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Turkey: Prime Minister Storms out of Davos Hearing

A funny thing happened at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off the stage after a verbal scuffle with Israeli President Shimon Peres. The initial incident stemmed from Prime Minister Erdogan not being allowed enough time to respond to Peres’ comments on the current war in Gaza. Reactions from the Turkish blogosphere have been varied: some gave the Prime Minister a “hero’s welcome” when he returned to the country, some wonder how this will effect Turkey’s foreign and domestic policies, and some just think that it was bad behavior.

A Hero’s Welcome
Many Turkish bloggers posted photos of Turkish citizens celebrating the reaction of Prime Minister Erdogan at the Davos Forum, and crowds of people went to the airport to herald the his return. Erkan’s Field Diary notes the euphoria best:

As of tonight, Erdoğan becomes a political legend….
Whatever the diplomatic consequences of Erdoğan’s reaction (or whether it is right or wrong) in the Davos panel, he becomes a legend for masses.
Thousands are driving to Atatürk Airport to welcome PM Erdoğan’s arrival at the moment…. Now I hear that subway services are extended to 3 am so that people can go to airport… Apart from hard core anti-AKP citizens, and retired diplomats whose minds belong to Cold War era, who immediately reacted negatively, we try to understand the situation.
* at one level, it is a matter of pride. Turkey’s PM stood against disrespect.

Foreign/Domestic Policy Implications
The Republic of Turkey has always had good relations with Israel, and still does even after the diplomatic outburst, but the situation has lead many to wonder whether this means a major divergence from former foreign policy positions, and what this means for domestic policy. The White Path weighs in:

The last time I saw such a tense public sentiment was the early 1990s, when Bosnians were subjected to “ethnic cleansing” by Serbian nationalists. The situation in Gaza was more complex, to be sure, but it was perceived in Turkey as something similar to the slaughter of Muslims in the Balkans.
Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise to see the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan say harsh words against Israel. He was just mirroring the public sentiment. And this was more than populism, as some could ascribe to a politician who is on the eve of local elections. Mr. Erdoğan was sincere in his feelings. When he visited a group of wounded Palestinians that were brought to an Ankara hospital, people noticed tears in his eyes.
But while strong emotions are worthy of respect, diplomacy more so needs nuance and deliberation. And those are not the highest qualities of Mr. Erdoğan. He is rather known to be a man who minces no words and, as he put himself, who thinks “anger is a rhetorical art.” So, as he has done many times before on many other issues, including domestic ones, he sounded unbalanced — and even pro-Hamas. As Sedat Ergin, the editor-in-chief of daily Milliyet, put it in these pages yesterday, his whole Gaza rhetoric was “problematic.”

Talk Turkey, while encouraging others to watch the proceedings to see the whole context of the argument leading to the walkout, did point out how comments made by the Prime Minister of Turkey in response to the current war in Gaza show some hypocrisy in Turkey’s current policies:

But the real issue was the criticism of Israel’s killing of children recently. Israel, on the other hand, claims that if terrorists are targeting you on a daily basis, it leaves you with no choice but to hit back.

Isn’t Turkey being hypocritical as it fights its own war on terror with the PKK, the militant faction of the Kurdish independence movement?

Then again, there’s a big difference when it comes to indifference of killing innocent civilians versus killing innocent civilians who happen to be children.

Narrator discusses the silver lining for Turkey in this diplomatic situation:

The only silver lining regarding what happened in Davos last week is that President Obama may now start seriously considering Turkey as the country that he will pick to make a major speech addressing the Islamic world. The reason is simple. After the drama in Davos, Turkey has won the hearts and minds of 1.3 billion Muslims. Erdoğan’s behavior made him an instant global hero in the eyes of all Muslims, who were bitterly frustrated with the Israeli onslaught against Gaza that ended up killing 1,300 people, half of them innocent civilians. As of last week, the Palestinian cause and Turkey became one — and all of this is thanks to the larger than life personality of Prime Minister Erdoğan. Whether the pro-Israel lobby likes it or not, President Obama is sophisticated enough to recognize these dynamics in selecting the country where he will make his speech to the Islamic world.

Bad Behavior
While many Turks celebrated the Prime Minister’s actions, others condemned him for what they saw as bad behavior. From Internations Musings:

Turkish PM Erdogan doesn’t like critical journalists. People know that in Turkey and some European countries – especially after Erdogan’s bargaining and blackmailing last week in Brussels regarding the EU accession talks. But yesterday, while talking at a forum in Davos, people around the world could observe a statesman who lost his temper again when he left the stage, full of anger, after he was denied more time to speak about the crisis in Gaza. The moderator was David Ignatius of the Washington Post. Witty, smart and provocative. And he, Erdogan, has to deal with that. Nit-picking journalists are everywhere. How does he think to survive when Turkey joins the EU? There is nothing wrong with showing your emotions but there is definitely something wrong with insulting countries and presidents of countries that are supporting you. And of course he showed the same old rhetoric all over again: ‘they didn’t show respect for me’ and ‘I defend Turkish honour’…in my opinion you don’t defend your honour by putting someone else down.

Carpetblogger comments on how the Prime Minister’s behavior was a disservice to Turkey and the role that it could have had in negotiating peace in the Middle East:

A Turk gesturing on behalf of oppressed Palestinians is about as politically courageous as an American advocating for a “democratic transition” in Belarus: There’s absolutely nothing at stake and everyone gets to feel good about themselves. Turkey has no aggrieved Palestinians occupying valuable political real estate. There’s no chance of instability on its borders. And, it has a population (definitely not a tribe) that needs no excuse to wave flags and express outrage at perceived slights. We don’t see any downsides to Erdoğan’s outburst except, oh, perhaps a missed opportunity for Turkey to serve as a levelheaded mediator in the conflict, something that could actually help the Palestinians! Maalasef.

Did Prime Minister Erdogan react in a way that will benefit Turkey and its role in the Middle East? It is a good question, and one that might be answered in the next few months, or it just might be a situation that becomes an interesting anecdote in the annals of diplomatic disagreements.

Deborah Ann Dilley


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