February 02, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Sobko


The hidden motive of the scandal in Davos: Turkey is looking for a new format in relations with the West

During the recent World Economic Forum in Davos Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, has once again rigidly criticized Israel for the operation in the Gaza Strip. It led to a large-scale international scandal. We'll remind that Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, took the floor after Erdogan spoke. After 25-minutes speech (and Erdogan was let to speak only for 12 minutes) Israeli leader pointed his finger at the Turkish Premier Minister, who was sitting near, and said nervously that Turkey would act the same way if rockets had been falling on Istanbul all the time.

"When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill", – Erdogan answered, but the head of the circular table didn't let him express his opinion fully. The Turkish leader reminded that the President of Israel spoke two times more than he did and demonstratively left the gathering.

However, when Erdogan came back to Turkey he was received much warmer. Thousands of citizens went outside with Palestinian flags, and people with banners "Turkey is with you!" and "Erdogan is a world leader!" met the Prime Minister in the airport. Also it's essential, that some time after the President of Israel had made a conciliating phone call to Erdogan.

We have already said that Turkish Prime Minister's anti-Israeli rhetoric at once solves few domestic- and foreign-policy problems. The very conflict only confirms the thesis. This Erdogan's act is not only a demonstration of support to the Gaza Strip. Its aim was to show that everyone should take Turkish position into consideration, and that Turkish leaders weren't going to agree to the decisions made by the "civilized world" unquestioningly. If we draw parallels, we can say that Erdogan had used Vladimir Putin's method Ц during his presidency Russian leader's strict speeches on the international arena were not only strengthening his position inside the country, but also led to real changes in the attitude of world political elite to Russia.

So it isn't surprising, that experts have already made conclusions that this Erdogan's act will bring extra voices to his Justice and Development party (Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi Ц AKP) on the local elections on March. And the governing moderate Islamists need the support very much now, because of the worsening conflict with the followers of temporal way of development, which is mostly represented by military circles (see TURKEY: SYDROM OF A "SPLIT COUNTRY"). Now the situation between them is really tense and we have to take into account that during last few decades the military top has already removed Islamist AKP from governing with the help of military coups few times. So that time AKP must be really in need for new followers and for the increase of popularity.

It's curious, that Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, which reflects the opinion of the supporters of temporal way of development, has published extremely critical article about Erdogan's actions. In the article psychologists and psychiatrists discussed the Prime Minister's inability to keep his emotions, spontaneously developing anger and hinted that Erdogan had difficulties in controlling his state of mind.

Nevertheless we have a reason to suppose that everything was totally on the contrary. It's not ruled out that the Prime Minister was waiting for an occasion to get out of the "teacher-pupil" relations, which the EU had imposed, and to make Western partners try to justify themselves. It's curious, that in the spring of 2007 the Turkish government had already tried to find a reason to get offended by the EU. The episode was absolutely harmless Ц Angela Merkel had only presented an antique beer mug to Jacques Chirac. But Turks decided that the inscription on the mug was dedicated to the victory of Napoleon over Ottoman Empire in 1799, as this date was engraved on the glass. And even though German government explained that the mug had been made already in 1710, Ankara tried to use the occasion to the maximum degree possible. And this time Erdogan has found much more serious reason. So we can't doubt that the incident in Davos will be openly tagged along with the question of Turkey integration to the EU.

AKP is still seriously interested in Turkey joining the EU Ц at least because in that case overthrowing the government by means of military coup will be practically impossible. But Ankara intends to carry on the negotiations with the EU as an equal. And the more, the latest gas conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine had visibly strengthened Turkey's positions. We'll remind that during the crisis Erdogan had not only offered to activate efforts of building Nabucco Ц he threatened to reject to take part in the project if the EU dragged its realization out. And taking into account that Ankara is trying to connect the transit of gas through its territory with joining the EU, we can clearly understand Turkish Prime Minister's message: either the EU activates the process of Turkey becoming a member of the EU, or there will be no gas supply through the territory of Turkey.

During Erdogan and Peres wrangle, David Ignatius, the columnist of The Washington Post, the moderator of the conference, tapped Turkish leader's shoulder condescendingly, trying to calm him down. You can't but agree that it's impossible to imagine a journalist doing anything like that with the President of the USA or the Chancellor of Germany. We'll see it in the nearest future, whether Erdogan will be able to reach what he intends to. But it's obvious what the Turkish leader wanted to express by this demarche: that kind of "tapping" Ц both on personal level and in the relations between Turkey and the West Ц is impossible from now on.

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