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The World Is Waiting For Turkish Leadership

Ismail Kahraman
Ismail Kahraman

At first, I didn’t believe it and thought that it was yet another of those exaggerations made by opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And I checked it. And double-checked it. And gosh, it is true. The speaker of the Turkish parliament -- yes, the speaker himself, Ismail Kahraman -- said in a get-together for breaking the Ramadan fast, “The whole world is waiting for our leadership. Why are we ourselves not aware of this?”

Bear with me and read a bit more. It’s fun:

“The whole world is waiting for our leadership. Why are we ourselves not aware of this? Turkey holds a big mission. It’s not only 776,000-square-kilometers large. That is Turkey’s size within our political borders. But we also have borders of heart, of spirituality: a geography of heart and spirituality. The whole world is waiting for our leadership.”

I thought I was reading former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad again after so many years, or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. And I again thought it was Erdogan. But no. It is new, refreshing stuff in the jungle of occasionally fake but usually bad news nowadays.​

Turkish-Israeli Relations To Be Normalized

Turkey and Israel have agreed to normalize relations. Negotiations have been going on for some time. Finally, on Sunday, it was reported that Turkey and Israel had reached a “normalization deal.” Later in July, both Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will sign the deal officially, to be followed by an upgrade of relations to the ambassadorial level. A resumption of military drills, trade relations, as well as joint energy and defense projects will follow.

Tensions rose after then-Prime Minister Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres attended a discussion about Gaza at the annual Davos conference in Switzerland in 2009, with the Turkish leader accusing Peres and Israel of “blindly killing Palestinian youths." The culmination of the tensions was the deadly Israeli attack on a Turkish aid convoy in 2010 that was reportedly bringing food and medicine to besieged Palestinians in Gaza.

There has been a lot of bragging since then by Erdogan and other Turkish officials, meanwhile, posing as friends of the Palestinians. Regardless of the rhetoric and the freeze in relations, Turkish opposition figures -- and even the Istanbul-based Jewish-Turkish newspaper Salom -- reported that Erdogan’s son, Ahmet Burak, a businessman with his own vessels, has kept on trading with Israel through the port of Ashdod.

The last few months, however, brought some movement. The first Turkish condition to normalize bilateral relations was partially fulfilled a while ago. According to the daily Hurriyet, Netanyahu -- through U.S. President Barack Obama -- conveyed his “apologies” to Erdogan. The Israelis were later quick to stress that they had apologized for the loss of lives but that their actions were an act of “self-defense” to prevent the vessel from nearing Gaza.

The Israeli side also agreed to grant compensation to the families of the deceased “in the form of assistance,” but did not accept Turkey’s third demand of dropping the current widescale embargo on Gaza. Still, they agreed to tolerate Turkey’s humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

Opposition politicians and journalists questioned Erdogan’s “bragging, screaming poses” about Israel seven years ago, asking why he had recklessly moved to destroy relations with his tough talk and what had triggered this change of policy. Shortly before the deal, Hamas leaders running Gaza complained that Turkey had backed off from insisting on the lifting of the siege on Gaza. They were quoted as saying that Erdogan had told them that “he tried hard, but the Israelis stubbornly kept rejecting the lifting, so that Erdogan had to go ahead with the deal for Turkey’s national interest.”

Again, just a week ago, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu felt he had to make a few “strong comments” to still appear as a hero on the "Arab street."

“We will never drop our Palestinian brothers and Hamas,” and “there will be no concession on our condition of lifting the siege on Gaza,” he said.

Well, you didn't get the Gaza siege lifted. But anyway, we have a Turkish-Israeli deal. Let’s focus on that. Congratulations! Reason won at last, despite screaming slogans.

PKK Commander: 'We’ll Target New Mayors'

I know the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its offshoots don’t like to be called “terrorists” or separatists. They keep thinking of themselves as “freedom fighters.” "Struggle" or not, those attacks have been directly targeting civilians on the street and not only Turkish security forces.

It happens that, wrong or right, the government believes that city councils and mayors' offices in the southeast that are run by the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), which is widely considered to be the PKK’s “political arm,” have been funneling the money they receive from the central government to the PKK. And now the government wants to bring them to court and, once the accusation is proven, put these city councils under appointed “trustees” -- appointed, obviously, by the government.

This practice of appointing a trustee has been used quite often recently -- for example, against some opposition-related newspapers and businesses that were believed to be related to the dissident Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who has sought asylum in the United States.

It is obviously excellent that there are free elections to parliament and city councils, the results of which anyone rarely disputes. But what to do if these councils are run by a political party that is related to a terrorist organization? Should the government, the political system, step away and look on without doing anything?

Isn’t it a typical or classical example of uncertainty between democracy and security?

Now, the commander in chief of the PKK says: If you put trustees in the city councils that are loyal to us, to the PKK, we will target those trustees and city councils.

And they still deny two things: that the HDP is a political cover for the PKK and that the PKK is, indeed, a terrorist organization, as recognized by Turkey, the United States, and by most European countries.

Then Let Turkey Enter England!

And at the end, my pick, my selected piece from among columns or op-eds that I read last week. Sure, about Brexit, what else? But Turkey-relevant, by the satirist and TV writer Gulse Birsel in the Hurriyet daily:

“If even England doesn’t want the EU, we would surely not have ourselves humiliated to get in. The EU doesn’t want us anyway. And we are no longer that popular with the five-member Shanghai thing. I believe we as two lonely and beautiful countries should build a union. We have enough common ground to make this union easy.

"I was a little thing when they were saying in three to five years we would join the EU. And, when I was a baby, England got into the EU and now gets out just looking up a friend. And we are still not in. Is that fair?

"I believe the answer is hidden in the genetics of the gentleman who has been leading the Brexit campaign. This gentleman called by the name Boris Johnson, a former mayor of London, is a great grandson of the Ottoman Interior Minister Ali Kemal wo was known for his publications against Ataturk during the National Struggle years. That means it is clear like the sun that they as a family could never make a reasonable decision and choose to be on the right side...”

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.