New Turkish President

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN


I guess the hurly-burly’s done and the battle lost and won, but who noticed? What came in roaring like it might shake Asia Minor to its political core actually transpired with little more than a whimper. Maybe this is why the LATimes mislabled its “World in Brief” coverage of Abdullah Gul’s election as Turkey’s president under the header “Afghanistan.”
Well, I guess the burly could be applicable, since that’s how Gul’s physique has been described. He may yet need it despite getting in with 339 votes out of 550. The secularists and military, with their pre- and post-election warnings have made clear they’ll be watching him like hawks, or perhaps in this case more like vultures or hyenas. But all the fears of intervention by Turkey’s military, their ominous pronouncemen’s, and the hundreds of thousands of secularist protesters amounted to naught.
Gul’s former party, the AKP, (officially, as president) he no longer belongs to it, has progressed. It has been performing well on the economic and international front. It is well organized and sees to people’s needs. It has not become tainted by scandal as most of Turkey’s other political sectors are. So, it gets the votes. It calls early parliamentary elections as a result of the earlier, unsuccessful effort to elect Gul president, and by all accounts, emerges even stronger. The pashas (as the military is often referred to) must be fuming, their medals about to melt.
Was this much ado about nothing? All that ink and all those pixels were expended on news and commentary leading up to the election, and then, barely any reporting of the result. After all, the Turkish presidency, unlike the American and French ones, is largely ceremonial and impotent. And, Gul was kissing up to the pashas as soon as he had a chance. Only time will tell. This may be another indication, like the nano-opening regarding the Armenian Genocide, that Turkey really is changing. However, in his memoirs, Roupen Der Minasian tells of Armenian villagers, when referring to Turks and Kurds, saying “sokheen caghtsruh chga”– “there’s no such thing as a sweet onion”.
From an Armenian point of view, more interesting than whom Gul will appoint as judges and what laws he might not veto (this is the bogeyman lofted by the secularists– that the AKP will now enact an Islamist legislative agenda), is what he might do regarding the Genocide. As I recall, Prime Minister Erdogan, the real power in the AKP, made supportive noises regarding holding the Genocide conference in Turkish-renamed Constantinople two years ago. I can’t help but wonder if the office of the presidency might not be used to float trial balloons of “solutions”, be they sneaky or sincere, to Turkey’s Genocide “problem”. Maybe he’ll be used for some quiet diplomacy. Certainly, we can’t expect anything new from him regarding relations with Armenia or the Diaspora, nor the (ill) treatment of Armenia’s and other minorities in Turkey, it’s just not part of his job description.
Perhaps more important in all this was the restoration of a Kurdish presence in Parliament. Also interesting would be to learn how much the AKP has used the example of religion-driven politics in the U.S. Have there been any direct contacts? If so, that would be really worrisome.
Let’s watch this guy. Let’s watch Turkey. And let’s do it more intently and thoroughly than we ever have, and particularly more than the last two decades during which our focus has shifted a bit too much to the needs of Eastern Armenia. It’s long past time to restore a balanced approach to our efforts regarding our homeland, all of it.


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