March 14, 2020
Mr. Kofi Annan who served as the seventh Secretary General of the UN from January 1997 to December 2006 was a remarkable diplomat and a statesman. In September 1999, in a speech on “the meaning of international community”, he said:[i]
“Some people say the international community is only a fiction. Others say it is too elastic a concept to have any real meaning. Still others say it is a mere vehicle of convenience, to be trotted out only in emergencies or when a scapegoat for inaction is needed. Some say there are no internationally recognized norms, goals or fears on which to base such a community. Op-ed pages refer routinely to the ‘so- called’ international community…”
But, being the UN Secretary General, he had to inspire optimism. So, he went on to say, “I believe these sceptics are wrong. The international community does exist. It has an address. It has achievements to its credit. And it is the only way forward.” Continue reading
March 10, 2020
Some believe that first impression is the last impression. So, they say one never gets a second chance to make a first impression. For others, first impressions count but last impressions are forever.
I had my first impression of the Afghan mujahideen in Pakistan. In 1989 Turkish President Evren paid a visit there. I was his director of private office. The program also included a meeting with the mujahideen leaders. The President was going to tell them that since the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan it was time to end their infighting and focus on rebuilding the country. The meeting was to take place at the guest palace where the President was staying. A few minutes before the meeting our Pakistani hosts told me that the leaders had arrived. Just to make sure that everything was ready, I went downstairs and peeked through the door. I saw like ten battle-hardened, somber looking warriors in their traditional costumes. Continue reading
March 8, 2020
On March 6, Presidents of Russia and Turkey met in Moscow. In remarks to the press before their meeting, President Putin said the situation in Idlib has deteriorated so much that the two leaders needed to have a direct and personal discussion. He added, “As you requested, we are ready to begin our talks one-on-one, and then our colleagues, who are with us in this room, will join us, if necessary.”
Thus, after the talks in restricted format, consultations continued with the participation of the delegations of the two countries. One may conclude, therefore, that the Syrian conflict with its Idlib dimension and the future of Russian-Turkish relations were taken up between the two leaders at full length. Continue reading
(Co-authored with Yusuf Buluç)[i]
The people of Turkey held their breath on the eve of the deadline set in the ultimatum President Erdoğan served on the Syrian regime promising severe military punishment if its forces were not to withdraw to lines drawn in the so-called “Sochi agreement” between Russia and Turkey. Evidently, there was no way that the regime, still recognized by the UN as the legitimate government of Syria, could heed this warning as it would amount to yielding its hard-won sovereign territory to Turkey’s control. More so, such withdrawal would have been hailed by some jihadist armed groups, listed by the UN as terrorist organizations, which have taken most of the civilian inhabitants of the Idlib province as hostage in their quest to winning a rump of Syria to be dismembered. The regime, its air force largely under Russian command and control, reacted to the Turkish ultimatum not by resorting to terse and rejectionist rhetoric but unleashing a bombing campaign resulting in massive loss of life not recorded outside Turkish territory since the Korean war. Continue reading
February 27, 2020
In the fall of 1966, I took a series of exams to join the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Among other things, we were asked to comment on a widely used metaphor, “Turkey is a bridge between East and West”. I wrote that throughout history Anatolia has been a meeting point of cultures and Turkey’s future lies in creating a successful synthesis. In my later years in diplomatic service, I continuously objected to the use of this metaphor arguing that a bridge belongs to neither of its banks and Turkey had already made her choice. With the launching of EU accession negotiations in October 2005, I came to believe that we had finally crossed the Bosporus Bridge and were travelling irreversibly towards the West. This by no means meant a rupture with the East for obvious reasons including geography and history. Moreover, our good relations with the region were an asset for the EU. Continue reading
(Co-authored with Yusuf Buluç)[i]
February 20, 2020
Ten days ago, President Putin had a telephone conversation with President Erdogan at Turkish side’s initiative. A statement by the Kremlin said that the two leaders noted the importance of the full implementation of the existing Russian-Turkish agreements, including the Sochi Memorandum of September 17, 2018 and additional contacts between the relevant government agencies were planned for these purposes.
A few days later Presidents Erdoğan and Trump had a phone call. “The President expressed concern over the violence in Idlib, Syria and thanked President Erdogan for Turkey’s efforts to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement. “President Trump also reiterated that continued foreign interference in Libya would only serve to worsen the situation,” he added, a discouraging reference to Ankara’s support to the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj. Continue reading
February 6, 2020
The agreement reached in May 2017 by Russia, Iran and Turkey in Astana called for the cessation of hostilities between rebel groups and regime forces in four “de-escalation” zones in the mainly opposition-held areas of Syria with Russia, Turkey and Iran acting as guarantors.
In broad terms, the deal covered four areas:
Zone 1: Idlib province,
Zone 2: The Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in northern Homs province,
Zone 3: Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside,
Zone 4: The rebel-controlled south along the border with Jordan. Continue reading
February 2, 2020
Last week, I watched President Trump’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s White House remarks on television. I also read the transcript[i]. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke for 47 minutes. During those 47 minutes there were 71 applause, most of them standing. There were no Palestinian leaders present. Even the Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz was not visible. It was all about President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu and their being family. Continue reading
January 28, 2020
“Canal İstanbul”, first introduced to the public as a “crazy project” by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (JDP) Government, has become the subject of an increasingly heated discussion. Among the various aspects of the project currently debated are its environmental impact, the cost, huge private land purchases in the area and last but not least its implications for the Montreux Convention of 1936 regulating passage through the “Straits of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus comprised under the general term ‘Straits’ ”. Continue reading
January 20, 2020
The motto for Arab spring strife has always been “there is no military solution to the conflict”. Yet, the pattern of behavior has always been the opposite and this started with Libya.
Measures taken by governments to quell Arab Spring revolts caused the “international community”, a misnomer, “grave concern”. But no other country became the subject of a “UN sanctioned” intervention except Libya. Continue reading