Erdogan in Iran
August 5, 2010 2 Comments
Since David Cameron met with Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, a lot of talk has focused upon the Turkish prime minister and his appeals to “moderate” politics.
Many column inches were devoted to expressing uncertainty about Erdogan. Nick Cohen referred to him as the “supposedly “moderate” Islamist prime minister,” while Melanie Phillips noted he is “no secular Ataturk but an Islamic extremist”.
Erdogan does have a very colourful past. He was friends at university with the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan, who became Turkish prime minister from 1996 to 1997 after being pressured to step down, and later banned from politics.
Despite brushes with the law in the eighties, during the coup, in the nineties Erdogan became a popular mayor in Istanbul, receiving glowing praise even from critics who felt he wasn’t corrupt like other politicians.
In 1998, he disturbed the secular sentimentalities of many in Turkish society by reading a very telling Islamic poem which includes the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…”
This earned him 10 months in jail for incitement to religious hatred – of which he served four.
Since entering office he has had his fair share of secular opponents but has attested to a damascene-esque conversion from hardliner Islamist to a more moderate position, although this image has not been helped by, among other things, a recent refusal to join the EU in supporting charges of crimes against humanity in Darfur, which the International Criminal Court has brought against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.
(I don’t suppose the fact that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has named his grandson after Erdogan will go down well among some either)
In large part owing to his equal distance between the West and the East, Erdogan has earned for himself the position of kingmaker in recent years, notably with Iran and the rest of the world. He came out as supporting Iran by saying it should not be the sole target in the nuclear dispute, and was seen as a crucial figure being able to speak to both President Obama and Ahmadinejad on the subject.
Of late, questions were asked as to whether he would be one to condemn Iran for its decision to stone to death Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. Burak Bekdil for the Hurriyet Daily noted that Erdogen never hesitates to condemn alleged Jewish and Western conspiracies, but here “has failed to intercede with his good friend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has the power to pardon the condemned.”
However, the international civic organisation Avaaz today writes that:
“President Lula [Brazilian President, whose recent appeal to Iran to send its condemned women to Brazil was shrugged off by Ahmadinejad last week] and Prime Minister Erdoğan are allies and mediators with Iran who enjoy great respect there, and both countries have condemned the case. Now, we need to push them to deploy all their diplomatic forces and persuade Iran to free Sakineh and stop stoning forever.” (The above text is from an email message from Avaaz)
Burak Bekdil then wrote, with a positive tone this time:
“We know by evidence that Mr. Erdogan has a soft spot for Muslims being subjected to cruelty in all corners of the world, and Ms. Ashtiani is a Muslim lady. Besides, Ms. Ashtiani speaks Turkish, not Farsi; and perhaps Mr. Erdogan would view her as kin? Above all, Mr. Erdogan has brotherly relations with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who can pardon her.”
I’m tempted to agree with columnists dubious of Erdogan. His efforts to engage with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah is one thing, but to suggest – as he has – that “It’s not possible for a Muslim to commit genocide,” shortly before welcoming Omar al-Bashir to Turkey, should not be looked upon favourably.
But through whatever reason, he may have the political influence to change Ahmadinejad’s mind on the stoning of Astiani, and despite his character and background, we can only hope that this new found will of his to save this women comes to fruition.