Posts Tagged Turkey

French domestic politics take France back to middle ages

Making Armenians (and Turks) a tool for French domestic politics is quite disgusting.

An article of mine that appeared in Todayszaman in September 2007 is highly relevant again now.

Armenian resolution:’ Bad for Armenia, Turkey and the US

Today’s Zaman
Countries are free to let their parliaments decide on historical issues. For example, you may have the Japanese parliament vote unanimously that it was the American air force who first struck Japan to start the eastern episode of World War II.

That will not change history, but may have repercussions on the politics and economics of the day.

Letting parliaments decide on historical facts may also seem one of the silly features of the political system of our times when future political historians, say a hundred years from now, describe the beginning of 21st century.

One of the prime weaknesses of democracies is probably the possibility of making parliaments hostage to strong lobbies. Lobbies are not bad per se; so long as they are a means to convey sincere preferences of voters to parliament, they are a useful ingredient of the democratic system. They are bad when they become just a stick to prod a parliament to vote as a specific clique wants; the parliament then becomes a stamping authority of the strong lobbies of smaller cliques.

What Armenia needs today is economic growth and political stability. When a poor country invading its neighbor’s land is no news to the world, one can conclude there is a problem somewhere, including for the invading party. Armenia, instead of using its resources properly to drive growth and development for its people, is allocating today a significant portion of those resources to feed its official and unofficial invasion army in Azerbaijan.

The result is closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and animosity instead of cooperation for Armenia. Armenia has about 70,000 illegal workers in Turkey, maybe more. It could trade freely with Turkey and Azerbaijan to create mutual prosperity. It could see higher growth rates and a more prosperous society. Its invasion of Azerbaijan does not help all this.

A vote of so-called genocide by the US Congress will also not help. The prime result will be increased animosity with Turkey. Nor will Turkish-US relations benefit from a Congress-stamped slander of Turkey which will also be taken as encouragement of a country’s invading its neighbor.

The Armenian diaspora in the US sabotaged a speech by Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II (Mutafyan) to be delivered at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., last week. The patriarch was probably going to voice his appeal for more cooperation instead of hostility, more dialogue instead of bickering. Perhaps Congress should listen to him.

I am not sure if the Armenian diaspora will also be ultimately happy with a “Congress victory.” Their insistence on unduly affecting US policy will result in damaged US foreign relations, a further damaged Armenian economy and a damaged Turkish openness to dialogue with Armenia.

The Turco-American economic relationship spans more than 100 years. This is a close relationship, but still weak compared to its potential. A vote by congress will damage that potential as well. This is probably what the diaspora wants. Is this what all Americans want?

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by […]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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Getting along with the new Turkey

Murat Yulek and Anthony Randazzo

Real Clear World – 2 December 2011


Turkey announced this week it would freeze the financial assets of Syria, its southern neighbor, and prevent all weapons deliveries to the country until the regime of Bashar al-Assad ceases its assaults on civilians protesting autocratic rule and agrees to step down. This is also the same Turkey that has co-negotiated a deal with Iran on limiting nuclear weapons developments. This is the same Turkey who’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is beloved by Muslims around the world for his fiery language leveled toward Israel in the wake of diplomatic snafus and the flotilla incident last year. This is the same Turkey that has made the foreign policy choice to negotiate with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

How is the Western world to understand Turkey taking the lead with sanctions against Syria and the vehement Turkish defense of democracy?

Already well on its way to becoming a regional power, the Republic of Turkey was thrust into the global spotlight by the Arab Spring earlier this year. Its commitment to true democratic governance, majority Islamic population, and rapid economic growth has caused many to cite it as a model for struggling nations like Egypt and Libya. However, there are many in the Western world that view Turkey’s rise with suspicion and even scorn. These fears are misplaced, and governments all over the world should be seeking to partner with Turkey in reshaping a region long fraught with instability and violence.

After rising from ashes of a once proud Ottoman Empire in 1923, the Turkish Republic spent its first seven decades as a moderately industrialized nation but with hardly any major influence on any international platform. At the turn of the millennium, Turkey had just gone through a Japanese-style lost decade and was at the brink of economic collapse. Inflation was at 70 percent by 2001 (having hit a high of 116 percent in 1994) and GDP was at negative 5.7 percent.

The 1990s were also a time of severe political instability and democratic failure in Turkey. The government was crushed by a fourth military coup in four decades. Kurdish terrorism in Turkey’s southeastern region claiming thousands of civilian and military lives. And by 2001, the Istanbul Stock Exchange was in collapse, the banking system was leaning hard on the International Monetary Fund as a savior, and Turkey’s long-standing membership process to the European Union received scant attention in Brussels.

The general elections of November 2002 proved to be the starting point of a major overhaul in Turkey’s economy, political systems, democratic credentials and rising regional importance. A newly established party won a majority of seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly and began a program focused on liberalizing the economy – starting with the privatization of state owned enterprises – and eventually the introduction of the now famous “zero problems” foreign policy to make peace with all Turkey’s neighbors.

On the economic front, public finances have been improved substantially and private output has surged. The Turkish banking sector is one of the most stable in Europe and the world. Its economy has reached 17th largest on the planet. Even after the global financial crisis in 2008, Turkey has one of the fast growing economies in the world. Turkey’s government debt-to-GDP ratio – down from 76 percent in 2001 to 35 percent in 2010 – is not only better than its Greek neighbors (142 percent) but also European fiscal stalwart Germany (54 percent). And inflation has been brought down to around 8 percent.

At the same time, the domestic political clout of the military has been pealed back. This has sparked international concerns that the former guardians of secularism in Turkey were giving way to Islamic fundamentalism. However, while painful, the process to reducing military authority has led to a healthier real democracy, instead of a faux-democracy operating as a front for the wishes of generals and admirals.

Perhaps most importantly, the ruling party has substantially improved Turkey’s human rights record, including implementing European standards for criminal justice.

The biggest challenges ahead for Turkey are on the global political stage. Turkey’s international resurgence started with sincere attempts to improve its relations with all neighboring foreign interests. The so-called “zero problems with neighbors policy” was put in place with overtures made to countries ranging from Greece to Armenia. But good faith efforts to broker deals between Syria and Israel have been overshadowed by dealings with Iran, Hamas and the authoritarian Egyptian military ruling council. These and other efforts have earned Turkey the label of Islamist fundamentalist in some Western quarters.

Such “activism” is a new experience for Turkey and has involved a steep learning curve with mixed success as the process has depended on other parties’ willingness to engage. Turkey is carving a new place for itself in the world, and in many ways is growing up, requiring the world to adapt as Turkey finds its new footing.

Inside Turkey, the government is at times accused of only “looking west” for co-operating on security missions in Afghanistan and installing a U.S.-led missile defense system on Turkish soil. Outside Turkey, the Justice and Development Party is seen as “turning to the east” for choosing a foreign policy that negotiates with Iran and Hamas, and stands up to Israeli diplomatic bullying.

In reality, Turkey is rejecting the passivity that developed during the latter half of the 20th century with its global affairs, and developing a more balanced yet assertive approach. Such “tectonic” change is creating conflicting interpretations from different quarters, and thus the confusion over why the most recent popular critic of Israel is taking such a hardline with a supposed Islamic ally.

The rehabilitation of Turkey’s economy, political structures and global position is still ongoing, but substantially stronger in this new decade. Such changes in economic strength, policy and activism often will lead to misinterpretations and misunderstandings. But Turkey becoming a strong and stable economy, on its way to becoming a healthier democracy, is critical for regional stability and development. It can be a voice helping to guide the Arab Spring into a true period of reform, thereby transforming the region into one of prosperity, democracy and freedom. The West should not reject its international standing or assertiveness, but rather embrace a new, stronger friend, criticizing missteps when appropriate, but welcoming a partner in the process of global development.

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Armenian resolution:Bad for Armenia, Turkey and the US

A US congressional committee “decided” that Turks committed against Armenians. It was a funny vote! It was also a demonstration of how confused congressmen could be about the basic tenets of what a democracy is; “you can vote whatever you want.” I expect the next votings of the US Congress will be among the following:

– Is there life in Mars? Yes / No
– Did Cristopher Colombus came from the moon? Yes / No
– Was it US or Japan (or perhaps the Germans) who started the WWII? Yes / No

I believe, the American people, a generally educated people, should help train some of their politicians in not producing such nonsense. Because experience shows that such nonsensical behavior jeopardizes reputation of countries.

More importantly, this vote is the latest damage on Armenia (and Turkey and the USA) by the Armenian diaspora. Armenia, a quite poor and landlocked country, is since 1994 an occupation force in Azerbaijani territories of Upper Karabagh. Does that serve Armenian people in reducing their poverty? On the contrary, that aggression eternalizes poverty in Armenia, makes it an alien force in the region and does a collective bad to the region.

On 25 September 2007, that is, about three years ago, in my column at Todayszaman, a Turkish daily, I wrote an article titled “Armenian resolution:’Bad for Armenia, Turkey and the US.” Well, apparently not much has changed since then.

Here is the article and a comment in an Armenian blog on it:

And the French version that appeared in Nouvelles D’Armenie Magazine

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Medium-term economic plan foresees long-term unemployment trouble

Todayszaman, 20 September 2009

It will be years before Turkey’s unemployment rates drop to anywhere in the region of pre-crisis levels — a grim prospect for a nation with a booming population.
Small month-on-month improvements in the unemployment rate still fall drastically short of returning to pre-crisis levels, and the government’s grim forecasts for employment recovery reflect the reality that Turkey has its work cut out in terms of creating jobs.

Experts say minute statistical improvements are not enough to mask what is becoming increasingly clear: Unemployment recovery is not around the corner, and Turkey stands to struggle with high jobless rates for several years to come. Economy Minister Ali Babacan unveiled a medium-term economic plan last week that focuses on putting budget balances back on track between 2010 and 2012. While the minister said in his announcement that the government expected modest recovery in unemployment, the economic plan does not include extensive measures to minimize the soaring numbers of jobless in Turkey.

The government is forecasting unemployment as an average 14.6 percent in 2010 — very close to this year’s expectation of 14.8 percent. Analysts have pegged the government’s medium-term plan as realistic. “From what I’ve seen of the medium-term plan, there are no microeconomic measures included to address unemployment,” Dr. Murat Yülek, a former World Bank economist and now chairman of PGlobal Global Advisory Services, told Sunday’s Zaman. Yülek was careful to note that Turkey was still dealing with a crisis and that beyond a slow pace of improvement in unemployment rates, it still remained to be seen whether many firms would be able to stay on their feet amidst the financial turmoil. Further layoffs and company closures are still a very real possibility, he noted. At first glance, unemployment trends seem to be improving. On Tuesday, the latest Household Labor Survey released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) said Turkey’s unemployment rate dropped to 13 percent in June, a drop from the May rate of 13.6 percent — which was in itself a significant drop from April’s figure of 14.9 percent. But the numbers remain well above the 10.8 percent levels enjoyed before the global financial crisis broke. Unemployment rates rose to highs of 16.1 percent and 13.6 percent, respectively, in the first two quarters of 2009 as Turkey was buffeted by the effects of the crisis. The number of unemployed in Turkey grew by 972,000 over the same month of 2008, representing a 3.6 percent increase. Some 3.27 million people are currently without jobs in Turkey.

Yülek said the acting assumption of the government’s medium-term plan in terms of employment could be the generation of private sector activity and investment through macroeconomic-level balancing of the country’s budget. On Friday, Turkish Confederation of Employers’ Unions (TİSK) Chairman Tuğrul Kutadgobilik criticized the medium-term economic program, saying it was not clear how the government was going to achieve even a slow improvement in unemployment rates. Noting that the program foresaw the creation of 1.25 million jobs, he said: “During the crisis period the same number of people lost their jobs; in the three years in question [the program says that] 1.8 million more people will enter the workforce. When it is noted that unemployment isn’t a problem that will resolve itself, the need for special measures becomes obvious.”

Capacity to create new employment restricted

There is also, of course, the issue of the reasons for change in employment statistics. On Thursday, the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) released a report titled “The Effects of Business Size and Regional Differences over Employment Losses during the Crisis.” However, the TEPAV report notes that the relative improvement in the unemployment rate in the second quarter of the year stemmed from a decrease in the number of people looking for a job and the growing number of people who have lost hope over employment prospects, emphasizing that the number of people employed in the first two quarters of 2009 dropped by 85,000 in the first quarter and by 387,000 in the second quarter compared to the same periods of 2008.

TurkStat does not count those not actively seeking employment in its unemployment figures, thereby approximately halving the number of those counted in the statistics. Yülek noted in his comments that in terms of employment participation Turkey has a different demographic than many developed European countries, with higher numbers of people without the intention of entering the workforce.

Even more troubling, TurkStat’s data demonstrate that along with a drop in the number of employed, Turkey has seen an increase in the size of the nation’s working-age, non-institutional population (which excludes students, prisoners and those serving in the military) — up by 875,000 people in June 2009 compared to the previous year. Turkey has one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, which means that this trend is also likely to continue. And with employment opportunities not rising in parallel to population growth, the road ahead could be rocky.

“I don’t see the employment situation improving in the near future,” Yülek said, in an assessment that reflects what many have been saying in reaction to the unemployment rate forecasts. “The first reason for this is that we are amidst a crisis. Employers are trying to maintain production levels with minimum staffing; this is an increase in efficiency but does not generate employment.” The economist also noted the current volatility in foreign exchange rates that place a heavy burden on Turkish exporters. “Turkish companies have to deal with competition both at home and abroad. When exporting to, say, Spain, Turkish products compete with what’s on the market there. Here in Turkey, Turkish items are sold alongside items made in other places, like Belgium, that are priced similarly or even more cheaply,” he explained.

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