WikiLeaks: US Ambassador Connects EU Membership with Facing Past, Mocks Historiography in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey (A.W.)—In a report about Erdogan and the AK Party after two years in power, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman notes that the study of history in the country is subject to “to rigid taboos, denial, fears, and mandatory gross distortions,” noting that without facing its past, Turkey cannot take on the challenge of becoming an EU member. “Until Turkey can reconcile itself to its past, including the troubling aspects of its Ottoman past, in free and open debate, how will Turkey reconcile itself to the concept and practice of reconciliation in the EU?” asks Edelman.

Edelman notes that “the study of history and practice of historiography in the Republic of Turkey remind one of an old Soviet academic joke: the faculty party chief assembles his party cadres and, warning against various ideological threats, proclaims, ‘The future is certain.  It’s only that damned past that keeps changing.’”

The most significant of Turkey’s denials and “mandatory gross distortions,” of course, pertains to the Armenian genocide. Official Ankara continues to vehemently deny that there was any genocidal intent towards the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and it spends millions of dollars in its denial campaign, in which it lobbies politicians, entices support from journalists, funds academic denial efforts, suppresses education efforts on the Armenian Genocide, and presents denial assertions to the general public in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. At home, Turkish scholars and journalists who write about the importance of recognizing the Armenian genocide risk harassment and prosecution.

Mentioning AK party’s “tentative,” meager efforts in dealing with history straightforwardly, Edelman notes that “the road ahead will require a massive overhaul of education, the introduction and acceptance of rule of law, and a fundamental redefinition of the relation between citizen and state.”

Below is the full text of the report.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 ANKARA 007211

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2029
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINS ECON TU
SUBJECT: ERDOGAN AND AK PARTY AFTER TWO YEARS IN POWER:
TRYING TO GET A GRIP ON THEMSELVES, ON TURKEY, ON EUROPE

(U) Classified by Ambassador Eric Edelman; reasons: E.O.
12958 1.4 (a,b,c,d).

¶1. (C) Summary: PM Erdogan and his ruling AK Party seem to
have a firm grip on power — if for no other reasons that
there is currently no viable alternative and inertia weighs
heavily in politics.  Nevertheless, Erdogan and his party
face enormous challenges if they are successfully to embrace
core principles of open society, carry out EU harmonization,
and develop and implement foreign policies in harmony with
core U.S. interests.  End summary.

¶2. (C) As PM Erdogan strode through the EU corridors of power
Dec. 16-17 with his semi-pro soccer player’s swagger and
phalanx of sycophantic advisors, he may have seemed a strong
candidate for European leader of the year.  A regional leader
to be reckoned with for a decade to come.  The man who won
Turkey the beginning of accession negotiations with the EU.
Who broke loose three decades of frozen Turkish policy on
Cyprus.  Who drove major human rights reforms through
parliament and through constitutional amendments.  Whose
rhetorical skill, while etched with populist victimhood, is
redolent with traditional and religious allusions that
resonate deeply in the heartland, deeply in the anonymous
exurban sprawls.  Who remains the highly popular tribune of
the people, without a viable or discernible political
rival…outside his own ruling AKP.

¶3. (C) In short, Erdogan looks unbeatable.  But is he?  And
is he willing to give relations with the U.S. the leadership
and momentum they need from the Turkish side?

¶4. (C) Erdogan has a two-thirds majority in parliament.  Main
opposition left-of-center CHP amounts to no more than a bunch
of elitist ankle-biters.  There is currently no serious,
broad-based political alternative, owing to Erdogan’s
rhetorical dominance and control of the debate on social
questions close to the hearts of the center-right majority in
Turkey; other party leaders’ political bankruptcy; and the
stultifying effect of current party and election laws on
entry for younger, untainted political aspirants.  AKP argues
that the economy, at least from the perspective of macro
indicators and continued willingness of emerging-market
portfolio investors to buy the expectations and sell the
facts, appears to have stabilized.  Moreover, the authority
of AKP’s nationwide party machine is blurring with the
Turkish State’s executive power at the provincial and
district level and with municipal functions to an extent not
seen since the days of the one-party state.  These factors
seem set to continue for the foreseeable future.

¶5. (C) Yet Erdogan and AKP face politically fateful
challenges in three areas: foreign policy (EU, Iraq, Cyprus);
quality and sustainability of leadership and governance; and
resolution of questions fundamental to creation of an open,
prosperous society integrated with the broader world (place
of religion; identity and history; rule of law).

EU

¶6. (U) Erdogan indexed his political survival to getting a
negotiation date from the EU.  He achieved that goal.  The
Wall Street Journal and other Western and Turkish media have
opined that the EU owes Turkey a fair negotiating process
leading to accession, with the Journal even putting the onus
on the EU by asserting that while Turkey is ready the
question is whether Europeans are ready for Turkey.

¶7. (C) But there’s always a Monday morning and the debate on
the ground here is not so neat.  With euphoria at getting a
date having faded in 48 hours, Erdogan’s political survival
and the difficulty of the tasks before him have become
substantially clearer.  Nationalists on right and left have
resumed accusations that Erdogan sold out Turkish national
interests (Cyprus) and Turkish traditions.  Core institutions
of the Turkish state, which remain at best wary of AKP, have
once again begun to probe for weaknesses and to feed
insinuations into the press in parallel with the
nationalists’ assertions.  In the face of this Euro-aversion,
neither Erdogan nor his government has taken even minimal
steps to prepare the bureaucracy or public opinion to begin
tackling the fundamental — some Turks would say insidious —
legal, social, intellectual and spiritual changes that must
occur to turn harmonization on paper into true reform.  The
road ahead will surely be hard.

¶8. (U) High-profile naysayers like main opposition CHP
chairman Baykal, former Ambassador Gunduz Aktan, and
political scientist Hasan Unal continue to castigate Erdogan.
But theirs is a routine whine.  More significant for us is
that many of our contacts cloak their lack of self-confidence
at Turkey’s ability to join in expressions of skepticism that
the EU will let Turkey in.  And there is parallel widespread
skepticism that the EU will be around in attractive form in
ten years.

¶9. (C) The mood in AKP is no brighter, with one of FonMin
Gul’s MFA advisors having described to UK polcounselor how
bruised Turkey feels at the EU’s inconsistency during the
final negotiations leading to Dec. 17 (EU diplomats in Ankara
have given us the other side of the story).  Gul was
noticeably harder-line than Erdogan in public comments in the
lead-up to the Summit, and was harder-line in pre-Summit
negotiations in Brussels, according to UK polcounselor.
There was noticeable tension between Erdogan and Gul in
Brussels according to “Aksam” Ankara bureau chief Nuray
Basaran.  She also noted to us that when negotiations seemed
to have frozen up on Dec. 17, Erdogan’s advisors got phone
calls from Putin advisors urging Turkey to walk.  Basaran
says that at least some of Erdogan’s advisors urged him to do
so.

¶10. (C) AKP’s lack of cohesion as a party and lack of
openness as a government is reflected in the range of murky,
muddled motives for wanting to join the EU we have
encountered among those AKPers who say they favor pursuing
membership…or at least the process.  Some see the process
as the way to marginalize the Turkish military and what
remains of the arid “secularism” of Kemalism.  We have also
run into the rarely openly-spoken, but widespread belief
among adherents of the Turk-Islam synthesis that Turkey’s
role is to spread Islam in Europe, “to take back Andalusia
and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683″ as one
participant in a recent meeting at AKP’s main think tank put
it.  This thinking parallels the logic behind the approach of
FonMin Gul ally and chief foreign policy advisor in the Prime
Ministry Ahmet Davutoglu, whose muddy opinion piece in the
Dec. 13 International Herald Tribune is in essence a call for
one-way multi-cultural tolerance, i.e., on the part of the EU.

¶11. (C) Those from the more overtly religious side of AKP
whinge that the EU is a Christian club.  While some assert
that it is only through Turkish membership and spread of
Turkish values that the world can avoid the clash of
civilizations they allege the West is fomenting, others
express concern that harmonization and membership will water
down Islam and associated traditions in Turkey.  Indeed, as
AKP whip Sadullah Ergin confided to us recently, “If the EU
says yes, everything will look rosy for a short while.  Then
the real difficulties will start for AKP.  If the EU says no,
it will be initially difficult, but much easier over the long
run.”

¶12. (C) AKP also faces the nuts-and-bolts issue of how to
prepare for harmonization.  In choosing a chief negotiator
Erdogan will need to decide whether the risks that the man he
taps will successfully steal his political limelight outweigh
the political challenge his choice will face since it will be
the Turkish chief negotiator’s responsibility to sell the EU
position to a recalcitrant Turkish cabinet.  It is because
the chief negotiator is likely to be ground down between EU
demands and a prickly domestic environment that some
observers speculate Erdogan might give the job to his chief
internal rival Gul.

¶13. (C) At the same time the government must reportedly hire
a couple thousand people skilled in English or other major EU
languages and up to the bureaucratic demands of interfacing
with the Eurocrats who descend on ministries as harmonization
starts.  If the government continues to hire on the basis of
“one of us”, i.e., from the Sunni brotherhood and lodge
milieu that has been serving as the pool for AKP’s civil
service hiring, lack of competence will be a problem.  If the
government hires on the base of competence, its new hires
will be frustrated by the incompetence of AKP’s previous
hires at all levels.

Questions About AKP Leadership and Governance
———————————————

¶14. (C) Several factors will continue to degrade Erdogan’s
and AKP’s ability to effect fair and lasting reforms or to
take timely, positive decisions on issues of importance to
the U.S.

¶15. (C) First is Erdogan’s character.

¶16. (C) In our contacts in Anatolia we have not yet detected
that Erdogan’s hunger for absolute power and for the material
benefits of power have begun to erode his grassroots
popularity.  Others disagree.  Pollster and political analyst
Ismail Yildiz has asserted in three lengthy expositions to us
late in Dec. that the erosion has started.  We note that (1)
Yildiz expressed frustration to us that the AKP leadership
did not respond to his offer to provide political strategy
services; (2) he is currently connected to mainstream
opposition figures; and (3) he also runs a conspiracy-theory
web site.  So we treat his view cautiously.  However, judging
by his references and past experience in the Turkish State,
he appears to have maintained conncetions with the State
apparatus and to have a network of observers and data
collectors in all 81 provinces.

¶17. (C) Inside the party, Erdogan’s hunger for power reveals
itself in a sharp authoritarian style and deep distrust of
others: as a former spiritual advisor to Erdogan and his wife
Emine put it, “Tayyip Bey believes in God…but doesn’t trust
him.”  In surrounding himself with an iron ring of
sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors, Erdogan has isolated
himself from a flow of reliable information, which partially
explains his failure to understand the context — or real
facts — of the U.S. operations in Tel Afar, Fallujah, and
elsewhere and his susceptibility to Islamist theories.  With
regard to Islamist influences on Erdogan, DefMin Gonul, who
is a conservative but worldly Muslim, recently described Gul
associate Davutoglu to us as “exceptionally dangerous.”
Erdogan’s other foreign policy advisors (Cuneyd Zapsu, Egemen
Bagis, Omer Celik, along with Mucahit Arslan and chef de
cabinet Hikmet Bulduk) are despised as inadequate, out of
touch and corrupt by all our AKP contacts from ministers to
MPs and party intellectuals.

¶18. (C) Erdogan’s pragmatism serves him well but he lacks
vision.  He and his principal AKP advisors, as well as FonMin
Gul and other ranking AKP officials, also lack analytic
depth.  He relies on poor-quality intel and on media
disinformation.  With the narrow world-view and wariness that
lingers from his Sunni brotherhood and lodge background, he
ducks his public relations responsibilities.  He (and those
around him, including FonMin Gul) indulge in pronounced
pro-Sunni prejudices and in emotional reactions that prevent
the development of coherent, practical domestic or foreign
policies.

¶19. (C) Erdogan has compounded his isolation by constantly
traveling abroad — reportedly 75 foreign trips in the past
two years — with a new series of trips planned for 2005 to
Russia, “Eurasia”, the Middle East and Africa.  Indeed, his
staff says 2005 is the “year of Africa”, but they provide no
coherent reason why.  This grueling cycle of travel has
exhausted him and his staff and disrupted his ability to keep
his hand on the tiller of party, parliamentary group, and
government.  He has alienated many in the AKP parliamentary
group by his habit of harshly chewing out MPs.  Moreover, we
understand that MUSIAD, an Anatolia-wide group of businessmen
influential in Islamist circles who gave Erdogan key
financial support as AKP campaigned prior to the 2002
elections, is disaffected by Erdogan’s unapproachability.
Judging by comments to us of insiders in the influential
Islamist lodge of Fethullah Gulen such as publicist
Abdurrahman Celik, the lodge, which has made some inroads
into AKP (Minister of Justice Cicek, Minister of Culture and
Tourism Mumcu; perhaps 60-80 of 368 MPs; some appointments to
the bureaucracy), has resumed the ambivalent attitude it
initially had toward Erdogan and AKP.

¶20. (C) Second is the coalition nature of AKP, the limited
number of ministers whom Erdogan trusts, and the efforts of
some — principally FonMin Gul but from time to time Cicek —
to undermine Erdogan.  No one else in AKP comes close to
Erdogan in grassroots popularity.  However, Gul’s readiness
to deprecate Erdogan within AKP and even to foreign visitors
(e.g., Israeli deputy PM Olmert) and his efforts to reduce
Erdogan’s maneuvering room with hard-line criticisms of U.S.
policy in Iraq or EU policy on Cyprus have forced Erdogan
constantly to look over his shoulder and in turn to prove his
credentials by making statements inimical to good
U.S.-Turkish relations.  We expect Erdogan to carry out a
partial cabinet reshuffle early in 2005, but he will be
unable to remove the influence of Gul.

¶21. (S) Third is corruption.  AKP swept to power by promising
to root out corruption.  However, in increasing numbers
AKPers from ministers on down, and people close to the party,
are telling us of conflicts of interest or serious corruption
in the party at the national, provincial and local level and
among close family members of ministers.  We have heard from
two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks;
his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding
presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman
is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan
children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.

¶22. (S) Among the many figures mentioned to us as prominently
involved in corruption are Minister of Interior Aksu,
Minister of Foreign Trade Tuzmen, and AKP Istanbul provincial
chairman Muezzinoglu.  As we understand it from a contact in
the intel directorate of Turkish National Police, a
continuing investigation into Muezzinoglu’s extortion racket
and other activities has already produced evidence
incriminating Erdogan.  In our contacts across Anatolia we
have detected no willingness yet at the grassroots level to
look closely at Erdogan or the party in this regard, but the
trend is a time bomb.

¶23. (S) Fourth is the poor quality of Erdogan’s and AKP’s
appointments to the Turkish bureaucracy, at party
headquarters, and as party mayoral candidates.  A broad range
of senior career civil servants, including DefMin Gonul,
former Undersecretary of Customs Nevzat Saygilioglu, former
Forestry DirGen Abdurrahman Sagkaya, and many others, has
expressed shock and dismay to us at the incompetence,
prejudices and ignorance of appointees such as Omer Dincer,
an Islamist academic whom Erdogan appointed Undersecretary of
the Prime Ministry, THE key position in the government/state
bureaucracy.  Dincer is despised by the TGS.  Many
interlocutors also point to the weakness of Erdogan’s deputy
party chairmen.  The result is that, unlike former leaders
such as Turgut Ozal or Suleyman Demirel, both of whom
appointed skilled figures who could speak authoritatively for
their bosses as their party general secretary and as
Undersecretary of the Prime Ministry, Erdogan has left
himself without people who can relieve him of the burden of
day-to-day management or who can ensure effective, productive
channels to the heart of the party and the heart of the
Turkish state.

Two Big Questions
—————–

¶24. (C) Turkey’s EU bid has brought forth reams of
pronouncements and articles — Mustafa Akyol’s
Gulenist-tinged “Thanksgiving for Turkey” in Dec. 27 Weekly
Standard is one of the latest — attempting to portray Islam
in Turkey as distinctively moderate and tolerant with a
strong mystical (Sufi) underpinning.  Certainly, one can see
in Turkey’s theology faculties some attempts to wrestle with
the problems of critical thinking, free will, and precedent
(ictihad), attempts which, compared to what goes on in
theology faculties in the Arab world, may appear relatively
progressive.

¶25. (C) However, the broad, rubber-meets-the-road reality is
that Islam in Turkey is caught in a vise of (1) 100 years of
“secular” pressure to hide itself from public view, (2)
pressure and competition from brotherhoods and lodges to
follow their narrow, occult “true way”, and (3) the faction-
and positivism-ridden aridity of the Religious Affairs
Directorate (Diyanet).  As a result, Islam as it is lived in
Turkey is stultified, riddled with hypocrisy, ignorant and
intolerant of other religions’ presence in Turkey, and unable
to eject those who would politicize it in a radical,
anti-Western way.  Imams are for the most part poorly
educated and all too ready to insinuate anti-Western,
anti-Christian or anti-Jewish sentiments into their sermons.
Exceptionally few Muslims in Turkey have the courage to
challenge conventional Sunni thinking about jihad or, e.g.,
verses in the Repentance shura of the Koran which have for so
long been used to justify violence against “infidels”.

¶26. (C) The problem is compounded by the willingness of
politicians such as Gul to play elusively with politicized
Islam.  Until Turkey ensures that the humanist strain in
Islam prevails here, Islam in Turkey will remain a troubled,
defensive force, hypocritical to an extreme degree and
unwilling to adapt to the challenges of open society.

¶27. (C) A second question is the relation of Turkey and its
citizens to history — the history of this land and citizens’
individual history.  Subject to rigid taboos, denial, fears,
and mandatory gross distortions, the study of history and
practice of historiography in the Republic of Turkey remind
one of an old Soviet academic joke: the faculty party chief
assembles his party cadres and, warning against various
ideological threats, proclaims, “The future is certain.  It’s
only that damned past that keeps changing.”

¶28. (C) Until Turkey can reconcile itself to its past,
including the troubling aspects of its Ottoman past, in free
and open debate, how will Turkey reconcile itself to the
concept and practice of reconciliation in the EU?  How will
it have the self confidence to take decisions and formulate
policies responsive to U.S. interests?  Some in AKP are
joining what is still only a handful of others to take
tentative, but nonetheless inspiring, steps in this regard.
However, the road ahead will require a massive overhaul of
education, the introduction and acceptance of rule of law,
and a fundamental redefinition of the relation between
citizen and state.  In the words of the great (Alevi)
Anatolian bard Asik Veysel, this is a “long and delicate
road.”

¶29. (U) Baghdad minimize considered.
EDELMAN

Authors

Related posts

Discussion Policy

Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Though you are fully responsible for the content you post, comments that include profanity, personal attacks or other inappropriate material will not be permitted. Asbarez reserves the right to block users who violate any of our posting standards and policies.

One Comment;

  1. Araxi said:

    Simply brilliant! A brilliant deconstruction of Erdogan!
    Well done and thanks to Mr. Edelman for his honest view of this man.
    Հայերեն կասեն, «Քանդակեց թողեց»: Բրավո:

*

Top