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Analysis: Turkey, a land of paradoxes

Russia backs Abkhazian show of force in the Caucasus
An unrepentant Russia is continuing its policy of arming to the teeth the two secessionist regions of Georgia that it has recognized as independent nations. The deputy defense minister of Abkhazia announced Nov. 11 his military forces were carrying out what RIA Novosti described as "a planned battalion-level tactical exercise with live firing." "In line with the military training program for 2008, the Defense Ministry is holding on Nov. 10-12 a battalion-level tactical exercise with live firing, which involves the 2nd independent naval infantry battalion and the 2nd independent motor rifle battalion at the Nagvalou testing grounds," Abkhazian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Zaitsev announced. Military air formations also would be involved, he said. The maneuvers serve notice to the beleaguered pro-American government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that Russia continues to arm the inhabitants of the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the teeth. And the Kremlin remains determined to uphold their independence. Russia has equipped the Abkhazian ground forces and it also has supplied at least one MiG-21, one Sukhoi Su-25, two L-39 combat trainers, a single Yakovlev Yak-52 combat trainer, and two Mir Mi-8 multipurpose helicopters, RIA Novosti said. Russia has protected and armed Abkhazia and its fellow secessionist region of South Ossetia since Georgia became independent for the first time in 190 years following the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Thousands of people on both sides were killed in prolonged and heavy fighting between the two regions and successive Georgian governments in Tbilisi. In August Russia infuriated the United States and the European Union by recognizing both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations following its five-day blitzkrieg occupation of one-third of the territory of Georgia in response to a Georgian military incursion into South Ossetia.
by Claude Salhani
Washington (UPI) Nov 17, 2008
Turkey is a land of many paradoxes. While the Kemalist notions of secularism and the separation of mosque and state are taken seriously, at the same time the state provides funds for the building of mosques, keeps the Sunni clergy on the state's payroll and allows school textbooks that teach that being a Sunni Muslim is part and parcel of the Turkish identity.

No less of a paradox is how Ankara hopes to adhere to the European Union as it promotes one branch of Islam while ignoring minorities, such as the Alevis, who constitute roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of the country's population.

Still, Turks take their secularism to heart to the point that often the word "secularism" does not convey the sense of urgency felt in post-Ottoman Turkey to describe the notion of keeping religion separate from politics, as intended by Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk), the founder of modern-day Turkey. Instead, Turks often borrow the word "laicite" from the French.

Numerous factors play a part in making Turkey into the land of contradictions that it is today. Certainly its geographic location, as a nation straddling the borders of East and West, sitting along the periphery of the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim Levant and beyond, counts for something. Turkey was a co-founder of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, whose charter defines its members as "Islamic countries committed to preserving Islamic principles, ethical, social and economic values."

Writing in the October-November issue of the journal Survival published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an article entitled "Turkey's Latest Crisis," Gareth Jenkins, an analyst based in Turkey, reports that "claims by opponents of the (ruling Justice and Development Party), or the AKP, that it wants to establish an Islamic state are probably exaggerated. But the AKP's denials that it has a religious agenda are equally misleading."

Yet, as Jenkins reminds us, "Women who believe the Koran requires them to cover their heads in public are banned from working in the civil service and are even forbidden from studying at universities on the grounds that doing so would be a violation of the secular nature of the Turkish state."

And although Shariah law prohibits the lending of money for profit, there is hardly another country in either the East or the West with as many banks and as many branches of these banks.

Turkey's cross-cultural exposure and its geographic position have resulted in some unique geopolitical assets.

Turkey, possibly more so than any other nation in Europe or the Middle East, understands the mindset of both the European and Levantine cultures. And as one of the rare countries in the region to enjoy relations with both the Arabs and Israel, Turkey in recent years has become involved in trying to mediate between Syria and Israel on the one hand, and Iran and the West on the other.

"Turkey is becoming more active in geopolitical affairs," said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a news conference in Washington last Friday.

"Turkey," said Erdogan, "could also play a positive role if it were to act as a mediator in the stalled negotiations between Iran and the West over the controversial nuclear dossier.

"We are ready to be the mediator," said the Turkish prime minister. "I do believe we could be very useful."

Ankara announced earlier this year that it had begun to play an informal role in the talks between Iran and the group of six leading powers trying to talk Iran out of its nuclear ambitions -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Replying to this reporter's question, Erdogan reaffirmed that Turkey was not prepared to accept the possibility that Iran -- right next door -- could acquire nuclear weapons, but he did not elaborate as to what steps Turkey might take in that regard.

Erdogan said: "The world is going through a global political and economic crisis."

Keeping in line with its paradoxical identity crisis, since Erdogan's ruling party, the AKP, or the Justice and Development Party, came to power in 2002, as Jenkins reminds us, despite its Islamist leanings, there has been an absence of any explicit pro-Islamic legislation. Rather, there has been a "battery of liberalizing reforms" passed in hope of appeasing the European Union and gaining entry into the Brussels club, something Ankara has been pushing for almost 20 years now.

But continued refusal from some European countries, particularly France under the leadership of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who remains ardently opposed to Turkey's accession to the EU, risks pushing Turkey off the fence and into the Islamist camp. At a time when the West needs all the friends it can get, alienating the Turks to the point where they would turn away from Europe and begin looking eastward once again would be an unforgivable mistake.

(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)

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Russia wants 'strategic partnership' with US: Medvedev
Washington (AFP) Nov 15, 2008
Russia has a "strategic partnership" with China and wants to have the same with the United States, hopefully with president-elect Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday.

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