December 5, 2003 | Broadcast

This Week: Turkey and the War on Terrorism

Host: Soner Cagaptay, how has the investigation been going in terms of the competence of the Turkish officials? Have they been seen by Turks to be aggressive and capable?

Cagaptay: Well, there was much criticism after the attacks that Turkey may have acted lax in terms of intelligence and security, since apparently the attackers did carry out planning for these attacks for a long time. But I think when we look at the aftermath of the attacks what we see is that the government has acted decisively and in a brisk manner in following up and has actually been able to gather quite an amount of intelligence in deciding who were behind the attacks. And so, I think in this regard they’re moving fast and that should be applauded.

Host: Andrew Apostolou, have people in Turkey been surprised to find the extent to which the suspects appear to be Turks themselves?

Apostolou: Well, it’s not too surprising in the sense that you can find anybody in virtually any country to help you. We had Richard Reid in Britain. He decided to try and kill himself on an airplane. So, it’s not too difficult to recruit people from around the world. There’s a long history of terrorism in Turkey. The difference with this attack is that we have Turkish nationals who have linked up, it would appear, with the international al-Qaida network. And what’s interesting about it is the way in which al-Qaida are now operating as a sort of franchise. The central nervous system of al-Qaida has been very badly damaged by the U-S operations. What appears to be happening, however, is that the cells are operating semi-autonomously in what is often known as a “leaderless” fashion. We had this with extreme right groups in this country and we had it in Britain with the extreme right. These groups just act on their own. They’re sort of amoebae-like they separate off. So it’s not too surprising. I don’t think that’s the real problem. I think the real problem is it’s shaken, to a degree the image of a country that has been largely immune to this form of international Islamist terrorism. However, these people are a margin. I think, as Mr. Cagaptay said, the authorities have responded reasonably well, and what’s more, they have thwarted previous attacks. I think Turkey will deal with this pretty well.

Host: Bulent Aliriza, do you believe it’s shaken at all the image of Turkey?

Aliriza: Well, it’s damaged the relative domestic tranquility that’s been prevailing in Turkey for a long time. And it has brought Turkey into the front lines of the current war against international terrorism. To be fair, although the investigations have gone fairly well, I don’t think that they’ve quite worked out the extent to which the Turks have been able to organize themselves within Turkey. And they have yet to establish, as I said, the precise links with abroad. So, there is always the danger that there may be additional attacks.

Host: How much do you think the government in Turkey will be able to get under control the extent of organization by these groups in Turkey?

Aliriza: Well look, these security lapses were, if not before the first attack, which did come as a surprise, certainly when they should have been on alert before the second attacks. Now, the extent to which the security services can overcome their past differences, can cooperate with each other and can gather the intelligence to prevent future attacks while actually chasing down the accomplices of the people who were involved in the first two attacks, is the first question that needs to be looked at. Secondly, the ability of a government of Islamist origin to deal with terror in the name of Islam. That creates particular problems in Turkey. The ability of this government to deal with that will, I think, put a stamp on the way the Turkish political situation develops.

Host: Soner Cagaptay, what do you think about that, this issue of an Islamic government dealing with terrorism in the name of Islam?

Cagaptay: There’s a big challenge here for Turkey’s new government, the Justice and Development party, also known as A-K-P and most of the Turks who are pretty conservative Muslims when it comes to religious practice. And I think it’s the idea of using the words Islam and terrorism in the same sentence. It’s very difficult for a lot of these people. They just cannot see these two together and rightfully so, because Turkey has never had a tradition of violence in the name of religion. And all of these attacks are, as we said are coordinated by al-Qaida’s global network although they have local accomplices. They definitely masterminded al-Qaida’s [attacks] outside the country. So I think for a lot of Turks, this is a new phenomena and they’re coming to terms with it. And they’re coming to terms in a rather difficult fashion, but I think that it’s up to the government, the A-K-P government to educate the public opinion and to spin in fact the fact that this is violence in the name of Islam, whether or not we like the terms as they are and it’s only up to the majority of the country’s Muslims to stand against, also as well as the A-K-P party to stand against this idea of people hijacking their faith and using Islam in the name of political violence and say that: “That is not alright. That is not how we think Muslims should behave.” And actually condemn the attacks in the name of religion. But first, face that fact that the attacks were carried out in the name of religion.

Host: Andrew Apostolou, what do you think?

Apostolou: Well, there has been some religious violence in the past. There was the attack on the Alevi intellectuals around a decade ago, in which Islamists murdered a number of them who were attending a meeting in a hotel. The Alevi are, depending on your point of view either a non-Muslim or a Muslim heretical sect within Turkey. They’re staunch secularists. There has been violence in the name of Islam and of course we’ve had ethnic violence, we had P-K-K terrorism for twenty years. I think what’s interesting is that you could argue that the fact that it is a party with an Islamic tinge puts it in a better position to take on Islamic terrorists. They are, after all, coming from the same direction, you could argue. At the same time, you know, we shouldn’t be too hard on the security services. You have to look at the way in which Turkey, coordinating with the U-S and the U-K managed very effectively to work against the P-K-K in the past. And effectively close them down. And so, I think that sort of link up and that ability to work with foreign intelligence services, share intelligence and work across borders is going to be very useful. And that experience in the past is going to, I think, come to the floor now.

Host: Bulent Aliriza, the experience in Turkey of terrorism earlier with Kurdish separatist terrorism, are these attacks sort of “old hat” to Turks or are they on a magnitude that is beyond what had been seen before?

Aliriza: They are different, but the Turkish experience being what it is, there are constant references to the earlier experience that Turkey had dealing with separatist terrorism, that pretty much petered out after 1999, when the P-K-K was effectively defeated. What we now have is a different brand of terrorism. The kind of massive truck bombings that were carried out is very different from what the P-K-K used to do. They did not attack Istanbul and Ankara, the main cities, the same way that these attacks in Istanbul took place. This is new to the Turkish system, security services and the government. The other thing is, the Turks did receive some help, particularly from the United States against the P-K-K. Nonetheless, they’re complaining about the way in which they were essentially left alone to deal with the P-K-K and the question of how much to cooperate with the outside world on this issue will be somewhat colored by the lack of cooperation, as they see it, in the past.

Host: Is there any sense that they don’t think they’ll get the cooperation they need in this instance?

Aliriza: Well, I think it would be offered. But, the extent to which Turkey is willing to cooperate fully with those offering help, you know, Washington, London, and I presume Tel Aviv, will be taken, will be determined by the Turkish government in terms of the risks that would come from cooperating to the extent that these governments would want to cooperate with Turkey. Because that would make Turkey more of a target for the international terrorists who have clearly chosen to bring Turkey into the front line.

Host: Soner Cagaptay, is the Turkish government going to accept as much help as the U-S and Britain will want to offer or not?

Cagaptay: Well, I think the initial reaction was that, well, yes of course they’re open to collaboration with foreign intelligence services and then there was some criticism within the country that this was a national issue and why should the Turks allow outsiders to come in and do the intelligence work with the government. But now I think there is, as the investigation goes on and the picture becomes clear that these are the local accomplices that are backed and catapulted into massive actions by al-Qaida support, and as a result of that the threat that Turkey faces is international, I think there’s going to be a consensus that the only way to tackle this is through international cooperation and this is where the foreign governments come in.

Host: Andrew Apostolou, do you think there’ll be complete international cooperation on Turkey?

Apostolou: There’s never complete international cooperation on anything unfortunately and that’s part of the problem. But, no, Turkey is tied in to the structure of NATO and you’ll remember last year that Turkish troops did a really good job in Afghanistan in ISAF. It’s a shame they’re not still there, frankly. And we do have the structure of cooperation. There is intelligence sharing. So, whatever is in the headlines, and people in the opinion columns can sort of get a little bit upset that, you know, “foreigners are going to come and help us.” But, the reality is, we need Turkish help in Afghanistan. The U-S can give Turkey help. Britain can give Turkey help. Turkey can give us help. So it’s going to be a two-way street, I think. And a lot of it, obviously, will be off the record and this sort of thing. But the key thing is to actually tie this into the broader alliance. And this is where the European angle, I think, is very interesting, because the initial reaction from Brussels, frankly, was outrageous.

Host: What was that reaction?

Apostolou: Well, it was just “well, nothing’s changed.” Well, excuse me, I think quite a lot’s changed.

Host: Do you mean with reference to Turkey’s E-U membership?

Apostolou: Turkey’s E-U membership. The idea was, well, nothing’s changed. They just have to carry on and observe all the criteria and whatever. Well we know that. That’s obvious. It’s a given. But the point is, this is a very important country that is going to be an E-U member within the next ten to fifteen years. It is vital that it becomes an E-U member. We’ve got to show that we’re as interested in getting Turkey in as we were in getting Poland in. And unfortunately, Brussels is not terribly good at doing that. And we saw some really outrageous, in my view, noises coming from Christian democrats in Germany saying “Oh well, this shows that Turkey shouldn’t be in the E-U because there’s been this Islamist bombing.” Well, one could also argue that the fact that Mohamed Atta planned September 11th from a dormitory in Hamburg shows that Germany shouldn’t be in the E-U. It’s a ridiculous response.

Host: Bulent Aliriza, Jack Straw, the foreign minister of Britain, after the bombing, said that if anything this shows that we should accelerate the effort to bring Turkey into the E-U, to give them more support and to solidify those relationships. Do you think there’s any chance that that will be the impact of the attacks?

Aliriza: I think that was the initial reaction and that was understandable sympathy that took the form of supporting Turkey’s desire to join the European Union. I think, I tend to be a skeptic on this issue. There are lots and lots of reasons, including the Cyprus problem, why it’s going to be difficult for Turkey to proceed to accession negotiations and full membership in the next decade.

Host: Do you think those problems are primarily with the nature of the demands in the E-U or with whether Turkey will be willing to meet the conditions that have already been on the table?

Aliriza: Well, it’s a complicated story. I mean, the Copenhagen political criteria, Turkey has moved a long way to satisfying those. But the fact is that the Greek Cypriot government in Cyprus is going to be admitted in the name of the entire island. The island is divided. If there’s no settlement by May 1st, it is very unlikely that the European Union is actually going to give a date for accession negotiations in December 2004. Beyond that, Turkey’s a huge country with serious economic problems and it will be very difficult for the E-U to absorb Turkey. So therefore when we look at the initial reactions, we have to weigh that against the very real problems that Turkish membership brings. And the fact that there are bombs going off in Turkey provides additional evidence for those who are looking for it why Turkey should not be allowed into the E-U in the near future.

Host: Soner Cagaptay, are these terrorist acts going to have more of an impact or will it really be these issues, economic issues of Turkey’s entrance into the E-U or political issues over Cyprus that are going to determine things?

Cagaptay: Ideally, I think the attacks should act as a catalyst for the Europeans to see the wisdom of taking Turkey into the union. And since this is a predominantly Muslim, yet secular and democratic nation. But I don’t think that’s how the Europeans, or let’s say the Eurocrats look at Turkey. I doubt that they actually look at the larger picture when they look at Turkish accession. It’s very hardly in their mind that this is about anchoring a Muslim democratic country in the Western world or in the continent. Rather, when they look at Turkey, what they see is the difficulty of accepting a country of seventy-million people, the financial difficulty of successfully incorporating this country into the European structure, funding Turkey for infrastructural development. The idea of taking Turkey in and giving it a political say in relation to Turkey’s population, those are very difficult issues for the Europeans and I don’t think they have resolved those issues. And as a result of that, I don’t the attacks will make a monumental change in the way the E-U views Turkey, because in the minds of those people who sit in Brussels, it’s not about a strategic picture. It’s about assets. It’s about liabilities. And it’s really about the cost and benefit analysis of Turkish membership.

Host: Andrew Apostolou, is it a cost-benefit analysis in Brussels? Apostolou: Well, unfortunately for the people in the European commission it is, but remember the member states are very divided on this. I mean, Tony Blair has twice, in major speeches this year said that he wants Turkey in the E-U and that it will be epoch-making when this country joins. And now remember, Tony Blair has every reason to be very, very unhappy with Turkey. Turkey barred British troops from going through into Iraq in March, not just American ones. And, you know, frankly in London, that was seen as a bit of a stab in the back for a rather long and good relationship. But he’s turned around and said, “You know what? Fair enough. We’ve had our differences. Maybe it wasn’t so bad that Turkey didn’t go into Iraq in the end anyway.” But we do need this country in the E-U now. If the French and the Germans are too narrow-minded strategically not understand that, then that is going to be their problem. Because remember, they are now a minority in the E-U as of next May when the E-U expands to include the East European states and you will have a majority within the E-U that has a pro-American view, and a majority, I believe, that will take the more enlightened view toward Turkey. But with regard to the Turkish economy, let’s remember that they are making progress on inflation. They are starting to do some good work with the I-M-F and it’s interesting that it’s a government which came into power last year without really much of an economic program beyond what had been scribbled on the back of an envelope. That has actually done quite a few good things, and has started to address the issues that for ten years after Turgut Ozal died were just left to drift. So, my feeling is that, you know, if Turkey can get inflation down to say, twenty-percent at the end of this year. I think they’re going to start motoring. I think we’ll start to see the country coming towards the sort of progress and reform and structural change that has propelled Poland toward the E-U. There’s no reason why, I mean, let’s face it, if Romania and Bulgaria can get into the E-U why on earth can’t Turkey?

Host: Bulent Aliriza, perhaps you can answer that question. If Romania and Bulgaria are in the E-U, why not Turkey?

Aliriza: Well, you know, once the E-U expands, the new members will have even less incentive than the existing members to actually share the goodies that they’re going to be presented with, with a country of seventy million [people] which is going to be demanding those things immediately if it goes in. Beyond that, I think, what we’re in danger of seeing is the kind of confrontation that does damage the economy. Already there is an impact on Turkish tourism. The confrontation between the security services and the terrorists, is what I’m talking about. And the Turkish recovery is real, but whether it’s going to be sustained will be determined to some extent by the reality of the terrorist threats. I mean, hopefully it will not happen, but two more bombs exploding in Istanbul and we need to go back to the drawing board, I think, with respect to the economic recovery. The current situation is one [where], I think, the economic recovery can be continued with the terrorist threat. Additional attacks and a revival of the P-K-K separatist terrorism, would, I think do substantial damage to the Turkish economy.

Host: Soner Cagaptay, how have both these issues we’ve been talking about, the issue of E-U membership and the issue of terrorism, how have they affected the domestic political situation in Turkey? Are people more or less committed to the notion of modernization and Westernization in Turkey with regard to the E-U and with the terrorist attacks?

Cagaptay: Good question. Well, I think on the issue of E-U accession, Turkey’s going through a phase that all countries have gone through in the initial phases of their aspirations to join the E-U and there’s a great amount of Euphoria. There’s a belief that this is the best thing that can happen to Turkey, just as that was the case for Eastern Europe before they started the accession talks and they saw the reality of the E-U accession, which is that it’s about benefits but also sacrifices. But Turkey’s not there yet, so I think this idea is still very popular. But to the question of to what extent the attacks have shaped this process, I think the attacks have started a debate in Turkey. And this debate is: “Why are we the target?” Are we targeted because we are a pro-European and Westernized nation that has good connections with the Western world. Or are we targeted for what we’re doing in Iraq or what we’re not doing in Iraq or because of our relationship with the United States. And here I think there are people who say clearly, what can we do to avoid further attacks? And there I think, of course there will be a debate in Turkey that there’s one way for Turkey to avoid attacks, that’s to do what al-Qaida does not want Turkey to do, exactly being part of the Western world and all of that. But you know, I think in the end, these are not really going to take Turkey off al-Qaida’s target list because al-Qaida is not attacking Turkey for what it’s done. It’s attacking Turkey for what it is. And unless Turkey can fundamentally give up everything that it has, it will never be off the target list. So I think the way out for Turkey is an effective crackdown on al-Qaida’s network within the country and that collaboration with foreign countries, other countries, to crack down on its international backbone, which is really the driving machinery behind the attacks.

Aliriza: Can I pick that up?

Host: Bulent Aliriza.

Aliriza: You talked about Westernization and modernization. The Turkish model is one in which a country, which is ninety-nine percent Muslim, but nonetheless committed to Westernization and modernization actually offers a successful example of a synthesis between these two forces which let us admit, in the current global situation, are at war. People in the name of Islam are attacking the West and friends of the West in the Middle East and the Islamic world. If the Turkish model survives and thrives and is able to defeat this terrorist threat, then it will do wonders in the global conflict. If not, then I’m afraid it’s back to the drawing board as to how to get out of the current situation.

Host: I’m afraid that’s going to have to be the last word for today, we’re out of time. But I’d like to thank my guests: Bulent Aliriza, of the Center for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Andrew Apostolou of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Before we go, I’d like to invite you to send us your questions or comments. You can e-mail them to [email protected] For On the Line, I’m Eric Felten.