ANKARA, Turkey (A.W.)—In a report about Erdogan and the AK Party after two years in power, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman notes that the study of history in the country is subject to “to rigid taboos, denial, fears, and mandatory gross distortions,” noting that without facing its past, Turkey cannot take on the challenge of becoming an EU member. “Until Turkey can reconcile itself to its past, including the troubling aspects of its Ottoman past, in free and open debate, how will Turkey reconcile itself to the concept and practice of reconciliation in the EU?” he says.
Edelman notes that “the study of history and practice of historiography in the Republic of Turkey remind one of an old Soviet academic joke: the faculty party chief assembles his party cadres and, warning against various ideological threats, proclaims, ‘The future is certain. It’s only that damned past that keeps changing.'”
The most significant of Turkey’s denials and “mandatory gross distortions” pertains to the Armenian Genocide. Official Ankara continues to vehemently deny that there was any genocidal intent towards the Armenians in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and spends millions of dollars in its denial campaign—lobbying politicians, enticing support from journalists, funding academic denial efforts, suppressing education efforts on the Armenian Genocide, and presenting denial assertions to the general public in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. At home, Turkish scholars and journalists who write about the importance of recognizing the Armenian Genocide risk harassment and prosecution.
Mentioning the AK Party’s “tentative” and meager efforts in dealing with history straightforwardly, Edelman notes that “the road ahead will require a massive overhaul of education, the introduction and acceptance of rule of law, and a fundamental redefinition of the relation between citizen and state.”
Below is the full text of the report.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 ANKARA 007211 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2029 TAGS: PREL PGOV PINS ECON TU SUBJECT: ERDOGAN AND AK PARTY AFTER TWO YEARS IN POWER: TRYING TO GET A GRIP ON THEMSELVES, ON TURKEY, ON EUROPE (U) Classified by Ambassador Eric Edelman; reasons: E.O. 12958 1.4 (a,b,c,d). ¶1. (C) Summary: PM Erdogan and his ruling AK Party seem to have a firm grip on power -- if for no other reasons that there is currently no viable alternative and inertia weighs heavily in politics. Nevertheless, Erdogan and his party face enormous challenges if they are successfully to embrace core principles of open society, carry out EU harmonization, and develop and implement foreign policies in harmony with core U.S. interests. End summary. ¶2. (C) As PM Erdogan strode through the EU corridors of power Dec. 16-17 with his semi-pro soccer player's swagger and phalanx of sycophantic advisors, he may have seemed a strong candidate for European leader of the year. A regional leader to be reckoned with for a decade to come. The man who won Turkey the beginning of accession negotiations with the EU. Who broke loose three decades of frozen Turkish policy on Cyprus. Who drove major human rights reforms through parliament and through constitutional amendments. Whose rhetorical skill, while etched with populist victimhood, is redolent with traditional and religious allusions that resonate deeply in the heartland, deeply in the anonymous exurban sprawls. Who remains the highly popular tribune of the people, without a viable or discernible political rival...outside his own ruling AKP. ¶3. (C) In short, Erdogan looks unbeatable. But is he? And is he willing to give relations with the U.S. the leadership and momentum they need from the Turkish side? ¶4. (C) Erdogan has a two-thirds majority in parliament. Main opposition left-of-center CHP amounts to no more than a bunch of elitist ankle-biters. There is currently no serious, broad-based political alternative, owing to Erdogan's rhetorical dominance and control of the debate on social questions close to the hearts of the center-right majority in Turkey; other party leaders' political bankruptcy; and the stultifying effect of current party and election laws on entry for younger, untainted political aspirants. AKP argues that the economy, at least from the perspective of macro indicators and continued willingness of emerging-market portfolio investors to buy the expectations and sell the facts, appears to have stabilized. Moreover, the authority of AKP's nationwide party machine is blurring with the Turkish State's executive power at the provincial and district level and with municipal functions to an extent not seen since the days of the one-party state. These factors seem set to continue for the foreseeable future. ¶5. (C) Yet Erdogan and AKP face politically fateful challenges in three areas: foreign policy (EU, Iraq, Cyprus); quality and sustainability of leadership and governance; and resolution of questions fundamental to creation of an open, prosperous society integrated with the broader world (place of religion; identity and history; rule of law). EU -- ¶6. (U) Erdogan indexed his political survival to getting a negotiation date from the EU. He achieved that goal. The Wall Street Journal and other Western and Turkish media have opined that the EU owes Turkey a fair negotiating process leading to accession, with the Journal even putting the onus on the EU by asserting that while Turkey is ready the question is whether Europeans are ready for Turkey. ¶7. (C) But there's always a Monday morning and the debate on the ground here is not so neat. With euphoria at getting a date having faded in 48 hours, Erdogan's political survival and the difficulty of the tasks before him have become substantially clearer. Nationalists on right and left have resumed accusations that Erdogan sold out Turkish national interests (Cyprus) and Turkish traditions. Core institutions of the Turkish state, which remain at best wary of AKP, have once again begun to probe for weaknesses and to feed insinuations into the press in parallel with the nationalists' assertions. In the face of this Euro-aversion, neither Erdogan nor his government has taken even minimal steps to prepare the bureaucracy or public opinion to begin tackling the fundamental -- some Turks would say insidious -- legal, social, intellectual and spiritual changes that must occur to turn harmonization on paper into true reform. The road ahead will surely be hard. ¶8. (U) High-profile naysayers like main opposition CHP chairman Baykal, former Ambassador Gunduz Aktan, and political scientist Hasan Unal continue to castigate Erdogan. But theirs is a routine whine. More significant for us is that many of our contacts cloak their lack of self-confidence at Turkey's ability to join in expressions of skepticism that the EU will let Turkey in. And there is parallel widespread skepticism that the EU will be around in attractive form in ten years. ¶9. (C) The mood in AKP is no brighter, with one of FonMin Gul's MFA advisors having described to UK polcounselor how bruised Turkey feels at the EU's inconsistency during the final negotiations leading to Dec. 17 (EU diplomats in Ankara have given us the other side of the story). Gul was noticeably harder-line than Erdogan in public comments in the lead-up to the Summit, and was harder-line in pre-Summit negotiations in Brussels, according to UK polcounselor. There was noticeable tension between Erdogan and Gul in Brussels according to "Aksam" Ankara bureau chief Nuray Basaran. She also noted to us that when negotiations seemed to have frozen up on Dec. 17, Erdogan's advisors got phone calls from Putin advisors urging Turkey to walk. Basaran says that at least some of Erdogan's advisors urged him to do so. ¶10. (C) AKP's lack of cohesion as a party and lack of openness as a government is reflected in the range of murky, muddled motives for wanting to join the EU we have encountered among those AKPers who say they favor pursuing membership...or at least the process. Some see the process as the way to marginalize the Turkish military and what remains of the arid "secularism" of Kemalism. We have also run into the rarely openly-spoken, but widespread belief among adherents of the Turk-Islam synthesis that Turkey's role is to spread Islam in Europe, "to take back Andalusia and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683" as one participant in a recent meeting at AKP's main think tank put it. This thinking parallels the logic behind the approach of FonMin Gul ally and chief foreign policy advisor in the Prime Ministry Ahmet Davutoglu, whose muddy opinion piece in the Dec. 13 International Herald Tribune is in essence a call for one-way multi-cultural tolerance, i.e., on the part of the EU. ¶11. (C) Those from the more overtly religious side of AKP whinge that the EU is a Christian club. While some assert that it is only through Turkish membership and spread of Turkish values that the world can avoid the clash of civilizations they allege the West is fomenting, others express concern that harmonization and membership will water down Islam and associated traditions in Turkey. Indeed, as AKP whip Sadullah Ergin confided to us recently, "If the EU says yes, everything will look rosy for a short while. Then the real difficulties will start for AKP. If the EU says no, it will be initially difficult, but much easier over the long run." ¶12. (C) AKP also faces the nuts-and-bolts issue of how to prepare for harmonization. In choosing a chief negotiator Erdogan will need to decide whether the risks that the man he taps will successfully steal his political limelight outweigh the political challenge his choice will face since it will be the Turkish chief negotiator's responsibility to sell the EU position to a recalcitrant Turkish cabinet. It is because the chief negotiator is likely to be ground down between EU demands and a prickly domestic environment that some observers speculate Erdogan might give the job to his chief internal rival Gul. ¶13. (C) At the same time the government must reportedly hire a couple thousand people skilled in English or other major EU languages and up to the bureaucratic demands of interfacing with the Eurocrats who descend on ministries as harmonization starts. If the government continues to hire on the basis of "one of us", i.e., from the Sunni brotherhood and lodge milieu that has been serving as the pool for AKP's civil service hiring, lack of competence will be a problem. If the government hires on the base of competence, its new hires will be frustrated by the incompetence of AKP's previous hires at all levels. Questions About AKP Leadership and Governance --------------------------------------------- ¶14. (C) Several factors will continue to degrade Erdogan's and AKP's ability to effect fair and lasting reforms or to take timely, positive decisions on issues of importance to the U.S. ¶15. (C) First is Erdogan's character. ¶16. (C) In our contacts in Anatolia we have not yet detected that Erdogan's hunger for absolute power and for the material benefits of power have begun to erode his grassroots popularity. Others disagree. Pollster and political analyst Ismail Yildiz has asserted in three lengthy expositions to us late in Dec. that the erosion has started. We note that (1) Yildiz expressed frustration to us that the AKP leadership did not respond to his offer to provide political strategy services; (2) he is currently connected to mainstream opposition figures; and (3) he also runs a conspiracy-theory web site. So we treat his view cautiously. However, judging by his references and past experience in the Turkish State, he appears to have maintained conncetions with the State apparatus and to have a network of observers and data collectors in all 81 provinces. ¶17. (C) Inside the party, Erdogan's hunger for power reveals itself in a sharp authoritarian style and deep distrust of others: as a former spiritual advisor to Erdogan and his wife Emine put it, "Tayyip Bey believes in God...but doesn't trust him." In surrounding himself with an iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors, Erdogan has isolated himself from a flow of reliable information, which partially explains his failure to understand the context -- or real facts -- of the U.S. operations in Tel Afar, Fallujah, and elsewhere and his susceptibility to Islamist theories. With regard to Islamist influences on Erdogan, DefMin Gonul, who is a conservative but worldly Muslim, recently described Gul associate Davutoglu to us as "exceptionally dangerous." Erdogan's other foreign policy advisors (Cuneyd Zapsu, Egemen Bagis, Omer Celik, along with Mucahit Arslan and chef de cabinet Hikmet Bulduk) are despised as inadequate, out of touch and corrupt by all our AKP contacts from ministers to MPs and party intellectuals. ¶18. (C) Erdogan's pragmatism serves him well but he lacks vision. He and his principal AKP advisors, as well as FonMin Gul and other ranking AKP officials, also lack analytic depth. He relies on poor-quality intel and on media disinformation. With the narrow world-view and wariness that lingers from his Sunni brotherhood and lodge background, he ducks his public relations responsibilities. He (and those around him, including FonMin Gul) indulge in pronounced pro-Sunni prejudices and in emotional reactions that prevent the development of coherent, practical domestic or foreign policies. ¶19. (C) Erdogan has compounded his isolation by constantly traveling abroad -- reportedly 75 foreign trips in the past two years -- with a new series of trips planned for 2005 to Russia, "Eurasia", the Middle East and Africa. Indeed, his staff says 2005 is the "year of Africa", but they provide no coherent reason why. This grueling cycle of travel has exhausted him and his staff and disrupted his ability to keep his hand on the tiller of party, parliamentary group, and government. He has alienated many in the AKP parliamentary group by his habit of harshly chewing out MPs. Moreover, we understand that MUSIAD, an Anatolia-wide group of businessmen influential in Islamist circles who gave Erdogan key financial support as AKP campaigned prior to the 2002 elections, is disaffected by Erdogan's unapproachability. Judging by comments to us of insiders in the influential Islamist lodge of Fethullah Gulen such as publicist Abdurrahman Celik, the lodge, which has made some inroads into AKP (Minister of Justice Cicek, Minister of Culture and Tourism Mumcu; perhaps 60-80 of 368 MPs; some appointments to the bureaucracy), has resumed the ambivalent attitude it initially had toward Erdogan and AKP. ¶20. (C) Second is the coalition nature of AKP, the limited number of ministers whom Erdogan trusts, and the efforts of some -- principally FonMin Gul but from time to time Cicek -- to undermine Erdogan. No one else in AKP comes close to Erdogan in grassroots popularity. However, Gul's readiness to deprecate Erdogan within AKP and even to foreign visitors (e.g., Israeli deputy PM Olmert) and his efforts to reduce Erdogan's maneuvering room with hard-line criticisms of U.S. policy in Iraq or EU policy on Cyprus have forced Erdogan constantly to look over his shoulder and in turn to prove his credentials by making statements inimical to good U.S.-Turkish relations. We expect Erdogan to carry out a partial cabinet reshuffle early in 2005, but he will be unable to remove the influence of Gul. ¶21. (S) Third is corruption. AKP swept to power by promising to root out corruption. However, in increasing numbers AKPers from ministers on down, and people close to the party, are telling us of conflicts of interest or serious corruption in the party at the national, provincial and local level and among close family members of ministers. We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame. ¶22. (S) Among the many figures mentioned to us as prominently involved in corruption are Minister of Interior Aksu, Minister of Foreign Trade Tuzmen, and AKP Istanbul provincial chairman Muezzinoglu. As we understand it from a contact in the intel directorate of Turkish National Police, a continuing investigation into Muezzinoglu's extortion racket and other activities has already produced evidence incriminating Erdogan. In our contacts across Anatolia we have detected no willingness yet at the grassroots level to look closely at Erdogan or the party in this regard, but the trend is a time bomb. ¶23. (S) Fourth is the poor quality of Erdogan's and AKP's appointments to the Turkish bureaucracy, at party headquarters, and as party mayoral candidates. A broad range of senior career civil servants, including DefMin Gonul, former Undersecretary of Customs Nevzat Saygilioglu, former Forestry DirGen Abdurrahman Sagkaya, and many others, has expressed shock and dismay to us at the incompetence, prejudices and ignorance of appointees such as Omer Dincer, an Islamist academic whom Erdogan appointed Undersecretary of the Prime Ministry, THE key position in the government/state bureaucracy. Dincer is despised by the TGS. Many interlocutors also point to the weakness of Erdogan's deputy party chairmen. The result is that, unlike former leaders such as Turgut Ozal or Suleyman Demirel, both of whom appointed skilled figures who could speak authoritatively for their bosses as their party general secretary and as Undersecretary of the Prime Ministry, Erdogan has left himself without people who can relieve him of the burden of day-to-day management or who can ensure effective, productive channels to the heart of the party and the heart of the Turkish state. Two Big Questions ----------------- ¶24. (C) Turkey's EU bid has brought forth reams of pronouncements and articles -- Mustafa Akyol's Gulenist-tinged "Thanksgiving for Turkey" in Dec. 27 Weekly Standard is one of the latest -- attempting to portray Islam in Turkey as distinctively moderate and tolerant with a strong mystical (Sufi) underpinning. Certainly, one can see in Turkey's theology faculties some attempts to wrestle with the problems of critical thinking, free will, and precedent (ictihad), attempts which, compared to what goes on in theology faculties in the Arab world, may appear relatively progressive. ¶25. (C) However, the broad, rubber-meets-the-road reality is that Islam in Turkey is caught in a vise of (1) 100 years of "secular" pressure to hide itself from public view, (2) pressure and competition from brotherhoods and lodges to follow their narrow, occult "true way", and (3) the faction- and positivism-ridden aridity of the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet). As a result, Islam as it is lived in Turkey is stultified, riddled with hypocrisy, ignorant and intolerant of other religions' presence in Turkey, and unable to eject those who would politicize it in a radical, anti-Western way. Imams are for the most part poorly educated and all too ready to insinuate anti-Western, anti-Christian or anti-Jewish sentiments into their sermons. Exceptionally few Muslims in Turkey have the courage to challenge conventional Sunni thinking about jihad or, e.g., verses in the Repentance shura of the Koran which have for so long been used to justify violence against "infidels". ¶26. (C) The problem is compounded by the willingness of politicians such as Gul to play elusively with politicized Islam. Until Turkey ensures that the humanist strain in Islam prevails here, Islam in Turkey will remain a troubled, defensive force, hypocritical to an extreme degree and unwilling to adapt to the challenges of open society. ¶27. (C) A second question is the relation of Turkey and its citizens to history -- the history of this land and citizens' individual history. Subject to rigid taboos, denial, fears, and mandatory gross distortions, the study of history and practice of historiography in the Republic of Turkey remind one of an old Soviet academic joke: the faculty party chief assembles his party cadres and, warning against various ideological threats, proclaims, "The future is certain. It's only that damned past that keeps changing." ¶28. (C) Until Turkey can reconcile itself to its past, including the troubling aspects of its Ottoman past, in free and open debate, how will Turkey reconcile itself to the concept and practice of reconciliation in the EU? How will it have the self confidence to take decisions and formulate policies responsive to U.S. interests? Some in AKP are joining what is still only a handful of others to take tentative, but nonetheless inspiring, steps in this regard. However, the road ahead will require a massive overhaul of education, the introduction and acceptance of rule of law, and a fundamental redefinition of the relation between citizen and state. In the words of the great (Alevi) Anatolian bard Asik Veysel, this is a "long and delicate road." ¶29. (U) Baghdad minimize considered. EDELMAN