By Shane Eric-Eugene Hensinger
Master's candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
Editor's note: Editorial assistant Shane Hensinger recently chatted with Josef Korbel
School Dean Tom Farer, pictured at right below, about his visit to Turkey.
SH: Tell me a bit about the purpose of your recent visit to Turkey.
TF: NATO has established a number of research centers in NATO countries. The Turks wanted the counter-terrorism center and they got it. So it's a NATO-supported think tank and like all think tanks it periodically runs conferences or symposia. I had spoken at this "Defense Against Terrorism" center four years ago and shortly thereafter at a conference of NATO legal officers at the NATO Rapid Reaction Unit base in Germany. This time I was invited to give the keynote to a conference involving 50 NATO officers and 50 officers of the Iraqi armed forces. I also gave the first substantive lecture of the conference, a lecture seeking to illuminate legal restraints on the use of force. And after each there were questions.
The Iraqi forces were led by a general who told me he was the security adviser to the prime minister (of Iraq). So basically that was it -- in addition I visited the Rector, that is the head of one of the most distinguished Turkish universities -- Bilkent -- which is in Ankara. There I discussed building ties between the Josef Korbel School and Bilkent. We already have agreements with another fine university, Bilgi (in Istanbul), so this would be in addition to that arrangement.
I also met with the Major-General who is in charge of education and training for the armed forces of Turkey to discuss a summer seminar at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy, which would pair one diplomat and one officer from 10 countries for an intensive seminar in executive leadership and long-term strategic planning. He expressed strong interest as did two senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs whom I met the following day.
Turkey is a fascinating country -- a very important country.
SH: What is your view of the resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives
Foreign Affairs Committee recognizing what happened to the Armenians during WWI as
TF: I think that is probably not constructive. It complicates the conduct of our diplomacy with Turkey. After all, the events to which the resolution relates ... occurred almost 100 years ago. It's not as if the Congress is trying to save lives today.
SH: Would that make a difference if they were trying to save lives today?
TF: It would make a difference to me as someone who cares about human rights. But this occurred 100 years ago and Turkey is a democracy. It is a bridge, it is an Islamic democracy and we're trying to promote democracy all over the world ... and promoting democracy is one way of promoting human rights. I don't think this is a helpful way of promoting democracy and human rights. Moreover I'm willing to bet very few members of Congress did the research on this issue. I'm not saying it isn't true but I very much doubt, given the nature of Congress, that the members thought deeply about this issue. For many, I believe, it was more about responding to a domestic constituency -- the well-organized Armenian community. At the same time, as a Jew I certainly appreciate the way Armenians feel about this issue. But we need to give priority to promoting human rights and democracy today and to protecting national interests
Another element to consider is that it's slowly becoming easier to talk today in Turkey about what happened to the Armenians during World War I. This used to be a forbidden topic. It could get you imprisoned, just frankly talking about the Kurdish issue could. Human rights and freedom of speech are increasingly well respected in Turkey.
So my view is that if the political structure, the political tone in Turkey keep moving in the right direction, Turkey will come to grips with this piece of its history. It was a very confusing and violent period -- we're talking about the end of the Ottoman Empire -- the transition of that empire into a new, nationalist state. We're talking about a period of war. Certainly terrible things happened.
SH: What about the Turkish reaction to these types of resolutions -- whether done
in the U.S. House of Representatives or the European Parliament or wherever [Turkey
withdrew its ambassador to Washington after the passage of the resolution but recently
decided to return the ambassador after assurances from the White House that it was
opposed to the resolution]. Does that seem like an overreaction on the part of the
Turkish foreign-policy establishment?
TF: I think the resolution could reinforce the right in Turkey, the hyper-nationalists, who in any country are not a great friend of democracy and human rights. When a country is criticized and condemned and accused of genocide, which is the worst of crimes, it tends to reinforce the reactionaries. So that's another reason I don't think the [passage of the resolution] was useful.
The nationalist right, in all countries (including this one) is indifferent to human rights and democracy. So we don't want to give weapons to that sector.
SH: What would you say to criticism of a program at Korbel, like the one you described
earlier, that involved any component of the Turkish military, which has been accused
recently of developing plots to overthrow the government in Turkey and has been accused
of human-rights violations, particularly as it involved the Kurdish minority in Turkey?
TF: I think we what we at Korbel are trying to do is promote enlightened cosmopolitan values, including a democratic military establishment. I should note, in this connection, that the foreign ministry quite liked the idea of having a military and a diplomat attending together. As in most countries the foreign ministry and the military sometimes have conflicting views of the world. You want the military to have as cosmopolitan a view as possible.
Doing a long-range strategic analysis, as we're trying to do within this summer program, means, among other things, thinking about the content of "smart power," which includes values, propagating values. Anything that helps people to think broadly about the great variety of interests countries have and to think more in terms of the human interest is good.
In addition, it would be desirable to draw the Turkish military more deeply into United Nations peace operations. There aren't that many good military forces around that can be deployed when intervention is necessary. So for all of these reasons I think their involvement in the planned program is very positive and strengthens the moderates within the military.
SH: And in reference to the Kurds?
TF: The smart way for the government of Turkey to approach this, unlike the Russians in Chechnya, is to try and get at the roots of the rebellion, to improve the economic conditions in the area and to recognize the Kurds as a linguistic minority.
SH: Last question -- the problem in Cyprus. What is your view of Turkey's role in
the frozen conflict and how is the problem is going to be resolved?
TF: Looking backward -- the European Union never should have admitted Greek Cyprus until it approved the draft settlement agreement.
SH: But now we're forward ...
TF: Now It's more difficult to see the way forward. Clearly it's in the interest of Turkey's NATO partners to resolve the situation. I think that means above all encouraging the Greek government to encourage the Greek Cypriots to be more flexible. To be sure the Turkish Cypriots could be more flexible and given incentives. After all -- the division of the island arose when the Greek Cypriots rejected the minority protections in the original constitution. But you don't have colonels ruling Greece and seeking to absorb Cyprus anymore -- so the Greek Cypriots are less threatening to their Turkish counterparts. I think the Greeks Cypriots will have to compromise on the expropriation issue. NATO or the EU could help by putting some money in the pot. I repeat: it's in the interest of the NATO countries to get this solved. We're not talking about vast sums. Trying to totally untangle the post-conflict property relationships could postpone an agreement.
SH: Thank you for taking time today Dean Farer. I've enjoyed the interview.
TF: So have I. Thank you.