Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Turkey and the Warmth of the Spring

Perhaps, winter has taken its toll and we are all waiting for the spring to come. In Turkey, spring is always the period when things start to warm up. This spring will likely include the regular events, such as renewed clashes between the Turkish Armed Forces and the PKK, the tension which comes with the spring holiday of Newruz, and Istanbul’s urban clashes on May 1.

Every spring as the snow melts on the mountains of Turkey’s Southeast, the separatist outlawed members of the PKK come out of hibernation, and armed clashes between them and the Turkish Armed Forces strike up. This has been the norm since the nineties, except for a few years following the capture and sentencing of their leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. If things remain as they have during the last couple of years, this spring will also become victim to a new round of fighting which carries out through the summer months with casualties and death on both sides.

Then there is the tension related to March 21 holiday of Newruz (Nowroz). While this holiday is celebrated throughout Iran and Central Asia, marking the pre-Islamic Persian New Year, in Turkey, the day has transformed into a holiday in which large parts of Turkey’s Kurdish population, primarily in the Southeast, air their grievances against the Turkish State, with large demonstrations held in Diyarbakir and other regional cities. These events often lead to clashes between the police and demonstrators.

Next there is May 1, a day that for a great part of the world is now only studied in history books. The international workers day in Turkey has special significance as a day when all the groups ranging from the liberal to radical left join forces not only commemorate the international sense of the day, but also the 1977 Taksim Square event. On this day, 34 died after unknown gunmen opened fired on hundreds of thousands of protestors. Outlawed following the 1980 coup d’etat, it has continued to be a day of political strife. Last year, in efforts to prevent the masses from reaching the square, the police basically created a ring barricade around the center of the city, with clashes breaking out at the different barricades. Needless to say, the above events usually reawake a counter-nationalist movement, and lead to massive display of Turkish flags throughout Turkey

Over the next few months, I will be touching upon some of these events. However, this spring offers us a few more events to wait for. The Turkish economy, following world trends, is showing poorly. If it continues on its track, perhaps it will prove problematic for Turkey’s ruling party the AKP in the upcoming municipal elections. Yes, it is the day –March 29- which we will be watching. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that even an ailing economy will make a dent in the ruling party’s popularity; one that won 46% of the vote in the summer 2007 national elections.

And, in the backdrop of all of this, there is still the ongoing Ergenekon trial, with everyone waiting to see how long the arrests (and convictions) of suspected members of this underground organization will continue. Certainly, more details concerning those who were planning to overthrow the AK party-led-Turkish government in a coup d’etat will come to light in the spring.

Then there is of course US President Obama’s upcoming historic visit to Turkey, which will take place sometime in April. This was announced last week during Secretary of State Clinton’s short trip to Turkey (which I am sure was a breath of fresh air for her Turkish counterparts who have had to deal with years of former President Bush’s failed policies). The fact that Obama has chosen to visit Turkey, following his different meetings in Europe, is a strong sign that Washington realizes the mass importance of having Ankara back on its good side. Yet, we know that before April 24, the day commemorating the Armenian Genocide, Obama will need to decide how he will define the event, and what he plans to do about it. This being with the full knowledge that as a Presidential candidate he stated:

The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.*

Therefore, there is no doubt that this will be on everyone’s mind and that certainly President Obama will raise this issue in Turkey, perhaps preparing them for the inevitable. Or, perhaps he will take notes on what Turkey’s limits are concerning this and try to reach some sort of compromise with Ankara, who has made it clear that there will be serious repercussions if the US officially recognizes the Armenian Genocide. Truthfully speaking, if anyone can “make both sides happy,” it is Obama, so we will just need to wait and see. Furthermore, this “repercussion” mentality might have worked when Bush was in office, but with America’s possible thawing of relations with Iran, Turkey cannot afford to implement their threats of “what will happen if…”, in any case. They would have too much to lose at this point in the game.

Yes, for Turkey the spring is quickly approaching. I for one will be happy once it warms up outside. However, let us hope that politically things do not get too hot, leaving all of us a little burnt.

Louis Fishman
March 11, 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment