Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Turkish Coalition of America takes on Sen. Robert Menendez over "ethnic politics"

New Jersey Star Ledger

Posted by Guler Kokner/ NJ Voices Guest Blogger January 28, 2009 3:08PM

While America is currently engaged in two wars, faces the continued threat of international terrorism and the possible advent of nuclear-armed rogue nations, and struggles with an economic crisis of historical proportions, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) chose to use his valuable time at the confirmation hearing of newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to pander to the Armenian and Greek lobbies.

While the world was watching, Sen. Menendez asked Sen. Clinton to make it a priority to recognize as "genocide" nearly a century-old events that took place in a foreign state which no longer exists. He theorized that the United States must pay heed to "history that is universally recognized so that we can move forward in that respect."

A history lesson to address the deeds of a defunct empire, apparently in the Senator's eyes, should be a priority for the new U.S. Secretary of State to address in confirmation hearings. Never mind that what Senator Menendez calls "universally recognized" history, is still strongly debated among scores of scholars and that many historians of international renown contest the genocide label.

If this issue was indeed universally settled, Great Britain, a country which was a party to the conflict at hand, would not have repeatedly refused to use the term genocide to describe the tragic events. If defining whether a crime constituted genocide was to be entrusted to politicians, the international community would not have bestowed the authority to investigate, prosecute and punish such crimes to the International Court of Justice.

The senator also stated that the tiny island of Cyprus should be high on the priority list of the Secretary of State. Voicing support for the "bi-zonal, bi-communal federation" solution on the island, Sen. Menendez seemed to be ignorant of the fact that this was precisely what 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots supported in a referendum in 2004, and which 75 percent of Greek Cypriots rejected. Based on his obvious concern for the well being of ALL Cypriots, we hope that Sen. Menendez will now take the lead in a congressional effort to lift the inhumane international blockade on the Turkish Cypriots and provide an incentive for the solution he so desires.

The fact of the matter is that at the dawn of a new U.S. administration, awaited with great anticipation to be the government of change around the world and at home, it was politics as usual for Sen. Menendez. As the world was watching, he faithfully continued to cater to ethnic politics at home. Rather than questioning the Secretary of State on the countless foreign policy challenges America faces around the world, he sought her commitment to take sides in a historical dispute, while making a half-hearted attempt to appease the Greek American community.

The people of New Jersey, including over 30,000 Turkish Americans, deserve better leadership.

Guler Kokner is vice president of the Turkish Coalition of America in Washington, D.C.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The old and the new, and other contrasts in Turkey

Orlando Sentinel

Phyllis Tanner
January 25, 2009

When my husband and I visited Turkey recently, we found it to be a remarkable study in contrasts.

On one hand, it has ruins of ancient civilizations at Ephesus, considered one of the best-preserved classical cities.

Ephesus is one of the few places in the world that one truly feels the presence of its ancient Greek and Roman inhabitants. The Temple of Artemis, now in ruins, was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

On the other hand, with a modern and vibrant move toward Western culture, it surprises visitors with dependable telephones and bus systems. English is widely spoken, and tourists feel comfortable knowing that Turkey takes its commitment to NATO seriously.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, was a forward thinker. In 1923, as president of the secular republic, he separated mosque and state, liberated women to some degree and replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Roman one.

One of the stops on our tour was in the bustling city of Kusadasi.

In the heart of a colorful bazaar, we watched the nimble hands of a young woman weaving a Turkish rug.

Trying to woo his captive audience into buying, the carpet merchant offered us local beer or the anise-flavored national drink, raki. Similar to Greek ouzo, raki has a cool and refreshing taste of licorice, but admittedly, it is an acquired taste.

We were amused to see a sign in the bazaar advertising "Genuine Fake Watches.

"The beautifully tiled fountain positioned near the mosque for the required washing before prayer was a reminder that Turkey's vast Muslim majority take their faith seriously. Yet in Turkey, all three major religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- have co-existed peacefully for centuries.

Another reminder of the remarkable contrasts in Turkey came while we were returning to the port city of Izmir on the Aegean Sea: A shepherd was talking on his cell phone while tending his flock.

Friday, January 23, 2009

EP official says supports opening of energy chapter in Turkey's bid

World Bulletin
Thursday, 22 January 2009

Turkish PM Erdogan received the president of the Socialist Group at the European Parliament and an accompanying delegation.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received Thursday Martin Schulz, the president of the Socialist Group at the European Parliament and an accompanying delegation in Ankara.

Erdogan's meeting with Schulz took place at the Prime Ministry Central Building and lasted close to one hour.

Speaking to reporters following his meeting with Erdogan, Martin Schulz said that he met Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and State Minister and Chief Negotiator for EU talks Egemen Bagis.

We exchanged viewpoints on current issues during our talks in Ankara on Thursday, Schulz said.

We are pleased with the Turkish government's efforts to help Turkey's EU policy gain momentum, Schulz said.

The appointment of Egemen Bagis as Turkey's Chief Negotiator is an indication of how much importance the Turkish government attaches to its EU process, Schulz said.

We discussed current issues pertaining to energy and support the opening of energy chapter in Turkey's entry negotiations, Schulz said.

We also discussed the issue of Cyprus and received information on the Turkish government's reform projects and steps taken regarding Cyprus, Schulz said.

"Turkey must continue with its reform policies in order to become an EU member. The EU, on its part, must carry reforms further to enable its enlargement," Schulz also said.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Armenia Says Close To Mending Ties With Turkey

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty

January 21, 2009
By Ruben Meloyan

Echoing statements by his Turkish counterpart, Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian has said that Armenia and Turkey have come close to normalizing their historically strained relations.

He also dismissed Ankara's warnings that the new U.S. administration will set back the process if it recognizes the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

The two neighbors embarked on a dramatic rapprochement last year, culminating in Turkish President Abdullah Gul's historic September trip to Yerevan. In a series of follow-up negotiations, Nalbandian and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan reportedly made further progress toward the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border.

"Turkey and Armenia have never been closer to a plan on normalizing relations," Babacan said late last week.

Commenting on this statement, Nalbandian said that Yerevan continues to stand for an unconditional normalization of bilateral ties. "Our position is unchanged and we expect the same approach from Turkey," he told a news conference on January 21. "In that case, we are really very close to solving the issue. In that sense, I share Babacan's view that we are very close to normalizing relations."

But he stressed that Ankara should drop its preconditions for diplomatic relations and an open border if the process is to reach a successful conclusion. A resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan has been one of those preconditions.

Turkey also wants an end to the decades-long Armenian campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide. Babacan warned that U.S. President Barack Obama "will harm the process" if he honors his election campaign pledge to term the Armenian massacres a genocide once in office.

Nalbandian disagreed with that. "If there is a genuine desire to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia, then nothing can impede that," he said.

The minister also sounded a note of caution about international mediators' stated hopes to broker a framework agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh in the first half of this year. Matthew Bryza, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, told RFE/RL on January 20 that the mediators will "try to have it signed in the beginning of summer."

He said the success of those efforts depends not only on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan but public support in both countries for the proposed basic principles of a Karabakh settlement.

"The societies will be presented with principles that have been agreed on," Nalbandian said. "Negotiations are continuing on the basis of the principles proposed by the co-chairs, and there is no agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan."

"If we reach such agreements, we will come to a point where they will be presented to the publics in both Armenia and Karabakh," he added. "And if there is popular support for them, the leadership will be able to make some decisions. But I wouldn't set any time frames."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

As Obama says, ’I do,’ Turks ask, ’Will he?’

Hurriyet Daily News

ISTANBUL - Turks’ belief in Obama’s ability to improve US relations around the world has risen in the last six months, a poll shows, but Turkish experts question if the new president is savvy enough to fulfill his promises. The change in public opinion is proof of Turkey’s social flexibility, one observer says

As the Obama era officially began with the new U.S. President’s inauguration to the White House yesterday, a poll revealed hope has risen sharply among Turks for improved U.S. ties with the rest of the world. The percentage of Turkish people who believe Obama will strengthen U.S. relations with the rest of the world has risen from 11 to 51 percent in the last six months, according to a poll conducted for the BBC World Service. The results also represent a shift from an earlier poll by Gallup suggesting that most Turks were indifferent to who would become the next U.S. president.

This dramatic change is proof of Turkish society’s flexibility, Semiz İdiz, a columnist for daily Milliyet, told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "This also demonstrates that a stable antagonism toward the United States has not settled in Turkey, as we experienced during the Clinton administration," he said. Ali Tekin, an assistant professor at Ankara University, said the shift in Turkish public opinion could be viewed as normal given the extremely high anti-American posture among Turks. "It is normal that this negative view has declined a little due to Obama’s moderate messages and his promise to withdraw troops from Iraq," he said.

It is perfectly normal that Turks support Obama because he represents the average citizen and people can relate to that, said Professor Hüseyin Bağcı from the Middle East Technical University.

For Professor Hasan Köni from Yeditepe University, on the other hand, it was Obama campaign’s openness and easy accessibility for the public that appealed to people. "Take me for example. I wrote a comment on Obama’s Web site listing my suggestions to make the changes that he constantly talks about. The next day he replied saying we would make the change together. From then on I started to get e-mails every other day where he asked me whether I approved his choice of economy secretary or inviting me to the inauguration ceremony. How can you not love this guy," he enthusiastically explained.

Despite all that optimism, it is unlikely that Obama will be able to actualize all his promises, according to İdiz and Tekin. Tekin also said because government politics in the United States has a strong tradition of continuity, the Obama administration would most likely be a synthesis of the previous Clinton and Bush administrations. "After a president like George Bush, who made no positive contribution whatsoever to the world, Obama’s message to make the world a better place is definitely heard," he said.

In terms of Turkish-U.S. relations, a new era has begun where both sides will have to be extremely cautious, according to Bağcı. For the time being Turkey’s relations with Israel, which took a big hit with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s harsh criticism of the invasion of Gaza, will be one of the most important factors affecting bilateral ties, he said. Claiming that Israel has adopted a policy of ignoring Turkey and its potential as mediator in the region after Ankara’s strong reaction, Bağcı said it was Turkey’s future stance and discourse toward Israel and Arab countries that would determine its relations with the US. "Turkey’s attitude toward Israel will directly affect Obama’s attitude toward Turkey," he said.

Köni said Obama’s biggest promise for Turkey was his commitment to use America’s soft power and to withdraw from Iraq. "Military spending destroyed both the US and its allies’ economies. Giving up on hard power, namely the use of military, is very important," he said. Moreover, the withdrawal from Iraq would finally enable Turkey to increase trade in the region, he said. "For years Turkey has been preoccupied with terrorism generating from the Middle East. Turks certainly see Obama as an opportunity to end this."

Turkey aside, an average of 67 percent of people believe Obama will strengthen US relations abroad, with more than 50 percent thinking so in all but two Ğ Japan and Russia Ğ of the 17 countries polled.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Energy Pushes Turkey and EU Closer

Associated Press

BRUSSELS: The European Union has to speed up membership talks with Turkey because it badly needs the nation as a reliable energy partner, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said Monday.

Barroso said he would push to get talks moving again on Turkey's EU membership bid as the bloc searches for alternative energy routes after an energy dispute between Ukraine and Russia left many EU nations short of natural gas.

One option is the Nabucco pipeline, which is being planned to bypass the feuding nations and carry Caspian natural gas through Turkey to Europe.

"Turkey can in fact be something that is in the interest of all European citizens," Barroso said after meeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who is visiting the EU for the first time in more than four years. "Good cooperation on energy matters."

Erdogan said his country was ready to play a key role to help EU energy security. "Turkey is not coming to the EU to become a burden; we are coming to relieve some burdens off the shoulders of the European Union," he said.

Erdogan said his country was acutely aware of its importance to the EU as a new energy partner because of the gas dispute. "We are aware of our responsibility," Erdogan said. "We don't want to use it as a weapon."

The prime minister sought Barroso's help in unblocking membership talks that France, Austria and other EU nations have successfully stalled amid widespread public opposition to Turkey's membership bid.

The EU has suspended membership negotiations in 8 of 35 different policy areas, over Turkey's refusal to recognize Cyprus, an EU member, and to open its ports to the small island nation. Only 10, less important, files have been opened for negotiation.

Diplomats say Cyprus has been blocking the opening of talks in the energy area because of a dispute with Turkey over gas exploration at sea. Energy is one of the 35 areas, or so-called chapters, in Turkey's accession talks.

Barroso told said that an issue as important as energy security should not be made conditional upon such a specific issue.

Erdogan said his government would "step up" its reform drive to meet EU standards on political and human rights.

EU officials praised Turkey's recent moves to set up a Kurdish-language television station and a special ministry dealing with EU entry talks, but pressed Erdogan to do more to guarantee minority rights, curb powers of the military and pass new rights for trade unions.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Turkey Breaks a New Record in Energy Deals

Hurriyet Daily News

ISTANBUL - Amid the onslaught of the global crisis, Turkey’s energy deals prove to be a shield, says a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The country has set a new record with its energy deals worth $6.6 billion last year.

Turkey proved to be better positioned to weather the crisis than in the past and has done relatively well to be a safe shelter particularly for energy deals, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers Turkey.

The first edition of "Energy Deals," which is an analysis of mergers and acquisitions in the Turkish energy market, aims to provide current and future investors with an updated and a deeper insight on the deal activities that took place in the Turkish oil, power and gas markets in 2008.

The total energy deal volume surged to $6.6 billion in 2008, shadowing those of previous periods mainly on the back of big ticket privatizations of the electricity and gas distribution companies, coupled with growing interest in renewable energy generation, according to the report.

"Looking to the future, we by and large agree with recent market outlooks indicating that tighter liquidity and lower risk appetite will likely translate into tougher and higher-cost access to financing. The credit and recession concerns are already rendering the investment landscape more conservative," PricewaterhouseCoopers said.

The firm remains confident in further enlargement in the energy deals landscape, on the back of growing domestic demand for energy and the busy privatization agenda of the state energy assets. "With this in mind, we hope to see the current regulatory challenges and the financing problems overcome and translated into much higher transaction figures in 2009."

Energy deals reach record values

The Turkish energy market has seen tremendous interest from both domestic and foreign investors in 2008; total deal volume reached $6.6 billion from 19 deals. The launch of big-ticket privatizations in the electricity and gas distribution segments was the key driver of this momentum.

Utilities have been the busiest deal venue in 2008. Of the total 19 deals, 16 were related to utilities, with a total activity of $6 billion, i.e. 90 percent of the total deal value.

Privatizations of electricity and gas distribution companies in Ankara and the electricity distribution company in Sakarya were the top three deals in 2008 in the utilities sector.

In privatizations, foreign players preferred to engage in consortiums with local counterparts, rather than participating by themselves. The main reason behind their low interest was the uncertainties in the tariff structures in the electricity and gas markets. The acquisition of İzgaz, the gas distribution company operating in Kocaeli, by GdF Suez, on the other hand, constituted an exception to the absence of pure foreign interest in the privatization tenders.

The privatization tenders left incomplete in 2008 will constitute main transactions in 2009 and most probably in 2010, the report says. In the power arena, privatization of state-owned distribution and generation assets as well as private deals in renewable energy will constitute the bulk of the deal activities.

In the gas front, the privatization of İGDAŞ, the gas distribution company in Istanbul, scheduled for the post-municipal election period, is the biggest deal prospect.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report’s outlook for the deal potential in the Turkish oil market is doubtful given the existing market-related and regulatory constraints.

Western Europe continues to be the most active region in energy deals in Turkey. In fact, major players from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria comprised 58 percent of total deal volume in 2008, including their local partners’ shares where applicable, in line with their strategy to extend their reach beyond their motherlands.

The survey indicates that regulatory uncertainties are the biggest challenge for investors during the deal process. In the post acquisition period, on the other hand, obtaining regulatory approvals remains the biggest obstacle.

Turkey's Gul Holds Phone Talks with US Bush on Gaza Crisis

World Bulletin

Gul and Bush discussed short and long-term aspects of the situation in Gaza, officials said.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul called U.S. President George W. Bush on the phone to discuss Gaza crisis, officials of the president's office said on Saturday. Gul and Bush discussed short and long-term aspects of the situation in Gaza, officials said.

The two presidents talked about the implementation of ceasefire in Gaza, immediate solution to humanitarian tragedy and post-ceasefire arrangements in the region, officials added. Israel continues its days-long operations against Gaza despite a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and Egyptian-European efforts at mediation. More than 700 people have been killed and around 3,000 others were injured since the beginning of Israeli offensive against Gaza on December 27, 2008.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Turkey Restores Citizenship of Celebrated Poet


ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey restored the citizenship of its most famous poet Monday in a symbolic step meant to show it was addressing criticism of its human rights record in hopes of joining the European Union.

Turkey stripped Nazim Hikmet of his nationality in 1951 at the height of the Cold War because of his communist views, branded him a traitor and imprisoned him for more than a decade. He died in exile in Moscow in 1963, but his work lived on — and the government's decision to restore his rights is meant to show Turkey is ready to embrace a limited amount of criticism.

"It is a step toward accepting differences in opinions, languages and ethnicity, which is necessary to become a member in the EU," said Dogu Ergil, a political analyst at Ankara University.
Considered to be one of Turkey's first modern poets, Hikmet's deep love for his country and rich use of free verse earned him the esteem of artists, intellectuals and champions of free expression.

Hikmet traveled to Moscow to study economics and sociology in the 1920s, and came under the thrall of the Bolshevik revolution. Authorities took a dim view of his work for a leftist magazine after he returned, but he evaded them and went back to Moscow before he could be imprisoned.

He came back to Turkey a second time after a general amnesty in 1928 — only to be imprisoned a decade later on charges of inciting officers to rise up against their commanders.

He wrote some of his best poetry in prison, including his epic masterpiece, "Human Landscapes."
Poetry written in prison was smuggled abroad, bringing him international fame and the support of artists like Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre. However, Turkey deemed his poems to be communist propaganda.

At the time, the country was anxious about the broadening influence of a Soviet bloc that reached Turkey's eastern and western borders, together with Soviet territorial claims.
Freed in 1950, he left Turkey after two attempts on his life. He became a Polish citizen through family ties and never returned.

His poetry remained banned in Turkey until 1965. Even after the ban was lifted, many would hide their copies, fearing to be branded communists. Police confiscated copies of Hikmet's books and burned or stamped each copy "banned" in red ink.

Even as late as 2005, Turkish authorities detained and questioned a 17-year-old who read a poem by Hikmet at a school poetry reading. He was released without any charges, but the detention revealed the difficulty in changing old attitudes despite new laws granting freedom of expression passed as part of its EU membership drive. Authorities still aggressively act against those suspected of activities against the state.

Hikmet's works, which have been translated into more than 50 languages, have recently been at the center of a controversy as Turkish leftists and intellectuals have pressed the government to restore his citizenship rights and repatriate his remains.

In 2000, half a million Turks petitioned the government calling for his rehabilitation. Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, featured Hikmet's work two years ago when given editorial privileges for the Sunday edition of the newspaper Radikal. Pamuk's cover story criticized the Turkish press and the state for the suppression of free expression in Turkey.
Pamuk is one of dozens of artists, journalists and writers who had been charged with insulting Turkey, its officials or "Turkishness" under an infamous article of the Turkish penal code. The charges against Pamuk were dropped on a technicality in January 2006.

Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said it was time for the government to change its mind.

"We think we did the right thing," Cicek said.
Cicek said the poet's family would decide whether to ship his remains from Russia back to his homeland.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

TCA's "A New World," to Air on Best TV Tonight - 7:30 PM EST

Washington, DC - The Turkish Coalition of America is pleased to announce that the second episode of "A New World: Politics, Personalities and Culture with the Turkish American Perspective," will be airing on Best TV this Sunday, January 3 at 7:30 PM and again on Thursday, January 8 also at 7:30 PM.
This installment of "A New World" features commentary on the 2008 elections from our experts at TCA as well as former Congressman George Hochbrueckner. Additionally, we will bring you highlights from a press conference with the Prime Minister of Turkey, a Jazz concert held at the Turkish Ambassador's residence in honor of Ahmet Ertegun, and a dinner applauding the appointment of the new Ambassador from the US to Turkey.
"A New World" is a public affairs television program based out of Washington, DC that will inform and report on the issues of the day that affect Turkish Americans. The program is made possible by a grant from the Turkish Coalition of America.