June 11, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3029

Turkish Columnists Criticize Their Government on Flotilla Clash

June 11, 2010
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 3029

Following the bloody clash between Islamist activists and the Israeli army aboard the Mavi Marmara, the voice that has defined Turkey's position for the world media has been that of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some voices in Turkey, however, have questioned their own government's role in the events leading up to the Mavi Marmara events, and have asked whether the climate that has resulted from the clash is in Turkey's best interest.

Following are excerpts from two articles in the English-language edition of the Turkish daily Hurriyet:[1]

"How Can Such a Large Country as Turkey... be Dragged to the Brink of War by a Non-Governmental Organization?"

In a June 7, 2010 article, columnist Semih Idiz stated that the Erdogan government has close relations with the IHH, and argued that events like the flotilla clash endanger Turkey's long-term interests:

"Once the dust settles down, as it has started to, sensible and level-headed minds in Turkey and Israel will have to sit down and consider how matters could have been brought to such a head between these two countries that have always been seen as 'strategic allies' in the turbulent Middle East, and have on the whole enjoyed good economic and social ties that were beneficial to both sides.

"In fact we already see serious questions being asked in both countries over the whole debacle in the Eastern Mediterranean which left nine Turks dead after Israel's military operation in international waters. That this operation was botched by the Israeli Defense Forces is now part of the international literature on the matter so there is no need to go into it here…

"As for the Turkish side, there are equally – if not more – serious questions to be asked and we are happy to see that they are slowly but surely surfacing now. The most important of these questions must of course be this: How can such a large country as Turkey, with interests in four continents, and with an export- and investment-driven economy requiring extra caution all around the globe, be dragged to the brink of war by a nongovernmental organization?"

The IHH Is a "GNGO" – a "Governmental-Non-Governmental-Organization"

"To many in and outside Turkey, the answer seems to be simple. This happened because the NGO in question is what a friend humorously referred to as a 'GNGO': a 'governmental-non-governmental-organization'. While there may not be any evidence of a direct link here , there can be no mistake that the Erdogan government is morally and politically behind this group – the IHH – that has now gained international fame according to some, and notoriety according to others.

"[Moreover], this is not the first time that this group has put Turkey in a difficult diplomatic situation after being aided and abetted by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. It will be recalled that, a few months ago, the same group tried to force its way through the closed Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, only to end up clashing with Egyptian forces and straining ties between Ankara and Cairo.

"It is telling that one of the leading 'activists' on the Turkish side in that event was Murat Mercan, who is a key AKP figure: an MP and the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament. Turkish-Egyptian ties are still recovering from what happened then. Clearly, the latest events in the Eastern Mediterranean were also watched closely in Cairo, and there must have been further displeasure among the [Egyptian] leadership over Prime Minister Erdogan's agitation of the Arab street."

Worries about Turkey's Image in the West

"As for the images from Turkey that were [broadcast] across the globe following last week's incident, they were purely Islamic, with headscarved and turbaned protestors chanting Islamic slogans under Islamic banners, and invoking the name of Allah for days on end in front of Israeli [representations] in this country. Certain remarks by Prime Minister Erdogan only [served] to reinforce this impression, especially when he told a visibly Islamic crowd in Konya a few days ago that Hamas was not a terrorist organization.

"It was inevitable that all this would start to turn the tide in the Western media against Turkey, as is apparent from a number of [op-eds] that have appeared over the past few days. If one considers that there is still an Iranian crisis to be played out between Turkey and the West, and particularly between Turkey and the U.S., it is clear that this impression is only going to crystallize further in the coming days and weeks, in ways that [Turkish] Foreign Minister Davutoglu would obviously not want to see.

"Put in a nutshell, the sympathy that Turkey initially garnered in the West as a result of Israel's lethal management of this operation is bound to evaporate if the AKP government does not begin to chart a more balanced course vis-à-vis Iran and Hamas, a course which is more in keeping with the country's international commitments as a NATO ally.

"It's all very well for Turkish officials to shower Israel and the Netanyahu government with negative adjectives, most of them undoubtedly deserved in this case. But Turkey has to tread cautiously in such matters for many reasons having to do with its long term interests. It also goes without saying that Israel cannot afford to squander its longstanding ties with Turkey, no matter what the level of anger in that country toward the Erdogan government…"[2]

Turkey Could Have Stopped the Ship from Sailing, but Did Not Want To

In another June 7 column in Hurriyet, Barcin Yinanc blamed Israel for the flotilla deaths, but wrote that Turkey mismanaged the crisis and could have prevented the loss of life, and that the current Turkish government puts a higher priority on Palestinian lives than on Turkish ones:

"A government's first and foremost mission is to protect the lives of its citizens. It [must] predict risks and take measures accordingly – not stand by and watch when trouble is obviously on the way.

"In the case of the recent confrontation with Israel, the crisis was clearly on its way. In this sense, I can not say that I am proud of my government's handling of the crisis, which cost the lives of nine Turkish citizens.

"First of all, the officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party... were not convincing at all when they said they could not stop the ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza from leaving Turkey. They could have stopped it had they wanted to. [But] did they want to? Not at all.

"Let's show [some] understanding for the government's hidden satisfaction with the initiative that aimed to break the inhumane blockade on Gaza. But once the government let the ship begin its voyage, it should have kept a close eye on it, since [the government] must have been aware of the signals coming from Israel. [Otherwise,]... why the AKP parliamentarians decide to not board the ship at the very last moment?

"Anyone who is familiar with Israel, who knows its past record of violent intervention in humanitarian activists, and who knows that [it] is currently run by one of the most right-wing governments [in its history], should have predicted this crisis. Maybe some sort of tension was predicted and the government planned to use this tension to put further pressure on Israel. Maybe they did not predict that the intervention would be so deadly. At any rate, there is something called crisis diplomacy and crisis management.

"From the moment the ship set sail, it should have been closely monitored. The government should have been in constant contact with Israel. If Israel made it clear that it would intervene, Turkey should have warned Israel that any loss of life would have terrible consequences. To show its determination, Turkey could have informed Israel that its naval forces were on alert. [It] could have directed [the] attention of the United States and other important players, as well as the attention of the international media, to the growing crisis. And with the mediation of international players, some kind of a middle way would have been found. [Then,] the whole world's attention would have been drawn to the tragedy in Gaza, but the loss of life would have been avoided…"

"How Can I be Proud of a Government Which Gives More Priority to Palestinian Children than to Its Own?"

"How can I be proud of a government which gives more priority to Palestinian children than to its own children? How can I be proud of a government that has not done enough to free children who are in prison for throwing stones? Are they less precious than Palestinian children who throw stones at Israelis?

"How can I be proud of a government who seems to mourn less those killed by the outlawed Kurdistan People's Party, or PKK, than those killed by Israel? Is it because they [i.e., the flotilla activists] have become martyrs? I thought they were going [to Gaza] for humanitarian purposes. Not for jihad.

"Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the Israel's deadly attack 'the 9/11 of Turkey.' He unfortunately makes the same mistake of devaluating concepts. A naval base in Iskenderun was attacked not by a state but by a terrorist organization, the PKK, leaving six soldiers dead. Is it less important?

"Finally, how can I be proud of my government, which makes headlines not with its policies of [diplomatic] engagement but with policies of confrontation?"[3]


[1] The original English has been lightly edited for clarity.

[2] Hurriyet (English edition), Turkey, June 7, 2010.

[3] Hurriyet (English edition), Turkey, June 7, 2010.

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