October 28, 2002

WATERTOWN, MA – The Washington Times today published a Letter to the Editor written by Arin Gregorian, Director of the Armenian National Committee of America, Eastern Region. The letter, edited by the Washington Times staff, was written in response to the October, 28, 2002 opinion-editorial, “Heads up on Turkey,” by former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Mark Parris.

Gregorian’s letter is included below along with the op-ed by Ambassador Parris. For additional information, please contact Vanik Hacobian at 617-923-1918 or at ancaer@anca.org.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots political organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCA actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.



Does U.S. need Turkey, warts and all?

I don’t know whether the United States needs Turkey’s support to win a war against Iraq, as former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Mark Parris claims in “Heads up on Turkey” (Op-Ed, yesterday). What is clear, however, is that one more insider (from the Clinton administration in this case) is critical of the European Union’s decision to hold off on Turkey’s admission as a member. Does Mr. Parris really believe Turkey’s alliance against the global war on terrorism should be rewarded by the world’s turning a blind eye on its continued human rights violations of its own citizens?

The Bush administration boasts of its strong alliance with Turkey but refuses to leverage that relationship to deter Turkey from continuing its vicious pattern of human rights violations. Yet, perhaps Turkey’s admission to the European Union would be less problematic if Turkey chose to implement real human rights reforms. For example, it could end the state-sponsored oppression of its own Kurdish citizens. Perhaps the European Union would be less hesitant to admit Turkey into its ranks if Turkey didn’t defiantly refuse to withdraw from Northern Cyprus. Perhaps Turkey’s admission to the European Union would be more acceptable to the various European countries if Turkey lifted its economic blockade of neighboring Armenia and Karabagh.

Mr. Parris would do more good by advising Turkey to reform its own practices than by trying to persuade readers to ignore the suffering Turkey inflicts on its own people and the economic hardship it inflicts on its neighbors. Turkey’s alliance with the United States should not supercede moral standards of governance.

Director, Eastern Region
Armenian National Committee of America
Watertown, Mass.


Washington Times
October 28, 2002

Heads up on Turkey

Mark R. Parris

It is not yet clear that the United States will use force to remove Saddam Hussein from power. But in discussion of that possibility to date one proposition has never been challenged: You can’t do it without Turkey.

The conventional wisdom here in America is that, much as the Turks dread the prospect of a war next door, their interest in helping to shape post-Saddam Iraq ultimately leaves them no choice but to be cooperative. That is probably true as far as it goes. But there is no room for complacency. Turkey will have a lot on its plate during the period ahead. If we are not paying attention, there could be some unpleasant surprises.

For starters, national elections Nov. 3 will bring a new government to power in Ankara. Polls suggest that the AK Party, formed last year by elements of previously-banned Islamist parties, will either form that government or be the top party in a new coalition. The AK’s skillful efforts to re-badge itself as a center-right, non-religious party have reduced the risk that Turkey’s powerful secular establishment will block its participation in government. But it will probably take until the end of November, and quite possibly longer, before it is clear who will be in charge. (The fact that the AK’s leader, R.T. Erdogan, has been legally disqualified from running for office, further complicates that question.)

During this period, Bulent Ecevit’s badly divided coalition government of three parties, none of which is likely to be represented in parliament after Nov. 3, will remain in a caretaker capacity. That may be significant. Mr. Ecevit was never comfortable even with the Clinton administration’s more nuanced approach toward Iraq; in recent weeks he has grown increasingly outspoken in his criticism of U.S. Iraq policy.

Leaving Iraq aside, Turkey’s new government, if in place by early December, will face as its first order of business an event Turks view as a defining moment: the Dec. 12 Copenhagen EU summit. Having pushed through EU-mandated reforms on hot-button issues like the death penalty and Kurdish language rights, Turks want the Europeans to give them a date for starting negotiations on EU membership. It is not clear the EU will comply.

What is clear is that the summit will start the process of bringing Cyprus into the EU, even in the absence of a settlement among the island’s Greek and Turkish communities. The Ecevit government has in the past threatened annexation of north Cyprus should this occur. Its successor would not necessarily be bound by such statements. But the double-whammy of being denied a date and seeing Cyprus’s own membership cinched would put the new prime minister under enormous popular pressure to respond in ways that could poison relations between Turkey and Europe for years to come and fuel nationalist sentiment at home.

That will, in turn, make it more difficult to handle the third urgent task facing Turkey’s new government – sustaining a fragile economic recovery. IMF-backed reforms (and an injection of tens of billions of new loans) have stabilized Turkey’s economy since a February 2001 financial meltdown, and growth and inflation rates are now moving in the right directions. But unemployment, poverty and consequent popular resentment remain widespread. The IMF and “foreign influence” have during the current election campaign become lightning rods for such resentment, and the AK Party, while pledging to continue the reform program, has raised the possibility of “adjustments.” If the new government yields to popular pressures to relax program requirements, the recovery could be put at risk, along with the IMF’s (and, indirectly, our) $30 billion investment in Turkey.

Add to this daunting agenda an American request to participate in an unpopular war with Iraq, and a legitimate question arises as to whether a new, untried leadership can take the strain. The answer is that it probably can – if the Bush administration has its eye on the ball and is giving that leadership timely, relevant support.

The ground for that can be laid even before we know for sure who will be governing Turkey next. There are indications this is happening. Bush administration efforts to avoid a Turkish-EU train wreck in Copenhagen appear properly to have intensified in recent weeks. Settling the Cyprus dispute by Dec. 12 will be a challenge. But, if the Europeans are prepared to be at all sensible, it should be possible to avoid a situation where the new Turkish government has to respond to being left out in the cold before it has even had a chance to engage on Cyprus and other issues relevant to Turkey’s EU candidacy.

The administration has also made a good start at consulting on Iraq. But only a start. Turks continue to fear the economic consequences of a war and want reassurance we will do more to alleviate those consequences than we did in 1991. And while most Turks believe we are sincere in our commitment to maintain Iraq’s territorial integrity, they do not yet have an adequate understanding of what that means for the area they care most about – predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq. Turkish popular opinion thus remains solidly opposed to U.S. military intervention.

Won’t the Turkish military simply tell the new government to do what we want? Not necessarily. Before the first Gulf War, Turkey’s chief of staff resigned in protest against Turgut Ozal’s advocacy of more extensive Turkish military involvement. Turkey’s current military leadership, when it has spoken at all, has sounded bearish on the prospect of a new war.

With everything else he will have to face in his opening days or weeks in office, therefore, Turkey’s next prime minister is likely to need good, hard answers when asked by a skeptical public (and perhaps some reluctant generals) what Turkey will get for supporting America’s Iraq policy. The Bush administration ought to be sure it can provide those answers, if – or when – they are needed.

Mark R. Parris, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 1997 to 2000, is currently counselor to the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Vanik Hacobian
Armenian National Committee of America
Eastern Region
PO Box 1066, New York, NY 10040
Tel. (917) 428-1918 * Fax. (718) 478-4073 * Email. ancaer@anca.org