October 14, 2011 | Haaretz

Speaking of Apologies …

Turkey practices state-sanctioned genocide denial and prosecutes those who dare challenge it.

Buried somewhere in the middle of the “Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident” (the Palmer Report ) is a small detail that is bound to inconvenience Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his desire to break Israel's Gaza blockade by deploying the Turkish Navy: “the absence of significant port facilities in Gaza.”

Mr. Erdogan has dismissed the legal substance of the Palmer Report as null and void, and vowed to ecstatic crowds across North Africa that Turkey will break the blockade, even at the cost of sending the Turkish Navy to escort future flotillas. But, as the Palmer Report continues:

“The only vessels that can be handled in Gaza appear to be small fishing vessels. This means that the prospect of delivering significant supplies to Gaza by sea is very low. Indeed, such supplies were not entering by sea prior to the blockade … Smuggling weapons by sea is one thing; delivering bulky food and other goods to supply a population of approximately 1.5 million people is another. Such facts militate against a finding that the naval blockade itself has a significant humanitarian impact.”

Given the dearth of facilities in Gaza, then, Mr. Erdogan may just have a fishing expedition in mind – or a bootlegging job. But the extravagantly expensive use of warships to catch a lobster does not appear to concern him: “We don't care if it costs $15 million or $150 million. We will not allow anyone to walk all over our honor,” Erdogan recently told reporters.

In fact, Erdogan's foreign minister rebuffed American attempts to mediate by saying that “no one should test our resolve on this matter.” Test or testosterone, it increasingly appears as if Mr. Erdogan will be rattling his fishing rods and sharpening his fishing hooks until the inevitable showdown. He recently told adoring fans from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood that the flotilla incident in itself was cause for war. The fact that Ankara has refrained from exacting revenge is because of a desire to preserve “Turkey's grandeur.” But even grandeur apparently has limits – since, as Erdogan helpfully noted, Israel is acting like a “spoiled child.”

So here we are – the grandeur of Turkey, which its humble prime minister blushingly extols to an adoring crowd of Islamist misogynists, pitted against Israel's spoiled childishness.

And all it would take, apparently, for Israel to avoid all the reckoning that a spoiled child sooner or later gets is to lift the blockade, pay compensation to the families of victims of the Israeli raid on the flotilla and issue an apology that Turkey could not reject – which, judging from Ankara's conciliatory language, cannot amount to much more than an act of surrender and submission. Considering that Israel has already agreed to pay compensation, that the Palmer Report only calls for Israel to express regrets (which it has already done ), and that the blockade is both a legal and effective method of limiting the flow of arms into Gaza (per the Palmer Report ) – what's surrender and submission, between us?

Speaking of apologies, Turkey ranks 138 in the 2010 Reporters without Borders Freedom index for press freedom. How about releasing those 61 journalists that are still rotting in Turkey's jails? How about apologizing to them? Or maybe their jail terms are the price one pays for Turkey's grandeur (or Erdogan's, at least ).

No matter – that's the least Turkey should apologize for.

Turkey continues to practice state-sanctioned genocide denial and prosecutes those who dare challenge it. Isn't it time, 90-something years after the Ottoman Empire eliminated as many as 1.5 million Armenians, that Mr. Erdogan's “mildly Islamist” party, as The Economist leniently defines it, acknowledges Turkey's dark past and apologizes on behalf of its country's crimes?

Not to belabor the point, but the list of things Turkey should apologize for is long. It continues to illegally occupy Northern Cyprus, the territory of a European Union member, after having conquered the land through an act of aggression that ended in ethnic cleansing and illegal settlements. No apology there so far – in fact, Turkey has just threatened to freeze ties with the EU if Cyprus receives the Union's rotating presidency next year, as it is supposed to. Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan is directing his gunboat diplomacy threats at Cyprus as well – as if occupation, ethnic cleansing and the creation of a fictitiously independent republic in the northern part of the island were not enough.

Turkey also denies basic group rights to millions of its Kurdish citizens, discriminating against them because of their linguistic and ethnic differences. It violates the sovereignty of its neighbors by conducting ruthless cross-border raids with impunity. It has not made a name for itself in the human rights department when it comes to its fight against PKK terrorists.

Moral of the story: If you behave like a bull, you should not live in a china shop. And if you live in a glass house, think twice before you throw stones at your neighbors. Mr. Erdogan wants an apology? How about starting with one?

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of the newly published “The Pasdaran: Inside Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards' Corps” (FDD Press ).


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