Henri Barkey, professor of international relations at Lehigh and the Bernard and Bertha Cohen Chair of the department, testified before the House Committee on International Relations in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, May 11. Barkey, a U.S. State Department official in the Office of Policy Planning during the late 1990s, was one of only four experts invited to offer testimony of the state of U.S.-Turkish relations.
Shortly after the hearings ended, Barkey and others on Capitol Hill were hastily evacuated when an unidentified airplane entered restricted air space over the D.C. area.
In his opening remarks, Barkey said the fact that “something has gone terribly wrong in the important U.S.-Turkish relationship since the beginning of the Iraq War should not come as a surprise to most casual observers of current political events.”
"I will not dwell on how vital this relationship is to the United States. The more important question is how deep and how long-lasting this rupture is likely to be, and what are its causes and remedies.”
While noting that he feels that the current malaise in U.S.-Turkish relations is temporary in nature, he said that it is important to recognize that anti-Americanism in Turkey is “deeply rooted and different groups and institutions each have their own interests in articulating an anti-U.S. discourse.”
In the grips of a nationalist moment
Citing the war in Iraq as a primary motivator, Barkey said that Turkey is also in the grips of what he terms a “nationalist moment” that is the result of a deep crisis of confidence and anxiety over developments it cannot control or influence.
“It is ironic,” Barkey said, “that after having achieved what seemed to be impossible – getting the European Union to commit to a date to begin accession negotiations – Turkey is mired in this kind of crisis.”
He told the Congressional committee that while the U.S. and Turkey share a similar vision of a democratic, unified and prosperous Iraq that emerges as a stabilizing force in the region, the two countries are divided by a lack of accord over future contingencies in Iraq.
“The inability of the U.S. and the successive Iraqi governments to stem the violence in Iraq, together with signs that Iraq may one day fall apart, has led to the questioning of U.S. motives and plans,” Barkey said. “Turkish worries center primarily on the possible emergence of an Iraqi Kurdish entity, federal or independent.”
Barkey said that the timing of the Iraq war, coupled with the beginning of the European Union negotiations, has proven to be an explosive mix. As the Turkish government deftly maneuvered the country to finally get a date from the Europeans, it is perceived as having had to make concessions to the EU on the issues of human rights, democratization, and minority rights.
“Even though many of the constitutional changes along these lines have yet to be implemented,” Barkey said, “the fact remains that Turkish Kurds are more likely to use the EU negotiation process to improve their cultural and perhaps even political conditions in Turkey. This goes to the heart of Turkey’s conception of its national identity: There can be no minority…with such disruptive demands.”
A linchpin of both administrations
He addressed the importance of a stable Turkey, citing the fact that such a circumstance has always been a linchpin of both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Barkey said that the high point in the U.S.-Turkish relationship came at the end of the 1990s, when the Clinton administration engineered the delivery of fugitive terrorist leader Ocalan -- the most reviled and wanted man in Turkey -- and when President Clinton made a historic journey to Turkey following an earthquake that devastated many towns in Western Turkey.
"All that goodwill dissipated soon thereafter with the September 11 tragedy," Barkey said. “It turns out that the goodwill on the Turkish side was not institutionally anchored, especially in a society where almost everyone shares a sense of vulnerability. The secularists, the Islamists, the military, the center-left and the center-right – not to mention the nationalist extremists on both ends of the spectrum – all have reasons to fear outside forces.”
In this sense, he added, mistrust of the U.S. is not unique, but singularly problematic, given the importance of the American role in the post-Cold War world and the longstanding nature of relations with Turkey.
Barkey noted that, since Iraq and specifically northern Iraq lie at the root of the U.S. difficulties with Turkey, "it is imperative that we take the bull by the horns and start addressing the issues squarely and honestly."
Turks and Americans, he said, have to engage in a dialogue that helps clarify the potential scenarios and contingencies in Iraq. Eventually, both the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds have to be pulled into this discussion.
“Engaging in a dialogue as soon as possible,” he concluded, “will not only help the two sides narrow their differences, but also help assuage Turkish worries and insecurities.”
For a full transcript of Barkey's comments, click here