Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Showing posts for "Turkey"

Turkey Jerky

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan walks down the stairs in between soldiers, wearing traditional army uniforms from the Ottoman Empire, as he arrives for a welcoming ceremony for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Ankara (Adem Altan/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan walks down the stairs in between soldiers, wearing traditional army uniforms from the Ottoman Empire, as he arrives for a welcoming ceremony for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (not pictured) at the Presidential Palace in Ankara (Adem Altan/Courtesy Reuters).

Since the outbreak of the Gezi Park protests, which began in May 2013, there has been an inordinate amount of commentary in the newspapers of record, opinion magazines, policy journals, and blogs about Turkey. The vast majority of it has been overwhelmingly negative. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have responded in a fairly typical fashion: They have sought to mint nationalist political gold from this bad press. In a calculated effort to derive the most political benefit from a cascade of critical editorials and articles, the Turkish government has vowed to fight what it considers to be an international smear campaign. The Turks deserve a lot of criticism, but to be fair, there is also a good deal of it that is either the result of malign intent or ignorance. Read more »

Ankara on Paris: Disturbingly Equivocal

by Steven A. Cook
French President Francois Hollande is surrounded by head of states including (LtoR) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania Al Abdullah as they attend the solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris (Yves Herman/Courtesy Reuters). French President Francois Hollande is surrounded by head of states including (LtoR) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan and Queen Rania Al Abdullah as they attend the solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris (Yves Herman/Courtesy Reuters).

I have been reluctant to comment on the attacks in Paris. As with a whole host of people who have popped up on television to make sense of last week’s violence, terrorism and European Muslim communities are not my areas of expertise. There has also been so much excellent written commentary on the topic that even if I were inclined to write, I would not have much to add. That said, I find the Turkish leadership’s response to the events in France striking. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu took part in the solidarity rally in Paris on Sunday, but among the near universal denunciation of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent killings at the Hyper Cache market, the Turkish reaction was disturbingly equivocal. In a public statement after the assault on the magazine, the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu declared, “Terrorism and all types of Islamophobia perpetuate each other and we stand against this.” It is hard to disagree. Islamophobia, of which there is much in Europe and the United States, is bad, and terrorism is bad. Both are scourges that need to be fought, albeit in different ways. And while Davutoglu was more direct in his condemnation, cloaked in Cavusoglu’s outrage against anti-Muslim bias and terrorism, the foreign minister was saying something else entirely: The people targeted specifically in the Charlie Hebdo attack were Islamophobes who brought Cherif and Said Kouachi on themselves, producing a cycle of more Islamophobia and thus more violence. More broadly, Cavusoglu was signaling that the West is to blame for terror because it is irredeemably anti-Islam. Read more »

The Tin-Pot Dictatorships of Egypt and Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, surrounded by his colleagues and plainclothes police officers (C), reacts as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, surrounded by his colleagues and plainclothes police officers (C), reacts as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

Supporters of the governments of Egypt and Turkey have become adept at telling the world that under presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan respectively, these countries are making progress toward more open and just political systems. In reality, they are nothing more than tin-pot dictatorships. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Spider-Man, Ottomania, and Iraq’s Militias

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014 (Yagiz Karahan/Courtesy Reuters).

Browse through Hossam Atef’s photo gallery, the photographer known as Antikka who recently made headlines with his latest project, “SpiderMan At Egypt.”

Pinar Tremblay investigates the discriminatory effects of introducing Ottoman Turkish to the national curriculum. Read more »

The President Who Ate Turkey

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Riga October 23, 2014 (Ints Kalnins/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Riga October 23, 2014 (Ints Kalnins/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Politico.com on Thursday, November 27, 2014.

Without fail every year, starting around November 10, my #Turkey Twitter feed is jammed with not just the latest news from Ankara and Istanbul, but also Auntie Jean’s turkey recipe and suggestions about how to deep fry the bird without blowing up your house. And every year, on behalf of Turks and Turkey scholars the world over, I plaintively ask the tweeting masses to change #Turkey to #Turkiye, the actual Turkish name for the country that borders Greece, Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq and Syria—alas, with no success. Read more »

Turkey And The United States: Death By A Thousand Slights

by Steven A. Cook
U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales September 5, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales September 5, 2014 (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

The relationship between the United States and Turkey has hit the skids. The controversy over Kobani has revealed deep fissures and deep mistrust between Washington and Ankara. It is true that U.S.-Turkish ties were never easy. Beyond the gauzy rhetoric of fighting and dying together in Korea and standing shoulder-to-shoulder to counter the Soviet threat, there was a war of words between President Lyndon Johnson and Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonu over Cyprus, and then after the Turks invaded the island in 1974, Washington imposed an arms embargo on Ankara. In between and even in the years after the United States lifted the sanctions on Turkey, mistrust was a constant feature of the relationship. No doubt some Turkey watchers will claim that if bilateral ties survived the difficult period of the 1960s and 1970s, there is no reason to believe that relations will be permanently impaired now, but that is a lazy argument. The factors that drove the strategic relationship—the Soviet Union, Middle East peacemaking, Turkey’s EU project, and soft landings in the Arab world—no longer exist. At the same time, the accumulated evidence from recent experience in Syria, Israel-Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq indicate that Washington and Ankara simply have different goals. Read more »

Burying Ataturk In Erdogan’s Castle

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan leaves an official ceremony to mark Republic Day at the new Presidential Palace in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan leaves an official ceremony to mark Republic Day at the new Presidential Palace in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

What can anyone say about Turkey’s new presidential palace that has not already been said? It is enormous. It is gaudy. It is expensive. I am not sure what was wrong with the old place, which is nestled into a hillside in the Cankaya area of Ankara. Inside, it was a tasteful blend of republicanism with a subtle nod to Ottoman greatness, but it was altogether understated. The aura of the old palace seemed consistent with the restraint and above-politics powers that were built into the Turkish presidency. I guess it was no longer right for the times. Read more »

Turkey Has Been Consistent, Just Not In Line With U.S.

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on NYTimes.com on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

Turkey could still commit itself to becoming a more active member of the anti-ISIS coalition, though that seems unlikely. Last Friday, Ankara agreed to train members of the Free Syrian Army, and is still considering whether it will allow American and allied forces to use the Incirlik air base in the fight against the militant group. However, the permission to use this sprawling airfield close to the Syrian border may not be the breakthrough that U.S. officials have touted, revealing a continuing gap between Washington’s security needs and Turkey’s political dilemmas. Read more »

Fiddling While Kobani Burns

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani as they take position near Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters). Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani as they take position near Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border (Murad Sezer/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Tuesday, October 7, 2014.

Last week, the Turkish Grand National Assembly voted to authorize the use of force in Syria and Iraq. Turkish legislators also voted to permit the deployment of foreign forces in Turkey for the purpose of fighting against the Islamic State (IS). The votes were heralded in the Turkish and U.S. media as proof that Ankara is a dependable ally in the ongoing battle against the Islamic State. So why are Turkish forces sitting idly along the border while jihadist militants advance toward the border? Read more »