties in Turkey, cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly not against the pro­pos­al, put for­ward crit­i­cisms con­cern­ing, espe­cial­ly the tim­ing, of the pro­pos­al argu­ing that it is pro­posed at a time when Rus­sia did a show of prowess in the region. Yet, for the AKP gov­ern­ment, while one of the aims was to remind Rus­sia of Turkey’s inter­ests in the region the oth­er was to give way to dia­logue with Arme­nia, with whom Turkey does not have any diplo­mat­ic rela­tions. This move gave way to ‘foot­ball diplo­ma­cy’ between the Turk­ish and the Armen­ian Pres­i­dent and was fol­lowed by a series of meet­ings between Turk­ish and Armen­ian offi­cials includ­ing Azeri lead­ers in an indi­rect manner.

Other issues

The 2008 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in the US were prob­a­bly the most close­ly fol­lowed US elec­tions by the press, offi­cials and thus, the pub­lic in gen­er­al in Turkey. The elec­tion of Barack Oba­ma was deemed impor­tant because of the lega­cy of George W. Bush and with the hope that he would be able to change things for the bet­ter. Even peo­ple from a small vil­lage, Çavuşte­pe in the Van region, sac­ri­ficed 44 sheep (as he is the 44th Pres­i­dent of the US) to show their love for Oba­ma. This is well inter­con­nect­ed with the hope that Oba­ma would be the best choice to deal with the deep­en­ing glob­al cri­sis at a glob­al lev­el. Per­haps most of the crit­i­cisms on the con­se­quences of glob­al cri­sis in Turkey were relat­ed to Prime Min­siter Erdoğan’s opti­mism. Erdoğan claimed that Turkey would be the coun­try “least affect­ed” by the glob­al cri­sis, that “Turkey would over­come the cri­sis with min­i­mum loss” and it was rather psy­cho­log­i­cal than real.[12] He was severe­ly crit­i­cised by the oppo­si­tion for down­play­ing and under­min­ing the real effects of the cri­sis in the midst of increas­ing unem­ploy­ment, declin­ing GDP and exports. The busi­ness cir­cles were also crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment and their inabil­i­ty to take any mea­sures, although the gov­ern­ment argued they do so. Indeed, this is part­ly relat­ed to the upcom­ing local elec­tions where the debate as the elec­tions approach seems to be tough­en­ing and mar­gin­al­is­ing parties.

 

 

 

[1] Adalet ve Kalkın­ma Par­tisi – Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Party.
[2] For details on the deci­sion and the reac­tions see Radikal, 31 July 2008; Today’s Zaman, 31 July 2008.
[3] Fat­ma Demirelli: ‘Cri­sis calls for urgent Turk­ish medi­a­tion in Cau­ca­sus’, Today’s Zaman, 9 August 2008.
[4] The total val­ue of Turkey’s exports to Rus­sia amount­ed to more than 6 bil­lion US Dol­lar in 2008, projects under­tak­en by Turk­ish con­trac­tors in Rus­sia sur­passed 30 bil­lion US Dol­lar (22 per­cent of all projects under­tak­en by Turk­ish con­trac­tors), mak­ing Rus­sia by far the most impor­tant mar­ket for Turk­ish con­struc­tion ser­vices. Turk­ish direct invest­ments in Rus­sia are esti­mat­ed at 5.6 bil­lion US Dol­lar. All val­ues are tak­en from Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of the Repub­lic of Turkey, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/ (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009), and Turk­ish Sta­tis­ti­cal Insti­tute, avail­able at: http://www.turkstat.gov.tr (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[5]Ministry of For­eign Affairs of the Repub­lic of Turkey: Press Release Regard­ing the Armed Clash­es in South Osse­tia, No. 141, 8 August 2008, avail­able at: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_141—08-august-2008_-press-release-regarding-the-armed-clashes-between-georgia-and-south-ossetia.en.mfa (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[6] Radikal, 9 August 2008; After Prime Min­is­ter Erdoğan’s vis­it to Rus­sia the press reflect­ed dif­fer­ent view­points of Turkey and Rus­sia on ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty of Geor­gia. See: Radikal, 15 August 2008.
[7] Radikal, 10 August 2008; Today’s Zaman, 11 August 2008.
[8] ANKA News Agency, 13 August 2008.
[9] Taraf, 10 August 2008.
[10] Sabah, 21 August 2008.
[11] Emine Kart: ‘Stuck in a tight spot, Ankara calls for Cau­ca­sus pact’, Today’s Zaman, 12 August 2008.
[12] Mil­liyet, 18 Octo­ber 2008; Today’s Zaman, 3 Octo­ber 2008, 28 Octo­ber 2008, 25 Decem­ber 2008.