by Joy E. Stocke
Turkey (green) and Iran (red)
There they are – kissing cousins, if you will, Turkey and Iran – sharing a border to the south with Iraq. Where the three borders meet and overlap, you have Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey herself has a complicated history: From the 3rd to the 15th century Turkey was known as Byzantium, where Christianity was debated and codified. In the 15th century it became the Caliphate of the Muslim Ottomans, who, until the 20th century, not only tolerated but relied upon the mercantile skills of its Christian and Jewish citizens. In 1934, the Secular Musilm Republic of Turkey was created under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk. Secular Muslim Republic, a unique oxymoron if you will – considering that in Islam there is no separation of church and state. For every other Muslim country in the region, Sharia – the Quranic rule of law – is the law.
Into this mix, Istanbul, a city straddling Europe and Asia, is home to numerous forward-thinking Turks, a large community of expats from around the world, as well as millions of immigrants from traditional and often conservative villages. And herein lies the paradox: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a conservative Muslim, has raised concerns among secular Turks that he and his party, Justice and Development, are intent on, if not bringing back Sharia, creating a Turkish version of it.
And so, Turkey and Brazil, acting as brokers for the West, reached a deal in Tehran a week ago where Iran would ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey. Sounds noble, but the deal did not ease concerns in the West about Tehran’s aim of building a nuclear weapon.
Erdogan, who has cast himself as conservative and pro-European Union, who has instituted several democratic reforms including giving the European Court of Human Rights supremacy over Turkish courts and passing a partial amnesty to reduce penalties faced by many members of the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK, is also playing ball with his Muslim neighbor, on the short list of Human Rights Watch’s abusers.
What he and his party aims to achieve in the long run remains open to debate. But, it’s important to remember that Turkey has some powerful assets of its own including within its borders the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which flow into Iraq and Syria. Brazil – Turkey’s partner in the deal for Turkey to become the repository for much of Iran’s uranium – has oil.
And Iran? Erdogan has described Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a friend. Iran has become an increasingly important Turkish trading partner, particularly in the energy sector. Erdogan also seems intent on upsetting the balance with Turkey’s longtime ally, Israel (and Iran’s sworn enemy), who does have nuclear weapons.
East/West. In Turkey ever thus. In Roman Mythology, Janus – the god of gates and doorways – who gave his name to the first month of the Roman calendar, has two heads, one facing toward the past and one toward the future. In Turkey’s case one may ask, but which past and which future?
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Property of the Vatican, Rome
Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. Her book, Anatolian Days & Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints will be published in 2011.
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