WikiLeaks about Turkey: not much that is strange or startling
HDN | 11/29/2010 12:00:00 AM | SEMİH İDİZ
The WikiLeaks documents may provide interesting and entertaining reading about Turkey, and may be upsetting for some people in the government, but they are not of “historic" caliber.
The massive leak of classified U.S. diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks reminds one of a man on a roof who has emptied out his bag containing a million dollars, with the resulting boon for passers by below. In this case the boon is for journalists, who could not have imagined getting access to hundreds of thousands of secret papers in this way.
Reading the classified U.S. diplomatic dispatches on Turkey from a foreign policy perspective however, there is little in fact that strikes someone who has been involved with diplomatic circles in Ankara and abroad, almost on a daily basis for the past 25 years, that is unexpectedly strange or startling.
We are not referring here of course to the tabs Washington apparently kept on corruption allegations concerning the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. That has more to do with domestic politics which is different area to what we are touching on.
Put another way, this is not like the situation when the Bolsheviks released classified Russian documents in 1918 which proved to the world how double-dealing France and Britain were, not just against Turkey, but against each other and other allies – a fact that ultimately helped Turkey win its war of liberation.
Those documents did have “historic consequences.” The documents now may provide interesting and entertaining reading on Turkey, and may be very upsetting for some people in the government, but they are not of “historic” caliber.
As for the frank and direct language in the cables, this may be something of a novelty for the layman, but the language in the diplomatic dispatches from Turkish embassies abroad – or any embassy for that matter - is probably not much different.
What these leaked cables have done, on the other hand, is confirm what has been talked about or speculated about on the basis of factual information or “educated guessing” among diplomats and diplomatic observers in Ankara for some time. Take for example the distaste that Azeri President İham Aliyev is said to have expressed about the Erdoğan government in one of the cables:
“Unprompted…Aliyev spelled out the reasons Azerbaijan decided to sell gas to Russia last year…(T)he real reason, Aliyev confided, was that the sale illustrated to ‘our Turkish friends’ that they will not be allowed to create a gas distribution hub. Aliyev made clear his distaste for the Erdoğan government in Turkey, underscoring the ‘naiveté’ of their foreign policy and the failure of their initiatives, including the loss of support for Turkey among traditional international friends because of Ankara’s hostility to Israel.”
These remarks attributed to the Azeri leader will come as no surprise to those who have been following Turkish-Azeri ties over the past year or so. It should also not be too hard to guess the kind of language in Turkish diplomatic dispatches about Aliyev, especially after he effective scuttled the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation efforts, and tried in some instances to undermine the importance of the Nabucco pipeline project, though which Turkey and Europe hope to reduce the energy dependence on Russia.
On the other hand, if the report by the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, which came out before the massive leak by WikiLeaks and which maintained that U.S. cables show how Turkey helped al-Qaeda, while the U.S. helped Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, terrorists, is corroborated, then this would indeed be a scoop. Thus far this is not an issue that has been concentrated on by the media in any serious way, which means the Al-Hayat story is either based on misinformation, or the relevant cable or cables have not been located yet.
In the meantime even a cursory analysis of the information in the leaked dispatches shows how the Erdoğan government is isolated in the Middle East on the topic of Iran – a fact which when highlighted always upsets government circles, as well as anti-Western Islamists in Turkey. This fact is particularly significant against the backdrop of the efforts by the Erdoğan government to pump up the notion of Ankara’s rising political influence in the region.
For Turkey to have the kind of influence in the Middle East the government claims it does it would have to be more on par with the established regimes there, which will most probably not happen in the political lifetime of Prime Minister Erdoğan or Foreign Minister Davutoğlu.
These regimes are obviously not very happy about the support Ankara has been providing Iran, whose leader they clearly despise, judging by the leaked dispatches. It is not hard to guess from the information in the released cables the AKP government’s cozying up to Hamas and Hezbollah is not something that is gaining it much support among the established regimes in the region either, not to mention a “brotherly country” like Azerbaijan.
As was said above, none of this is major news for those who have been following these topics closely. It is good however that the public will have a better understanding as a result of the leaked cables as to where Turkey really stands in terms of its foreign policy towards the region. No doubt this will also provide much ammunition for the opposition at a time when the country is preparing for general elections 6 months for now.
Looked at from this point of view, it is clear that this development is a potential disaster for Prime Minister Erdoğan and his party. It is also clear the talks Foreign Minister Davutoglu is holding in Washington at the moment will be overshadowed by the information in the leaked U.S. dispatches, especially those from Ankara.
Turkish-U.S. ties are strained enough as it is, and it remains to be seen if the leaks will make the situation better or worse in the coming days. What is clear, however, is that the Erdoğan government and the U.S. administration apparently have many reasons to dislike each other, and on this score the cat is now out of the bag.