Insight Turkey Panel: “Arab Spring, East Mediterranean and the Cyprus Issue”

Insight Turkey Panel: “Arab Spring, East Mediterranean and the Cyprus Issue”

The Panel titled “Arab Spring, East Mediterranean and the Cyprus Issue” was held on May 12, 2012 at Nicosia TRNC in collaboration with Academy Cyprus. Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Beşir Atalay delivered the inauguration speech. Atalay drew attention to the significance of these kinds of events and events carried out by the SETA Foundation and Insight Turkey. Underlining that there have been major strides in Turkey’s academic life that have paralleled its growing economy and successes, Atalay emphasized that there has been an increase in the number of think tanks in Turkey, which not only contribute to domestic politics but also boost the prestige of Turkey in the international arena.

Atalay highlighted that establishing new universities and carrying out academic projects in Cyprus—which has developed its economy and gained more and more experience in bureaucracy—make a great contribution to the region promoting the country in the international arena.
Underlining Turkey’s support for academic activities and negotiations in Cyprus, Atalay declared that the parliament passed a significant economic reform package pertaining to Cyprus. Arguing that the development of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is crucial, Atalay stated that there are also significant improvements in the energy sector. Atalay emphasized that investments in the region have also increased.
Touching upon the Arab Spring, Atalay underlined that the Turkish government has adopted a clear position since the beginning and Turkey stands with the people in the region. Stating that a country cannot develop by only dealing with its internal affairs, Atalay reiterated that Turkey will closely follow the process in the region.

In the first session, Assoc. Prof. Erol Kaymak from Eastern Mediterranean University; Assist. Prof. Nur Köprülü from Cyprus International University, and Assist. Prof. Saban Kardas from TOBB University discussed the “International Context.”
Erol Kaymak discussed the issue in terms of the rhetoric and birth of a democratic axis. He stated that international politics consists of not only establishing a political balance of power but also adopting a certain type of language and expression towards the international community. Kaymak pointed out that Israel has been using for a long time the rhetoric that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Similarly, he stated that German and U.S. elites developed the concept of “Western civilization” in the post-World War II period. Kaymak added that the Arab Spring should also develop its own strong rhetoric and noted that everyone has his own definition for democracy.

Underlining that the West uses the expression of the “Arab Spring” and in this sense the Arab Spring is compared to the “Prague Spring,” Kaymak stated that this expression is also used in a pejorative sense. Kaymak highlighted that people in the region, nevertheless, call these events a revolution.
Kaymak stated that the AK Party has strengthened democracy in Turkey since it came to power. In response to Israel’s criticisms that Turkey shifted its axis away from the West to the East, Kaymak emphasized that Turkey maintains its relations with the West and NATO and adopts an integrated policy. Arguing that it is possible to establish new strategic relations through “rhythmic diplomacy,” Kaymak underlined that Turkey tries to balance relations with Israel through an “equal distance” policy.

Stating that Turkey introduces itself as a model for the Middle East, Kaymak underlined that Erdogan is a popular leader in the region. He, nevertheless, added that Turkey at first vacillated. Attributing this to Turkey’s investments in Libya, Kaymak underlined that Turkey has eventually sided with the people in the region. Finally, Kaymaz highlighted that Turkey reconciles Islam with democracy, thus, giving Turkey a great advantage in the international arena.

Nur Köprülü talked at lengths about the regional politics in light of recent developments in the region. She drew attention to “Arab exceptionalism” and explained that it is a great problem that the Middle East is a region, which invokes connotations of war, conflict, and chaos. She also stated that due to this “exceptionalism,” it is believed that Islam is not compatible with democracy. Köprülü stated that various scholars of the Middle East believe that Arabism in the region has a great impact on normative and political structure, underlining that the political authoritarian regimes in the Middle East are based on Arabism and Baathism.

Köprülü brought up the point that for many years the U.S. supported authoritarian regimes in the region, as it considered the Soviet Union a threat to the Middle East until the 1990s. Köprülü explained that the U.S. initially entered into the region using different parameters in order to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. And in the post-1991 era, the US continues this policy while also supporting political liberalization movements in the region. She also emphasized that the Palestinian issue and other issues, such as the struggle to take back the Golan Heights, overshadowed the authoritarian regimes and their legitimacy was not questioned.
Underlining that people’s demands for freedom are legitimate, Köprülü argued that this potential is able to reverse the paradigm of Arab exceptionalism. She added that this process can normalize Arab regimes through political means.

Moreover, stating that monarchies and republics differed in their ability to manage this change, Köprülü argued that the Kingdom of Jordan was able to manage this process well while this was not the case for Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. She also added that Jordan was also different in that the Muslim Brotherhood assumed an active role within the system. Köprülü also highlighted that this process of change actually began in 2005 with the Kifaye Movement in Syria and Jordan. She concluded her remarks by stating that foreign actors—which had little influence in the outbreak of the events—may become more influential in the coming years.
The final speaker Şaban Kardaş focused on the Arab spring and Turkish Foreign Policy. Stating that political actors change in line with democracy discourse, Kardaş underlined that there are two common beliefs about the Arab Spring prevalent in Turkey. Kardaş argued that, firstly, it is believed that domestic factors triggered the Arab Spring and Turkey’s official policy agrees with this view. Highlighting that the government adopts a more liberal attitude in this sense, Kardaş stated that Turkish people largely believe that the Arab Spring is manipulated by external powers, which is the second view.
Kardaş underlined that recent developments in the Arab world were high on the agenda of Turkish foreign policy. Moreover, Kardaş stated that Davutoglu’s definition of the process as a “belated change movement” reflected his support for people in the region. Kardaş also maintained that this reading transformed Turkish foreign policy and as a result it gave up its status-quo oriented approach. Kardaş also argued that the government took a risk by adopting a different attitude than Turkish people.

Kardaş highlighted that Turkey’s policy on recent developments has been shaped by several factors. He stated that first of all Turkey demands a “gradual change.” He added that secondly Turkey rejects any foreign intervention. Third, Kardaş maintained that Turkey demanded regional solution for the problems in the region and believed that one should seek international intervention only when regional efforts bring no solution. Kardaş concluded his remarks by stating that the Arab Spring not only affected the region itself but also Turkey.
In the second session, speakers dwelled on political order, solution and change in Cyprus. Associate professor Mensur Akgün from Istanbul Culture University presided over the session.

The first speaker from the Eastern Mediterranean University, Prof. Ahmet Sözen, stated that the Cyprus issue caused a lack of communication and insufficient cooperation between Turkey and NATO and between Turkey and the EU. He added that this lack of communication stretched to serious issues such as natural gas, oil, and EU membership, among others. Sözen categorized Cyprus negotiations under six main chapters. He stated that the negotiation process—which began in 2008—has three chapters related to the EU and economic issues.
Sözen also presented the results of public opinion polls. He stated that an opinion poll was conducted on 1000 Greek Cypriots and 1000 Turkish Cypriots. When asked whether or not they believe that negotiations would bring a comprehensive solution, 65 percent of Greek Cypriots and 69 percent of Turkish Cypriots answered that they are not hopeful about the negotiations. He stated that when asked whether or not they want negotiations to bring a comprehensive solution, around 70 percent of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots answered yes. Sözen underlined that there was a serious uncertainty among interviewees when asked about their vote if a referendum was to be held.

Arguing that the ambiguous process of the negotiations weakens people’s faith in the negotiations, Sözen put forward his own proposals for a solution. Sözen stated that there are three options for Northern Cyprus: ‘Taiwanisation,’ ‘Kosovation’ or ‘Hatayisation.’ Underlining that research results indicate that people consider the TRNC as a unitary state, Sözen stated that the first option seems more probable. Sözen highlighted that both parties agree on a federation of two regions and two communities. Sözen stated that if a solution is sought through a referendum, then this should be brought up on the agenda. He added that there are certain issues that Greek Cypriots do not welcome. Sözen also underlined that Greek Cypriots do not welcome the recognition of the TRNC. He added that a partial solution would not satisfy the TRNC, thus, blocking any solution. He concluded that what mattered is to build trust.
Another speaker in the second session of the panel, associate professor Kıvanç Ulusoy from Istanbul University, discussed the Cyprus issue in light of recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ulusoy argued that divided sovereignty and un-shareable power are the reasons lying behind the Cyprus issue. He argued that relations between Southern and Northern Cyprus depend on the relations among Turkey, Greece, and UK.
Arguing that the Cyprus issue requires peace among these three states and resembles the Berlin issue, Ulusoy emphasized that the process began in 1983 and it should be analyzed accordingly.

Ulusoy said that close attention should be given to the proclamation of TRNC in 1983, the application of the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus to the EU in 1990, and the application of Turkey to the EU in 1987 when analyzing the process. Stating that the EU determines the time constraints in negotiations, Ulusoy highlighted that the issue became Europeanized while this is not the case for the solution.

Ulusoy underlined that the Cyprus issue is high on the Turkish foreign policy agenda. He highlighted that the Cyprus issue is also a national issue for Turkey and it has strategic significance. Ulusoy stated that Davuoglu considers the Island of Cyprus as the cornerstone of the strategic balance in the Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans, and Northern Africa. He also emphasized the perception that if another state takes control of Cyprus then it will pose a threat to Turkey and Turkish foreign policy will be shaped accordingly. Ulusoy argued that Turkish perception of the new Middle East also influences the Cyprus issue. Ulusoy stated that perception of the new Middle East establishes a relation between energy policy and political Islam, and between the Caspian Sea region and the Gulf region. He added that Cyprus is also included in this region; however, the Island will always hold its significant position even if its regional definition changes.
Ulusoy underlined that the AK Party government supported the Belgium model during 2002-2004 and backed the Annan plan. He added that there have not been any significant steps regarding the Cyprus issue since 2004. Underlining that Turkey has not adopted a solution-oriented foreign policy on Cyprus, Ulusoy stated that instead energy issue comes first on the agenda. He concluded that close relationship between Turkey with the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus could affect EU-Turkey relations in a positive way.

The last speaker of the panel, Başaran Düzgün, the editor in chief of Havadis newspaper, addressed the issue and implications of the referendum in Cyprus. He stated that the AK Party adopted a groundbreaking approach in the referendum process and courageously tackled the Cyprus issue. Başaran Düzgün argued that the AK Party changed its policies when the referendum did not pave the way for the reunification of the Island of Cyprus. Düzgün underlined that there will be significant breakthrough towards the resolution of the Cyprus issue, if the AK Party government can play a dominant role on the Cyprus issue, as it did before. Stating that Turkish Cypriots want to take back their sovereignty and they are in search of self-government for Cyprus, Düzgün underlined that Turkey has failed to understand this demand, thus, rendering the solution more difficult.