Turkey’s spy games

Turkey’s spy games

The hottest topic in Turkish media these days is the debate around Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Agency, or the MİT using the Turkish abbreviation. A couple of articles in the American media launched a controversy here at home, as the critics and defenders of Hakan Fidan got into a heated discussion about the man who directs the Turkish equivalent of the CIA. 

First of all, I should note there are many known unknowns and unknown unknowns for me in this controversy. I do not know whether Hakan Fidan really exposed Israeli spies in Iran to Iranian authorities at a time when Ankara had warmer ties with Tehran, to further advance that connection. (This is the juiciest allegation.) I also do not know why some Turkish writers have been unusually critical about Fidan in the past few years. 

What I know is that Hakan Fidan has done a really good job so far regarding the “peace process” between the Turkish government and the PKK, the separatist guerilla/terrorist group that has been Turkey’s main headache since the early 80’s. The conversations between Fidan and PKK leaders, including the supreme leader, the jailed Abdullah Öcalan, which was somehow leaked to the press, gave me the impression of a reasonable, sophisticated man who was trying to end Turkey’s longtime nightmare. Despite the accusations he received from the ultra-nationalists, such as that he was “selling the homeland,” what I saw there was a patriotic effort. 

As for ties for Iran, for which Fidan is blamed, it would be preposterous to imagine that Fidan might have been “serving” Iran, as some critics have implied. As the head of the Turkish MİT, he must have been serving Turkey of course. No wonder that it has been Turkey’s policy to reach out to Iran --- not to join its radical Middle East agenda, but quite the contrary, to help bring Iran to a more moderate foreign policy, as President Rohani seems to be building these days with his reasonable tone. 

The fact is the AKP government, since it came to power in 2002, has been struggling to build a foreign policy that both honors Turkey’s longtime alliance with the West but also reflects the “independent” and “anti-imperialist” views and sentiments shared by its cadre. (It should be noted the great majority of Turkish society, including some of the most passionate opponents of the AKP, share these traits.)
The oscillations with Iran should be seen as expressions of this search, rather than an ideological-sectarian love for Tehran, which is hardly the reality in a very Sunni Ankara. 

It is only normal that such a more “independent” minded Turkey will raise eye brows in certain Western capitals, especially Washington and also Tel Aviv. It is also normal that these views will be reflected in some newspapers published in those places. (The only abnormal and intolerable thing was a comment in Jewishpress.com, which implied that Hakan Fidan deserves to be assassinated.) 

What we Turks should do in the face of such criticism (and sometimes hostile rhetoric) from the West or Israelis is, in my opinion, to not care about them so much. It is in fact a little immature to make an article in a foreign newspaper a matter of national debate. People say what they say, you note them, and either learn from them or dismiss them and then you do what you do. That is how the world goes, and how it should go for Turkey as well.