Letter to The Economist, May 11, 1996

The Economist
25 St. James's Street
London SW1A 1HG
United Kingdom

also via e-mail: letters@economist.com

To the Editor:

Like a whirling dervish dizzying onlookers until reality blurs into fantasy, Turkey's mastery at conjuring artifice dates from late Ottoman times, when the Turks' deteriorating empire was held together by nothing more than cunning and shrewd diplomacy.

As reported by your May 4, 1996 article "Pipe Dreams in Central Asia", the U.S. Government does indeed "like the idea of a [south central Asian oil pipeline] route through Turkey" based on its perception that Turkey "seems reliably in the Western camp". But this illusion, in which Turkey has invested upwards of seven decades to create, has yet to wish itself into existence.

Rather than viewing Turkey under more sincere scrutiny -- as another Shah-era Iran, a Batista-era Cuba or as any number of other U.S.-propped governments whose decidedly un-Western practices led to their demise and transformed them from qualified assets to unqualified liabilities -- the State Department has been trying hard to convince itself and others that Turkey is "reliably in the Western camp". As a result, the U.S. is again charting its foreign policy course towards short-term financial and strategic interests, and away from longer-term ones. As evidenced by the Islamic fundamentalists' sweep into power during recent elections in Turkey, the State Department is once again backing the wrong horse, laying the groundwork for a catastrophic fall and -- like a near-sighted businessman throwing good money after bad to rescue a faltering investment -- making greater commitmentsto a government that has no genuine affinity for what truly makes a nation a Western one: its values.

With its abysmal human rights record, its overt military threats against a neighboring EU and NATO member's borders (Greece's), its illegal and debilitating blockade against its former genocide victims (Armenians), and its invasion and continuing occupation of another Christian European nation (Cyprus), Turkey continues as an outlaw nation which has scarcely been taken to task by her Western suitors.

Not even billions of dollars of cosmetic surgery -- including the hiring of highly influential Washington PR firms and the buying off of American academia through sizable university contributions -- has been able to beautify Turkey into a nation the West has been willing to get into bed with. Although German and other EU ministers have been able to rely on Greco-Turkish animosity to exclude Turkey from any meaningful political inclusion in the EU, they have made their own position against Turkish admission (beyond economic cooperation) clear on numerous occasions. Turkish democracy continues to exist ultimately at the pleasure of the Turkish military, lingering well behind the scenes as long as things proceed swimmingly, yet asserting its authority during troubled times; as when the economy had shown signs of faltering or when Turkey's Islamicists gained a plurality of seats in the Parliament.

As long as Turkey can benefit from U.S. subsidies and cultivate economic development and national prestige through European cooperation, Turkey can indeed be relied upon to follow the Western line up to a point. Yet in the long run Turkey should more realistically be viewed as a fair-weather ally; and the supply lines of oil resources, necessarily a long-term proposition, should be planned for with this reality in mind.

Moreover, although Turkey is trying to fill the shoes of a regional power, the Ajerbaijani oil consortium's recent rejection of plans to build a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, and Turkey's resulting withdrawal from participation in the consortium's plan to build a pipeline from Baku to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa, evinces Turkey's inability to function at this transnational level. Unlike Russia and Iran for example, Turkey not only lacks the financial, ideological and human capital to do so, but further lacks the respect and goodwill of virtually all of its neighbors. Bulgarians, Arabs, Greeks, Russians, Armenians and Persians all resent, distrust and even despise the Turks for a myriad of historical and contemporary reasons; hardly an environment conducive to the sort of international cooperation needed for an endeavor as large and involved as this one.

But perhaps the most compelling rationale for the U.S. State Department to re-examine its backing of plans to have the Caucasus' main pipeline flow through eastern Turkey can be summed up in one acronym: PKK. Despite the highest standard of living Kurds have experienced in their history, and despite the launch of one of the most aggressive campaigns by Ankara to eradicate the Kurdish seperatists since their wholesale slaughter during the early part of this century, the Kurds' thirst for independence seems stronger than it has ever been. Comprising one-fifth of Turkey's population, the Kurds are far too numerous to neutralize through assimilation efforts and ethnic cleansing. Any pipeline from south-central Asia coming through Turkey would necessarily have to pass through or close to Kurdish territory, and would provide an easy and strategic target for Kurdish insurgents to sabotage.

Very truly yours,
Phillip Spyropoulos, Esq.

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