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"

Weekend Reading: Fact and Fiction in Libya, a Saudi in Iran, and “Turkishness”

by Steven A. Cook
Iranian protesters chant slogans during a rally against the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, after Friday prayers in Tehran (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters). Iranian protesters chant slogans during a rally against the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, after Friday prayers in Tehran (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters).

Valentina Viene reviews the struggle to fictionalize the enigmatic persona of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the former leader of Libya, in Yasmina Khadra’s latest novel, The Dictator’s Last Night. Read more »

Erdogan’s Hitler Problem

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, November 26, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Reuters). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, November 26, 2015 (Umit Bektas/Reuters).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a Hitler problem. When he was asked last Friday to comment on his strong desire to establish what Turks call an “executive presidency” and how that might affect the “unitary structure” of the Turkish state, Erdogan replied, “There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.” In the firestorm of criticism that followed, the Turkish presidency sought to clarify Erdogan’s remark. The Guardian quoted an anonymous official stating, “There are good and poor examples of presidential systems and the important thing is to put checks and balances in place…Nazi Germany, lacking proper institutional arrangements, was obviously one of the most disgraceful examples in history.” The same official also accused the president’s opponents of purposefully distorting his remarks. Fair enough, but one has to wonder why Nazi Germany was the first example Erdogan could think of. Read more »

Is Turkey Really at the Table?

by Steven A. Cook
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) delivers opening remarks at in a working session on the global economy with fellow world leaders at the start of the G20 summit at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) delivers opening remarks at in a working session on the global economy with fellow world leaders at the start of the G20 summit at the Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on Politico.com on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.

To Westerners, it might seem that Vladimir Putin was exaggerating in anger when, after a Turkish F-16 on Tuesday shot down a Russian fighter jet allegedly violating Turkish airspace, he referred to the government in Ankara as “terrorists’ accomplices.” Read more »

Weekend Reading: Tourism in Egypt, Descartes in Reyhanli, and Corruption in the KRG

by Steven A. Cook
A girl holds a child inside a refugee camp for the internally displaced in Jrzinaz area, southern part of Idlib province, Syria October 13, 2015 (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters). A girl holds a child inside a refugee camp for the internally displaced in Jrzinaz area, southern part of Idlib province, Syria October 13, 2015 (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

Farah Halime studies how continued violence in Egypt, particularly against the tourism industry, negatively impacts the country’s economy.

The blogger Maysaloon discusses teaching identity, philosophy, and Descartes to Syrian refugee children. Read more »

What Turkey’s Election Surprise Says About The Troubled Country

by Steven A. Cook
People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan outside the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters). People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan outside the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on Fortune.com on Monday, November 2, 2015.

Just five months after failing to secure a parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came roaring back on Sunday with 49.4% of the popular vote and a renewed mandate to govern without any coalition partners. Going into the elections, all the polling indicated that the AKP would garner about 40% of the vote, which would force it to seek coalition partners to form a government. This was precisely the outcome of the June elections, after which the inability of the AKP and Turkey’s other main parties to agree on a government produced a “hung parliament” and Sunday’s re-run elections. There are already questions about the AKP’s turnaround, improving almost ten percentage points in an environment where the country is once again at war with the terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), where the self-declared Islamic State has perpetrated horrific bombings taking the lives of 134 Turks since July, and where the economy has been on the slide. Opponents of the AKP and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sabotaged coalition talks in June because he did not like the election results, suspect the outcome was manipulated. Erdogan and AKP party officials insist that voters opted for stability during increasingly uncertain times. Regardless, neither Erdogan nor the AKP have answers for the multiple crises buffeting the country. Read more »

Turkey: Past Is Present

by Steven A. Cook
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves the voting booth at a polling station in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Reuters). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves the voting booth at a polling station in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Reuters).

When this post goes up Turkish electoral officials will likely still be tallying the results of Sunday’s do-over parliamentary elections. Like the voting that took place on June 7, this round is widely regarded to be crucial. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quest for the executive presidency, the coherence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the integration and normalization of the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and the quality of Turkish politics going forward are all thought to be riding on the outcome. If the pre-election polling is accurate—and they have been stable for months—Turks will be faced with the same, inconclusive result that they produced five months ago, resolving nothing. Then again, anything can happen. I have been told that Turkey’s political institutions are both robust and meaningful, giving them the capacity to process people’s grievances and prevent excesses of both winners and losers. I have my doubts. Last June’s elections were supposed to have proven the resilience of Turkey’s democracy, but Erdogan demonstrated his ability to manipulate the political system because the elections did not go his way. Turkey is actually more fragile than people believe. Read more »

Turkey. At War. With Itself.

by Steven A. Cook
Gray clouds over Istanbul (Photo by Steven Cook). Gray clouds over Istanbul (Photo by Steven Cook).

In his famous and much-criticized 1993 Foreign Affairs article, “The Clash of Civilizations,” the late Samuel Huntington described Turkey as a “torn country.” For Huntington there is an irreconcilable difference between the Western-style political institutions of the Republic of Turkey and the Islamic cultural and civilizational foundations of Turkish society. It was a controversial assertion in a controversial article, though Turkey’s current prime minister (and political scientist), Ahmet Davutoglu, made a similar claim in his 1984 dissertation. I disagree with both professors. Turkey may not be “torn” in the way that Huntington and Davutoglu believe, but it is tearing itself apart in a war with itself. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey and the EU, Tunisia’s Nobel Winners, and Life in the Qandil Mountains

by Steven A. Cook
Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia, in this August 16, 2013 photo. Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, an example of peaceful transition in a region otherwise struggling with violence and upheaval (Anis Mili/Reuters). Hussein Abassi, head of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia, in this August 16, 2013 photo. Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, an example of peaceful transition in a region otherwise struggling with violence and upheaval (Anis Mili/Reuters).

Natasha Lennard examines the altering dynamics between Turkey and the European Union brought about by the refugee crisis.

Read the press release announcing that the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015. Read more »

Night Terror, Turkey, and Refugees

by Steven A. Cook
A Kurdish Syrian refugee waits for transport during a sand storm on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, September 24, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Reuters). A Kurdish Syrian refugee waits for transport during a sand storm on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, September 24, 2014 (Murad Sezer/Reuters).

Exactly a decade ago I became a father for the first time. At the very moment I first laid eyes on my daughter I experienced something I had never felt before. It was total. In an instant my life’s mission became: At all costs, whatever it takes, ensure the health and well-being of this human. I went from a guy existing in the goofy, unreal world of impending first-time fatherhood to “parent,” with all the primordial and overwhelming—until it aches—feelings of unconditional love that come with it. These are the reasons why I have been unable to bring myself to read about poor Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian-Kurdish toddler who washed ashore in Bodrum on the southeastern coast of Turkey, fleeing the cataclysm that has engulfed his country. It is why I had to fight back tears at just the sight of his father who has lost Aylan, his older brother, Galip, and their mother. Abdullah Kurdi’s reality is my night terror. So much has been written about the Kurdi family, Europe’s “migrant crisis,” and the Syrian conflict since the photo of Aylan lying facedown on the beach was published last week, but how many little boys and girls have died in the Syria disaster? We have collectively averted our eyes to unbearable suffering. Another picture of Aylan cradled in the arms of a Turkish police officer reminded me that not everyone has, however. Readers of this blog know that I have been routinely critical of the Turkish government, the Justice and Development Party, and especially Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but when it comes to handling the situation of Syrian refugees in their country, the Turks deserve praise. Read more »