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AHI Capital Report, Vol. 6 Issue 1

Volume 6, Issue 1—January-February 2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
April 15, 2014—No. 01 (202) 785-8430

 

AHI President’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.

The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.

 

Of Plots and Corruption Scandals: The Crisis of Turkish Politics

The American Hellenic Institute attended a discussion on Turkey’s recent corruption scandal and its affect on Turkish political dynamics at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on January 10, 2014. Henri Barkey, Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University; and Ihsan Dagi, Professor of International Relations at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey; presented at the event and Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, moderated.

Henri Barkey began by reminding attendees that the “crisis” in Turkey is double-edged in that it is both internal and external. Internally, when there is domestic infighting between institutions, this will have a detrimental affect on Turkey down the road. Turkey doesn’t seem to learn any lessons from its past, maintained Barkey. As far as the external affect of this crisis, Barkey discussed the now-altered perception of the AKP government worldwide in addition to the decline of the lira, which is sure to influence foreign investment. Furthermore, the inclination of the administration to blame events on “plots against Turkey” only serves to further undermine their legitimacy. For example, President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan have not spoken since right after the Gezi Park protests.

Barkey went on to say that this crisis needs to be looked at in light of recent events in Turkey and the Gezi park protests. The AKP Administration’s crisis management skills are very poor. Had these allegations emerged and had the Gezi park protests not taken place, the incident might have been handled differently and might not have harmed the perception of the government nearly as much. As it is, the press is completely compromised and the public feels that there is no one they can trust. A question Turkey observers need to ask is what exactly is the government trying to achieve – what is Prime Minister Erdogan’s goal? As Erdogan looks to upcoming municipal elections in Turkey, his number one desire at the moment is consolidating his support base, Barkey told attendees. Less than 50% will be unacceptable to him.

Ihsan Dagi also pointed out the timing of upcoming elections and that of the graft probe is designed to damage the AKP. He maintained that it is impossible to verify who is really behind this investigation but that the government’s attempts to halt it instead of looking at the evidence and fighting the idea of corruption is ultimately very hurtful for their reputation and dangerous for the accountability and transparency of their administration. This is an unfortunate result of any government that resorts to conspiracy theories to overcome a crisis, a very authoritarian tactic which symbolizes the abandonment of rationality in politics. When a government reacts in this way, it is as though they are sending a message that political reforms are reversible and at the mercy of the government. Dagi reminded attendees that any government that has the tendency to resort to conspiracy theories is not democratic and will next begin criminalizing the opposition. Therefore, the AKP has ceased to be a “rational actor.”

 

 

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Corruption Scandal and Political Crisis in Turkey

On January 16, the Rethink Institute held a panel discussion on the current graft probe in Turkey. Panelists included: Omer Taspinar, Professor at the National War College and Johns Hopkins University, Fellow at Brookings Institute; Joshua Walker, GMF Transatlantic Fellow, Truman National Security Project; and Fevzi Bilgin, Director of the Rethink Institute.

Joshua Walker began by providing a background of domestic dynamics in Turkey in light of the current graft probe. He stated that the façade of the state is beginning to crumble. Omer Taspinar debunked the positivity of a favorite phrase of the Obama administration – “The Turkish Model.” He reminded attendees that there are currently two Muslim democracies, Indonesia and Turkey. Progress made in Turkey over the last decade created a lot of hope in the West. Today, Turkey is more of an illiberal democracy with rule of law and the separation of power all failing at present. The current absence of an independence judiciary, checks and balances, and an independent media are all to Turkey’s detriment. Democracy cannot be reduced to just elections.

What was known about Turkey is no longer valid, Taspinar maintained. Conflict used to exist between secularists (Kemalists) and the AKP, with the rise of Anatolia and conservatives. Now, in a post-Kemalist era, the modern fight is within the conservative block. The Gulen movement originally united with the AKP against the military because the latter always viewed Gulenists as the real threat to secular society by way of their effect on civil society. Quite obviously, one of the biggest achievements of this union over the last decade was its elimination of the military as a viable threat to power. In the absence of a common enemy, what is next for these two conservative (yet still quite different) factions, Taspinar asked. In Taspinar’s opinion, President Gul should be watched very closely, especially through the upcoming local election process. In the face of the conflict between these two conservative factions, President Gul could stand to be the real winner since he has stayed above the fray and has not yet been directly implicated in the corruption investigation.

 

 

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Turkey 2014: Challenges and Prospects Ahead

The American Hellenic Institute attended an event on “Turkey’s Corruption Scandal and Ensuing Political Crisis”, held by the RUMI Forum and Truman National Security Project on January 22, 2014. Dr. Ihsan Daghi, Professor of International Relations of the Middle East Technical School, Ankara, and Dr. Joshua Walker, Director of Programs at APCO, were on the panel.

Dr. Daghi opened the topic by discussing how the recent corruption scandal that surfaced involving Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and other high ranking officials, has had a destabilizing effect on Turkish domestic politics as well as Turkish foreign policy. Erdogan’s political party, the AKP, which has held office for the last 11 years, has responded to the scandal by engaging in politically aggressive actions. Police chiefs, judges and prosecutors are being fired by the government for continuing their investigations. Such actions are raising serious questions for the future of Turkey as well as future relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

The discussion largely revolved around Turkish politics and how the AKP has altered the fabric of the Turkish political system. Both speakers discussed how the AKP has overtaken state institutions such as the police and the military and have effectively “silenced political opposition.” The threat of political annihilation from those who oppose Ergodan politically is a major concern for the political future of Turkey. Dr. Walker pointed out that by exercising such political aggression against parties that have attempted to oppose the AKP, there is a concern for the future opposition parties and finding individuals that are willing to involve themselves in new and alternative political parties.

Dr. Walker expressed concerns over Erdogan’s aggressive political approach, specifically referring to his willingness to point the finger at “outside actors to blame.” Walker believes that the corruption scandal in Turkey has made Turkish politics more unsteady. The actions taken by Erdogan in response to corruption allegations show that Erdogan and his administration are not behaving like rational actors. This contributes to the uncertainty of Turkey’s political future.

 

 

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Managing Diversity in Divided Societies: Research and Practice

The American Hellenic Institute attended a two-day conference held by the Conflict Resolution Program at Georgetown University on January 30-31. The topic of the conference was Managing Diversity in Divided Societies: Research and Practice. The event consisted of a series of panels comprised of various university professors, PhD and undergraduate students presented their research on conflict resolution. The Keynote speaker was Susan Collin Marks, Senior Vice President at Search for Common Ground.

Two research papers were presented on the Cyprus Problem. Annie Ngo of Elizabethtown College, who conducted research in Cyprus in March 2013, presented one. She discussed her research on the presence of bi-communal organizations that involve relationship building between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. She noted the youth of Cyprus plays a key role in moving past the conflict and trying to live harmoniously with the other side and stated that “the youth of Cyprus is the best tool for social change.” Ngo argued that further cooperation efforts through these programs are proactive steps in the reconciliation and conflict resolution process. In the Q&A session, AHI asked what role Turkey has in establishing and promoting these programs on the island as the occupying and dividing force. Ngo responded, “a greater effort should be made on behalf of Turkey to lift the status quo.”

Professor Charis Psaltis, a professor at the University of Cyprus in Nicosia, also presented. Psaltis’ paper, “Managing Diversity in Divided Cyprus,” touched on two main problems that have hindered the conflict resolution process. One is a lack of quality contact between the two communities on the societal level. The second is the lack of opportunity to share narratives of members from the two communities. This affects mutual understanding and does not prove conducive to changing the narratives of collective remembrances. Unfortunately, Professor Psaltis was not able to attend the event due to a family emergency in Cyprus and his paper was presented eloquently by Professor Fathali Moghaddsam, the director of the Conflict Resolution Program at Georgetown.

 

 

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“Macedonia’s NATO Aspirations and Regional Stability in Southeast Europe”

On February 4, AHI attended a discussion with Andrej Petrov, a Member of Parliament from the current opposition party of FYROM, sponsored by the United Macedonian Diaspora. Petrov outlined ways in which he believed his country was a faithful, valuable ally to the United States. He provided his evidence on why Greece is being uncooperative toward FYROM’s NATO aspirations and in negotiations on the naming dispute between the two countries. He referred to the “problem with one of our neighbors” as an unnecessary obstacle, stating that the FYROM has “fulfilled all criteria and are still not in (NATO)” and that in the future, “nobody can block us, not even Greece.” On more than one occasion, Petrov cited the December 2011 judgment by the International Court of Justice which ruled that the Greek rejection of the FYROM’s NATO bid in 2008 was in violation of international law. He did not, however, reference the 1995 UN-brokered Interim Accord’s specification that a resolution be found to the naming dispute prior to FYROM’s admittance to international bodies such as NATO and the EU.

AHI asked whether Petrov believed violations of provisions of the UN-brokered Interim Accord between the two countries such as FYROM’s use of propaganda and Prime Minister Gruevski’s policy of extreme nationalism and provocation (including violations such as the continued use of the sun of Vergina which has been recently reintroduced in national television advertisements) were making it difficult to find a solution to the ongoing naming dispute between Greece and the FYROM. Petrov avoided specific examples of infringements and stated that he didn’t feel as though Prime Minister Gruevski’s current administration used propaganda or acted in breach of the agreement. He replied that in all countries, some have an opinion that differs from the majority and that “countries cannot violate (the Interim Accord).”

 

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Capitol Hill Briefing by American Hellenic, American Jewish Groups

On February 25, the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) along with the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and B’nai B’rith International held a Capitol Hill briefing on the historic leadership mission which took place January 8 – 15, 2014. The mission consisted of a 15-member delegation of community leaders from the above listed Washington-based cultural organizations. AHEPA Executive Director Basil Mossaidis, B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel Mariaschin, and AHI President Nick Larigakis presented their findings and reflections for attendees. Andrew Kaffes, a participant on the leadership mission, moderated.

Mossaidis opened the panel by highlighting things that Greece, Cyprus and Israel have in common such as a healthy tourism industry and rich cultures with shared historical and cultural ties. All three countries have also experienced a history of conflict in the last century. Mossaidis noted that these inter-organizational trips provide an opportunity to showcase positive qualities of these countries to leaders affiliated with other organizations that would not ordinarily have this opportunity in DC. In closing, he emphasized the importance of “bringing stability to the region via training leaders here in the U.S.”

Mariaschin discussed the experience of meeting with high profile individuals who are in important leadership positions in their respective countries such as Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Speaker of Hellenic Parliament Evangelos Meimarakis, Archbishop Chrisostomos II of Cyprus, Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidis, Israeli Minister of Tourism Dr. Uzi Landau and many others. Mariaschin reflected on these meetings and the shared opportunity they provided to emphasize the importance of moving forward and strengthening the relationship between three important countries in the eastern Mediterranean Region.

Larigakis focused on the vitality of the relationship between Greece, Israel and Cyprus and the role it plays in providing stability to the region. He discussed how the relationship between Cyprus and Israel is mutually benefitting from natural gas ventures in the Mediterranean and how Israel is a key player in dealing with the issues, as well as the lack of cooperation from Turkey in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Larigakis applauded Israel for its efforts to normalize relations with Turkey, specifically its offer to pay reparations to the families of the victims of the flotilla incident in 2010. He found the visit to be extremely successful and looks forward to future opportunities for these organizations to participate in joint operations and continue building their strong relationship.

A Q&A session followed their presentations.

 

 

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Cyprus: Prospects and Challenges

On February 28, AHI attended an event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars with Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus, George Chacalli, as the speaker. Ambassador Chacalli spoke on three important topics regarding Cyprus: developments regarding the Cyprus problem, the economic crisis, and energy. Although these three issues are separate, he emphasized they still very much relate to one another.

Ambassador Chacalli discussed the Joint Agreement was proposed by President Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot Leader Eroglu to enter reunification talks. The ambassador expressed great confidence in a “win-win-win round of negotiations.” These upcoming talks to find a solution to the Cyprus problem are met with many variables that were not present in previous negotiation attempts. To mention a few, the natural gas ventures in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the economic climate in Cyprus, and the instability of the region have yielded talks that are more conducive to finding a solution. Ambassador Chacalli briefly touched on a component of the negotiations that would involve returning the ghost city of Varosha, now only used by Turkish troops, to its former inhabitants in return for the opening the port of Famagusta to Turkish Cypriot trade with the European Union. The ambassador emphasized that these trust building steps will be a crucial foundation for a successful settlement to the Cyprus problem. Last week’s monumental visits to Ankara and Athens of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators, respectively, were a symbolic milestone because it was the first time that negotiators have directly engaged with Turkey and Greece.

Ambassador Chacalli also discussed the difficult times the Cypriot people have faced since the onset of the economic crisis last March. The crisis almost caused Cyprus’s entire banking industry to collapse. Unemployment is at an all time high due to the closure of many Cypriot businesses because of the harsh economic climate. The ambassador pointed out only a few government-related demonstrations or strikes have occurred, which is a testament to the “thick skins” of the Cypriot people. Furthermore, many European economists have referred to the “complete overhaul of the banking system” as an “economic miracle.”

Despite these times of economic hardship in Cyprus, the Cypriot people have every reason to be optimistic about the potential for oil and natural gas in Cyprus’s EEZ. Cyprus’s relationship with Israel has advanced dramatically due to bilateral agreements regarding energy exploration. The ambassador also voiced his belief that natural gas can prove to be quite monumental in establishing a hub of peace and prosperity that has the potential to bring stability to a volatile region.

 

 

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected] For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org or follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC

The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.


 

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